by Michael Bard and Quentin 'Cubist' Long
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8 9 A
I get nightmares...
Big surprise, I know. Sometimes I even remember them. Other times, like over the past few days, it's a deduction from the collateral damage -- thrashed bedsheets and so on. And what's making my sleep a chamber of horrors now? Two guesses. Or maybe it should be seven or eight..? Okay, it was a dirty job, but somebody had to get a little blood on their hands. It's just, well, why did it have to be me? Sigh.
Never mind. I've got a job to do, I'm by Hephaestus going to do it, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna let a few bad dreams get in the way. For the moment that means prep work: Interminable sessions of tech training without number, plus as many extra Babylon simulator runs as I can squeeze into my schedule -- even if they're okay with an 18% survival rate, I'm not! But mostly it's the tech; networking protocols, allowable current tolerances, fourteen flavors of emergency procedures, and on and on and on. I inhale the data as fast as Carter can throw it at me and then some, and when she falls behind (which is a lot less often than I would've expected), I go back and review some of the bits that have given me trouble.
And of course there's my copious free time, which I spend eating, sleeping, and gathering data about AA, mostly. When I'm not looking for clues re: the bastard(s) playing with my and Carter's heads, that is. Found something interesting in the launch protocols: Seems the flight crew can specify their own soundtrack for a mission. With further investigation... let's just say I may have found a harmless way to tweak Carter.
Anyway: Aside from the tech classes, there's also a few physical tests... like the zero-G EVA simulator. This thing's a big tank of water. The idea is you get in your pressure suit, get properly weighted for neutral buoyancy, and get in the pool. The freefall simulation isn't so hot, especially compared to the real McCoy like you get in the 'Vomit Comet'; then again, the plane gives it to you in chunks of 30 seconds or less, and there is something to be said for duration.
So there I was, early morning of the 8th solar day of my idyllic vacation on scenic Easter Island, and I had some time to kill while AA's ground crew prepped the EVA simulator for me. There was some kind of problem with my intended air supply -- seal looked 'iffy', like it hadn't been fully cleaned after its last use -- but they had a backup tank ready in about a minute and a half. So I resumed one of my favorite pastimes: Worrying. About the mindgamers, in this case. Thus far, I not only hadn't come up with any answers, I didn't even have a clear idea of where to look for them! I'd decided against an overt investigation -- somehow, I just didn't think Ad Astra's management (or employees) would appreciate a short-term contractor making paranoid noises about brainwashing -- but that just meant I had to inquire indirectly, ask innocent questions whose answers would just happen to have bearing on one hypothesis or another. Good thing I'd already been grilling AAers about their employer...
Unfortunately, the indirect inquiries worked as designed. I got relevant data, alright; I just didn't get anything that supported any of my theories! All I managed to do was shorten the list of possible suspects. Which was something, except that Sue Carter (!) insisted on remaining on the list, and why the hell would she want to play with her own head? My head, maybe; hers, forget it. Hmm. What if there were two different mindgames, one aimed at each of us, and it was just coincidence that both were going off simultaneously? That'd explain why Carter was losing it, while I was merely --
-- incoming at 2 o'clock: minor hazard --
-- again with the instincts. It was just a random techie, who paused momentarily before speaking: "Mr. Acinonyx? We're ready now."
"Thanks." A few clock-minutes of final re-checks later, I was fully submerged and breathing canned oxygen. It smelled like a razor blade feels -- sterile, dry, inorganic, and lethally sharp -- and within seconds, I knew I preferred the air back home, pollution or no. And there was something just below the edge of conscious perceptibility... forget it. I didn't need that kind of distraction.
For the EVA sim, they had me assembling a Soyuz mockup. Not a bad idea; I got plenty of low-G experience from all the time I spend at high tempos, and believe you me, gravity (or the lack thereof) makes a big difference to the behavior and handling of inanimate objects. Would've been disappointed in Ad Astra if they hadn't insisted on empirical confirmation of my zero-gee skills! Unfortunately, whatever-it-was kept on nagging at me, like a paper cut across my sensorium, as I worked...
"...Goddamn it!" I swore, after losing my grip on the reactionless socket wrench. For the fifth time. "Son-of-a-bitching braindead shitheaded --"
That's when the guy running the test gave me a tentative interruption: "Ah, Mr. Acinonyx?"
"What!" I snarled back.
"Go ahead and take fi-"
"Another break!? What the fuck for?"
"Telemetry says your vital signs are spiking again."
That cooled me off in a hurry. "Oh. Good call." My suit's life support systems were designed to cover 250% of my normal metabolic needs; trouble was, I could break 400%, easy, when my temper was on a roll. Okay, I had been seriously angry -- but why? It just didn't make any sense! I upshifted a little, bought myself some time to think...
Look: I've got years and years of experience manhandling stuff around at high tempo, hence low-gee. I've done mechanical assembly in fast-time. No surprises here, so... what was pissing me off? It couldn't be a mindgame attack; whoever was messing with my head, they clearly intended to make me more tractable, not less. Which was one of the main reasons Carter was still on my list of suspects, especially since she had to've spun Ad Astra's management a line about how I wasn't really as bad as --
Bloody hell! It was the dryad! Motive? To solve my upshifting. Obvious, given her published solo papers in J. Physics and the like. Opportunity? Plenty of it. The majority of my time here on Easter Island, she was well within a six-meter radius of me. Method? Lots of possibilities, most likely some kind of mood-altering pheromone (especially if the airtank thing wasn't truly an accident). Nothing I hadn't considered myself, mind you, but what if it triggered a reaction I didn't want... like, say, berserk rage? Catch-22: With my not-quite-cheetah body chemistry, trying the experiment is the only way to know if it's safe for me to try the experiment.
Pheromones... Dosage must've been sufficiently low to keep me unaware of the stuff. Which, in turn, meant it'd wear off real fast after I stopped inhaling it. Like, just for the sake of argument, when I was breathing canned air that Carter hadn't tampered with. So that's what I couldn't put a finger on; I'd noticed the effect of the pheromone, just not consciously!
Which was more repulsive: That everyone around me, since at least as far back as the airport, had been a potential victim of mine... or that Carter just didn't care?
/ / / / / / / / \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
It is unfortunate that Babylon is too complex for me to completely check in person. After...
what happened... I've always come out to check it in the last
few days before launch, but with 190,000 individual components
to review, I can only scratch the surface of the aggregate set
of potential failure modes. Still better than the NASA shuttle
with its 250,000, but even so, there are 190,000 individual components which might fail, which in turn,
mathematically speaking, means 18.05 billion possible failure
modes which involve exactly two components; 1.143 quadrillion
possible three-component failure modes; for four components, 54.30
quintillion; for five, 2.063 septillion; for six, 65.34 octillion;
for seven --
You may trust me when I say that it quite simply is not physically possible to check everything. I nonetheless make an effort, over and above what the ground crew does anyway; the mathematics of quality assurance assure that for any given flaw in a system, N + 1 sets of eyes are intrinsically more likely to find it than N sets of eyes. I always check the screw, that screw, first. It's not the same place, but it serves the same function and that screw, at least, will not be loose again. Around it are sub-assemblies and linkages, control systems to switch the engines between jet, ram, scram, and rocket, flight control systems for the ailerons, orbital maneuvering rockets that need to emerge from the mirrored surface before use, electronics, diagnostics, monitoring systems, framework, fuel tanks, shaped composite skin panels, ceramic tiles... It just goes on and on.
The hangar door opened; I heard the latch, sensed the minor increase in ambient illumination as the Sun shone through the now-open doorway and reflected from the polished upper surface, creating a spreading wave-interference pattern that had been described by one visitor as 'the pale azure of the sky crossed with pulses of rich Pacific aqua'. I'd never understood that. Abruptly, my mind was pulled from its reverie by a spoken word. A solitary word that hung in the air, quiet and oddly deferential, in a tone of voice I would never have expected from him who said it: "Beautiful."
Climbing down the ladder from the engines I turned, blinking my eyes to adjust them to the halogen overheads reflected from the mirrored wing I stood beside, and looked to the door in which Jubatus was still silhouetted. "Greetings, Mr. Jubatus," I said as I walked towards him. "What do you think? Does this live up to the advertisements?"
"Yes. Oh, yes." And there was that tone again. Perhaps 'reverent' was the word I was looking for? "Look, if I've interrupted something, it's no problem for me to get out of your face now..."
"That's quite alright, Mr. Jubatus. I would have had to take a break eventually, and now is as good as any other time. May I presume that there is a significant topic you wish to discuss with me?"
"Why the pheromone?"
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ / / / / / / / /
The hangar was easy to find, also easy to get into. The overhead
camera looked down on me as I let the scanner read my PDA. Once
the door clicked, the camera got a good 12 clock-seconds of me
hesitating at the threshold. The thing is, I wasn't entirely sure
I wanted to go in, to gawk at the Phoenix in its nest; I've seen too many
beautiful dreams murdered by gangs of ugly facts, beaten to death
by cold, uncaring Reality... Plenty of dead dreams, alright. What's one more? You and the dryad
got business, Jube, so get on with it.
I opened the door... and it was there. Babylon. Not fallen, not in the least, because for just this once, Reality wasn't breaking the dream, but feeding it. I could upshift to extend the moment... no. I wanted to -- had to -- see it for real and true; my eyes were bad enough just because, without throwing in the distorted hues of fast-time.
Babylon is what they used to call a 'lifting body' -- a short, fat, smoothed-out wedge. '...With no engine and the glide path of a highly polished brick...' To the rear it had three massive engines just beneath a short rudder and two horizontal control surfaces; on the right and left were a massive pair of delta-shaped wings that stretched from nose to tail with twisted-up tips. 'When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, just about anything'll fly.' It was blue all over, light on the bottom and darker on top, and its mirror-polished surface transformed the reflected overhead lights into an alien star map, enticingly full of unexplored constellations. 'See what free men can do', by all the gods that never were! I felt almost like a god myself, maybe Viracocha as he looked over the statues he'd just breathed life into -- heh. As if I'd had anything to do with this creation! What the heck, nothing wrong with a little vicarious pride...
Beautiful. Just beautiful. I must have said something, because there was a feet-on-ladder noise from the far side of Babylon and yes, it was Carter. I could feel the pain and anger building up on sight of her, except... right. The pheromone. Made it easier to squelch the oncoming mood swing, which was fine by me; I wanted an explanation, not a fight.
"Hello, Jubatus. What do you think? Does Babylon live up to its press releases?"
"Oh, yes," I replied. "Look, if you've got serious work to do, it's no problem for me to come back later..."
"That's quite alright; I'd have taken a break regardless, and now is as good as any other time. I take it there's something you wish to discuss with me?"
I sighed. May as well get it over with. "Okay. The pheromone. Why?"
That took her by surprise; she actually had to gather her thoughts. "They switched tanks on you."
"Yeah. Want to answer my question?" I shrugged and gestured for her to continue.
"Mr. Jubatus, you are possibly the most dangerous living thing I've ever encountered. If you wanted you could kill me and there is absolutely nothing I could do to stop you. Given your temperament and the limited living space in Brin, I felt it was only prudent to implement precautions to minimize the chance of unfortunate accidents."
What anger I had was replaced with sadness. Here she's got a brain the size of a planet, and she just doesn't understand... "Motivation, that part's fine, that I get. What I don't get is... why didn't you tell me?" I locked eyes with her. "You thought I'd object to your precautions? You think I like being three of the ten most lethal SCABs in the world?"
There was a moment of uncertainty in her eyes. Just a moment, then it was gone. "How can I possibly say what you like or dislike? I know that your entire personality is a defense mechanism, that you're afraid of what you might do. I know that you've made mistakes in the past, and now you snap at people, push them away, have no real friends, all part of your effort to ensure you'll never again hurt anybody. One might suppose that if you found this lifestyle onerous, you would take steps to reduce its necessity -- that, in other words, you would actively seek to reduce the probability that your instincts can ever reduce you to a nonsentient state. But all the information I have suggests that you have, in fact, done virtually noth-"
I broke in on her. "Then you need more data. What you've got obviously wasn't enough to stop you playing Russian roulette with a crowded airport."
"Your simile is inappropriate, inasmuch as I knew precisely what effect the pheromone would have upon you."
"That so? How? Last time I checked, your specialties don't include any of the life sciences, let alone SCABS."
"That... I knew because of probabilistic analysis, based on information gained from Dr. Derksen, and confirmed by empirical tests involving captive cheetahs in zoos."
My heart fumbled a beat or two. Arrogance, thy name is Carter. I resisted the urge to close my eyes and bury my face in my hands. "So... you started with a data set too restricted to cover the problem at hand. From that data, you built a mathematical model for a discipline you're clueless about. And you verified the whole mess through experiments on subjects which lack at least two highly relevant factors. Does that cover everything?"
"I may not have a degree in biology, but I have read up on the subject and I have had numerous successful applications of similar methodologies. In the worst case only a few would have been injured or killed before airport security gunned you down."
I didn't dare move; I felt so disoriented that simply standing up was an impressive feat. No. Somebody please -- "And... exactly, how many is... 'only a few'?"
"To a confidence level of 95%, the body count would have been between 11 and 23."
Horrified, I stared at the dryad as my blood tried to hammer its way out of my body through my scalp. Even if her estimated death toll was accurate -- and McGregor's little 'tests' had proven it wasn't -- This isn't happening. The smartest thing on Earth didn't just admit to being perfectly willing to write off a couple dozen innocent lives for nothing more than sheer intellectual arrogance. "Eleven. To twenty-three."
"Exactly. Given the degree of carnage you could inflict if..."
She went on, oblivious, but that's when I stopped listening; to hear more would have been to invite madness. Morrigan, Osiris and Hela, tell me she's joking! As usual, no response from the deities named.
As she talked, suddenly it all fell into place like the last piece of a non-Euclidian jigsaw puzzle: She was a puppet-master, the ultimate control freak. 'Numerous successful applications of similar methodologies', she'd said... oh, God... Her subservient behavior towards McGregor was deliberate, ruthless exploitation of his instinctive sense of lupine hierarchy; the gift for Jerry was no gesture of gratitude, but, rather, a calculated ploy to buy his allegiance... The more I thought about it, the more I could perceive the naked Machiavellianism behind her every move: It was all games of dominance and power. Everything.
"Is that all I am to you? Just an object to manipulate? --"
/ / / / / / / / \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
His forlorn question echoed plaintively throughout the hangar:
"-- Is that all anybody is to you?"
His responses made no sense -- he was a textbook defensive personality, manipulating himself to manipulate others. Even if that wasn't true, everybody manipulated everybody else anyway. I'd shown him a way out of his trap and he was hurt. And why did that make me feel so hurt? One thing I'd learned from many of the books I'd read while incarcerated after Agamemnon was that when an opening was found, one should use it to bring the patient around to healing. "That... isn't relevant to the situation at hand. Mr. Jubatus, you now place me in a difficult position. If you resent my manipulation, then that raises the possibility that you might take action against me. Where we're going there can be no risk of such action so I'm now debating whether or not to leave you on the ground."
He made no reply in words. However, I noted signs of life appearing in his haunted eyes, which I took as evidence that he was listening and that my own words had struck home.
"You have been abusive and defensive. You won't let me examine you to confirm that you can control yourself. The one successful measure I've found you object to my use of. Why should I trust you with my life?" Now he'll give in because of the importance of the dream to him. Simple, predictable...
He bowed his head in thought. A couple of seconds later, he emitted a sound not unlike the grinding of mismatched gears, cleared his throat, and finally said (so quietly, so very quietly!), "You're right."
What was that..? "Excuse me?"
His next words were in something approximating a normal volume: "I said. You're right. You shouldn't trust me with your life. Nobody should. So... I'm not going. Not now."
I felt my jaw hang open before with a force of will, my body trembling, I was able to exert control. Take a step back, think...
"Thank you for showing me around. I'll..." He gazed up at the ship. "Could I... spend a little more time here? Looking at Babylon? After that... I'll be in my room. Packing for the trip back home."
Why did he react outside of expectations? Was he attempting to up the ante to gain control? No, all the information I had on Jubatus suggested that that was virtually impossible. Then why? I could leave him -- remote presence from here would almost certainly enable him to solve the problem -- but my entire body resisted that thought. Why? Even when Angelo had been sick and I'd had to go up alone, I'd never felt like this. Jubatus had to come, I needed him to come. Take a step back and try again, "Given what I've put you through that would be morally unaccep --"
He laughed. He laughed! But it wasn't a happy sound, not in the least. "She thinks it's okay to risk 23 innocent lives on one roll of the biochemical dice, and she's telling me about 'morally unacceptable'?" He shook his head and put a sad, anemic smile on his face. "I just wish I'd known earlier. I thought I'd figured it out in the Fokker, and ever since then, I've been worrying about hostile factions running psyops on us."
"'Us'..?" I stopped for a second to gather my thoughts. He must have been thinking that I had been under an outside influence, but what would have given him that idea? It had been patently obvious that I hadn't, the cues were all... Don't worry about that now, this was too important to interrupt. Time for the victory. "Are you willing for me and others to use the scent which has proven its effectiveness?"
"That's the $64,000 question, isn't it?" he murmured, staring at Babylon with an expression I didn't know how to interpret. Quite apart from his having so thoroughly invalidated the foundation of my previous model of his thought patterns, his countenance was far too mercurial, changing from apparent joy to seeming despair to -- "The pheromone. You're sure it did the job."
"Yes, it was quite effective in moderating your hostile impulses."
And with that reassurance, he would of course say 'go ahead and use the pheromone' -- but he didn't! Why did he remain silent? Given his age and the fact that he was here, going into orbit must have been a lifelong dream of his, so how could he resist? Could he possibly regard his concerns over the taking of human life as a significant enough reason to reject it? Surely his superhuman speed placed him outside the compass of 'normal' humanity -- almost as far as my superhuman intelligence -- so I had discounted that possibility. Perhaps -- ah, he was speaking.
"Too many questions," he murmured, his head bowed. "Too damn many questions. You may not realize it, Carter, but you're asking me to beta-test your biochemical cocktail for side effects. Okay, fine, I'll do it -- but not upstairs. Because if the pheromone's not a real solution..."
'Not upstairs'!? No! It couldn't -- he hadn't -- he had to accept, had to travel into orbit with me! I needed -- he --
"You OK, Carter?"
Don't let him see it, don't let anyone see it. "Yes. I'm fine, just a momentary... I need to rest, it's been a long day, yes, a long day. I'm tired, I'll show you her tomorrow. Feel free to look, just don't touch. Tomorrow..." I turned and ran past him, refusing to let my emotional turmoil show on my face but I doubt I was successful. This was all wrong!
"You sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine! Please go away!"
Then I was out the door and outside, oblivious to the setting sun, oblivious to the physiological needs of my body. Everything was falling apart and nothing made sense! I passed Drew, others, but I just ignored them. I could see the entire structure I'd built being destroyed by Jubatus yet I wanted him to stay, needed him to stay, no matter that he -- Finally I reached my room and closed the door and could relax and let it out. Let what out? I let myself collapse on the bed and started sobbing.
It had never been like this with Angelo, not even close. We'd been friends, companions, I'd known what he needed and what to do so that I was always in charge. I had to be in charge, I had to be the best. Even during the psychological examination after Agamemnon I'd been in charge; talking to Phil I'd been in charge even to the point of lying about what happened to me during the Collapse. Even though I had prepared for suicide I'd actually wanted him to help me -- I'd set it up that way. I'd manipulated him to do what I needed him to. I'd told Phil that Angelo had been my lover, but was that true? We'd never physically consummated the relationship, in fact I'd more or less let him declare that to keep him pliable. I'd just accepted it so that I'd be in control. The little pouts, the little frowns, all had been tools to make sure that Angelo had done what I wanted him to do. Over the years had the act become an accepted reality?
I hadn't been in love with him, I couldn't have been in love with him, I was free from emotions.
'Free'. Sobbing on my bed. I had never been free, I had only pretended to be free.
So why Jubatus? Why him?
Because he resisted? Because I didn't know him?
Could that be it?
When we first really met, I'd come to confront him -- and he had put me off. He had not put me first like everybody else always had. Was that the start of it? Was he the challenge I was looking for? Stop, think. I had believed that I was above emotion, and that proposition had been proved wrong. A person above their emotions doesn't flee sobbing from a confrontation. Was my current body as hormone driven as my pre-SCABS body? I needed to know. Years ago Angelo had given me a vibrator as a joke -- I'd never used it. An experiment under controlled conditions. If my body felt hormonal states, I would need to know and now was the time to find out.
I stood up and walked over to the drawer it was in...
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ / / / / / / / /
"Carter!" I shouted. I could've pursued, but didn't; me following
after wouldn't calm her down any, and calm was what I wanted.
No joy. The state she was in, Carter probably wouldn't even notice,
let alone stop for, anything short of an Abrams M1A1. It was deja vu all over again; at least this time, the damage I'd done was purely
psychological. Still not good. For me, the only consolation was
that by bruising her mind, I was reducing the odds of my damaging
her body any. I've got too many sharp edges, it's too damned easy for
me to carve into other people, but at least I can avoid the deepest,
must severe modes of cutting.
Or... maybe the mental bruises were just too much. I'd thought McGregor or whoever had been playing with her head -- wrong. It was really just the emotions she'd been stifling for so many years. All that psychological energy piling up on itself, waiting for release, accumulating and accumulating so that when it finally was released, it'd be the psychic equivalent of a supernova... Such a pleasant thought, that. If I went feral, I could kill dozens or hundreds, maybe even thousands, before someone managed to tag me; if Carter went bugfuck, her potential body count would be limited only by what resources she could commandeer and redirect before any of us 'little brains' figured out what she was up to. Load up Babylon with fuel-air devices and go for a kamikaze run at New York that would make the Two Towers look like an amateur job, engineer a genocidal plague to cropdust North America with from the Fokker, remake a few of Brin's component tanks into however-many 100-kilo 'rocks' and drop 'em from orbit onto selected ground targets all over the world, write a few viruses to usurp control over factories and power plants...
Jesus H. Christ on a steam-powered sidecar. And here I'd thought I was dangerous! Then again, who's deadlier: The mad genius who lays waste to the world, or the asshole who pushed her over the edge first?
More confirmation (not that any were needful): Carter's 'attacks' were a problem that had to be solved, preferably while she was still sane. But how? Theoretically, this was a job for Ad Astra's psych boys. Of course, she'd snowed them all, not to mention I had to assume that all the relevant staffers had long since been manipulated into irrelevance. I could hear the polite, bureaucratic brush-off already: 'Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention, Mr. Acinonyx. You may rest assured that the state of Dr. Carter's mental health is something we take very seriously indeed.' Phil would be a much better choice, and so would my therapist, for that matter. Too bad they weren't available, and worse that I was the man on the spot. BFD. You are the man on the spot, and wishing otherwise gets you nowhere. Anyway, you're a technical writer -- mastering unfamiliar fields is what you do for a living -- so deal with it already. I very much doubted I could do the dryad any good in what time I had left on the Island, but damn it, I had to at least try!
Carter had given me permission to stay in the hangar unaccompanied, so I ruthlessly exploited her carte blanche, walking around Babylon to familiarize myself with the ship's contours from all angles. And as I walked, one corner of my mind was reviewing the tactics I'd use when attacking the problem that had fallen into my ill-suited lap...
"Jubatus Acinonyx." It was McGregor -- he must've entered the hangar while I was lost in thought, and he approached me as he spoke. "You are in a restricted area, and you will allow me to escort you out. I am both authorized and fully empowered to use lethal force in the event that you resist. This is your only warning."
"Carter said --"
-- incoming at 5 o'clock: lethal attack: counterattack in progress --
--and I found I'd pivoted on my right foot, and a bullet sauntered lazily into the volume of space I'd just recently occupied, and the claws of my right forepaw were poised to gut McGregor, opening his torso from crotch to sternum. Shit! -- back of the hand damnit -- son of a bitch tried to shoot me in the back! and all he got was a glancing blow from a blunt instrument moving at a large fraction of Mach speed. Ow! Hope I didn't sprain anything. Where the hell is that bullet, Babylon doesn't need to suck up a ricochet... there, got it.
After catching the bullet, I downshifted momentarily, to let half a clock-second go by; yep, his gun was flying wild, and McGregor himself, just starting to fall backwards onto the hangar's concrete floor. I caught the gun, unloaded it, put the bullets into one of my vest's pockets, and carefully laid the weapon down on the floor. Next, I stripped the wolf down to the fur, unloaded the rest of his weapons -- the ones which needed ammo, anyway -- into other vest pockets, stacked the implements of destruction with the rest of his tools on the floor next to his gun, and rolled up his uniform into a couple pillows. By the time the improvised cushions were ready to go, he was close enough to the floor that I had to crouch down to put them under him, one for his head, the other for the base of his spine. I sat down 20 feet away from him, took a few deep breaths to calm myself, got a few strips of beef jerky out of my vest, and downshifted to the wolf's tempo.
McGregor didn't just hit the floor; he fell into a backward somersault and rolled to his feet in what looked like an expert defensive posture. I sat there munching protein as his eyes darted around, taking in the entire situation, and a few seconds later, he said, "Shit."
"Yeah." I swallowed dried meat. "You gonna take another shot at me?"
He glared at me for a moment, then smiled. "Forget it. I'm not that stupid."
"Then why the first bullet? Didn't the wargames prove that wouldn't work?"
"A point-blank shot in the back wasn't one of the scenarios we used," he pointed out. "And it was a good test of how you respond in a high-stress situation."
I frowned at him. "You like to live dangerously, don't you?"
"Not really. As I said before, I know you, Mr. Acinonyx. Your psych profile indicates a negligible probability of your allowing yourself to act on any homicidal impulses you may feel."
"'Negligible'..." I snorted. "If it's greater than zero, that probability is too damned high. Look, can we take it as read that you've deemed me not to be a threat to Ad Astra?"
"No, Mr. Acinonyx. If you say you don't intend to cause trouble, I'll buy that -- but you're a loose cannon. Our rules are in place for a reason, and anyone who disregards those rules is trouble, by definition."
Sigh. "Yeah, well, as I was saying when you pulled the trigger, I had Carter's permission to be here."
"Impossible. She knows the rules better than I do, and she doesn't --"
"Am I interrupting something?"
What the -- Carter!?
/ / / / / / / / \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
It was fortunate that I had not taken any longer to complete
my... emotional self-examination. Judging from what I had heard
of their conversation as I approached, it was highly probable
that the conversation would have continued in such a way that
Jubatus could have done significant damage to my control over
McGregor. Speaking of the cheetah: He looked at me, the irritation
on his countenance near-instantly replaced, first by a moment
of confusion, and next by his customary unreadable mask of a smile.
As for McGregor, he too, smiled, but his expression was rather more genuine.
"Dr. Carter!" the wolf said. "Thank you for joining us. Mr. Acinonyx has charged you with a serious breach of protocol -- granting an unauthorized person permission to remain in a sensitive area without escort. While I don't believe he would deliberately fabricate such an accusation, it's possible he may have misinterpreted something. Could you clarify what happened, please?"
'Without escort' -- drat. I had told Jubatus, 'feel free to look', hadn't I? All that meant was that I could no longer afford to lose control -- additional emotional study would have to wait until later. Meanwhile, there was nothing for it but to discover what damage the cheetah had done before my arrival on the scene. Assuming a subtly subservient posture, I said, "Of course, Captain. But first, allow me to apologize for the lack of punctuality in my response to your signal." Here I turned to address my most pressing problem: "Mr. Jubatus, what exactly do you remember my telling you?" I needed time to determine the best way of dealing with this. Looking carefully at Jubatus, I hoped that I'd cleansed myself sufficiently to conceal the olfactory evidence of my recent experimentation. McGregor was less of an issue; for all his externally evident lupine characteristics (head shape included), it so happened that his nose, in common with his other sense organs, was of an essentially human degree of acuity.
The cheetah appeared to glow for a second, presumably to figure out what to say -- odd, that; he had nothing to hide, so why would he act to protect me? -- before he responded: "She said I could look but not touch, just before she took off like a bat outta --"
I turned to McGregor to minimize the damage if I let Jubatus continue. "Indeed I did rush out. I had to, as there was a sudden call from Dr. Hanley in Columbus -- we've been working on a project and he had a sudden breakthrough. I was distracted and I think I did mumble that as I left."
"Sue, you know the --"
"I know the rules very well, but you know as well as I do that he's going up," there was a momentary flash of annoyance on Jubatus, "and if he wants to destroy Babylon here and now, then not only has our research critically failed, Mr. Jubatus is an idiot as he could blow it up and take me up with it if he just waits longer!" The key to control was to keep it subtle; insignificant displays of rebellion were required every so often in order to ensure that McGregor didn't figure it out.
His ears raised and his eyes turned cold. I met them for a few seconds and then slowly lowered my head in a subconscious signal. "Ms. Carter, that is beside the point and you know it. The rules are the rules and there are no exceptions."
I sighed. "I know."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't someone starting to make noise about Carter being too damn perfect to make that kind of mistake?"
I ignored Jubatus and concentrated on McGregor as he shook his head, and then continued, "What am I going to do with you, Susan?"
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ / / / / / / / /
"...to make that kind of mistake?"
Say what? First she's defiant, then she's all sweetness and light? I knew Carter's machinations had made the wolf a virtual slave, but how did this one-dryad 'good cop/bad cop' routine feed into that? And what was up with that flowery perfume? She reeked of the stuff -- the wolf'd have to be positively anosmic not to notice it -- but why? Not a chance in Hell that it was an accident or oversight... Never mind. Doesn't matter, and let's see what punishment the judge, jury and executioner's gonna impose.
"What am I going to do with you, Susan?"
Good question, especially with all the dryad's machinations. Speaking of whom: "Standard procedure is to confine me to quarters except for official duties. Do that and announce it, I'll behave."
McGregor sighed. "Fine. So ordered, and I trust you to go straight there." Then, to me, "As for you, get out."
"Okay. Before I go, do you want your bullets back?" I asked, pulling one of them out of my vest.
For a moment, his eyes flickered between me and where I'd deposited his weapons. Fear touched his scent but not his voice or face. "Leave them here. On the floor. I'll do the reloading. Then... just go. Susan will give you more flight training at 0800 tomorrow."
How come the wolf didn't already know about my being grounded, before he showed up here? Could've clued him in myself, but... naah. She must have lied like a rug while convincing Ad Astra's management I was a suitable candidate for orbital duty. They discovered the truth, they'd probably fire her ass, which is stressful at the best of times. Carter being as close to the edge as she was, I'd just as soon wait until after I doped out a plan to use that stress... if I could do that...
Next day Carter came out smelling like a rose, both literally and figuratively; no real punishment ('confine me to quarters', my ass!), and that same perfume, which she'd never worn before yesterday, or so said my Ad Astran informants. More flight training -- joy -- and more of the other drills, too. By late afternoon, I was 'only' wasting Babylon 80 times out of 100 . Great, or at least the dryad thought so. Even with breaks for snacks and catnaps, I was beat by quitting time. And all through the day, neither of us mentioned my grounding myself... maybe she figured that enough time here in the heart of The Dream would make me change my mind. Wrong. Every minute I spent on Easter Island just reinforced my resolve to not risk inflicting myself on Brin Station. And my hope that Carter's pheromone might really be a solution.
So... I wasn't going upstairs. Next stop: Back in the U. S. of A. Going nomadic again might not be a bad idea; the more time and effort the dryad spent on simply finding me, the less she'd have for planning out what to do when she succeeded. Not to mention that any city could and would be a target, if and when Carter really did go postal. Such a pleasant thought, that... I'd definitely have to talk to Phil when I returned. Would've sent him an e-mail, but this was too important for an insecure comm channel, and he (like practically everybody else) didn't bother with encryption, damn it! Then again, encryption probably wouldn't stop Carter anyway...
/ / / / / / / / \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
My case studies of Jubatus had shown repeatedly that he was
a stubborn SOB and since he hadn't mentioned changing his mind
about his not going up, I had no reason to believe that he had
in any way altered his decision. All day he'd been silent, but
he was about to learn the true meaning of stubborn as it was all
to my advantage that he have lots of time to see the culmination
of his dream all around him and realize the cost to his own psyche
of him not going. All I had to do was keep him going until he
cracked, then I would have been proven right, he would help me
in our common goal of saving humanity and I would give the world
the stars. It was all logical and --
I'm not going.
Not now! I didn't even want to think about Jubatus now.
I'm not going.
I fled, running to try and get away from the voice in my head. Of course it didn't work. Even as I closed my door behind me, I heard him:
I'm not going.
I knew exactly what that meant, so why wouldn't my mind let go?!
With the door closed behind me I fumbled around for the vibrator but even that was no more than a momentary relief. It seemed that regardless of our relative degrees of stubbornness, I needed him more than he needed me to fulfill his dream.
I'd still show him. You hear that Jubatus! You'll break first!
I'm not going.
I needed something, anything, an object to distract me. Maybe... a substitute? Five minutes and my personal firewalls were in place, a fake log of my internet use was stored, and I was browsing the appropriate sites. Another 10 minutes of wading through extraneous, ancillary crap and then I found something. It seemed that I wouldn't even need to hire somebody to customize it.
They say that you can find anything on the internet, and this almost proved it. Among those sites devoted to what were euphemistically referred to as 'SCAB marital aids' I found somebody whose stock in trade included a lifesize stuffed cheetah-morph complete with stiff rubber penis. A bit of artificial scent --
I'm not going.
-- and I could always have Jubatus with me. Though, on the other hand, a smaller one that I could more easily transport up to Brin would probably serve better. But on the gripping hand... To be safe I ordered both, and arranged for them to be picked up from a dummy dropoff when I took Jubatus back to the mainland. If the psychologists of Ad Astra got hold of this... But they won't! Problem solved.
I'm not going.
I'm not going.
I know exactly what that means, so be silent!
My mind stayed quiet and I turned to my computer to plan. Even by overnight courier, allowing one day for delays, it'd take two days to reach the dropoff. I take Jubatus back, pick it up, and I could easily make the trip to Brin next week.
I'm not going.
Of course you won't! And I don't need you to go up.
I'm not --
Shut up! Shut up!
Closing the web browser I started burrowing through my e-mail to try and get my mind off things. There was a big file from Dr. Morris regarding that Shimura-Taniyama-Weil iteration reply I'd sent to him and soon I was working my way through his mathematical logic until I ran into a logical flaw -- the mistake was subtle, to be sure, but present nonetheless. A double-check confirmed the error, but it also confirmed that the initial direction both he and I had jointly agreed on at the start, was, in fact, invalid. That meant that this direction was needed and --
I'm not going.
Had I been holding a pencil I would have snapped it.
I'd had phrases stuck in my head before, but always because my mind was conjecturing alternate meanings. Not this time, I knew very well what he meant, so why couldn't I forget?! I went back to work.
I'm not going.
With forced calm I minimized what I was working on. This wasn't working. I needed a storm and a quick check confirmed that nothing was likely. Another round with the vibrator and in the midst of it --
I'm not going.
Ripping it out I threw it to the floor, shattering it.
I had to get out, I couldn't stay! Carefully I cleaned up the wreckage and buried it in the bottom of the drawer. Back to the computer and a check of where all the guards were via a hidden chunk of code I'd snuck in years ago, and then a few minutes to write a macro to cause all of the cameras to edit me out of what they reported. A quick check revealed that the hall outside my room was empty, then it was an embracing overcoat, a hat that Angelo had left behind a couple of months ago, and then it was outside.
I had to get away, get into the fresh air, get --
I'm not going.
I ran out into the dusk, feeling the grass even through the lycra and cloth that surrounded me, resenting and hating it as we competed for oxygen in the dimming light.
I ran all night, uncaring, tortured. I would not give in. I refused! Jubatus could --
I'm not going.
I didn't care what he was going to do. I refused to care.
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ / / / / / / / /
Didn't take long for me to finish packing and police my room.
Maybe seven clock-minutes, and you'd never have known I was there.
Just as well, really. Shouldn't have come to Easter Island in
the first place, but since I did, no sense compounding the error
by sticking around long enough to destroy anything important.
Packed, ready to depart... any loose ends that need tying up before
I leave? Okay, besides the dryad... One dangling thread came to mind: My promise to Wigley. I mean,
I had said I'd read to her 'if I had the time', and Chronos knew I
had time to kill before I went away...
I lucked out; Wigley was off-duty and could be at our original meet-spot in 15 clock-minutes. I'd already learned that Ad Astra had an honest-to-Thoth library, with a decent selection of SF -- Eastwick Press editions, hardbacks with acid-free paper and fade-resistant ink and so on -- including most of Larry Niven's books. I picked out Wigley's choice, then headed for the dock. The orca was there, and when she caught sight of me, she leaped and splashed like an oversized dolphin.
"Is that a grand mal seizure, or are you happy to see me?"
She bubble-laughed like a flooded Pepsi bottling plant. "You came back! You came back! I'd hug you if I could!"
I shrugged. "Figured I might as well make nice to you before I leave the Island."
"Taking time out from pre-launch prep? For me? That's sweet, Jube, but really, I'd be okay with doing it after you return..."
I gave her a sad smile. "Wait for that, you could be waiting an awful long time. Anyway, I brought Ringworld," I said, holding up the leather-bound Niven, "and if you can stand my voice, I guess I can, too."
"Hold on a sec, Jube," the orca said slowly. "You're only going into orbit for a week or so, and back here before you head home. Right?"
"Nope. Change of plans, you must not've got the memo -- I'm not going upstairs." And before Wigley could say anything, I went on: "Ringworld. Chapter 1, Louis Wu. 'In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality.
"'His foot-length queue was as white and --'"
I shut up, nodded and closed the book. "Okay. Didn't think it'd take --"
"Jube." This time I kept my mouth shut to let her continue, and she did: "You're serious? You really aren't going into orbit?"
I glared at Wigley for a moment. "You, of all people, should damn well know why not. Or if you don't, how about I bounce off you at Mach 1.6 again? Think that'd remind you?"
"No need; I haven't forgot what happened," the orca said. "You overtaxed yourself, Jube. Big time. Not much chance of a re-run of that in orbit, right?"
"No," I acknowledged. "Much more likely that my life support malfunctions, I hallucinate from oxygen debt, and I take a bunch of people with me before I finish dying."
"I see," she said carefully. "You think you're protecting Brin Station from a lethal hazard."
"'Think', my ass! I know I'm protecting Brin from a lethal hazard -- me."
"I see," Wigley repeated... "You know, Jube, Sue went to a lot of trouble to get you here. If you don't go up, what d'you think that'll do to her?"
I snorted. "Remind her that she's neither omniscient nor infallible. This is bad? Carter's forgotten that other people aren't fucking toys for her to pl-"
"She loves you, Jube."
/ / / / / / / / \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
By dawn my calm was brittle, forced. I'd thought of talking
to Sandra and getting something, but that would bring in the psychologists
and I refused to go through that again. It felt like my life had
reached an ending, and maybe it had.
I'm not going.
I ignored him.
The island was cool in the dawn, a stiff breeze was blowing off the sea and I felt it through the lycra that clung to me, keeping my body safely insulated. I couldn't live the way I was, but there were so many things that were still undone. For the first time in my life, I didn't know what to do. I remembered Phil telling me that the true measure of humanity was to stand up to fail again. Odd that he added the quote from the Babylon 5 pilot after that...
Was I human?
Did I deserve to count myself amongst them?
If not, did I deserve to live?
If it was the measure of humanity to stand up again, then I had to decide.
But I was so tired of it all. I couldn't go up again. With Jubatus challenging me, making me want to prove him wrong, I just wanted to root and never move again. It was tempting, and oh so easy.
I'm not going.
Fine, you're not going!
Why shouldn't I just quit? No, not quit, just take a break.
Let the universe wait until I'd healed. I was tired of it all, of the weight, of the pressures, of having to lead humanity by the hand down the road it had to go.
Space was the road and I couldn't go there ever again.
Not realizing it I'd walked into shadow and I looked up at one of the few remaining moai. It looked back down at me -- mournful, old, wise, abandoned. A crack bisected its nose and fragments were already on the ground around me.
At that moment I wished I could believe in a god, but there was no evidence, reason, or need for such a divinity to exist.
It's up to you whether you live or die. Personally, I think you can amount to something someday.
Phil's words rang through my head, but they didn't help. I needed a rest, a break.
Some time off from caring for the world.
The cry of a gull pulled me away from the sadness looming over me and I turned and looked out over the gray sea under a gray sky. There were some figures down at the docks -- one of them was obviously Sylvia Wigley; the other, judging by his size, build, and markings, was most likely Mr. Jubatus -- but otherwise I was all alone. I walked away from the rubble and looked for some good soil, not that there's much on this island. I'd just wait here.
As I started kicking at the soil I remembered the good times. I'd wanted to surprise Jube so I'd researched some of the songs he'd sung before he SCABbed over. One seemed oddly appropriate so as I turned to the sun and prepared to root I began to sing.
It just felt right.
"We sailed on the sloop John B / My grandfather and me..."
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ / / / / / / / /
I reviewed the orca's words, and they came out the same every
time: 'She loves you, Jube.'
'She loves you'. Now, that wasn't something I ever expected to hear...
"And I think I know why. Me, I'm kinda isolated, but sometimes people do come out here, and we can talk about stuff, okay? But Sue Carter... there's nobody like her. Nobody's on her level. Nobody. No matter how big a crowd she's in, she's always alone -- she can't not be! Which might be okay if she was as emotionless as she pretends to be --"
"-- but she's not," I interrupted. "What's your point? Can you cut to the chase here?"
"Still impatient, huh, Jube?" Wigley said, amused. "The point is, Sue Carter is human. So she needs someone to share her life with. Yeah, some people get along fine on their own, but Sue isn't one of them, okay? She really does need other people in her life. Trust me on this. It'd be best if it was someone on her level, but since there's nobody like that, the next best thing would be someone who can understand 'cause they're as isolated as she is."
"Yep! You two are kindred spirits. She's hurting bad, and you're hurting bad, and with any luck, you guys can help each other heal. What do you think of that?"
"Me... heal..." I stared at the orca for few seconds, then found my voice again: "I think anyone who believes in God, probably has other moronic ideas lodged in their skull."
The orca shrug-rocked. "'If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool' --"
"Yeah, yeah, 1 Corinthians 3:18." A Biblical reference -- typical. "What's your point?"
"Anyway, that's why I think Sue loves you. And I'm sorry I interrupted. Could I hear some more Ringworld? Please?"
I upshifted to think. Alright, what's Wigley's game? Listening to me isn't courtesy, it's masochism! It took me less than a clock-second to eliminate the impossible, leaving only the merely improbable truth: The orca really did want someone -- anyone -- to read to her, and she was desperate enough to settle for me. Back at the slowpokes' tempo of 1: "Okay. From the top: Ringworld. Chapter 1, Louis Wu. 'In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths'..."
Wouldn't have believed it possible, but she let me get through all of the first chapter without an interruption.
"...'"a simple scream of rage is sufficient. You scream and you leap."'
"'"You scream and you leap," said Louis. "Great."'" Then, after a short pause, "End of Chapter 1. Comments?"
"Yeah. You should do this more often." And she went on as if she hadn't just given me the psychological equivalent of a swift kick to the crotch. "Really! Maybe you haven't got as much to work with as most people, but who cares? What you do have, you use real good. Okay, your voice is rougher than Sue's. A lot rougher. So what? I mean, you got across the sheer chutzpah of when Nessus was trash-talking those kzin!"
Maybe she wasn't lying... "And Carter wouldn't have?"
"Nope. Sue just reads -- you perform. When it comes to reading, I'll take you over her any day."
I don't often get shocked speechless. I could hear the whispering of the wind, the crash of the surf... wait a minute. What was I thinking, for the love of Calliope!? That I'd even considered the possibility, even for a second --
"Okay, you've had your fun. I'm outta here." I stood up.
"But you -- hold it -- what's wrong, Jube?"
I glared at Wigley. "What's wrong is, you expected me to believe a line of crap like 'I'll take you over her any day'. In case you weren't aware: I don't like hidden agendas, I don't like to be bullshitted, and I really don't like being lied at. Got it, or am I moving too fast for you?"
"No! Don't go! Please!"
"You want me to stick around? Fine. Tell me why I'm here -- and this time, make it the truth, Goddamn you!"
We stared into each other's eyes -- hers looked stunned -- until the orca quietly said, "Your voice must have been very good, before... I'm sorry, Jube. I didn't fully realize..." She sigh-hissed, then continued normally. "Okay. Why you're here. My social life sucks, Jube. Mostly, people just visit me to unload."
"Like confessing their sins to a priest?"
"Pretty much. What can I say, I'm a good listener. I don't really mind, but... it'd be nice to just talk some time. About baseball or Madonna's latest boy-toy or whatever. You know? So I figured you could help me out here. Pure selfishness, really... If I'd known how you felt, I wouldn't have asked what I asked. And I'm sorry."
Okay, that's more like it. "Apology accepted. And I suppose you know about Carter needing companionship because she's one of your flock?"
"Yeah. She only came around after Angelo died, but she did come around. And like always, I listened. Sue's no believer, but she needs it, bad. She's desperate for something she can accept. I've heard people talk about her, and I think..." She ducked under for a second and bubble-laughed. "I got lots of time to think -- it's in my job description -- and I think you're about as close to an equal partner as she's ever gonna find."
Well, the dryad had told me I was occasionally like a 'bright child'... no. "As close as possible, maybe, but that's not very close at all. As for being her partner..." I closed my eyes, bowed my head, sighed. "Not a good idea. Better she find somebody with zero chance of ever carving her into salad."
"And that's not you? Come on, Jube. You don't kill a guy who shoots you in the back, who are you gonna kill?"
I gave her a sad, weary smile. "Yeah, I know. I've got 20 years' experience, thus far I have controlled myself, the odds are so with me, all of that. It helps. The thing is, if I screw up, even a little bit... just one tiny mistake... people can end up dead. Still think I'm not dangerous?"
Wigley had no answer, and I didn't have anything more to say myself, so the uncomfortable silence stretched onward. Foliage rustling in the wind, waves slapping on concrete, brain the size of a planet singing on a hill... What the?
The dryad was singing. Sounded like Sloop John B, one of the songs I'd recorded back when I could record worth a damn.
"Wigley? Do you hear what I hear?"
"Yeah. Sue's singing again. She does that once in a while."
"Excuse me," I said as I got up. "I think I'd better talk to her..."
"Okay. But I will see you again, right, Jube?"
"I'll be back," I promised. Sadly, my attempt at an Austrian accent went unrecognized.
A couple minutes later, I found the dryad. Standing next to a moai, naked, clothes scattered carelessly around her, languid smile on her face, and her feet dug into the ground. She didn't notice my arrival, just kept singing John B. From her, it sounded like a funeral dirge, not at all like the light comedy I'd played it for on my CD. Somehow, it was giving me deja vu anyway...
"I want to go home / Why don't they leave me alone? / I feel so break-up / I want to go home."
/ / / / / / / / \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \
And suddenly Mr. Jubatus was present, he having blinked in with an even greater degree of celerity than was his usual
habit. I finished the song -- it was the right thing to do --
then addressed him. "Hello there, o feline of my dreams..."
"Carter?" He was so agitated. Of course, he always was, poor thing.
"I am so very glad to see you... In truth, I cannot think of any thing nor any one else whom I would rather have be the last thing I see..."
"Last -- talk to me, Carter! What are you doing?"
"I'm tired, Jubatus... so very, very tired... and I want to rest..."
"But -- you're just gonna root for a while, right? You're not thinking of suicide?"
"Not death... just rest..." My smile spread across my face like an opening flower as, hearing those words, Mr. Jubatus calmed a good deal. "How sweet... you really, truly care... people like you... why I have to, Veidt's method wouldn't work you know, what with SCABS... I have to save the world..."
"Saving the world. Pretty tall order."
"Yes, but... I can do it, solve gravity... open the stars up to humanity..."
"So that's why you're interested in me -- you think my upshifting can help you understand space/time." He was so sad...
"You and I together... saving the world... together... would have been... wonderful... Much nicer..."
"'Would have been' -- meaning you've given up on studying me. Right?"
"Yes... too dangerous... don't know how to persuade you... save the world... why can't everyone do what I say..."
He shook his head. "You said it yourself, Carter -- it's too dangerous. I just wish I could make you understand why."
"Doesn't matter... skin the cat differently... reduce surface population..."
"You -- you don't mean that. You think mass murder is a solution to any problem, you're crazy!"
"What is sanity..? Smarter than you... smarter than everybody... so alone... see what others can't or won't... must be done... consequences occur, even if not seen..."
"But you're talking genocide!"
I smiled, admiring his fur haloed in the soft colours. Cull the herd, not genocide... but nobody knew... sacrifice, "'Decisions had to be made'... Hoped... wanted you... trainable, not a complete idiot... perhaps come to understand... but you refused... rejected me... have to work in isolation... always alone, always alone..."
"No! I rejected a bad idea, not you!"
"Reject me, reject my ideas... no difference... it's alright, catty-kit... eventually, everyone's dead... make some die now... so the race lives... equitable trade..." He wasn't at all happy; what could I say to comfort him, poor dear? "No great loss... they're only stupids, slowpo-"
"Stop it!" he shouted, so I did. And then he said, very quietly, "You win, Carter. I'll go up, and I'll use the pheromone. You win, damn it all to Hades."
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