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CHAPTER TEN

I wasn't willing to believe that. I couldn't afford to. But it stayed in my mind.

I stripped down and used my wretched underwear for a washcloth, while Dopey watched me with lackluster curiosity. While I was wringing out my shorts and draping them on the edge of the table to dry, I said, "If I only had some clean clothes, I'd almost feel human."

That wasn't entirely true, but I was trying to cheer Dopey up. It didn't work very well. He didn't respond. He just sat there, perched on the far edge of the table, with his eyes half closed and his great peacock fan the color of mud. He had been taking punishment, all right. There were rips in the periphery of his fan that hadn't been there before, and new stains on the jumper he wore. I tried again, encouragingly. "We don't have to give up, you know. There's always a chance to escape."

He didn't answer that, either, just sat there, breathing raggedly. He wasn't asleep. His eyes were more or less open, and he hadn't pulled his fan over his head to shut me out, but he wasn't listening.

I gave up. I spooned some water out of the drinking jug into one of the cups of dehydrated stew, and ate one of the apples while the stew was soaking. I tugged at the lid to the litter box, thinking it might be some kind of weapon if I could get it off. I couldn't.

Then I saw that Dopey had begun to move. He levered himself painfully off the table and waddled slowly over to the water jugs. He drank some, then splashed some over himself.

I took him by his frail little arm and said clearly, "I intend to escape. I need you to help me make a plan."

He grunted without actually answering. I squeezed harder on the arm. "Talk to me!" I demanded.

He wrenched himself free. "If you make a plan," he said, "you are telling the Horch what to expect. Are you an even greater fool than I thought?"

"But-but that was why I asked in English!"

He sighed. "They listen in, no matter what language we speak. Whether we see them or not, they are observing us at all times."

I said, "Hell." Of course it was only an illusion, but I had believed we had at least that much privacy. I shouldn't have. That was a Bureau trick, too. I'd done it myself: after you've interrogated a couple of suspects for a while, you put them together and listen to what they say to each other.

He was talking again. "In any case," he said gloomily, "there is no hope of escape. We will die here, Agent Dannerman, and the next time I see you we will be at the Eschaton."

His certainty was bringing out all the stubbornness in me. "If there's really going to be an Eschaton," I said.

"But of course there will!"

I shook my head at him. "Pat didn't think so, and she's an expert in that subject-"

"An Earth-human expert!" he sneered.

"All the same. Pat said it had been conclusively shown that there wasn't enough mass in the universe to make it contract again. It will go on expanding forever and never shrink down again to the Big Crunch. So no Eschaton. She said there was no doubt about that at all."

Dopey made the gagging rattle in his throat that was his version of a contemptuous laugh. "Your primitive beliefs! Both the Beloved Leaders and the Horch are far, far wiser than Dr. Pat Adcock. There is no question."

He turned his back on me and limped over to gaze without much interest at his purple food. "You don't seem real happy about it," I offered.

He put a small chunk of the stuff in his mouth, chewing unenthusiastically-and sloppily; crumbs were falling to the floor. Then, with his mouth full, he said, "You do not understand, Agent Dannerman. I have betrayed the Beloved Leaders. Their judgment will be sure."

"Oh, maybe not," I said. "It might go the other way, you know. Maybe the Horch will win, and then you won't have to face your Beloved Leaders."

He turned the cat eyes on me mournfully. "Do you think that would be better for me? Or for you, either?" He swallowed the rest of what was in his mouth, then put the remainder of the stuff down. "In any case, Agent Dannerman," he said, "I think I will find out which it is quite soon."


Well, he was right about that.

A few sessions later, when the Christmas trees released me for my pee-and-chow break, I discovered Dopey lying next to the table. His plume dragged limply on the floor. One of his kitten eyes was closed to a slit, and the other queerly distended. Neither was looking at me. And his body was cold.

I shouted, but no one came. When one of the crystal robots did eventually appear, it paid no attention to my dead companion. It only hustled me off to my next interrogation, and when I came back to the room his body was gone.


CHAPTER NINE | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER ELEVEN



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