ACROSS THE GALAXY INTO THE HEART OF GODDESS KALI...


("Keep going!")

He managed to run, although his left leg dragged due to the embedded arrow. But the Healer felt no pain from this wound. As he left the temple's bloody anteroom and entered another corridor, his vision suddenly blurred and his equilibrium wavered.

What was that?

("The same knockout punch that separated us on Clutch. Only this time I was ready for it. Now the going gets tough—the goddess has decided to step in.")

He started to run forward again but glanced down and found himself at the edge of a yawning pit. White tentacles, slime-coated and thick as his thighs, sprang out from the walls and reached for him.

"Where'd that come from?" he whispered hoarsely.

("From Kali's mind. It's not real—keep going.") You sure?

("Positive ... I think. Keep going!")





HEALER
A Novel of the LaNague Federation




F. PAUL WILSON








Dedicated to Mary



All of the characters in the book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Published by DELL PUBLISHING CO., INC 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza New York, N.Y. 10017

The first part of this novel appeared in Analog as "Pard," Copyright © 1972 by the Conde Nast Publications Inc. Copyright © 1976 by F. Paul Wilson All rights reserved. For information contact Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York, N.Y. 10017. Dell TM 681510, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

ISBN: 0-440-13569-9

Reprinted by arrangement with Doubleday & Company, Inc. Printed in the United States of America First Dell printing—June 1977



PROLOGUE


Dr. Rond watched the surging crowd outside the hospital gates. Waving, pushing, shoving, shouting people, all trying to get into the hospital. Most of them wanted just a glimpse of The Healer but a good number wanted to touch him—or better yet, be touched by him—in hopes of being cured of one malady or another. Often they were cured. Dr. Rond shook his head in wonder at the placebo power that surrounded this man.

The extra security forces necessitated by the presence of The Healer within the hospital had initially given him second thoughts about the wisdom of inviting him here. But after seeing the wonders he had achieved with the resident victims of the horrors, he congratulated himself on the decision.

He turned his back to the window and looked across the room. The Healer was at work on another horrors victim, a middle-aged male this time.

Quite a figure, this man called The Healer. A flame-stone slung at his throat, yellow-gold skin on his left hand, and atop the clutter of his dark brown hair, a patch of snowy white.

He was sitting opposite the patient, hands resting on the man's knees, head bowed as if dozing. Sweat broke out on his brow and his eyelids twitched. The tableau persisted for some minutes, then was shattered by a groan from the patient as he suddenly lurched to his feet and looked around.

"Wh...where am I?"

Attendants glided from the corners, and with gentle support and reassuring words led him away. Dr. Rond watched him go. More-conventional modes of therapy could now be used to rehabilitate him completely. But The Healer had made the all-important initial breakthrough: A man who had been totally unable to react to external stimuli for seven standard years was now asking where he was.

Dr. Rond shook his head again, this time in admiration, and returned his attention to The Healer, who was slumped in his chair.

What a burden to have such a gift, he thought. It seems to be taking its toll. On a number of occasions he had noticed The Healer's habit of muttering to himself. Perhaps The Healer was himself psychologically deranged. Perhaps there lay the key to his unique talent. Between patients he seemed to withdraw completely, muttering now and again and gazing at a fixed point in space. At this moment, The Healer's thoughts seemed to be hundreds of years and hundreds of millions of kilometers away.




Part One: HEAL THYSELF



YEAR 36


The Healer was a striking, extraordinary man whose identity was possibly the best-kept secret in human history. To this date, after hundreds of thousands of research hours by countless scholars, it remains an enigma. There can be no doubt that he led a double existence much like that of the romantic fictional heroes of yore. Considering the hysterical adulation that came to focus on him, an alter ego was an absolute necessity if he was to have any privacy at all.

For some inexplicable reason, however, the concept of a double identity became subject to mythification and evolved into one of the prime canons of The Healer liturgy: that this man had two minds, two distinct areas of consciousness, and was thereby able to perform his miraculous cures.

This, of course, is preposterous.


from The Healer: Man & Myth By Emmerz Fent


I


The orbital survey had indicated this clearing as the probable site of the crash, but long-range observation had turned up no signs of wreckage. Steven Dalt was doing no better at close range. Something had landed here with tremendous impact not too long ago: There was a deep furrow, a few of the trees were charred, and the grass had not yet been able to fully cover the earth-scar. So far, so good. But where was the wreckage? He had made a careful search of the trees around the clearing and there was nothing of interest there. It was obvious now that there would be no quick, easy solution to the problem, as he had originally hoped, so he started the half-kilometer trek back to his concealed shuttle-craft.

Topping a leafy rise, he heard a shout off to his left and turned to see a small party of mounted colonists, Tependians by their garb. The oddity of the sight struck him. They were well inside the Duchy of Bendelema, and that shouldn't be: Bendelema and Tependia had been at war for generations. Dalt shrugged and started walking again. He'd been away for years and it was very possible that something could have happened in that time to soften relations between the two duchies. Change was the rule on a splinter world.

One of the colonists pointed an unwieldy apparatus at Dalt and something went thip past his head. Dalt went into a crouch and ran to his right. There had been at least one change since his departure: Someone had reinvented the crossbow.

The hooves of the Tependian mounts thudded in pursuit as he raced down the slope into a dank, twilit grotto, and Dalt redoubled his speed as he realized how simple it would be for his pursuers to surround and trap him in this sunken area. He had to gain the high ground on the other side before he was encircled. Halfway up the far slope, he was halted by the sound of hooves ahead of him. They had succeeded in cutting him off.

Dalt turned and made his way carefully down the slope. If he could just keep out of sight, they might think he had escaped the ring they had thrown around the grotto. Then, when it got dark—

A bolt smashed against a stone by his foot. "There he is!" someone cried, and Dalt was on the run again.

He began to weigh the situation in his mind. If he kept on running, they were bound to keep on shooting at him, and one of them just might put a bolt through him. If he stopped running, he might have a chance. They might let him off with his life. Then he remembered that he was dressed in serf's clothing and serfs who ran from anyone in uniform were usually put to the sword. Dalt kept running.

Another bolt flashed by, this one ripping some bark off a nearby tree. They were closing in—they were obviously experienced at this sort of work—and it wouldn't be long before Dalt was trapped at the lowest point of the grotto, with nowhere else to go.

Then he saw the cave mouth, a wide, low arch of darkness just above him on the slope. It was about a meter and a half high at its central point. With a shower of crossbow bolts raining around him, Dalt quickly ducked inside.

It wasn't much of a cave. In the dark and dampness Dalt soon found that it rapidly narrowed to a tunnel too slender for his shoulders to pass. There was nothing else for him to do but stay as far back as possible and hope for the best... which wasn't much no matter how he looked at it. If his pursuers didn't feel like corning in to drag him out, they could just sit back and fill the cave with bolts. Sooner or later one would have to strike him. Dalt peered out the opening to see which it would be.

But his five pursuers were doing nothing. They sat astride their mounts and stared dumbly at the cave mouth. One of the party unstrung his crossbow and began to strap it to his back. Dalt had no time to wonder at their behavior, for in that instant he realized he had made a fatal error. He was in a cave on Kwashi, and there was hardly a cave on Kwashi that didn't house a colony of alarets.

He jumped into a crouch and sprinted for the outside. He'd gladly take his chances against crossbows rather than alarets any day. But a warm furry oval fell from the cave ceiling and landed on his head as he began to move. As his ears roared and his vision turned orange and green and yellow, Steven Dalt screamed in agony and fell to the cave floor.

Hearing that scream, the five Tependian scouts shook their heads and turned and rode away.

It was dark when he awoke and he was cold and alone ... and alive. That last part surprised him when he remembered his situation, and he lost no time in crawling out of the cave and into the clean air under the open stars. Hesitantly, he reached up and peeled from his scalp the shrunken, desiccated remains of one dead alaret. He marveled at the thing in his hand. Nowhere in the history of Kwashi, neither in the records of its long-extinct native race nor in the memory of anyone in its degenerated splinter colony, had there ever been mention of someone surviving the attack of an alaret.

The original splinter colonists had found artifacts of an ancient native race soon after their arrival. The culture had reached preindustrial levels before it was unaccountably wiped out; a natural cataclysm of some sort was given the blame. But among the artifacts were found some samples of symbolic writing, and one of these samples—evidently aimed at the children of the race—strongly warned against entering any cave. It seemed that a creature described as the killing-thing-on-the-ceilings-of-caves would attack anything that entered. The writing warned: "Of every thousand struck down, nine hundred and ninety-nine will die."

William Alaret, a settler with some zoological training, had heard the translation and decided to find out just what it was all about. He went into the first cave he could find and emerged seconds later, screaming and clawing at the furry little thing on his head. He became the first of many fatalities attributed to the killing-thing-on-the-ceilings-of-caves, which were named "alarets" in his honor.

Dalt threw the alaret husk aside, got his bearings, and headed for his hidden shuttlecraft. He anticipated little trouble this time. No scouting party, if any were abroad at this hour, would be likely to spot him, and Kwashi had few large carnivores.

The ship was as he had left it. He lifted slowly to fifty thousand meters and then cut in the orbital thrust. That was when he first heard the voice.

("Hello, Steve.")

If it hadn't been for the G-forces against him at that moment, Dalt would have leaped out of his chair in surprise.

("This pressure is quite uncomfortable, isn't it?") the voice said, and Dalt realized that it was coming from inside his head. The thrust automatically cut off as orbit was reached and his stomach gave its familiar free-fall lurch.

("Ah! This is much better.")

"What's going on?" Dalt cried aloud as he glanced frantically about. "Is this someone's idea of a joke?"

("No joke, Steve. I'm what's left of the alaret that landed on your head back in that cave. You're quite lucky, you know. Mutual death is a sure result—most of the time, at least—whenever a creature of high-level intelligence is a target for pairing.") I'm going mad! Dalt thought.

("No, you're not, at least not yet. But it is a possibility if you don't sit back and relax and accept what's happened to you.")

Dalt leaned back and rested his eyes on the growing metal cone that was the Star Ways Corporation mother-ship, on the forward viewer. The glowing signal on the console indicated that the bigger ship had him in traction and was reeling him in.

"Okay, then. Just what has happened to me?" He felt a little ridiculous speaking out loud in an empty cabin.

("Well, to put it in a nutshell: You've got yourself a roommate, Steve. From now on, you and I will be sharing your body.")

"In other words, I've been invaded!"

("That's a loaded term, Steve, and not quite accurate. I'm not really taking anything from you except some of your privacy, and that shouldn't really matter since the two of us will be so intimately associated.")

"And just what gives you the right to invade my mind?" Dalt asked quickly, then added: "—and my privacy?"

("Nothing gives me the right to do so, but there are extenuating circumstances. You see, a few hours ago I was a furry, lichen-eating cave slug with no intelligence to speak of—")

"For a slug you have a pretty good command of the language!" Dalt interrupted.

("No better and no worse than yours, for I derive whatever intelligence I have from you. You see, we alarets, as you call us, invade the nervous system of any creature of sufficient size that comes near enough. It's an instinct with us. If the creature is a dog, then we wind up with the intelligence of a dog—that particular dog. If it's a human and if he survives, as you have done, the invading alaret finds himself possessing a very high degree of intelligence.")

"You used the word 'invade' yourself just then."

("Just an innocent slip, I assure you. I have no intention of taking over. That would be quite immoral.")

Dalt laughed grimly. "What would an ex-slug know about morality?"

("With the aid of your faculties I can reason now, can I not? And if I can reason, why can't I arrive at a moral code? This is your body and I am here only because of blind instinct. I have the ability to take control—not without a struggle, of course—but it would be immoral to attempt to do so. I couldn't vacate your mind if I wanted to, so you're stuck with me, Steve. Might as well make the best of it.")

"We'll see how 'stuck' I am when I get back to the ship," Dalt muttered. "But I'd like to know how you got into my brain."

("I'm not exactly sure of that myself. I know the path I followed to penetrate your skull—if you had the anatomical vocabulary I could describe it to you, but my vocabulary is your vocabulary and yours is very limited in that area.")

"What do you expect? I was educated in cultural studies, not medicine!"

("It's not important anyway. I remember almost nothing of my existence before entering your skull, for it wasn't until then that I first became truly aware.")

Dalt glanced at the console and straightened up in his seat. "Well, whatever you are, go away for now. I'm ready to dock and I don't want to be distracted."