It was peaceful when we got into the transit machine. It wasn't when we got out. Whatever we had arrived in-a chamber the size of an eighteen-wheeler truck, metal walls filled with displays and gadgets-it stank. Partly it smelled of scorched protein, like an ancient fish-and-chips store after a long, busy winter night, when nobody had cared to open a window. Partly it smelled of seared metal and destruction. It looked that way, too. The fighting seemed to be over, though most of our first-wave fighting machines had already become sizzling junk. In the first quick glance I saw an unfamiliar Doc, with a copper blanket over his head-I recognized my goodies bag-a distraught Dopey perched at one end of the chamber and a couple of dead Beloved Leader warrior-Bashfuls. The place was suffocatingly hot. And it was noisier than I would have believed.
Most of the noise didn't come from the crackling metal or the whimpering Dopey perched at one end of the compartment as he gazed with horror at the Horch, Beert. The deafening part came from my friend Pirraghiz. Bafflingly, she was shrieking at the top of her lungs, a long, meowing garble in her own impenetrable language. She sounded either terrified or in pain. I swore to myself in alarm and staggered toward her in the sudden Earth gravity, looking for the wound that was causing her such agony. There didn't seem to be any. Still screaming, she shook me off, at the same time gesturing to the strange Doc with the copper blanket over his head. I had no idea what she wanted from him, but after a moment he did. Wounded as he was-one of his lesser arms was terribly burned-he limped over to the control boards and quickly played his clawed hands over the colored dots.
When the Doc said something to Pirraghiz she stopped screaming at once and gave him a quick hug of greeting. Then she bent to examine his burned arm and tsk-tsked over it-in her case it was actually a sort of bup-bup sound-before she turned to me. "Wrahrrgherfoozh"-I think that's what she said the Doc's name was-"needs attention! I fear he may lose that arm! I must try to help him!"
"Well, sure," I said, "but what was all the screaming about?"
Pirraghiz was already delicately probing the skin around the Doc's-well, shoulder; at least, around the little bony bump where his burned lesser arm joined his torso. Her full attention was on his injuries, and she didn't look up. "I didn't want the Others to know what was happening," she said, still gently working away on him. "So as soon as the machines and I got him neutralized with the mesh, I turned off the scrambler and began to scream-yelling that there were explosions, water was coming in, all that sort of thing. My intention was to make the Others believe we had some kind of a terrible accident," she explained. "Then, as you saw, we turned off the communicator and the transit machine. Is that all right?"
It was a hell of a lot better than all right. I wished I had thought of it myself. What I said was an inadequate, "Thank you."
She spared me a quick glance. "Yes. But, Dannerman, what do we do now?"
That was what I needed to figure out.
It was great to be back on Earth again, but I was still a long way from Arlington.
I took a moment to get a better idea of what I had to work with. The Horch fighting machines had been surgically efficient in their assault. As far as I could tell, none of the fittings of the sub had been damaged, but I didn't see much that was helpful. There had been two Beloved Leader warriors on the sub, both now dead. There had been four Horch fighting machines, three of which were now scrap; the Bashfuls had put up a pretty good fight before they died. Beert's personal robot seemed unharmed. So did the Dopey, who had stopped his terrified whining and was staring from one to the other of us as Pirraghiz and I talked.
There was something I needed to know about that Dopey. So, watching him, what I said to Pirraghiz was, "The first thing we do is kill the Dopey, so he can't make any trouble."
Pirraghiz stiffened in surprise. The Dopey didn't. He just kept looking back and forth at the two of us, with an occasional frightened glance at Beert. Even his tail plume didn't change color. So either he was a wonderful actor, or he didn't understand the Horch language we were speaking.
As Pirraghiz began to object I said, "Cancel that." I pointed to the wounded Doc. "Can he drive this thing?"
She gave me a strange look, but then she mewed at the Doc and he mewed back. "Yes, he can. Wrahrrgherfoozh is engineer for this vessel. He can operate any part of it, but he wants to know where to drive to."
Another good question. If I can see some kind of a map, I'll tell him.
More mewing. Then, "The locators are turned off, Danner-man," she reported. "They are part of the communication system." While I was absorbing the notion that we were somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, and blind, she added, "However, Wrahrrgherfoozh says it is possible for him to alter the system to receive only and not to transmit. But that will take some time."
That lifted a huge weight from my soul. "Tell him to do it, then!"
"He is badly hurt, Dannerman. I do not think we can save that arm."
That was when Beert spoke up. He had been quietly talking to his Christmas tree, and he said, "Dan. I have used my machine to work on many devices of the Others. Perhaps it can help."
I looked at Pirraghiz. "Can it?" And when she nodded, "Then tell them to get on with it! I mean, please."
The Christmas tree scuttled over to the board, Pirraghiz explained to the Doc what was going on, and I had my first chance to say anything to Beert. He was standing silent, his head darting this way and that, his arms slumped by his side. He looked dejected.
I said, "Beert? Listen, I'm sorry that I got you into this."
He turned the head toward me, but all he said was, "Yes."
There was nothing to be done for the dead warriors. The one surviving fighting machine was poking at the ruins of the other three, but it didn't look like they were going to be repairable for a good long time. If ever.
By then the Dopey had managed to collect himself. He fixed his little kitten eyes on me and spoke up. "Sprechen-sie Deutsch?" he asked. He was looking at me. "Panamayoo Paruski? Parlezvous-"
I cut him off, "Try English."
He switched at once, gazing at me intently. "I must ask, why are you here? Do you have any understanding of what fate awaits you for daring to bring a filthy Horch into a vessel of the Beloved Leaders?"
"They have to catch us first," I said. It was oddly pleasing to be speaking my own language again, even with this creature.
"But they surely will," he said reasonably. "Then it will be terrible for you. You have only one chance to avoid the worst of the punishment, and that is to destroy the Horch and his machine with that projectile weapon of yours. At once. And then-"
"Forget it," I said.
I put it more strongly. "What I mean is, shut up. I'll talk to you later, but if you don't keep quiet now, I will turn you over to the filthy Horch."
That didn't stop him, either. I turned my back on his arguments and spoke in his own language to Beert: "Do you think you could get your fighter to scare him? Not kill him. Just make him be quiet."
Beert's head lifted to gaze at me. "Then you don't really want him killed?"
"Of course I don't, Beert. What use is he dead? I want him alive to be interrogated. Do you think I would actually murder an unarmed person?"
He gazed at me in silence for a moment. Then he said, "I was not sure."