You can say things which cannot be done. This is elementary. The trick is to keep attention focused on what is said and not on what can be done.

-BuSab Manual

As Furuneo's life monitor ignited at his death, Taprisiots scanned the Beachball area. They found only the Caleban and four enforcers in hovering guard ships. Reasoning about actions, motives or guilt did not come within the Taprisiot scope. They merely reported the death, its location, and the sentients available to their scanners.

The four enforcers came in for several days of rough questioning as a result. The Caleban was a different matter. A full BuSab management conference was required before they could decide what action to take about the Caleban. Furuneo's death had come under extremely mysterious circumstances - no head, unintelligible responses from the Caleban.

As Tuluk entered the conference room on a summons that had roused him from sleep, Siker was flailing the table. He was using his middle fighting tendril for the gesture, quite un-Laclac in emotional intensity.

"We don't act without calling McKie!" Siker said. "This is too delicate!"

Tuluk took his position at the table, leaned into the Wreave support provided for his species, spoke mildly: "Haven't you contacted McKie yet? Furuneo was supposed to have ordered the Caleban . . ."

That was as far as he got. Explanations and data came at him from several of the others.

Presently Tuluk said, "Where's Furuneo's body"

"Enforcers are bringing it to the lab now."

"Have the police been brought in?"

"Of course."

"Anything on the missing head?"

"No sign of it."

"Has to be the result of a jumpdoor," Tuluk said. "Will the police take over?"

"We're not going to allow that. One of our own."

Tuluk nodded. "I'm with Siker, then. We don't move without consulting McKie. This case was handed to him when we didn't know its extent. He's still in charge."

"Should we reconsider that decision?" someone down the table asked.

Tuluk shook his head. "Bad form," he said. "First things first. Furuneo's dead, and he was supposed to have ordered McKie's return some time ago."

Bildoon, the PanSpechi chief of the Bureau, had watched this exchange with attentive silence. He had been ego holder of his pentarchal life group for seventeen years - a reasonably average time in his species. Although the thought revolted him in a way other species could never really understand, he knew he'd have to give up the ego to the youngest member of his creche circle soon. The ego exchange would come sooner than it might have without the strains of command. Terrible price to pay in the service of sentience, he thought.

The humanoid appearance which his kind had genetically shaped and adopted had a tendency to beguile other humanoids into forgetting the essentially alien character of the PanSpechi. The time would come, though, when they would be unable to avoid that awareness in Bildoon's case. His friends in the ConSentiency would see the creche-change at its beginning - the glazing of the eyes, the rictus of the mouth. . . .

Best not think about that, he warned himself. He needed all his abilities right now.

He felt he no longer lived in his ego-self, and this was a sensation of exquisite torture for a PanSpechi. But the black negation of all sentient life that threatened his universe demanded the sacrifice of personal fears. The Caleban must not be allowed to die. Until he had assured himself of the Caleban's survival, he must cling to any rope which life offered him, endure any terror, refuse to mourn for the almost-death-of-self that lurked in PanSpechi nightmares. A greater death pressed upon them all.

Siker, he saw, was staring at him with an unspoken question.

Bildoon spoke three words: "Get a Taprisiot."

Someone near the door hurried to obey.

"Who was most recently in contact with McKie?" Bildoon asked.

"I believe I was," Tuluk said.

"It'll be easier for you, then," Bildoon said. "Make it short. "

Tuluk wrinkled his facial slit in agreement.

A Taprisiot was led in, was helped up onto the table. It complained that they were being much too rough with its speech needles, that the embedment was imperfect, that they hadn't given it sufficient time to prepare its energies.

Only after Bildoon invoked the emergency clause of the Bureau's special contract would it agree to act. It positioned itself in front of Tuluk then, said, "Date, time, and place."

Tuluk gave the local coordinates.

"Close face," the Taprisiot ordered.

Tuluk obeyed.

"Think of contact," the Taprisiot squeaked.

Tuluk thought of McKie.

Time passed without contact. Tuluk opened his face, stared out.

"Close face!" the Taprisiot ordered.

Tuluk obeyed.

Bildoon said, "Is something wrong?"

"Hold silence," the Taprisiot said. "Disturb embedment." Its speech needles rustled. "Putcha, putcha," it said. "Call go when Caleban permit."

"Contact through a Caleban?" Bildoon ventured.

"Otherwise not available," the Taprisiot said. "McKie isolated in connectives of another being."

"I don't care how you get him, just get him!" Bildoon ordered.

Abruptly, Tuluk jerked as the sniggertrance marked pineal ignition.

"McKie?" he said. "Tuluk here."

The words, uttered through the mumbling of the sniggertrance, were barely audible to the others around the table.

Speaking as calmly as he could, McKie said, "McKie will not be here in about thirty seconds unless you call Furuneo and have him order that Caleban to get me out of here."

"What's wrong?" Tuluk asked.

"I'm staked out, and a Palenki is on its way to kill me. I can see it against the firelight. It's carrying what appears to be an ax. It's going to chop me up. You know how they . . ."

"I can't call Furuneo. He's . . ."

"Then call the Caleban!"

"You know you can't call a Caleban!"

"Do it, you oaf!"

Because McKie had ordered it, suspecting that he might know such a call would be made, Tuluk broke the contact, sent a demand at the Taprisiot. It was against reason: All the data said Taprisiots couldn't link sentients and Calebans.

To the observers in the conference room, the more obvious mumbling and chuckling of the sniggertrance faded, made a brief return, disappeared. Bildoon almost barked a question at Tuluk, hesitated. The Wreave's tubular body remained so . . . still.

"I wonder why the Tappy said he had to call through a Caleban," Siker whispered.

Bildoon shook his head.

A Chither near Tuluk said, "You know, I could swear he ordered the Taprisiot to call the Caleban."

"Nonsense," Siker said.

"I don't understand it," the Chither said. "How could McKie go somewhere and not know where he is?"

"Is Tuluk out of the sniggertrance or isn't he?" Siker asked, his voice fearful. "He acts like nobody's there."

Every sentient around the table froze into silence. They all knew what Siker meant. Had the Wreave been trapped in the call? Was Tuluk gone, taken into that strange limbo from which the personality never returned?

"NOW!" someone roared.

The assembled sentients jerked back from the conference table as McKie came tumbling out of nowhere in a shower of dust and dirt. He landed flat on his back on the table directly in front of Bildoon, who lifted half out of his chair. McKie's wrists were bloody, his eyes glazed, red hair tangled in a wild mop.

"Now," McKie whispered. He turned onto his side, saw Bildoon, and as though it explained everything, added, "The ax was descending."

"What ax?" Bildoon demanded, sliding back into his chair.

"The one the Palenki was aiming at my head."

"The . . . WHAT?"

McKie sat up, massaged his torn wrists where the bindings had held him. Presently he shifted his ministrations to his ankles. He looked like a Gowachin frog deity.

"McKie, explain what's going on here," Bildoon ordered.

"I . . . ahh, well, the nick of time was almost a fatal nick too late," McKie said. "What made Furuneo wait so long? He was told six hours, no more. Wasn't he?" McKie looked at Tuluk, who remained silent, stiff as a length of gray pipe against the Wreave support.

"Furuneo's dead," Bildoon said.

"Ahhh, damn," McKie said softly. "How?"

Bildoon made the explanation brief, then asked, "Where've you been? What's this about a Palenki with an ax?"

McKie, still sitting on the table, gave a neatly abbreviated chronological report. It sounded as though he were talking about a third person. He wound it up with a flat statement; "I have no idea at all where I was."

"They were going to . . . chop you up?" Bildoon asked.

"The ax was coming down," McKie said. "It was right there." He held up a hand about six centimeters from his nose.

Siker cleared his throat, said, "Something's wrong with Tuluk."

They all turned.

Tuluk remained propped against the support, his face slit closed. His body was there, but he wasn't.

"Is he . . . lost?" Bildoon rasped and turned away. If Tuluk failed to come back . . . how like the PanSpechi ego-loss that would be!

"Somebody down there shake up that Taprisiot," McKie ordered.

"Why bother?" That was a human male from the Legal Department. "They never answer a question about . . . you know." He glanced uneasily at Bildoon, who remained with face averted.

"Tuluk made contact with the Caleban," McKie said, remembering. "I told him . . . it's the only way he could've done it with Furuneo dead. "He stood up on the table, walked down its length to stand towering over the Taprisiot!

"You!" he shouted. "Taprisiot!"


McKie drew a finger along an arm of speech needles. They clattered like a line of wooden clackers, but no intelligible sound came from the Taprisiot.

"You're not supposed to touch them," someone said.

"Get another Taprisiot in here," McKie ordered.

Someone ran to obey.

McKie mopped his forehead. It required all his reserves to keep from trembling. During the descent of the Palenki ax he had said goodbye to the universe: It had been final, irrevocable. He still felt that he had not returned, that he was watching the antics of some other creature in his own flesh, a familiar creature but a stranger, really. This room, the words and actions around him, were some sort of distorted play refined to blind sterility. In the instant when he had accepted his own death, he had realized there still remained uncounted things he wanted to experience. This room and his duties as a BuSab agent were not among those desires. The odd reality was drowned in selfish memories. Still, this flesh went through the motions. That was what training did.

A second Taprisiot was herded into the room, its needles squeaking complaints. It was hoisted onto the table, objecting all the way. "You have Taprisiot! Why you disturb?"

Bildoon turned back to the table, studied the scene, but remained silent, withdrawn. No one had ever been brought back from the long-distance trap.

McKie faced the new Taprisiot. "Can you contact this other Taprisiot?" he demanded.

"Putcha, putcha . . ." the second Taprisiot began.

"I'm sincere!" McKie blared.

"Ahseeda day-day," the second Taprisiot squeaked.

"I'll stack you with somebody's firewood if you don't get cracking," McKie snarled. "Can you make contact?"

"Who you call?" the second Taprisiot asked.

"Not me, you fugitive from a sawmill!" McKie roared. "Them!" He pointed at Tuluk and the first Taprisiot.

"They stuck to Caleban," the second Taprisiot said. "Who you call?"

"What do you mean, stuck?" McKie demanded.

"Tangled?" the Taprisiot ventured.

"Can either of them be called?" McKie asked.

"Untangle soon, then call," the Taprisiot said.

"Look!" Siker said.

McKie whirled.

Tuluk was flexing his facial slit. A mandibular extensor came out, withdrew.

McKie held his breath.

Tuluk's facial slit opened wide, and he said, "Fascinating."

"Tuluk?" McKie said.

The slit widened. Wreave eyes stared out. "Yes?" Then, "Ah, McKie. You made it."

"You call now?" the second Taprisiot asked.

"Get rid of him," McKie ordered.

Squeaking protests - "If you not call, why disturb?" - the Taprisiot was removed from the room.

"What happened to you, Tuluk?" McKie asked.

"Difficult to explain," the Wreave said.


"Embedment," Tuluk said. "That has something to do with planetary conjunctions, whether the points linked by a call are aligned with each other across open space. There was some problem with this call, discontinuous through a stellar mass, perhaps, And it was contact with a Caleban . . . I don't appear to have the proper words."

"Do you understand what happened to you?"

"I think so. You know, I hadn't realized where I lived."

McKie stared at him, puzzled. "What?"

"Something's wrong here," Tuluk said. "Oh, yes: Furuneo."

"You said something about where you lived," McKie prodded.

"Space occupancy, yes," Tuluk said. "I live in a place with many . . . ahh, synonymous? yes, synonymous occupants."

"What're you talking about?" McKie asked.

"I was actually in contact with the Caleban during my call to you," Tuluk said. "Very odd, McKie. It was as though my call went through a pinhole in a black curtain, and the pinhole was the Caleban."

"So you contacted the Caleban," McKie prompted.

"Oh, yes. Indeed I did." Tuluk's mandibular extensors moved in a pattern indicative of emotional disturbance. "I saw! That's it. I saw . . . ahhh, many frames of parallel films. Of course, I didn't really see them. It was the eye."

"Eye? Whose eye?"

"That's the pinhole," Tuluk explained. "It's our eye, too, naturally."

"Do you understand any of this, McKie?" Bildoon asked.

"My impression is he's talking like a Caleban," McKie said. He shrugged. "Contaminated, perhaps. Entangled?"

"I suspect," Bildoon said, "that Caleban communication can be understood only by the certifiably insane."

McKie wiped perspiration from his lip. He felt he could almost understand what Tuluk had said. Meaning hovered right at the edge of awareness.

"Tuluk," Bildoon said, "try to tell us what happened to you. We don't understand you."

"I am trying."

"Keep at it," McKie said.

"You contacted the Caleban," Bildoon said. "How was that done? We've been told it's impossible."

"It was partly because the Caleban seemed to be handling my call to McKie," Tuluk said. "Then . . . McKie ordered me to call the Caleban. Perhaps it heard."

Tuluk closed his eyes, appeared lost in reverie.

"Go on," Bildoon said.

"I . . . it was. . . ." Tuluk shook his head, opened his eyes, stared pleadingly around the room. He met curious, probing eyes on all sides. "Imagine two spider-webs," he said. "Natural spiderwebs, now, not the kind they spin at our command . . . random products. Imagine that they must . . . contact each other . . . a certain congruity between them, an occlusion."

"Like a dental occlusion?" McKie asked.

"Perhaps. At any rate, this necessary congruity, this shape required for contact, presumes proper connectives."

McKie expelled a harsh breath. "What the devil are connectives?"

"I go now?" the first Taprisiot interrupted.

"Damn!" McKie said. "Somebody get rid of this thing!"

The Taprisiot was hustled from the room.

"Tuluk, what are connectives?" McKie demanded.

"Is this important?" Bildoon asked.

"Will you all take my word for it and let him answer?" McKie asked. "It's important. Tuluk?"

"Mmmmmm," Tuluk said. "You realize, of course, that artificiality can be refined to the point where it's virtually indistinguishable from original reality?"

"What's that have to do with connectives?"

"It's precisely at that point where the single distinguishing characteristic between original and artificial is the connective," Tuluk explained.

"Huh?" McKie said.

"Look at me," Tuluk said.

"I am looking at you!"

"Imagine that you take a food vat and produce in it an exact fleshly duplicate of my person," Tuluk said.

"An exact fleshly . . ."

"You could do it, couldn't you?" Tuluk demanded.

"Of course. But why?"

"Just imagine it. Don't question. An exact duplicate down to and including the cellular message units. This flesh would be imbued with all my memories and responses. Ask it a question you might ask me, and it would answer as I might answer. Even my mates wouldn't be able to distinguish between us."

"So?" McKie said.

"Would there be any difference between us?" Tuluk asked.

"But you said . . ."

"There'd be one difference, wouldn't there?"

"The time element, the . . ."

"More than that," Tuluk said. "One would know it was a copy. Now, that chairdog in which Ser Bildoon sits is a different matter, not so?"


"It's an unthinking animal," Tuluk said.

McKie stared at the chairdog Tuluk had indicated. It was a product of genetic shaping, gene surgery and selection. What possible difference could it make that a chairdog was an animal - however remotely descended? '

"What does the chairdog eat?" Tuluk asked.

"The food tailored for it, what else?" McKie turned back to the Wreave, studied him.

"But neither the chairdog nor its food is the same as their ancestral flesh," Tuluk said. "The vat food is an endless, serial chain of protein. The chairdog is flesh which is ecstatic in its work."

"Of course! That's the way it was . . . made." McKie's eyes went wide. He began to see what Tuluk was explaining.

"The differences, these are the connectives," Tuluk said.

"McKie, do you understand this gibberish?" Bildoon demanded.

McKie tried to swallow in a dry throat. "The Caleban sees only these . . . refined differences?" he asked.

"And nothing else," Tuluk said.

"Then it doesn't see us as . . . shapes or dimensions or . . ."

"Or even as extensions in time the way we understand time," Tuluk said. "We are, perhaps, nodes on a standing wave. Time, for the Caleban, isn't something squeezed out of a tube. It's more like a line which your senses intersect."

"Hahhhhh," McKie breathed.

"I don't see where this helps us one bit," Bildoon said. "Our major problem is to find Abnethe. Do you have any idea, McKie, where that Caleban sent you?"

"I saw the constellations overhead," McKie said. "Before I leave, we'll get a mindcord on what I saw and have a computer check on the star patterns."

"Provided the pattern's in the master registry," Bildoon said.

"What about that slave culture McKie stumbled on?" one of the legal staff asked. "We could ask for a . . ."

"Haven't any of you been listening?" McKie asked. "Our problem is to find Abnethe. I thought we had her, but I'm beginning to think this may not be that easy. Where is she? How can we go into a court and say, 'At some unknown place in an unknown galaxy, a female believed to be Mliss Abnethe, but whom I didn't really see, is alleged to be conducting . . .' "

"Then what do we do?" the legal staffer growled.

"With Furuneo dead, who's watching Fanny Mae?" McKie asked.

"We have four enforcers inside, watching . . . where she is, and four outside, watching them," Bildoon said. "Are you sure you've no other clue to where you were?"


"A complaint by McKie would fail now," Bildoon said. "No - a better move might be to charge her with harboring a" - he shuddered - "a PanSpechi fugitive."

"Do we know who that fugitive is?" McKie asked.

"Not yet. We haven't decided the proper course yet." He glanced at a Legal Department representative, a human female seated near Tuluk. "Hanaman?"

Hanaman cleared her throat. She was a fragile-looking woman, thick head of brown hair in gentle waves, long oval face with soft blue eyes, delicate nose and chin, wide full mouth.

"You think it advisable to discuss this in council now?" she asked.

"I do, or I wouldn't have called on you," Bildoon said.

For an instant McKie thought the reproof might bring real tears to Hanaman's eyes, then he saw the controlled downtwist at the corners of her mouth, the measuring stare she swept around the conference room. She had brains, he saw, and knew there were those here susceptible to her sex.

"McKie," she said, "is it necessary for you to stand on the table? You're not a Taprisiot. "

"Thanks for reminding me," he said. He jumped down, found a chairdog opposite her, stared back at her with a bland intensity.

Presently she focused on Bildoon, said, "To bring everyone up to date, Abnethe with one Palenki tried to flog the Caleban about two hours ago. Acting on our orders, an enforcer prevented the flogging. He cut off the Palenki's arm with a raygen. As a result, Abnethe's legal staff is already seeking an injunction."

"Then they were prepared ahead of time," McKie said.

"Obviously," she agreed. "They're alleging outlaw sabotage, misfeasance by a bureau, mayhem, misconduct, malicious mischief, felonious misprision . . ."

"Misfeasance?" McKie demanded.

"This is a robo-legum case, not a Gowachin jurisdiction," Hanaman said. "We don't have to exonerate the prosecutor before entering the . . ." She broke off, shrugged. "Well, you know all that. BuSab is being held to answer for collective responsibility in the consequences of unlawful and wrongful acts committed by its agents in pursuance of the authority permitted them . . ."

"Wait a minute!" McKie interrupted. "This is bolder than I expected from that crowd."

"And they charge," Hanaman went on, "that the Bureau is guilty of a felony by criminal neglect in its failure to prevent a felony from being committed and in not bringing to justice the offender after such commission."

"Have they named names, or is it all John Does?" McKie asked.

"No names."

"If they're this bold, they're desperate," McKie said. "Why?"

"They know we aren't going to sit idly by and allow our people to be killed," Bildoon said. "They know we have copies of the contract with the Caleban, and it gives Abnethe sole control of the Caleban's jumpdoor. No one else could've been responsible for Furuneo's death, and the perpetrator . . ."

"No one except the Caleban," McKie said.

A profound silence settled over the room.

Presently Tuluk said, "You don't seriously believe . . ."

"No, I don't," McKie said. "But I couldn't prove my belief to a robo-legum court. This does present an interesting possibility, though."

"Furuneo's head," Bildoon said.

"Correct," McKie said. "We demand Furuneo's head."

"What if they contend the Caleban sequestered the head?" Hanaman asked.

"I don't intend asking them for it," McKie said. "I'm going to ask the Caleban."

Hanaman nodded, her gaze intent on McKie and with a light of admiration in her eyes. "Clever," she breathed. "If they attempt to interfere, they're guilty. But if we get the head . . ." She looked at Tuluk.

"What about it, Tuluk?" Bildoon asked. "Think you could get anything from Furuneo's brain?"

"That depends on how much time has passed between the death and our key-in, Tuluk said. "Nerve replay has limits, you know."

"We know," Bildoon said.

"Yeah," McKie said. "Only one thing for me to do now, isn't there?"

"Looks that way," Bildoon said.

"Will you call off the enforcers, or shall I?" McKie asked.

"Now, wait a minute!" Bildoon said. "I know you have to go back to that Beachball, but . . ."

"Alone," McKie said.


"I can give the demand for Furuneo's head in front of witnesses," McKie said, "but that's not enough. They want me. I got away from them, and they've no idea how much I know about their hidey hole."

"Exactly what do you know?" Bildoon asked.

"We've already been through that," McKie said.

"So you now see yourself as bait?"

"I wouldn't put it exactly that way," McKie said, "but if I'm alone, they might try bargaining with me. They might even . . ."

"They might even shorten you!" Bildoon snarled.

"You don't think it's worth the try?" McKie asked. He stared around the room at the attentive faces.

Hanaman cleared her throat. "I see a way out of this," she said.

Everyone looked at her.

"We could put McKie under Taprisiot surveillance," she said.

"He's a ready-made victim, if he's sitting there in a sniggertrance," Tuluk said.

"Not if the Taprisiot contacts are minimal every few seconds," she said.

"And as long as I'm not yelling for help, the Tappy breaks off," McKie said. "Good."

"I don't like it," Bildoon said. "What if . . ."

"You think they'll talk openly to me if they see the place full of enforcers?" McKie asked.

"No, but if we can prevent . . ."

"We can't, and you know it."

Bildoon glared at him.

"We must have those contacts between McKie and Abnethe, if we're going to try cross-charting to locate her position," Tuluk said.

Bildoon stared at the table in front of him.

"That Beachball has a fixed position on Cordiality," McKie argued. "Cordiality has a known planetary period. At the instant of each contact, the Ball will be pointing at a position in space - a line of least resistance for the contact. Enough contacts will describe a cone with . . ."

"With Abnethe somewhere in it," Bildoon supplied, looking up. "Provided you're right about this thing."

"The call connectives have to seek their conjunction through open space," Tuluk said. "There must be no large stellar masses between call points, no hydrogen clouds of any serious dimensions, no groups of large planetary . . ."

"I understand the theory," Bildoon said. "But there's no theory needed about what they can do to McKie. It'd take them less than two seconds to slip a jumpdoor over his neck and . . ." He drew a finger across his throat.

"So you have the Tappy contact me every two seconds," McKie said. "Work it in relays. Get a string of agents in. . . ."

"And what if they don't try to contact you?" Bildoon asked.

"Then we'll have to sabotage them," McKie said. Copyright 2016 - 2024