Things went fast then. I don't know who the President gave orders to, or what the orders were, but by the time I was back in the sub, telling Pirraghiz what she would have to do about talking to the other sub crews, the word came. A special jet from some installation in Amarillo, Texas, would be arriving in two hours with "the materiel that was requisitioned." Nothing more specific than that, but I knew what that materiel was going to be.
While the Docs were left to rerig the sub's comm systems so Pirraghiz would be able to talk to the crews when the time came, Hilda and I went into Beert's room. He was making himself as comfortable as possible on the cot that had never been designed for Horch anatomy. He lifted his head languidly toward me. "Hello, Dan," he said, his voice mournful. "I was sleeping. When I came back here I found myself thinking about our friend, the Wet One whom we sent to try to liberate his people-or, more likely, to his death. Do you suppose they have killed him yet?"
It was a good question. It reminded me, a little guiltily, that I hadn't given the amphibian a thought since we got back to Earth, had never even learned his name. But when I was translating what Beert had said for Hilda, she broke in. "Screw your noble hippopotamus friend, Danno. Tell the Horch what we're going to do."
So I did. "We need your help," I finished. "Also your robot, to operate the transit machine and find the right channels."
He waved his neck around thoughtfully for a moment. "Do I have a choice about helping you?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Do you want one?"
He considered that. Then he said, "Oh, perhaps not. Of all the things I have done for you that the Greatmother might not approve, I think blowing up a ship of the Others would be about the least. Very well. Let us get the robot, and I will instruct him in what you want done."
The little Scarecrow submarine was more crowded than it had ever been intended to be, and it still stank. I had forgotten about the persistent scorched-fish smell of the sub. For the two surprisingly elderly men from Amarillo, sweating in their white laboratory coats, it was something they had never experienced before. They didn't like it. They muttered to each other as they took the hatch plates off the "requisitioned materiel" and began to set their fuses. There were four of the chrome-plated beachballs, and I only hoped that the stink wasn't making the men careless in their settings.
Marcus Pell insisted on being present, though he stayed by my side, as far away from the nukes as we could get. It wasn't very far, and of course that kind of distance wouldn't have helped a bit if they had accidentally triggered one of the damn things. At the transit machine Beert's Christmas tree was methodically sorting out channels to the scout ship, with Foozh talking to it and Pirraghiz translating. "What are they saying?" Pell demanded. His collar was loose, and he looked nervous.
"The robot says there are evidently five transit machines on the scout ship."
"Hell!" Pell groaned. "We only have four bombs."
I didn't respond to that. If four nukes couldn't do the job, we were out of luck anyway. Beert drifted over, his neck pointed toward the bomb technicians. "Why are those persons so old?" he asked.
I told him, "I've been wondering the same thing. I guess there haven't been any additions to the nuclear weapons staff in a while." Which made the deputy director demand a translation of that, too.
Then the older of the techs stood up. "We're ready. Give us the word when you want to start the operation."
"You're sure these things will still work?" Pell barked.
The man shrugged. "Sure as we can be," he said. "Everything checks optimal. How about you, Deputy Director? Are you sure this machine will get them out of here right away? Because we've got sixty-second timers on them. It'll take about half that to activate the fuse, pop the hatch back and set the first bomb in the machine. If they're still here thirty seconds later, we aren't going to know it."
Pell swallowed and turned inquiringly to me. "Ask that thing," he ordered, pointing to Beert.
There wasn't any point in asking Beert again what he had already told us ten times, so I just observed to him that it was crowded in here, and when he agreed I reported to Pell: "He guarantees it."
The man from Amarillo sighed. He glanced at his partner, then said: "All right. We'll start arming the first device."
In the event, the men from Amarillo didn't take any thirty seconds. I guess they were worried about the time pressure; anyway, they closed up the first beachball pretty quickly and the two of them together rolled it on its little wheeled pallet over to the transit machine. By the time the door was closed and the Doc activated the transmission, less than twenty seconds had passed.
And when the Doc opened the door again, the chamber was empty.
So far, so good. "Reset for the second machine," I ordered the robot. It didn't move. All it did was extend a couple of twiglets questioningly toward Beert.
Who sighed. "You will obey this person," he ordered, and it did. When it reported the setting was complete I told the technicians to ready the second bomb; which went as expeditiously as the first.
But when it came to getting ready for the third, the Christmas tree fiddled for a while, then spoke up. "No additional transit machines are in operation at the target. It appears destruction is complete."
"Thank you," I said absently, thinking. Beert could not have known what I was thinking about, but it was clear that he knew something was going on in my head.
"What is it, Dan?" he asked worriedly, just as Pell ran out of patience: "What the hell, Dannerman? Are we going to send the third bomb or not?"
I gave Pell a shake of the head and turned to Pirraghiz. "Get on the horn to the subs!" I ordered. "Tell them to take their Dopeys into custody!"
And then, as she excitedly began meowing into the microphone, I faced Beert. "Do you want to go home?" I asked.
That shook him up. His head darted to within centimeters of my face, his jaw dropped. "Dan," he whispered pleadingly, "what are you saying?"
I couldn't meet his eyes. "Just answer the question," I said.
His long neck was trembling with excitement. "Go home, Dan? My belly yearns for it! Would you allow this?"
Marcus Pell was turning from Pirraghiz to me, his expression angry. "What's she jabbering about? What's going on?" he demanded.
I ignored Pell, speaking to the Christmas tree. "Can you transmit Djabeertapritch to the machines in the nest of the Eight Plus Threes?" And when it confirmed that it could, I ordered, "Set the machine up for transmission." And then at last I turned to the nearly apoplectic deputy director.
"I just wanted to make absolutely sure," I said apologetically.
The Far Shore of Time 301
"The job's done. The survey ship is destroyed; there's nothing left to transmit to."
He made me repeat it two or three times, alternately blinking at me and at Pirraghiz as she meowed urgently into the ship-to-ship microphone. I jerked a thumb at the two remaining bombs. "Don't you think you should get the hoists back so we can get these things out of here?" I suggested.
That took him by surprise. "Right," he said, as glad as I thought he would be of the excuse to get away from them. And when he was out of the hatch to find the hoist operators, I said, "Good-by, Beert. Don't linger. If he comes back, he'll try to stop you."
Horch don't cry, but Beert's hard little nose was running as he wrapped those reptilian arms around me for a moment, then leaped into the chamber. The men from Amarillo were goggling at what was going on, but they didn't have any authority to prevent it.
I had one other thing to say to Beert. I held the door from closing for a moment, making him dart his head at me inquiringly. "Tell them for me, Beert," I said. "Tell them we will fight the Others in every way we can. We won't let them conquer us. But if we have to, we will fight the Horch as well. Tell them that."
"I will tell them, Dan," he said as I closed the door. And when it opened again the chamber was empty.