WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE
by Connie Willis
"You're going up," Gemma said.
Pat yanked his boot on. "Yes."
"Even when you know how the Cotabote feel about it?"
"I do not know how they feel. About this or anything else. Maybe you can tell me. You're the big expert on the Cotabote. How do they feel? If they feel. Which I doubt." He pulled on his boot, which had shrunk in the continual damp of Botea. He wrenched it over his ankle and stamped down hard.
"You don't even try to get along with them!" Gemma said angrily. She hadn't come in from the doorway. She was standing there with the hood of her shirt thrown back so he could see her beautiful black hair, her beautiful black skin, her beautiful, beautiful face. He ought to file a protest like the Cotabote were always doing, a protest against her looking so damn beautiful all the time.
"Get along with them?" he shouted. "You spend all your time trying to get along, with them and where does if get you?"
"It wouldn't kill you to put it off a week. You said if was routine. Is there something you're not telling me?"
"It is routine," Pat said. "You're starting to sound like the Cotabote. I have to do an orbital survey of the diamond mines once every six weeks. Adamant says so. And your Cotabote are so worried about my worms digging up the middle of their village, they should be glad I'm keeping tabs on them."
He did need to check on the orbiting infrascopes that kept an eye on the mechanical digger worms and their movements through the coal, but that wasn't why he'd kicked the date up a few days. He'd gotten a transmission from Adamant that a berserker had wiped out a settlement-planet called Polara. It was the second report on a berserker in three months, and it had been only two weeks later than the transmission date, which meant Adamant had considered the information important enough to it by ship at least as far as Candlestone, which was the closest relay. Adamant hadn't considered it important enough to ship it the whole way, or maybe the operator at Candlestone had made that decision, but Pat chose to take that as a hopeful sign that Adamant didn't consider the berserker to be anywhere in the neighborhood. If they thought it was, they would have raced to Botea with a navy. After all, they had to protect all those IIIB diamonds the worms were digging out of Botea's coal deposits. Still, he appreciated the warning, and the masses of general data on berserkers that had accompanied the transmissions, and he intended to go up and check on the orbital defenses, Cotabote or no Cotabote.
"It's only been thirty-five days since your last survey," Gemma said. "The Cotabote say you're up to something. They want me to file a protest."
"So what else is new?" he said. "Go right ahead." He gestured toward the computer. "What are they worried about this time? Their smash crop?"
"No," she said. She sat down in front of the voice-terminal. "They say the harpy hurts the nematej."
"The nematej?" Pat said. He stamped his foot into his boot and stood up. "What exactly could I do to it that could possibly make it worse than it is already?"
"They say the last time you did an orbital survey it started to smell funny." She glared at him, as if daring him to laugh.
He was too amazed to laugh. "Nematej already smells like vomit, for God's sake," he said. "It's got thorns everywhere, even on its flowers, and the last time I looked it was choking off their stinking smash crop." He shook his head. "They're incredible, you know that? I've been here two years, and they still come up with new ways to make my life miserable."
"What about your telling them your planet-range ship is called a harpy?" she said. "You're as bad as they are."
"Now that," Pal said, "is going too far. I am not as bad as the Cotabote."
"All right, you're not," Gemma said. "But you do try to antagonize them. If you could just treat them like human beings.'"
"They are not human beings. I don't care what the ICLU says. They're some kind of alien, whose sole mission in the universe is to drive people crazy."
"You're being ridiculous," Gemma said. "You know perfectly well they emigrated from Triage and before that from…"
"Emigrated, my foot. They were probably thrown off every planet they tried to settle, They…"
Gemma held the voice-terminal out to him. "You have to give me access to the computer," she said stiffly.
He yanked it out of her hand. "Access for Gemenca Bahazi, ICLU rep," he said, and handed it back to her. "Go ahead, file protest number five thousand."
"I will," she said. "I want to file a protest to Adamant Fossil Fuel and Diamond Chip Corporation on behalf of the Cotabote," she told the computer.
"Sure thing, sweetheart," the computer said.
Gemma scowled at Pat.
"How many protests is this ayway?" Pat said. "A million? Two million?"
"Two hundred and eighty-one," Gemma said.
"This will be Protest Number Two Hundred Eighty-three, darling," the computer said. "What title do you wish to give this protest, you cute thing?"
"Title it: Refusal to Cooperate," Gemma said grimly.
Pat put on his flight shortcoat, stuck a portable voice-terminal in the pocket, and then stood and watched Gemma at the terminal. She had stopped talking and was frowning. Even frowning, she was beautiful, which was good because she was usually frowning at him. He told himself it was because an ICLU natives representative was not supposed to smile at the Adamant engineer who was mining the planet out from under those natives, especially with the Cotabote on her neck all the time. When he wasn't furious with her, he felt sorry for her, having to live in the Cotabote village and put up with them twenty-six hours a day.
"Give me a listing of all the protests filed this month," she said, and frowned at the screen some more.
"What's the matter?" Pat said. "You lose a protest?"
"No," she said, "I've got an extra one. You've been locking the door when you leave the office, haven't you?"
"I'm surprised you didn't accuse me of erasing a protest. Yes, of course, I lock it. It's keyed to my voice. So's the computer. You probably just forgot one. Admit it. I do that to you."
"Make you forget what you're doing. You're crazy about me. You just won't admit it."
"Read me the titles of those protests," she said. "Without any 'sweethearts,' please."
"If that's the way you want it, honey," the computer said. "Refusal to Cooperate, Refusal to Cooperate, Endangering Lives, Refusal to Cooperate, Threatening the Cotabote, Refusal…"
Patrick leaned down and said, "Shut up," into the voice-terminal.
"Come with me," he said.
"What?" she said, and looked up at him, still frowning.
"Come up in the harpy with me."
"I can't," she said. "The Cotabote wouldn't like it."
"Of course they wouldn't like it. When do they ever like anything? Come anyway."
"But they already think…" she said, and stopped. She turned her head away. Pat bent closer.
"Is this how you talk Devil out of his orbital survey?" a suddenly present Scamballah asked. "I sent you here to file a protest, not to flirt with the Adamant representative. I've told you over and over again he's just waiting for a chance to vile you."
As if they weren't belligerent, spiteful, and evil-minded, the Cotabote were also sneaky, and Scamballah was the worst. Pat called her Scumbag the day she started calling him Devil, but he wished he'd named her Skulk. She had come up the steps to the office on the outside of the railing so she wouldn't be seen and had been clinging there next to the door for who knows how long. Now she climbed over it and came into the office with her youngest daughter, shaking a spongy-looking finger at Gemma.
"I'm filing the protest, Scambalah," Gemma said.
"Oh, yes, you're filing it," she said, shaking her mushroom-colored finger right in Gemma's face. Gemma ought to reach over and bite it off, Pat thought. "I told you to find out what he was up to, but did you? Oh, no. You're filing a protest. And while you're sitting there he's walking out the door. Did you tell him it was ruining the nematej?"
Scumbag's daughter had come over to stand by Gemma. She slack her finger in her mouth and then used it to draw on the terminal screen.
"Gemma told me," Pat said. "I thought the Cotabote considered the nematej a noxious weed.''
"I wanna picture," Scumbag's daughter whined. "Make her make a picture." She stomped her feet. "I wanna picture now."
Gemma typed up a picture, apparently not trusting her own voice to ask the computer anything.
"Not that picture!" she wailed.. "I want a different picture!"
"The Cotabote will decide what is and is not a weed, and not you," Scamballah said. "You, Devil, are only the Adamant engineer. In our contract, it states clearly that you will not harm our crops or our village."
The Cotabote loved quoting their beloved contract, which Pat had never seen. He had heard'it was a doozy, though. Scumbag's daughter began punching buttons wildly on the computer keyboard.
"I haven't hurt your crops or your village, and I haven't done anything to the nematej either. Yet."
"A threat!" Scamballah shrieked. "He threatened me. You heard that, Gemenca. He threatened me. File a protest!"
He wondered exactly how she was supposed to do that with that imbecilie brat beating the keyboard senseless.
"Scamballah," Gemma said calmly. "I'm sure he didn't mean…"
"That's right. Take his side. I knew he'd corrupt you. We forbid the orbital survey. Tell him that, Gemenca." She waved an arm at Gemma. "You're our representative. Tell him."
"I have told him…" Gemma began.
"And I told her to keep her nose out of Adamant's business," Pat said. He snatched up his acceleration helmet. "She's not going with me, and that's final."
Scamballah whirled to glare at Gemma. "You weren't supposed to tell him you were going with him. Oh, I knew I shouldn't let you come alone. I've seen the way you look at him! You wanted to be alone with him, didn't you? Filthy! Filthy!"
Scamballah's daughter had given up on the keyboard and was standing on the computer. She pulled down a mine mask from the wall. Pat took it away from her.
"Alone with me? Ha. She wanted to spy on my orbital survey, and I said, over my dead body."
Scamballah's daughter wailed.
"You will take her!" Scumbag shrieked. "I say you will! We'll file a protest."
"Scamballah," Gemma said. "Don't listen to him. He's…"
Scumbag's daughter was reaching for the energy rifles on the wall above the masks.
"I'm going," Pat said. "You can file your protest when I get back." He picked up the command core to the harpy and the extra helmet, and opened the door. "Everybody out. Now."
"You can't force us out of your office!" Scumbag said, but she grabbed her daughter by the neck and dragged her down the steps, still bellowing.
Gemma was still standing by the computer.
"You, too," he said, and handed her the helmet. She wouldn't take it. She walked past him, out the door, and down the steps.
Pat shut the door and stomped out to the ramp of the harpy, nearly tripping over a heap of smash leaves and nematej branches the Cotabote had left as offerings. They were either terrified of or fascinated by machines, Pat had not been able to figure out which, and were constantly leaving them presents or sacrifices. Probably not sacrifices, since he felt human sacrifice would be more in line with the way the Cotabote thought, which, considering Scamballah's daughter, might not be a half bad idea.
He turned at the top of the ramp, trying to gauge if Gemma was close enough to grab. She was. "I won't take her, Scumbag, and that's final," he said.
"You will or I'll tear up our contract!"
Pat tried to look like that had made an impression on him. "Get in," he said gruffly, and yanked Gemma up and into the harpy.
"Shut the door," he told the computer. The ramp retracted and the door slid shut. Pat tossed Gemma her helmet and went forward to insert the command core into the harpy's drive computer. Scamballah started banging on the door.
"Hurry,"' Gemma said, pulling on a flightcoat.
Pat looked up at her in surprise. "What did you say?"
"Nothing," she said.
"Strap yourself in," he said, and slid into the pilot's seat. "We're going up fast."
He hit the ground-jets hard. Scumbag and her daughter backed up to a respectful distance. He eased the harpy out of the clearing and took her straight up.
There was a lot of junk orbiting Botea, all of it Adamant's: the infrascopes, mappers, and geos for the mines, the big relay that sent Gemma's protests plodding across the Galaxy to Candlestone and then on to Adamant, and the various defense satellites. Botea had two orbital atomic guns and assorted 15-T and 8-T exploders, all aimed at anybody who tried to steal Botea's precious IIIB diamonds. The selectively conductive crystals, the only thing kilolayered computer chips could be made from, were found on other planets, but always halfway to the core and in nearly diamond-hard newkimberlite deposits. On Botea they were practically lying in heaps on the ground. Well, not quite, but only a little way down in veins of soft yellow coal, and nothing standing in the way of getting them out except some soft deposits of coal the worms could chew their way through. And of course the Cotabote. The planet's defenses were really intended for pirates or small independent fighters, not an armored arsenal like a berserker was supposed to be, but at least they were there.
Pat stayed clear of the mine field of satellites and set a lower orbit that would keep him close enough to do visuals on everything without putting him on a collision course. He had taken off far too fast, which meant he had a lot of correcting to do, and it was a good fifteen minutes before he and the computer got the harpy into the orbit he wanted. He told the computer to run a check on all defense satellites with orders for the computer to tell him when the atomic gun came into line-of-sight, and hoped Gemma wouldn't realize that wasn't part of his usual routine.
She had taken off her acceleration helmet and was hunched forward so she could see Botea out the tiny forward viewport.
"It's pretty, isn't it?" he said. Botea was covered with clouds, which was good because the swamps and smash fields were a nasty green even from this distance. At least you couldn't smell them up here, Pat thought. "Aren't you glad I suggested you come with me?"
"Suggested?" she said, trying to get out of her straps. "You practically kidnapped me!"
"Kidnapped you?" he said. He unhooked his straps and latched onto one of the overhead skyhooks: "All I did was use a little reverse psychology on old Scumbag."
"You shouldn't call her that. She'll probably file a protest."
"Then I'll file one over her calling me Devil. And don't tell me she can't pronounce it. She knows exactly what she's doing."
Gemma still didn't have her straps free. "You still shouldn't antagonize them. Adamant could…"
"Could what?" he said. He bent over to help her with her straps. "They haven't answered any of the Cotabote's two hundred and eighty-three protests in over two years, have they?"
"Two hundred and eighty-one," Gemma, said, and frowned again. Pat got her straps unhooked, and she drifted straight into his arms. He put his free hand around her waist.
"Well, well, so Scumbag was right," he said. "You were just waiting for your chance to be alone with me."
"The Cotabote think…" she said, and he waited for her to wriggle out of his arms, but she didn't. She suddenly smiled al him. "You really handled the whole thing very well. Maybe you should be the ICLU representative. You have a real gift for making people do what you want."
"I do?" he said, and let go of the skyhook so he could put his other arm around her. "Does that include you?"
"I…" She grabbed for a skyhook and used it to give herself a push that brought him up smartly against the bulkhead.
"Sorry," she said. "I'm not used to no gravity." She turned and looked out the side port. "Is that one of the infrascopes you're supposed to be checking on?"
He hand-over-handed himself till he was right behind her. "Which one?" he said and put his hand over hers to make sure she stayed on the skyhook this time.
"That spiky one," she said.
He fiddled with the controls to get her a larger image. "This port's equipped with telescopics." He put his other hand on her shoulder and turned her to face him. "It sends me weather reports. It lets me know when there's a storm brewing."
"Oh," she said, a little breathlessly. "What's the weather like now?"
"Right now," he said, and put his hand under her chin, "I'd say the outlook is very favorable."
"Atomic gun's coming up," the computer said.
"You have great timing," Pat said. "I'll be right back," he said to Gemma and worked his way back to the computer. The terminal screen was still blank, and he couldn't see anything in the forward port either. "Where's the gun?" he said.
"Is that it?" Gemma said from the side port. She was fiddling with the telescopic controls. "The big black thing out there?"
"What big black thing?" Pat said. "I don't see anything.
You've probably got the telescopics showing you a speck of dirt."
"It's not a speck of dirt," Gemma said, "It's right there." She pointed. "A long way out, And down, I mean, not on the plane of the ecliptic."
"Give me a wide, range," Pat told the computer. "Everything for a thousand kilometers. And a hundred and eighty degrees." It did.
"Can you see it now?" Gemma said.
"Yes," Pat said. "I see it." He lurched for the skyhook. "Get away from the window."
"It's huge," Gemma said. "What is it? An infrascope?"
He tackled her, and they tumbled over against the opposite bulkhead.
"I don't know what you think you're doing," Gemma said angrily from underneath him.
"It's a berserker," Pat said.
'"A berserker?" she said. She grabbed for a skyhook and pulled herself up to face him. "A berserker?" she whispered. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," he said.
"The atomic gun is full screen," the computer said, "Do you want readouts?"
"Shh," Gemma said.
Pat said, too softly for the computer to hear, "Blast it. Blast it with everything you've got."
It was a purely instinctive reaction. The orbital guns, with their pitiful ten megaton atomics couldn't make any more of a dent in that thing than his energy rifle. Gemma was right. It was huge. He pulled himself back to the computer and looked at it on the screen. '"How far out is it?" he asked the computer.
"Nine hundred eighty-five kilometers," the computer said.
Nearly a thousand kilometers away. Not nearly far enough. Gemma eased herself into the seat beside him and strapped herself in. "What do we do now?" she said.
"I don't know." They were both whispering. "It's a long way out. Maybe if I hit the jets, it won't see us. But then again maybe it will. Maybe it already has."
He didn't have to say anything else. Gemma had heard of berserkers, too, or she wouldn't be gripping the arms of her acceleration seat like that. She knew just as well as he did that it intended to destroy every speck of life on Botea, including the nematej. And Pat and Gemma, who had just happened by.
"If it had seen us, it would have blown us up," Gemma said. "Which means it didn't. And it must not be picking up what we're saying either."
Which meant they could stop whispering, but they didn't. "It may think we're just a satellite. Which means our best bet is to stay where we are and wait till we've got Botea between us."
"How long will that be?"
Pat held the voice-terminal right up to his lips. "Figure out how long before we're out of line-of-sight with the berserker," he said softly.
"Eleven minutes, nineteen seconds," the computer said, and the sound was like an explosion in the cabin. Gemma flinched.
"Keep it down," Pat said. "All right, I want you to transmit pictures of the berserker down to Botea. Section-by-section holos, infra, x-ray, everything you've got. No wait. Put them on independents. No transmissions. And switch to visual-only for now. Go back to voice when we go out of line-of-sight."
"Thank you," Gemma said. "I know it can't hear us, but…" She drew a ragged breath and leaned forward to watch the screen with him.
What Pat saw made him feel a little better, but not much. The berserker had taken a beating. Half of its back end was missing. He didn't know where a berserker carried its arsenal, but losing a chunk that big had to have hurt something. He wondered if this was the berserker that had destroyed the settlement on Polara. If it was, they'd certainly put up a good fight. And the berserker had killed them all, he reminded himself.
"Eleven minutes," Gemma said, as if the computer had said, "a century," and Pat knew exactly how she felt. He itched to put the harpy on manual and take her down himself right then. He knew that would be suicide, but anything would be better than sitting here for the next ten minutes, wondering when the berserker was going to notice they weren't satellite and blow them apart.
He spoke into the voice-terminal again. "Put a countdown on the screen, and do everything you can to get us ready for a descent. And give me a two-minute warning."
He glared it the screen, wishing he had access to the computer's memory banks. Maybe the report from Polara and all the other berserker data Adamant had sent could be put together with the pictures he was taking to come up with a fool-proof plan for destroying the berserker with only two atomic guns and some exploders. He didn't dare ask for information, though. It would have to be transmitted from the main Computer, and the berserker was bound to pick it up. He couldn't call for help either, for the same reason. Not that sending out a mayday could do any good. By the time the message crawled to Candlestone, they'd be long gone.
"It looks like it's been in a fight," Gemma said, peering at the screen, "Maybe there are ships still chasing it."
Not if it just came from Polara, Pat thought. He was about to say it when he got a good look at Gemma. She looked scared to death, her shoulders hunched forward as if she were waiting for someone to hit her. The computer spit an independent out of its output, and she took it and held it without even realizing what she was doing. Her eyes were fixed on the computer; the countdown read six minutes.
He said instead, "You bet. They're probably right on its tail. We'll send out a mayday as soon as we get back down and tell them where it is."
"Will we get back down?" she said.
"Are you kidding? I always take my girls home."
She gave him a ghost of a smile.
"As soon as we get back to the computer, we'll feed all these pictures in and see if we can come up with a plan to blow that berserker apart."
She wasn't even listening to him. "When do you think it will attack?" she said.
"Not for a while. It's probably laying up here for repairs, which means as long as it thinks we don't know it's here, it probably won't do anything at all. Maybe we can hit it before it has a chance to repair itself."
"Oh," she said, and looked relieved.
Pat wished he'd convinced himself. Even if the berserker had holed up off Botea to lick its wounds, it could still send down a deadly berserker android, armed with lasers and poisonous gases, that would be more than a match for them and the Cotabote.
The Cotabote. He'd forgotten all about them. They'd never cooperate, even if they knew what a berserker was. And why would they believe there was a deadly war-machine orbiting their planet when they hadn't believed anything he'd ever told them?
'"When we get back down," Pat said, and was amazed at how confident he was when he said that, "we're going to have to the computer down in the mine. It's the safest place. We can carry enough self-contained to make it self-sufficient. That way even if the berserker blows my office apart, we can still figure out a plan. The berserker won't be able to touch us in the mine. Okay?"
"Okay," Gemma said, which told Pat just how scared she was. She'd forgotten all about the Cotabote, too, and he wasn't going to remind her. Not until he had her and the computer safely down in the mine, with the fire doors shut.
"Well," he said. "What do you think of our first date so far?"
She looked over at him, shocked, and then tried to smile. "Is going out with you always this exciting?" she said gamely, though her voice still had a tremor in it.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you for months," he said. "Wait'll you see where I take you on our next date."
"You will be out of line-of-sight in two minutes," the computer said.
Gemma sucked in her breath.
Pat asked the computer for a compensated visual of the berserker, and they both sat and watched it for what seemed like a lifetime, waiting for it to spit a missile oat of its side, even though it was really already far behind them. The countdown read fifteen seconds.
"Hold on, kid," Pat said, and started the jets.
She looked over at him.
"Sorry to take you home so early, but I've got a late date."
The descent seemed to take forever. Pat held his breath the entire time, convinced a little thing like a planet wouldn't stop a berserker. The computer spit out independents, like ticks of a deadly clock, and Gemma picked them up and held them without even looking at them.
"Entering atmosphere," the computer said, and they both jumped.
"Put her on manual," Pat said, and nose-dived straight through the clouds.
Gemma pressed back against her seat, her eyes closed and the handful of independents clutched to her like a baby. Pat brought the harpy up sharply and headed for the office.
"We made it," he said. "Now if the office is still there, we're in business."
Gemma handed Pat the deck of independents and undid her straps. "What do you want me to do?"
"You grab the independents and as much self-contained as you can carry. I'll get the rest. And the terminal."
"Are you going to send out a mayday?"
"No. We'll take the transmitter with us. If I send it from the office, the berserker'll know that's where we are and we won't have an office." They were coming in over the sharp-pointed trees to the office clearing.
"Maybe we should go get the Cotabote first," Gemma said.
"We get the computer first," Pat said. "You don't have to worry about the Cotabote. Even if the berserker sends a lander down it'll probably take one look at old Scumbag and turn tail and run."
"This is hardly the time for a joke," Gemma said. "The Cotabote…"
"Can take care of themselves." He skidded the harpy to a stop. "Open the door," he said, and was out before it was fully up.
"Aren't you going to take the command core with you?" Gemma asked.
"No. Leave it. Come on," he said, and took off at a dead ran for the office.
Scamballah was standing by the output, her spongy-looking arms folded across her chest. Her husband Rutchirrah—Retch, as Pat called him—who was shorter than his wife and shaped like a poisonous toadstool, was holding an array of the rectangular independents as if they were a hand of cards. "What are these?" he said, "The protests you have refused to file for us?''
"Give those to me," Pat said and made a grab for them.
Retch took a step backward. The output spit out another card. He scooped it up. "Adamant will hear about your striking a Cotabote. Gemenca, file a protest."
"Give me those independents right now," Pat said. "I don't have time to play games with you."
"Pat," Gemma said, "Let me handle this." She turned to Scamballah. "It is a good thing I went on the orbital survey with Devlin. We discovered something terrible. A berserker."
Scumbag didn't look impressed. "Don't give me any stories. I know you let Devil vile you while you were in the harpy with him. That's why you wanted to go with him, isn't it? So you and he could do filthy things together?"
"Why, you foul-mouthed old witch!" Pat said. "She's trying to save your life. Don't waste your time, Gemma. Get the self-contained. I'll…"
"I said I'd handle this," Gemma said grimly. "Get the transmitter and everything else you're taking. Rutchirrah, give him the independents, and I will tell you everything that happened."
"You see, she admits it, Rutchirrah!" Scambailah said. "I told you this would happen." She was shaking her finger in front of his nose now. Pat made a grab for the independents and stuffed them in his jacket. Rutchirrah bellowed. Pat started cramming self-contained into a smash sack.
"He viled you, didn't he?" Scumbag said.
"Listen to me," Gemma said. "There is a berserker in the sky above Botea, high up, above the clouds where you can't see it. It is a terrible war machine. It will kill us all. We have to…"
"Did he vile you?" Scumbag shrieked. "Did he?"
Gemma didn't say anything for a minute, she just looked at Scumbag, and Pat was sure she was going to give up. He waited, ready to hand her the transmitter and a sack.
"He tried to vile me," she said, "but I wouldn't let him."
"Oh, thanks a lot," Pat said. He back-to-backed a voice-terminal and the transmitter and put them inside his jacket. He reached above his head for the two energy rifles.
"I will tell you all about it," Gemma said. "But first you must come with me into the mines. You and all the Cotabote. We will be safe there."
"Safe? In the mines? With Devil? He will try to vile us all."
"That's it," Pat said. "We're going. If the Cotabote don't want to go down in the mines, they can stay here and make friends with the berserker. They should get along great."
"You go on if you have to," Gemma said. "I'm not leaving until I've explained this to the Cotabote."
"Explained it? You can't explain anything to them. All they care about is whether I put my filthy hands on you." The output spit out another independent and clicked off. Retch made a move toward it, and Pat snatched it away. "For your information, I did put my filthy hands on her. And at the time"—he looked hard at Gemma—"at the time she to like it. Now, of course, she has another version of the story," He grabbed up his energy rifle and started down the steps. "I'll be at the wormhole by the river if you change your mind," he said, and walked out of the clearing.
Before he was even halfway to the wormhole, he knew he should never have left her. He should have slung her over his shoulder like the filthy viler the Cotabote thought he was, and carried her off with him. The Cotabote would probably all have followed him then, just to watch.
He almost turned around. Instead he stopped, and hooked up a self-contained to the terminal. "Do you see anything entering the atmosphere?" he asked.
A single self-contained limited the computer to straight yes and no answers, but that should be enough until he got to the wormhole. '"Beep me if any object enters the atmosphere from now on," he said, stuffing the terminal back in his jacket.
That should give him some warning so fee could go back and get Gemma if the berserker tried to land an android. He hadn't even bothered to have the computer check for poison gases or viruses. If the berserker was going to destroy the whole planet, he'd rather die without knowing what he'd done to Gemma.
The wormhole had a heap of thorny nematej branches in front of it, offerings the Cotabote had left for the worm, who they were convinced would come plowing up out of the earth and eat them alive, no matter how many times Pat told them he wouldn't let that happen. Since when have they ever believed anything I told them? he thought bitterly, and kicked the thorns out of the way."
"Open the door," he said loudly. The massive metal door slid up. Adamant called the worm-built barriers fire doors, and in official documents said that they were constructed throughout the mines and at all surface contact points to prevent the spread of underground coal fires, but Pat knew perfectly well what they were for. Adamant had given him atomic guns and two energy rifles to fight off diamond thieves, but if he didn't succeed he was supposed to close the doors before he died so the diamonds would be safe. It said so in his contract. He wished he could do that with the berserker, but he was afraid it wasn't that easy.
The doors certainly wouldn't hold up against an atomic, and although it would be possible to shut down the ventilators and breathe the stored oxygen the worms used for fuel, they couldn't do that for very long. The berserker would wait.
Pat unslung his pack and set up the terminal just inside the door. He switched on the inspection lights, but left the door open. He asked again, "Do you see any objects entering the atmosphere now?"
"No," the computer said.
"Good." He finished hooking up the self-contained, lining it up along one of the oxygen tubes that ran the length of the worm trail.
"Have any objects entered the atmosphere?" he asked again, now that he could get a more complete answer.
"Not since your harpy reentered the atmosphere. At that time an object entered the atmosphere on a slow-descent path that terminated in—"
"What kind of object?"
"A ship somewhat like yours, although it converts to a ground vehicle. It has a mass of—"
"Where is it now?"
"I'll show you," the computer said, and flashed a local area diagram on its screen with a blip right in the center of the 'Cotabote's main smash field.
"What's it doing now?"
"There are no signs of activity from the ship, but I am picking up atmospheric pollution in the area, with a chemical content of…" It paused while it did a chemical reading. Pat didn't wait to hear it.
"Shut the door!" he shouted, grabbing up his energy rifle, and tore up out of the wormhole.
He could see the smoke from the smash field even before be got to the office clearing. You hope it's smoke, he thought, and not some kind of poison.
He tore up the steps and opened the door to the office to get a mine mask, A blast of smoke hit him full in the face. His first thought was that the office was on fire. His second was that it wasn't poison gas since he was still alive after a lungful, although if it got much thicker he wouldn't be able to breathe. He could hardly see.
He clamped his mine mask on and adjusted the eyeshields to screen out the smoke. The office wasn't on fire. The smoke was coming in the open window from the smash field. He could see the flames from here. The fire was moving in the direction of the Cotabote village. A straggling line of Cotabote were heading past the office carrying sacks over their shoulders.
He grabbed the mine mask and ran back down the steps and across to them. "Go to the wormhole by the river," he said. "I'll meet you there. Where's Gemma?"
They went past him as if he wasn't there, their shirttails pulled up over their noses. The last two in the group were Rutchirrah and Scamballah, with their three daughters clinging to them and bawling.
"Where's Gemma?" Pat said.
"I told you he wasn't down in the mines at all," Scumbag said triumphantly. "It was all a trick so he could set fire to our fields."
"We will file a protest!" Rutchirrah said.
Pat took hold of both his spongy arms and shook him. "You tell me where she is or I'll throttle you. Where is Gemma?"
"Attempted murder!" Retch squawled. "Adamant will hear of this!"
Pat couldn't waste any more time on them. He ran off toward the village through periodic lines of Cotabote, all of them coughing and crying from an acrid smell like burning chicken feathers, but none of them willing to put down their sacks. There was no way he could get to the village itself. Its houses were completely on fire, their nematej-thatched roofs crackling and falling in on the clay huts. The coal fence around the village was burning, too, a red-hot line roiling with yellow smoke.
"Gemma!" he shouted, "Gemma!"
The huge smash field was burning, too, but without so much smoke, and he could see a squat black shape far out in the center of it, crouched there like a spider, with smaller shapes in front of it that he hoped to God weren't bodies. It was definitely a berserker lander. He hoped the shapes in front of it weren't berserker androids either. At least they weren't moving.
Just then he saw another shape moving toward the lander, over halfway to it, picking its way slowly through one of the fermentation ditches.
"Gemma!" Pat shouted. The figure turned and then started slowly forward again. He ran toward her, vaulting over the clumps of burning smash to get to the ditch she was in. There was still water in the bottom of the ditch, but it was hot even through his boots. He splashed up to where Gemma was standing, coughing, her wet shirttail up overset mouth.
"What in the hell are you doing out here?" he said, pulling the shirt away and shoving the mask down over her face. "That's a berserker lander."
Gemma had been farther out than he thought. The lander wasn't more than fifty meters away. "Get down," he said, pulling her down beside him in the foul-smelling ditch.
"I know," she tried to say, still coughing. "The Cotabote…"
"Did they start this fire? Has the lander been firing lasers at them?"
"No," she said. She wasn't coughing, but her voice still sounded hoarse, "The lander hasn't done anything. I started the fire."
"You? Why in the hell did you do that? Did you think the lander would start coughing or what?"
"I did the only thing I could think to do. You weren't around to ask!" She stood up. "We've got to go out there and get…"
'There was a flash of red light and a cracking sound, and the shapes in front of the lander burst into flame.
"I thought you said it wasn't doing anything," Pat said. "That's a laser! I don't care what you wanted to go get. We're, going!" He grabbed her hand. Gemma didn't resist. They ran, crouching along the ditch to the end of the field, and went down behind the dike bordering it. The lander continued firing. Pat unslung his rifle and fired several more blasts that seemed to have no effect whatsoever. The lander didn't return his fire. Instead it made a grinding noise and began rolling toward them.
Pat glanced around. There weren't any Cotabote in sight, which was good. Gemma would probably have insisted on explaining things to them. The wind had veered and the fire was moving off to the other side of the village, which meant the office and the harpy would be safe provided the lander didn't blast them. "Let's go," Pat said, fired a couple more blasts, and ran, using the ridge for cover, along the village side of the ridge to a large nematej thicket that wasn't on fire yet.
"What are you doing?" Gemma said. "You're going the wrong way."
"We've got to lead it away from the harpy. We'll cut through the thicket and then back along the river to the wormhole. It's not coming very fast. We can outrun it."
The lander had gotten stuck in one of the ditches. Pat fired several more blasts to make sure it hadn't forgotten where they were and then crashed into the thicket. It was a stupid move. Gemma got hung up on an overhanging branch and Pat had to tear a long section of her blouse to get her loose. They both got thoroughly scratched in the process.
The river was not much better. Smoke from the fire had gathered along the riverbank so that even their eyeshields were ineffectual. And the lander was steadily gaining on them. It apparently had rolled right through the thicket. They splashed out of the river and into the wormhole clearing.
"Open the door," Pat shouted when they were still a hundred meters away. A dozen Cotabote were clustered around the door. When it clanged open, they backed away from it, dropping their sacksful of belongings.
"Get inside!" Pat yelled, and turned around. He went down on one knee to try to get one of the lander's treads as it came out of the woods.
Gemma was trying to herd the Cotabote through the door and down the dark wormtrail, but they insisted on taking their bundles, even though the lander was practically on top of them.
"Are they all in?" Pat shouted to Gemma. The lander rolled into the clearing,
"Yes! No! Scamballah, get in here. Run, Pat!" she yelled. He leaped for the door, shouting, "Get down, Gemma!" and then, belatedly, "Shut the door!"
He flattened himself against the wall, dragging Gemma with him. The door clanged down, and he stood there, still holding Gemma against him, listening. He could hear faint pings, which meant the lander was still firing its laser. He pulled his mask off with his free hand. The Cotabote were watching him, looking belligerent.
"I think the door will hold," Pat said to Gemma, "but it can't hurt to put a few more fire doors between it and us. You can take your mask off now."
Gemma pulled her mask off over her head. In the dim light she looked frightened and a little shocky. There were gray streaks of ash on her dark cheeks.
'"It's okay," he said, turning her to face him. "It's right where we want it. It didn't find the harpy, and it can't get through the door. Adamant's seen to that, And if you'll give me a few minutes I'll come up with a plan to blast it right off Botea."
She looked paler and even more frightened when he said that. The lander must have really spooked her. He pulled her close and patted her clumsily on the back, "It's okay, sweetheart."
"I knew it," Scumbag said. "Viling her right in front of us. Which of us will be his next victim?"
Gemma backed out of Pat's arms. "Scamballah," she said, picking up the lantern and the smash sack full of self-contained, "Pat wants us to go deeper in the mine. You will do what he says or I will send you back outside." He had never seen a direct threat work on the Cotabote before, but this one did. Scumbag shuffled back with the others and cleared a path for Pat.
Pat switched on the light of his mine mask and handed it to Gemma by the straps. "Let's go."
"I will file a protest about this," Scamballah said.
"You do that," Gemma said, and started down the worm-trail.
By the second fire door, Pat had decided he'd rather face the berserker than put up with the Cotabote any longer. Scumbag's youngest daughter had tripped over a loose piece of coal and set up a wail that echoed off the walls, and Retch and Scumbag had threatened him with at least thirteen protests.
He closed the door and said, "This is far enough. Give me some room so I can set up the computer." He set it up on a ventilator-ridge and asked for a map of their location. "There's a worm intersection a little farther on. Take the Cotabote down to it, Gemma, and then come back. I'm going to need you."
"All right," Gemma said, and herded them off down the passageway. While she was gone he did a surface survey and then fed in all the independents. The lander was still parked right outside the mine, though it had stopped firing its laser. Pat hoped that didn't mean it was getting set to try something new. The fire had burned itself out. The harpy was still in one piece and so was the office. So was the berserker, but it was on the other side of Botea for another three hours, and it hadn't sent anything else down.
"What can you tell me about the lander?" he asked the computer.
"It matches the description of a berserker lander on Polara," the computer said instantly. "Planet defenses destroyed three androids and did significant damage to the berserker, but no damage to the lander, which is made of a titanium alloy." The computer put up a tech-diagram of the lander. If was definitely the thing outside the door. "The lander doesn't have an electro-nuclear brain of its own like the androids. It gets its commands from the orbiting berserker.''
"The berserker probably holed up out there to make itself some new androids, and we caught it by surprise," Pat said.
"The Polara data shows the lander can be destroyed with a direct-overhead drop of a 2-T exploder on the mid-section shown." It flashed a blip in the middle of the diagram, right over the transmitter it probably got its instructions from.
"If they knew how to destroy it, why didn't they?" Pat said, and then wished he hadn't. He was afraid he knew the answer. All the settlement-colony's big ships up fighting the berserker while the people on the ground struggled to stop three androids, and the lander did what? A virus? A gas? "Switch us to internal oxygen," Pat said. "Ventilate from…" From where? The berserker was on the other side of the planet, but it could be starting its attack over there, on the nematej and wild smash. "Ventilate from Surface Contact Point Ten, but check to make sure the air's all right before you do it, and keep monitoring it. Show me that diagram again."
"I pat the Cotabote in the intersection," Gemma said, hurrying back a bit breathlessly.
"Good," Pat said. "I found out why that lander's so slow-witted. It's just supposed to be transport for berserker androids, only there aren't any. it gets its orders from the berserker, and its orders were probably to come down and take a look around, maybe take a couple of natives back home to study. I don't think it was prepared to do battle."
"Then why did it start firing at us?"
"I don't know, Gemma, maybe it considered setting fire to it a hostile act. Maybe it took one look at the Cotabote and decided on its own to wipe them all out. Whichever it is, we're going back outside." He pointed to the screen. "We're going down past the intersection to this trail and then up to the surface this way. That'll bring us up a kilometer and a half from the harpy."
"Harpy?" Gemma said faintly.
"Yeah," he said. He unhooked the transmitter from the voice-terminal and put it in his pocket. "We're going to take the harpy up and blow that lander's brains out before it gets any more orders from upstairs."
"No, we're not," Gemma said, sounding angry.
Pat turned around. "I suppose you have a better idea."
"No," she said. She didn't look angry. She looked scared to death. "I don't have any ideas at all."
"Well, then, suppose we try mine. Or would you rather stay here and file protests for the Cotabote?"
"We can't go up in the harpy, Pat," she said. "The Cotabote took the command core. They gave it to the lander."
Pat stood up. "That's what you were trying to get back."
"Yes," she said, backing away from him a little as if she thought he was going to hit her. "I started the fire, but it didn't do any good. They took it out to the lander anyway."
"And the lander blew it up. Why didn't you tell me? Scratch that. You did the best you could. I should never have left the command core in the harpy. It's going to kill us. You know that, don't you?"
She had backed right into the wall of coal. "Yes, I know."
Pat hunched down in front of the computer and stared at it. "It… I don't know. Maybe if we go as deep as we can, close all the fire doors behind us, we can hold out till we get a message through to Candlestone."
She came away from the wall and looked at the terminal screen. "'What about the orbital atomic?"
"Are you kidding? It'd four times the firepower of the atomic to even make a dent in a berserker, even if we knew where to hit it."
"I meant the lander," she said. She leaned over his shoulder, looking at the diagram of the lander.
"An atomic would blow us up, too. If it could be fired at Botea. Which it can't, Gemma, there's nothing we can do without the harpy."
She was still looking at the screen, "What about the worms?" she said.
"Yeah. This diagram shows a hit from above, but the transmission core goes all the way through the middle of the lander. Why couldn't it come from underneath? We could put a 2-T exploder on a worm and have it burrow up under the lander. Couldn't we?"
He stood up. "Where's the nearest worm?" he asked the computer.
The computer flashed a map of the mine with a double blip showing the nearest worm. It was in the trail beneath them, only a few hundred meters from the intersection. "Hold it there," Pat said. "Does it have exploders?"
"Yes," the computer said, "Nineteen of them."
"Nineteen," Pat said. "Gemma, you're terrific."
"I've assimilated the Polara data and the pictures of berserker damage, and I have a possible plan of attack," the computer said. "A ship with a directional blinder and c-plus cannon can get through the berserker's protective forcefield to the brain."
"Yeah, well, we don't have a blinder. Or a cannon. Thanks anyway," He handed Gemma the two mine masks and took down a hydrogen fusion lantern from the trail wall. "Come on, Gemma." She followed him, but over the transmitter she asked the computer to explain the entire plan step by step and then asked for it again.
The computer walked them through the rough wormtrails to the point where the worm was supposed to be. For a while it had looked like the Cotabote were coming with them, until Gemma said coldly, "Stay in the side tunnel or I will have Pat send the worm to eat you." They were so surprised they had not even threatened to file a protest. Instead, Retch had asked meekly if they could have the lantern. Gemma had given them one of the mine masks.
Pat hadn't been convinced they wouldn't change their minds and come after them to see that Gemma didn't get viled. He shut the two fire doors they passed on the way.
"Are you sure we're in the right place?" he asked now. He couldn't see any sign of the intersecting wormtrail that was supposed to be here. "I don't see any trail," he said, and practically fell into it. It went straight down, a rough-hewn hole right in the middle of the trail. When he shone the lantern into it, he could see the bottom, but no worm.
"This is it," he said, but he went a few meters farther along the tunnel and around the corner.
"I thought you said this was the place," Gemma said.
"It is," he said. "And this is where we go when the worm comes out of its hole." He showed her a shallow cave created by a fall of the soft coal.
He went back to the wormtrail and eased himself into the hole until he found a foothold on the side, with Gemma holding the lantern, and then he took it from her so she could come down to stand beside him on the heap of black rubble.
"It looks like there's been a rockfall," Gemma said. "How do we get past it?"
"We don't," Pat said. "I think this is the worm." He knell down and began clearing the chunks of yellow coal away. Under it was the smooth gray of the worm's grinding head. "See?" he said.
"Where are the exploders?" she said.
"Inside the mouth. We won't be able to get at them, but the controls should be right here, at the back of its head." He swept away more rubble to reveal a beveled rectangle and flipped up the control plate. "When the worm's digging a new trail, it spits out an exploder, backs up to a safe distance, and detonates it. I'm going to change the sequencing to bypass that ejection. When the first 2-T explodes, it should set off the other eighteen. Give me the coordinates for the lander."
He handed her the transmitter, and she said, "Tell us where the lander is," and then held, it up to Pat's ear so he could type in the coordinates.
"Okay," he said, straightening up. "I've got it set to come up under the lander and detonate. I've sent it down already-existing trails till the last hundred meters so it can go at maximum speed. For that last stretch I put its grinders on fall and we'll hope it doesn't burn itself out before it gets to the surface. So our only problem is going to be"—he put his hands on Gemma's waist and lifted her up to the first foothold—"getting out of the way! Because exactly thirty seconds after I put it in drive, it's going to come up out of this hole whether we're in it or not."
She was out of the hole. He handed her up the lantern and got a good grip on the foothold. He stooped quickly and touched the start key, and then jumped for the foothold.
Gemma set the lantern down and reached over the edge to give him a hand.
The worm gave a low growl and shudder and reared its gray metal head clear of the coal rubble. Pat swung up into the second foothold and almost lost his footing. Gemma's hand caught his arm and hauled him up over the edge of the tunnel.
"Come on," she said, trying to pull him to his feet. He scrambled up. "It's coming," she yelled, and bent down to get the lantern.
"There's no time for that!" he shouted, and pushed her around the corner of the tunnel and up against the wall, feeling for the cave and shoving her into it.
The worm gave a deafening growl and then roared suddenly away down the far trail. The tunnel was silent for a moment, and then there was a loose clatter of rock as the coal the worm had dislodged in its passing rolled down into the hole. The tunnel went suddenly dark.
"There goes the lantern," Gemma said. "I thought you said we had thirty seconds."
Pat let go of her. "I thought you'd have enough sense to hang onto the lantern, no matter how much time we had."
He shouldn't have let go of her. In the pitch blackness he had no idea where she was. He tried to hear her breathing, but all he could hear was the double clang as the nearest fire door opened automatically and then shut again to let the worm pass. He took a cautious step forward into the tunnel and nearly pitched into another hole. He backed up against the wall of the cave, keeping his hands on the rock, and slid down to a sitting position. "You might as well sit down and relax," he said, patting the floor beside him. "We're going to be here awhile."
"You can sit here if you want," she said, and stepped on his hand, "I'm going back and make sure the Cotabote are all right. They probably think the worm is coming to eat them."
She stepped forward off his hand and went sprawling across his knees. He groped to help her up, got her knee and then her arm. "Exactly how far do you think you'll get without a light?" he said angrily. "You'll fall down that wormhole we just came up. Or worse. We're staying right here."
"The Cotabote can take care of themselves. I'd bet on the Cotabote against a berserker any day," he said, still holding onto her arm. "We're staying right here until the worm blows up that lander."
She didn't say anything, but her arm stiffened under his grip,
"Sit down," he said, and pulled her down beside him. "Do you still have the transmitter?"
"Yes," she said coldly. "If you'll let go of me I'll get it out of my pocket."
He could hear her fumbling for it. "Here it is," she said, and hit him in the nose with it.
"Thanks," he said.
"I didn't mean to do that," she said. "I can't see you."
He got hold of her band and took the transmitter from her. "Where's the worm?" he said.
"It's just exiting the intersection and is starting up the main tunnel," the computer said.
"Good," Pat said. "Tell me when it starts the new tunnel."
After a minute, the computer said, "It's starting the tunnel."
"Can you give me an estimate on how long it'll take to get to the surface?"
"Eight to twelve minutes," the computer said.
"Tell me when it's ten meters from the surface," Pat said. He put the transmitter in his pocket and brushed against Gemma's hand. He held onto it. "I just don't want you hitting me in the nose again," he said. "In another ten minutes we should have plenty of light to travel by."
"Pat," she said. "I'm sorry I lost the lantern." She sounded a little shaky.
"Hey, you can't kid me!" he said lightly. "I know you dropped that lantern on purpose just so you could be alone in the dark with me."
"I did not," she said indignantly, and Pat expected her to pull her hand away, but she didn't.
"Come on," he said, "you've been dying to get me alone like this. Admit it. You're crazy about me."
"I admit it," she said, and now her voice didn't sound shaky at all. "I'm crazy about you."
What had ever given him the idea he couldn't find her in the dark? There were no false tries. He didn't hit her in the nose. He hardly had to move at all, and there he was, kissing her.
"The worm is ten meters from the surface," the computer said from Pat's pocket after what had to be eight to ten minutes but didn't feel like that long. "Nine point five meters, nine point…"
"I knew it," Scumbag said, pointing the mine mask at them. "I told Rutchirrah there wasn't a berserker, that this was all a trick so you could…"
There was a low, clanging sound from a long way off. Gemma shielded her eyes from the light. "What's that noise? It sounds like…"
"I know what it sounds like," Pat said. He yanked the transmitter out of his pocket.
"Seven point five," the computer said.
"What's that noise?" he shouted into the terminal.
"We knew you were lying to us, trying to trap us under ground so the worms could eat us, and you could steal Gemenca and vile her," Scumbag said.
"What did you do?" Gemma said.
"We will file a protest'as soon as we go back to our village. Come, Gemenca." She grabbed for Gemma's hand with her spongy one. "We are going now. Rutchirrah has opened the doors." '
"Shut the doors!" Pat shouted. "Shot the doors!"
"The doors won't respond to your transmitted voice," the computer said. "There's too much distortion."
"You have to tell Rutchirrah to shut the doors right now," Gemma said to Scumbag. "The lander will get in."
"Has it moved?" Pat said.
"Yes. It's in the main tunnel," the computer said.
"You've got to shut the fire doors before it gets any farther. Simulate my voice."
There was a pause. The computer said, in Pat's voice, "Shut the doors" and the lights came on.
The flash of light blinded Pat. In the seconds before he could hear the explosion he grabbed wildly for Gemma and tried to pull her back under the overhang of the cave. They both went down, Gemma underneath him. He tried to shield their heads against the rocks that came bouncing down on them, and then just lay there waiting for the noise and light to subside. It finally did, but he didn't make any effort to get up.
"Attempted murder," Scumbag wailed from several meters away.
Pat had dropped the transmitter when he hit the floor. "Are you there?" he sbouted. "Where's the lander? Did the doors shut?" There wasn't any answer. Of course not. With the fire doors open, the only thing that had blown up was the computer. The lander was probably halfway here by now.
He rolled off Gemma. "Are you okay?" he said, surprised that he could almost see her. He stood up and held out his hand to her, looking at where the cave had been. It was a good thing they hadn't made it under. The cave no longer existed.
Gemma sat up and looked down the tunnel. "Where's that light coming from?" she said.
It was too steady for a laser, too bright to be the Cotabote coming with the other mine mask to accuse him of viling Gemma. The light had a faint reddish cast to it. Pat leaned back against the wail and shut his eyes. "The coal's on fire," he said.
Gemma reached forward and picked up the transmitter. "Are you there?" she said into it. "Are you still there?"
"It's no use," Pat said. "The worm blew the computer up."
"Do you read me?" a voice said. "Where are you? Identify yourselves."
"I'm Gemenca Bahazi, ICLU representative," she said. "We're down in the coal mines. Do you copy?"
"We copy," the voice said. "This is Buzz Jameson. Did you know you've got a berserker up here, sweetheart?"
"Yes!" Pat said, but Gemma wouldn't let go of the transmitter.
"Do you have a directional blinder? And c-plus cannon?"
"We got anything you want, honey. I've got half of Adamant's navy up here. You just tell us what to do, and we'll blow this berserker and then come down there to get you, sweetheart."
"Okay," Gemma said. "But hurry! The lander's in the mine with us."
"Just a lander?" Jameson said. "No androids?"
"No," Gemma said. "But hurry! The lander's got a laser."
"Don't get excited, honey. We're jamming it so it can't get any signals from the papa berserker, it's not going anywhere. And Papa Berserker can't hear this plan of yours either. So why don't you just tell us what you want us to do, darling?"
"Well, it's about time," Scamballah said. "I thought Adamant would never respond to our protests."
They walked out of the mine. Jameson had said to stay put, but that had not seemed like a good idea, even if the lander was out of commission. The mine was still on fire, though the orange light from the direction of the main tunnel wasn't getting any brighter, and Pat couldn't smell any smoke yet.
There was plenty of light to see by and both Gemma and Pat had a general idea of where they were from the mine maps they'd studied. '"We're walking out," he told Jameson over the transmitter. "Get the Cotabote to show you the surface contact point that's near the smash stills."
After the first bend in the tunnel, they had to turn the mine back on. Pat sent Scumbag ahead, holding the mask up like a lantern, in the hope that it would shut her up. It didn't.
"You want me to go first so you can push me in a hole," she said.
"It's a thought," Pat said. "Look on the bright side," he said to Gemma. "Maybe she's the only one who survived."
"Jameson's Adamant's troubleshooter," Gemma said. "I read about him. Why is he here?"
"Probably to destroy the berserker," Pat said. "Not that Adamant cares about us, but they've got to protect their diamond mines."
The fire door to the outside was shut. "Open the door," Scamballah said in Pat's voice. The door slid slowly up.
"So that's how you got the door open, you slimy toadstool, I oughta…"
"You heard that," Scamballah said. "He threatened me."
Pat blinked in the sunlight. The clearing was full of Cotabote and what seemed like dozens of men and women in flightcoats and helmets. Jameson hadn't been kidding. He had brought half of Adamant's navy with him.
"Don't just stand there," Retch said. "He set fire to our smash fields, he blew up our-mine, and he tried to kill us. Arrest him." Retch was talking to a large red-headed man with an acceleration helmet under his arm. Jameson.
"Boy, are we glad to see you," Pat said, and held out his hand to shake it.
Jameson looked uncomfortable.
"These idiots opened the fire doors and let a berserker lander into the mine. If you hadn't come along when you did we'd have been done for," Pat said. "Which reminds me. You'd better get the main computer to start the sprinklers. We've got a coal fire down there. The computer's in my office."
"Are you Patrick Devlin?" Jameson said.
"Yes," Pat said.
"You're under arrest."
Jameson locked Pat in his office, looking thoroughly ashamed of himself, and went off to negotiate with the Cotabote. When he came back, he didn't look ashamed. He looked furious.
"I told you you couldn't tell them anything," Pat said. "I put the fire out. It wasn't the coal after all. The Cotabote had taken half their smash crop down in the mine with them. I doused the main tunnel. The lander's still sitting there. It wasn't hurt at all in the explosion. What do you want done with it?"
"You're being removed," Jameson said. "We're taking you off Botea tomorrow morning."
"I'm not leaving without Gemma."
"You're hardly in a position to make demands," Jameson said. "Even assuming that Gemma wanted to go with you."
"What's that supposed to mean? Of course she wants to go with me. The Cotabote tried to kill us both. If you 'hadn't come along…"
"Yes, apparently it was a good thing I came along when I did." He stood up. "The charges against you are destruction of private property, attempted murder, sexual assault…"
"Sexual assault? You don't believe that, do you? Ask Gemma. Shell tell you."
"She did tell me," Jameson said, "She's the one who filed the charge. Failure to file protests, and refusal to cooperate."
"Gemma filed the charge?"
"Yes, and it's made the matter much more, serious. The Cotabote originally demanded your removal, but in their culture sexual violence is considered the ultimate taboo."
"Oh, great. I suppose they want to hang me, and you're going to go right along with it. It's too bad you blew up the berserker. He was a nice guy compared to you and the Cotabote." And Gemma.
"You're not getting hanged," Jameson said, "though in my opinion you deserve to be. You're getting married."
Jameson took Pat to the Cotabote village under armed guard. It hadn't all burned. The clay houses were still standing.
Gemma was standing outside a smash storage hut, dressed in a shapeless black sack and holding a bouquet of nematej thorns. She didn't look at him. Pat didn't look at her either.
Jameson performed a ship's captain ceremony, glaring at Pat and smiling pityingly at Gemma. The second he was done he slammed the book shut, and stuck a marriage certificate under their noses to sign. Gemma signed it without a word, waited until Pat had signed it, and then disappeared into the hut.
Scamballah shook her finger in Pat's face. "You will now be married in the Cotabote ceremony." She turned to Jameson and smiled sweetly at him. "We have put up a partition in the hut to make sure that Devil doesn't vile Gemenca during the ceremony."
The armed guard tossed him in the hut and locked the door. The hut smelled like burning chicken feathers. The partition was a sheet of thin black metal, wedged between the heavy sacks of drying smash and poking up through what was left of the roof.
"They put up this partition so I wouldn't vile you," Pat said. "I suppose that was your idea."
Gemma didn't answer.
"Sexual assault, huh? I suppose you told them I started the fire, too. Nice touch. Why didn't you tell them I brought the berserker here, too, just to kill them?"
There was still no answer. He could hear Rutchirrah chanting something outside. He heard the words "Devil" and "filthy viler."
"Well, don't worry," he said. "You can tell them after we're married." He went over to the partition and put his ear against it. He couldn't hear anything. The sound of chanting moved off till he couldn't hear it anymore. He could smell smoke, "Great. Now they're going to burn us alive. It's probably their favorite part of the ceremony."
Gemma obviously wasn't talking to him. Maybe she wasn't even on the other side of the metal partition. Maybe they'd put Scumbag in there instead, and she was going to burst through it and stick her finger in his face. He tried to lift the partition, but it was heavier than he'd thought. He wondered where the Cotabote had gotten it. It could be part of the worm that had blown up, although the worm's metal was light gray and this was almost black.
"I knew it!" he shouted. "They've taken apart the lander. "They'll be using the berserker for lamps next. Why did I think they needed saving? We should have sent them out to save us!"
"They did save us," Gemma said. Her voice, distorted by the metal, had a bell-like quality. "They sent for Jameson."
"Oh, they did, huh? Would you mind telling me how they managed to get a message to Adamant in twenty minutes flat?"
"They didn't," she said. "They sent it three weeks ago. I told you there was an extra protest. They copied your voice access and filed a protest on their own."
He could hear Gemma's voice clearly through the metal, so there was really no need to yell, but' he yelled anyway. "What makes you think Adamant would come running over one protest when, they never paid any attention to the ones you filed."
"I never sent the ones I filed," she said.
The metal partition didn't weigh anything. He heaved it over onto the smash sacks in the corner and looked at Gemma. She was plucking the thorns out of her bouquet. "Why didn't you file the protests?" he said.
"Jameson's got a plan for getting us out of here," she said to her bouquet. "The Cotabote contract expressly forbids any legal contracts to be negotiated between ICLU reps and Adamant people. Conflict of interest."
"And a marriage certificate is a legal document. What's he going to do? Haul us both back to Adamant for trial?"
"No. He's going to accuse Rutchirrah of trying to get out of the contract. He's going to say the Cotabote conspired to the marriage by insisting on my going on the orbital survey with you. Which they did. He'll tell them Adamant wants out of the contract, that it's going to close down the diamond mines. Rutchirrah will take the opposite side and insist they don't want out of the contract. Jameson will say the only way Adamant will agree to it is if the ICLU rep and the Adamant engineer are taken back to Adamant to have their marriage annulled."
"So Jameson came up with this plan all by himself, huh?"
She plucked at a thorny flower. "Well, not exactly. I mean, I told him how you got the Cotabote to do what you wanted and then we came up with the plan together."
"Whose idea was it that we get married?" he said.
She had cut herself on a thorn. She watched her finger bleed. "Mine," she said.
"Why didn't you send the protests?"
"Because I was afraid they'd have you removed," she said, and finally looked up at him. "I didn't want you to go."
"I don't care what Jameson says, we're not getting this marriage annulled."
"I told you he couldn't keep his filthy hands off her," Retch said from above them. He was leaning over the edge of the charred roof looking down on them.
"Is that why you left them in here together?" Jameson said from the doorway, "Is that why you sent her on the orbital survey with him? Because you knew what would happen?"
Gemma insisted Pat go talk to his replacement before they left, "I intend to tell mine a thing or two about how to handle the Cotabote. It's not fair to just let her walk into this without at least warning her about them. I feel sorry for her. Jameson just picked her because she's an engineer."
The replacement was in Pat's office, glaring at the terminal screen of the computer, When they came in, she stood up and put her hands on her hips. She had pale, spongy-looking skin and lank hair, "I suppose you're responsible for this computer calling me "sweetheart," she said, and stack her finger in his face. "I consider that sexual harassment of the lowest-sort. I intend to file a protest." She sat back down at the voice-terminal.
"Why don't you just do that?" Gemma said. She reached across her and typed in an access code. "This is the transmission program I always used for filing my protests, I'm sure you'll find you get good results with it."
"I'm perfectly capable of writing my own transmission programs," she-said.
Gemma reached across her again and erased the code from the screen, "Fine,", she said. "Don't use it. Come on, Pat, we don't want to miss our ship."
Pat turned at the door, "You're going to love it here, honey," he said, and blew her a kiss.