Taken in isolated tandem, Government and Justice are mutually exclusive. There must be a third force at work for any society to achieve both government and justice. This is why the Bureau of Sabotage sometimes is called "The Third Force."
- from an Elementary Textbook
In the hushed stillness within the Beachball, McKie leaned against a curved wall, sipped ice water from a thermocup. He kept his eyes active, though, watching Tuluk set up the needed instruments.
"What's to prevent our being attacked while we work?" Tuluk asked. He rolled a glowing loop on a squat stand into position near the Caleban's unpresence. "You should've let Bildoon send in some guards."
"Like those ones who were foaming at the mouth outside?"
"There's a fresh crew outside there now!"
Tuluk did something which made the glowing loop double its diameter.
"They'd only get in the way," McKie said. "Besides, Fanny Mae says the spacing isn't right for Abnethe." He sipped ice water. The room had achieved something approaching sauna temperature, but without the humidity.
"Spacing," Tuluk said. "Is that why Abnethe keeps missing you?" He produced a black wand from his instrument case. The wand was about a meter long. He adjusted a knob on the wand's handle, and the glowing loop contracted. The squat stand beneath the glowing loop began to hum - an itch-producing middle C.
"They miss me because I have a loving protector," McKie said. "It isn't every sentient who can say a Caleban loves him."
"What is that you're drinking?" Tuluk asked. "Is that one of your mind disrupters?"
"You're very funny," McKie said. "How much longer are you going to be fiddling with that gear?"
"I am not fiddling. Don't you realize this isn't portable equipment? It must be adjusted."
"The high temperature in here complicates my readings." Tuluk complained. "Why can't we have the port open?"
"For the same reason I didn't let any guards in here. I'll take my chances without having them complicated by a mob of insane sentients getting in my way."
"But must it be this hot?"
"Can't be helped," McKie said. "Fanny Mae and I have been talking, working things out."
"Hot air," McKie said.
"Ahhh, you make a joke."
"It can happen to anyone," McKie said. "I keep asking myself if what we see as a star is all of a Caleban or just part of one. I opt for part." He drank deeply of the ice water, discovered there was no more ice in it. Tuluk was right. It was damnably hot in here.
"That's a strange theory," Tuluk said. He silenced the humming of his instrument case. In the abrupt stillness something else in the case could be heard ticking. It was not a peaceful sound. It had the feeling of a timing device affixed to a bomb. It counted moments in a deadly race.
McKie felt each counted moment accumulate like a congealing bubble. It expanded . . . expanded - and broke! Each instant was death lashing at him. Tuluk with his strange wand was a magician, but he had reversed the ancient process. He was turning golden instants into deadly lead. His shape was wrong, too. He had no haunches. The tubular Wreave shape annoyed McKie. Wreaves moved too slowly.
The damnable ticking!
The Caleban's Beachball might be the last house in the universe, the last container for sentient life. And it contained no bed where a sentient might die decently.
Wreaves didn't sleep in beds, of course. They took their rest in slanted supports and were buried upright.
Tuluk had gray skin.
If all things ended now, McKie wondered, which of them would be the last to go? Whose breath would be the final one?
McKie breathed the echoes of all his fears. There was too much hanging on each counted instant here.
No more melodies, no more laughter, no more children racing in play. . . .
"There," Tuluk said.
"You ready?" McKie asked.
"I will be ready presently. Why does the Caleban not speak?"
"Because I asked her to save her strength."
"What does she say of your theory?"
"She thinks I have achieved truth. "
Tuluk took a small helix from his instrument case, inserted it into a receptacle at the base of the glowing ring.
"Come one, come on," McKie jittered.
"Your urgings will not reduce the necessary time for this task," Tuluk said. "For example, I am hungry. I came without stopping to break my daily fast. This does not press me to speed which might produce errors, nor does it arouse me to complain."
"Aren't you complaining?" McKie asked. "You want some of my water?"
"I had water two days ago," Tuluk said.
"And we wouldn't want to rush you into another drink."
"I do not understand what pattern you hope to identify," Tuluk said. "We have no records of artisans for a proper comparison of . . ."
"This is something God made," McKie said.
"You should not jest about deities," Tuluk said.
"Are you a believer or just playing safe?" McKie asked.
"I was chiding you for an act which might offend some sentients," Tuluk said. "We have a hard enough time bridging the sentient barriers without raising religious issues."
"Well, we've been spying on God - or whatever - for a long time," McKie said. "That's why we're going to get a spectroscopic record of this. How much longer you going to be at this fiddling?"
"Patience, patience," Tuluk muttered. He reactivated the wand, waved it near the glowing ring. Again the instrument began humming, a higher note this time. It grated on McKie's nerves. He felt it in his teeth and along the skin of his shoulders. It itched inside him where he couldn't scratch.
"Damn this heat!" Tuluk said. "Why will you not have the Caleban open a door to the outside?"
"I told you why."
"Well, it doesn't make this task any easier!"
"You know," McKie said, "when you called me and saved my skin from that Palenki chopper - the first time, remember? Right afterward you said you'd been tangled with Fanny Mae, and you said a very odd thing."
"Oh?" Tuluk had extended a small mandible and was making delicate adjustments to a knob on the case below the glowing ring.
"You said something about not knowing that was where you lived. Remember that?"
"I will never forget it." Tuluk bent his tubular body across the glowing ring, stared back through it while passing the wand back and forth in front of the ring's opening.
"Where was that?" McKie asked.
"Where was what?"
"Where you lived!"
"That? There are no words to describe it."
Tuluk straightened, glanced at McKie. "It was a bit like being a mote in a vast sea . . . and experiencing the warmth, the friendship of a benign giant. "
"That giant - the Caleban?"
"That's what I thought."
"I will not answer for inaccuracies in this device," Tuluk said. "But I don't believe I can adjust it any closer. Given a few days, some shielding - there's an odd radiation pattern from that wall behind you - and projection dampers, I might, I just might achieve a fair degree of accuracy. Now? I cannot be responsible."
"And you'll be able to get a spectroscopic record?"
"Then maybe we're in time," McKie said.
"For the right spacing."
"Ahhh, you mean the flogging and the subsequent shower of sparks?"
"That's what I mean."
"You could not . . . flog her yourself, gently?"
"Fanny Mae says that wouldn't work. It has to be done with violence . . . and the intent to create intensity of anti-love . . . or it won't work."
"Oh. How odd. You know, McKie, I believe I could use some of your water, after all. It's the heat in here."