As the Mayflower II wheeled slowly in space high above
Chiron, the outer door of Shuttle Bay 6 on the Vandenberg module separated into four
sectors which swung apart like the petals of an enormous metal flower to expose the nose
of the surface lander nestling within. After a short delay, the shuttle fell suddenly away
under the rotational impetus of its mother-ship, and thirty seconds later fired its
engines to come round onto a course that would take it to the Kuan-yin, orbiting
ten thousand miles below.
"Our orders are to . . . precede the Ambassadors
party through the docking lock to form an honorary guard in the forward antechamber of the
Kuan-yin, where the formalities will take place, " Sirocco had read
aloud to the D Company personnel assigned as escorts at the briefing held early that
morning. " Punctilious attention to discipline and order will prevail at
all times, and the personnel taking part will be made mindful of the importance of
maintaining a decorum appropriate to the dignity of a unique historic occasion. That
means no ventriloquized comments to relieve the boredom, Swyley, and the best
parade-ground turnout you ever managed, all of you. Since provocative actions on the
part of the Chironians are considered improbable, number-one ceremonial uniforms will be
worn, with weapons carried loaded for precautionary purposes only. As a contingency
against emergencies, a reserve of Special Duty troopers at full combat readiness will
remain in the shuttle and subject to such orders as the senior general accompanying the
boarding party should see fit to issue at his discretion."
"Ever get the feeling you were being set up?" Carson of
Third Platoon asked sourly. "If anyone gets it first, guess who."
"Didnt you know you were expendable?" Stanislau
"Ah, but think of the honor of it," Hanlon told them.
"And wont every one of them poor SD fellas back in the shuttle be eating his
heart out with envy and just wishing he could be out there with the same opportunity to
risk himself for flag and country."
"Ill trade," Stanislau offered at once.
Sirocco looked back at the orders and resumed, " The
advance guard will fan out to form two files, of ten men each, aligned at an angle of
forty-five degrees on either side of the access lock and take up station behind their
respective section leaders. Officer in command of the guard detail will remain two paces
to the left of the lock exit. Upon completion of the opening formalities, the guard will
be relieved by a detail from B Company who will position themselves at the exit ramp, and
will proceed through the Kuan-yin to post sentry details at the locations specified
in Schedule A, attached. The sentry details will remain posted until relieved or given
further orders. Are there any questions so far?"
The Ambassador referred to was to be Amery Farnhill, Howard
Kalenss deputy in Liaison. Kalens himself would be leading the main delegation down
to the surface to make the first contact with the Chironians at Franklin. The decision to
send a secondary delegation to the Kuan-yin had been made to impress upon the
Chironians that the robot ship was still considered Earths property, which was also
the reason for posting troops throughout the vessel. As a point of protocol, Wellesley and
Sterm would not become involved until the appropriate contacts on Chiron had been
established and the agenda for further discussion suitably prepared.
The Kuan-yin had changed appreciably from the form shown in
the pictures he had seen of the craft that had departed from Earth in 2020, Colman noted
as he sat erect to preserve the creases of his uniform beneath the restraining belt
holding him to his seat and watched the image growing on the wall screen at the forward
end of the cabin. The original design had taken the form of a dumbbell, with fuel storage
and the thermonuclear pulse engines concentrated at one end, and the computers and
sensitive reconnaissance instruments carried at the far end of a long, connecting,
structural boom to keep them safely away from drive-section radiation. The modifications
added after 2015 for creating and accommodating the first Chironians had entailed
extensions to the instrumentation module and the incorporation of auxiliary motors which
would spin the dumbbell about its center after arrival in order to simulate gravity for
the new occupants while the first surface base was being prepared.
In the years since, the instrumentation module had sprouted a
collection of ancillary structures which had doubled its size, the original fuel tanks
near the tail had vanished to be replaced, apparently, by a bundle of huge metal bottles
mounted around the central portion of the connecting boom, and a new assembly of gigantic
windings surrounding a tubular housing now formed the tail, culminating in a parabolic
reaction dish reminiscent of the Mayflower IIs main drive, though much
smaller because of the Kuan-yins reduced scale. The Mayflower IIs
designers had included docking adapters for the shuttles to mate with the Kuan-yins
ports, and the Chironians had retained the original pattern in their modifications, so
the shuttle would be able to connect without problems.
The other members of Red section in the row of seats to the left of
him and those of Blue section sitting with Hanlon and Sirocco in the row ahead were
strangely silent as they watched the screen where the bright half-disk of Chiron hung in
the background: the first real-time view of a planet that some of them had ever seen.
Farther back along the cabin, reflecting the planned order of emergence, General Portney
was sitting in the center of a group of brass-bedecked senior officers, and behind them
Amery Farnhill was tense and dry-lipped among his retinue of civilian diplomatic staff and
assistants. In the rear, the SD troops were grim and silent in steel helmets and combat
uniforms festooned with grenades, propping their machine rifles and assault cannon between
Farnhills staff had given up trying to get the Chironians to
provide an official list of who would be greeting the delegation. In the end they had
simply advised the Kuan-yin when the shuttle would arrive and resigned themselves
to playing things by ear after that. The Chironians had agreed readily enough, which was
why the orders issued that morning had called for a reduced alertness level. Kalenss
delegation had met with an equal lack of success in dealing with Franklin, and had elected
finally to go to the surface on the same basis as the delegation to the Kuan-yin, but
with more elaborate preparations and ceremonies.
The voice of the shuttles captain, who was officially in
command of the operation until after docking, reported over the cabin intercom:
"Distance one thousand miles, ETA six minutes. Coming into matching orbit and
commencing closing maneuver. Prepare for retardation. Kuan-yin has confirmed they
will open Port Three."
The image on the screen drifted to one side as the shuttle swung
round to brake with its main engines, and then switched to a new view as one of the stern
cameras cut in. Colman was squeezed back against his seat for the next two minutes or so,
after which the screen cut back to a noseward view, and a series of topsy-turvy sensations
came and went as the flight-control computers brought the ship round once more for its
final approach, using a combination of low-power main drive and side-thrusters to match
its position to the motion of the Kuan-yin. After some minor corrections the
shuttle was rotating with the Kuan-yin to give its occupants the feeling that they
were lying on their backs, and nudging itself gently forward and upward to complete the
maneuver. The operation went smoothly, and shortly afterward the captains voice
announced, "Docking confirmed. The boarding party is free to proceed."
"Proceed, General," Farnhill said from the back.
"Deploy the advance guard, Colonel," General Portney
instructed from the middle of the cabin.
"Guard, forward," Colonel Wesserman ordered from a row in
front of Portney.
"Guard detail, file left and right by sections," Sirocco
said at the front. "Section leaders forward." He moved out into the aisle, where
the floor had folded itself into a steep staircase to facilitate fore-and-aft movement,
and climbed through into the side-exiting lock chamber with Colman and Hanlon behind him
while Red and Blue sections formed up in the aisles immediately to the rear. In the lock
chamber the inner hatch was already open, and the Despatching Officer from the
shuttles crew was carrying out a final instrumentation check prior to opening the
outer hatch. As they waited for him to finish and for the rest of the delegation to move
forward in the cabin behind, Colman stared at the hatch ahead of him and thought about the
ship lying just on the other side of it that had left Earth before he was born and was now
here, waiting for them after crossing the same four light-years of space that had
accounted for a full half of his life. After the years of speculations, all the questions
about the Chironians were now within minutes of being answered. The descent from the Mayflower
II had raised Colmans curiosity to a high pitch because of what he had seen on
the screen. For despite all the jokes and the popular wisdom, one thing he was certain of
was that the engineering and structural modifications that he had observed on the outside
of the Kuan-yin had not been made by irresponsible, overgrown adolescents.
"Clear to exit," the Despatching Officer informed Sirocco.
"Lock clear for exit," Sirocco called to the cabin below.
"Carry on, Guard Commander," Colonel Wesserman replied
from the depths.
"Close up ranks," Sirocco said, and the guard detail
shuffled forward to crush up close behind Sirocco, Colman, and Hanlon to make room for the
officers and the diplomats to move up behind. Sirocco looked at the Despatching Officer
and nodded. "Open outer hatch." The Despatching Officer keyed a command into a
panel beside him, and the outer door of the shuttle swung slowly aside.
Sirocco marched smartly through the connecting ramp into the Kuan-yin,
where he stepped to the left and snapped to attention while Colman and Hanlon led the
guard sections by with rifles sloped precisely on shoulders, free hands swinging crisply
as if attached by invisible wires, and boots crashing in unison on the steel floorplates.
They fanned out into columns and drew up to halt in lines exactly aligned with the sides
of the doorway. Behind them the officers emerged four abreast and divided into two groups
to follow Colonel Wesserman to the left and General Portney to the right.
"Present . . . arms!" Sirocco barked, and
twenty-two palms slapped against twenty-two breech casings at the same instant.
Through the gap between the officers, the diplomats moved forward
and came to a halt in reverse order of precedence, black suits immaculate and white
shirtfronts spotless, and finally the noble form of Amery Farnhill conveyed itself regally
forward to take up its position at their head.
"His Esteemed Excellency, Amery Farnhill," the assistant
one pace to the rear and two paces to the right announced in clear, ringing tones that
resonated around the antechamber of the Kuan-yins docking port.
"Deputy Director of Liaison of the Supreme Directorate of the official Congress of
the Mayflower II and appointed emissary to the Kuan-yin on behalf of the
Director of Congress . . ." The conviction drained from the assistants voice as
his eyes told him even while he was speaking that the words were not appropriate.
Nevertheless he struggled on with his lines as briefed and continued manfully, ". . .
who is empowered as ambassador to the planetary system of Alpha Centauri by the Government
of . . ." he swallowed and took a deep breath,
The small group of Chironians watching from a short distance away
and the larger crowd gathered behind them in the rear of the antechamber applauded
enthusiastically and beamed their approval. They werent supposed to do that. It
didnt preserve the right atmosphere.
"Theyre okay," a disembodied voice whispered from no
definable direction. "Were making our selves look like jerks."
"Shuddup, Swyley" Colman hissed.
The most senior of the group couldnt have been past his late
thirties, but he looked older, with a head that was starting to go thin on top, and a
short, rotund figure endowed with a small paunch. He was wearing an open-necked shirt of
intricately embroidered blues and grays, and plain navy blue slacks held up with a belt.
His features looked vaguely Asiatic. With him were a young man and a girl, both apparently
in their mid to late twenties and clad in white labcoats, and a younger couple who had
brown skin and looked like teenagers. A six-foot-tall, humanoid robot of silvery metal
stood nearby, a tiny black girl who might have been eight sitting on its shoulders. Her
legs dangled around its neck and her arms clasped the top of its head.
"Hi," the paunchy man greeted amiably. "Im
Clem. These are Carla and Hermann, and Francine and Boris. The big guy here is Cromwell,
and the little lady up top is Amy. Well, I guess . . . welcome aboard."
Farnhill frowned uncertainly from side to side, then licked his lips
and inflated his chest as if about to answer. He deflated suddenly and shook his head. The
words to handle the situation just wouldnt come. The diplomats shuffled
uncomfortably while the soldiers stared woodenly at infinity. A few awkward seconds
dragged by. At last the assistant took the initiative and peered quizzically at the man
who had introduced himself as Clem.
"Who are you?" he demanded. The formality had evaporated
from his voice. "Are you in authority here? If so, what are your rank and
Clem frowned and brought a hand up to his chin. "Depends what
you mean by authority," he said. "I organize the regular engineering crew of the
ship and supervise the maintenance. I suppose you could say thats authority of a
kind. Then again, I dont have a lot to do with some of the special research programs
and modifications but Hermann does."
"True," Hermann, the young man in the white labcoat,
agreed. "But on top of that, parts of this place are used as a school to give the
kids early off-planet experience. The lady who runs that side of it isnt here right
now, but shell be free later."
"She got tied up over lunch trying to answer questions about
supernovas and quasars," Francine explained.
"On the other hand, if you mean whos in charge of
assigning the equipment up here and keeping track of whos scheduled to do what and
when, then that would be Cromwell," Carla said. "Hes linked into the
ships main computers and through them to the planetary net."
"Cromwell knows everything," Amy declared from her perch.
"Cromwell, are those soldiers carrying Terran M32 assault cannon, or are they
"M32s," the robot said. "Theyve the enhanced
"I hope theyre not going to start shooting each other up
here. It would be pretty scary in orbit. They could decompress the whole ship."
"I think they know that," Cromwell said.
"Theyve spent a lot longer in space than the few trips youve made."
"I suppose so."
The assistants patience snapped at last. "This is
ridiculous! I want to know who is in overall authority here. You must have a Director of
Operations or some equivalent. Please be kind enough to"
Farnhill stopped him with a curt wave of his hand. "This
spectacle has gone far enough," he said. He looked at Clem. "Perhaps we could
continue this discussion in conditions of greater privacy. Is there somewhere suitable
"Sure." Clem gestured vaguely behind him.
"Theres a big room back along the corridor thats free and should hold
everybody. We could all get some coffee there too. I guess you could use
someyouve had a long trip, huh?" He grinned at the joke as he turned to
lead the way. Farnhill didnt seem to appreciate the humor.
"Ahem . . ." General Portney cleared his throat. "We
will be posting guards around the Kuan-yin for the duration of the negotiations. I
trust there will be no objections." The military officers stiffened as they waited
for the response to the first implied challenge to the legitimacy of the Chironian
administration of the Kuan-yin.
Clem waved an arm casually without looking back. "Go
ahead," he said. "Cant see as you really need any, though. Youre
pretty safe up here. We dont get many burglars." Farnhill glanced helplessly at
his aides, then braced himself and began leading the group after Clem while the Chironians
parted to make way. The military deputation broke formation to take up the rear with
Wesserman tossing back a curt "Carry on, Guard Commander" in the direction of
The relief detachment from B Company marched from the exit of the
shuttle to take up positions in front of the ramp, and Sirocco stepped forward to address
the advance guard. "Ship detail, atten-shun! Two ranks in marching order, fall
. . . in!" The two lines that had been angled away from the lock re-formed
into files behind the section leaders. "Sentry details will detach and fall out at
stations. By the left . . . march!" The two lines clumped their way behind
Sirocco across the antechamber, wheeled left while each man on the inside marked time for
four paces, and clicked away along the corridor beyond and into the Kuan-yin.
Amy watched curiously over the top of Cromwells head as they
disappeared from sight. "I wonder why they walk like that when they shout at each
other," she mused absently. "Do you know why, Cromwell?"
"Have you thought about it?" Cromwell asked.
"You should think. Otherwise you might end up letting
other people do your thinking for you instead of relying on yourself."
"Ooh . . . I wouldnt want to do that," Amy said.
"All right then," Cromwell challenged. "Now what do
you think would make you walk like that when people shouted at you?"
"I dont know." Amy screwed her face up and rubbed
the bridge of her nose with a finger. "I suppose Id have to be crazy."
"Well, theres something to think about,"
Clump, clump, clump, clump, clump, clump, clump, clump.
"Detail . . . halt!"
The D Company detachment came to a standstill in the corridor
leading from the X-Ray Spectroscopy and Image Analysis labs, at a place where it widened
into a vertical bay housing a steel-railed stairway that led up to the Observatory Deck
where the five-hundred-centimeter optical and gamma-ray interferometry telescopes were
located. A few Chironians who were passing by paused to watch for a moment, waved
cheerfully, and went about their business,
"Sentry detail, detach to . . . post!" Sirocco
shouted. PFC Driscoll stepped one pace backward from the end of the
by-this-time-diminished file, turned ninety degrees to the right, and stepped back again
to come to attention with his back to the wall by the entrance to a smaller side-corridor.
"Parade . . . rest!" Driscoll moved his left foot into an astride stance
and brought his gun down from the shoulder to rest with its butt on the floor, one inch
from his boot. "Remainder of detail, by the left . . . march!"
Clump, clump, clump, clump . . .
The rhythmic thuds of marching feet died away and were replaced by
the background sounds of daily life aboard the Kuan-yinthe voice of a girl
calling numbers of some kind to somebody in the observatory on the level above,
childrens laughter floating distantly through an open door at the other end of the
narrow corridor behind Driscoll, and the whine of machinery. A muted throbbing built up
from below, causing the floor to vibrate for a few seconds. Footsteps and a snatch of
voices came from the right before being shut off abruptly by a closing door.
Driscoll was feeling more relieved. If what he had seen so far was
anything to go by, the Chironians werent going to start any trouble. Hed had
to bite his tongue in order to keep a straight face back in the antechamber by the ramp,
and it was a miracle that nobody important had heard Stanislau sniggering next to him. The
Chironians were okay, he had decided. Everything would be okay . . . provided that
ass-faces like Farnhill didnt go and screw things up.
What had impressed him the most was the way the kids seemed to be
involved in everything that was going on just as much as the grown-ups. They didnt
come across like kids at all, but more like small people who were busy finding out how
things were done. In a room two posts back, he had glimpsed a couple of kids who
couldnt have been more than twelve probing carefully and with deep frowns of
concentration inside the electronics of a piece of equipment that must have cost millions.
The older Chironian with them just watched over their shoulders and offered occasional
suggestions. It made sense, Driscoll thought. Treat them as if theyre responsible,
and they act responsibly; give them bits of cheap plastic to throw around, and they act
like its cheap plastic. Or maybe the Chironians just had good insurance on their
He wondered how he might have made out if hed had a start like
that. And what would a guy like Colman be doing, who knew more about the Mayflower IIs
machines than half the echelon-four snot-noses put together? If that was the way the
computers had brought the first kids up, Driscoll reflected, he could think of a few
humans who could have used some lessons.
His debut into life had been very different. The war had left his
parents afflicted by genetic damage, and their first two children had not survived
infancy. Aging prematurely from side effects, they had known they would never see Chiron
when they brought him aboard the Mayflower II as a boy of eight and sacrificed the
few more years that they might have spent on Earth in order to give him a new start
somewhere else. Paradoxically, their health had qualified them favorably in their
application to join the Mission since the planning had called for the inclusion of older
people and higher-risk actuarial categories among the population to make room for the
births that would be occurring later. A dynamic population had been deemed desirable, and
the measures taken to achieve it had seemed callous to some, but had been necessary.
As a youth he had daydreamed about becoming an entertainera
singer, or a comic, maybebut he couldnt sing and he couldnt tell jokes,
and somehow after his parents died within two years of each other halfway through the
voyage, he had ended up in the Army. So now, though he still couldnt sing a note or
tell a joke right, he knew just how to use an M32 to demolish a small building from two
thousand yards, could operate a battlefield compack blindfolded, and was an expert at
deactivating optically triggered antiintruder personnel mines.
About all he was good with outside things like that was cards. He
couldnt remember exactly when his fascination with them had started, but it had been
soon after Swyley, then a fellow private, had taught him to shuffle four aces to the top
of a deck and feed them into a deal from the palm. Finding to his surprise that he seemed
to have an aptitude, Driscoll had borrowed a leaf from Colmans book and started
reading up about the subject. For many long off-duty hours he had practiced top-pass palms
and one-handed side-cuts until he could materialize three full fans from an empty hand and
lift a named number of cards off a deck eight times out of ten. Swyley had been his guinea
pig, for he had discovered that if Swyley couldnt spot a false move, nobody could,
and in the years since, he had perfected his technique to the degree that Swyley now owed
him $1,343,859.20, including interest.
But his reputation had put him in a no-win situation at the Friday
night poker school because when he won, everybody said he was sharping, and when he
didnt, everybody said he was lousy. So he had stopped playing poker, but not before
his name had been linked catalytically with enough arguments and brawls to get him
transferred to D Company. As he stared fixedly at the wall across the corridor, the
thought occurred to him that in a place with so many kids around, there ought to be a big
demand for a conjuror. The more he thought about it, the more appealing the idea became.
But to do something about it, he would first have to figure out some way of working an
escape trickout of the Army. Swyley should have some useful suggestions about that,
Clump, clump, clump, clump. His train of thought was derailed
by the sound of steady tramping approaching from his leftnot the direction in which
the detail had departed, which shouldnt have been returning by this route anyway,
but the opposite one. Besides, it didnt sound like multiple pairs of regulation Army
feet; it sounded like one pair, but heavier and more metallic. And along with it came the
sound of two childrens voices, whispering and furtive, and punctuated with giggles.
Driscoll turned his eyes a fraction to the side. They widened in
disbelief as one of the Kuan-yins steel colossi marched into view,
holding a length of aluminum alloy tubing over its left shoulder and being followed by a
brown, Indian-looking girl of about seven and a fair-haired boy of around the same age.
"Detail . . . stop!" the girl called out. The robot
halted. "Detail . . . Oh, I dont know what Im supposed to say. Stand with
your feet apart and put your gun down." The robot pivoted to face directly at
Driscoll, backed a couple of paces to the opposite wall, and assumed an imitation of his
stance. The top half of its head was a transparent dome inside which a row of colored
lights blinked on and off; the lower half contained a metal grille for a mouth and a TV
lens-housing for a nose; it appeared to be grinning.
"Stay . . . there!" the girl instructed. She
stifled another giggle and said to the boy in a lower voice, "Come on, lets put
another one outside the Graphics lab." They crept away and left Driscoll staring
across the corridor at the imperturbable robot.
A couple of minutes went by. Nobody moved. The robots lights
continued to wink at him cheerfully. Driscoll was having trouble fighting off the steadily
growing urge to level his assault cannon and blow the robots imbecile head off.
"Why dont you piss off," he growled at last.
"Why dont you?"
For a moment Driscoll thought the machine had read his mind. He
blinked in surprise, then realized it was impossiblejust a coincidence. "How
can I?" he said. "Ive got my orders."
"So have I."
"You dont have to do this."
"Of course I do."
Driscoll sighed irritably. This was no time for long debates.
"You dont understand," he said.
"Dont I?" the robot replied.
Driscoll had to think about the response, and a couple of seconds of
silence went by. "Its not the same," he said. "Youre just
"What are you doing?"
Driscoll didnt have a ready answer to that. Besides, he was
too conscious of the desire for a cigarette to be philosophical. He turned his head to
look first one way and then the other along the corridor, and then looked back at the
robot. "Can you tell if any of our people are near here?"
"Yes, I can, and no, there arent. Whygetting fed
"Would it worry anyone if I smoked?"
"It wouldnt worry me if you burst into flames." The
robot chuckled raspily.
"How do you know theres no one around?"
"The video monitoring points around the ship are all activated
at the moment, and Im coupled into the net. I can see whats going on
everywhere. Go ahead. Its okay. The round cover on the wall next to you is an inlet
to a trash incinerator. You can use it as an ashtray."
Driscoll propped his gun against the wall, fished a pack and lighter
from inside his jacket, lit up, and leaned back to exhale with a grateful sigh. The
irritability that he had been feeling wafted away with the smoke. The robot set down its
piece of tubing, folded its arms, and leaned against the wall, evidently programmed to
take its cues from the behavior around it. Driscoll looked at it with a new curiosity. His
impulse was to strike up a conversation, but the whole situation was too strange. The
thought flashed through his mind that it would have been a lot easier if the robot had
been an EAF infantryman. Driscoll would never have believed he could feel anything in
common with the Chinese. He didnt know whether he was talking to the robot, or
through it to computers somewhere else in Kuan-yin or even down on Chiron, maybe;
whether they had minds or simply embodied some clever programming, or what. He had talked
to Colman about machine intelligence once. Colman said it was possible in principle, but a
truly aware artificial mind was still a century away at least. Surely the Chironians
couldnt have advanced that much. "What kind of a machine are you?" he
asked. "I mean, can you think like a person? Do you know who you are?"
"Suppose I said I could. Would that tell you anything?"
Driscoll took another drag of his cigarette. "I guess not. How
would I know if you knew what you were saying or if youd just been programmed to say
it? Theres no way of telling the difference."
"Then is there any difference?"
Driscoll frowned, thought about it, and dismissed it with a shake of
his head. "This is kinda funny," he said to change the subject.
"Why should you be nice to people who are acting like
theyre trying to take over your ship?"
"Do you want to take over the ship?"
"Me? Hell no. What would I do with it?"
"Then theres your answer."
"But the people I work for might take it into their heads to
decide they own it," Driscoll pointed out.
"Thats up to them. If it pleases them to say so, why
should we mind?"
"The people here wouldnt mind if our people started
telling them what to do?"
"Why should they?"
Driscoll couldnt buy that. "You mean theyd be just
as happy doing what our people told them to?" he said.
"I never said theyd do anything," the robot
replied. "I just said that people telling them wouldnt bother them."
Just then, two Chironian girls strolled around the corner from the
narrow corridor. They looked fresh and pretty in loose blouses worn over snug-fitting
slacks, and had lightweight stretch-boots of some silvery, lustrous material. One of them
had brown, wavy hair with a reddish tint to it, and looked as if she were in her
midthirties; the other was a blonde of perhaps twenty-two. For a split second, Driscoll
felt an instinctive twinge of apprehension at the thought of looking ridiculous, but the
girls showed no surprise. Instead they paused and looked at him not unpleasantly, but with
a hint of reserve as if they wanted to smile but werent quite sure if they should.
"Hi," the redhead called cautiously.
Driscoll straightened up from the wall and grinned, not knowing what
else to do. "Well . . . hi," he returned.
At once their faces split into broad smiles, and they walked over.
The redhead shook his hand warmly. "I see youve already met Wellington.
Im Shirley. This is my daughter, Ci."
"Shes your daughter?" Driscoll blinked. "Say, I
guess thats . . . very nice.
Ci repeated the performance. "Who are you?" she asked him.
"Me? Oh . . . names DriscollTony Driscoll." He
licked his lips while he searched for a follow-up. "I guess me and Wellington are
guarding the corridor."
"Who from?" Ci asked.
"A good question," Wellington commented.
"Youre the first Terran weve talked to,"
Shirley said. She nodded her head to indicate the direction they had come from.
"Weve got a class of kids back there who are bubbling over with curiosity. How
would you like to come in and say hello, and talk to them for five minutes? Theyd
"What?" Driscoll stared at them aghast. "Ive
never talked to classes of people. I wouldnt know how to start."
"A good time to start practicing then," Ci suggested.
He swallowed hard and shook his head. "I have to stay here.
This conversation is enough to get me shot as it is." Ci shrugged but seemed content
not to make any more of it. "Are you two, er . . . teachers here or something like
that?" Driscoll asked.
"Sometimes," Shirley answered. "Ci teaches English
mainly, but mostly down on the surface. That is, when shes not working with
electronics or installing plant wiring underground somewhere. Im not all that
technical. I grow olives and vines out on the Peninsula, and design interiors. Thats
what brought me up hereClem wants the crew quarters and mess deck refitted and
decorated. But yes, I teach tailoring sometimes, but not a lot."
"I meant as a regular job," Driscoll said. "What do
you do basically?"
"All of them." Shirley sounded mildly surprised.
"What do you mean by basically?"
"They do the same thing all the time, from when they quit
school to when they retire," Ci reminded her mother.
"Oh yes, of course." Shirley nodded. "That sounds
pretty awful. Still, its their business."
"What do you do best?" Ci asked him. "I mean . . .
apart from holding peoples walls up for them. That cant be much of a
Driscoll thought about it, and in the end was forced to shake his
head helplessly. "Not a lot that youd be interested in, I guess," he
"Everybodys got something," Shirley insisted.
"What do you like doing?"
"You really wanna know?" An intense note had come suddenly
into Driscolls voice.
"Hey, back off, soldier," Ci said suspiciously.
"Were still strangers. Later, who knows? Give it time."
"I didnt mean that," Driscoll protested, feeling
embarrassed. "If you must know, I like working cards."
"You mean tricks?" Shirley seemed interested.
"I can do tricks, sure."
"Are you good?"
"The best. I can make em stand up and talk."
"Youd better mean it," Shirley warned.
"Theres nothing worse than trying to spend money you dont have. Its
like stealing from people."
Driscoll didnt follow what she meant, so he ignored it.
"I mean it," he told her.
Shirley turned to look at Ci. "Say, wouldnt he be great
to have at our next party? I love things like that." She looked at Driscoll again.
"When are you coming down to Chiron?"
"I dont know yet. We havent heard anything."
"Well, give us a call when you do, and well fix something
up. I live in Franklin, so there shouldnt be too much of a problem. Thats
where we usually get together."
"Sounds good," Driscoll said. "I cant make any
promises right now though. Everything depends on how things go. If things work out okay,
how would I find the place?"
"Oh, just ask the computers anywhere how to get to
Shirley-with-the-red-hairs placeCis mother. Theyll take care of
"So maybe well see you down there sometime," Ci
"Well . . . yeah. Who knows?" He was about to say
something more when Wellington interrupted.
"Two of your officers are heading this way. I thought you ought
"Who?" Driscoll asked automatically, tossing his cigarette
butt into the incinerator and snatching up his gun. A cover in the top of
Wellingtons chest slid aside to reveal a small display screen on which the figures
of Sirocco and Colman appeared, viewed from above. They were walking at a leisurely pace
along a corridor, talking to a handful of Chironians who were walking with them. Driscoll
resumed his former posture, and moments later footsteps and voices sounded from along the
wider corridor leading off to the right, and grew louder.
"Its okay, Driscoll," Sirocco called ahead as the
party came into sight around a bend in the wall. "Forget the pantomime. Were
back in the Bomb Factory." Driscoll relaxed his pose and sent a puzzled look along
"I might have guessed," Colman said, nodding to himself
and taking in the two girls as he drew to a halt.
"Very cosy," Sirocco agreed.
"Er . . . Shirley and Ci," Driscoll said. "And
thats General Wellington."
"Been having a nice chat, have you?" Sirocco asked.
"Well, yes, actually, I suppose; sir. How did you know?"
Sirocco waved at the corridor behind him. "Because its
happening everywhere else, thats how. Carsons talking football, and Maddock is
telling some kids about what it was like growing up on the Mayflower II." He
sighed but didnt sound too ruffled about it. "If you cant beat em,
then join em, eh, Driscoll . . . for an hour or so, anyway. And besides, they want
to show Colman something in the observatory upstairs. I dont understand what the
hell theyre talking about."
"Steves an engineer," one of the Chironians, a
bearded youth in a red check shirt, explained, indicating Colman and speaking to Ci.
"We told him about the resonance oscillations in the G7 mounting gyro, and he said he
might be able to suggest a way of damping them with feedback from the alignment laser.
Were taking him up to have a look at it."
"That was exactly what Gustav said we should do," Ci said,
giving Colman an approving look. "He was looking at it yesterday."
"I know. Maybe we can get Gustav and Steve working on it
"Hey, dont get too excited about this," Colman
cautioned. "I only said Id be interested in seeing it. The Army might have
different ideas about me getting involved. Dont bet your life savings on it."
The Chironians and Colman disappeared up the steel-railed stairway,
and Shirley and Ci went on their way after Wellington reminded them that they had less
than fifteen minutes to board the shuttle for Franklin. Driscoll and Sirocco remained with
Wellington in the corridor.
"If you dont mind my saying so, isnt this a bit
risky, sir?" Driscoll said apprehensively. "I mean . . . with all this going on?
Suppose Colonel Wesserman or somebody shows up."
"No chance with these Chironian robots around. Theyve got
the place staked out." He wrinkled his nose, and his moustache twitched as he sniffed
the air. "Take a break while youve got the chance, Private Driscoll," he
advised. "And Ill have one of those cigarettes that youve been
Driscoll grinned and began feeling more confident. "You see,
Wellington," he said. "Theyre not all as bad as you think."
"Amazing," the robot replied in a neutral voice.
A party was thrown in the Bowery that night to celebrate the Mayflower
IIs safe arrival and the end of the voyage. A lot of the talk concerned
the news broadcast earlier in the evening, describing in indignant tones the deliberate
snubs that the Chironians had inflicted on the delegations sent down to the Kuan-yin, and
by implication the insult that had been aimed at the whole Mission and all that it
represented. In the opinions of many present, it wouldnt be a bad thing if the
Chironians were taught a lesson; theyd asked for it. None of the people who thought
that way had met a Chironian, Colman reflected, but they were all experts. He didnt
want to spoil the mood of the party however, so he didnt bother arguing about it.
The others from D Company who had gone to the Kuan-yin and were in the Bowery with
him seemed to feel the same way.