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"What's wrong Theresita?" he asked.
She faced him. "I have decided. I am yours if you want me. But you know nothing of my past."
"The only thing I want to know is what happened in that arctic sleeping bag," he replied, grinning.
"Seriously, " she said, "I am not a young girl, Jacob."
"And I'm no kid, myself," he said. "I've been a pilot for twenty years, a good one and a hot one in a glamorous service."
"Oh, a lady killer."
"I thought we were trying to compete with each other for who had the most sordid past."
"I haven't been allthat bad!" she exclaimed.
"Just tell me what went on in that sleeping bag."
"Nothing. Only an older woman thinking very heated thoughts about a handsome young officer."
"Truth. That's all."
"Then I think I'll keep you," he said. "After all, I'm the one who found you."
"I agree; it is your duty. "
He took her hand, and they walked back down the slope, through the town. "Would we be accused of immorality if I asked you to warm me again tonight?" she asked.
"Do you remember what I told you this morning? About having serious intentions before asking me to do that? And would you still feel immoral?"
"No," she said. "Well, maybe a little."
"Enough to bother you?"
"How will I know unless we try?" she asked.
As far as Captain Rodrick was aware, the group of Those Who Knew had been depleted by one with the death of Rocky Miller, and increased by two, Jacob West and Theresita Pulaski. But then Rodrick did not know that Commander Miller had told his group of dissidents about the imminence of nuclear war. But his group had perished in the Whorsk ambush. Mandy, the only survivor of the attack, already had known about the possibility of nuclear war on Earth.
The captain had called a breakfast meeting. As they ate, Evangeline tried her Russian on Theresita and was complimented on vocabulary and advised on accent. Mandy Miller, still hollow eyed, was mostly silent. Jackie sat on Duncan's right and had trouble keeping her eyes off his face, just now beginning to believe that she was married to him, and that he was everything, and more, than she'd ever dreamed of.
Emi and Ito Zuki completed the group.
"I just wanted to talk things over," Rodrick said, as people helped themselves to another round of coffee when the meal was finished. Theresita had discovered that her stomach was not yet ready for heavy foods after months of fruit, berries, and nuts. Two days of glutting herself on bread, sweets, and synthasteak had made her stomach feel distended, and, indeed, there seemed to be just a bit of roundness there. She'd returned to her diet of nuts and fruit for the time being.
"Does anyone have anything pressing?" Rodrick asked.
No one spoke. Theresita had a medical examination scheduled. It was going to be performed by Dr.
Miller and her staff, and since Mandy didn't offer any information about it, neither did Theresita.
"Recent events have presented us with some information to consider," Rodrick said. "I've asked two more members to join our little group." He looked at his b.u.t.ton-watch. He'd asked Max and Grace to breakfast, and Max, grinning, had said, "Duncan, after a long and pleasant bachelorhood, I've just discovered the pleasure of looking at my wife across the breakfast table."
"They should be here any minute," Rodrick told the group, just as the caller sounded. Rodrick said, "Come in," and Max and Grace entered. Grace snagged two coffee cups and fixed, then handed, Max his coffee. Neither she nor Max was surprised to hear that the situation on Earth had been much worse than was general knowledge.
"You all know the mission with which I was entrusted," Rodrick said. "I've been doing a lot of thinking since Marshal-excuse me...Theresita told me what she knew. We know only that over three years ago, when Theresita had her last contact with Earth, the bombs had not yet started to fall. My thinking is this: The situation was grim, true, but the United States and the Soviet Union have been nose to nose for a hundred years now, with bombs available for most of that time, and they had always found some way to avoid the final confrontation. We know that the greatest threat was Premier Yuri Kolchak's determination to see the world converted to communism before his death, but he died before he realized that ambition, and, presumably, men who were a bit more sane were in power in the Kremlin."
Theresita felt her heart lurch at the mention of Yuri's name. No one here, she decided, could ever learn that she had been Yuri's lover-and then his murderer, in hopes of staving off the final confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Rodrick continued: "... personally believe that there's a very real chance that the two big powers found a way to avoid nuclear war. Any comment?"
He looked around the table. Everyone was silent. "Stoner tells me that the deposit of ore he's working,although it wouldn't be considered worthwhile on Earth, is promising. Fortunately-this is probably going to come as a surprise to you, Theresita-our discoveries during the outward voyage mean that we didn't have to mine tons of rhenium, only pounds."
"Pounds?" Theresita asked. "Then we wasted enough with theKarl Marx to power a fleet of starships and explore the entire galaxy."
"That's right," Ito Zuki said. "We did the same onSpirit ."
"Stoner says that if the ore deposit keeps looking more promising as he goes deeper, he will be able to give us a power load for the ship in two years, perhaps less," Rodrick said. "I'm sure that all of you know that I fully intend to take theSpirit of America back to Earth."
"Of course," Max said.
"What about rocket fuel, Max?" Rodrick asked.
"We've got the raw materials," Max reported. "It'll take a year to build the manufacturing facilities.
We've got a lot of sc.r.a.p metal now. The crawlers the Whorsk blew up can be reclaimed, and we can use the metal from the bulkheads of the portable quarters."
"Good, Max. Keep in touch with Stoner, and if he finds more rhenium than he expects and can accelerate his program, be ready to keep up with him."
"No problem," Max responded. "The return cargo of theSpirit of America will be foodstuffs, growing stock. Amando has a few Omega plants that he thinks will help green up the arid areas of Africa and Asia. He's very interested in having a talk with you, Theresita. He's very impressed that you are so fit and healthy after living on Omega's natural foods for a year. Apparently we have something to learn about diet and nutrition. If you can look the way you do eating fruit and nuts-"
"And fish," Theresita said.
"-the Omegan fruit and nut trees transplanted in the tropical and subtropical areas of Earth will greatly increase the food supply." He paused. "Too bad we don't have fabulous treasures to take back."
"The jewelry made from Baby's discarded scales would be a sensation," Jackie remarked. "If we had a way of getting enough-"
"That issome animal," Max said. "I timed her the other day, with Clay and Cindy riding on her back. She was doing a smooth thirty miles an hour all the way to the Dinah River. Beats the h.e.l.l out of a horse.
Anyone ever think of breeding those things as transport animals?"
"Just don't ask me to be the one to capture them," Jacob said.
"I've been trying to think of some way I could be of value to the colony," Theresita said. "I'm probably more familiar with the jungles than anyone."
"Hush," Jacob said.
She smiled and winked at him. "Don't worry, Sky Flyer, I'll take care of you." "Russians are pushy," Jacob complained, but with a grin of affection and pride.
"Jacob, I hereby appoint you and Theresita to explore the possibilities of adding-have we named that species yet? No? Well, of adding more Babies to the stock and to look for a source of discarded scales."
"Thanks a h.e.l.luva lot," Jacob grumbled, again grinning at Theresita.
"All right," Rodrick said. "Until we keep our pledge to Dexter Hamilton and take theSpirit of America back to Earth, we'll have to deal with some situations we had not foreseen. First, our strength has been reduced by a full sixth." He could not bring himself to look at Mandy when he spoke of that. "And not even the pleasant surprise of having Theresita join us can make up for that. We've lost valuable skills, and we've lost valued friends and relatives. However, I'd like to ask Dr. Miller-if you think you're up to it, Mandy-to do a survey regarding the skills and knowledge of those who were killed, and to report the results to Max, who is now first officer. That way we'll know what we're lacking and we can start making plans to have others cover in the areas of need, and think long term of, perhaps, training some of our youngsters to fill the gaps."
"I'm quite ready to work, Captain," Mandy said.
"Thanks, Mandy." He rose, got a coffeepot, and came back to the table. "Anyone?"
"I've had better-looking waitresses," Max growled.
"I'd like to use you now as sort of a brain trust," Rodrick said. "Let me state a couple of things that have been keeping me awake nights: First, we suffered great losses in our first contact with a culture that is in only one respect advanced beyond the Stone Age. I take some responsibility for that. We were simply not alert. I also take responsibility for not being aware of the morale of the colony. I knew that there was some desire among a few to move the colony, or to at least establish a settlement in those fabled paradises of the south. The wholesale defection caught me completely by surprise, and the fact that I was rather distracted"-he put his hand on Jackie's shoulder and smiled at her-"is no excuse."
He looked around, looked into each of the faces. Mandy couldn't meet his eye. If he felt guilty, how shouldshe feel, having known of Rocky's plan? If anyone alive was to blame, it was she.
"I want to start a regular series of community meetings," Rodrick said. "I want them to be informal, not a forum for open discussion of every minor gripe, but open enough to bring up concerns to the entire colony. Grace, I think you've got just the right amount of charm and good sense to run the meetings. Any objections?"
"We're not finished with our honeymoon yet," Max said quickly.
"Objection overruled," Rodrick said, grinning. "Bite the bullet, Max." He sat down. "Here's where I want your input. We're shorthanded. We've lost some irreplaceable equipment. We're going to be very busy just doing the necessary things to keep our life-style from regressing, and to refuel the ship. The question is, what are to be our spare-time priorities in regard to exploration, scientific study, and interaction with the native race? Keep these questions in mind, and I'll be interested in hearing your opinions on them. First, how do the Whorsk get helium when the limit of their technology, as we know it, is to make a presentable ceramic pot and hammer out bronze weapons? Second, was it just the limited capacity of Grace's translation computer that brought out some interesting statements from Chief Chingclonk? He kept calling both us humans and some group from along what he called the Great MistyRiveryou , as if he considered us one and the same with those unknown people on the big western continent. Then he insisted that we had originated outside the Omega system, among the stars, in a direction almost opposite the direction of Earth. Or, again, did we simply misunderstand?"
"Primitive societies on Earth had an understanding of the heavens," Ito said. "They knew that the stars represented distance, and they had legends about G.o.ds who came from the heavens. The Whorsk, being able to fly in their airships, should have some conception of the stars."
"To know that each of them is a sun like 61 Cygni B?" Grace asked. "That's pretty advanced reasoning for Stone Age people."
"Lastly," Rodrick resumed, "there's the matter of Theresita's having been healed of what she is sure were some very severe wounds. With those points in mind, what should be our policy toward the Whorsk during the immediate future, when we're going to need all our time and energy to accomplish our primary mission?"
"As to Theresita's healing," Mandy said, "remember the jungle mud, which seemed to have healing properties. I know that raises the question of how the Whorsk would know such mud would heal human flesh. I'd like to have some samples of that mud, incidentally."
Jacob took the floor. "We can solve the mystery of what Theresita thinks is a society of priests or a Whorsk ruling cla.s.s by a few quick, low runs of the river valley. I volunteer."
"As soon as possible, Jacob," Rodrick said.
"We could send an anthropological team to study the Whorsk," Emi Zuki commented.
"It's a worthy idea," Rodrick said. "Theresita, in your opinion, having lived among them, would they cooperate with such a team?"
"I'm not sure," Theresita answered. "And I question the value to be derived within any reasonable length of time. I don't think it's going to be possible for anyone to learn to speak the Whorsk language with any degree of proficiency, simply because we don't have the right sort of sound-originating mechanism."
"I haven't had a chance to tell you this, Duncan," Grace said, "but I was going over the voice recordings I made with Chingclonk, toying around with them. You remember how there seemed to be pauses in his speech at times? Those pauses are actually rilled with sound at a frequency above our range of hearing."
"Maybe we'll have to train Jumper to listen for that," Ito Zuki said, and Emi giggled.
"I think we should find out how those bugs isolate helium," Max suggested. "That's about all I care to know about them."
"There's something else that bothers me," Rodrick said. "Why wasn't Theresita more of a curiosity among the Whorsk? From listening to her story, I got the idea that they accepted her without too much question, just as if they were familiar with humans."
"And they didn't seem to be surprised to find us here in Eden," Emi said. "What do you think, Theresita?"
"They never showed surprise, or any sort of emotion, at anything," Theresita remarked. "They justseemed to take everything that came as a matter of course. For example, one of them fell from a gondola one day and was killed. The airship didn't even turn back but just went on with its flight, and when it returned that night they picked up their fallen member by the arms and legs and carried him about a quarter of a mile from the village and threw the body into the surf."
"It'll be a long time before we even begin to understand the Whorsk," Grace said. "This is the first alien intelligence we've encountered. Human values are based on having evolved on an entirely different planet, with a code of behavior based on a lack of understanding of death. We could be the only beings in the universe who concern ourselves with death. We're like the English poet who said, 'Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.' It seems to mean nothing to the Whorsk when anyone or anything dies. That makes them so alien that we can't get beyond that one difference, much less all the others."
"I agree that we must avoid a campaign of extermination," Jacob said. "The Whorsk are savage and different, but they were here first, and just like the Apaches-another race that was there first-I think they have a right to continue to live just as they've lived in the past. Certainly this planet is big enough for all of us."
"I agree," Rodrick said.
"They're no threat to us," Max said, "if we stay alert and avoid surprise attacks. I'll tell you this, and back it with everything I've ever learned-there's no high-tech society over on the Great Misty River or anywhere else on this planet. h.e.l.l, if anyone was burning fossil fuel, even, we'd have detected it in the atmosphere, and all we've found is an almost undetectable amount of combustion residue from burning wood. Forest fires, most likely, maybe forests caught in lava flows in the volcanic belt down in the islands or in the western hemisphere or on the east coast of Columbia. I say let's go full blast on what we need to do, and if we have time to diddle around studying the Whorsk, okay. If not, that's okay, too. As soon as we have some spare copper and tin to trade, they'll be hanging around and Grace can use the translation box on them."
"I gather," Rodrick said, with a rueful smile, "that none of you is imagining some of the things that keep me awake nights."
"I've got something that keeps me awake nights, too," Max said, grinning, putting his hand on Grace's.
"Not even a little bit of wondering if we're the first humanoids the Whorsk have seen?" Rodrick asked.
"Dunc," Max said, "I'll start dreaming science-fiction dreams when I find a functioning helium separation plant in operation."
"The giants who built the city in Stoner's Valley?" Rodrick asked.
"h.e.l.l, even modern Cambodians feel that a race of giants built the temples at Angkor Wat, " Max said.
"Theresita," Rodrick said, "in your opinion, was the abandoned city I showed you pictures of built by ancient Whorsk?"
"It's possible. They have the manual dexterity. They do fine work in tanning hides and sc.r.a.ping them thin for the covering of the gasbags on their airships. They work wood well with basic metal tools to build the gondolas. They have, with the exception of the airships, a basic hunter-gatherer society, doing only the minimum work required to build the ships and their log huts." "It wouldn't be the first known instance of regression of a society," Mandy said. "It could be as simple as this: The development of the lighter-than-air craft freed them to roam a pretty interesting and very large world."
A silence fell.
"Any further comment?" Rodrick asked.
There was none.
Jacob had a companion as he flew in from the mouth of the Great Misty River on the western continent, only to find dense fog covering the valley for about fifteen hundred miles. He flewApache One on up the river, saw the huge cascade that had so impressed Theresita, and then she was remembering a lot of things as he traced the wide, brown river northward into the dense jungles. According to Theresita's estimate of time and river-current rate, she had crashed almost in midcontinent over three thousand air miles from the coast, even more miles when one considered the curves and windings of the river.
Flights over the river on three other days had the same results. "Now we know why they call it the Great Misty River," Jacob said. The dense fog that hung over the river valley was, they decided, some sort of local natural phenomenon. Surveys of Whorsk settlements on that continent and the two in the northern hemisphere in the west showed nothing new about the Whorsk.
Four days after being picked up by Jacob, Theresita finally kept her appointment for a medical examination. She came to like Mandy Miller immediately and, knowing the story now, felt that Mandy's smudged eyes and distracted att.i.tude were signs of mourning for her dead husband.
The examination took place late in the day, and when Theresita was finished, she met Jacob at the clubhouse, an attractive, multihued plastic-stone building that someone had found spare time to build on the rocky headland at the mouth of Stanton Bay, a five-minute crawler ride from Hamilton and theSpirit of America . Juke, the entertainment robot, and Makeitdo, the RD-77 repair robot, had installed large screens and a sound system, which, if it were ever to be cranked up full blast, would shatter stone. Juke had decided that he'd become a nightclub host and, if anyone would ever listen to him, a nightclub comic.