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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Never mind about the next while. The easy way to describe it is that it was more of the same, but that's not accurate. It was worse. Not only was I now alone, more alone than I had ever been in my life, but too little sleep for too long was doing me in. My thinking was getting fuzzy. Every time I got to the biological-needs room I fell asleep at once, without bothering to eat, and that was not improving my state.

I can't say that I was giving up hope, because I hadn't had all that much hope to begin with, but I was getting too bleary even to think about a future.

And then something did come along.


The Christmas trees' questions had been getting sillier and more erratic than ever. Sometimes both machines stood silent for a few moments, apparently deep in thought, before coming up with some new asininity.

Then, after a particularly lengthy period of cogitation, Pinkie rolled away from me and stood silently beside Green-glass, whose lenses began to disappear. Both machines seemed to shrink into themselves, retracting whole hordes of their finer needles.

Remember, I was staggeringly weary. By the time it registered with me that the robots were in some sort of standby state, and thus in good condition to be attacked, it was too late to do anything about it. The door opened. Three living Horch came in- the one with the funny accent, the female I had seen before and an unfamiliar male, who wore the same gleaming metal belly helmet as the female.

The female darted her head toward Green-glass, I suppose giving it an order I couldn't hear. I didn't have any trouble seeing the results, though. Both Christmas trees sprang into action. They advanced on me and grabbed me, but not as they had done before. This time not all their needles were retracted. They pricked (-me in a hundred places, and they hurt. I yelped in pain and surprise. That didn't stop them. They investigated most of the parts of my body with their sharp little spikes. Then, without a word, they dropped me to the floor and rolled back to the Horch at the door. There was a low-toned conversation while I was picking myself up, and then the two Horch with the metal belly plates left, the Christmas trees went into standby mode and the one with the embroidered fabric stomacher came toward me. "Bureau Agent James Daniel Dannerman," he said, "the interrogation is terminated. You have been given to me for disposal."

It was the first time I had ever been close enough to a live Horch to touch, so I summoned all the energy I had and grabbed him by the throat. "Tell those robots not to interfere! You're going to take me out of here," I croaked, as menacingly as I could make it.

He didn't seem worried. He didn't need to be. He was a lot stronger than I was. Both of the Christmas trees snapped out of their down mode and sprang forward, but he waved them away. Those ropy arms of his pulled my fingers from his throat without effort.

"Yes, of course," he said. "Transportation has been arranged."

He turned and left through the open door; and, carrying me, the green-glass Christmas tree rolled after him.



CHAPTER TEN | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER TWELVE



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