about one month after "Heartbeat"
ship approached the planet at a dreadful speed. Security systems
blared a mixture of collision and overload alarms. But it didn't
help. The battle with the outlaws had done too much damage to the
interceptor. Niko hoped that the hyperspace
beacon she had dropped at the last second marked at
least approximately the sector
where the others would have to look for them. Of course, she and
Goose would have to survive their forced landing on planet 17798
=Five standard minutes
till impact.= The automatic countdown until impact blasted
through the cockpit. Niko noticed Goose pressing buttons
hurriedly. She made sure her safety harness was securely fastened
and raised the impact shields to the max, wondering in a
strangely long-lasting moment if the stellar cartographer who had
added this world to the list of planets supporting carbon-based
life had known what he was doing. They would find out all too
=One standard minute till
impact.= Niko closed her eyes and gripped the armrests of her
said in a tight voice.
Niko replied, her voice just as tight. The surface of 17798 came
rushing towards them. The plotter next to her started to rattle.
howling pain in Niko's right arm roused her from darkness. Slowly
she realized that her seat had been adjusted into a reclining
position and that her safety harness was no longer around her.
She heard Gooseman rummaging in the rear cargo bay. He climbed
back to the wrecked cockpit. "Everything ok?"
my arm." She gasped as she tried to move it. With
knitted brows he climbed over to her, cut open her sleeve and
palpated her arm.
Blood trickled down his face. Ignoring it, he looked around.
"Nothing available for splinting. The first aid kid is
trashed, as are the transmitter and the engines. Let's hope you
dropped that beacon in the right place. Nothing works but the
automated distress signal,
and that only emits radio
waves." As he spoke, Goose began cutting long
strips out of the upholstery of his seat. "Keep still. I'm
going to bandage your arm. It'll have to hold till we can find
something to use as a splint. We have to get away from
according to emergency procedures, we have to stay near the ship
so the rescue team can find us."
got a good look at the area when we came down." He pushed
her sleeve up her arm. "We're right in the middle of a
desert zone. The mountains east of us are our only chance to find
water and shelter. Without them we won't last five days in this
Niko heard the
unyielding tone in his voice and knew he wouldn't listen to
arguments. A searing pain ran through her arm as he bandaged it,
and only his hand over her mouth stifled her cry.
Try not to cry out. I don't know what's out there. And I don't
want it to find us until I know how to deal with it." He
released her mouth and tied off the bandage. "Move it as
little as possible. It's not a substitute for a splint, but it'll
hurt less during the march. Come on," he said, taking her
intact arm and helping her to her feet. Gritting her teeth, she
clambered out of the vessel.
have to leave a message behind," Niko pointed
"Your blaster intact?"
He took the weapon from her and disappeared back into the ship.
Niko heard the hiss of vaporized metal, and smoke leaked through
the breaks in the hull. "Keep an eye on it," he said
when he returned and handed it back to her. "It's the only
energy weapon we have."
did you do?"
the weapons compartment and weapon controls, and burned a coded
message about our heading into the cockpit wall."
destroyed the weapon systems? But..."
computer is crashed. We can't use it for survival anyway. And if
the first one who picks us up is one of those scumbags who caused
all this trouble, I don't want him to have the latest advances in
weapons technology to use against us. I'm stacking the odds in
our favor, just in case. Let's go." Goose bundled up the
gear he had collected and slung it over his shoulder. Then they
goal was blurred in the heat like a mirage floating high above
the ground. They had lost sight of the wreck hours ago. Niko felt
as if the broken bones in her arm were grinding against each
other with every step she took. What if the terrain gets even
Goose turned to look
back at her. "Everything okay?"
she said through gritted teeth. "If only we had some cold
pineapple juice, it'd be like one of those walking tours in
Tunisia." She tapped the canteen at her belt. "We've
got to ration."
got deeper, built up dunes of rich yellow and blinding white with
deep black shadows in between. She should have kept her mouth
shut about Tunisia. At least I didn't say anything about
Tortuna. This planet seemed to listen in a way she found
unpleasant. The drifts grew to regular sand dunes... They made
their way to the crest of the dunes and scanned the surrounding
terrain. Finally, she set a psi-mark so they could keep their
bearings while walking through the shaded valleys. Here they
moved much faster. A shiver ran through her
she warned him. "We're sitting ducks out
Gooseman pointed at
the steep walls of sand near them. "That's the
Let's see if it's worth the effort." Activating her badge,
she put out her psychic feelers...
wave of life charged towards her, then... hunger, greed. She
had the impression of wide-spread toes, trotting through the
sand. Nose slits picked up the scent of prey from the
sand as it passed by. In anticipation of a meal, it bared fangs
covered with viscous slaver. Soon...
predator is chasing prey animals toward us. Quite a few,
"Hard to say.
Definitely not lit" She broke off. "Like little
racing into the valley were sandy-colored with striped bristles
and closing fast. As the first animals reached Niko and Goose,
they pressed back to back to make room.
her Goose hissed. "Watch out! They're like porcupines."
He pulled two long quills out of his side.
main body of the herd passed by, denser than the lead pack. Niko
generated a protective field and covered them both. Some of the
animals banged into it. The sand at their feet was covered with
quills. Suddenly, it was silent. She let the field collapse. "The
predator's still missing."
It's close, Goose."
next thing they knew, a cascade of sand fell from above as a huge
creature dropped from the top of the dune. Goose was trapped,
buried beneath two giant paws. The creature roared and snapped at
Niko. She fell back, her shield forming a protective brace around
the broken bone, then strengthening as she pulled her boot knife
free. A surge of green and yellow entrails poured into the sand
as the blade cut through the body. The creature writhed, lashing
out in agony, mixing its innards with the bloody sand to form a
horrible pulp. The back paws lost their grip. Gooseman, thrown to
the side, went head over heels and came to his feet some meters
away. Automatically he reached for his badge, then let his hand
drop and simply walked over to her.
too long to die like that," he said.
She maintained a thin, flickering field to keep the emanations of
death away. Then she adjusted to the creature's movements and
drove her knife with one quick stroke through a yellow eye deep
into the brain. Finally it lay still. She opened her shield a
little. Silence. With a short jerk she pulled her knife out. As
she expected, the blade was broken. She shoved the stump back
into the sheath at her boot. You never know, she thought.
"We've got to go on. We're running out of water." She
dropped the shield, keeping only the telekinetic cuff around her
arm to fight the pain. She felt her badge vibrating and knew the
charge was already reduced.
had reached the mountains. The terrain was precipitous. From time
to time Gooseman tore a splinter out of one of the stunted trees
that grew sparsely on the detritus-covered slopes. They skirted
the lower slopes of the range, walking halfway between massif and
desert plain. By now Niko was worn out from the heat. They hadn't
rested the night before because the temperature had fallen too
fast, and now it was too hot. She wheezed as she bumped into
Goose, who had stopped abruptly. "Water." His voice
left no room for doubt. They stood at the edge of a valley deeply
carved into the rocks. The vegetation was thicker down there. The
walls, though steep, were covered with plants. With a skilled eye
he searched for a way to descend safely. "We have to go down
there. Can you make it?"
don't have another choice, do I?"
claw prints led from the edge of the river up the slope to the
rocks. Niko noticed the trail when she moistened a rag in the
water to cool her arm and ease the pain, which had been growing
stronger and stronger since the telepathic cuff broke down. "We
should make ourselves scarce. If this creature is like the one
two days ago..."
hope so," he said in a grim voice. "It's easier to
defeat something you know."
can't take another battle."
know. That's why I'm going to take care of it
put the supplies down and turned to her. "Look around. There
isn't enough prey here for more than one big predator." He
looked down the trail, his mind already fixated on the hunt. "Do
you feel anything?"
charge is almost gone, Goose."
your strength." He turned his attention back to the trail.
"We'll do it the old-fashioned way."
massive creature in front of the cave was obviously a carnivore,
heavy but definitely not sluggish, like the one in the desert. It
reminded her of a cross between a bear and a musk ox. Keeping the
blaster ready to fire in her unwounded hand, Niko hid behind some
scrub and watched Gooseman creep up on the animal, the naked
knife in his right hand. She felt the tension build up in his
body, felt the motion of his muscles as he collected himself for
She bit her lip and
concentrated on her shields. She had never before dropped them
accidentally. A golden glow told her his bio defenses had
activated. Red blood sprayed out of the animal's throat as it
collapsed on top of Shane. He struggled to free himself and
checked to be sure it was dead, staying carefully out of reach of
fangs and claws. Finally he signalled Niko to come
"And now?" She
kept as much distance as possible. Her fluctuating shield wasn't
protecting her from death emanations and his emotions. I'm
injured, stranded, and losing control of my abilities, she
thought in exhaustion. None of my training at BETA covered
"We have to skin
this thing, scrape the hide and throw the carcass into the river
to avoid attracting scavengers. Then we'll clean out the den. The
hide should cover the entrance quite well."
shuddered at the thought of the lair. "Do we have
"This guy must
have been the boss of this valley. With some luck nothing around
here will come looking for trouble with him. And we're going to
take advantage of this when we take his place as top critter
around here. We should be safe at least for a
"Is that why
you used the knife?"
blaster would have erased its scent." He looked at her,
noticing her wan face and the trembling she suppressed only with
effort. This was more than exhaustion. Goose began to worry...
trembled all over. The exhaustion, the shock of her injury and
the experiences of the last 48 hours drained her of every ounce
of strength. The pain in her broken arm kept her awake. The
emergency bandage was no substitute for a splint and a MediLight
to mend the broken bone. The hunger did the rest.
kept the blaster at hand beside her, since Goose had gone to
check out the surrounding area and to wash away the dirt and
blood. But the extreme strain diminished her alertness and her
psionic powers. Again and again her chin sank to her
It was dark in the cave.
Goose had pinned the scraped hide with sharpened stakes across
the entrance. The lair still stank of carnivore and worse, though
they had removed as much of the muck as possible. As they carried
out splintered bones, rotting meat and worse, Niko had felt more
and more lightheaded, until Goose had made her rest while he
finished. She noticed the cold creeping slowly deeper into her
body. Evening must have started. The nights on this damn rock
were marked by biting frost...
startled awake, heart pounding, as something gripped her
shoulder. "Shhh. It's me, Goose." He squatted down
beside her. "Let me see your arm." He took off the
bandage. With knitted brows he examined the point of fracture in
the flickering light of a tiny fire and ran his hand over it,
feeling the fracture through her skin. "Okay..."
looked skeptically at him. Her arm ached continuously, the hurt
increasing with every throb of her pulse. Her psionic powers
seemed to shrink back from the injury. "Are you sure? It
doesn't feel..." Burning pain erased her senses as he set
the bone with a short jerk.
she regained consciousness she realized she was wrapped in the
only survival blanket still intact after the crash. Her arm
throbbed, but the burning pain had vanished. Goose leaned his
back against the opposite wall and stared with half-closed eyes
into the flames. She watched him. The wound on his temple and the
bruises caused by his safety harness during the crash and by the
desert animal had disappeared when he activated his bio defenses.
But he was changed, colder, more tense. Images whispered through
her mind. She tried to stop them, but again and again her
barriers were broken...
looked over at her. His eyes, still narrowed, glistened like
steel. "I had to fix the fracture." Naked necessity
She sat up cautiously, trying to keep the arm steady, and
recognized, astonished, the solid tie around it.
he said harshly. "This kind gets malleable when soaked.
Better than bandages." He threw some stringy fruits over to
do you know?"
He pointed at a stack of all-weather transparencies, which were
welded together at one side. "We're going to be stuck here
quite a while. I wanted data."
course - the hard copies just before the impact. She
understood... He was prepared to survive on this planet for
years. The sensations of animals, unreasoned and chaotic, rushed
again through her mind. She hid her face behind her drawn-up
legs, tried not to show the tears of despair and fear. Be a
ranger, not a crybaby! she berated herself. But she knew the
statistics far too well not to know how poor were the chances
that they'd be found in the foreseeable future...
he was near, embracing her from behind. The voice at her ear was
faint but firm. "We'll make it."
leaned backward, filled her mind with the conscious whispering of
his presence to push the animal sensations aside. She fought her
fear, fought to lock it deep inside her soul. He couldn't help
her. He didn't even know...
watched Goose from the slope above him. She felt she should help
him, but when she had tried to test her broken knife she had
broken down screaming because of the emanations of death that
clung to it. He had taken the knife from her cramped hand and
thrown it away. Then he had helped her to her feet again without
a word. Her hands were still trembling...
lay in wait for a group of gazelles to come closer to the high
dry grass where he hid. Two narrow knives were stuck in his belt.
There was something wild about him with his bare chest. The
creatures came closer. Niko observed how he collected himself,
how his muscles grew tense...
leaped at the creatures, sprinted next to a fleeing gazelle. His
hands reached for the tiny throat. Niko almost believed she could
hear bones cracking when the creature fell, its neck
...her arm pulsated.
He had taken off the cuff of bark today and also had palpated the
bone. She shuddered. It was far too easy to forget what he was...
sat cross-legged, motionless. The wind of late autumn blew
colored leaves around her. The blades of dry grass carried ice on
their tips. Niko used a fraction of her psionic powers to prevent
the cold from creeping into her body. The wind blew some strands
of her chestnut-red hair in front of her eyes. She didn't stir,
didn't try to push them away. Goose's instructions crossed her
...don't move, be a
part of the world as if it had never been any other way. You're
telepathic that means you can hunt differently than I.
Promise peace, persuade the prey of peace, shelter, warmth. It'll
come closer and closer. Don't stir. Wait till it's less than half
of your arm length away. Then use the knife as if it were part of
your body. Keep your thoughts away from what the knife is for.
It's part of you and you're peaceful. Don't block your abilities
before the blade is at the prey's throat. Remember: it's not a
victim, it's life. Our life!...
gazelle-like creature came closer. Nostrils stretched towards
her, timorously sniffing the air. A step. Another step. The thin,
fragile-looking legs moved carefully through the dry grass,
irresistibly attracted by the promise of safety. Niko bit her
lips. A telepath feared death, the panic in the moment before,
the chaos in the fading mind which can pull a telepath down with
it into the void. If she didn't block in time. If...
little gazelle had stopped, the bunch of fur at its back already
raised, signaling the readiness to flee. Hurriedly, she
reestablished the field that had almost slipped her mind.
Safety... a promise impossible to keep.
little creature came closer and closer, stretched its neck
towards her, dipped its head into the peace that she
Her hand, motionless
until now in her lap, slashed up. Goose's second knife slid
terrifyingly easily through the animal's throat. Blood poured
over her hand and her arm. The chaos of death hammered against
her shields, tried to pull her into the void... finally silence.
The little gazelle lay dead before her knees. The tension dropped
away from her. The knife slipped from her hand and fell next to
the carcass. She stared at the blood that covered her arm, her
shoulder, parts of her chest and abdomen. Living
Suddenly Goose was beside
her. She looked at the tight straps around his ankle, the reason
she had to learn hunting again. He checked to be sure the prey
was dead. His other knife was stuck through his belt. He took up
the first one, cleaned it on the fur of the gazelle and held it
out to her.
didn't dare to take it.
hunted. You killed, Niko. Therefore you can use the knife."
When she took it back hesitantly, he grinned in relief. "I'll
take care of the prey."
swallowed when he knelt down next to the gazelle, watched,
horrified, as he laid his mouth on the still-bleeding wound and
drank. Food was scarce. They couldn't afford to waste anything.
She was riveted by the flexing of his shoulder muscles below the
torn shirt, the movements of his throat. A thread of blood ran
from the corner of his mouth down to his chin...
hands drove into his hair. She tasted blood in his mouth, felt it
on his lips. She wanted his arms around her and a fall backwards
into the dry grass, seeing his eyes as a whirl of silvery steel
and smaragdine desire...
His voice was muffled and choked. "Not here! Not now!"
His forearm pushed her head back. He was breathing heavily. The
tips of his eyeteeth showed between his lips. He held her away
from him until the glowing in her eyes turned to bewilderment and
shame. She trembled all over. Her teeth dug into her lips at the
thought that she had almost combined desire and death. He held
her as she reeled.
She hid her face against his chest, remembering the overpowering
dark desire that had almost burned her. "What's happening to
lay curled up in the den's semidarkness. The dying flames of the
tiny fire near the entrance flickered. The icy storm erased the
world's warmth. Snow gusts and hail pattered against the hide
that covered the entrance. They had stuffed the gaps with dry
grass but it was still bitterly cold, too cold...
was afraid to touch him, remembered too well the black fever that
had seized her. But not to touch him, not to nestle into his
warmth meant to die. The survival blanket was wrapped around
them. They lay on a heap of straw. Dry grass tied into rough
bundles covered the walls around them. Niko felt his breath on
her face, cursed and welcomed it, at once a regular reminder of
what had almost happened and a source of life-supporting
She had drawn up her
legs. Her knees touched his thighs. Her head rested on his arm,
curled around her shoulders to warm them. She wanted to talk, to
express what had happened to her, the mistake she'd made when she
tried to regain control over her powers and forgot to keep
control of her physical existence... She had forgotten that her
body and her powers were a unity, not things that could be
But if they started
His voice would be
too close, too near to her. Her shields were so horribly weak
without her badge. Right now his thoughts whispered in her mind.
And without shields...
would never agree to this kind of intimacy...
you thinking about?"
mentor. What she'd say about this." She changed her voice,
tried to imitate Ariel's scratchy tones: "Shimmering Star!
Shimmering Star of Xanadu!! Niko, how can you do this? You're a
telepath of the highest degree. Do you get me, student? Of the
highest degree! So don't behave like that! Your affinity for the
plain body will cost you your sanity in the end!" Niko
grinned in the darkness. "You should have seen what happened
when I first mentioned that I wanted to go to BETA. She couldn't
believe that her best pupil could stray that far from the
straight and narrow!"
guess Negata wouldn't be too pleased about this change in of his
necessary right now."
and Hartford were on their way with the bio scanner at the ready.
Doc cursed at the crusted snowfields they had to cross: remnants
of the last winter. But the note on the wall of the wreck was
clear: "Go round halfway up the next mountains, watch for
marks." Zachary turned up the collar of his coat and knitted
Zach?" Doc urged Voyager closer to Brutus. "You got
mighty worried just now."
you see what season it is here?" Determined, Zach drove his
horse on over the snowfield.
late winter." Doc checked the scanner display.
winter, Doc. Just think hard! They've been missing for five
months. That means they got here in autumn!"
Then they'd have to..." He preferred not to finish the
sentence and just followed his captain in
Zach pulled his rain coat closer around him. It was bitterly
cold. He hadn't told Doc about the remnants of blood in the
cockpit or about the hints of emergency treatment of an injured
person. But there was no grave near the wreck. Therefore both of
them had at least survived the crash...
Doc's shout startled him. "I've got a signal."
barely recognized her at first. He studied the camp through his
binoculars. The woman who watched the fire was thinner than he
remembered Niko being. Her long hair was gathered by some strips
of cloth at her neck. She wore a knife at her hip and watched the
surrounding bushes as attentively as she did the frying strips of
meat on the fire. Fast, certain movements. No hurry. No slowness.
She was somehow catlike. He almost whistled...
rustle of dry leaves from last year alarmed her. She grabbed for
the knife as she turned...
took down the binoculars. "It's her." Doc sighed in
relief. "But Goose is nowhere to be seen... Come on!"
Determined, Fox started to climb down into the valley.
the river," Niko's answer on Fox' carefully worded question
about Gooseman was brusque. "We need... needed food,"
she corrected herself quickly, laughed in relief and grew earnest
again when Doc stumbled out of the den and shook his
The shock was written on his face. "In circumstances like
winter was hard," she said. "We didn't have any
be dead without him, Doc. Dead! Do you get me?!"
understanding crossed the hacker's face. He's a typical child
of the era. A genius at the computer, but... Faint steps came
up from the river's edge. She jumped up, ran to meet him and
flung her arms around Gooseman's neck without taking any notice
of the bloody bundle on his shoulder. "It's over, Shane.
Over after all!"
returned her embrace and walked on to the fire. "Captain.
Doc." His nod was as short as if he had just returned from
two days of shore leave. "We'll be ready to go in a minute."
He put down the bundle which proved to be two arrow-shot
rodents next to the fire and disappeared into the den
behind the huge hide.
watched, shuddering, as Niko took two pieces of frying meat from
the stick and chewed on them while she destroyed the fireplace,
scattered the stones and threw the remnants, including the fresh
prey, into the river. Gooseman reappeared, some things bundled in
a fringed survival blanket slung over his shoulder. He pulled the
stakes out and threw the hide into the cave.
watched his two long-losts thoughtfully. They were a perfect team
now. A whole winter's camp broken down in less than half an hour
without a single word...
wearing a new uniform, sat at the table in Ranger-1's main cabin
and reread the short report she'd written over the last thirty
minutes. Ranger-1 had already entered hyperspace, with Doc at the
controls. They would reach BETA Mountain in some hours. And then
the tumult would really break out...
pushed a mug over to her when she looked up from the datapad,
finally satisfied with her draft. She wrapped her hands around
the hot mug and inhaled the smell of coffee. Her skin still
tingled from the hygiene unit's supersonic shower. She'd had a
couple of preventive vaccinations and her scrapes and scars had
been treated medically. Now it was Goose's turn.
a deep sip of coffee she signed her report and handed it to Zach
for countersigning. Lost in her thoughts, she massaged her neck.
It's over. Finally over. She repeated the words like a
mantra. Slowly the permanent tension that had kept her alive on
17798 eased away. The exhaustion stirred. She tightened her
"Take the bed."
Fox pointed with his head at the single bunk in the back of the
cabin. "You need the sleep more than the rest of us."
He looked over the report and compared it with the one Goose had
made during Niko's medical treatment. By the time he finally
signed the two reports, Niko had already crept under the thin
Goose reappeared, his
hair cut militarily short again. He stared through the window
into the red, fibrous blurring of hyperspace. "Your report
is okay, Goose." Zach laid both datapads on the table and
watched the ST, who stood at the window with his back towards his
captain. Am I ever going to understand this man? Niko was
right when she said that she wouldn't have made it without him.
But what has this whole thing cost him? "There's going
to be a lot of trouble when we reach BETA."
Fox walked over to
Gooseman, scrutinized him. Shane had always been taciturn, but
this time his voice hid more: tiredness, exhaustion... Zachary
noticed that the ST leaned his head against the window. Five
months. The responsibility while she was wounded... He's as worn
out as she is. But he'll never let on. "You should get
some sleep, too. When the BWL starts its inquiry there'll be
little chance for rest..." Goose looked at him without a
word. "We've got a sleeping bag for you."
out of the question!" Niko's furious voice turned Fox and
Goose from the window. "This bed is wide enough. And he
deserves it just as much as I do." Determined, she moved
closer to the wall to make room for him.
against regula" Zachary began.
heard the last loud words from the cockpit. "But my Goose
man. You wouldn't compromise a lady in our presence, would
Niko interrupted him. "I lived with him for more than a
quarter. Dammit. We had to share our warmth to keep from dying of
cold. And now he should sleep on the floor?!! Forget it!
Come on, Shane. This is ridiculous!"
don't you have anything to say about this?" Doc
"Seems I don't."
Zachary shrugged towards the cockpit and watched Niko, huddled
next to Goose. She's gotten wilder. Somehow he doubted
that the commander or the BWL would like that.
waited until nobody was in the corridor before she slipped out of
her apartment and activated Goose's
hurried into the room, let the door slide closed behind her and
leaned with her back against it. He sat at his terminal and
turned his swivel chair towards her.
I stay for a few minutes or is half of BETA visiting you,
just a moment... Zach, Walsh, QBall... Doc isn't likely to
come... No. Everybody who dares to enter the predator's cage has
already been here. Including Moira."
Niko snorted. "What did she want of you?"
bring me Poss." He ran his hands through the fur of his tiny
grey cat that clinged to his wrist as if he was going to
disappear again every moment. "And to bawl me out, because I
wrecked another one of her darlings." He grinned
provocatively at her. "What did you think?"
He freed his
hand of his cat's grip. "Something to drink? Juice?"
When she nodded he got up. The top two buttons of his uniform
shirt were open. He was in socks and his hair looked somehow
scruffy. "Here." He gave her a glass and pointed at the
edge of the bed. "I'm not used to visitors." She took a
seat on his quilt and sighed theatrically. "That
Piccadilly Circus around me since half past six this morning!"
She laid her head back against the wall. "It's nice to be
popular. But I can't stand it any longer." She gave him a
smile of complicity. "I need a break."
as long as you want."
looked around while sitting on his bed. It was the first time
she'd been in his apartment and had time to look around. Most of
his furniture was military standard equipment: the desk with the
terminal, a bed, a simple wardrobe. What stuck out was an
overloaded bookshelf. A wild assortment of books were piled up on
it: Edgar Allen Poe, SF stories from Arthur C. Clarke, a fantasy
novel by Cherryh... But also tattered reprints of Ovid's works,
some technical reports and a bound edition of Popper's _Objective
Knowledge_. It seemed that Goose read more than people imagined
he would. His blaster hung on the bedstead to be always within
reach. Next to the console on the floor stood an old chess board.
"Do you play?"
I prefer live action." Nevertheless, he took the board and
set up the pieces.
his first move without thinking about it. "Where did you
learn to play chess?"
Den." When she looked at him, astonished: "They thought
it would increase our strategic abilities."
buzzer interrupted them Zachary Fox and Doc
"Goose, we have
to look for Here you are!" Niko and Goose sat on the
floor in front of a chess board on which a heated battle seemed
to be taking place.
As the ST looked up at him, Fox noticed that Niko changed Goose's
castle into a less advantageous position. Fox greeted him
"Niko. Half of the
staff is searching for you."
know, Zach. They were visiting me continuously." She smiled
apologetically. "I asked for asylum."
squeezed past Zach and studied the game field. "Seems we've
arrived at the right moment to prevent Goose from suffering a bad
setback. Your king stands in mate."
glanced at the board. "Niko, you're cheating."
course you do."
it." She looked at him with flashing eyes and hesitated.
"You've replaced my queen."
I?" Goose seemed to wear a halo.
it, now." Zachary laughed faintly. "Niko, we've
searched half of the mountain for you. I wanted to recruit Goose
for it, too. Walsh and two senators want to talk to you
immediately. And you two are acting like schoolkids in here!"
He shook his head. As Niko rose to leave he added quietly: "Be
warned. One of the senators is Wheiner."
Senator! He did NOT touch me against my will! If that's what you
want to know." In her memories Niko once again saw
Wheiner stepping back in the face of her fury. Two hours! For
two hours they beat about the bush because they wanted to know
something that doesn't concern them at all! She leaned back
into her armchair, pushed her hair back and snorted, still
furious. The Board's distrust of Gooseman had dictated most of
the questions. They didn't want to hear anything about the
reasons for the crash but... She energetically shoved the
memories out of her mind. The questioning is over!
the table next to her were piled presents and congratulatory
cards from her friends and colleagues, remnants of the pleasant
but endless turmoil of the day. Next week she had regular duty on
her schedule. Normality would reestablish itself soon, as the
astonishing events she'd experienced were overwhelmed by new
adventures of other people at BETA. Soon, at least, for the
others. She doubted that she could cope so quickly with the past.
Too much had happened. Too much of her nature was changed. Her
implant was loaded again, but... She remembered, shuddering, the
Hasn't all of BETA been already here? "Open,"
she said wearily.
leaned against the doorframe. The corridors outside were already
silent. "Stars." The traditional spacefarer greeting
was somehow odd coming from him. "Survived the whole
forced a laugh. "I wonder what's more difficult to
survive on 17798 or to survive the return from it?" She
noticed his questioning look. "And what happened to you?
Were you put to the question, too?"
Not Wheiner. Took the report and that was it."
wish it had been the same with me." She
Faint. No grinning or cynical sound in his voice. She looked up.
He held something towards her. She couldn't recognize it against
the light from the opened door. She rose, came closer to him and
grew still as she recognized the knife...
throat of a gazelle. "Shane..."
he said softly. "Here. Now."
made a step into the room. The door fell shut behind him, locked
out the rest of the world. And the present. Past, desire,
demands... and different answers.