All the wisdom of the universe cannot match the alert willingness to dodge a violent blow.
- Ancient folk saying
Cheo sat cross-legged on a bare stretch of floor in the anteroom of his quarters. A sharply defined orange crosslight from windows in the next room stretched his shadow beside him like something lifeless from the night. In his hands he held the length of noose which had remained after it had been cut in the closing of the jumpdoor.
Damnable interference! That big Laclac with the raygen had been fast! And the Wreave with the holoscan had made a record through the jumpdoor - no doubt of that. They'd start hunting back along his trail now, asking questions, showing the holoscan of his face.
Not that it would do them any good.
Cheo's jeweled eyes glittered with shards of light. He could almost hear the BuSab operatives: "Do you recognize this PanSpechi?"
The PanSpechi equivalent of a chuckle, a rumbling grunt, shook him. Fat lot of good that search would do them! No friend or acquaintance from the old days would be likely to recognize his face, now that the medics had changed it. Oh, the bridge of the nose and the set of the eyes were similar, but . . .
Cheo shook his head. Why was he worrying? No one - absolutely no one - was going to stop him from destroying the Caleban! And after that, all these conjectures would be academic.
He sighed heavily. His hands were gripping the length of rope so tightly that his muscles ached. It took him several heartbeats of effort to release them. He climbed to his feet, threw the severed rope at a wall. A flailing end of it lashed a chairdog, which whimpered sibilantly through its atrophied vocal structure.
Cheo nodded to himself. They had to get the guards away from the Caleban or the Caleban away from the guards. He rubbed the scars on his forehead, hesitated. Was that a sound behind him? Slowly he turned, lowered his hand.
Miss Abnethe stood in the doorway to the outer hall. The orange light created embers in the pearl sheathing of her gown. Her face held back anger, fear, and the grievous murmurings of her psyche.
"How long have you been there?" he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Why?" She stepped into the room, closed the door. "What've you been doing?"
"Fishing," he said.
She swept the room with her insolent gaze, saw the pile of whips in a corner. They were thrown over something vaguely round and hairy. A wet red stain crept onto the floor from beneath the pile. She paled, whispered, "What's that?"
"Get out of here, Mliss," he said.
"What've you been doing?" she shrieked, whirling on him.
I should tell her, he thought. I should really tell her.
"I've been working to save our lives," he said.
"You've killed someone, haven't you?" she rasped.
"He didn't suffer," Cheo said, his voice tired.
"But you . . ."
"What's one more death among the quadrillions we're planning?" he asked. By all the devils of Gowachin, she was a tiresome bitch!
"Cheo, I'm afraid."
Why did she have to whimper like that?
"Calm yourself," he said. "I've a plan to separate the Caleban from her guardians. When we achieve that, we can proceed with her destruction, and the thing's done."
She swallowed, said, "She suffers. I know she does."
"That's nonsense! You've heard her deny it. She doesn't even know what pain means. No referents!"
"But what if we're wrong? What if it's just a misunderstanding?"
He advanced on her, stood glaring over her. "Mliss, do you have any idea how much we'll suffer if we fail?"
She shuddered. Presently, her voice almost normal, she asked, "What's your plan?"