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CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

I don't know if you've ever found yourself in a situation like mine. By that I mean finding yourself back on your home planet when you'd pretty much given up hope of ever seeing it again. And meeting once more the girl of your dreams… more or less. And worrying about what your human associates were going to do to your best friend, who happened to be a Horch. And trying to catch up on food, sleep and news, the accumulated news of a world I hadn't seen for many months. And all day long answering questions and asking them-of Pirraghiz and Beert-and always, every minute, hustled from one interrogation place to another with little time to eat and barely enough for sleeping.

The worst part was the constant interruptions. We would go from trying to figure out whether Mrrranthoghrow was talking about magnetism or electricity or something entirely different to an emergency trip to the sub, where Daisy Fennell was having hysterics because the Doc had begun ripping one whole panel out of the sub's wall. By the time we finished convincing her that he was just doing what he was told to do up the chain of communication (Wrahrrgherfoozh, Pirraghiz, me, Fennell) and she finished demanding that he let Bureau mechanics observe and record every move (back down the same chain-four or five times each way), Hilda was already getting calls from the reverse-engineering people to complain that their allotted time was being frittered away. And when we got back to the hunk of Scarecrow transit machine, Mrrranthoghrow was in the middle of trying to explain the way the thing's laserlike weaponry was generated and Rosaleen Artzybachova was begging to be told where the power came from. And while we were trying to deal with that, the head of the UN detachment showed up to protest that some of the semiorganic Scarecrow materiel was making fizzing noises and seemed to be rotting away, and why were we wasting time with hardware when valuable stuff was being lost because they didn't know how to preserve it?

It was pretty hectic. Trust me on that. The only ones who were enjoying it all were the linguists, and they were in heaven. After months of effort, they'd picked up only a few words of Doc; now they had their Rosetta stone, me, and a completely different new language, Horch. Two new languages! Not just "new" in the sense that some newly discovered African hill tribe's language was "new" to, at least, Western linguists, but wholly new in provenance, languages that had developed with no ancestors in common with any language any human being had ever heard before, all the way back to the earliest presentient screeches and grunts. I could almost smell their ecstatic daydreaming about the papers they would someday contribute to the linguistics journals.

I was glad they were having fun. Nobody else was. Definitely I was not, and least happy of all was my friend, Beert. When they brought me in to question him he was belly-down on his army cot, head held dejectedly low.

The way I looked at it, he had a lot to be dejected about. The room he was in was Spartan and not at all private; two wall-mounted cameras followed him wherever he went. Which was never very far, since the cell was only about two meters by three altogether. When we all piled in, there was hardly room to move at all.

"They want me to ask you some questions, Beert," I told him.

His neck had swerved to the two armed guards in UN blue helmets. "Yes, I supposed that they would," he said absently, and then asked, "Those persons with the blue metal on their heads, are they your cousins?"

"Something like that," I said, but that was all the chitchat we were allowed. And before we could get down to business the translators were on my case again for verbatim translations of everything we had said.


When the debriefers' questions began he stayed dejected, but answered civilly enough. It wasn't a very useful interview, though. The first things the debriefers wanted to know about were weaponry, and Beert complained that he had had no experience in that area. "My robot may have more of that data," he said, "but I think not much." And then when I translated that, Hilda cleared her throat.

"Since we don't have one of his robots to ask," she said warningly, "let's go on to some other subject."

I took the hint. When, disappointed, the interrogators switched to questions about other kinds of Horch technology, Beert complained several times that his robot was the one to be asked of such matters, but I simply didn't translate. Technology wasn't a productive area anyway; even when Beert had answers, the terms he used meant nothing to me. Or to the debriefers.

That didn't stop them from asking, though. They were entitled to a full hour, they said. They claimed every minute of it, although the need for sleep was catching up with me and I was yawning long before Hilda announced time was up and hustled me out of the room.

For once the linguists didn't follow. That puzzled me, but when I asked Hilda she said, "You don't need to take them to bed with you, do you?"

"Bed?" I had almost given up on the hope of being allowed to go to bed.

"Bed, Danno," she confirmed. "You'll need your rest. You've got a long day ahead of you tomorrow." Then she added approvingly, "You did good in there, Danno. Just remember: Scarecrow stuff, tell them everything. What you saw and did, tell them everything. The Horch stuff at Arlington, you don't tell them anything about it at all."

"Um," I said, meaning, you've told me all this before and I'm too tired to hear it again. Then I said, "Can't you do better for Beert than that dump? Remember, we owe him-"

"I do remember," she said crossly. "We'll do the best we can. Give it a rest."

I stopped, turned and peered into her one-way glass, which made her recoil a little. "What the hell are you up to now, Danno?" she demanded.

"I'm trying to see if you still have a heart."

"As much as I ever did," she snapped. "Back off, Danno. You have to get over this nasty little curiosity about what I look like inside this box. I can see out, but you can't see in, and that's the way I want it. Now go to bed. You're going to have a full day tomorrow."


When the door closed behind me, I looked around. My room wasn't much better than Beert's, except that it did have a TV set and washstand, and there was a lid on the toilet. I thought about turning on the TV to catch a little news before I went to sleep, but I lay down to think about it, and then I didn't want to get up again. I wondered what Pat was doing just then. Then I wondered what Patrice was doing. Then I wondered what it was that was niggling for attention at the edges of my mind. Then I fell asleep, and when I woke up I had forgotten that there was anything like that at all.


CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR | The Far Shore of Time | CHAPTER FORTY-SIX



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