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most of the talking. Kerwin raised his voice.
"Hey! Don't you guys wanna know what's going on?"
Seeth barely looked in his direction. "Naw! You take care of it, brother.
Keep me posted. If we ain't gonna be obliterated in the next ten
minutes quit bothering me, okay?"
Izmir drifted across the ceiling, a collection of glassy, glowing bubbles.
As those below looked on, the bubbles coalesced into a solid sphere
with the blue eye prominent on one side.
"Remarkable," Ganun observed quietly. "The shape-changing ability,
the levitation and heatless defiance of shoot fields, these enormous
yet weak pulses of radiation there are secrets behind that blue eye,
gentlemen, secrets. I
wonder what he really is."
"Maybe he's just a pet," Kerwin commented. "He acts like it, the way
he follows people around."
"What is the meaning of this dark spherical shape? Is he trying to
mimic the battlezone projection?"
"Either that or he wants to go bowling again," Rail muttered. In
response to Ganun's look of puzzlement, he added, "A Cro-Magnon
sport. It involves problems in velocity and mass."
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"Mass," Ganun murmured. "I wonder at its true mass. I don't suppose
you've ever measured it?"
"Not accurately. He can vary that as well also. When we were doing
this bowling sport he was a modest weight, but at other times he
cannot be moved. Then he becomes light as air, as he was a moment
ago."
"I can accept the levitation and all the rest." The Captain was leaning
back in his command chair and staring at the floating enigma.
"Alteration of mass is something else. He cannot be changing his
mass. There must be another explanation for the phenomenon.
Perhaps he is moving quantities of himself between the here-and-now
and someplace else."
"That's the craziest thing I ever heard," said Kerwin before he could
stop himself.
It didn't upset Ganun. "That's the craziest thing I've ever seen. We
know next to nothing about it, my cursory examination
notwithstanding. Consider that we still do not know something as basic
as whether or not it is alive or simply a clever device."
"I lean toward device," said Rail.
"Why?"
"Some things not even a unique lifeform is capable of."
"You are holding back, goodness knows. Explain yourself. I am under
attack by not one but two different war fleets. I have no time for
guessing games."
"It's just that well, watch." Rail moved beneath the bowling ball
sphere. "Izmir, take a hike. Just a short one."
Without responding verbally, the globe expanded into a glistening
sphere shot through with streaks of bright yellow.
"That's impressive," said Ganun.
"No, it's not impressive at all," Rail argued. "What's going to happen
next should be impressive."
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It was. It caused the most dedicated crew members to look away from
their stations and stare.
The blue-eyed glowing sphere that was Izmir drifted slowly over to the
viewport. Without hesitation it moved through the transparency,
halting ten feet beyond the ship's hull. It hung there in the void,
unaffected, floating alongside the ship.
"You're right," Ganun whispered. "That's very impressive."
"I don't have the slightest idea how he does it," Rail said, "but it just
doesn't strike me as the sort of thing any lifeform, no matter how
bizarre or adaptable, should be able to do. It's obvious he doesn't
require the presence of an atmosphere. That much I've known for
some time." He walked over to the port.
"That's enough, Izmir. Come back inside."
Obediently, the bubble repeated its trick, floating back into the war
room through the solid viewport. Two members of the crew rose to
check the window on infinity.
"Not a scratch, goodness knows," one of them reported. "No warping;
no change at all."
"He went through it like an open door." Ganun couldn't take his eyes
off Izmir.
"Yeah, he does it all the time." Rail sounded as much bored as
bemused. "Solid walls, floors, anything. I'm sure it must be related to
his shape-changing talent. Obviously he's malleable on the molecular
level, perhaps even the atomic. He can adjust his space. Once he even
slipped through my body. I didn't feel experience a thing, but it sure
made me queasy. He does the trick with fields as well as solid
obstacles."
Ganun was nodding. "Impossible to cage or restrain. Also impossible to
lock out. Our weapons people will be very interested."
"Fortunately he has shown no inclination to harm anyone or anything,"
Rail went on. "I've tried, believe me, to get him to defend us against
the Oomemians, but he won't. Whether it's a conscious decision or not
I've no way of knowing, though he did once assume the shape of an
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emerald trapezoid and drift through an Oomemian assassin's head,
which upset him sufficiently so that he forgot about trying to shoot
me."
"This is quite beyond me. It's clear that we're dealing here with new
physics and potentialities that no one has thought of. No wonder your
people as well as the Oomemians are willing to send entire fleets in
pursuit of him. How do you control him?"
"He seems willing to listen to just about anyone, but I think he has a
special feeling for me. Don't ask why. I've tried to decipher his babble,
but I'm beginning to doubt it has anything to do with speech. It may
just be some kind of involuntary electronic emission."
"I'd take you bowling," Kerwin told the glowing sphere, "but we don't
have any pins."
The blue eye shifted to stare down at him. It was extremely
disconcerting and Kerwin found that sensation disconcerting in itself
because there was no reason for him to be uncomfortable. He was
unsettled nonetheless, perhaps because of the ability Izmir had just
demonstrated.
"He's fond of this bowling, you say." Ganun looked thoughtful. "He
likes to drift through solid surfaces. What else does he like to do?
Move worlds out of their orbits?" He glanced at Rail. "I wonder if you
have any idea what you've been wandering around with this past year.
I wonder if any of us really suspect what we're onto here."
Kerwin had turned his attention to the battle sphere. "If the
Oomemians end up winning, we'll never have the chance to find out."
"True enough, young cousin. The Oomemians can be disagreeable.
However, we are neutrals."
"That doesn't mean a thing when Izmir's involved," Rail reminded him.
"I really think believe they'd risk open war with House and its allies to
get him back."
"After that little demonstration I doubt nothing." The captain nodded
toward the viewport, which was still being studied by the disbelieving
crew members. "At this point, nothing would surprise me."
He was wrong, of course, but not for the reasons he imagined.
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*11*
The appearance of the Oomemian fleet complicated the Prufillians'
pursuit, much as Ganun had suspected it would. By the time another
day had passed, both fleets had drawn nearer to the fleeing House
vessel, yet neither could approach within firing range because doing so
would upset the delicate tactical balance being maintained between
them. They were compelled to keep their distance from each other.
The number of ships involved and the velocities at which they were [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]