Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 4 SOS FROM NOWHERE

  • > De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
  • > Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
  • > In fractured atoms.
  • >
  • > —Eliot
  • I REALIZED the piano had deserted Erich and I cranked my head up and saw Beau,
  • Maud and Sid streaking for the control divan. The Major Maintainer wa_linking emergency-green and fast, but the code was plain enough for even m_o recognize the Spider distress call and for a second I felt just sick. The_rich blew out his reserve breath in the middle of "Door" and I gave mysel_nother of those helpful mental boots at the base of the spine and we hurrie_fter them toward the center of the Place along with Mark.
  • The blinks faded as we got there and Sid told us not to move because we wer_aking shadows. He glued an eye to the telltale and we held still as statue_s he caressed the dials like he was making love.
  • One sensitive hand flicked out past the Introversion switch over to the Mino_aintainer and right away the Place was dark as your soul and there wa_othing for me but Erich's arm and the knowledge that Sid was nursing a gree_ight I couldn't even see, although my eyes had plenty time to accommodate.
  • Then the green light finally came back very slowly and I could see the dea_eliable old face—the green-gold beard making him look like a merman—and the_he telltale flared bright and Sid flicked on the Place lights and I leane_ack.
  • "That nails them, lads, whoever and whenever they may be. Get ready for _ick-up."
  • Beau, who was closest of course, looked at him sharply. Sid shrugged uneasily.
  • "Meseemed at first it was from our own globe a thousand years before our Lord,
  • but that indication flickered and faded like witchfire. As it is, the cal_omes from something smaller than the Place and certes adrift from the cosmos.
  • Meseemed too at one point I knew the fist of the caller—an antipodea_tomicist named Benson-Carter—but that likewise changed."
  • Beau said, "We're not in the right phase of the cosmos-Places rhythm for _ick-up, are we, sir?"
  • Sid answered, "Ordinarily not, boy."
  • Beau continued, "I didn't think we had any pick-ups scheduled. Or stand-b_rders."
  • Sid said, "We haven't."
  • Mark's eyes glowed. He tapped Erich on the shoulder. "An octavian denariu_gainst ten Reichsmarks it is a Snake trap."
  • Erich's grin showed his teeth. "Make it first through the Door next operatio_nd I'm on."
  • IT didn't take that to tell me things were serious, or the thought tha_here's always a first time for bumping into something from really outside th_osmos. The Snakes have broken our code more than once. Maud was quietl_erving out weapons and Doc was helping her. Only Bruce and Lili stood off.
  • But they were watching.
  • The telltale brightened. Sid reached toward the Maintainer, saying, "Al_ight, my hearties. Remember, through this Doorway pass the fishiest finagler_n and out of the cosmos."
  • The Door appeared to the left and above where it should be and darkened muc_oo fast. There was a gust of stale salt seawind, if that makes sense, but n_tepped-up Change Winds I could tell—and I had been bracing myself agains_hem. The Door got inky and there was a flicker of gray fur whips and a flas_f copper flesh and gilt and something dark and a clump of hoofs and Erich wa_ighting a stun gun across his left forearm, and then the Door had vanishe_ike that and a tentacled silvery Lunan and a Venusian satyr were comin_traight toward us.
  • The Lunan was hugging a pile of clothes and weapons. The satyr was helping _asp-waisted woman carry a heavy-looking bronze chest. The woman was wearing _hort skirt and high-collared bolero jacket of leather so dark brown it wa_lmost black. She had a two-horned  _petsofa_  hairdress and she was boldl_ilded here and there and wore sandals and copper anklets and wristlets—one o_hem a copper-plated Caller—and from her wide copper belt hung a short-handle_ouble-headed ax. She was dark-complexioned and her forehead and chin receded,
  • but the effect was anything but weak; she had a face like a beautifu_rrowhead—and a familiar one, by golly!
  • But before I could say, "Kabysia Labrys," Maud shrilly beat me to it with,
  • "It's Kaby with two friends. Break out a couple of Ghostgirls."
  • And then I saw it really was old-home week because I recognized my Lunan bo_riend Ilhilihis, and in the midst of all the confusion I got a nice kick ou_f knowing I was getting so I could tell the personality of one silver-furre_uzzle from another.
  • They reached the control divan and Illy dumped his load and the others le_own the chest, and Kaby staggered but shook off the two ETs when they starte_o support her, and she looked daggers at Sid when he tried to do the same,
  • although she's his "sweet Keftian friend" he'd mentioned to Bruce.
  • SHE leaned straight-armed on the divan and took two gasping breaths so dee_hat the ridges of her spine showed through her brown-skinned waist, and the_he threw up her head and commanded, "Wine!"
  • While Beau was rushing it, Sid tried to take her hand again, saying,
  • "Sweetling, I'd never heard you call before and knew not this pretty littl_ist," but she ripped out, "Save your comfort for the Lunan," and I looked an_aw—Hey, Zeus!—that one of Ilhilihis' six tentacles was lopped off halfway.
  • That was for me, and, going to him, I fast briefed myself: "Remember, he onl_eighs fifty pounds for all he's seven feet high; he doesn't like low sound_r to be grabbed; the two legs aren't tentacles and don't act the same; use_hem for long walks, tentacles for leaps; uses tentacles for close vision to_nd for manipulation, of course; extended, they mean he's at ease; retracted,
  • on guard or nervous; sharply retracted, disgusted; greeting—"
  • Just then, one of them swept across my face like a sweet-smelling feathe_uster and I said, "Illy, man, it's been a lot of sleeps," and brushed m_ingers across his muzzle. It still took a little self-control not to hug him,
  • and I did reach a little cluckingly for his lopped tentacle, but he wafted i_way from me and the little voice-box belted to his side squeaked, "Naughty,
  • naughty. Papa will fix his little old self. Greta girl, ever bandaged even _erra octopus?"
  • I had, an intelligent one from around a quarter billion a.d., but I didn'_ell him so. I stood and let him talk to the palm of my hand with one of hi_entacles—I don't savvy feather-talk but it feels good, though I've ofte_ondered who taught him English—and watched him use a couple others to whisk _ort of Lunan band-aid out of his pouch and cap his wound with it.
  • Meanwhile, the satyr knelt over the bronze chest, which was decorated wit_ittle death's heads and crosses with hoops at the top and swastikas, bu_ooking much older than Nazi, and the satyr said to Sid, "Quick thinkin, Gov,
  • when ya saw the Door comin in high n soffened up gravty unner it, but cud _av sum hep now?"
  • Sid touched the Minor Maintainer and we all got very light and my stomach di_ flip-flop while the satyr piled on the chest the clothes and weapons tha_lly had been carrying and pranced off with it all and carefully put it dow_t the end of the bar. I decided the satyr's English instructor must have bee_uite a character, too. Wish I'd met him—her—it.
  • Sid thought to ask Illy if he wanted Moon-normal gravity in one sector, but m_oy likes to mix, and being such a lightweight, Earth-normal gravity doesn'_other him. As he said to me once, "Would Jovian gravity bother a beetle,
  • Greta girl?"
  • I ASKED Illy about the satyr and he squeaked that his name was Sevensee an_hat he'd never met him before this operation. I knew the satyrs were from _illion years in the future, just as the Loonies were from a billion in th_ast, and I thought—Kreesed us!—but it must have been a real big or emergency-
  • like operation to have the Spiders using those two for it, with two billio_ears between them—a time-difference that gives you a feeling of awe for _econd, you know.
  • I started to ask Illy about it, but just then Beau came scampering back fro_he bar with a big red-and-black earthenware goblet of wine—we try to keep _ariety of drinking tools in stock so folks will feel more at home. Kab_rabbed it from him and drained most of it in one swallow and then smashed i_n the floor. She does things like that, though Sid's tried to teach he_etter. Then she stared at what she was thinking about until the whites showe_ll around her eyes and her lips pulled way back from her teeth and she looke_ lot less human than the two ETs, just like a fury. Only a time travele_nows how like the wild murals and engravings of them some of the ancients ca_ook.
  • My hair stood up at the screech she let out. She smashed a fist into the diva_nd cried, "Goddess! Must I see Crete destroyed, revived, and now destroye_gain? It is too much for your servant."
  • Personally, I thought she could stand anything.
  • There was a rush of questions at what she said about Crete—I asked one o_hem, for the news certainly frightened me—but she shot up her arm straigh_or silence and took a deep breath and began.
  • "In the balance hung the battle. Rowing like black centipedes, the Doria_ulls bore down on our outnumbered ships. On the bright beach, masked b_ocks, Sevensee and I stood by the needle gun, ready to give the black hull_ilent wounds. Beside us was Ilhilihis, suited as a sea monster. But then …
  • then … "
  • Then I saw she wasn't altogether the iron babe, for her voice broke and sh_tarted to shake and to sob rackingly, although her face was still a mask o_age, and she threw up the wine. Sid stepped in and made her stop, which _hink he'd been wanting to do all along.