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and vertigo, the sudden renaissance of the storm just inches and fractions of
inches away from me battering and howling like all the devils in hell at my
implacable armour nightmare. Still dreaming, still flashing across my mind in
tiny packets of sensory energy. Quantum dreams, quantum nightmares.
There was light too, now. Coloured light, dimmed by the smokiness of the thin
transparency that served as a visor. It was four inches wide and an inch deep.
No peripheral vision. No safety margin, on a heavy-duty suit. Nothing to see,
except chaotic light, coloured clouds lit by inconstant lightning.
Whirling. The colours whirled of their own volition, but I was turning too,
turning in flight as I righted, as the power of the suit came into operation,
holding me tight in arms of force, secure from harm, like bird's wings,
fluttered belatedly into action to arrest a fall, to snatch a thin body back
from disaster, and land ...
Safely.
There was a soft crunch as I came to ground. I felt its softness reverberate
up through my bones, as the brittle power of impact was soothed by the suit
into a gentle multiple wave.
I heard nothing of the fate of the life raft. I didn't know which way it had
gone.
I saw nothing. Once I was free of it, it disappeared from my life. I went my
own way, and landed my own way.
I landed on my feet, like a cat. I seemed to have nine lives, like a cat. Once
more into hell. A cat in hell's chance. But I was still winning. Cats have a
way of sur-
viving.
Only curiosity kills cats.
There was a silence. An utter silence.
"I'm down," I said, in the fond hope that somewhere out there was someone who
might be interested to know.
I heard Titus Charlot. He wasn't answering he was breathing. His mouth must
have been very close to the microphone. I had the odd idea that I was hearing
Titus Charlot, speechless. An unusual experience.
"Stay still," he said, eventually. "I'm hooking the
Hooded Swan back into the circuit."
"What about Jacks?" I said, with commendable concern for the good of my fellow
man. "Did he get the ship out all right?"
"We'll know in a moment," said Charlot. "He's still in atmosphere. I'll let
him in for a moment, as soon as we know he's clear. But only a moment. We have
no time to waste."
No, I thought. We never have.
For just the moment that Charlot promised, the circuit was connected four
ways.
"I'm down," I said again.
There was a crackle as Nick delArco said something both thankful and crude,
while Jacks expressed his surprise and pleasure in like manner. Neither was
talking to me, and the microphones failed to make their words clear. The
meaning, however,
was successfully conveyed.
"I'm a rich man," said Jacks, just a second or two later. "Just don't make any
mistakes lifting that baby."
I didn't have to ask whether his part had come off all right. I could
practically hear him counting his money. He was in clean space.
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He cut out of the circuit.
"Right," said Charlot. "Now we have to find out how far away you are and guide
you in. Switch on your bleep."
I substituted the signal for the sound of my voice, and I waited. I couldn't
hear what was going on, but I could imagine it well enough. Titus was telling
Nick how to use the ship's sensors to fix the bleep. I gave them a good two
minutes and switched myself back on.
"Where am I?" I said.
"Impatient," said Nick. "Keep bleeping."
I gave him another two minutes.
"How far?" I asked, just to vary the dialogue.
"Spot on," he said. "Less than twenty miles."
Mormyr is a big world, and she blows big winds. Twenty miles was, indeed, spot
on. But we needed that accuracy. On full power, the suit could take me three,
maybe four miles an hour. And depending on how much power had gone up the
chute making sure I landed properly, I probably had no more than eight hours
in hand.
Twenty miles was a real bull's-eye, and if it had been a competition we'd have
won.
But at the time, I could only feel that we'd brought it off according to plan,
that we'd scraped home by a short head.
I still had those miles to walk.
It took me more than four hours, and it was very boring. I've walked the
surfaces of some very strange worlds in my time and some rather violent ones
too.
But for sheer hostility there was nothing to approach Mormyr. In a way, that
long walk was a privileged experience. But I'm not one for telling barroom
tales, and I
have no grandchildren. I measure experiences by what they are not what
they'll add to me in years to come. That twenty miles in the kaleidoscopic
tempest was just twenty very uncomfortable miles. There was nothing much to
look at two minutes of chaos is quite enough to provide a lifetime's memory.
The walking wasn't particularly hard the suit provided the power to move
itself and some of the power to move me but it was by no means easy. I was
totally unused to the type of suit, and after a few minutes I found it
increasingly difficult to keep in step with it. It rubbed me at several
points particularly around my waist and in my legs, and it grew progressively
more painful. I began the trek with light conversation mostly directed at Nick
and Johnny but long before I was halfway I
had degenerated to complaints mostly directed at Charlot and providence and
simple but ingenious curses.
Nick volunteered to come and meet me, but I told him not to be a damned fool.
We had no suit as heavy as mine on the
Swan and he'd have been taking a hell of a risk coming out in something that [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]