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Chapter sixteen

At the end of Biomeds hall, a crowd of off-duty workers had gathered behind the security barricade. Their voices filled the area with an excited babble. Four Brinks guards held a fifth tightly between them, and the prisoners hands were shackled behind his back. Titus recognized him as one of the guards who had been on the cryo-labs door, the one who must have exited when the lights went out. On the security station console, a monitor showed a broadcast from Earth, with a bulletin header flashing over an announcers image. Alien Body Reanimated!

You shouldnt have done it, Chip, one of the guards said to the prisoner as Titus arrived. Thats a major breach of security.

Security be dammed, what about infecting all Earth with some alien disease?

Oft, shit! Hes reported Hlims revival! If thered been the least hope that Connie could get someone through the anti-assassin security, there was no hope whatever that she could get anyone through a full-scale quarantine.

His eyes lit on Inea, almost invisible in the crush of humanity beyond the barricade. She spotted him at the same moment and began pushing toward him. He signaled her off to the left exit gate, a door made of spokes that rotated only in one direction. As soon as he got through it, the crowd surged toward him, inundating him with a barrage of questions.

He folded Inea into one arm and began shoving toward the edge of the crowd. Dr. Colby will be out soon, and shell have a statement for you, Titus repeated over and over.

They made it to clear air, and Titus staggered, gasping.

Youre shaking. What happened?

I fathered him.

We won! she yelped, kissing him. Then she bounced over to the lift call button and gave it a triumphal smack.

Inea. To his chagrin, she had to catch him and prop him against the wall. Abbot seems to have more control over Hlim-thats his name-than I do. If Im going to keep Abbot from teaching him to despise humans, Ive got to get back in there.

But youre sick.

Not sick. Starving. Ectoplasm exhaustion. The numbness was starting to wear off, and Abbots predictions were proving right-again. I cant-Ive got to-

But the alien is all right? He didnt go feral?

Hes fine-for the moment, but Ive got to-

An empty lift came, and she bundled him into it. Youre in no condition to be doing anything. But I guess this means that everyone knows about you and Abbot.

No, no. He explained the way Abbot had handled it.

Abbot again! Draping his arm over her shoulders, she half carried him out of the lift. The corridor was deserted at mid-shift, with most of the off-duty people waiting in Biomed and the rest glued to their screens. Dimly he realized it was his own door he was staring at, and Inea was digging in his pants pocket for his key.

The next thing he knew, he was slumped in the chair by the kitchen table and the microwave was bleeping. And then the smell hit him. Staggering to the sink, he grabbed the pitcher, sloshing half-dissolved crystals over the rim, and gulped the gritty mixture. Then he gagged and vomited into the sink. Gasping, he cried, Get out of here. If you know whats good for you, get out! Ive got to call Abbot.

Calmly, she refilled the pitcher and chucked it into the microwave. Go rinse your mouth out, and stop telling me what to do.

When he didnt move, she grabbed him by the biceps and pushed him into the bathroom, shutting the door. Titus leaned over the sink, sick and ashamed, yet aching with a desperate hunger hed never felt before. He rinsed the dead stuff out of his mouth, then glimpsed his face in the mirror-eyes sunken and bruised, anguish graven in deep lines down his cheeks. He swayed, struggled for balance and fell against the door. It wouldnt open.

Panic struck, and he flung himself against the barrier, dimly aware of the life surging on the other side but wholly unable to think. The battering thud of his body hitting the hard barrier set up a rhythm in his mind, a pulse of hunger as strong as Hlims had been.

The next thing he knew, the door slid aside and he fetched up hard against the opposite wall.

Inea held the pitcher filled with warm blood, surrounded by a haze of ectoplasm. He went for it, slobbering and gulping like an animal, the thick stuff spattering them both. He knew no shame until hed finished the pitcher, flung it aside, and borne her to the floor, ripping at her clothing.

Then her arms went around him, and she put his face to her neck. His teeth caught the fold of skin, the great vein like rubber between them. And there he stopped.

Scalding remorse paralyzed him while her hands moved urgently on his bare back, and her lips plucked at his bearded cheek. And there was no reserve in her, no barrier between them. Her love and her substance penetrated his flesh, and her desire inflamed him.

He forced his jaws apart, muscles hardening as his will refused what his body demanded. The searing shame was worse than the relentless hunger.

Whats the matter? Am I doing it wrong?

A raw sound tore from his throat, perhaps a sob. He rolled off her, pulling her on top of him and cradling her in his arms. No. Im doing it wrong. Can you ever forgive me? I never wanted you to see anything like that.

Its okay, if youre all right now?

No. I need more. He struggled to his feet, pulling her with him and retrieving the pitcher. His hands were shaking even worse now.

Here, let me. She rinsed the mess off and set another pitcher of water to warm. Then she ran cold water into the sink. Get out of those clothes. Theyve got to soak right away. She stripped her clothes off into the sink, turned and found him standing still. Come on, she said, unfastening his shirt. Oh, my God!

Her fingers danced over the wound in his neck. He captured her hand. Thatll be gone in a few hours.

Titus, youve broken quarantine! You could be infect-

Hes got nothing that hasnt been loose on Earth for centuries! If there was anything to bring, my ancestors brought it.

You dont know that. There could be mutations-

Mihelich says theres nothing humans cant handle, and theres no reason to doubt that.

I hope youre right. The bleep interrupted them, and Inea poured another packet of crystals into the pitcher, holding it close to her bare chest.

He smoothed her hair back from her face and kissed her forehead. I dont know why, Inea, but the biochemistry out there is the same as that evolved on Earth.

She held the pitcher to his lips, but he wrapped her hands around it and stepped back to skin out of his stained pants, take his Bell and the bugs control box out of the pockets, and drop the Pants in the water. Then he got a glass and poured himself a drink. To life-micro and otherwise! When the elixir crossed his tongue, he knew he couldnt afford the bravado. He chugalugged it and refilled the glass, still unable to sip it.

By the third glass, his hands stopped shaking and he considered what all this must be like from her point of view. She had been unable to give her body to an alien, and now shed been attacked by a slobbering animal who was about to ask her to go to bed with him. He dropped into the chair, burying his face in his hands. Im sorry!

She slid into his lap and put her arms around him. I know. But its okay. Youre the best man I know, and when you run up against something you cant handle, I know what kind of a thing it has to be. But the secret of love is that the two oil us together can handle anything.

Even the idea of sleeping with something thats not human?

Are you so very sure youre not human?

I used to think I was human, but now Im not so sure. He told her how Hlim had extracted English from his mind. He was in a panic and paralyzed everyone-even me-and then snatched the language from my mind. But no luren I ever heard of could do that. I fought him, and then I was ashamed Id fought! Is that a human reaction to mind rape?

Was Abbot surprised?

I dont know. I was a bit out of it then.

Out of it? Ill say. I had to haul you through the corridors like a zombie.

He kissed her. The zombies coming alive. Can you handle that yet?

Try me.

He emptied the pitcher into his glass and wrapped her hands around it. First I have to confess something that may change your mind.

Good. Thats progress. You always used to hit me with those things afterwards.

I did a really stupid thing. He recited Abbots warning that he might kill.

And you think you should have taken his stringers and maybe killed one of them?

I vaguely recall thinking that in the bathroom. Inea, I lost control, I didnt really believe it could happen-

Now, you listen to me. You so much as lay a finger on one of them, and youll never get me in bed again. Is that understood?

Inea! he protested, the false strength of partial recovery deserting him. We dont know whats going to happen. I may have to develop a string-

Well, well see about that, but you dont accept anything from Abbot, and you dont go to anyone else without telling me, first! First-do you understand? Not later!

He nodded, but before he could say anything, her eyes went wide. The alien! You said the hunger is harder after a dormancy.

Hes fed for now, and Abbotll bring him a stringer. I think Hlim will accept. He doesnt have much choice.

Weve got to get there first! But a vague helplessness suffused her as the heavy drain of ectoplasm weakened her. Absently, she lifted the glass of blood to her lips, but when the smell reached her, her lip curled.

Titus lowered his head to sip from the glass. We dont have much time. But first things first-if youre still willing?

We may still have to fight Abbot for Hlim, but were in a better situation with you as his father than if Abbot had got him. So weve got to find out what kind of folk Hlims people are, because maybe Earth shouldnt send that probe out at all. She shook her head. Oh, I cant think.

He set the glass aside, and enfolded her in his arms. It will all be clearer after this. He kissed her and discovered he was in an embarrassing hurry all of a sudden.

He didnt get it right for her the first time, but the second and third times made up for that. He woke to find her hanging up their laundry, and the fourth time was pure sharing. He let her sleep while he showered and worried.

Nothing was becoming clearer, and almost six hours had passed while events hurtled on without him. Dressed, he made up some blood, noting how low his supply was and hoping Connies trick packing chips arrived soon. He infused the blood with his own ectoplasm, so replete he hardly felt the loss, then left a note for Inea flashing on the vidcom screen:

I dont know how you could face me when I behaved so shamefully. But you did. Now Ive got to use the strength you gave me to tend to my obligations. Youre right; together we can do anything.

I love you beyond all measure, T(DR)S Tucking the Thermos under his arm, and cloaking it so it wouldnt be noticed, he headed for Biomed, a bounce in his step and a whistle on his lips. Those around him, however, trudged bleakly along, wearing grim frowns and muttering darkly about Nagel and W.S. having declared Project Station under strict quarantine. Colby had already invoked rationing anticipating curtailment of supply deliveries.

Sterilization showers were deployed at the entry to Hlims suite, along with four Brinks guards, two outside and two inside. Colby had put Tituss name on the list of those to be admitted, and the guards signed him into the suite muttering how Kaschmore would have to take it out on Colby, not them, that Hlim had so many visitors.

Abbot had signed in several times during the last few hours, as had Mirelle and Colby.

Properly dressed, but still cloaking the septic Thermos, Titus entered the infirmarys executive suite. He found himself facing a long formal dining table behind which was a conversation pit done in gold and indigo. To his left a door opened into a private kitchen where someone was puttering about. The lights were dimmed, and the temperature was stifling. From the door in the far wall came the glow of Kylyds one surviving light panel.

Through that door he found the bedroom. The hospital bed had the sheets turned down. To its left was a conversation group of three cloned-leather upholstered couches with computer consoles installed on the end tables between them, and a coffee table with two abandoned cups on it. Behind the couches was a closed door, and another faced it in the wall across the room-To the right of the bed was a desk and executive vidcom installation. Hlim sat at the desk, chin resting on one hand, squinting at the bright screen. A top-security thumb reference file lay open beside his other hand.

When Titus stepped through the door, Hlim turned then grinned widely. I am trying to learn this the hard way. I dont suppose youd be willing to help?

Give him my mind again? Maybe later. How do you feel?

Ive been distracting myself from that by learning this. Hlim gestured to the vidcom screen displaying an access menu. I got your speech, but no graphics, and Im very hazy on the inner harmonies of your language so I mischoose the applicable meaning too often. Your-people-are polite, and ask many questions, but they wont answer mine.

Titus gestured to the four surveillance cameras bracketing the room. Theyre making recordings to study later, you know. They want to see what youre like before you learn too much of us and obscure the data.

Recorders, yes. Abbot mentioned them. Lack of privacy does not seem to bother humans. His eyes went to the Thermos Titus carried cloaked. He had kept it out of the cameras fields and now set it down on the floor by the door. Then he went to the desk and leaned over Hlim.

Theyre actually for medical use, not spying, so they can be turned off easily. Watch. He poked in Colbys authorization code and the command to secure the room as he did at many meetings. The screen flashed, SECURED. They might not be happy about that, but insist, then negotiate, and theyll yield a bit of private time to you.

Hlim looked up at him. You seem to understand humans. Your Abbot does not.

He thinks of humans as orl.

A vast error. He squinted at the screen. All my orl were killed, they tell me. He clenched his hands before him. Titus cupped one hand over the lurens fists, feeling his terror. He explained that Earths luren had no orl, and that Abbots people used humans instead. Then he offered the cloned human blood hed brought, and held his breath.

Hlim clasped Tituss hand. You are perhaps more human than you know, Titus. Andre Mihelich has begun to clone orl blood for me, but it will take time, and the hunger is now.

You told them what you need?

I had to.

I understand. Come, take this before they get Carol to turn the cameras on again.

They took the Thermos into the bathroom where there was no camera, and Hlim downed the contents, grimacing and shuddering with each swallow but not complaining. If or a while, Titus was afraid it might all come back up, disagreeing violently with a full luren. But then Hlim bent over the sink and rinsed the taste away. He looked at himself in the mirror, and proclaimed his hunger appeased.

Titus was wrapping the Thermos in a sterile towel when he heard the bedroom door close and Abbot called from the bedroom, Hlim? Titus?

Hlim wiped his face. Who is that with him?

Hes sensitive! Probably a stringer to offer you. He raised his voice, Were coming, Abbot.

He had brought Dr. Kuo, the short, middle-aged Oriental woman Titus had once followed into Biomed. Her eyes had the glazed look of heavy Influence. Abbot greeted Titus. I see youve got the cameras off. That should stir everyone up. How long do you think we have?

Maybe another ten minutes.

Abbot introduced Kuo to Hlim. Mark her for your own. My gift.

You dont use them in pairs?

Pairs? asked Abbot, frowning.

As orl, so they replenish each other afterwards.

Abbot flushed. That was a rare sight. Titus said, Humans are not orl. They dont replenish each other effectively. So-we lie with them ourselves.

Hlim compared the two crossbreeds before him, then said urbanely, I see. I should have realized.

Abbot offered, If the idea distresses you, I will take care of the matter. Do not hesitate. Mark her.

May I ask you something first?

Certainly. My reticence was only because of the cameras. I thought I explained that.

How long have I been-dormant?

Luren time measures have not survived the generations, answered Abbot, and described the length of a year as one thousand four hundred sixty times the interval Hlim had been awake. And youve been dormant about three years.

As Hlim gnawed on the mental arithmetic, Titus punched up a solar system graphic and gave the years length in terms of earths orbit.

Hlim nodded. I dont know exactly how long that is, but it does explain why I feel like this. It will pass.

Titus wanted to ask all sorts of personal questions, but Abbot said, Now you must take sustenance-

I have one more question, said Hlim, and Titus got the distinct impression that Hlims mind was still open on the issue of using humans. Is there any chance Ill ever be able to go home?

Yes, there is, if you can wait long enough, answered Abbot, and told of the message he was going to send. He spoke as if talking a distraught patient out of suicide, offering hope and so luring him into eating and surviving.

I see, said Hlim at length, inspecting Kuo at closer range. In that case, I must-regretfully-decline your generous offer.

What? exclaimed Abbot. Why? Titus, what have you been telling him?

Titus has met his obligations to me as best he could, and I will be grateful.

Met his-Titus!

I gave him blood, but didnt mention that my mission is to stop you sending that message.

Hlims eyes darted from one to the other as Abbot glared at Titus, Kuo forgotten in her stupor.

At that moment, the door opened and Colby charged through, . and I did not turn the cameras-oh! Dr. Kuo, I dont recall authorizing-

Abbot turned Kuo toward himself briefly, as he said with pervasive Influence, Dr. Kuo, do you think youll be able to help Mirelle with the spoken language now?

Her eyes focused, and she looked away from Abbot. Oh, yes, there shouldnt be any problem now. She saw Colby. Excuse me, Carol, Ill have that report by morning. She gave a polite little bow to Hlim. Thank you so much. And she slid past Colby and out the door.

Colby blinked, frowned at Hlim, and rearranged her features. I didnt think my security code was in those notes, Hlim.

His eyes darted to Titus, and Titus intervened. I taught him the code. He felt the lack of privacy-

No harm done, suggested Abbot with Influence.

No, I guess not, Colby said without enthusiasm.

Titus went to the console. Watch this, Hlim. Ill turn them back on so the anthropologists will be happy.

As the cameras started to sweep the area again, Colby leaned against the back of a couch. Titus, I thought you might have been hurt in the cryo-lab. Some of your blood was found on the sheet-

Titus felt his face pale. Before he could speak, Abbot said, He had a nosebleed, but it stopped right away.

Titus started to breathe again when Colby accepted that and went on talking. Silently, Titus blessed the programmer who had gimmicked the Biomed computers to identify his blood without revealing its peculiarities. Abbot was right that it wouldnt be long until Earths luren could not survive unnoticed. When he came out of shock, Colby was saying . have Titus checked for infection.

Abbot edged Titus away from the vidcom and typed rapidly, peered at the screen, and swore as if hed made an error, then typed some more. Here it is, Abbot said brightly. Look, hes been checked and cleared.

Titus realized that Abbot had input that data right under Colbys gaze. She nodded at the screen. Good that I have a competent staff. Now, Hlim, you know that your presence is causing quite a problem-

Mihelich said from the door opposite the bathroom, Not as much problem as you might think, Carol. As he advanced into ie room, Titus saw through the opening behind him a small lab designed to serve the patient in the suite. Hlim has been very helpful so far, and as soon as he learns to read, Im sure hell have a lot to teach us.

Ill be very glad to do what I can to make things easier, Hlim put in with no Influence whatsoever. Then he invoked a touch of his power as he added, It would surely help if I could go out to see Kylyd. He glanced at Abbot who nodded.

Colby repeated the ships name and Hlim explained it to her, adding, I was escorting livestock I had designed for a new colony world. I know nothing about ships, but still I might be able to solve some puzzles for you.

Mihelich chimed in, That seems reasonable to me. You wont believe what he knows! He meant designed` those creatures-the other species we found with him.

To Hlim, Colby said, We have no spacesuit for you, and the ships in vacuum. In a while, when theyve built you a suit, Im sure the engineers will be glad for any clues you can give them. Meanwhile, your first task is to regain your strength. The doctors are worried that you wont eat.

Mihelich explained, and Colby took the news about his diet woodenly. With no overt reaction, Hlim watched her swallow her disgust. Colby reminded Titus and Abbot of rescheduled meetings, made hasty excuses, and departed, a touch pale about the lips.

Mihelich ran fingers through his white hair and turned back to the lab. Hlim, come look at this, and then Ill show you more things the vidcom can do. You can tap into cameras aimed at the ship.

Hlim followed him, glancing back once at Titus and Abbot wth apology.

Titus gathered his Thermos disguised with the towel, and when he came out of the bathroom, Abbot said, Im glad to see y recovered.

Titus went past him without stopping. There are some things, Abbot, that youll never understand, but I hope you can finally grasp the fact that I do not want or need your help. But Id never have pulled off that trick with my medical records.

There may come a time when Ill believe that.

Titus went into the shower, then returned to his apartment. Inea had gone, leaving him a note saying shed taken the spare calculator. By that, he understood she had used the bugging system to tap the surveillance cameras in Hlims room, so she knew some of what had happened. He took his Bell and went to his lab where Inea was working at the Eighth Antenna Array console in the observatory. He signed some forms, picked up status reports, and headed to the first round of meetings after Hlims wakening.

As he started out the lab door, Inea came out of the observatory, yelling, Wild Goose is alive! Wild Goose is reporting on relay through the Eighth!

Wild Goose had, presumably, the best tracking data on Kylyds approach vector.

Everyone rushed into the glass enclosure, crowding aside to let Titus through. The noise was deafening. When Titus worked his way up to the screens, he saw the data relayed from one of the outer orbital observatories. Yeah, thats Wild Goose all right, but what is that stuff? he asked.

Mostly garbage, answered Inea and thrust a set of earphones at him. Listen.

The technicians were arguing about what was coming in and what they could do to clean up the signal, about why the package had just started sending again, and about what to send back to get better data.

Titus handed the phones back. Im late, and Colbys going to be livid. Start this through our cruncher and let me know if anything useful comes of it. To the crowd, he announced, This may be just what we need to nail that star! The alien, Hlim, says he knows nothing of ships, so I assume he doesnt know how to find his home star. Everything depends on us-on Wild Goose-now. Can you handle it?

A cheer went up, and as Titus began working his way out of the observatory, they threw questions at him. Youve talked to it?

Why is it alive?

How could it have survived?

Is it really a monster like theyre saying on the news?

Are we all going to die of plague up here?

Climbing the steps to the hall door, he held up his hands. Theres no plague! Hlim is no monster, just a poor, lost castaway. Then, feeling like a hypocrite, he added, Maybe we can get his people to come take him home, and if that happens, we want him to report highly of us. So lets see some level-headed competence around here, okay? Im late for this meeting, so you get me those numbers, and Ill find out whats happening in Biomed and let you know. Wild Goose is alive!

With that, he plunged out into the corridor.

It was a stormy meeting. The rumors Tituss crew had heard were nothing compared to what the press was disseminating. Panic was overtaking Earths population, and already there were riots in some countries. Unsubstantiated reports indicated that some countries were funding the anti-Hail groups in open defiance of World Sovereignties law.

Colbys orders were to get hard data, taped interviews, and biological evidence on Hlim and beam it to Earth to counter the panic. Mihelich insisted on sending along his own report on the benign microlife the alien carried. What little there is of it. His blood is practically sterile, and his immune systems biochemistry is virtually the same as ours. Privately, he told Titus, He carries antibodies Ive never seen before, but not the corresponding organisms. Nothing about him is human, yet theres no threat to us. Why are they so hysterical down there?

Titus had no answer except that it was human nature to fear the unknown, which wasnt wholly irrational. In the days that followed Inea clung to the vidcom, devouring every tidbit on him, and chafing at Tituss inability to get her in to meet him.

But she still fed Titus willingly and abundantly, understanding that Titus was supporting Hlim until Mihelich produced orl blood.

Under the imposed quarantine, deliveries to the station were now to be made by drop rather than by surface, so that crews would not stay overnight at the station. This cut the tonnage they could transport, so all requisitions were doubly scrutinized. Mihelich would not receive anything to support cloning, and Titus might not get Connies new blood chips. Every report he filed with her mentioned the restrictions and his dwindling supply, but she only acknowledged, reminding him their channel was not secure from the Tourists.

Titus scoured his hardware for any bug Abbot might have planted and found none. Any leak was on the ground.

During the frantic days after Hlims wakening, Titus hardly slept. In the lunar night, and with Inea supporting him, he had the stamina. He even squeezed in frequent visits to Hlim, both under the cameras and privately. He was present when the lurens eyes were examined, and learned that Earths luren had lost sensitivity in the visible spectrum. Luren had not only the three sensitivity peaks that humans had, but also a number of infrared and ultraviolet peaks. Luren skin responded to the electromagnetic presense of human bodies. When one of the engineers presented Hlim with a pair of goggles to allow him to use station lighting, he told her, All the colors seem odd, but I do thank you.

He was unfailingly polite and graciously cooperative, obscuring his reticence under an effusive generosity. I know genetics and commerce, but not politics or cartography. Believe me, Id like your message to reach my employers even more than you would. However, I dont know where I am, and Ive even less idea of how to locate home from here.

Questioned on astrogation, he could only cite his ineptitude with that branch of mathematics. Of Kylyds stellar drive he said, I dont think anyone understands why it works, but its revolutionized galactic commerce.

That was their first clue that there was a civilization out there. Closer questioning only revealed that there were many species allied into political units, which never seemed stable enough to traders. Hlims people, however, dealt little with other species and even his ignorance was long out of date. How long? There was no telling, he claimed, since he did not understand astrogation, and never could anticipate the elapsed time of a trip. He sounded much like a time zone-hopping businessman who depended on his calculator to compute local time, so no one considered he might be lying.

Knowing he was starving while waiting for Mihelichs cloning of orl blood to yield results, they offered him human blood from the infirmarys stores, cloned and guaranteed sterile blood. Thats precisely what it was, cloned, dead and sterile. But he accepted it with good grace and did his best to choke it down. It took more fortitude than had the acceptance of Tituss supply, which he now welcomed whenever Titus could get some in to him. That, at least, was infused.

Meanwhile, Hlim redoubled his efforts to help Mihelich. He was under no constraints about working around the clock in plain sight-they knew he was alien. So late one night Titus found him poring over the vidcom. As Titus came in, he looked up. You dont have much of a vocabulary, do you?

What? That had never been one of Tituss problems.

Chorion, challenged Hlim.

Never heard the word.

Choroid, he said.

Titus leaned over his shoulder to see what he was reading. Hlim, thats a biology dictionary.

I know. Im a biologist-I think. The study of animals, yes?

Definitely not my field.

True. Have you made any progress in your field?

Were getting some sense from Wild Goose now, and weve refined our guesses with all the new data. If you came along a direct line from your home planet, well find it.

I couldnt begin to guess about that, but it doesnt really matter. The signal will be picked up by someone.

Someone whod care enough to respond?

Who knows? But Im going to compose a message to go with Earths, so that whoever hears it will route it to someone who would care.

You want to go home.

Yes. Hlim turned from the vidcom, waved cheerily at the surveillance cameras, then turned them off. Do you really think that makes privacy?

Im staking my life on it, said Titus, producing his Thermos from his briefcase. While Hlim drank, Tims mused, Id have found anything the humans left running, but Abbot might have a bug or two in here. I dont think so, though. He prefers to use Influence.

What little you have of it, it seems to suffice.

We wouldnt fare very well if we went back with you, would we?

Hard to say. From the two of you, Id say your strain has become devious, perhaps sly. But then you admit you were sent as master spies to manipulate these humans and vie with each other covertly. I doubt such skills exist at home, however Ive led a sheltered life-as you say Andre has.

Mihelich and Mirelle were the only two Hlim saw more of than he did of Titus and Abbot. Andres a specialist, Titus said.

Yes. Even in private, Hlim refrained from criticizing Earths lifestyle, though he often registered surprise at first encountering a peculiarity. Titus believed the man had traveled on diverse worlds and learned the trick of accepting the strange on its own terms.

Titus dug into the briefcase again. Brought you some items from Kylyd that my analysts are through with. Can you tell me where these were manufactured? He set some odd bits of metal on the desk.

Hlim scooped them up eagerly. Where are the rest? he demanded with an intensity that startled Titus.

Rest? I think thats all there were. Were they manufactured from materials found on Lur?

I dont know. He began sorting them and counting-

It might give me a clue to the spectrum to look for.

Hlim looked around. Mirelle would demand to know what theyre for, but youre not the least bit interested.

Titus really hadnt thought about it, but now he looked at the oddments. Game pieces?

Youve lost Thizan?

Abbot might know more than I. Titus pulled up a chair, suddenly intensely curious. Tell me about it.

Several hours later, Titus left with sketches for the missing pieces of the board game which was not unlike chess but had more kinds of pieces and a more complex board. Technically, the time had been wasted, but he felt almost as relaxed and refreshed as if hed slept a full night, and he wanted to forget all about everything else but building the set and mastering the game.

He was jarred back to reality when he found Inea in his office with a report on Abbots doings gleaned from her little bugs. Hes discovered his power source is missing!

He told her that Hlim would be adding a message to the probes signal. Abbot may not think his message is so important anymore.

Hes been running around like crazy, gathering components to rebuild the thing.

Are you sure thats what hes up to? They spent the hours until Tituss first conference of the day analyzing Abbots moves.

Dont worry, said Inea as he left. Ill stay late tonight and get those figures from Wild Goose cleaned up.

Titus went on about his business, sternly putting aside his infatuation with the board game. The news from Earth had worsened, the probe construction was going swiftly but not smoothly, and despite everything hed learned from Hlim, he felt less confidence in his targeting efforts than ever before. Maybe Hlim doesnt know much, but hes not telling everything he does know. Those starships dont travel in straight lines-I know it!

But Wild Gooses preliminary figures had confirmed the straight-line trajectory constructed from all other detection devices operating during the approach. The very earliest figures though, had eluded them. Wild Goose had been the first to spot the approaching object, but that data had a lot of noise in it due to the onboard malfunction which still hadnt totally cleared up. The engineers hypothesized that some kind of wave from the ships drive had disrupted onboard electronics, but there was no proof of that.

Late during the graveyard shift, the sun was coming up outside, making Titus suddenly tired as well as hungry. Inea wasnt in her apartment, so he returned to the observatory, worried that shed fallen asleep over her desk.

The lab was deserted, the lights dim, and there were two figures behind the glass walls beyond the computers. A singularly strong Influence pervaded the atmosphere, throbbing with hunger.

Hlim!

Titus charged across the room.


Chapter fifteen | Those of my blood | Chapter seventeen