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The seat was narrow and pressed them together, but if his companion didn’t mind Donald didn’t. He was beginning to regain his normal mood.

“I’m Bronwen Ghose, by the way,” the girl said as the driver hoisted himself up on one leg to exert maximum pressure on his pedal and get his heavy load moving.

“Bronwen? That’s an Indian name?”

“No, Welsh. There’s a complicated story behind it involving my grandfather going to sea as what they used to call a Lascar and having his heart broken in Cardiff by a Welsh girl.” She laughed. “It puzzles everyone until I explain. What are you doing in Gongilung, Donald, or am I being inquisitive?”

“Not at all.” Donald scanned the stream of traffic into which they were now merging; most of it consisted of pedal-driven miniature trucks, interspersed with electric gadabouts carrying either passengers—in incredible numbers, five or six to a vehicle no larger than this rixa—or bags and bales and boxes of indeterminate goods. Over the roadway bright streamers hung, a little faded from the rain, some of which praised Marshal Solukarta and some of which exhorted the Yatakangis to free themselves of European preconceptions.

“I—ah—I’m covering the genetic optimisation story for Engrelay Satelserv,” he added.

“Really? How interesting! Are you a specialist in that area?”

“To some extent. I have a degree in biology, that is.”

“I see what you mean—‘to some extent’. What Sugaiguntung has done isn’t, obviously, something one would cover in a college course, is it?”

“You know something about genetics yourself?”

Bronwen gave a wan smile. “Believe me, Donald, in a country like mine you can’t be a woman of child-breeding age and not know something about it—unless you’re illiterate and stupid, that is.”

“I suppose not.” Donald hesitated. “What brings you here, by the way? Business or pleasure?”

The answer was a long time delayed. Eventually she said, “Illness, to be frank.”

“Illness?” he echoed in astonishment, and looked her over as best he could, crowded into the rixa’s narrow seat.

“Nothing contagious, I promise. I wouldn’t repay your kindness with such a nasty trick.” She forced a laugh which made the rixa-man turn his head and narrowly miss a gadabout crossing his front wheel.

“No, it’s something you’ll perhaps know about if you’re a geneticist. I have— Ah, the English word escapes me!” She snapped her fingers, and he caught at her hand.

“Don’t do that in Yatakang!” he said, showing an apologetic face to their driver as he again turned around, this time looking suspicious. “It’s bad luck except on certain specified days of the year. It’s supposed to be a signal to call back the ghosts of your ancestors!”

“Goodness!” She put the knuckles of her other hand to her fine white teeth, pantomiming dismay. Belatedly Donald realised he was still holding the hand he had caught at, and let it go.

“It’s a complicated country,” he said. “You were just going to tell me—?”

“Oh yes. When the bones make too many of the blood-cells that kill germs, what is that called?”


“Leukaemia, that’s the word I wanted.”

“But that’s terrible,” Donald said, genuinely concerned. In this day and age one thought of any kind of cancer including cancer of the blood as being a disease of old age, when the regulating mechanisms of the body began to break down. In youth, there were cures, and a whole body of legislation governed the production and use of carcinogenic substances.

“In America, I believe, it’s now rare, but there is a lot of it in my country,” Bronwen said. “I am lucky—my husband died, as you know, and I inherited enough money to come here and take a treatment which cannot be had in India.”

“What kind of treatment?”

“One which that same Dr. Sugaiguntung invented. I don’t know very much about it.”

They had reached the top of a long incline diving towards the heart of Gongilung, and the road was flanked with low-cost warren-like tenements, several of them decorated with the ubiquitous political slogan-streamers. Their driver, alarmingly, removed his bare feet from the pedals and crossed them on the handlebar, using both hands to extract and shield a cigarette which the rain threatened to damp out. But Donald saw that all the other drivers were doing the same, so he resigned himself.

“I remember reading about this,” he said, frowning. “If I recall rightly, what has to be done is in two stages. First, you infect the bone-marrow with a tailored virus that substitutes for the uncontrolled natural genetic material. Then, when it’s brought leucocyte production back to normal, you have to displace the tailored material in its turn and complete the job with a facsimile nucleus—”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Bronwen said, shrugging. “I know two things about it: it’s expensive, and it’s painful. But I am glad to be here.”

There was silence except for the hushing of the wheels on the roadway and occasional angry shouts from drivers who thought their right of way had been infringed. Donald could find nothing to say; he could only look at Bronwen’s pretty face and read the unhappiness there.

“I am only twenty-one years old,” Bronwen said finally. “I could live for a long time. I want to live for a long time.”

“And you’re a widow already?”

“My husband was a doctor,” she said stonily. “He was killed by a mob who found out he was using vaccines made from pig-serum. He was thirty-three.”

The distant thunder of an express roaring down towards the port drowned out any attempt at an answer Donald might have made.

*   *   *

At the Dedication Hotel one of the staff spoke both English and a little Hindi, so Donald could relinquish his job as interpreter. Frowning over the elaborate computer-form he had to punch to describe himself, he hardly listened to what Bronwen was saying to the reception clerk. At the back of his mind he was reviewing what he had to do for “professional” reasons: call at the International Press Club, to which he had been given a temporary admission card, and rendezvous with the Engrelay Satelserv stringer; check in at the government information office and make sure of receiving their official releases; and grease as many palms as he had to in order to secure a personal interview with Sugaiguntung. That was going to be a long, expensive and quite possibly fruitless task. Since the news broke, no foreign journalist had managed to see the Professor Doctor alone, only at press-conferences masterminded by government spokesmen.

Despite being round-eyed, Indians were comparatively acceptable in Yatakang at the moment; they were regarded as fellow sufferers from the legacy of colonialism. Europeans were liable to encounter the dislike engendered by the former governors, the Dutch, and some of it was bound to rub off on Americans owing to the continuing strain in diplomatic relations; Bronwen had already vanished to an upper floor before Donald’s bags were collected and he was led to his own room. It was a typically Yatakangi assembly of paradoxes—fine old hand-woven silks in glass frames filled with helium to prevent decay, a low tray full of cushions to serve as a bed, a shower compartment panelled in mock-marble alongside a bidet, a toilet, and a large plastic basket full of smooth round stones for the benefit of orthodox Muslim visitors who declined to do otherwise than the Prophet ordered when cleaning themselves after having their bowels open.

A bellgirl in a blue shareng silently and efficiently put away his clothes, showed him how to operate the paper clothing dispenser and the shoe-weaver, and apologised for the fact that the TV was out of order, “but it will be fixed very soon.” There was dust on the knobs; that promise had probably been made to the last twenty guests.