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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

There was another lesson that old drill instructor of mine had taught us, in between the pushups and the ten-kilometer runs. What she said was, "Listen, ass-holes. It's always better to do something than nothing, you hear me? If it don't do nothing else, it'll make you feel better."

She was right. It did. My situation hadn't improved a hair in any tangible way, but I felt different. I felt for the first time that I was playing some part, however insignificant, in an action that might cause the Beloved Leaders some aggravation, even if only a little. Morale-wise, that was a big plus. It almost made me feel as though this interminable lonely life that stretched ahead of me might be worth living after all.

So I decided to start looking for other ways to do the Others harm. I don't know exactly what I was thinking of. Maybe leading a charge of Horch fighting machines into some Beloved Leader stronghold, the way they had taken over the prison-planet base. But whatever I was going to do to the Others, the first step was to get to where the action was.

Beert was the logical person to talk to on that subject, but he wasn't available. When he wasn't over in the Horch base to negotiate with the cousins, he was locked up in his workshop, making the changes in the Wet One's armament. I decided to pester Pirraghiz about it. She was in her room, sterilizing my chamber pot for me, and Mrrranthoghrow was with her.

I hesitated in the doorway. Pirraghiz's room was no bigger than mine, but she had somehow found time to put in homey touches of her own: some of those tiny flowers in a planter, clothing neatly hung, her own much larger bed. She had turned the room into a very personal habitation and, belatedly, it crossed my mind that they might have preferred being alone in it.

Apparently not. As soon as Pirraghiz saw me she waved me in with a spare arm. "Are you hungry?" she asked at once, but I shook my head. I wasn't looking for food.

"I want to know about the Wet One," I said. I

She looked surprised, but recited: "He is being sent back to his own planet, so that-"

"I know that. Tell me how he's getting there."

She looked at Mrrranthoghrow, who answered for her. "He will be transmitted on the captured transit machine of the Others, of course."

"And how does he know how to get there?"

"Ah," the Doc said, enlightened. "You want to know how the Wet One will find his way to his home. The Horch have been working on such problems ever since they occupied this base. Capturing a transit machine of the Others is very useful to them. Once we had it disassembled, the robots began tracing its channels."

"That is the one great advantage the Horch have over the Others," Pirraghiz added. "The Others are very strong, but the Horch have in some cases been able to enter the Others' channels, while the Others have never been able to enter theirs."

I mulled that over. I could see the strategic importance of that. "Does that mean there's a channel direct to the Wet One's planet?"

"Of course not, Dannerman," Mrrranthoghrow said. "Not from this outpost. But there are channels to a nexus, which has many channels. One will take the Wet One to his destination."

He was annoying me. "What is a 'nexus'?"

"It is a sort of center where many channels come together," he said patiently. "In this case it is a large installation which also was captured from the Others. Now it belongs to the Horch. There was great damage in the fighting, but much of its equipment is intact-just as is the case here."

"What kind of installation?"

He gave me one of those massive shrugs. "I had no reason to ask such a question, Dannerman. I only know that it is much larger than this installation here."

Pirraghiz had been silent, watching me, but then she spoke up. "Dannerman, I think you are jealous of the Wet One. Do you want to go with him?"

I started to shake my head, then decided to admit it. "I think I could help him fight against the Others. I'm a lot better with those guns than he is."

She made a clucking sound with those thin lips. "You would be discovered at once, Dannerman, and then you would die."

"It's my risk to take!"

"And his as well. His only hope is secrecy, Dannerman, and even so, he has very little chance to survive there. In company with someone as conspicuous as you, he would have no chance at all."

I said stubbornly, "I'm going to ask Been if I can go along anyway. When will I see him?"

She waved that off impatiently. "Soon. This afternoon, I think, but what is the use of that? He will simply say no."

"And then I will ask him again, and keep on asking him, until he says yes. This is something I have to do. You don't understand what it's like not to be able to do anything for my friends."

She sighed. "Do I not? I am jealous of the Wet One, too."

I hadn't expected to hear that from her. "Because you'd like to try to rescue your own planet?" I guessed.

"Rescue it? But we have no planet anymore, Dannerman. It is long destroyed. Our people no longer exist except as slaves of the Others, countless numbers of them, all over the universe." She sighed. "No. I am jealous because he has a home to return to." She paused, fingering her little amulet, and then added somberly, "Even though it is certain that he will see it only long enough to die there."


I didn't want to accept what Pirraghiz said, but I couldn't get rid of the sneaking suspicion that she was right. Did it make any sense for me simply to get myself killed on some planet not even my own? Would it even inconvenience the Beloved Leaders at all?

Logically I had to agree that it would not. But did I have any other way to strike a blow at them? I couldn't think of any.

I told Pirraghiz to call me when Beert was available and went back to my room, and what I did there was to put on that helmet again. Mrrranthoghrow had selected another set of taps on the bugged people on Earth for me, and I wanted to see them. I think maybe what I had in mind was to remind myself of what the Beloved Leaders were doing to my own people.

It didn't work that way. The first person I saw was me, and what I was doing was flying out of a transit machine. And when the person whose eyes I was looking through turned, I saw Jimmy Lin and Dopey and a pair of Docs, and Rosaleen Artzybachova and Martin Delasquez and Pat. My Pat. Looking scared and worn and generally shook up, but looking mostly very good indeed to me.

It didn't take me long to figure out where I was. I was in Starlab, and the bunch of us had just made our escape from the prison planet. It was Patrice who I was eavesdropping on-had to be, because she was the only one of us who was bugged at that time. But it was Pat I wanted to see and touch, and be with.

I didn't switch to any other file. I stayed with that one. I listened to us congratulating ourselves on having got away from the damn Beloved Leaders, I watched myself destroy the transit machine so we couldn't be followed, I listened as I-that other I-called the Bureau on Starlab's ancient radio and painfully worked out a way of communicating with them that the rest of the world, and especially the Beloved Leaders, might not hear. With all the rest of the gang I got into the rickety old crew-rescue vehicle that had been berthed at Starlab since the last time any astronomer visited it. I stayed with them as its engines fired up and we started the long, bouncing, bucketing drop toward Earth, and I would have stayed a lot longer if I could, in spite of the fact that a suspicion was dawning in my mind.

What stopped me in the end wasn't that I got tired of seeing Pat, or that that new thought needed to be pursued. It was Pirraghiz. "Dannerman? I have brought you some food. And Beert is here now, if you want to see him."

I took the helmet off and blinked at her. She was taking little fruits and biscuits out of a coppery mesh bag and laying them before it. I ignored them. "Didn't you tell me that the transit machine on Starlab wasn't working anymore?"

She blinked back at me. "Why, yes, Dannerman. That is so."

"That's what I thought," I said-the other possibility having been that that other Dannerman hadn't done as thorough a job of destruction as he thought. "All right, let's go. I want to see Beert right away."

"To ask him if you can throw your life away with the Wet One? At least take the meal with you," she said, scooping it all back into the bag. As she handed it to me she said, "It is a foolish idea, and he will surely say no."

"You might be right," I agreed. "But maybe I have a better idea now."


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER TWENTY



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