Henrie Dass

By Dolores J. Nurss

Jake il'Dawes, whenever he can get away with it, wears what appears to be an anachronistic, battered old baseball cap with a raveling of no-longer-legible gold embroidery. This mystified me for many years. Finally, on impulse, around my early to mid-twenties, I prayed for a dream to explain this. I got more than I bargained for:
You see, a few nights later I went to sleep, my eyes last registering the clock at 3:14 AM. I woke unwillingly at 3:47, compelled against all reason (and grumbling the while) to jot the dream down--in abbreviated notes, I thought.
I appreciate nothing after being dragged from 33 minutes of already-overly-postponed sleep. Yet I found my work that morning not only showed a startling insight into Jake, but arrived in the most perfect story-form I'd ever dreamed, written in a style that I'd never till then used--Jake's own voice--put down so completely and in such detail that it needed only nitpicky grammatical and punctuation correction--aside from those corrections I now present it exactly as I wrote it. Oh, and one other slight modification: The notes did not describe the couch, but I remembered it vividly in the dream itself, so I added that.

For the record, I  am not tall, left-handed, or any of the other things recorded in this story.  But that is exactly how I wrote it down, while still half-asleep.

One additional note: before this Jake always wore his hair short. After this he grew it out long. Oracles do strange, symbolic things. Oh, and in his own timeframe, this happened in June, 2697]
Jake's words:
I went to the cafeteria, saving my money for I don't know what. I don't remember. A couple tables away I caught sight of a man, watching me quietly. He was old--no, he looked old to me then, in his fifties or sixties, if you can estimate such things. Aged-young face, ravaged handsomeness. I felt riveted by a power, but a friendly power.
He had thick, grey hair that spilled down past his shoulders, smoothly brushed and dignified. Every line on his face spelled penetrating thought, especially the ones around his mouth: curves added onto a square, strong chin. He dressed in grey and brown, with his legs stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles. Even sitting down I could see his height.
Since by now we'd both been staring at each other for several minutes, I went over to introduce myself. I don't usually do that. When he stood to greet me I had the shock of finding his eyes exactly level with my own--that doesn't happen often. They seemed to form a bridge between us, our eyes. His were black.
As I told him my name he clasped my hand, left-handed like me, no awkward moment. He kept his clasp upon me for a long interval before he introduced himself: Henrie Dass. It rang a bell, some teacher recommended to me or something.
I still had telepathy in those days, though it became more diffuse as my training progressed. I felt a wave of personality rush through me from him, a keen slap of mind-ocean, at once vibrant and grey, refreshing and achingly cold. Then it withdrew, as though embarrassed. I felt a second wave come towards me, this time desperate, hurtling back, repentant of the first withdrawal. But before it reached me fully he slammed a shield between us. Not before I read fear, though, or maybe panic. Habitual panic.
He said, in the old usted grammar, "We have a lot in common, the gentleman and I."
"Do you always affect archaic speech?" I asked. I was blunter then, too young for diplomacy.
He laughed. "Pardon me," he said. "My thoughts went...I'm an historian, you see. I forget sometimes what year I'm in." I didn't even realize he still gripped my hand until he released it. "You're interested in history," he stated.
"Somewhat." No more than any of us.
"Come to my place, then. I have many things to show you."
I went, flowing with the adventure. He had a one-story home inside a sort of oriental garden, a clean, well-made place full of shining display cases, things mounted on walls, and shelves of books. I get lazy, myself, and do all my reading from the console. But I know the sort of personality that loves to hold the actual thing in one's hands, to absorb an ambiance from it. To relish it.
He took pride in his collection. Most of the books he'd bound himself, often illustrating them, too. He took down a copy of Huckleberry Finn, flipped to a picture of Jim the Runaway Slave, and went on about all the research he did to discover the ethnic differences between the Antebellum American Negro and the present-day Blacks of Altraus.
He pointed out in his engraving details of calluses with a magnifying glass and explained experiments he'd conducted, handling reproductions of authentic tools to put such calluses temporarily on his own hands and to develop the same muscles--just so he'd know how to draw details nobody else would notice. I saw he needed praise for his efforts and gave it to him.
That embarrassed him. He apologized, confessing that he had a bad habit of fishing for compliments. He never meant to, he just always caught himself at it. He put the book back.
"That brings us to why I invited you here, Jake. Do you like this house?"
"It's fascinating."
"How would you like to have it to yourself for three days?"
I wanted it. Everywhere I looked things beckoned me. Tibetan devil's masks leered across the room at Greek theater masks. A WWI British helmet hung from a Victorian coat-stand, along with a cane carved in the Celtic style. It seemed mostly Earth stuff, so it had to be reproductions, probably a lot of it made by Henrie. Instead of answering I picked up a hat from a table, a rich, royal blue embroidered in gold, a cap with a visor.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Ah, that's a duplicate of a sort of American crown of honor. You're familiar with NASA?"
"Yes." They played a role in the Great Migration.
"They awarded one of these caps to each of their astronauts upon returning to the planet. See how this embroidery resembles leaves? It's a direct descendent of the Greek victor-crowns, thousands of years before."
"It has the Til emblem on it."
He chuckled, a little shamefacedly. "That's a fancy of my own, Jake. I'm not sure, but my research indicates that they used to embroider the adventurer's name there." he took the cap in his hands, fingering the fabric with a sort of wistful affection. "I thought for a long while what name I would put there, which astronaut I'd choose. Finally I realized we were all their heirs, living in their dream of a New World. Though we arrived differently, we are all astronauts." He raised the cap up to the light. "I sewed the emblem there to give us all the honor." His hands sank again. "Vain of me, I suppose."
"No, it feels right." I kept admiring the thing.
"You like it."
He handed it to me. "Try it on."
I did. "It fits me."
"It should. I made it to my own measure." He paced a bit, looking to the ground. "Jake, it's a wonderful coincidence that we look so similar, the years between us notwithstanding." He turned to face me. "Put a wig on you and from a distance no one would know it was you staying here, not me."
"You're in trouble. You want me to take your identity for awhile."
"Ah. You understand." He smiled at me, a rich, warm expression. Still, I felt the chill behind it. Not a coldness of heart, but something hot cooling of a sudden, like a tempering blade...
"Henrie, beware! Not all steel survives tempering--some cracks."
He stared at me blankly. "What's that again?"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm training for an oracle and I haven't got a handle on it yet. I don't know what it means."
"It just burst out of you. I see." He stood a long moment, considering my words seriously. Then he smiled, threw up his hands and said, "I don't understand it either, Jake."
"You're in trouble. Tell me about it."
"Over here." He brought me to a twenty-first century sofa, made up of soft, green spheres and sphere-sections. As I sat he poured us each sweet tea from a Russian samovar of the most intricate workmanship. He couldn't possibly have made all of this, I remember thinking. He must've hired some of it out, or have skillful friends.
He put an arm around my shoulders; I could feel it tremble, though he acted nonchalant. "Would you think less of me, Jake, if I told you I had trouble with my own friendclan?"
I sipped his tea. "I don't know you well enough to think anything of you."
"They're good people, Jake; they mean only the best for me." Suddenly he swiveled towards me where he sat. "Do I strike you as eccentric?" He gripped my arm with hands of ice.
"For the Institute? No more than anybody else."
"They worry about me, all the time. It wears me down. Jake, I...I don't know how things got to be such a mess. I never meant to be manipulative, but I needed them. I thought I did, anyway. I manipulated them into letting me join their friendclan, originally. I manipulated them into paying me attention. I hungered after praise and I never realized how my hunger ate ulcers of guilt into them, so that they flattered me constantly."
His fists clenched. "They flattered me, Jake! I based my entire life on lying feedback; now I don't know how much, if any, of my accomplishments counted for anything. I thought of myself as a notable historian--they praised all my work, lavishly, but I have no way of knowing how many others get printouts of my work. Not many, I'll wager."
"The Archives are so vast that..."
"And my classes. I've just realized that all of my classes have a few of their children in it, or friends of their children, or people with some other connection. It takes only a couple to make a good claque, lead the herd to acclaim me as an exceptional teacher. All false! All a ruse to sustain the crippled ego of a neurotic who has never contributed anything of value to anyone."
"If so, sir, they must love you a lot to go so far."
"They fear me! They fear my capacity to twist little knives of guilt into their vitals. They don't love me--how could they love someone who hurts them so? I've always created an imitation friendclan, handing out imitation esteem to an imitation man, who has lived at least half a century of an imitation life!"
"Henrie, I think you're being unfair to yourself. What I've seen so far is an intelligent, interesting man, with a sensitive grasp of the people behind events. If you see so much in history, you must understand everyday people that much more."
He smiled, regretfully, on me. "Have I gotten to you so soon? Do you pity me already? But no, maybe it's not flattery. I do make a good first impression. There's nothing to follow it with, Jake--I'm as hollow as that mask over there."
He sipped at his tea. "As for history, it's much easier to understand someone whose whole life stretches out on paper in front of you, beginning to end, with no pressure as you peruse the details of his passions, no need to interact. I'm insensitive in real life; I find my fellow man incomprehensible. What else can you conclude from someone who can't seem to help spilling all his troubles onto a chance-met stranger?" His smile felt colder than anything I had yet perceived in him.
"I asked. You're answering. You said you had a purpose in bringing me here."
"Yes. My purpose. It's simple, really. I need three days to pull myself together, embark on a solution, cut the Gordian knot I can't untangle." He no longer touched me, though we sat centimeters apart on the couch. A whole distance of history seemed to sift down in between us. "I have persuaded my friends to leave me alone during that time, but I know they've been watching me. I've seen them outside my window. It's been perfect luck to find you, a man remarkably like myself who, if I'm not mistaken, also has considerable ability in th shielding department. Am I right?"
"Nobody reads my thoughts when I don't want them to."
"Excellent! Then we'll trade identities. Just for three days. I'll stay at your place, while you stay here. You won't mind the wig?"
"Not if you don't mind my roach problem. Just give me time to get my laundry caught up, first; it's all over my apartment."
I left him to make my own arrangements. My first place (I moved out shortly after) was a loft, an old triangular attic-studio towards the east end of campus. I had clothes strewn about. I had not yet learned the routines to keep a place tidy--I'd only been on my own for six months. By the time Henrie arrived, though, I had it squared away. I'd also taken time to call my own friends and ask them for a few day's isolation. It seemed no strange thing from me.
He came in the evening, wearing this grey belted sweater-coat down nearly to his ankles, with sleeves wide enough for gowns in their own right, though they stopped just past the elbows. I tried to make out the design, but it had raveled too much. This was authentic, no reproduction.
"You've been an agent, I see." I couldn't tell which culture made such sweaters, but I recognized it from something I'd read.
"I've tried my hand at that and a few other things." He piled his dufflebag onto the bed and surveyed his surroundings with a smile, though I knew him used to better. I noticed a peculiarity in his smile: the corners pulled down, not up, yet it remained an expression of approval. For some people it works like that.
"I don't think I resemble you all that closely, Henrie." I knew I couldn't smile like that if I tried.*
"Nonsense. You'll do all right at a distance. People fill in glimpses of what they expect to see. If we looked as deeply as we could, we'd all go mad."
I left him, then, just as he pulled out a pipe and stuffed it. Outside, I watched him through the window as he smoked, looking suddenly old and melancholy. I know I smelled marijuana before I left, which surprised me. It's an acceptable vice among specialists, but I never heard of it going with anyone of his wide-ranging mind. It must've been a temporary fancy; had it been his habit all his research would've centered on one culture in one time--detailed, perhaps, but within defined borders. He must've been awfully depressed, then, to seek unaccustomed refuge.
I spent the three days happily, exploring his house and all the surprises within it. Everything showed such master craftsmanship. It spoke of a deep-seated love for humanity and all that humanity thinks and does, a treasuring of everything the species ever came up with. He cherished humankind, surrounded himself with artifacts like a lovesick man might bury himself in the tokens of an incomprehensible mistress or steal from an unrequiting love: this handkerchief touched by her lips, that lock of hair from her comb, a lost shoe. Only for him it was model ships, a bolt from an original space-capsule, a dentist's drill from the turn of the century. I kept it all dusted for him, the treasures of his life.
On the third day I returned to my loft. A crowd stood around, blocking my way. I pushed through, only to be stopped by a man wearing the black and white badge of the coroner's office. I saw a flask on the floor, empty, with poison warnings written on it. Later, when they read me his will (written on my desk) I found that he'd left the astronaut's cap to me.
[*He does all the time!--djn]

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