home   |   А-Я   |   A-Z   |   меню


I don't know if Beert had any idea of why I had walked away. He didn't comment. Maybe he figured it was just another bit of Earth-human queerness. He simply said, as though nothing had happened, "I will show you," and began pulling things out of his little basket and carefully setting them on the ground next to the Wet One.

Who was studying me intently with those bulging hippopotamus eyes that were set on the top of his head. I didn't speak. Neither did he. I did see that the tentacular electric organs that sprouted from his face were writhing restlessly. That didn't seem to be a friendly sign. It crossed my mind that Beert might have misjudged the situation, and I instinctively began looking around for something that might work as a weapon if the thing suddenly jumped me.

Beert's tap on my shoulder distracted me and I looked around. "Are you paying attention?" he asked crossly. "See, this is how the scrambler fits on the Wet One's body." He had it in his other hand, and began carefully to place it on the amphibian's gross belly, just behind its tiny mid-arms. I wondered what he was going to use for glue to make it stick to the Wet One's hide, but he didn't have to do that. He had something more effective than glue. A metal socket was actually embedded in the amphibian's flesh; the creature had evidently allowed someone to fasten the socket to his body surgically, right through the skin. There were two similar sockets flanking the one with the scrambler, and the next thing Beert did was to attach a couple of stout leather pouches to them.

Then he pulled the last of the basket's contents out.

It was a pair of handguns. My handguns. Two of the twenty-shot, Bureau-issued guns that had been my basic carry weapon ever since I became an agent.

I nearly lost it one more time, as the anger I had managed to push back out of sight boiled over again. If anybody was going to have my guns, it damn well ought to be me. I made a grab for them, snarling, "Hey! Those are mine!"

The amphibian slithered a half step away toward the stream, grunting a protest, but it didn't try to stop me. It didn't have to. Beert was fast as well as strong; he dropped the weapons, and his two rubbery arms clamped quick and hard around my wrists. He didn't raise his voice. "Actually," he said, "these two projectile weapons are for the Wet One. If you have a requirement for one, it can be copied for you, but I do not see any such necessity."

I wrenched free of his grip. He let me go, but his arms stayed near mine and his face danced before me. "They belong to me!" I complained. "That thing is a killer. How do I know he isn't going to shoot me with them?"

Beert said patiently, "He has no such intention."

That was when the amphibian spoke up, surprising me. He wasn't easy to understand. He spoke that same Horch language- naturally enough; I could see that he was wearing an implant of his own, tucked under his jaw. But he didn't have the same sort of vocal cords as I did, or even as the Horch did. The sounds he made were more like a hoarse, unpleasant kind of roaring than conversation, and I had to strain to make them out: "That is true. Shall I now speak of unfortunate past events?"

I guess the question was rhetorical, because the Wet One went right on talking. "The lethal pulsing of your female person should not have happened," he stated. "The sharp-object stabbing of our persons by yours should not have happened as well. The reason for these wrong happenings may be that my party was in Other Water, where we did not know its tastes. In Home Water," he explained, "where our females stay and the pups are reared, we know which tastes are persons and which are prey and which do not matter. In Other Water we may not know all the tastes. Yours were strange to us, and then your persons attacked us, so they were wrongly pulsed." He regarded me for a second with those knobbed eyes, then finished. "There is nothing else to speak on this matter."

I listened to his little speech impatiently, and turned to Beert. "What's he talking about?"

"He is telling you that the death of your friend was an accident," Beert said irritably. "As obviously it was. It is time you put this anger out of your mind."

I considered that for a moment, but damn him, Beert was right. I didn't much like being taught right from wrong by a snaky-headed monster from outer space, but I gave in. "But what the hell does he need my guns for?"

Beert gave me his approving neck-twist. "That is better, Dan. The reason to arm this person is that the Greatmothers have given permission to return him to his home planet, where he is going to resist the rule of the Others."

Resist the rule of the Others? That changed things.

It didn't necessarily make us friends. The first feeling that flooded my mind was simple, burning envy. This creature was going to go home, while I was stuck helplessly here. I was suddenly more jealous than I have ever felt in my life.

But the facts were plain. If I couldn't do anything to help my own human race, at least I might be able to do something to harm the damn Others. It was only revenge. But it was better than nothing.

Beert was picking one of the guns off the ground. He held it out to me gingerly. "It is for these that we need your help, Dan. The Wet One will be in grave danger when he arrives at his home planet. He needs a weapon. His ability to stun or kill other organisms with electrical shocks works only underwater and at close range. That is not good enough."

"Sure," I said, perplexed, "but why do you need one of my guns? Seems to me those Horch fighting machines had plenty of firepower."

Beert gave me that negative neck-wave. "He cannot use the energy weapons of our cousins. They would interfere with his electrical senses. These projectile things of yours might work, but we are not well sure of how to use them. Look, I have made these containers for them." He pulled one of those flexible sacks off its clamp, and I realized they were intended to be holsters for the guns. "Unfortunately," he said sadly, "the containers do network well. Can you help?"

That put me right in familiar territory, so I grinned at him. "If there's one thing I'm good at," I said, "it's guns. Show me the problem."

He did. Actually, there wasn't a single problem, there were a lot of them. The first one was that Beert had put the holsters in on the wrong sides. I had heard that the flashier cowboy gunmen of the Old West-their TV versions, anyway-wore their guns like that, performing a lightning cross-draw when they had to kill some bad guy. That wouldn't work for the Wet One, because his anatomy wasn't up to the job. His short, skinny mid-arms were as conspicuously inadequate as the arms of a Tyrannosaur. They wouldn't stretch that far. When Beert reversed the holsters, we put the guns into them-after I made sure the safeties were well and truly on-and had the amphibian practice draws.

That was an improvement, but it suggested something else to me. "When he actually shoots a gun, he should fire with his arm straight out, otherwise he may get a broken bone. These twenty-shots don't have much recoil, but he doesn't have much arm." The Wet One, who was listening intently, immediately began trying that out. I sighed as I watched him. "Practice as much as you can before you go," I advised. "Another thing.

Where do you think you might be doing this shooting, in the water or out of it?"

Beert swirled his head at me in alarm. "Will immersion in water harm the weapon?"

"Oh, no, they're waterproof, all right. What about it?"

I was looking at the amphibian, who answered for himself. "In most cases, I think, in air."

"That's good. I'm worried about shooting the gun underwater. It's not made for that, and with the resistance of the water, it might blow up in your hand. Try not to do that. Now"-I crossed my fingers-"let's see how good a shot you are."

Unsurprisingly, he wasn't good at all.

The Horch had nothing like a firing range, but Beert produced a wad of some kind of packing material out of the basket; I wadded up some of it and tossed it in the stream for a target. When the amphibian reared up on his front flippers he had just enough clearance to draw the guns and fire them, his tentacles nervously elevated out of the line of fire.

Beert was taking notes, skipping nimbly out of the way when the amphibian's shots went wildest. Then, when the Wet One reached the point of being maybe able to hit the side of a barn if he were locked inside, I decided he was about as good as he was going to get. I told Beert, "The holster clasp is too tight; you'll have to ease it up a little. He'll need reloads, too. Have you got more ammunition?"

It took a moment to make Beert understand that the weapon did not produce its own endless supply of bullets, but then he gave me the head-twist. "We can copy as much as needed."

"Copy a lot; there isn't going to be a gun shop where he's going. And you'll have to make something for him to carry them in." I thought for a moment, then, with some reluctance, told the Wet One, "I think you'd better keep the safety off; you might have trouble handling it if you need to shoot in a hurry. Just don't touch that trigger until you want to fire. Now, let's see how good you are at reloading."

He wasn't good at that, either, but he eventually got the idea, after a fashion. That was as far as we got, because Beert was fidgeting. "I must go back to my laboratory to make these changes in the equipment," he told the Wet One. Who made no response, except to turn and head for the stream. Just as he was entering the water, he paused, turned ponderously around and spoke to me, in that horrible roaring voice:

"Your metal killing device may be valuable to me, also your instruction in its use. For this I owe you the debt of thanks. If I can repay it, I will."

Then he slipped into the stream and was gone. A couple of those electric-shock appendages appeared briefly above the water, fluttering in the air almost as though he were saying good-by. Then nothing showed but those two knobby eye sockets and a pair of V-shaped ripples in the water, leaving Beert and me looking after him.

Beert made that hissing sort of sigh. "He is a brave person," he informed me. I just nodded. I had formed that opinion of the Wet One myself-along with a fair amount of residual envy- and anyway, I had something else on my mind.

Beert wasn't giving me much chance to bring it up. "As soon as I am finished in the laboratory," he said happily, "I must go to my cousins to talk to the Greatmother of the Eight Plus Threes, so that we may schedule a time when Mrrranthoghrow may operate the transit machine for him. I will send Pirraghiz to you, Dan."

I swallowed and took the plunge. "There's one other thing," I said.


"I've been thinking about what you said. You were right. So let's just forget about making that copy of Pat for me," I told him.

Horch can't smile, don't have the facial muscles for it, but I could have sworn he was looking at me in an affectionate way. "It is forgotten, Dan. I am glad." And he gave my arm a gentle pat before he turned and hurried away.

Listen, I'm only human. Get me depressed enough and you might see a person selfisher than you would have believed. But I didn't have to stay selfish all the time.