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“With Morning Comes Mistfall” by George R. R. Martin

I WAS EARLY TO BREAKFAST THAT MORNING, THE FIRST DAY AFTER landing. But Sanders was already out on the dining balcony when I got there. He was standing alone by the edge, looking out over the mountains and the mists.

I walked up behind him and muttered hello. He didn’t bother to reply. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said, without turning.

And it was.

Only a few feet below balcony level the mists rolled, sending ghostly breakers to crash against the stones of Sanders’ castle. A thick white blanket extended from horizon to horizon, cloaking everything. We could see the summit of the Red Ghost, off to the north; a barbed dagger of scarlet rock jabbing into the sky. But that was all. The other mountains were still below mist level.

But we were above the mists. Sanders had built his hotel atop the tallest mountain in the chain. We were floating alone in a swirling white ocean, on a flying castle amid a sea of clouds.

Castle Cloud, in fact. That was what Sanders had named the place. It was easy to see why.

“Is it always like this?” I asked Sanders, after drinking it all in for a while.

“Every mistfall,” he replied, turning toward me with a wistful smile. He was a fat man, with a jovial red face. Not the sort who should smile wistfully. But he did.

He gestured toward the east, where Wraithworld’s sun rising above the mists made a crimson and orange spectacle out of the dawn sky.

“The sun,” he said. “As it rises, the heat drives the mists back into the valleys, forces them to surrender the mountains they’ve conquered during the night. The mists sink, and one by one the peaks come into view. By noon the whole range is visible for miles and miles. There’s nothing like it on Earth, or anywhere else.”

He smiled again, and led me over to one of the tables scattered around the balcony. “And then, at sunset, it’s all reversed. You must watch mistrise tonight,” he said.

We sat down, and a sleek robowaiter came rolling out to serve us as the chairs registered our presence. Sanders ignored it. “It’s war, you know,” he continued. “Eternal war between the sun and the mists. And the mists have the better of it. They have the valleys, and the plains, and the seacoasts. The sun has only a few mountaintops. And them only by day.”

He turned to the robowaiter and ordered coffee for both of us, to keep us occupied until the others arrived. It would be fresh-brewed, of course. Sanders didn’t tolerate instants or synthetics on his planet.

“You like it here,” I said, while we waited for the coffee.

Sanders laughed. “What’s not to like? Castle Cloud has everything. Good food, entertainment, gambling, and all the other comforts of home. Plus this planet. I’ve got the best of both worlds, don’t I?”

“I suppose so. But most people don’t think in those terms. Nobody comes to Wraithworld for the gambling, or the food.”

Sanders nodded. “But we do get some hunters. Out after rockcats and plains devils. And once in a while someone will come to look at the ruins.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But those are your exceptions. Not your rule. Most of your guests are here for one reason.”

“Sure,” he admitted, grinning. “The wraiths.”

“The wraiths,” I echoed. “You’ve got beauty here, and hunting and fishing and mountaineering. But none of that brings the tourists here. It’s the wraiths they come for.”

The coffee arrived then, two big steaming mugs accompanied by a pitcher of thick cream. It was very strong, and very hot, and very good. After weeks of spaceship synthetic, it was an awakening.

Sanders sipped at his coffee with care, his eyes studying me over the mug. He set it down thoughtfully. “And it’s the wraiths you’ve come for, too,” he said.

I shrugged. “Of course. My readers aren’t interested in scenery, no matter how spectacular. Dubowski and his men are here to find wraiths, and I’m here to cover the search.”

Sanders was about to answer, but he never got the chance. A sharp, precise voice cut in suddenly. “If there are any wraiths to find,” the voice said.

We turned to face the balcony entrance. Dr. Charles Dubowski, head of the Wraithworld Research Team, was standing in the doorway, squinting at the light. He had managed to shake the gaggle of research assistants who usually trailed him everywhere.

Dubowski paused for a second, then walked over to our table, pulled out a chair, and sat down. The robowaiter came rolling out again.

Sanders eyed the thin scientist with unconcealed distaste. “What makes you think the wraiths aren’t there, Doctor?” he asked.

Dubowski shrugged, and smiled lightly. “I just don’t feel there’s enough evidence,” he said. “But don’t worry. I never let my feelings interfere with my work. I want the truth as much as anyone. So I’ll run an impartial expedition. If your wraiths are out there, I’ll find them.”

“Or they’ll find you,” Sanders said. He looked grave. “And that might not be too pleasant.”

Dubowski laughed. “Oh, come now, Sanders. Just because yo
u live in a castle doesn’t mean you have to be so melodramatic.”

“Don’t laugh, Doctor. The wraiths have killed people before, you know.”

“No proof of that,” said Dubowski. “No proof at all. Just as there’s no proof of the wraiths themselves. But that’s why we’re here. To find proof. Or disproof. But come, I’m famished.” He turned to our robowaiter, who had been standing by and humming impatiently.

Dubowski and I ordered rockcat steaks, with a basket of hot, freshly baked biscuits. Sanders took advantage of the Earth supplies our ship had brought in last night, and got a massive slab of ham with a half dozen eggs.

Rockcat has a flavor that Earth meat hasn’t had in centuries. I loved it, although Dubowski left much of his steak uneaten. He was too busy talking to eat.

“You shouldn’t dismiss the wraiths so lightly,” Sanders said after the robowaiter had stalked off with our orders. “There is evidence. Plenty of it. Twenty-two deaths since this planet was discovered. And eyewitness accounts of wraiths by the dozens.”

“True,” Dubowski said. “But I wouldn’t call that real evidence. Deaths? Yes. Most are simple disappearances, however. Probably people who fell off a mountain, or got eaten by a rockcat, or something. It’s impossible to find the bodies in the mists.

“More people vanish every day on Earth, and nothing is thought of it. But here, every time someone disappears, people claim the wraiths got him. No, I’m sorry. It’s not enough.”

“Bodies have been found, Doctor,” Sanders said quietly. “Slain horribly. And not by falls or rockcats, either.”

It was my turn to cut in. “Only four bodies have been recovered that I know of,” I said. “And I’ve backgrounded myself pretty thoroughly on the wraiths.”

Sanders frowned. “All right,” he admitted. “But what about those four cases? Pretty convincing evidence, if you ask me.”

The food showed up about then, but Sanders continued as we ate. “The first sighting, for example. That’s never been explained satisfactorily. The Gregor Expedition.”

I nodded. Dave Gregor had captained the ship that had discovered Wraithworld, nearly seventy-five years earlier. He had probed through the mists with his sensors, and set his ship down on the seacoast plains. Then he sent teams out to explore.

There were two men in each team, both well armed. But in one case, only a single man came back, and he was in hysteria. He and his partner had gotten separated in the mists, and suddenly he heard a bloodcurdling scream. When he found his friend, he was quite dead. And something was standing over the body.

The survivor described the killer as manlike, eight feet tall, and somehow insubstantial. He claimed that when he fired at it, the blaster bolt went right through it. Then the creature had wavered, and vanished in the mists.

Gregor sent other teams out to search for the thing. They recovered the body, but that was all. Without special instruments, it was difficult to find the same place twice in the mists. Let alone something like the creature that had been described.

So the story was never confirmed. But nonetheless, it caused a sensation when Gregor returned to Earth. Another ship was sent to conduct a more thorough search. It found nothing. But one of its search teams disappeared without a trace.

And the legend of the mist wraiths was born, and began to grow. Other ships came to Wraithworld, and a trickle of colonists came and went, and Paul Sanders landed one day and erected the Castle Cloud so the public might safely visit the mysterious planet of the wraiths.

And there were other deaths, and other disappearances, and many people claimed to catch brief glimpses of wraiths prowling through the mists. And then someone found the ruins. Just tumbled stone blocks now. But once, structures of some sort. The homes of the wraiths, people said.

There was evidence, I thought. And some of it was hard to deny. But Dubowski was shaking his head vigorously.

“The Gregor affair proves nothing,” he said. “You know as well as I this planet has never been explored thoroughly. Especially the plains area, where Gregor’s ship put down. It was probably some sort of animal that killed that man. A rare animal of some sort native to that area.”

“What about the testimony of his partner?” Sanders asked.

“Hysteria, pure and simple.”

“The other sightings? There have been an awful lot of them. And the witnesses weren’t always hysterical.”

“Proves nothing,” Dubowski said, shaking his head. “Back on Earth, plenty of people still claim to have seen ghosts and flying saucers. And here, with those damned mists, mistakes and hallucinations are naturally even easier.”

He jabbed at Sanders with the knife he was using to butter a biscuit. “It’s these mists that foul up everything. The wraith myth would have died long ago without the mists. Up to now, no one has had the equipment or the money to conduct a really thorough investigation. But we do. And we will. We’ll get the truth once and for all.”

Sanders grimaced. “If you don’t get yourself killed first. The wraiths may not like being investigated.”

“I don’t understand you, Sanders,” Dubowski said. “If you’re so afraid of the wraiths and so convinced that they’re down there prowling about, why have you lived here so long?”

“Castle Cloud was built with safeguards,” Sanders said. “The brochure we send prospective guests describes them. No one is in any danger here. For one thing, the wraiths won’t come out of the mists. And we’re in sunlight most of the day. But it’s a different story down in the valleys.”

“That’s superstitious nonsense. If I had to guess, I’d say these mist wraiths of yours were nothing but transplanted Earth ghosts. Phantoms of someone’s imagination. But I won’t guess—I’ll wait until the results are in. Then we’ll see. If they are real, they won’t be able to hide from us.”

Sanders looked over at me. “What about you? Do you agree with him?”

“I’m a journalist,” I said carefully. “I’m just here to cover what happens. The wraiths are famous, and my readers are interested. So I’ve got no opinions. Or none that I’d care to broadcast, anyway.”

Sanders lapsed into a disgruntled silence, and attacked his ham and eggs with a renewed vigor. Dubowski took over for him, and steered the conversation over to the details of the investigation he was planning. The rest of the meal was a montage of eager talk about wraith traps, and search plans, and roboprobes, and sensors. I listened carefully and took mental notes for a column on the subject.

Sanders listened carefully, too. But you could tell from his face that he was far from pleased by what he heard.

NOTHING MUCH ELSE HAPPENED THAT DAY. DUBOWSKI SPENT HIS TIME at the spacefield, built on a small plateau below the castle, and supervised the unloading of his equipment. I wrote a column on his plans for the expedition, and beamed it back to Earth. Sanders tended to his other guests, and did whatever else a hotel manager does, I guess.

I went out to the balcony again at sunset, to watch the mists rise.

It was war, like Sanders had said. At mistfall, I had seen the sun victorious in the first of the daily battles. But now the conflict was renewed. The mists began to creep back to the heights as the temperature fell. Wispy gray-white tendrils stole up silently from the valleys, and curled around the jagged mountain peaks like ghostly fingers. Then the fingers began to grow thicker and stronger, and after a while they pulled the mists up after them.

One by one the stark, wind-carved summits were swallowed up for another night. The Red Ghost, the giant to the north, was the last mountain to vanish in the lapping white ocean. And then the mists began to pour in over the balcony ledge and close around Castle Cloud itself.

I went back inside. Sanders was standing there, just inside the doors. He had been watching me.

“You were right,” I said. “It was beautiful.”

He nodded. “You know, I don’t think Dubowski has bothered to look yet,” he said.

“Busy, I guess.”

Sanders sighed. “Too damn busy. C’mon. I’ll buy you a drink.”

The hotel bar was quiet and dark, with the kind of mood that promotes good talk and serious drinking. The more I saw of Sanders’ castle, the more I liked the man. Our tastes were in remarkable accord.

We found a table in the darkest and most secluded part of the room, and ordered drinks from a stock that included liquors from a dozen worlds. And we talked.

“You don’t seem very happy to have Dubowski here,” I said after the drinks came. “Why not? He’s filling up your hotel.”

Sanders looked up from his drink and smiled. “True. It is the slow season. But I don’t like what he’s trying to do.”

“So you try to scare him away?”

Sanders’ smile vanished. “Was I that transparent?”

I nodded.

He sighed. “Didn’t think it would work,” he said. He sipped thoughtfully at his drink. “But I had to try something.”


“Because. Because he’s going to destroy this world, if I let him. By the time he and his kind get through, there won’t be a mystery left in the universe.”

“He’s just trying to find some answers. Do the wraiths exist? What about the ruins? Who built them? Didn’t you ever want to know those things, Sanders?”

He drained his drink, looked around, and caught the waiter’s eye to order another. No robowaiters in here. Only human help. Sanders was particular about atmosphere.

“Of course,” he said when he had his drink. “Everyone’s wondered about those questions. That’s why people come here to Wraithworld, to the Castle Cloud. Each guy who touches down here is secretly hoping he’ll have an adventure with the wraiths, and find out all the answers personally.

“So he doesn’t. So he slaps on a blaster and wanders around the mist forests for a few days, or a few weeks, and finds nothing. S
o what? He can come back and search again. The dream is still there, and the romance, and the mystery.

“And who knows? Maybe one trip he glimpses a wraith drifting through the mists. Or something he thinks is a wraith. And then he’ll go home happy, ’cause he’s been part of a legend. He’s touched a little bit of creation that hasn’t had all the awe and the wonder ripped from it yet by Dubowski’s sort.”

He fell silent and stared morosely into his drink. Finally, after a long pause, he continued. “Dubowski! Bah! He makes me boil. He comes here with his ship full of lackeys and his million credit grant and all his gadgets, to hunt for wraiths. Oh, he’ll get them all right. That’s what frightens me. Either he’ll prove they don’t exist, or he’ll find them, and they’ll turn out to be some kind of submen or animal or something.”

He emptied his glass again, savagely. “And that will ruin it. Ruin it, you hear! He’ll answer all the questions with his gadgets, and there’ll be nothing left for anyone else. It isn’t fair.”

I sat there and sipped quietly at my drink and said nothing. Sanders ordered another. A foul thought was running around in my head. Finally I had to say it aloud.

“If Dubowski answers all the questions,” I said, “then there will be no reason to come here anymore. And you’ll be put out of business. Are you sure that’s not why you’re so worried?”

Sanders glared at me, and I thought he was going to hit me for a second. But he didn’t. “I thought you were different. You looked at mistfall, and understood. I thought you did, anyway. But I guess I was wrong.” He jerked his head toward the door. “Get out of here,” he said.

I rose. “All right,” I said. “I’m sorry, Sanders. But it’s my job to ask nasty questions like that.”

He ignored me, and I left the table. When I reached the door, I turned and looked back across the room. Sanders was staring into his drink again, and talking loudly to himself.

“Answers,” he said. He made it sound obscene. “Answers. Always they have to have answers. But the questions are so much finer. Why can’t they leave them alone?”

I left him alone then. Alone with his drinks.

THE NEXT FEW WEEKS WERE HECTIC ONES, FOR THE EXPEDITION AND FOR me. Dubowski went about things thoroughly, you had to give him that. He had planned his assault on Wraithworld with meticulous precision.

Mapping came first. Thanks to the mists, what maps there were of Wraithworld were very crude by modern standards. So Dubowski sent out a whole fleet of roboprobes, to skim above the mists and steal their secrets with sophisticated sensory devices. From the information that came pouring in, a detailed topography of the region was pieced together.

That done, Dubowski and his assistants then used the maps to carefully plot every recorded wraith sighting since the Gregor Expedition. Considerable data on the sightings had been compiled and analyzed long before we left Earth, of course. Heavy use of the matchless collection on wraiths in the Castle Cloud library filled in the gaps that remained. As expected, sightings were most common in the valleys around the hotel, the only permanent human habitation on the planet.

When the plotting was completed, Dubowski set out his wraith traps, scattering most of them in the areas where wraiths had been reported most frequently. He also put a few in distant, outlying regions, however, including the seacoast plain where Gregor’s ship had made the initial contact.

The traps weren’t really traps, of course. They were squat duralloy pillars, packed with most every type of sensing and recording equipment known to Earth science. To the traps, the mists were all but nonexistent. If some unfortunate wraith wandered into survey range, there would be no way it could avoid detection.

Meanwhile, the mapping roboprobes were pulled in to be overhauled and reprogrammed, and then sent out again. With the topography known in detail, the probes could be sent through the mists on low-level patrols without fear of banging into a concealed mountain. The sensing equipment carried by the probes was not the equal of that in the wraith traps, of course. But the probes had a much greater range, and could cover thousands of square miles each day.

Finally, when the wraith traps were deployed and the roboprobes were in the air, Dubowski and his men took to the mist forests themselves. Each carried a heavy backpack of sensors and detection devices. The human search teams had more mobility than the wraith traps, and more sophisticated equipment than the probes. They covered a different area each day, in painstaking detail.

I went along on a few of those trips, with a backpack of my own. It made for some interesting copy, even though we never found anything. And while on search, I fell in love with the mist forests.

The tourist literature likes to call them “the ghastly mist forests of haunted Wraithworld.” But they’re not ghastly. Not really. There’s a strange sort of beauty there, for those who can appreciate it.

The trees are thin and very tall, with white bark and pale gray leaves. But the forests are not without color. There’s a parasite, a hanging moss of some sort, that’s very common, and it drips from the overhanging branches in cascades of dark green and scarlet. And there are rocks, and vines, and low bushes choked with misshapen purplish fruits.

But there’s no sun, of course. The mists hide everything. They swirl and slide around you as you walk, caressing you with unseen hands, clutching at your feet.

Once in a while, the mists play games with you. Most of the time you walk through a thick fog, unable to see more than a few feet in any direction, your own shoes lost in the mist carpet below. Sometimes, though, the fog closes in suddenly. And then you can’t see at all. I blundered into more than one tree when that happened.

At other times, though, the mists—for no apparent reason—will roll back suddenly, and leave you standing alone in a clear pocket within a cloud. That’s when you can see the forest in all its grotesque beauty. It’s a brief, breathtaking glimpse of never-never land. Moments like that are few and short-lived. But they stay with you.

They stay with you.

In those early weeks, I didn’t have much time for walking in the forests, except when I joined a search team to get the feel of it. Mostly I was busy writing. I did a series on the history of the planet, highlighted by the stories of the most famous sightings. I did feature profiles on some of the more colorful members of the expedition. I did a piece on Sanders, and the problems he encountered and overcame in building Castle Cloud. I did science pieces on the little known about the planet’s ecology. I did mood pieces about the forests and the mountains. I did speculative thought pieces about the ruins. I wrote about rockcat hunting, and mountain climbing, and the huge and dangerous swamp lizards native to some offshore islands.

And, of course, I wrote about Dubowski and his search. On that I wrote reams.

Finally, however, the search began to settle down into dull routine, and I began to exhaust the myriad other topics Wraithworld offered. My output began to decline. I started to have time on my hands.

That’s when I really began to enjoy Wraithworld. I began to take daily walks through the forests, ranging wider each day. I visited the ruins, and flew half a continent away to see the swamp lizards firsthand instead of by holo. I befriended a group of hunters passing through, and shot myself a rockcat. I accompanied some other hunters to the western seacoast, and nearly got myself killed by a plains devil.

And I began to talk to Sanders again.

Through all of this, Sanders had pretty well ignored me and Dubowski and everyone else connected with the wraith research. He spoke to us grudgingly, if at all, greeted us curtly, and spent all his free time with his other guests.

At first, after the way he had talked in the bar that night, I worried about what he might do. I had visions of him murdering someone out in the mists, and trying to make it look like a wraith killing. Or maybe just sabotaging the wraith traps. But I was sure he would try something to scare off Dubowski or otherwise undermine the expedition.

Comes of watching too much holovision, I
guess. Sanders did nothing of the sort. He merely sulked, glared at us in the castle corridors, and gave us less than full cooperation at all times.

After a while, though, he began to warm up again. Not toward Dubowski and his men.

Just toward me.

I guess that was because of my walks in the forests. Dubowski never went out into the mists unless he had to. And then he went out reluctantly, and came back quickly. His men followed their chief’s example. I was the only joker in the deck. But then, I wasn’t really part of the same deck.

Sanders noticed, of course. He didn’t miss much of what went on in his castle. And he began to speak to me again. Civilly. One day, finally, he even invited me for drinks again.

It was about two months into the expedition. Winter was coming to Wraithworld and Castle Cloud, and the air was getting cold and crisp. Dubowski and I were out on the dining balcony, lingering over coffee after another superb meal. Sanders sat at a nearby table, talking to some tourists.

I forget what Dubowski and I were discussing. Whatever it was, Dubowski interrupted me with a shiver at one point. “It’s getting cold out here,” he complained. “Why don’t we move inside?” Dubowski never liked the dining balcony very much.

I sort of frowned. “It’s not that bad,” I said. “Besides, it’s nearly sunset. One of the best parts of the day.”

Dubowski shivered again, and stood up. “Suit yourself,” he said. “But I’m going in. I don’t feel like catching a cold just so you can watch another mistfall.”

He started to walk off. But he hadn’t taken three steps before Sanders was up out of his seat, howling like a wounded rockcat.

“Mistfall,” he bellowed. “Mistfall!” He launched into a long, incoherent string of obscenities. I had never seen Sanders so angry, not even when he threw me out of the bar that first night. He stood there, literally trembling with rage, his face flushed, his fat fists clenching and unclenching at his sides.

I got up in a hurry, and got between them. Dubowski turned to me, looking baffled and scared. “Wha—” he started.

“Get inside,” I interrupted. “Get up to your room. Get to the lounge. Get somewhere. Get anywhere. But get out of here before he kills you.”

“But—but—what’s wrong? What happened? I don’t—”

“Mistfall is in the morning,” I told him. “At night, at sunset, it’s mistrise. Now go.”

“That’s all? Why should that get him so—so—”


Dubowski shook his head, as if to say he still didn’t understand what was going on. But he went.

I turned to Sanders. “Calm down,” I said. “Calm down.”

He stopped trembling, but his eyes threw blaster bolts at Dubowski’s back. “Mistfall,” he muttered. “Two months that bastard has been here, and he doesn’t know the difference between mistfall and mistrise.”

“He’s never bothered to watch either one,” I said. “Things like that don’t interest him. That’s his loss, though. No reason for you to get upset about it.”

He looked at me, frowning. Finally he nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe you’re right.” He sighed. “But mistfall! Hell.” There was a short silence, then, “I need a drink. Join me?”

I nodded.

We wound up in the same dark corner as the first night, at what must have been Sanders’ favorite table. He put away three drinks before I had finished my first. Big drinks. Everything in Castle Cloud was big.

There were no arguments this time. We talked about mistfall, and the forests, and the ruins. We talked about the wraiths, and Sanders lovingly told me the stories of the great sightings. I knew them all already, of course. But not the way Sanders told them.

At one point, I mentioned that I’d been born in Bradbury when my parents were spending a short vacation on Mars. Sanders’ eyes lit up at that, and he spent the next hour or so regaling me with Earthman jokes. I’d heard them all before, too. But I was getting more than a little drunk, and somehow they all seemed hilarious.

After that night, I spent more time with Sanders than with anyone else in the hotel. I thought I knew Wraithworld pretty well by that time. But that was an empty conceit, and Sanders proved it. He showed me hidden spots in the forests that have haunted me ever since. He took me to island swamps, where the trees are of a very different sort and sway horridly without a wind. We flew to the far north, to another mountain range where the peaks are higher and sheathed in ice, and to a southern plateau where the mists pour eternally over the edge in a ghostly imitation of a waterfall.

I continued to write about Dubowski and his wraith hunt, of course. But there was little new to write about, so most of my time was spent with Sanders. I didn’t worry too much about my output. My Wraithworld series had gotten excellent play on Earth and most of the colony worlds, so I thought I had it made.

Not so.

I’d been on Wraithworld just a little over three months when my syndicate beamed me. A few systems away, a civil war had broken out on a planet called New Refuge. They wanted me to cover it. No news was coming out of Wraithworld anyway, they said, since Dubowski’s expedition still had over a year to run.

Much as I liked Wraithworld, I jumped at the chance. My stories had been getting a little stale, and I was running out of ideas, and the New Refuge thing sounded like it could be very big.

So I said goodbye to Sanders and Dubowski and Castle Cloud, and took a last walk through the mist forests, and booked passage on the next ship through.

THE NEW REFUGE CIVIL WAR WAS A FIRECRACKER. I SPENT LESS THAN a month on the planet, but it was a dreary month. The place had been colonized by religious fanatics, but the original cult had schismed, and both sides accused the other of heresy. It was all very dingy. The planet itself had all the charm of a Martian suburb.

I moved on as quickly as I could, hopping from planet to planet, from story to story. In six months, I had worked myself back to Earth. Elections were coming up, so I got slapped onto a political beat. That was fine by me. It was a lively campaign, and there was a ton of good stories to be mined.

But throughout it all, I kept myself up on the little news that came out of Wraithworld. And finally, as I’d expected, Dubowski announced a press conference. As the syndicate’s resident wraith, I got myself assigned to cover it, and headed out on the fastest starship I could find.

I got there a week before the conference, ahead of everyone else. I had beamed Sanders before taking ship, and he met me at the spaceport. We adjourned to the dining balcony, and had our drinks served out there.

“Well?” I asked him, after we had traded amenities. “You know what Dubowski’s going to announce?”

Sanders looked very glum. “I can guess,” he said. “He called in all his damn gadgets a month ago, and he’s been cross-checking findings on a computer. We’ve had a couple of wraith sightings since you left. Dubowski moved in hours after each sighting, and went over the areas with a fine-tooth comb. Nothing. That’s what he’s going to announce, I think. Nothing.”

I nodded. “Is that so bad, though? Gregor found nothing.”

“Not the same,” Sanders said. “Gregor didn’t look the way Dubowski has. People will believe him, whatever he says.”

I wasn’t so sure of that, and was about to say so, when Dubowski arrived. Someone must have told him I was there. He came striding out on the balcony, smiling, spied me, and came over to sit down.

Sanders glared at him and studied his drink. Dubowski trained all of his attention on me. He seemed very pleased with himself. He asked what I’d been doing since I left, and I told him, and he said that was nice.

Finally I got to ask him about his results. “No comment,” he said. “That’s what I’ve called the press conference for.”

“C’mon,” I said. “I covered you for months when everybody else was ignoring the expedition. You can give me some kind of beat. What have you got?”

He hesitated. “Well, okay,” he said doubtfully. “But don’t release it yet. You can beam it out a few hours ahead of the conference. That should be enough time for a beat.”

I nodded agreement. “What do you have?”

“The wraiths,” he said. “I have the wraiths, bagged neatly. They don’t exist. I’ve got enough evidence to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.” He smiled broadly.

“Just because you didn’t find anything?” I started. “Maybe they were avoiding you. If they’re sentient, they might be smart enough. Or maybe they’re beyond the ability of your sensors to detect.”

“Come now,” Dubowski said. “You don’t believe that. Our wraith traps had every kind of sensor we could come up with. If the wraiths existed, they would have registered on something. But they didn’t. We had the traps planted in the areas where three of Sanders’ so-called sightings took place. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Conclusive proof that those people were seeing things. Sightings, indeed.”

“What about the deaths, the vanishings?” I asked. “What about the Gregor Expedition and the other classic cases?”

His smile spread. “Couldn’t disprove all the deaths, of course. But our probes and our searches turned up four skeletons.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Two were killed by a rockslide, and one had rockcat claw marks on the bones.”

“The fourth?”

“Murder,” he said. “The body was buried in a shallow grave, clearly by human hands. A flood of some sort had exposed it. It was down in the records as a disappearance. I’m sure all the other bodies could be found, if we searched long enough. And we’d find that all died perfectly normal deaths.”

Sanders raised his eyes from his drink. They were bitter eyes. “Gregor,” he said stubbornly. “Gregor and the other classics.”

Dubowski’s smile became a smirk. “Ah, yes. We searched that area quite thoroughly. My theory was right. We found a tribe of apes nearby. Big brutes. Like giant baboons, with dirty white fur. Not a very succ
essful species, either. We found only one small tribe, and they were dying out. But clearly, that was what Gregor’s man sighted. And exaggerated all out of proportion.”

There was silence. Then Sanders spoke, but his voice was beaten. “Just one question,” he said softly. “Why?”

That brought Dubowski up short, and his smile faded. “You never have understood, have you, Sanders?” he said. “It was for truth. To free this planet from ignorance and superstition.”

“Free Wraithworld?” Sanders said. “Was it enslaved?”

“Yes,” Dubowski answered. “Enslaved by foolish myth. By fear. Now this planet will be free, and open. We can find out the truth behind those ruins now, without murky legends about half-human wraiths to fog the facts. We can open this planet for colonization. People won’t be afraid to come here, and live, and farm. We’ve conquered the fear.”

“A colony world? Here?” Sanders looked amused. “Are you going to bring big fans to blow away the mists, or what? Colonists have come before. And left. The soil’s all wrong. You can’t farm here, with all these mountains. At least not on a commercial scale. There’s no way you can make a profit growing things on Wraithworld.

“Besides, there are hundreds of colony worlds crying for people. Did you need another so badly? Must Wraithworld become yet another Earth?”

He shook his head sadly, drained his drink, and continued. “You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Doctor. Don’t kid yourself. You haven’t freed Wraithworld. You’ve destroyed it. You’ve stolen its wraiths, and left an empty planet.”

Dubowski shook his head. “I think you’re wrong. They’ll find plenty of good, profitable ways to exploit this planet. But even if you were correct, well, it’s just too bad. Knowledge is what man is all about. People like you have tried to hold back progress since the beginning of time. But they failed, and you failed. Man needs to know.”

“Maybe,” Sanders said. “But is that the only thing man needs? I don’t think so. I think he also needs mystery, and poetry, and romance. I think he needs a few unanswered questions to make him brood and wonder.”

Dubowski stood up abruptly, and frowned. “This conversation is as pointless as your philosophy, Sanders. There’s no room in my universe for unanswered questions.”

“Then you live in a very drab universe, Doctor.”

“And you, Sanders, live in the stink of your own ignorance. Find some new superstitions if you must. But don’t try to foist them off on me with your tales and legends. I’ve got no time for wraiths.” He looked at me. “I’ll see you at the press conference,” he said. Then he turned and walked briskly from the balcony.

Sanders watched him depart in silence, then swiveled in his chair to look out over the mountains. “The mists are rising,” he said.

SANDERS WAS WRONG ABOUT THE COLONY TOO, AS IT TURNED OUT. They did establish one, although it wasn’t much to boast of. Some vineyards, some factories, and a few thousand people; all belonging to a couple of big companies.

Commercial farming did turn out to be unprofitable, you see. With one exception — a native grape, a fat gray thing the size of a lemon. So Wraithworld has only one export, a smoky white wine with a mellow, lingering flavor.

They call it mistwine, of course. I’ve grown fond of it over the years. The taste reminds me of mistfall somehow, and makes me dream. But that’s probably me, not the wine. Most people don’t care for it much.

Still, in a very minor way, it’s a profitable item. So Wraithworld is still a regular stop on the spacelanes. For freighters, at least.

The tourists are long gone, though. Sanders was right about that. Scenery they can get closer to home, and cheaper. The wraiths were why they came.

Sanders is long gone, too. He was too stubborn and too impractical to buy in on the mistwine operations when he had the chance. So he stayed behind his ramparts at Castle Cloud until the last. I don’t know what happened to him afterward, when the hotel finally went out of business.

The castle itself is still there. I saw it a few years ago, when I stopped for a day en route to a story on New Refuge. It’s already crumbling, though. Too expensive to maintain. In a few years, you won’t be able to tell it from those other, older ruins.

Otherwise the planet hasn’t changed much. The mists still rise at sunset, and fall at dawn. The Red Ghost is still stark and beautiful in the early morning light. The forests are still there, and the rockcats still prowl.

Only the wraiths are missing.

Only the wraiths.