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CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

There were half a dozen people impatiently waiting for me in the debriefing room, some male, some female, some wearing the blue UN beret and some in Bureau tans. They didn't waste time. They started in right away-"Describe in more detail the robots you called 'Christmas trees,' " one of them commanded, and we were off.

It didn't stop, either. It didn't even slow down. After I told them how the robots had acted I had to tell them what their needles felt like when I touched them, and what they had done to me with their damned helmet, and what they had been doing to the Dopey. The questioning didn't even pause for breath- my breath, I mean; the debriefers had plenty of breathing space because they took turns with the questions-until Hilda's great white refrigerator box rolled back into the room. "Time's up for this segment," she said. "You go to the sub now, Danno."

"Slow down a little, Hilda," I begged. "I have to go to the bathroom."

"Sure you do, Danno. I've got you down for a pee break right after the next session. You can hold it until then, can't you?"

And rolled away, leaving me to follow her, without waiting to hear whether I could or couldn't.


There were more questions at the submarine, but this time they weren't for me. They were for the two Docs who waited there, Pirraghiz and the recent amputee, Wrahrrgherfoozh, and all I had to do was translate. The head debriefer seemed to be a middle-aged, red-haired woman I sort of knew-Daisy Fennell, her name was, one of the Bureau higher-ups. She started with the questions before I was all the way inside.

They'd had the sense to leave the hatch open, and so the sub smelled a little better. Someone had also cleaned up the airsick guard's puke, but outside of that nothing much had been touched. There was one woman in there as we climbed down, operating three or four cameras that were methodically scanning around. "Watch where she's shooting," Fennel ordered. "We want to know the function of every piece of equipment in this vehicle, also as much as these, ah, persons can tell us about how it works. Understand? Start with this one."

She was pointing where one of the cameras was pointing, to a sort of Chinese lantern, twelve or fifteen centimeters high, that was fixed to one wall. It glowed with a pale green light and was softly humming to itself. I passed the question on to Pirraghiz, who mewed to Wrahrrgherfoozh, who spoke at some length. When Pirraghiz translated for me, it came out as, "Wrahrrgherfoozh says it monitors the lighting system. I don't know why that's necessary, do you?" And while I was putting that into English for the debriefers, she kept on going. "He also told me what systems are inside it, but I did not understand the terms he used."

"One moment, please," one of the debriefers said, while I was adding that. He looked unhappy. "Will you please make sure you give us exact wording in every case? Also ask Pir-Pirr-the one with the purry name to do the same when she translates for you."

I opened my mouth to ask why, but Daisy Fennell was already talking. "Do as she says, Dannerman," she commanded. "Dr. Hausman and Dr. Tiempe are linguists; the deputy director has given them permission to record your translations so they can work on learning these languages."

"Like a sort of Rosetta stone; do you know what that is?" Dr. Hausman said eagerly. "That's why verbatim translations are so important. Once we can match up individual words, we can build a vocabulary, and then we can start trying to identify a grammar. We've been trying to do that with Meow, but it's been very slow." Fennel flagged her down. "Another time, Dr. Hausman. We've got business here. Dannerman! I thought there was supposed to be some kind of chart here that showed where all the other subs were, but I don't see it."

I looked around and spotted the place where it had been, but now it was only a sort of glassy oval that displayed nothing at all. "There. I guess it's turned off for some reason."

"Why is it turned off?"

I put the question to Pirraghiz and got the answer from Wrahrrgherfoozh. "He says it's because the way the systems are hooked up-"

"Please!" the linguist begged. "Exact words! Also the Doc's when he speaks to Pirraghiz, if you don't mind."

I didn't, particularly. Pirraghiz was less obliging when I told her about it. "It is very tedious this way," she sniffed. "If these other persons wish to speak the Horch language, why do you not implant them with language modules of their own?"

When I translated that, there was an amused titter all around, though she hadn't sounded to me as though she were joking. But Fennell wasn't amused. "Get the hell on with it, Dannerman," she ordered. "Cut the comedy!"

So I did, as best I could. Trying to translate word for word made the job about twice as tedious, and it was tedious enough already. Still, we finally got that message cleared up. Wrahrrgherfoozh had cut the sub's communications out completely when we took over. That was good, since the Scarecrows stopped receiving data from us, and thus wouldn't know what had happened, but it was also bad because we stopped receiving anything from them at the same time. Nothing was incoming. No talk on the circuits between subs, no data to locate the other subs on the screen. No nothing at all.

But when I asked, Pirraghiz conferred with Wrahrrgherfoozh and reported that, yes, he'd never done it before but he thought he could maybe rejigger the sub's communications systems so that we could receive without transmitting. It wasn't an easy job, but if he could get Mrrranthoghrow to help him, maybe, in a day or two.

Fennell didn't enjoy that news. "Meow's needed elsewhere," she said.

I shrugged. "If you think so. If you want my opinion, I'd say he's needed here. We don't know what the Scarecrows are doing, * do we? If Pirraghiz could listen in, we might be able to find out, whether they've really bought the idea of an accident, and the I sooner the better."

I guess my tone wasn't very deferential, because she gave me a hard look. "I'll take it up with the deputy director," she said. "Get back to work."

So I did, and we had named and more or less described about half the visible gadgets on the sub when Hilda called in to say that it was time for me to go to my next appointment. As I came down the ladder, Pirraghiz and the linguistics team following, Hilda studied me for a minute. "Are you deliberately trying to piss Daisy Fennell off?" she demanded.

I shrugged. "Not deliberately."

"Well, you're doing a good job of it," she said, and then she made a little sound that must have been a chuckle. "On the other hand, I guess it doesn't matter much, since she can't get along without you. Hey, I guess none of us can really, can we, Danno? How does it feel to be the most important man in the world?"


The most important man in the world.

It had a nice sound. I pondered over it between pauses for translations at the next stop, which was in a kind of laboratory.

I'd seen the Bureau's forensic lab at the headquarters in Arlington. The one at Camp Smolley was a lot bigger. It was a twenty-four-hour operation, and it was bustling with all kinds of activity. In one room technicians were doing mass spectroscopy, its door closed but the nasty, dentist's-drill sound leaking through as they sputtered ions off samples of Scarecrow metals. In another the chemists had other samples bubbling and fizzing under glass hoods. The place Hilda took us to was a larger room, filled with rows of workbenches. Each of them held its own piece of Scarecrow gimmickry being investigated, with a handful of techs poking and prodding at its innards.

We stopped where Mrrranthoghrow was waiting with two or three techs, one of them wearing the UN blue beret. While Pirraghiz was hugging her long-lost friend in greeting, I got a look at what was on the bench. It was a huge thing, the size of Hilda's mobile box, but it wasn't on wheels, and instead of being refrigerator white, it was iridescently greenish. When Mrrranthoghrow finished hugging Pirraghiz he picked up a sheaf of carefully executed drawings and thrust them at me, mewing earnestly.

"This is a part of a transit machine of the Others," Pirraghiz translated. "It comes from the human astronomical orbiter called Starlab and Mrrranthoghrow has made these sketches of its parts, which these people wish to discuss when one more person arrives."

By the time I had translated that, the one more person was arriving, speeding along in her wheelchair with an apologetic expression on her face. It was Rosaleen Artzybachova. "Sorry if I've kept you waiting," she said. "I didn't expect you to be on time, I'm afraid. Hello, Meow."

She was speaking to Mrrranthoghrow, and the surprising part was that he replied with "Hello, Rosaleen" in English. Well, almost in English. It came out, "Uh-woh, Wozzaweeeen," but close enough.

Hilda, of course, was having none of that. "We are seven minutes behind schedule, Dr. Artzybachova," she said crisply. "Please do not delay us any more."

"Of course," Rosaleen said. "Here, Dan." She plucked a couple of the carefully executed drawings out of my hand and pointed to the sketch of a round object with a partly serrated edge. "Ask him if this thing is meant to fit in with this other one-" pointing to another sheet with a detail of something that looked like a clamshell.

And on and on. Well, there's no sense describing every last thing I did around then, because there were many too many things to be done.

See, I was the only one who could talk to Beert or Pirraghiz, and through her to the other Docs. There was a lot of talking to be done, and every bit of it required my participation.

It wasn't much of a stretch for Hilda to call me the most important man in the world. The busiest, anyway. So it isn't really surprising that some really important matters just sort of slipped my mind.


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



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