Chapter 25 – Loop

"That wasn't so bad," said FX as they left the TSTO security building.

Isaiah exchanged glances with Jeanette as they trailed behind. "It wasn't?" he asked. "What does bad look like?"

"Well, there was no actual froth on the lips, this time," FX pointed out.

"He didn't demote you," Jeanette acknowledged. "Just brought the subject up a lot. Along with brigs, enforced psilence, deportation, sensory deprivation cells, and courts martial."

"Right," said FX cheerfully. "All just mentioned in passing. Furthermore, he didn't even forbid us to continue. We have the go-ahead."

"Well," said Isaiah, "we don't have a don't-you-dare."

"It amounts to the same thing," FX said airily, albeit with a certain tightness to the voice.

They were back on the landing field now. Behind them lay the buildings of Pericles spaceport. Before them stretched the neatly gridded plane, dotted with ships like giant game pieces. One, far away, was the Fleahopper, the neb-runners' ship. Another, also far away, was the Will o' the Wisp. And a third, near at hand, was also the Will o' the Wisp, a few weeks older, currently going by the name TSS Minkowski.

As Isaiah contemplated the incongruity, a dozen or so viewpoints whirled out of his head and up into the air, half to gaze at one instance of their ship, half at the other. He pulled them back. All this new-found clairvoyance was wonderful, but it could get tiring if he didn't pace himself.

"How dangerous is time travel, really?" he asked, aiming the question at FX and Jeanette impartially.

FX shrugged. "Safer than he thinks," he said, jerking a thumb back at the security building, "and more dangerous than Borne thinks."

"I remember," Isaiah said. He told Jeanette, "Borne wanted FX to scout around Carmel for a week, then come back to the beginning of the week to begin your rescue."

Jeanette smiled. "Nice to know he was willing to go to all that trouble. That's playing a little too free and easy with the timestream. But, to answer your question, time travel isn't all that dangerous. The Timekeepers have done a lot of experimenting. And there was also a lot done in the early days of hyperdrive."

"Then why do we get reactions like his?" Isaiah nodded back toward the office of the apoplectic TSTO officer.

"He's just superstitious," Jeanette answered. "Lots of star pilots and their ilk think time travel is bad luck. We're safe, so long as we don't try to prevent anything that happened to us. Safe from temporal effects, anyway." She hesitated. "And, uh, so long as we don't accidentally try to prevent anything that happened to us."

"How do we avoid that?" Isaiah asked.

"Well, that's one use for temporal psi. Otherwise..."

"Otherwise, you can blunder into a causal snarl inadvertently. So he was right; time travel invites bad luck."

"Not if you're careful."

Isaiah sighed. "This was my idea, wasn't it?"

"We all agreed to it," Jeanette reminded him, and took his arm.

They followed FX down striped safety-paths. Little warning lights noted their passage and blinked around them, so no descending ship would land on them accidentally. Isaiah wondered where his earlier self was, now. In Barchester, Albion, he thought, with the earlier Jeanette.

"So the Timekeepers taught you to spot upcoming causal snarls?" he asked after a couple of pleasant minutes' stroll.

"It's just part of general foresight," she said. "You learn to look for preparations to make now, for the sake of later events. You don't necessarily know exactly... what..." Her voice trailed off. "Thanks for mentioning that."

As Jeanette talked about foresight, Isaiah felt a tingle of psi start up in her. Now it was a steady glow. FX felt it, too, and turned back to stare at Jeanette's abstracted face. "What?" Isaiah asked.

Jeanette blinked and looked at FX. "Would it be all right if I tried contacting the others? We know I won't contact the earlier ones, because I didn't."

FX grimaced. "We don't know you won't hurt yourself trying."

"But it's my foresight urging me to check up on everyone."

He sighed. "Oh, very well."

Isaiah quietly made contact, the mental equivalent of slipping his hand into hers, and watched as she reached out for Vivian, Daima, Borne–

"Borne's in psilence," she announced.

"Pierce it," Isaiah urged. Jeanette radiated unease. Hiding her piercing was a strict, old habit. "That's what the foresight's about, isn't it?" he asked. She nodded and pierced.

Isaiah followed the contact on the empathic level. Worry from Jeanette. Irritation from Borne. Exasperation from Jeanette. Now mutual exasperation.

Isaiah edged into the verbal level. The argument between brother and sister was going on at the conceptual level, but Isaiah caught scattered words, thrown up like froth: "impossible," "timelock," "gun," "nonsense," "nothing to prevent," "stunner," "stop."

Isaiah pushed down into the sensory level and glanced out through Borne's eyes. He was seated in a cluster of tables just outside a set of security gates, scanning the people passing through. That, and the sense of direction from the contact, gave Isaiah the location.

Arguing, he decided, was not the answer. He launched into the air, blossoming into the Griffin as he did so. FX, caught off guard, swore, then recovered and threw an invisibility over him.

So, doubly wrapped in illusion, the Griffin flitted through the spaceport corridors. It delighted in the freedom and speed, and spared a moment of sympathy for Borne, so eager to act instead of watching and planning.

There he was now, sitting in a cluster of tables before a snack bar. Isaiah landed and dismissed the griffin-shape. The invisibility went with it, but he had chosen his spot carefully and no one noticed his appearance.

Borne turned as Isaiah approached, his eyes glittering with anger. "You can put your wings back on and flap off," he said. His hand hovered before his open jacket. The jacket was fluorescent orange, but at least it only had two arms; Borne was not wearing his splice job today.

Isaiah dropped into a seat next to him. "I haven't been following closely," he said. "All I know is you're quarreling with Jeanette about time and a stunner. What's up?"

"Bugger off," Borne answered sullenly.

Jeanette's thoughts poured into his brain. "He heard from Canorus that the neb-runners left through these gates. He figures they'll likely come back this way. He means to ambush them."

Isaiah gazed mildly at Borne and asked, "What will you do after you ambush them?"

"Haul 'em in."

"But they didn't get hauled in. We saw them leave."

"Don't you start! I'm not gonna believe you any more than her." A group of tourists at the table behind him paused in their conversation to glance at Borne. "This business about Time acting against you is a superstition. There's nothing to stop me!"

Isaiah opened his mouth, then shut it again. He had been about to say, "There's me." He watched Borne's fuming and wondered at himself. Forcible restraint had been at the back of his mind since he flew off. Since when had he been ready to brawl in public? Apparently, since he had turned into a monster ... even if he was able to control it now. Couldn't he?

No, physical restraint would be a bad idea. The strategy was to lie in wait, hiding from the neb-runners and their earlier selves, laying their traps. That was not compatible with a public tussle with Borne, especially if it escalated into psi tricks, griffin against poltergeist.

Of course, running amok with a stunner wouldn't do, either.

Isaiah fell back on words, choosing a tack Jeanette might not have. "So you'll zap them and present their unconscious forms to TSTO. What do you think TSTO will do?" He spoke softly, not wanting to attract the tourists' attention.

Borne gave no answer, but he looked uneasy. Borne and bureaucracies never mixed well.

"And remember that TSTO is at least as superstitious about time travel as your sister," Isaiah added.

"We ... could haul 'em back to the present. Then turn 'em over to TSTO."

"You think TSTO here will let you drag four unconscious bodies into our space ship? Or the star marshals? Or the port authority? Or the Pericles police?"

"They can thrash it all out later," Borne growled. "At the very least, I can give them some extra stun bolts and toast their brains a little. Soften 'em up."

"Personally, I like toast crisp, not soft," Isaiah quipped, without result. "Of course, Jeanette has already gone lobe-to-lobe with one of those brains. It wasn't toasted."

"That was then, dammit. Ah!"

Isaiah followed Borne's gaze. There was the target – not "them," but "her," the blonde woman he had only seen at a distance, or in reconstructions and images – the Integral. Of course. If there were no encounter, Jeanette's foresight would not have warned her. What to do now?

Borne was not going to succeed in capturing this woman or putting her out of telepathic commission. She and her fellows were not leaving for days yet. That was given. The only danger was that Borne would tip her off – let her know that her own trick had been played on her, that they had chased her back through time. Then she might take too many precautions, and their traps would fail.

Preventing that didn't sound too hard.

The Integral was closer, now. In a quarter-minute, she would be passing their area, with no crowd between them. "Do you still have your psilencer on?" Isaiah asked. He turned his own on.

"Yeah. She's a telepath, after all. Remember what she did to us the first time." In the future.

"Good." Isaiah waited.

The Integral was a few steps from her closest approach. Borne reached into his jacket to pull out the stunner.

Just then, the group of tourists behind Borne rose to leave. One woman held a paper cup in her hand. She turned and stepped from the table while still facing a friend, talking. She bumped into Borne, slopping a generous helping of cola over his left shoulder and into his lap.

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" the woman gasped. She gasped again as Borne turned on her a face white with shock and wrath.

Instantly, though, he turned back to his target and drew his gun. He still had a clear shot. The tourist gasped a third time and Isaiah considered slapping Borne's hand aside. It would probably be safer. Instead, curious, he went on waiting.

Borne fired. Neither the Integral nor anyone else in the crowd staggered or fell. Instead, the gun made a crackling noise. Borne yelped and dropped it on the table.

By now, the Integral was back in the crowd. Isaiah flicked off his psilencer and sent a viewpoint sailing after her. He kept it five meters away, lest she should feel it, but enhanced the magnification. So far as he could tell, she had taken no notice of Borne.

Borne, still determined, rose to pursue. Isaiah hooked a foot out from under him and, as he went crashing down among the chairs and tables, swept the stunner under the table and out of sight.

By now, the tourist's friends were asking her what was the matter. She exclaimed, "He has a gun!" The other tourists stared at Borne, cola-soaked and sprawled on the floor.

"Where?" asked another woman. Eyes roamed. Some glanced at Isaiah, who stared back, simulating mild confusion and surprise.

"I thought–" the woman began, but was interrupted by Borne, who rose into the air, cursing, like a profane Peter Pan. Chairs, including Isaiah's, and a couple of tourists got shoved back by invisible forces. "I'm so sorry!" the woman repeated, as Borne lit on his feet, but he saved his glares for Isaiah.

"Did you trip me?"

"Sure," Isaiah answered, but with heavy irony. "And I hired them to dump drinks on you, and wired the short in your stunner." It seemed safe to mention the stunner, since the tourists were now in full retreat. "I thought he had a gun," the cola-spiller was saying, dubiously, at the edge of earshot.

He felt a definite sensation of being watched. A moment later, Jeanette was tapping on his mental shoulder. "What happened?" she asked.

Isaiah rose. "Let's get you some napkins and blot you off," he said to Borne. "Then we can head back to the ship." Still grumbling, Borne moved off. Isaiah smiled. "It was very educational," he sent back to Jeanette, and opened his recent memories to her.


Isaiah watched the Shadow make his way through the dusk, across the landing field. He looked, at the moment, oriental, but that was glamour. Just as Isaiah's clairvoyance could penetrate evening darkness, so it could ignore the glamour and gaze upon the square European features beneath.

Isaiah deployed that clairvoyance from a viewpoint 300 meters away. He did not want the Shadow to feel his psychic activity, and he could compensate for the distance with telescopic focus – a talent apparently left over from his earlier delusion that he had turned into an eagle-headed, and thus eagle-eyed, monster.

He had been observing the neb-runners for two days now. He now knew the true appearances of each of them, along with the names they went by. He still thought of them by their archetypal roles, though, since he had no reason to believe the names on their Adonian passports were genuine. Views of their true faces, however, had long since been transferred from clairvoyance to glamour to video.

"I expect he's headed to that strip of bars at the edge of the warehouse district," Isaiah said to Jeanette. "He has the same look."

"What look is that?" she asked.

"Well, his face is sullen, but his gait is eager."

"Looking forward to another customer contact?"

"Perhaps," Isaiah said. "Or to another little knuckle-fest, like last night. He enjoyed that." The Shadow was in charge of the quartet's physical security and a source for the martial skills of the nebs and shebs. Last night, Isaiah had watched him meet a prospective customer in a spacer bar, describe the nebs to him, then give a demonstration of the talents the nebs copied by picking a fight with the loudest male in the room.

Isaiah had seen all this from Seer's eyes. He now summoned the familiar to his viewpoint, had him shrink to fly-size, and told him to continue trailing the Shadow at a distance. Then he let go of the clairvoyance and felt Seer continue the stalking.

He leaned back and sighed. "I've just told an illusion to take charge of my clairvoyance, to track a man whose career is personifying a Jungian archetype. But that's all right; it's an invisible illusion. And I used to think theology was strange."

Jeanette grinned at him. "You get used to it."

"That's good?"

They sat in the lounge, alone on the ship. Canorus was loitering in a lobby, somewhere in the spaceport, having planted psi-openers in a nearby switchboard, then sent his mind and Nettle off down the comm lines, tracing the neb-runners' customers. Daima was out tailing the Animus, and FX and Vivian had taken Borne with them to tail the Persona, who seemed to be the quartet's main sales representative.

"How is Borne doing?" Isaiah asked. "Still gunning for our neb-runners?"

"No, he's given up. He's convinced we won't let him at them." Jeanette stared meditatively at the screen, now showing the view over the landing field, to the edge, the sea, and the sunset beyond. "He thinks we're all in the grip of superstition. You shouldn't have hooked his feet out from under him."

"I wanted to protect him."

She stared at him. "A funny way of doing it!"

"Maybe, but I knew he'd catch himself with TK. And I was afraid something even worse would happen if he tackled the Integral."

"So you believe in timelock?" she asked.

"Oh, yes. It was fascinating. I mean, it was very odd, that short in the stunner. The seal on the power cell had to be loose, the drink had to slop just right, not to mention having all the people in the right places to do the slopping."

Jeanette gazed out into the darkening sky again. "That means it's even more unlikely that the neb-runners would stick around if assaulted. They'd run. Certainly. Or retaliate and then run."

"So the runners are very predictable," Isaiah mused. "Very determined. They stick to plans tightly."

Jeanette nodded. "Professional time-travelers are often like that. Not like us amateurs."

It was Isaiah's turn to be puzzled. "I didn't know there were professional time-travelers. How do you know about them?"

Jeanette grinned. "Timekeepers, of course. The Timekeeper's College isn't exactly the same thing as the Refuge intelligence service, but there's a big overlap between the two. The college lectures on temporal theory implied certain kinds of experience..."

"Good grief!" Isaiah sat in a thoughtful silence, then said, "We've shared Diaspora space with them for a century. We always thought Refuge was in third place, after Carmel and Philippia. Now, I wonder. So all the time, they were sliding back and forth between past and future."

Jeanette giggled. "Not all the time. A little is plenty, though. Especially when you can re-use it."

"Well, given all that, I'm glad there is timelock. I'd hate–" He broke off. "I just thought of a way to make Borne become a fan of timelock. If the past were mutable, anything he does could be undone by a future time-traveler. He'd hate that, wouldn't he?"

"He certainly would. I'll try that on him." Jeanette leaned back in her chair, smiling now. The screen showed full night, now. She glanced over at Isaiah and caught a thoughtful expression on his face. "What are you thinking?" He started to contact her. "No, just tell me."

"Religious musings," he said. "I was thinking about undoing. God hasn't designed Time for undoing. He Himself doesn't undo very often. Not His own actions nor ours. The consequences follow."

Jeanette nodded. "The law of karma," she said.

"Yes, but Christianity adds a wrinkle. God goes on acting. He adds His own consequences to ours, goes on creating and interacting. For Christians, the biggest instance of that is Christ as practical answer to Problem of Evil. God doesn't undo evil; He doesn't just 'smite the world perfect,' as I read once in a play. He uses the evil as raw material for a new creation, and so redeems it. Does... Does any of that make any sense to you?" For Jeanette was staring at him rather blankly.

"Well ... I want some time to think about it."

"You do?" Isaiah exclaimed. "Why?"

She laughed. "I love you. Your convictions are important to me. I'd like to see things your way, if I can."

Isaiah's expression of surprise changed to one of caution. "I'm surprised you'd consider ... converting."

Jeanette shrugged. "Me, too. But I have a high opinion of your intelligence and judgement. If you think there's something in this, then maybe there is."

So he was a spiritual role-model. Isaiah shifted uneasily under this surprising new weight. "A lot of clever people believe a lot of different religions," he pointed out.

Jeanette shrugged again. "They have their reasons, then. But I know your reasons, or I'm starting to. It's a kind of cosmic optimism, isn't it? I mean, the world is a good thing, in your system."

"Well, yes. But what–" Isaiah broke off. "Excuse me." Seer was tugging at his attention. The familiar was still fly-sized and invisible. Fly-like, he hung on a ceiling. Isaiah recognized it as the same bar the Shadow had visited last night. The Shadow himself sat at a table in the midst of the room, with last night's potential customer.

The customer was a small, angular man, casually dressed but rather too neat and pressed compared to the spacehands around him. The Shadow, on the other hand, fit right in, blocky and rough. He wore baggy black coveralls and no glamour, since most of the folk in the room wore personal psilencers that, in the crowding, would have shredded and exposed any glamour he took on.

But that was not why Seer had called. The familiar's attention was on the entrance. There stood a short, blonde woman, plump and pretty, in a brief, gaudy sari that matched local style perfectly. She was the Persona, the neb-runners' main business negotiator.

"I think I'm watching a deal get clinched," Isaiah told Jeanette. "Take a look." She entered his sensory level.

The Persona surveyed the scene, sorting through the dim lighting, the images flickering up from game tables, the din of voices and the chittering of the currently popular insect music. She was looking for the Shadow and failing to find him. Annoyed, she gave a crackle of psi, just enough telepathy to feel for his presence. He looked up and met her eyes. (One or two heads elsewhere in the room turned, psychics wearing no psilencers.)

Soon, she was at the table, chattering to the angular customer. He seemed unimpressed by her smiles and dimples, but he listened carefully to the numbers she quoted.

Isaiah rather wanted to hear those numbers, but he took a lesson from the fleeting notice the Persona had attracted and kept Seer tiny and distant. He read her lips for a while, then decided it would be more use to read the customer's lips.

Seer scudded along under the ceiling, staying well away from the trio's table, then settled, still invisible, on top of the bartender's autochef. He was thus in a good position to see FX, Vivian, and Borne come through the door. "Ah, still tailing," Isaiah observed. "Will people feel it if I contact them? I mean, I'm sort of present there, through Seer."

"Dunno," said Jeanette. "Let me." A few seconds later, she had updated their friends.

"Borne's still grumpy," she observed as Seer watched her brother sit down with the others, two tables away from the neb-runners.

Isaiah looked on admiringly as FX got up, went to the bar, placed orders, and returned, taking five pictures along the way with a tiny camera hidden purely by legerdemain, not glamour.

FX resumed his seat. A waiter was passing their table, tray held high. He paused politely while FX pulled his chair in, out of the way. Borne looked up from his scowl to see a tray of drinks hovering over him. Alarm lit his eyes.

The waiter passed on without incident, but Borne still rose, said, "See you back at the ship," and left. Vivian giggled. FX checked on the neb-runners – safely oblivious – then grinned. And, back at the ship, Isaiah and Jeanette burst into laughter.

"Maybe I don't need to try your new line of argument on him," Jeanette said.

"Looks like," Isaiah agreed. He dismissed Seer, who vanished back into his imagination. "Want to come out to dinner with me?" he asked, rising.

"Sure," said Jeanette. "Where?"

"There's a restaurant with seating on the roof over in the spaceport buildings. Let's go there. They have background music, and I want to try dancing on air with you again."



It was the day of their departure. Their past departure, and probably their future one as well. They still had not laid their traps.

Right now, their earlier selves were far away on the seas of Hellene, investigating a neb. The earlier version of Will o' the Wisp lay empty, except for Wisper, who would soon startle the neb-runners into leaving. The Fleahopper was empty, except for the Integral.

Isaiah sat with the others, in the lounge of the Will o' the Wisp (latest version), watching the neb-runners' ship on the wall screen, the image coming through a security camera that Canorus had pressed into service. He ran over the plans once more, in his mind.

"Three hours, twenty minutes," Wisper announced. This was the time until the earlier Wisper would launch the Will o' the Wisp and spook the neb-runners.

"How much time should we give ourselves?" Isaiah asked.

"It'll only take a couple of minutes," FX assured him.

"I know. But how much time exactly? Ten minutes before? Five? I'd like to know."

FX sighed and shifted in his seat. "I don't know that we need–"

"Sooner," Jeanette announced. "Very soon, in fact."

"Oh?" FX asked. "Precog?" Jeanette nodded. "Can you give me any details? This isn't according to plan, after all."

The plan had been to wait as long as possible, so the neb-runners would have as little time as possible in which to discover the traps.

"Doesn't feel bad," Jeanette said, frowning to herself. "Maybe even lucky. It might–"

"Lucky! Yes!" Daima rose and pointed at the screen. The Integral was walking away from the ship. "She leaves it empty." Daima's tone was eager, hungry.

Isaiah sighed in relief. "No need to worry about her noticing while we probe around."

"Yes," murmured FX, considering. "We could even go there in person."

Isaiah blinked at him. "I thought you were the cautious one."

"Only by comparison. In person could be a lot better. Right?" He glanced around the room, gathering votes. Canorus, Borne, and Daima agreed eagerly, Vivian and Jeanette more quietly.

"Better?" Isaiah asked. "Why? How?" People began leaving the room to gather equipment.

"'Why' is because we'll be able to leave much better tokens and tracers," FX said. "'How' shouldn't be much of a problem."

Isaiah glanced at Jeanette. "It ought to be all right," she said, still tasting the timestream, "if we're careful."

Minutes later, they all stood outside the Will o' the Wisp, silently feeling. "If there are any psi triggers," FX announced at last, "they're hidden as sneaky as we mean to be. So we may as well proceed."

Now the party silently watched Canorus. After gazing at his palm-top computer, he looked up and announced, "She's got it pinned down." Nettle had seized control of the neb-runners' ship computer.

A short, brisk walk took them to the Fleahopper. It was a typical small trader – a stubby white bullet shape, standing on end like a little, pointed tower. The airlock at the top of the gangway was, of course, locked, but Canorus or Nettle (if the distinction was important) flummoxed the recognition system. Daima could not ooze through the hatch, since it was airtight, but she could form her doppleganger on the other side of it. The silvery shape then opened the hatch from inside and beckoned them in.

Isaiah entered and looked around. The cabin was dark; normally, the computer would have sensed people and turned on lights, but Nettle had stymied that. Just as his eyes started to adapt, FX entered, raised a hand, and conjured a ball of pale light.

"Don't give them any more psi traces to detect than we can help," cautioned Jeanette, entering next.

"We have to see," FX answered.

"Use these." She brandished a handful of small flashlights.

"Whatever will they think of next," FX murmured, taking one and extinguishing the light ball.

Jeanette passed out more flashlights as the others entered. Looking around, Isaiah saw they were in the cargo hold. Crates and boxes stood in stacks, neatly strapped in place. Some were clearly provisions. Some undoubtedly contained Dragons' Teeth, each ready to blossom into a slave.

The area doubled as a mess and rec room, to judge by the folding furniture, magazines, and TV plates scattered about. On the far side were doors to two cabins, a tiny bathroom, and an autochef.

"They must go somewhere else to enjoy their profits," he said aloud.

Daima entered last. She wore dark slacks and a cape, but no illusions, and by now looked almost exactly like her double. She met the double's eyes. It turned from her and vanished among the stacked crates.

"Can we really do that?" Isaiah asked her. "If I leave Seer here, will he really stay here to meet me later? I mean, if they're just projections..."

Daima shrugged. "It can be tried. It makes success more possible."

FX came over, peered into the shadows where the doppleganger had gone, and gave off a mild pulse of psi. He was casting a cloak, Isaiah new, theoretically making the doppleganger invisible to second sight as well as first. (But if you make an illusion invisible, what's left? Oh, well...)

Isaiah tapped FX on the shoulder. "Could you cloak Seer for me? I want to leave him up in the cockpit."


They climbed a ladder and came out into sun again. Four couches lay on the floor, facing up at the control panels. The panels were mostly dark, but a screen lit up, showing Nettle. She waved at them.

"So, you think you can stay when Canorus goes?" Isaiah asked her.

"That's the idea," she answered. "We'll see. Anyway, got a nifty little jammer loaded in here already. This system'll come down like a house of cards the second after they blow you guys away. Your first pass, I mean."

Isaiah nodded. "As long as it isn't found."

She shook her head and grinned. "No way. Double no way, if I'm here to baby it along."

"The system doesn't know we're here?" FX asked.

"Not a clue. Got all the recognition hung. Diagnostics, too. As far as it's concerned, the only thing happening is clock ticks."

"Good," said FX. "Okay, Isaiah, let's give her some more company."

Isaiah opened his palm and wished Seer into it – flea-sized, bee-sized, mouse-sized. The griffin jumped off, inflated to cat-sized, and peered around. "Behind the panels," Isaiah told him. "And stay small and invisible until I come back."

Seer leapt onto the steering yoke and shrank once more to flea-sized. FX squinted at him and cast the cloak. Seer then flew to a seam in the paneling and vanished. FX turned and climbed back down. Nettle blanked her screen. Isaiah stared around for a moment, said, "Good boy," to the seam in the paneling, and followed FX.

Back in the cargo hold, Jeanette was binding bits of telepathic grafitti to the back walls of crates, then casting shields over them. FX did similar things with clairvoyance tracers and cloaks.

Borne climbed up to the cockpit (climbed, for once, not floated) with Canorus, to look over the neb-runners' navigation and weapons system. Vivian and Daima explored the rest of the ship. There was little left, except for the engineering deck below.

"All muffled up?" FX asked.

"All sealed, with triggers set," Jeanette reported.

"Then we're ready for the tokens."

FX took a small envelope out of his pocket. Inside were four tiny feathers and two miniscule shreds of insulation.

So far, they had done nothing they could not have done psychically, while sitting in the lounge on their own ship. The only advantage was that a physical break-in – if successful – would leave less psychic trace for the neb-runners to notice. (Of course, it left plenty of physical trace, such as odors and skin flakes, but they trusted the neb-runners would have no occasion to look for those things.)

But the elaborate array of familiars, tracers, cloaks, and shields would all be cut off from them when the ship made hyperjump. They had been hoping to re-establish contact simply on the grounds that Jeanette was a very good telepath, or, if they were very lucky, simply by closing with the neb-runners quickly. Now, the tokens gave them a physical presence on the ship.

The tokens were things they could dowse for, clairvoyantly. While long-distance telepathy and clairvoyance required a prior psychic link, dowsing would not, any more than it had in the warehouse back on Philippia. The cost was that dowsing was very vague. Exemplars and familiarity – tokens – sharpened it.

The tokens were four half-millimeter feathers from Nift's eyebrows, a scrap of insulation from wiring in Borne's extra pair of arms, and another scrap from inside Canorus's palmtop computer.

FX opened the envelope and looked at them. Then he looked at the doors to the two cabins. "Somewhere sloppy," he said to himself.

The first cabin contained a double bed. On one side stood racks of books and data blocs. On the other lay a scatter of soft porn and bright clothes. "The Integral and the Animus," Isaiah murmured. FX nodded.

The other cabin likewise contained a bed. On one side stood a wardrobe in a low tide of women's clothes. On the other hung gun racks and free-weights. "The Shadow and the Mask?" FX asked.

"She's called the Persona, but 'mask' is the idea."

"Whatever she's called, she's not quite as big a slob as the Animus." FX returned to the first cabin and cast the tiny fragments of litter into the swirl of clothes. "And now, back to our own ship."


Half an hour later, the Persona returned to her ship. An hour after that, the Will o' the Wisp took off. They did not linger to watch the earlier Wisper fly the earlier Will o' the Wisp above the field and point it at the Fleahopper, or see their own late arrivals and the thunderous departure of the neb-runners. They had, after all, seen it all before. Now they were to see what happened after.

On to Chapter 26, Battle
Back to Chapter 24, Returns
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop

Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013