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by Fred Saberhagen

Coming out of that episode, returning to the mean reality of his existence as a plug-in unit for a berserker computer, finding himself still attached to the mind-probe machine in the cramped cave, Lars still brought with him a heady feeling of vicarious success.

So, the anti-berserker machine was now at least on the verge of becoming a resurrected reality. A great if dangerous idea, to be re-implemented at last, it appeared, by Earth-descended humanity.

But as planned by the people of Ilya and Adam, the ED version of qwib-qwib could not possibly arrive on the scene in time to be of any use to five ED people and the nine or ten Carmpan trapped here and now in the middle of a berserker base, trapped and doomed to help the enemy they hated. The new qwib-qwib would be a few decades at the least too late for that.

From a weak approach to elation, Lars's mood swung back toward despair. It swung even farther than before. Maybe he should get one of his fellow prisoners to kill him, and that way squelch for good the dangerous dreams that burned within his skull. Captain Naxos would be the best choice, probably.

Assuring, of course, that Naxos could be trusted. That the subtle impression the captain managed to convey of anti-berserker, badlife fanaticism was genuine. For all Lars knew, Naxos could be the goodlife agent. Again, assuming there was one such among the ED prisoners.

The Carmpan had not managed to conceal this last episode, for all Lars knew had not even tried. The great berserker brain that ran this base had got the information, and undoubtedly was already planning preventive measures against the potential modern analog of the qwib-qwib, and possibly against the revived original as well.

The throb of machinery, digging, building, repairing, heard through the surrounding rock, maintained its faster pace.

Lars slept again. It was a more or less normal sleep, but once more the dream about the panel and the gage returned to trouble him. This time the dream conveyed a sense of urgency even more powerfully than it had before. In this new version, some alien, not a Carmpan, was shouting verses at Lars; a dark-furred being, impressively equipped with claws and teeth, and chanting verse.

When Lars awakened, he wondered if the recurrent dream about the gage and verses could be another buried telepathic episode of some kind too. He couldn't recall that one was unaccounted for. Or it could be the shadow or reflection of one, somehow

Lars let his cell and joined the others in the common room, to find that Pat Sandomierz had returned. She looked exhausteda touch more so than everyone elsebut greeted Lars calmly enough, saying that she had only been taken for an extra telepathic session. The result had been only another half-clouded vision, nothing out of the ordinary.

Lars considered it unwise to press her for more details. But he wondered if she were lying, if she had gone voluntarily into the other room, there to tell the berserker about his qwib-qwib ravings in his sleep.

A guide machine came to summon him to a telepathic session before he could change his mind about questioning Pat.

Fatalistically he let the berserker guide lead him. He glanced at his Carmpan co-victimthe same partner as in the previous session, he thought.

Lars lay down on the couch, and let the machines attach the electrodes to his head.

DEATHWOMB by Poul Anderson | Berserker Base | PILOTS OF THE TWILIGHT by Ed Bryant