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CHAPTER TWENTY

When I knocked on the laboratory door Beert let me in at once. "Look here," he said, neck and arms awriggle. "I have taken your advice. Give me one of the ammunition carriers."

That last part was aimed at his Christmas tree, not me. The thing was hovering over a workbench, littered with the usual cryptic array of gadgets. The robot immediately picked one up and brought it over to hand to Beert. Who handed it happily to me. It was heavy. It was also streamlined and curved, like the other things Beert was attaching to the Wet One, and it had the same clamp arrangement to hold it in place. Which meant, I thought, that the Wet One would have had more sockets carved into his flesh. I admired his dedication. "See," Beert was saying proudly, reaching to touch the thing in my hand, "this release will fit the Wet One's digits. It is this button here; he needs only to touch it and it flies open." Beert did. It did, revealing half a dozen gleaming clips for the twenty-shot. "Also there are eight sixteens of additional clips and several others of the projectile weapons in those containers there-" gesturing at a pair of oblong boxes of that same rubbery material-"but those he will not be able to carry with him. Perhaps he can hide them somewhere, and come back to them when they are needed."

His little head was close to mine, the curly eyelashes fluttering excitedly. He was waiting for a compliment, I thought, so I obliged. "That's fine," I said, and glanced at the hovering robot. "Can you turn that thing off?" I asked.

Beert pulled his head away to regard me. "But I have told you, Dan, there is nothing to fear from this machine-"

I reached out and caught his neck, pulling his head toward me so that I could whisper. "I want to ask you about something I don't want the cousins to hear. I don't want that thing listening."

Beert went suddenly tense. He didn't pull away, as he easily could have, and I felt his warm breath on my face as he thought that over. "This robot does not interface with the others, as I have told you."

"Please, Beert."

He sighed. "Go into inactive mode," he ordered the Christmas tree. Then to me, warningly, "Dan, you recall what the Greatmother said to us. We do not agree with the cousins in all things, but they are still Horch."

"I don't want to harm the cousins. I just want a favor from you, and I think it is better if they don't know about it." I hesitated, looking at the Christmas tree, needles retracted, immobile- but could it still hear? I had to hope not. So I began. "Check me out on this, Beert. When the Wet One goes he won't be heading for his home planet; he'll be going to something they call a 'nexus,' where there are all sorts of channels that belong to the Others."

"Yes?"

"That's true, then? And another thing. When I was using the helmet I saw something funny," I went on. "I was in Patrice's mind, and we were in Starlab. I saw myself destroy the transit machine there. But I didn't lose contact even after it was destroyed. I think that means that there's another transit machine somewhere nearby that's still working-I don't know where. Maybe in the scout ship that found Earth in the first place? But still working, anyway, and somehow or other you're still tapping into that channel, I guess from this nexus."

"Yes, yes," Beert said testily. "I suppose all that is so, but I still do not know what favor you want of me."

And then he took a deep breath, because Beert was not a stupid being. By then he did know.


CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN



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