To Ride Pegasus: The First Volume of the Epic Saga of the Talents
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eBook by Anne McCaffrey
eBook Category: Science Fiction
When a freak accident furnishes solid scientific proof of paranormal mental abilities, the world reacts with suspicion and fear. How can ordinary people coexist with a minority able to read minds, heal with a touch, peer into the future, or move objects with a thought? How can anyone with such power be trusted not to abuse it? Harsh repression seems the only answer.
Gifted with precognitive talent, Henry Darrow has other ideas, foreseeing a future in which the Talents are accepted for what they are and what they can offer their fellow humans. But the road to that future will not be easy. Darrow and the powerful telepath Daffyd op Owen must win the public's trust while overcoming the threat of rogue Talents like Solange Boshe, a young girl so consumed with hatred that her thoughts can kill, and the singer known as Amalda, whose telepathic prowess can unite a thousand strangers in joyful harmony -- or mold them into a bloodthirsty mob...
eBook Publisher: Random House, Inc.
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2002
1--To Ride Pegasus
3 Reader Ratings:
The slick pavement, oily with rain and motor lubricants that had dripped from the hundreds of ill-repaired vehicles utilizing the major north-south artery into Jerhattan, caused the accident. Henry Darrow had not been exceeding the speed limit when he passed the old two-seater. But he had a date with destiny. And kept it on time.
Had there been no rain that day, or had the lane been closed as scheduled for resurfacing, or had the old twoseater maintained the minimum speed in the left-hand lane, Henry Darrow would not have been exasperated enough to pass, would not have skidded on the slick paving, would not have crashed into the guard rail, would not have fractured his skull so that a bone fragment pressed against the brain pan; had the accident occurred even half a mile further up the arterial road, Henry Darrow would not have been sent to the one hospital in the area equipped with a special electro-encephalograph.
As things came to pass, this was how his accident was to occur: exactly how. In fact, he had jotted down the exact time in his astral notebook: 10:02:50 post meridian. He had also reminded himself that day not to take the arterial route back into Jerhattan but he had not foreseen one slight delay at the gasoline station which caused him to change his mind and take the fateful route, forgetful of his own prognostication.
Of course, since it was a major turning for him as well as millions of other people, he could never have avoided the accident. Which is why his subconscious -- or so it is maintained -- prevented him from remembering his forecast at the critical moment.
Henry Darrow was therefore injured, seriously, with minor fractures in the left leg as well as the depressed fragment of skull bone. Had Henry been fully conscious during surgery, he would have assured the surgeons that, despite the severity of the wound, he would live. They would have been dubious. Henry Darrow knew when he was going to die -- from myocardial infarction, some fifteen years, four months, and nine days in the future.
He couldn't tell them since the cranial pressure affected his speech center and he was mercifully unaware of his surroundings. Brain surgery can be a harrowing experience.
The operation was technically successful and Henry was assigned a bed in the intensive care ward, cardiac and encephalographic monitors keeping close track of his vital systems. The Southside General Hospital boasted the very latest technology, including one of the ultra-sensitive electroencephalographs, familiarly known as "Gooseggs." The Goosegg equipment was developed during the Apollo flights in the 70s, to monitor the effects of the mysterious "lights" which periodically afflicted the astronauts, and to record any suspected damage by cosmic radiation to the brain tissue. The ultra sensitive equipment was primarily used now in hospitals to detect brain damage to newborn infants suffering oxygen starvation during birth, or, as in Henry Darrow's case, brain injuries where similar oxygen deprivation, bleeding, and pressure must be ascertained.
The intensive care nurse on duty when Darrow regained his sense after surgery was, as Destiny preordained, Molly Mahony, a rather plain girl who good-naturedly bore a lot of teasing from her colleagues for her avowed dedication to nursing. She was invariably assigned the critical cases because she had a knack of pulling them through the crises.
"Dr. Scherman, would you look at the print-out on Mr. Darrow's EEG?" she said when the resident checked in at her station. "The alphas are unusually strong for a man as critically injured as he, aren't they?"
Scherman looked obediently at the graphs, nodded sagely and then gave her a wink. "He been conscious at all? Giving you a line?"
Molly shook her head, very serious though she knew he was teasing her. Scherman always did. "He's not regained consciousness, Dr. Scherman. I'm to notify Dr. Wahlman when he does. But should I give him a ring about these readings?"
"Ah, don't bother, Molly. That one's lucky he can print anything out on the Goosegg. You'd've thought he'd've known better."
"Better? About what? He was an accident casualty, wasn't he?"
"Better about going out at all. He's Henry Darrow, the astrologer. Christ, it costs a fortune to consult him about your future." Scherman snorted. "And he couldn't cast his own properly."
Scherman left after a cursory glance at the other i.c. patients. Molly Mahony looked with renewed interest at the brain injury. She knew of Henry Darrow, though she wouldn't have admitted it to many. No more than she would have admitted to anyone that she felt she had the gift of healing. Unlike her grandmother who'd had no medical background and ran into problems with her "healing hands," Molly had professional cachet and knew best how and when to apply her "whammy."
Having a unique talent, Molly was keenly interested in all the paranormal manifestations. In her lexicon, the astrologist merely used the signs of the zodiac to focus a precognitive gift, one fortunately more scientifically based than tea-leaf reading or card-telling. Just as the nursing profession allowed her to focus her healing talent on a scientific basis. So she knew of Henry Darrow and now tiptoed, like an awed sycophant, to the bedside and stared down at a face she hadn't noticed before.
His face had character even in lax-jawed abnormal coma. The eye-sockets were black and blue pits, and here and there a trace of blood had escaped the emergency clean-up. It was unfair of her to look at him in such a condition. She laid the back of her hand gently against his cheek, not liking the color of his skin. She flicked back the sheet, took a fold of the pectoral skin, and gave it a brutal twist. Well, at least he had reactions. She patted the sheet into place and stroked his cheek again.
The cardiograph pulsed slow but regular, though there were traces in the reading that spelled the beginnings of arteriosclerosis. No more than would be apparent in any reading of a forty-two-year-old heart which had lived well and hard.
Now she placed strong, slender fingers on his temples, pressing lightly, trying to "feel" where the real injury was. Not that which the surgeons had corrected when they removed the splinter and released the pressure on the brain. But the psychic injury, the essential blow to the vitalities of the man, which had been shocked by the proximity of death, by the exigency of the operation -- that ultimate violation of personal integrity.
So often in her reading of case histories, she'd seen the simple term "heart failure," or the more complex medical annotation of heart stoppage for a variety of physically inexplicable and unnecessary reasons. Shock, they would term it for lack of better explanation, "the patient died of shock." Fright, Molly called it. When a patient of hers retreated from reality in this sort of fright, Molly would draw that violated integrity back again with her Talent.
The response to her healing touch on Henry Darrow's brow was different and puzzling. The cardiogram etched bolder, stronger peaks and the Goosegg made frantic passes on all four recording bands.
Henry Darrow's eyelids flickered, opened, and a faint smile crossed his lips.
"What the hell hit me?" he asked.
"You hit you," Molly replied, "on the center post of your car when you crashed into the guard rails, Mr. Darrow. Head ache?"
"Christ yes!" He moaned and tried to reach upward.
"Don't. You've suffered a severe concussion, head lacerations, your left leg is fractured..."
There was mischief in the clear green eyes that met Molly's. "You're not supposed to tell me such things, are you?"
Molly smiled. "You know anyhow. And you really ought to pay more attention to your own predictions, Mr. Darrow."
The Goosegg chattered crazily and Molly whirled to see what was happening. But Henry Darrow was grabbing her arm, his eyes widening with bewildered surprise and incredulity.
"You're a Gemini. What's your name? You're going to marry me."
* * *
Love at first sight is a rare enough incident, particularly in a hospital setting, despite what the romances say. But far rarer was the scientific accident that proved a long suspected truth. For what had registered on the Goosegg's chart was indisputable proof that the parapsychic talent exists. Henry Darrow had a precognitive experience when he looked at Molly Mahony as a person, not just the nurse in attendance, and "knew" she would be his wife.
They did marry, as soon as his leg was out of the cast. Marriage was not the only thing Henry foresaw for Molly: he knew, too, her date of death, a fact he never disclosed to her. Talents, he learned very shortly, had to discount such precogs in their own lives if they were to operate efficiently for others. Molly was treasured, loved and cherished all the days of her life by her husband because he knew how little of her time he would enjoy.
The significance of the Goosegg's remarkable activity did not immediately impinge on Henry's awareness. To Molly Mahony belongs all the credit, therefore, for lifting the parapsychic function from the realm of chicanery to science.
For starters, Molly was fascinated with the unusual strength and pattern of Henry's EEG charts. She couldn't dismiss, as Dr. Scherman had, the variations. In her favor was a natural inclination to place Henry Darrow's mind into an exceptional category. Added to that, she knew Henry'd had the precognition of their marriage at the precise moment the Goosegg went wild. At the very first opportunity she tried an empiric experiment. She attached the electrodes to her own skull the next time she had occasion to exert her own ability in the intensive care ward. A similar variation occurred in her reading; not as intense as Henry's, but significant. She took several more of herself, and copied those portions of Henry's records which showed this curious excitation.
She was rather surprised that Dr. Wahlman, Henry's surgeon, did not cancel the Goosegg monitoring when Henry appeared to have recovered from the worst of the concussion. She wondered if Wahlman was as interested in the EEG variation as she was.
Henry had two more precognitive incidents before she felt she could approach Dr. Wahlman with her private conclusions.
"For my own information, Dr. Wahlman, what is the significance of this activity in an EEG?"
"Well, now," said Wahlman, taking the graphs diffidently and studying them in a manner which told Molly that he hadn't a clue. "To be frank, Mahony, I don't know. This particular sort of print-out usually occurs just prior to death. And Darrow's very much alive." The surgeon looked towards Henry's closed door with some irritation. Henry had insisted on pursuing his avocation of charting horoscopes, had even imported his computer, embarking on a cerebral activity which apparently had no deleterious effects on his rapid recovery but did not strike Wahlman as exactly the sort of occupation suitable to a man recovering from a near-fatal head injury.
"And these?" Molly showed him her own graphs.
"Whose are these? A terminal reading? No, couldn't be. The alpha's too intense. What are you up to, Mahony?"
"I'm not certain, doctor, but I do know that when Mr. Darrow is... hardest at work, that's when this sort of variation occurs."
"Jasus help us, the damned Goosegg's queer for astrology?"
Molly smiled and apologized for bothering the surgeon with anomalies.
"Mahony, if you weren't the best post-operative nurse we have, I'd tell you to bug off. But if you have any idea, any unreasonable idea, why that kind of reading occurs, would you please let me in on the secret?"
She let Henry in first.
"The moment you woke up after your accident and asked was I Gemini and then said I was going to marry you, was that a precog?"
"Fact, my love -- fact!"
"No, Henry, stop that now. Later. Answer me. Was your precognitive faculty at work?"
"Violently." The modified bandage on his head gave him a slightly rakish look but he stopped caressing her, responding to her serious mood.
"And, for instance, when Mrs. Rellahan was here, you told me that you had an intense prevision..."
"Hmmmm." Henry's mouth tightened slightly with dislike.
"This is what the Goosegg printed out. See, here the rapid needle, strong strokes, the length of the pattern... And, in these..."
"That's not my pattern, too, is it? Quite a difference."
"No, that's my brain waves. And this is what happens when I'm healing."
Henry looked slowly up at Molly, an incredulous joy brightening his eyes, a light suffusing his face that rewarded Molly for her efforts and intuition.
"Molly, my own heart's darling, do you know what we have here?"
* * *
The world in general remained skeptical. Fortunately Henry Darrow cared very little for the world's thoughts but he was able to produce proof to a powerful, wealthy few that the parapsychic faculty existed in certain individuals and could be manifested at will.
A whole new line of research was instigated by those private persons and concerns which had long hoped for scientific recognition of the paranormal abilities.
"I've always had a presentiment of Destiny, of being on the threshold of some vast important breakthrough," Henry told Molly during the early hectic days shortly before they formed the first Parapsychic Center. "Most megalomaniacs do, too, and your psychotic paranoids like Nero, Napoleon, Hitler and Kyudu. That's why I had that team of psychiatrists examine my mental health with fine Freudian tongs. Nonetheless it's a prejudicial admission. D'you know, I've been afraid to forecast my own future too far in advance now? Some details are unwise for any man to know..." He looked with unfocused eyes at the blank wall in front of them for a moment before he smiled reassuringly at her. "I've been a dilettante up till now and my critics can say either that I gained my wits in that accident, or lost the few I had, but that event was the threshold of my... of our destiny."
"Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead," Molly replied, gesturing theatrically.
"And torpedoes there will be," Henry agreed grimly.
"I thought you said you didn't see far in advance..."
"For myself, I meant. Not for what we must do." He was silent again for a moment. "God, it's going to be fun."
Molly looked at the amusement in his eyes, the anticipatory gleam of malice. "For whom?" she asked.
His eyes sparkled as he turned his gaze back to her.
"For us," he said, hugging her affectionately, "for all of us," and he meant the newly recruited Talents. "We may perceive the outcome, but half the fun, most of the fun in life, is getting there. And I've got just enough time."
* * *
As soon as he was sufficiently recovered to argue with his surgeons (and because Molly assured Wahlman that Henry couldn't get around her vigilance), he was allowed to go back to work full time. Not, as previously, in his capacity as a dilettante astrologer, but as the manager, organizer, fund-raiser, and recruiter par excellence for the Parapsychic Center.
"Marv-Molly luv, it's going to be accomplished in steps, this establishment of the Talented in the scheme of things. Not society, mind you, for we're the original nonconformists," and he tapped his forehead just below the pink flesh of the newly healed head wound. "And Society will never permit us to integrate. That's okay!" He consigned Society to insignificance with a flick of his fingers. "The Talented form their own society and that's as it should be: birds of a feather. No, not birds. Winged horses! Ha! Yes, indeed. Pegasus... the poetic winged horse of flights of fancy. A bloody good symbol for us. You'd see a lot from the back of a winged horse..."
"Yes, an airplane has blind spots. Where would you put a saddle?" Molly had her practical side.
He laughed and hugged her. Henry's frequent demonstrations of affection were a source of great delight to Molly, whose own strength was in tactile contacts.
"Don't know. Lord, how would you bridle a winged horse?"
"With the heart?"
"Indubitably!" The notion pleased him. "Yes, with the heart and the head because Pegasus is too strong a steed to control or subdue by any ordinary method."
"You couldn't break our sort of Pegasus anyhow," Molly said firmly. "Wouldn't want to even when he flies so high..." She burrowed into Henry's arms, suddenly frightened by the analogy.
"Yes, luv. When you ride the winged horse, you can't dismount. Anymore than you can suppress the Talent you've been given. Well find our bridle, I think, with time and training and more practice at riding.
"That Goosegg was the really important break. Now we can prove parapsychic powers exist and who has them. We can discredit the charlatans and clowns who've given the rest of us a bad name. The real Talents will be registered with the Center, and we'll have graphs to prove they've had valid Incidents. The Center will supply them with the specialized jobs that utilize their Talents. From just a sampling of validly Talented people we've already attracted, I can think of hundreds of top jobs."
"Even Titter Beyley and Charity McGillicuddy?" Molly Mahony Darrow's eyes danced with mischief because Titter drank continuously and Charity pursued an old profession diligently.
"Takes a thief to catch a thief and Titter's been stealing for years to support his habit. Remember that Charity's heart of gold beats in a true telepath's breast."
"Go on with our future, Henry."
"I want Watson Claire as our PR man because I know damned well he's a receiving telepath: he must be to handle clients the way he does. He's got a positive genius for presenting the campaign a client'll buy. Claire's the sort of person we've got to enlist, for his sake as well as ours. Ours, because we've got the biggest goddamn public relations program on our hands, and the public can make or break us. His sake, because he's not happy pushing products he despises."
Molly nodded sympathetically.
"We get an intensive information program going and that will help recruiting. Then we've got to start rescue operations for those hidden Talents and especially those poor misfits in institutions because they heard voices... which they did... or they imagined impossible things, which they didn't. Or their empathy with the world around them was too great to be endured and they abandoned reality. And we've got to figure out the best way to train these Talents once we've got them verified.
"Then we've got to get exactly the right place to live in."
"To live? But this apartment is..."
"Okay for us, for the time being. But not for the rest of us. No, now don't worry, Molly luv. I know where we're going."
Molly regarded him steadily for a second. "But you don't know exactly how we'll get there, is that it?"
Henry laughed, nodding.
"That's the challenge, luv."
"And then what's on the agenda? I'd better know the worst."
Henry chuckled to give himself time to evade. "Then comes one of the harder jobs..."
Molly's eyes grew round. "You've outlined a lifetime's work and then tell me one of the harder jobs..."
"Will be to establish professional immunity for the Talents so we don't get sued out of our eyeball sockets because we said something would happen which didn't because we said it would. Oh, we'll get it sooner or later, but I'd rather sooner than later when you consider the money that'll be tied up in suits. But that won't be my headache."
"It won't be?"
"I can't live forever, luv."
She clung to him and he gave her only a quick embrace.
"I'll live long enough, Mary-Molly luv, and so will you." He put her away from him then, for he had to keep his desire in check with the pressures of his destiny.
* * *
"Now, gentlemen, the subject all wired up to the electroencephalograph, familiarly known as the Goosegg, is a telekinetic Talent. That means, gentlemen, that he can move objects without any other agency than his mind. Ralph, would you be good enough to demonstrate?"
Ralph, who used to be known as Rat Wilson, was not the most prepossessing of individuals, being skinny to the point of emaciation, with a rodent-like face and a mouth that remained slightly open due to untended tonsils and adenoids; but his rather large grey eyes were dancing with mischief and interest. That he had perfected his art in the variety of correctional institutions which had attempted to remold him to society's requirements was irrelevant -- now.
He sat under the electrode net of the Goosegg at one end of a large hall, a camcorder throwing a picture of the print-out on the big screen above him. Forty-seven scientists and businessmen were seated around the room, in the center of which sat a table with a variety of objects: a hammer, nails and a plank of wood; a coffee tray with an urn, cups, cream and sugar; a guitar; and a training set of waldoes, limp and grotesque without hands to fill the gloves.
Henry Darrow walked to the other end of the room, as far from both Ralph and the table as possible.
There was a significant silence in the room, with the audience casting glances from table to Ralph to Henry. Suddenly a cup rattled, rose, was joined to a saucer and aligned itself under the spout of the urn which was tapped almost simultaneously to pour coffee into the cup. Belatedly, a spoon clattered into the saucer.
"Who takes it black?" asked Ralph as cup and saucer veered to the nearest watchers.
"I do," said one cool businessman, lifting his hand.
"Hang on to it then, mac," replied Ralph. "Got it?"
"Hey!" The man closed his fingers around the lip of the saucer but when Ralph released it, he was unprepared and the black coffee sloshed over the saucer rim onto his hand.
There was a slight wave of amusement, shattered by the crash of a hammer driving a nail into a block of wood.
"I'll make the next one white. Who's for it?"
A second cup was delivered to its receiver as the hammer drove the nail smartly into the wood. At the same time, the waldoes jerked alive and began to assemble the objects in the tray. The guitar twanged with a bawdy ballad.
With cups sailing around the room, the crack of the hammer to the tempo of the song, the industry of the waldoes leaving everyone gaping, Henry returned to the stage, taking a pointer and starting the sales pitch.
"As you will notice, if you can take your eyes from the flying saucers, Ralph's use of his Talent results in the hard variations of the alpha waves, here and here. The beta fluctuation is rapid, deep. Note the difference at the beginning of the graph before Ralph started. Notice the increase as he stepped up the output of the parapsychic faculty. Has anyone any doubts about the authenticity of this demonstration? Will you accept this print-out as valid, and that the graph represents Ralph's paranormal ability?"
Henry signalled to Ralph and coffee cups crashed to the floor. The hammer bounced and fell to the table and the waldoes went limp to a discordant twang on the guitar.
"For chrissake," and the man on whom a cup of coffee had fallen sprang to his feet, wiping at soaked pants and dancing from the hot bath. Instantly the cup righted itself and incredibly refilled with the just-emptied coffee.
"Sorry about that, mac, but someone said stop!"
The abrupt surcease of the parapsychic was recorded on the graph, as was the minor activity of mopping up the spill.
"Hey, my pants are dry!"
"Are there any other questions?" asked Henry, winking surreptitiously to the grinning Ralph.
"Yes," and a heavy set man towards the rear of the room stood slowly to his feet. "Coffee vending machines handle this sort of service, an idiot can drive a nail; granted a waldo is used for delicate sterile operations, any rock musician plays electric guitar... not all at once, admittedly, but how would someone like Ralph be employed? And incidentally, I know his background."
"You might say," Henry said with a smile, "that Ralph is a real product of his background of reform school and correctional institution. That's how he acquired his Talent. Society wasn't ready for Ralph or his Talent. We are.
"We've demonstrated here that Ralph can do a variety of things simultaneously; tasks requiring multiple action such as assembling coffee implements and teleporting them to the proper destination, as well as exercises requiring a certain strength and/or precision.
"However, Ralph has a limited range. We've duplicated today's fun and games over a distance of half a mile, but not further with any precision or strength. Ralph is not a superman. That's the first point I wish to impress on you. He has a Talent but it's a finite one, suitable for certain, rather limited use. He would be a profitable investment for someone like yourself, Mr. Gregory, for precision assembly under vacuum, sterile or radiation conditions.
"I don't say that Ralph is a totally reformed character at all," and Henry grinned at Ralph, "but he is now able to purchase legally the things he used to heist. He is subject, and he knows it, to the mental examination of a strong telepath. He also thoroughly enjoys his present occupation."
"You bet, mac." And the scathing look Ralph bent on the audience left no doubts that the little man delighted in disconcerting the men of distinction, rank and position.
"If you can't cure 'em, recruit 'em," Henry added.
"Are you implying, Mr. Darrow, that half the population of jails and mental institutions are peopled by your misunderstood parapsychics?"
"Not at all. I admit we're testing many so-called misfits to see if thwarted or yes, misunderstood, paranormal Talents are not partly responsible for their maladjustment. But that does not mean they are all graduates of institutions.
"Talent, gentlemen, can include something as simple as being a born mechanic. We've all known or heard of the guy who just listens to the sound of an engine and knows what's wrong with it. Or the plumber who can dowse the exact location of a break in water pipes. Or the pyromaniac who "knows" when and where a fire will break out and has so often been accused of starting it; the woman whose hands ease a fever or soothe a pain, the worker who knows instinctively what the boss needs, the person who can always find what's been mislaid or lost. These are everyday, but valid, evidences of the parapsychic Talent. These are the people we want to include in our Centers -- not just the more dramatic mind-readers and clairvoyants. The Talented are rarely supermen and women, just people who operate on a different wavelength. Employ them in the proper capacity and utilize their Talents to your advantage."
"Besides money, what do you want from us, Darrow?"
"Doctor Abbey, isn't it? From you and your colleagues all over the world, I want the public admission that Talent has left the tearoom and entered the laboratory. We have scientific evidence that the parapsychic faculty exists and can be used, at will, with predictable result. Science, gentlemen, by definition, is any skill that reflects a precise application of principles. The principle in Ralph's case is moving objects without artificial aid."
"I might buy the teleportation, Darrow," replied Doctor Abbey, slightly contemptuous, "but go back to the tearoom a minute. Give me an example of the science behind precognition."
"I knew you'd ask that, Doctor Abbey. And I predict that you will receive a favorable answer to your latest inquiry into the problem--" Henry raised his hand to suppress Abbey's exclamation, "I'm discreet enough. Doctor Abbey -- into the problem you're investigating with Doctors Schwarz, Vosogin and Clasmire. That, Doctor Abbey, is predictable, scientific and accurate enough -- since your correspondence with the three men is a closely guarded secret -- to be convincing. Right?
From the stunned expression on Dr. Abbey's face as he sank into his chair, Darrow knew he was right and Abbey was convinced.
"Now," Henry asked the audience in general, "all of you have had problems which I believe some of our Talents can solve. What am I offered?"
* * *
"Why, after fourteen years and nine rent increases -- which I didn't protest by the way -- will you not renew my lease?"
"Mister Darrow, I've been told that your lease is not renewable and that's what I've been told to tell you."
"How come the 'Mister Darrow,' Frank? Now look, I've paid my rent right on the button for fourteen years. I've had no more than legitimate redecorating, why am I not able to renew my lease?" Henry knew the problem, had foreseen this situation, but he was human enough to like to see people squirm. Particularly if it might let in a little wisdom and understanding of Talent.
Frank Hummel looked very uncomfortable.
"C'mon, Frank. You know. Don't try to kid me you don't."
Copyright © 1973 by Anne McCaffrey