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THE GREAT SECRET

by Fred Saberhagen

Qwibbian-qwibbian kel

Two secrets you must not tell

And Lars awoke, gasping, from the qwib-qwib dream, to find Pat Sandomierz kneeling in his cell beside him.

Her gray-blue eyes were wide, and sympathetic. "You were having a nightmare. Crying out, jabbering something."

He raised himself on an elbow. He was sweating, as if he had just been through intense pain. But he could remember no pain, only the dream, and that very vividly.

No wonder the Carmpan had tried to bury that last episode, had risked so much to hide it from the enemy.

As soon as Lars had fallen asleep, the thoughts of those distant people, Wade Kelman and Juna Bayel and the others, along with the computations that passed for thought in that remote berserker fighting unit, had all come popping up from under whatever layer of Lars Kanakuru's own mindstuff the Carmpan had hidden them beneath.

Lars asked Pat now: "What was I saying?"

Pat shook her head. Long hair, tousled but still attractive, swirled this way and that. "I couldn't really make it out. Something about it sounded like 'crib-crib'? Or quotidian something is coming?"

"I did?"

"Don't let it get you, Lars. It was only a dream. It's a wonder we're not all crazy, existing like this." And Pat, demonstrating a sudden impulse, reached out to take him by the hand.

Lars clasped her hand and didn't want to let go. She appeared willing to stay. He didn't try to pull her down on the pallet beside him. She was, at the moment, no more than someone, something, to hang on to.

Qwib-qwib the savior might be hurtling closer, right at this moment, through the endless Galactic night. Might be. If only he, Lars, cursed with visions he could not destroy, did not somehow give the show away. He couldn't tell Pat, couldn't tell anyone, couldn't say a word. And he couldn't think of anything else to say to Pat. Anyway, he was too tired now even to talk And only one qwib-qwib, against this base, was not going to be enough even if it had wiped out five of the fighting units.

In utter weariness he drifted back into stuporous sleep.

When he awoke again, Pat had disappeared.

When Lars presently rejoined the others in the common room, the great secret of the qwibbian-kel still throbbing in his head, Dorothy reported that Pat had been taken away. One of the guide machines had comebringing no spacesuit had singled Pat out by pointing, and had escorted her down the passage leading to the mind-probing machines, closing the door behind her. It had taken a Carmpan with it too. It was the first time a single pair of prisoners had been taken that way, for what appeared to be a mind-probe session.

Looking into the room where the Carmpan spent almost all their time, Lars thought he could detect among those huddled forms a new attitudeor was it more than just an attitude?of sadness, though he could not consciously pick out anything specific about them that was different.

He thought that the noises that came ceaselessly through the rock around the humans' living quarters, sounds of mining and building and repairing, had definitely intensified. He did not comment on the fact.

Dorothy Totonac, the captain, and Nicholas Opava had now begun or perhaps resumed a three-way argument over why the berserker had taken its prisoners on the tour of the base a little while ago.

Suddenly, sharply, the argument changed. Lars, not really listening, didn't catch the exact turning point, but now the question was who among them might be goodlife. How the suspicion had taken root, that there was a goodlife agent among them, was impossible to say, but there it was. They were directing suspicious looks at Lars, as well as at each other.

Lars had now become suspicious of Patstrange that she should be singled out and taken away right after listening to him cry out in his dreambut there was no way for him to voice his suspicions without saying out loud for the berserker to hear that he had been trying to conceal secrets from it.

Presently the escort machines came for the four of them, and the big door slid back, opening the passage that led to the chambers containing the mind-probe machinery. Four Carmpan were brought along too.

As he was being hooked up yet again to the mind-probe machine, Lars decided that this time he had been given yet another new Carmpan partner.



ITSELF SURPRISED by Roger Zelazny | Berserker Base | DEATHWOMB by Poul Anderson