Sideshow by Sheri S. Tepper Read Free Book Online

Book: Sideshow by Sheri S. Tepper Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sheri S. Tepper
Tags: Science-Fiction
rest of the universe, this galaxy of it, at least, was long ago taken over by the Hobbs Land Gods. Only Elsewhere is free of enslavement. Thus, only on Elsewhere may the Great Question be answered. So, to a suspicious mind like mine …”
“You think maybe someone … something doesn’t want the question answered?”
“The thought had crossed my mind. Which is one reason I’m talking to you. The petition says R.S.V.P. Noplace: Central Panubi. You’ve been on Panubi.”
Zasper, remembering a few times he’d been there, keeps his face expressionless. “Many Enforcers have been on Panubi.”
“That’s true. Unfortunately, few of you have been over the wall to Central Panubi, which should have been explored generations ago!”
The excuse originally given for not having explored Central Panubi before settlement was that there hadn’t been time. The advance of the Gods had been swifter than anticipated. There had been ecological adaptation delays on Elsewhere. There had been the construction of the Great Rotunda to get finished off and a Frickian army to transport and house. There had been staff to hire and settlement protocols to be developed. There had been on-planet Doors to set up for transporting refugees to their provinces. Exploration of Central Panubi, it had then been felt, could wait until all these matters were taken care of. The reasons given now were different ones, but exploration still waited.
Boarmus’s musing over this fact is interrupted by Zasper’s impatient question.
“Provost, what do you want from me?”
“Well, I don’t want the matter talked of here, for one thing. Since you’re going home, you won’t be here to talk about it. We Council members are not people of action. We don’t think that way. We like precedents. We like rules. You, however, you’re a man of action, so you can tell me what aman of action would do under the circumstances. That’s what I want from you.”
“I’d send someone to Central Panubi to find out what’s going on,” says Zasper firmly.
“Well, I have considered that,” Boarmus replies, offended once more. “That seems self-evident, rather. The former Provost and I both considered doing that. But it’s very difficult to send anyone to do anything and keep it secret! One man, maybe. But one man couldn’t be expected to …”
Zasper thinks about it. “You don’t want to mount a major expedition?”
“I don’t. I don’t want the talk. All it takes is the least bit of tittle-tattle and all Tolerance buzzes like a hive, all the charge monitors get themselves in a muddle, and nothing gets done for ages. Work backs up. The status quo is threatened. No, we couldn’t have a major expedition without talk.”
“Well, if I couldn’t send someone to find anything out, then I’d simply wait. You’ve probably noticed that the intervals between messages are getting shorter. Whoever or whatever it is may be growing … less patient. If you wait, the petitioner may come to you.”
“If you had to guess, what would you think this thing means.”
Zasper, well schooled in tactics at the Enforcer Academy, ticks off the possibilities on his fingers: “Agitation, misdirection, misinformation.”
“Meaning these messages may be mere harassment, attempts to throw you off balance. Or something or someone might be trying to make you look at Central Panubi so hard you don’t see something happening somewhere else. Or perhaps there are beings in Central Panubi who believe they can get us to leave Elsewhere, some of us at any rate, going out where we’d be vulnerable— or who simply believe we ought to; no accounting for some people’s idiocies.” Zasper nodded. Idiocy was one thing Enforcers knew could be counted on.
He went on musingly, “Inasmuch as this thing suggests we turn our attention outside our own system, I could suspect the Hobbs Land Gods have something to do with it. Of course, there is another possibility, which is that the messages

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