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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I spent most of the next few days sleeping. As far as I could tell, Pirraghiz never slept at all. Every time I woke up she was there, carrying me to a toilet, spoon-feeding me more of the foods I had been eating for so long, rubbing the small of my back with that special little touch of hers that seemed to be meant to put me back to sleep, and always did.

So for the next forty-eight hours at least, it could have been more, I was pretty much out of it. I was hazily aware that sometimes she was doing other things to me-massaging, poking, cupping my head in her two largest hands-but I didn't know why, except that it felt good. Now and then I know others came into the room to look at me, mostly other Docs, but once or twice, I think, the Horch. Those fuzzy periods of nearly waking didn't last. When Pirraghiz saw that I was wakeful she touched me with one gentle talon and I was gone again.

When the time came that I was very nearly wide-awake, for very nearly an hour or so at a time, I took a closer look at my surroundings.

The bed I was in was comfortable enough, except for being maybe a little firmer than I would have preferred. However, it was built to Doc dimensions, nearly four meters long and more than half that in width. The room was in the same statuesque scale. On the walls there were a couple of mural-like paintings- or still photographs, I couldn't decide which. One was a group of Doc infants at play, the other a misty, idealized scene of a seashore with gentle waves breaking on a pink-sand beach. Elsewhere along the walls were shelves that contained clothes and things-Pirraghiz's, I supposed-and others with spools of a glassy sort of ribbon (the Horch equivalent of books, I found out later). A squat cylindrical thing by the window blew air at me, I supposed for comfort. In recesses in the walls there was a thing like a chromium soup bowl a meter across that was standing on one edge-for what purpose, I did not know-and a couple of smaller bowls of a different kind that were filled with a kind of peat moss. Unfamiliar blue-green buds poked out of the moss. The whole place had a lived-in look. Naturally enough. It was Pirraghiz's own room. She had given it up for me.

When she came to check up on me she was astonished to find me standing up. Before she said anything she carefully felt me all over. Then, more or less satisfied, she allowed me to walk to the toilet on my own.

I haven't said what the toilet was like. There were three of them lined up, huge, Doc-sized things that looked like Chic Sale outhouses on pilings. They were built right over the flowing stream and you got to them by a small bridge. I must have said something that Pirraghiz hadn't expected, because she looked at me curiously. "Are you dissatisfied with the sanitary arrangements?"

"No, of course not. Well, a little surprised, anyway. It's just that the sanitary arrangements don't seem very sanitary. On Earth a lot of people get very upset if they find anyone using the streams for toilets, because of the risk of spreading infection."

That stopped her cold. The snowy, mossy eyebrows went up in astonishment. "Are you telling me," she asked, sounding scandalized, "that your excrement may contain live pathogens?"

"Doesn't everybody's?"

The great bland face was wearing an expression of revulsion. "That is a disgusting concept, Dannerman. No. We will have to provide you with other facilities, for the protection of other species who are downstream from us… and you must not excrete into the river anymore."


By the time Pirraghiz was finally letting me feed myself, and did not immediately put me back to sleep as soon as I was finished, I was remembering the lessons my old DI had beaten into me. I had a duty. It was time for me to start scoping this place out, so I insisted on being allowed to go outside.

Physically I was feeling pretty good-no, more than that; I was feeling better than I had in a long time. I was still weak, though. When we came to a short flight of stairs I wasn't really ready for-tall, Doc-sized stairs, they were-Pirraghiz didn't stop to ask permission. She just picked me up and carried me to the outside door, and I was glad she had.

I had not expected it to be night outside.

If I had had any uncertainty about where we were, the sight of that night sky removed it. My dearly beloved astronomy expert, Pat, had suspected that the prison planet we were on was in the middle of a globular cluster which, she said, was a collection of maybe thousands of stars crowded so close together that the whole clutter of them was bound by each other's gravity, sailing around in complex orbits and all very, very near all the rest. There were certainly hundreds in that overhead night sky that were very near to us: giant brilliant lightbulbs hanging in the heavens, blue and red and yellow and white and all the shades in between. At least a dozen of them were as bright as the Moon from Earth, and a couple so incredibly bright that I squinted when I looked at them. In one corner of the sky there was a cobwebby film of white, brighter than the Milky Way. It wasn't anything like the Milky Way, though, according to Pat. The Milky Way was made up of millions and billions of individual stars, so distant that their light smeared together into a luminous blur. This stuff, she thought, was masses of gas and plasma that some of the stars were stealing from each other.

Pat had had something else to say about this display. According to her, in a globular cluster novas and supernovas might be relatively common, and when a star exploded in one of those ways it was likely to release floods of seriously damaging radiation, with very bad results for any living thing nearby.

When I said something about that to Pirraghiz, she said, "Of course that is so, Dannerman. Showers of deadly radiation are quite frequent. That is why the Horch restored the protective shield over this planet as soon as they finished occupying the base. It was down for only a few days, but in that time many persons of many species died from it." Then she touched my throat with one of her lesser arms and frowned. "You are being too active for your first time out. Come back. You can eat, and then you should rest some more. There will be plenty of time to explore."


I didn't actually need to do a lot of exploring. I already knew this place very well.

Before we escaped back to Earth-I mean, before the ones of us that did successfully escape did-we had spent a lot of time here. It was a prison, or zoo, where the Beloved Leaders kept a few samples of the sentient races they had met-and, often, exterminated. We lived in the yurts, but we didn't build them. Some others had lived here before us and, we guessed, died here too, because all that remained of them was their works.

Now the compound belonged to the liberated Docs, or at least to the thirty or so surviving ones that had managed to escape being killed in the fighting. The Docs looked a lot different now. The ones I had been used to seeing were silent; they obeyed orders, and when no orders were given they stood frozen, waiting for the next command. These present Docs were never still, as they worked around the compound, chattering back and forth in their high, chirpy voices. And they were fully clothed. They wore decorous trousers over their lower parts, and above the waist a sort of loose, gaily colored blouse, with sleeves for all six of their arms. Each wore a huge, floppy hat to keep the sun away.

As I peered inside the surviving yurt-it looked like the one we had kept our food in, but it was empty now-I felt that gentle touch on my neck. I turned. It was Pirraghiz, of course, once more taking my pulse or whatever it was she did when she touched me there. "Are you getting tired?" she asked anxiously.

I assured her I wasn't, though I was pretty certain she knew my condition better than I did. I pointed to the yurt. "How come you left this one standing?"

She looked faintly embarrassed, or as much so as a creature with a great, moss-covered moon of a face could look. "It did not seem right to remove them all. The people who built them are gone, and there was no other way to remember them. I know this is not a sensible thing, Dannerman." Then she patted my shoulder with a lesser hand. It wasn't a medicinal touch, this one, or even a particularly affectionate one. It was the way your mother might put her hand on your shoulder when she wants your full attention. "I have a question for you, Dannerman. You have been all over this area, looking at everything. Yet you have seen almost everything here before, so what is it that you are looking for?"

The truthful answer was, a way to get out of here and go home. I was pretty sure she suspected as much. But I didn't want to confirm it for her, and anyway there was something else I'd been hoping to find.

So I told her the other thing: "A grave. A friend of mine died here. Her name was Patsy, and she was killed by some electric amphibians. We buried her around here."

She bought it without question. She patted me again, consolingly this time, and said, "I will lead you to it."

The plot was farther away from the yurts than I'd remembered, but I recognized it at once. The ground had settled a little-which suggested to me that some time had elapsed before the Horch whipped up this present copy of me-but you could see where it was. Touchingly, someone-I was willing to bet it had been Pirraghiz-had put one of those flower bowls on it.

However, it wasn't alone. There was another plot beside it, a little less sunken, with its own little bowl of pale buds.

When I asked Pirraghiz she looked at me mournfully. "He was another copy of you, Dannerman. Djabeertapritch begged for him when the machines decided it was better to abandon him and make a fresh one. They let Djabeertapritch have him, but he was too far gone for us to make well. He died; and we buried him next to your friend."


Pirraghiz was about as tactful a non-human as I'd ever met. Well, that doesn't say much, considering who the other nonhumans were, but she was a good scout. She ambled away, leaving me to mourn for my dead other self.

I don't think that is exactly what I was doing, though. I was thinking about funerals of Bureau agents.

When an agent is buried he's entitled to a military ceremony, complete with the rifle volley from the honor guard and the bugler playing Taps and all. He usually gets it, too, except when they haven't found enough of him to bury.

I couldn't provide any of that for this other me, but Taps kept running through my mind. There are words to the melody, a fact that most people don't seem to know, and the last line of the song says, "All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh."

I guess a little of Grandmother Dannerman's Bible lessons had rubbed off on me after all, because I was certainly hoping that was true.


CHAPTER TWELVE | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER FOURTEEN



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