home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



Chapter twenty-three

The little eight-passenger Toyota filled with the intense weight of Hlims Influence, potential energy that gathered like an approaching hurricane. They rode in silence while Inea puzzled out the Cobra control board, producing an occasional squawk of voices as she flicked across World Sovereignties channels.

Then, nosing past the station outbuildings, they heard the flurry of traffic as the station prepared to receive the tainers, which, Titus was gratified to discover, were on course and on schedule. Listeners, not knowing of the plan and its code words, wouldnt have made any sense out of the brief messages audible before scrambling was invoked and the Toyotas radio lost the signal.

Titus found a double ribbon of tracks going off Project Station toward the Eighth, no doubt made by the maintenance crews now based at the station, the closest habitat to the Eighth. With a sigh of relief, he ran the shield over the direct vision port, cutting out the painful sunlight and Earthlight, fljen stepped down the screen images so the sun was bearable, Earth only hinted at, and the stars invisible.

Just past the station perimeter, he spotted a crude sign made from a dented oxygen bottle with an 8 painted on it and the glyph of a frowning face. As they passed it, he saw the reverse side showed a smile and a P.S. When they had lost sight of the station and had not yet seen the Array, he was very glad of the track, and the occasional frowning face painted or carved on rocks.

Hlims power pounded through him, reaching for Abbot, casting a shimmer of unreality over everything. Even the dim images of the sky, human symbols electronically cast, seemed unreal to his luren vision, arbitrarily manipulated.

He tried to shake free, building in his mind an image of how Earth would look to Hlims naked eye, five times brighter than the moon, faint swirls of infrared, throbbing with colors only luren could see. He knew all the graphs, but until this moment, they had remained just mathematics. Now, fighting the pall of Influence, he synthesized breathtaking spectacle, the Cosmic Artist at His best.

Then he thought of Hlim, suffering from the negligible particle flux within the Toyota, and knew what the luren had meant when he labeled his species a bioengineered failure. To see the spectral beauty they were designed to see, they must endure being scorched by their own sun! All his deductions from the output spectrum of the lighting panel had been hogwash. Luren built their lighting systems to suit their artificially designed senses, not to replicate a sun that had not guided the evolution of their genes.

He tried to explain this to Inea, but she shook her head, crouching over the scanner board, hunching inside her suit.

Titus became aware of Abbots presence, hurling a spear of outrage through the haze of Hlims power. It took no telepathy to know why. His son and his grandson were defying him, Hlim trying to paralyze Abbot even from this distance.

As the battle raged invisibly around her, Inea stifled a whimper. Titus hitched over as far as he could and gathered her up. Through the odd tactile effect of suit against suit, he created for her a bubble in the flow between Hlim and Abbot, explaining the battle. So the overwash is getting to you, like a fourteen-cycle note. Understand? Youre afraid because it stimulates your nerves, not because youre afraid.

Oh, that surely helps a lot. Her voice quavered, but there was a thin smile on her lips now.

Hlims tinny voice issued from the helmets. Hes slowing, but I cant hold him.

Titus read the suppressed agony in Hlims tone. The solar flux was depleting the lurens strength. Im not expecting miracles, Titus replied, just do your best.

They passed the left-hand cutoff up to Collector Six, the stations furthest and largest outlying power source. It was plastered up an inside curve of a crater opposite a bulldozed rim so the panels got the most direct sun. Hundreds of panels sent energy to superconductor storage tanks for the long night ahead, keeping the station independent. The Sixth was the newest on the moon, so efficient the station sold power to refineries, factories, and supplied the Eighth Array.

The Collector fell behind them, the path becoming fainter and narrower. Gradually, Titus noticed he was struggling with the steering. Something was wrong with the left tread, but he refrained from mentioning it. Hlims power filled the cabin with such pressure, Titus thought it would surely burst. He wasnt about to disrupt that kind of locked concentration. Hed heard tell of Influence duels to the death, but never witnessed one before. I dont understand how Hlim can do it!

Then he remembered that Hlim had claimed the higher loyalty to his First Father. If Abbots message went out, his First Father would be in danger. Hell kill Abbot before we even get there!

Without conscious decision, he found himself adding his weight to the lurens, supplying energy for that stupendous field. His lips peeled away from his clenched teeth as if he were making a physical effort.

From the helmets stowed on the instrument hump between him and Inea, Hlims voice erupted in a karate yell. All the gathered energy exploded outward. Titus felt it connect, felt Abbot recoil, and then abruptly, everything cut off. For a moment, he thought hed gone blind and deaf, too, but then realized that only the luren senses had been paralyzed.

I got him! shouted Hlim. Did you hear me? Titus? Inea? Are you all right?

Is he dead? asked Titus, oddly bereft and frightened.

No. I am merely a co-mortal, not a god to work miracles. I distracted him, and something happened to his vehicle. I believe the terrain was the real victor.

Ashamed yet relieved, Titus answered, It may be enough. His whole body was ringing and aching, and all he could do was put a gloved hand over Ineas clad knee and try to convey confidence. She didnt look well.

A nerve-racking and tedious time later, Hlim announced that a large number of humans were converging on a point off to their right. Shall I divert them?

No! Must be blockaders after the decoy caravan, said Titus. Inea, get a fix on them. This thing must have radar. Read the labels. Thats how I found the ignition.

This is all Cobra stuff, just like the observatory. A screen lit with an overhead radar scan. I make it seven ships at two-oclock-those converted two-seaters the blockaders use as bombers. She checked the readout. Im guessing, but I think theyre over the decoy caravan. Whatever it is, its heading toward the quarantine dock they built outside the station perimeter, but going cross-country, not on a path. Itll pass within two klicks of us.

Got to be the caravan, then. Titus fought with the controls.

Titus, its changing course! Itll intercept us-somewhere over that big sharp hill ahead, the one with the spike sticking out the top.

What? He checked his odometer and her readouts. That spike is the radio mast of the Eighth. The decoy caravan is heading into the Array basin! Clumsy in his vacuum suit, he hitched himself out of his seat pulling Inea around him. Quick, you drive. He squirmed over the instrument hump and reached for the scanner controls.

Titus! I cant drive this thing!

Nothing to it. Just follow the frowns to the spike, he said while he fumbled at the scanner controls. They hit something and bounced, causing Hlim to cry out as the loose equipment shifted. You okay? he asked Hlim.

Yes. The suits not punctured.

The speaker rattled to life. Got it! As Titus had feared,4tf was the screech of computers handshaking on the decoys remote command frequency, where there should have been silence. Frantically keying instructions and swearing over error messages, Titus coaxed the little Cobra to identify the sources, one of which was high above the other. The higher one had been stripped of its legally required I.D. response and the other transmitted only a request for a security code.

Blockaders! Theyve seized control of the convoy-must have discovered its unmanned. It was nothing more than had been planned, yet nobody had anticipated theyd take it into the Eighth. But of course they would. Its got the nearest landing field! And when it blows. .

Titus gnawed his lips, unable to remember seeing any of the communications protocols for the convoy. He couldnt redirect it. He didnt dare warn the blockaders, assuming he could get through to them on any frequency his equipment could transmit. Inea had just gained control of the Toyota when the screech of computer chatter resumed, one signal overriding the other. The blip on the ground ponderously changed course again, and Titus fought the computer until it yielded a map of the ground. Should have thought of this before. Of course there are maps aboard!

Picking out the decoys new cross-country course, Titus found where it intersected their path and went on toward the Sixth Collector. Then he knew. Its Abbot. Hes at the Array and using its mast and the Arrays power to command the decoys guidance computer! Hes going to blow up the Collector! If hes solved the code.

Hes solved the code, predicted Hlim. But he wont blow up his power source until after hes sent his message. What would he do to buy time? What could he do while working to attach his transmitter to the Array?

Talk, said Inea. He always talks when hes breadboard-ing. Titus, scan the other frequencies.

As they rumbled up the last steep grade toward the mast, he got voices-one of them Abbots.

. friend, repeat, friend. Do not approach the Convoy. Its packed with explosives. Repeat, packed with explosives. Do you copy? Abbot paused for the reply.

Who are you that we should believe that? a voice asked, directed at Abbot, but louder. Echoing as if far from the mike, a female voice commented, Wonderful way to make us keep our hands off the supplies we need. A third voice yelled, Holy shit! The Arrays moving-all of it!

Abbots signal came back, broke up into hash, then steadied, louder than the blockaders. . told you I have rerouted the convoy. If you stay clear, it will blow up Project Stations Collector Six, the large one that makes them independent of their landlines. Youll have total control of the stations power supply. Do you copy?

We copy. Who are you? Where are you? Why should we believe you? You got a code name? A password?

Never mind, just check this out. In a descending orbit heading down on the far side of Project Station is a string of cargotainers. They contain the supplies you think are in the convoy. The landing field is beyond the quarantine limits, the stationers arent armed to speak of, and the W.S. defense forces are busy elsewhere-as you well know. You want supplies-go get them, but leave that convoy alone.

Inea spat, eyes sparking at Titus, Hes a traitor!

She had the knack of steering the Toyota now, easily keeping them on the track, pushing into the hard climb. The entire forward view consisted of crushed rock passing into the black shade of their shadow. Black and white. Was anything ever so simple?

No, Inea, Titus said. Abbots completely loyal. To the Tourists. Not to the secessionists, Inea, to the Tourists.

I dont know how you dare defend him! Hes framed his grandson for a murder he himself committed, hes sending death to the station and all the humans on it, hes ruthlessly used and slaughtered Mirelle, and he doesnt give a damn if he kills all the humans on Earth if his vicious Tourists survive! The only reason hes ever helped you is to further his own plans! Titus, dont let him get away with it!

Watch out! yelled Titus, lunging for the controls.

But Inea jerked around, saw they were cresting the rise heading directly into a boulder that jutted skyward, blocking the straight path. She yanked the sticks over left, steering servos whining as the threads bit into the sharp turn then ran off the path that curved around the obstruction. The right side scraped rock.

Tituss hands closed over hers. It took all their combined strength to veer back onto the path. Then the ground disappeared from under their treads.

The front end of the Toyota fell abruptly while the rear end rose, sending Hlims barricade tumbling toward them. Titus fended off a First Aid kit, stopped an air cylinder with his foot, and suddenly found Hlim in his lap, arms and legs flailing, spitting luren epithets. Then they were grinding down the inside lip of the crater into dark shade, the Eighth Array spread before them in dazzling sunlight.

Titus gaped at the view, time standing still. The Array filled the bottom of the giant bowl, like a bouquet of alien silicon-life flowers, fragile and glittering. The identical antenna modules were set at precise intervals, all in the same attitudes. None of the structures-made of slender poles and thread-thin guy wires could have withstood Earth gravity or weather.

Cables tunneled through the lip of the crater from the Sixth Collector and fed the mammoth superconductor tanks clustered between the Arrays landing field and the sparkling white control hut. On top of the hut was a security camera turret that could view the whole basin, and attached at one side of the hut was a supply shed for recharged vehicle power cells, oxygen, replacement parts, lubricants, and survival kits for stranded travelers.

Loose rubble dislodged from the slope had gathered near the walls of the hut and someone had sculpted and painted the rocks into a mock flower bed.

Neither hut nor shed was ever pressurized, and now the huts door stood open. Directly ahead of them, on the steep path down to the hut, lay another Toyota, canted onto its side, treads still moving, half in half out of bright sun. Held by a paralyzing sense of deja vu, Titus thought, Were going to die. The boulder that had caused the wreck lay on the tread marks, a smile painted on it.

Inea! But she had already hit the brakes. The faulty left tread snapped loose, ends smacking the cabin with sharp reports. They lost power, and even Tituss strength couldnt budge the sticks. The cabin tilted to the left, the vehicle pivoted, but momentum carried them on in horrifying, nightmarish slow motion, on into the wreck before them.

Helmets! yelled Titus, shoving Hlim away and grabbing for his, which was on the drivers side. Hlim canted awkwardly across the console, kicked Ineas helmet toward her groping fingers. In the back of Tituss mind, the drill took hold. Secure your air first, then help others.

Training held, and Titus pulled his helmet on while everything in him wanted to reach out and affix Ineas for her. Then they hit.

The toppled vehicle skidded ahead of them down the slope, soaking up the momentum just enough to prevent the collision restraints from being triggered. The high-pitched whistle of escaping air penetrated Tituss helmet, and he squinted hard against the shaft of raw sunlight that came through the front window, where the covering plate had been torn away. Hlim came to rest curled up on the instrument console, head tucked to his knees, back to the cabin, facing the dark screens, a streak of light bisecting him.

The last thing Titus heard before the sound from the speakers was lost in vacuum was the muffled timbre of Abbots voice saying, . three of them in the second crawler, and ones the alien. The aliens in the second crawler!

Inea pulled herself back up onto the canted drivers seat, helmet in place. Titus breathed a sigh that was almost a sob. Shes all right! He pushed himself up. Theres a jack here somewhere, to connect a suitphone.

While Titus searched, Inea crawled onto the console where Hlim lay curled. Maybe hes already dead. She tried to straighten the huddled form. He jerked away.

Titus got the phone jack into place just in time to hear the commanders voice say, . no wild stories! Now I dont believe- He broke off, and his voice was muffled as he asked, What? They did? There are? You mean hes legit? Then more clearly, he ordered, Ben, Roger, peel off and take a look at those crawlers. If that monsters there, get him. Rendezvous over the station. Go!

Power was flickering on and off. Titus couldnt tell what the seven bombers were doing. He helped Inea straighten Hlim out, muttering encouraging words in the luren language. Then as Titus watched Hlims skin turned pink. He rolled the stiff body up in his arms and climbed back into darkness, scrambling awkwardly over the loose junk that had gathered at the lower end of the cabin.

He wedged the luren back into the cubby hed chosen for a refuge, then built up the pile of junk again as best he could at the high end of the slope. Better? he asked as Hlim began to stir.

Yes. Im sorry.

Nonsense, cut in Inea. You saved my life. I could never have reached my helmet.

Titus patted a last cylinder into the pile, to make a natural looking mess that searchers could pick at without exposing Hlim. Clumsy amateurs. Amazing we survived this long. He turned to find Inea stuffing small oxygen cylinders into the arms and legs cf a spare vacuum suit. It was the untailored sort with adjustable everything. God forbid you should have to do anything in it.

Dont just gawk! Help me.

He held it while she strapped. Whats this for?

They dont know Hlim cant get out even in a suit. Theyll count three of us going for the hut, and theyll follow. When they find an empty suit, theyll never believe Abbot again! Come on. Weve got to hurry! Abbots already got the Array in motion, and it doesnt have far to go!

Titus, whispered Hlim through dry lips, not a scrap of Influence around him. Listen to me. There are higher instinctive loyalties than to a First Father. To save us all, our planet, Earth, all of us-you can win if you know you must.

Dont worry, Ill get him, or die trying.

Bout time you realized that, grunted Inea.

Yes. They tore a cushion from one of the seats for the torso and left the helmet empty. Draped over Tituss shoulders in a firemans carry, the suit did look occupied.

By the time Inea and Titus emerged, two bombers were circling the Arrays landing field dropping small bombs, testing for booby traps. Laden with the extra mass of the stuffed suit, Titus veritably flew down the rest of the hill. He caught stride and let momentum carry him, knowing exactly how hard hed impact the hut and refusing to think about it.

At the last minute, when he was out of sight of the bombers, he hurled the suit against the hut wall as a kind of breaking jet and turned so his shoulder hit first. Even so, he almost blacked out. Inea smacked into the hut right beside him, gasping, and slid to the ground.

Titus rolled sideways and rounded the doorjamb in a crouch, looking for Abbot.

The interior was a study in black and white, laced across with dazzling cones of light. The panel readouts had been carefully designed for use in vacuum, through suit helmets, but by human eyes. There was the oppressive inaudible thrum of high gauss fields which Titus had never identified before meeting Hlim. And parts of the machinery casings glowed with infrared colors that filtered through his faceplate, his glasses, and his contacts. Or is it my skin thats seeing?

Bent low, he circled left, keeping behind consoles and housings, focused on locating the distinctive tang of Abbots Influence. He was half hoping his father had been permanently crippled by Hlims efforts.

There!

Abbot, his back to Titus, bent over a console nested in a nearly complete sphere of display screens. The console desk was made of two semicircles with an operators chair in the center that could pivot to bring each segment into reach. Abbot, outside the circle, leaned awkwardly to consult the screens. There was a chair behind him, and others around the desk facing inward, a sloping control board in front of each. A team of five could operate the entire Array manually, debug and test, evaluate and correct anything that could go wrong.

Parts of the console were lit, and some screens showed data shifting as the antennas rotated to point clear of Earth. One set of screens showed exteriors of the two crashed Toyotas and of the landing field, the two bombers still making cautious passes testing for mines or traps. A black cable tethered Abbots suit to the console.

Titus dug his boot toes into the floor and charged, leaping onto a console and pushing off in a flying tackle, ignoring the anticipatory twinge in his bruised shoulder.

He hit, and the two of them tumbled, bounced, and rolled in the narrow space between screens and desk. Titus tried one of Suzy Langtons low-grav moves, and marveled when he ended up on top. Abbot grunted, heaved, and sent Titus flying over the round desk. Arms flailing, he crashed into a display panel, which cracked behind him.

He got to his knees, searching for the black casing of the transmitter amid the glittering electronics. That was his target, not Abbot. He spotted it, nested inside a cavity in the desk where the panel had been removed to expose the works behind the keyboards. Titus figured that had to be the board connected to the console back in the observatory, which meant it was the masterboard that could control everything here.

Then Abbots Influence engulfed him like a clenched fist. His muscles locked, leaving him half crouched.

Getting to his feet with an air of utter finality, Abbot plugged in his black cable again, and resumed settling the transmitter into place, suitgloves making him fumble. At the edge of Tituss field of view, the screens showed the landing field, where the bombers were now settling down amid clouds of dust and small rocks.

Titus gathered his power tightly about himself. Ive got to move. Ive got to break this. He recalled the moment in the lavatory on Goddard when hed turned his hand over despite Abbots will. Fixing on the black lump of the transmitter now just barely visible, he strained forward against the force that held him. The barriers in my own mind. Its human to suffer divided will.

He summoned the image of Earth overrun, humans taken away to slavery under Tourist Influence, used the way Mirelle had been used. A blast furnace deep within his soul opened and his will fed on outrage.

Theyll never buy it, he said, his voice rusty.

Abbot jerked around then fiddled with his suit frequency. He hadnt heard the comment, but only felt the crack in his control of Titus. Now that Abbot was on Tituss frequency, Titus could hear the distant chatter of the blockaders Abbot was monitoring through the suitjack.

. convoy! Itll get too damn close. Lets go!

Tituss arms knotted with strain, and he thought he felt movement. To distract Abbot further, he grated out words. You cant sell humans as slaves to the galaxy.

Again, Abbot seemed startled. So you got into Mirelles calculator. Such a son to be proud of if only. Well, no matter. Its too late, Titus. Ive won.

They dont want us-or our dreams-loose in their galactic war. Titus moved a step forward.

Abbot turned from his work, and Titus felt the whole of his fathers strength come to focus on him. He strained against it. His front foot shuffled forward. A trick of the lighting gave him a glimpse of Abbots face through his helmet, mouth twisted with strain.

Distantly, Titus sensed the flavor of Hlims power wafting through the hut. Abbots attention flickered to counter the luren, but Hlim was too weak to affect the struggle, except that now Titus was able to pull his trailing foot up. He had taken a step. Filled with the triumph of that, he jerked his right arm forward, reaching toward the transmitter, like a badly articulated robot.

Dont make me kill you, said Abbot, voice betraying nothing of the expression on his face. His hand reached out for a tool lying on the console-a laser cutter. He started toward Titus. What sort of nonsense has Hlim been selling you that youd turn against your own blood? He stopped with the laser cutter inches from Tituss chest. j

Humans are of my blood, too. And so is Hlim. Titus managed another step, angling toward the console, not Abbot, daring him to use the cutter.

As he shifted angle, a movement on a screen caught his eye. Titus turned to see Hlim scrambling up the trail to the top of the rim. The four blockaders abandoned the approach to the hut and went after him. Abbots suitphones relayed the tiny voices cursing and guessing who they were chasing. But even when he reached the deep shadow, Hlim was hurting. Hell never make it without Influence!

Abbot followed Tituss gaze. The fool! Doesnt he know he can go to a final death in that solar flux?

Hlims more of a tourist here than you, and he doesnt want to see war roll over Earth and leave it a cinder.

What does that stock breeder, who has never been honest with us, and has often been wrong, and whose knowledge is way out of date, know of current galactic politics? Or of the desperate situation we face on Earth?

Titus asked, We? And what of Earths humans? What will happen to them if we summon the galaxys-

You believe that dreaming crap? Abbot interrupted. This isnt that planet, if it exists at all.

You didnt see Kylyds astrogation room! thought Titus. A technology that uses imagination to steer a starship could easily send information via dreams and telepathy, or concoct a law for the conservation of volition. Listen, Abbot, it doesnt matter whether this is the only planet where people dream. My mission is to prevent you from violating a World Sovereignties decision to prevent the galaxy from discovering Earths position. So I took the transmitter from the probe, and the other from the observatory.

I never thought youd find it before transmitting the ballistics data. If I had, Id never have involved you in the scheme. There was genuine admiration in Abbots voice.

Involved me? Titus pushed forward. The screen showed the four blockaders approaching the hut, deployed for a fight. Hlim got away! From a distance, the lurens Influence flickered around the men and one fell, the others stopping to help him up. Weakened now, Hlim couldnt hold them, and when they arrived, Abbot wouldnt be able to control everyone and still finish his work. Gotta delay.

Abbot ignited the laser. When I decided to use the Array, I needed a legitimate signal to cover mine, and I chose your scheme of bringing up cargotainers. It wasnt hard. We have most of the key decision makers controlled. It wont be much more difficult to take over after World Sovereignties is overthrown.

Tituss will flagged. It had all been Abbots doing! Abbots grip on him tightened, triumph blossoming.

Off to the side, Inea popped up and hurled something small, bright, and glinting, at Titus. Catch!

Abbot swiveled to face her, the glowing laser still pointed at Titus but his Influence freezing her into a statue that tumbled over grotesquely.

Reflexively, Tituss gloved hand intercepted the object. A great, sweet light burst through his nerves. Inaudible sound penetrated his spirit. The silver glint of the crucifix reflected all the colored displays, sparking and whirling deep into Tituss being. It was weaker than before and had a different texture, but there was a sublime energy, collimated and coherent enough to break him free of Abbots grip.

Inea gasped, I dont believe it. You cant make me see Titus as a monster! You cant!

Abbot staggered back from Titus. Never before had he been effectively defied by a human. Titus wanted to grapple for the laser cutter, to jump in and save Inea. Instead, he lunged for the transmitter. His right hand closed on it as Abbot whirled and brandished the cutter at Ineas throat. Influence pounded into her. He spat, Dont!

Titus froze, gripping the casing. Abbot! Shes mine!

Touch that rig, and you forfeit life and stringer.

It was legal, from Abbots point of view. He had documented proof that Titus might be feral. Only a feral would turn against the Blood and rip out the transmitter.

Inea struggled, exerting an amazing force against Abbots will, and he had to grab her physically to control her. What have you taught this one?

Hlim was right! She can defend herself!

Inea, remember when I was mad at Hlim for what he told you to do to me, and he told us what you could do because of it? If only Abbot doesnt catch on!

Yeah, she gasped, against Abbots control.

Now! shouted Titus. Simultaneously, he yanked the transmitter away from the connections and threw all his might into raising Influence. Then he hurled the transmitter directly at Abbot.

Deep within himself, a blast furnace of power reopened. But this time, it was white hot and focused to a narrow pencil of intent. He used what Abbot had taught him when they had to Influence each other against Biomeds hypnosis check, and cut through Abbots defenses, inducing Abbots reflex move to bring the weapon around to ward off the flying object. Now!

The laser came up and flared. Two pieces of transmitter flew onwards, struck Abbot, and bounced to the floor.

With an inarticulate howl he discarded the laser, not caring that its activated tip ate a hole in the stone floor. He sank to his knees over the twin pieces of his last hope.

Inea, released from thrall, picked up the laser, moving at Abbots exposed back with deadly intent. Titus flung himself across the space and pinned her arm up. No! he said aloud, with no Influence behind it. Hes neutralized. Kill him in cold blood, and youre no better than he is.

He couldnt see her face, but he felt the muscles in her arm tremble with the smoldering need to slice into Abbot. Urgently, Titus demanded, Would the priest who charged the crucifix approve of killing for revenge?

She made a sound that was part sob, part laugh, and part shiver of terror. I charged the crucifix, praying while he had you. She let him pluck the cutter out of her grip.

Awe struck, he flung it haphazardly aside, not noting where it landed. It had been different. Very different. Come on, we have to help Hlim. He cant handle those four without Influence, and hes going to-

Deep inside him there was a tearing, rending pain as if someone had ripped his heart out by the roots. Hlim!

The ground danced.

Titus staggered, hanging onto Inea, who didnt have the mass to hold him upright. They parted. Abbot struggled to his feet. Then a fluid wave of loose rock pushed into the hut, shoving everything before it. The roof majestically folded downwards. The floor jerked sideways.

One of the screens, detached and seemingly floating on nothing, showed the two crawlers sliding down toward the shed amidst a rock avalanche. Then it went dark.

Everything went dark.

The bright tip and the short cutting rod of the laser was clear even through Tituss suitvisor, and so was the dim form of Inea staggering off balance right across its beam.

Titus grabbed her arm, dancing onto the leading edge of flowing rock, and yanked her out of danger. But that sent him stumbling forward, pivoting in freefall. Suddenly, he realized that Newtons laws, the coldest of equations, had now condemned him to death. The laser, its butt caught in the moving rocks, would pierce his left eye.

A large, heavy vacuum suit slammed into him. Abbot. Spinning sideways, he landed on his back and bounced. In mid-flight, pain such as hed never imagined could be endured lanced through him. Paralyzed, he couldnt even scream when a light that had been inside him, disregarded since hed first crawled from his grave, winked out.

He rolled and turned to find Abbot sprawled, half buried in debris, the back of his helmet severed from the back of his suit, leaking infrared colors like drops of blood. Two polished ends of vertebrae were exposed, the froth of boiling blood hardly obscuring the fact that Abbot had gone to his final death, a fact that lived in ashen darkness within Titus where no other could see. Mixed with that gasping agony was the throb of another mortal wound. And Hlim, too.

Movement of the rocks had almost stopped.

Inea pulled herself out from under a ceiling panel, and shoved aside a piece of the roof camera turret. Bits of shattered sunlight pierced the rents in the rubble over them, though without atmospheric scattering, they didnt illuminate much. One of them outlined Abbots hand, clutching half a transmitter. Inea waded over to Abbot, knelt, and eased his body into her lap. Short little coughs that might have been astonished sobs came over the suitphones to Titus as he got his knees under him and began to crawl toward them.

Ti-Titus, did you hear what he said? Did you hear?

No. He pulled up and examined the wound. The spinal cord was severed. Fatally.

He said-he said, Youre still of my blood. I was wrong. He loved you. He was crazy, warped, horrible, but he had enough good in him to love you. Im glad you didnt let me kill him. And then she cried.

You cant cry in a spacesuit. Its too hard to wipe your nose.

Titus! How-

When we have time, well both cry. But for the moment, weve got to-

Hlim! My God! Weve got to go get him- She tried to struggle free of the corpse.

Inea.

She stopped.

Titus swallowed hard. Hes dead. Not dormant. Dead.

But how could you-

I know. A father knows. When there can be a revival, theres still a-connection. Its gone.

He put a hand on her elbow, remembering all the times hed helped other fathers rush to the aid of suddenly dormant children. There was no trace of that feeling in him. My first son is dead. Hlim blew up the convoy when it came close-

But why?

To keep those four men from getting to us, to keep the convoy from blowing up the Collector and putting the station at the mercy of the blockaders, and probably to distract Abbot as best he could without Influence to help me.

What do you mean without Influence?

He was so hurt from the sun, so exhausted from battling Abbot, he couldnt even divert the blockaders.

Hes dead, she whispered.

He stared at her, savoring the feel of her with all his senses. Her acceptance of the loss somehow let him accept it, too. And Ill never know what kind of science uses a math too difficult for computers.

Yes, Inea, hes dead. Permanently, this time. Now come on. Weve got to see if any of those men survived. There must be first aid supplies in this mess somewhere. And then we have to dispose of Abbots body, make ourselves a sledge of some kind to carry extra air, and trek back to the station-unless we can fix the radio and signal for help. But meanwhile we have to concoct a plausible story we can both stick to, and see about disarming any compulsions Abbot left you. And we have to do all of those things before we both break down and cry, or run out of oxygen.

Titus laid Abbots head down on the rocks and shards of console and promised hed make his father proud, always, even when he disagreed with him.


Chapter twenty-two | Those of my blood | Chapter twenty-four