home   |   А-Я   |   A-Z   |   меню


CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

Even in that moment I noticed something funny. The workmen weren't the usual uniformed grunts the Bureau used for heavy lifting. They were high-ranking officers. I recognized some of them as upper brass from the Arlington headquarters, and they didn't seem to like being used as manual labor.

I didn't spend much time thinking about that; there was something more important. It was the first time I'd seen the whole Scarecrow submarine exposed. It didn't look a bit like any vessel I'd seen before.

When the tarps came off at one end of the sub they revealed a squared-off stern with three great openings, making a triangle, looking like exhaust nozzles on a huge rocket. There was neither propeller nor rudder. At the bow end was a group of tightly nested jointed rods, for what purpose, I could not say. A whitely gleaming squarish thing was between them; it looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. The rest of the hull was featureless metal, marked only by the hatch on the upper deck.

I heard my name called and turned around. It was Deputy Director Marcus Pell, looking recently slept and freshly bathed. From behind me Hilda's voice said, "He wants you at the sub. Go!"

I went. The brigadiers and department subheads were rolling a wheeled ladder up to the sub's side and Pell was standing impatiently beside it. "Up you go, Dannerman," he snapped. "See if you can keep those freaks of yours from making any more trouble."

I did as ordered, somewhat confused because I had no idea what kind of trouble Pell was talking about. Then the people on the desk opened the hatch and it got a lot more confusing than that.


The first thing that came out of the sub was the stink, worse than ever and with some unpleasant new | ingredients added. The second thing was a uniformed police lieutenant, looking as if he'd had a hard ride. He glowered at me. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded, and didn't wait for an answer. He turned to the deputy director, who had followed me up. "Is there somebody who can talk to those freaks? They wouldn't let us touch the machinery at all. Then kept getting in Dr. Evergood's way when she was trying to take care of the Doc with the burned arm and… and Sergeant Coughlan was airsick all the way here," he finished bitterly.

That explained the new aroma. It didn't explain the fact that the second person out of the sub was a portly black woman in a stained white smock, whom I'd never seen before. The deputy director didn't give me a chance to ask questions. "You heard what the lieutenant said, Dannerman," he snapped. "Get in there and straighten the freaks out!"

As soon as I lowered myself inside, Beert and Pirraghiz came clamoring around me for news and explanations. "Give me a minute," I begged-in Horch, of course-while I looked around. Part of the stink came from three Bureau-issue body bags stacked one on top of the other-four body bags, actually; two bags had been put together to hold a larger carcass. That would be the dead Doc; the other bags would be holding the bodies of the two dead Scarecrow warriors. Another component of the stench was a couple of drying puddles of vomit on the floor, just under the perch where the ship's Dopey was fastidiously shielding his face with his fan and squawking his own raucous complaints at me-in English, this time. The sergeant who had been airsick gave me an aggrieved look and said faintly, "He's been going on like that the whole time. They all have."

They all still were. The surviving Doc was holding up his ruined arm, now neatly bandaged and a lot shorter than it had been, and mewing earnestly to Pirraghiz. The only things capable of speech or action that weren't demanding attention at once were the two machines, Beert's Christmas tree and the surviving robot fighter. They stood totally silent and unmoving in a corner of the sub's cabin. I appreciated that.

I raised a hand and said loudly, in English: "Shut up." Then in Horch, "I'm sorry if you had a rough trip, but it's over now. Pirraghiz? What happened to your friend?"

She was standing next to him, with one big hand on his shoulder for comforting. "At the other nest-the first place they took us to, I don't know where it was-the human female amputated most of his stump," she told me. "She did an excellent job, I think."

I blinked at that. "You let her operate on him?"

"I had no choice, Dannerman. It was clear that she knew what she was doing, and the medical attention was urgently needed. Then she came with us to care for him on the trip."

"But I thought you were the medical one-"

"Only for dealing with your species, Dannerman. I have been given no skills for my own."

Beert had been standing behind me, listening. Now his neck snaked over my shoulder and his little head twisted to peer side-wise into mine. "May I speak now, Dan?" he asked, sounding sorrowful but resigned. "I do not complain, but can you tell me what place we have arrived at? And for what purpose?"

It was a tall order, but I did my best to pass on to him- adding apologies every few sentences-what Hilda and Patrice had explained to me: We were at a research facility devoted to analyzing the technology of the Others, where he and the Docs would be-I took a moment over the choice of words-would be cared for, I said. I didn't want to say "imprisoned."

The hard part of answering his question was when it came to purpose. I didn't know what the Bureau had in mind for him, and didn't much like my suspicions. While I was stumbling over that, the deputy director stuck his nose down the hatch. "What's going on?" he demanded suspiciously. "Come on out of there! Bring those-things-out with you."

That sounded like a good idea. The stink was getting to me. Been and the Docs followed me up the ladder agilely enough and in a moment we were all standing uneasily on the slippery, rounded deck of the sub, which had not been intended for anybody to stand on. I could see Patrice standing down below, a few feet from the big wheeled dolly the sub was resting on. The plump black woman was beside her, and Patrice's mouth was open in wonder as she saw Beert. Pell nudged me, pointing to the exterior ladder. "Get them down there!" he ordered. And when I added a few sentences to the Horch translation of his order, trying to reassure them, Pell demanded, even more suspiciously than before: "What are you saying to them?"

"I'm telling them what you said," I informed him.

"All right," he grumbled, "but I want you to translate every damn word both ways, do you hear me? Now move it, all of you.


When we were all on the ground he hadn't finished giving orders. "You!" he barked at me. "Go see the doctor."

He was pointing to the black woman standing with Patrice. Pell did not choose to mention what I was supposed to see her about. Before I could ask, he was already stalking away, barking orders at everyone in sight. When I got there, Beert and the Docs trailing after, Patrice's eyes were all on Beert, but she hadn't forgotten her manners. "This is Colonel Marsha Evergood, Dan. She's a neurosurgeon."

I shook her hand. "I hear you have a side specialty in amputating Doc limbs," I said.

She acknowledged the remark with a grin. "It happens I'm the world's greatest expert on Doc anatomy, Agent Dannerman. I didn't plan it that way, but I've debugged one and autopsied another. Now will you hold still for a minute?"

She didn't wait for an answer. She reached under my babushka to run her fingers over the thing behind my right ear. Marcus Pell came up behind me as she felt and peered and poked. "Well?" he demanded testily.

The doctor withdrew her hand and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder. She pursed her lips, considering. "I can't say for sure without X rays and an ultrasound and maybe a little exploratory surgery, but I'd say it's architecturally similar to the Scarecrow bugs. If so, it has probably invaded a lot of tissue. I doubt I could remove it without risking serious brain damage."

"Hey," I squawked, pulling away. Pell didn't even look at me.

"So you think he's transmitting everything he sees?" he asked.

Marsha Evergood shrugged, so I answered for her. "No! I'm not transmitting anything! It's nothing like that. It isn't a spy bug! It's made by the Horch, not the, uh, Scarecrows, and all it does is give me their language."

He gave me a glance that time, but didn't respond. The doctor patted my hand reassuringly. I thought what she was trying to tell me was that she wasn't going to turn me into a slobbering idiot with her scalpels, no matter what Marcus Pell wanted. At least I hoped so.

Anyway, whatever decision he might have wanted to make got deferred by another call on his attention. The duty crew had been carrying bits and pieces of loose equipment-including my sack of Horch goodies-out of the sub. They were stacking it all on the floor next to a Bureau van, but they came to a stop. The officer in charge hurried over, looking worried. "Deputy Director? I don't think we can lift the big cadaver without more men, and we'd better get it into refrigeration pretty fast."

For a moment it occurred to me to volunteer the Docs for the job, which they could have handled easily, but Pell was already gone to sort this new problem out. Anyway, I wasn't in a mood to do him any favors, and I had something else I wanted to do. I beckoned Pirraghiz and Beert to come forward. "Patrice," I said, "I'd like you to meet my two best friends."

She stumbled over their names, but gamely stuck her hand out. Being a considerate person, Pirraghiz barely touched Patrice's hand with her enormous, taloned fist, but Beert wrapped one snaky arm around it. He kept his eyes on her but slid his head up close to mine, whispering. When I answered Patrice spoke up. "What were you saying?" she demanded.

"Oh, well," I said, trying to think of a lie, deciding to tell her the truth, "he, uh, wanted to know if you were the human female I was talking about back in his nest."

"And you said?"

I shrugged and stuck with the truth. "I said, more or less."

"Ah," she said, nodding. "More or less." Then she added, in a tone of friendly curiosity, "Tell me something, Dan. Why do you wriggle your arms and neck that way when you talk to your friends?"

She caught me by surprise. "Do I? I never noticed it. Maybe I'm just sort of copying the way Beert talks."

"You ought to try to stop it. It looks pretty dumb." And the look she was giving me that time had no suggestion of kissing in it.


By then the cleanup crew had loaded the casualties onto a couple of waiting gurneys-and a hand truck for the dead Doc-and Marcus Pell was peremptorily calling my name again. "Those robot machine things in the sub," he said, sounding harried. "The crew's afraid to touch them. Can you make them come out?"

I shook my head. "No, but Beert can. Give me a minute." Beert and I climbed back onto the deck, and he called his orders down through the hatch. Both the robots immediately came to life. I wasn't sure how the Christmas tree was going to manage the two ladders, up and down, but it simply extruded four or five more branches and whisked itself along, the fighter robot following briskly.

"Tell them to get in the van," Pell ordered when they were down. I opened my mouth to ask why, but he didn't give me a chance. "Do it!" he barked. And while they were doing it, impassive as ever, he climbed onto a crate. "Listen up, all of you!" he called. Those high-ranking workmen stopped what they were doing and turned toward him. "You will not, repeat not, ever under any circumstances mention to anyone at all the fact that you have seen any of this Horch technology. The Scarecrow stuff is different; that's covered by the treaty, and in a minute we'll let the UN people and everybody else in this project in to see it. Nothing about the Horch! Understand me? This is a national security matter, and violation carries a death penalty. Plus," he added savagely, "I will make you pray for the firing squad long before the sentence is carried out." He met the eyes of everybody in the loading area, then jumped down and turned to me. "Tell your Horch friend to get in the van, too," he ordered.


That was pushing it a step too far. I didn't know what Pell was up to, but I didn't feel like going along with it. I said, "No."

Pell looked as astonished as though a waiter had turned down his request for a clean spoon. "What the hell do you mean, no? That's an order!"

"No," I said again. "Beert stays with me. I promised him."

The deputy director's expression changed. He didn't look angrier; he looked as though he had suddenly turned to ice. "I don't give a shit what you promised that thing, Dannerman! I want him out of here before anybody else sees him. Do you want me to put you under arrest right now?"

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Hilda's life-support box rolling toward me dangerously, but I ignored her. I said, "Well, Deputy Director, if that's what you want to do, I guess I can't stop you. I ought to remind you, though, that I'm the only one who can speak to these people. I don't see how I could do that for you if you put me in a detention cell." He stood silent for a moment, swallowing what I had said to him. It looked as though it might choke him. I went on, "Anyway, what's the point? Why do you want this stuff taken away?"

He glanced at Hilda, standing silently by, but didn't say anything until he had finished processing the situation in his head. When he had made up his mind all he said was, "The Horch can stay. Just keep your mouth shut about the equipment."

I could feel Hilda's warning eyes on me in spite of her oneway glass. I persisted anyway, "Yes, but why?"

"Security," he snapped.

That puzzled me. "I don't see the problem. Isn't this place secure from the Scarecrows?"

Pell had regained his composure. When he answered it was as though our little head-to-head had never happened. "It's secure from the Scarecrows, sure-I hope. That's not the problem. Camp Smolley is full of UN personnel and I don't want them nosing around the Horch materiel. It's bad enough we have to share the Scarecrow technology with them."

That was even more of a puzzle. "Why are you worrying about the UN? I thought the Scarecrows were the enemy."

Pell gave me the kind of look a kindergarten teacher might give to a child who hadn't covered his coughs and sneezes. "They're the present enemy, Dannerman. Who knows who our friends are going to be when this is over? Remember what country pays your salary, and keep your priorities straight!"

That was the end of the discussion. Pell turned away and gestured to the van driver, who started up and drove away through a smaller door to the outside.

Then, paying no further attention to me, Pell called to the guard at the inside door: "Open up! Let's let the rest of the team come in and see what we've got!"


CHAPTER FORTY-ONE | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER FORTY-THREE



Loading...