CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON
On her trip home from the council meeting at Adolfville, a meeting which had seen the Terran ultimatum expire and the enemy go into action against Da Vinci Heights, Annette Golding considered the possibility of suicide. What had happened to them, even to the Manses, was overpowering; how did one combat the arguments put forth by a planet which had recently defeated the whole Alphane empire?
Obviously it was hopeless. And, on a biological level, she recognized it ... and was willing to succumb to it. I'm like Dino Watters, she said to herself as she scrutinized the murky road ahead, the glow of her headlights against the plastic ribbon which connected Adolfville with Hamlet Hamlet. When the chips are down, I prefer not to fight; I prefer to give up. And no one's making me give up: I just want to.
Tears filled her eyes as she realized this about herself. I guess I must basically admire the Manses, she decided. I venerate what I'm not; I'm not harsh, aloof, unyielding. But theoretically, being a Poly, I could become that. In fact I could become anything. But instead --
She saw, then, to her right, a streak of retro-rocket exhausts tailed out along the night sky. A ship was descending, and very close to Hamlet Hamlet. In fact if she kept on this road she would encounter it. She experienced at once -- typical of a Poly -- two equal, opposite emotions. Fear made her cringe, and yet curiosity, a blend of eagerness and anticipation and excitement, caused her to speed her car up.
However, before she reached the ship her fear won out; she slowed, drove the car onto the soft dirt shoulder and cut the switch. The car glided in silence to a stop; she sat with headlights off, listening to the night sounds and wondering what to do.
From where she sat she could dimly perceive the ship, and occasionally from near it a light flashed; someone was doing something. Terran soldiers, perhaps, preparing to invest Hamlet Hamlet. And yet -- she heard no voices. And the ship did not appear large.
She was of course armed. Every delegate to the council had to be, although the Heeb rep traditionally forgot his. Reaching into the glove compartment she fished out the old-fashioned lead-slug pistol; she had never used it and it seemed incredible to her that she might soon find herself using it now. But it seemed that she had no choice.
On foot, quietly, she sneaked past scrubby bushes, until all at once she had reached the ship; startled, she backed away, and then saw a flash of light, the activity near the base of the ship continuing.
One man, utterly absorbed, was busy with a shovel, digging a pit; he labored away, perspiring, his face wrinkled with concentration. And then suddenly he hurried back to the ship.
When he reappeared he carried a carton which he set down beside the pit. His light flashed into the carton and Annette Golding saw five grapefruit-like spheres, faintly moist and pulsing; they were alive and she recognized them. Newly-born initial constituents of Ganymedean slime molds -- she had viewed pics of them in edutext tapes. The man of course was burying them; in the soil they would grow at great speed. This portion of their life-cycle fulfilled itself immediately. And so the man hurried. The spheres might die.
She said, surprising even herself, "You'll never get them all in the ground in time." One sphere, in fact, had already darkened and become sunken; it was withering before their eyes. "Listen." She approached the man, who continued working, digging with the small shovel. "I'll keep them moist; do you have any water?" She bent down beside him, waiting. "They really are going to perish." Obviously he knew this, too.
Roughly the man said, "In the ship. Get a big container. You'll see the water tap; it's marked." He snatched the withering sphere from its fellows, set it gently into the pit, began to cover it with loose soil which be broke with his fingers.
Annette entered the ship, found the water tap and then a bowl.
Back outside with the bowl of water she doused the swiftly-deteriorating spheres, reflecting philosophically that this was the way with fungi: everything happened fast with them, birth, growth, even death. Perhaps they were lucky. They had their tiny time to strut about.
"'Thanks," the man said as he took a second -- now wet -- sphere and began to bury it, too. "I don't hope to ave them all. The spores germinated on my trip -- I had no place to put the plants, I just had a pot for the microscopic-size spores." He glanced up at her briefly as he dug to enlarge the pit. "Miss Golding," he said.
Crouched by the carton of spheres Annette said. "Why is it that you know me but I've never seen you before?"
"This is my second trip here, the man said cryptically.
Already the first-buried sphere had begun to grow; in the light of the handtorch Annette saw the ground quiver and bulge, tremble as the diameter of the sphere radically increased. It was an odd, funny sight and she laughed. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "But you scuttled about, popped it into the ground, and now look at it. In a while it'll be as big as we are. And then it can move on." Slime molds, she knew, were the sole mobile fungus; they fascinated her for that reason.
"How come you know so much about them?" the man asked her.
"For years I had nothing to do but educate myself. From the -- I guess you would call it hospital ... anyhow from it, before it was razed, I got tapes on biology and zoology. It's true, is it, that when they're fully ripe a Ganymedean slime mold is intelligent enough so you can converse with it?"
"More than that intelligent." The man swiftly planted another sphere; in his hands it quivered, jelly-like, soft.
"How wonderful," she said. "I find that terribly exciting." It would be worth staying here, to see this. "Don't you love this?" she said, kneeling down on the far side of the carton to watch his work. "The night smells, the air, the sounds of creatures -- little ones, like hipfrogs and bellcrickets -- stirring about, and then this, making these fungi grow instead of just letting them die? You're very humane; I can see that. Tell me your name."
He glanced at her sideways. "Why?"
"Because. So I can remember you."
"I have someone's name," the man said, "so I could remember him."
Now only one sphere remained to plant. And the first had burgeoned out, exposing itself; it bad become, she discovered, a multitude of spheres, now, gummed together into a mass. "But," the man said, "I wanted his name so that I could --" He did not finish, but she got the idea. "My name is Chuck Rittersdorf," be said.
"Are you related to Dr. Rittersdorf, the psychologist in that Terran ship? Yes, you must be her husband." She was positive of it; the fact was totally obvious. Remembering Gabriel Baines' plan she put her hand over her mouth, giggling with mischievous excitement. "Oh," she said, "if you only knew. But I can't tell you." Another name you should remember, she thought, is Gabriel Baines. She wondered how Gabe's plan to reduce Dr. Rittersdorf by love-making had gone; she had a feeling that it had failed. But for Gabe it might well have been -- even still be at this moment -- a good deal of fun.
Of course all that was over, now, because Mr. Rittersdorf had arrived.
"What was your name," she asked, "when you were here before?"
Chuck Rittersdorf glanced at her. "You think I change my --"
"You were someone else." It had to be that; otherwise she would remember him. Have recognized him.
After a pause Rittersdorf said, "Let's just say I came here and met you and returned to Terra and now I'm back." He glared at her as if it were her fault. The last sphere having been planted he reflexively gathered up the empty carton and the small shovel, started toward the ship.
Following, Annette said, 'Will slime molds take over our moon, now?" It occurred to her that perhaps this was part of Terra's plan for conquest. But the idea did not ring right; this man had all the appearances of someone working in stealth alone. It was too much a Pare-like idea for her.
"You could do a lot worse," Rittersdorf said laconically. He disappeared into the ship; after hesitating she went in after him, blinking in the bright overhead light.
There on a counter lay her lead-slug pistol; she had put it down when she was involved in filling the container with water.
Picking up the pistol Rittersdorf inspected it, then turned to her with a peculiar expression, almost a grin, on his face. "Yours?"
"Yep," she said, humiliated. She held out her hand, hoping he would give it back. However he did not. "Oh please," she said. "It's mine and I laid it down because I was trying to help; you know that."
He studied her a long, long time. And then handed her the pistol.
"Thank you." She felt gratitude. "I'll remember you did that. "
"Were you going to save this moon by means of that?" Now Rittersdorf smiled. He was not bad-looking, she decided, except that he had a hectic, care-worn expression and too many wrinkles. But his eyes were a clean nice blue. Perhaps, she guessed, he was in his mid-thirties. Not really old, but somewhat older than herself. His smile had a pained quality, not as if it were contrived but -- she pondered. As if it were unnatural, as if for him being happy, even briefly, was difficult. He was, perhaps like Dino Watters, addicted to gloom. She felt sorry for him if that were so. It was a terrible malady to have. Far worse than the several others.
She said, "I don't think we can save this moon. I just wanted to protect myself personally. You know our situation here, don't you? We --"
A voice inside her mind croaked into abrupt, rudimentary life. "Mr. Rittersdorf," it creaked, faded out, then returned, like the feeble sputter of a crystal set radio. "... wise thing. I see that Joan. The voice was gone now.
'What in god's name was that?" Annette said, appalled.
"The slime mold. One of them. I don't know which ... Chuck Rittersdorf seemed transfixed with relief. Loudly he said, "It carries the continuity!" He shouted at her as if she were a mile away, "He's back again! What do you say, Miss Golding? Say something!" He grabbed her all at once by the hands, whirled her in a dance-like circle of joyous, child-like celebration. "Say something, Miss Golding!"
"I'm glad," Annette said dutifully, "to see you so happy. You ought to be as joyous as often as possible. Of course I don't know what happened. Anyhow --" She disengaged her fingers from his. "I know you deserve this, whatever it is."
Behind her something stirred. She looked back and saw at the doorway of the ship a yellow lump which progressed sluggishly forward, undulating over the doorstep, entering. So this is how they look, she realized. In their final stage. It was breath-aking. She retreated, not in fear but in awe; it was certainly a miracle the way it had developed so rapidly. And now -- as she recalled -- it would stay this way indefinitely, until killed at last by too cold or too warm a climate, or by too much dryness. And, in its last extremity, it would sporify; the cycle would repeat.
As the slime mold entered the ship a second slime mold crept into sight behind it, following. And behind it a third.
Startled, Chuck Rittersdorf said, "Which is you, Lord Running Clam?"
In Annette's mind a series of thoughts progressed. "It is a custom for the first-born to take the formal identity of the parent. But there is no actual distinction. In a sense we are all Lord Running Clams; in another sense none of us is. I -- the first -- will assume the name, the others are instead inventing new names that gratify them. To me comes the feeling that we will function and thrive on this moon; the atmosphere, the humidity and the pull of gravity seem quite in order to us. You have helped diversify our location; you've carried us more than -- allow me to compute -- three lights years from our source. Thank you." It -- or rather they -- added, "Your ship and you yourself are about to be attacked, I'm afraid. Perhaps you should take off as soon as possible. That is why we came inside, those of us who had developed in time."
"Attacked by whom?" Chuck Rittersdorf demanded, pressing a button at the control panel which slid the batch of the ship shut. Seating himself he prepared the ship for departure.
"As we ferret it out," the thoughts came to Annette from the three slime molds, "a group of natives is involved, those who refer to themselves in their own minds as Manses. Evidently they have succeeded in blowing up some other ship --"
"Good grief," Chuck Rittersdorf grated. "That would be Mary's."
"Yes," the slime mold agreed. "The approaching Manses are quite consciously congratulating themselves in their typically prideful fashion on successfully fighting off Dr. Rittersdorf. However she is not dead. Those in the first ship were able to escape; they are at unknown loci on the moon at present, and theManses are hunting them."
"What about the nearby Terran warships?" Rittersdorf asked.
"What warships? The Manses have thrown some novel variety of protective screen about their settlement. So for the moment they are safe." The slime mold, then, amplified with a conjecture of its own. "But it will not last long and this they know. They are on the offensive only temporarily. But still they love t. They are extremely happy, while all the while the baffled Terran line-ships buzz about uselessly."
The poor Manses, Annette thought to herself. Unable to look ahead, dwelling on the now, sallying forth to do battle as if they had a reasonable chance. And yet, was her own view much better? Was her willingness to accept failure an improvement?
No wonder all the clans of the moon depended on the Manses; it remained the only clan with courage. And the vitality which that courage gave.
The rest of us, Annette realized, lost long ago. Before the first Terran, Dr. Mary Rittersdorf, showed up.
Gabriel Baines, driving at a paltry seventy-five miles an hour toward Hamlet Hamlet, saw the small, brisk ship race up into the night sky and knew that he was too late, knew it without having any understanding directly of the situation. Annette, his near-Psionic talent informed him, was in the ship or else the ship -- those aboard it -- had destroyed her. In any case she was gone and so he slowed the car, feeling bitterness and despair.
There was virtually nothing he could do, now. Hence he might as well turn back toward Adolfville, to his own settlement and people. Be with them in these last, tragic days of their existence.
As he started to turn his car around, something rumbled and clanked past him, heading toward Hamlet Hamlet; it was a crawling monster if not a super-monster. Cast of high-process iron as only the Manses knew how to bring off, sweeping the landscape ahead with its powerful lights, it advanced flying a red and black flag, the battle symbol of the Manses.
Evidently he was seeing the initial stages of a surface counterattack. But against precisely what? The Manses were certainly in action, but surely not against Hamlet Hamlet. Perhaps they had been attempting to reach the small, swift ship before it took off. But for them, as for himself, it was too late.
He honked his horn. The turret of the Mans tank flopped open; the tank circled back toward him and a Mans, unfamiliar to him, stood up and waved in greeting to him. The Mans's face was inflamed with enthusiasm; obviously he was hotly enjoying this experience, his military duties in defense of the moon, for which they had prepared so long. The situation, depressing as it was to Baines, had an opposite effect on the Mans: for him it permitted a flowery, bellicose puffing and posturing. Gabriel Baines was not surprised.
"Hi," the Mans in the tank yelled, grinning broadly.
Baines called back with as little sourness as he could manage, "I see the ship got away from you people."
'We'll get it." The Mans did not lose his cheerfulness; he pointed instead toward the sky. "Watch, buddy. For the missile."
A second later something flashed overhead; luminous fragments rained down and Gabriel Baines realized that the Terran ship had been hit. The Mans was correct. As usual ... it was a clan characteristic.
Horrified, because of his intuition that Annette Golding had been within the ship, he said, "You barbaric, monstrous Manses " The main debris was descending to his right; slamming his car door be started up the engine, left the road and bumped across the open countryside. The Mans tank, meanwhile, shut its turret and began to follow, filling the night with its screeching clankings.
Baines reached the remains of the ship first. Some kind of emergency parachute device, a huge globe of gas, had sprung from the rear of the ship, letting it down more or less gently; it now lay half-buried in the soil, its tail up, smoking as if -- and this horrified Baines still further -- it were about to disintegrate; the atomic furnace within had reached, he thought, near-critical mass, and once it went that would be that.
Getting out of his car he sprinted toward the hatch of the ship. As he reached it the hatch swung open; a Terran emerged unsteadily, and after him came Annette Golding and then, with immense technical difficulty, a homogenous yellow blob that flowed to the lip of the hatch and dropped with a plop to the ground below.
Annette said, "Gabe, don't let the Manses shoot this man; he's a good person. He's even kind to slime molds."
Now the Mans tank had clattered up; once again the turret of the tank popped aside and again the Mans within raised himself up. This time, however, he held a laser beam, which he aimed at the Terran and Annette. Grinning, the Mans said, "We got you." It was clear that as soon as he had fully savored his enjoyment he would kill them; the ferocity of the Mans mind was unfathomable.
"Listen," Baines said, waving to the Mans. "Leave these people alone; this woman is from Hamlet Hamlet -- she's one of us."
"One of us?" the Mans echoed. "If she's from Hamlet Hamlet she's not one of us."
"Oh, come on," Baines said. "Are you Manses so hopped up that you don't recognize or remember the common brotherhood of the clans at a time of crisis? Put your gun down." He walked slowly back to his parked car, not taking his eyes from the Mans. In the car, under the seat, he had his own weapon. If he could get his hands on it he would use it on the Mans to save Annette's life. "I'll report you to Howard Straw," he said, and opening the car door groped within. "I'm a colleague of his -- I'm the Pare rep to the council." His fingers closed over the butt of the gun; he lifted it out, aimed it and at the same time clicked off the safety.
The click, audible in the still night air, caused the Mans in the tank instantly to swivel; the laser beam was now pointed at Gabriel Baines. Neither Baines nor the Mans said anything; they faced each other, not moving, not firing -- the light was not adequate and neither could make out the other fully.
A thought, emanating from heaven knew where, entered Gabriel Baines' mind. "Mr. Rittersdorf, your wife is in the vicinity; I'm picking up her cephalic activity. Therefore I advise you to drop to the ground." The Terran, and also Annette Golding, both fell at once on their faces; the Mans in the tank, startled, moved his gun away from Gabriel Baines, peered into the night uncertainly.
An almost perfectly-directed bolt from a laser weapon passed over the prone figure of the Terran, entering the hull of the ruined ship and vanishing in a sizzle of liquefied metal. The Mans in the tank leaped, sought to pinpoint the origin of the shot; he clutched his own weapon in a spasm of instinctive response but did not fire. Neither he nor Gabriel Baines could make out what was happening. Who was shooting at whom?
To Annette, Gabriel Baines shouted, "Get in the car!" He held the door open; Annette lifted her head, gazed at him, then turned to the Terran beside her. The two of them exchanged a glance and then both stumbled up and snaked their way swiftly to the car. In the turret of the tank the Mans opened fire, but not at Annette and the Terran; he was firing into the darkness, in the direction from which the laser bolt had come. Then all at once he popped back down inside his tank; the turret slammed shut and the tank, with a shudder, started up and rumbled forward, in the direction toward which the Mans had fired. At the same time a missile departed from the forward tube of the tank; it went straight, parallel to the ground and then, all at once, detonated. Gabriel Baines, trying to turn his car around, the Terran and Annette in the front seat beside him, felt the ground leap and devour him; he shut his eyes but what was happening could not be closed out.
Beside him the Terran cursed. Annette Golding gave a moan.
Those -- Manses, Barnes thought savagely as be felt the car lift, picked up by the shock-waves of the exploding missile.
"You can't use a missile like that," the Terran's voice came very faintly, over the uproar, "at such close range."
Whipped, carried by the concussion of the blast, the car spun over and over; Gabriel Baines bounced against the safety-padding of the roof, then against the safety-padding of the dashboard; all the security devices that an intelligent Pare would install in his vehicle to protect himself against attack came on automatically, but they were not enough. On and on the car rolled, and in it Gabriel Baines said to himself, I hate the Manses, I'll never advocate cooperation with hem again.
Someone, thrown against him, said, "Oh god!" It was Annette Golding; he caught her, hung onto her. All the windows of the car had burst; bits of plastic rained, showering on him and he smelled the acrid stench of something burning, perhaps his own clothing -- it would not have surprised him. Now the protective anti-thermal foam spouted in gobs from the nozzles on all sides of him, activated by the temperature; in a moment be was floundering in a gray sea, unable to catch hold of anything ... he had lost Annette again. Goddamn, he thought, these protective devices that cost me so much time and skins are almost worse than the blast itself. Is there a moral there? he asked himself as he tumbled in the slimy foam. It was like being lathered up for some great orgy of body-hair cutting; he cringed and gagged, struggled to get free of the sticky stuff.
"Help," he said.
No one and nothing answered.
I'm going to blow up that tank, Gabriel Baines thought to himself as he floundered. I swear it; I'll get back at them, at our enemy, the arrogant Manses ... I always knew they were against us.
"You are mistaken, Mr. Baines," a thought appeared in his mind, calm and sensible. "The soldier who fired the missile did not intend to hurt you. Before he fired he made a careful calculation -- or so he believed. You must beware of seeing malice behind accidental injury. At this moment, he is attempting to reach you and drag you from your flaming car. And those with you as well."
"If you can hear me," Baines thought back, "help me."
"I can do nothing. I am a slime mold; I can't under any circumstance approach the flames, being too heat-sensitive, as recent events demonstrate clearly. Two of my brethren have in fact already perished trying. And I am not ready at this time to sporify again." It added, gratuitously, "Anyhow, if I were to try to save anyone it would be Mr. Rittersdorf. There with you in the car ... the man from Terra."
A hand grabbed Gabriel Baines by the collar; he was lifted, dragged from the car, tossed off to one side. The Mans, with typical abnormal physical strength, now reached into the burning car and tugged Annette Golding to safety.
"Next Mr. Rittersdorf," the slime mold's anxious thoughts came, reaching Gabriel Baines where he lay.
Once more, with complete disregard for his own safety -- also typical of the hyperactive temperament -- the Mans disappeared into the car. This time when he returned he was pulling the Terran out.
"Thank you," the slime mold thought, with relief and gratitude. "In exchange for your deed allow me to give you information; your missile did not reach Dr. Rittersdorf, and she and the CIA simulacrum, Mr. Mageboom, are still nearby out of sight in the darkness, seeking an opportunity to fire at you again. So you had better return as soon as possible to your tank."
"Why me?" the Mans said angrily.
"Because your clan destroyed their ship," the slime mold thought back. "Hostilities between you and them are overt. Hurry!"
The Mans soldier sprinted for his tank.
But he did not reach it. Two-thirds of the way there he pitched forward on his face as a laser beam appeared from the darkness, touched him briefly and then winked out.
And now we're going to get it, Gabriel Baines realized wretchedly as he sat wiping the foam from himself. I wonder if she recognizes me, remembers me from our encounter earlier today ... and if so, would that cause her to want to spare me -- or to kill me sooner?
Beside him the Terran, also named Rittersdorf by some peculiar freak of coincidence, struggled to a sitting position, said, "You had a gun. What became of it?"
"Still in the car. I suppose."
"Why would she kill us?" Annette Golding gasped.
Rittersdorf said, "Because she knows why I'm here. I came to this moon to kill her." He seemed calm. "By the time tonight's over one of us will be dead. Either she or I." Obviously he had made up his mind.
Overhead the roar of a retro-rocket sounded. It was another ship, a huge one, Gabriel Baines realized, and he felt hope; possibly they had a chance of escaping from Dr. Rittersdorf -- who certainly, as he had suspected, was deranged -- after all. Even if the ship contained Terrans. Because it was so clear that Dr. Rittersdorf was acting out a feral impulse of her own, without official sanction. At least he hoped so.
A flare burst above them; the night became white and everything, each small object down to the stones on the ground, stood out with august clarity. The wrecked ship of Mr. Rittersdorf, the abandoned tank of the dead Mans, the corpse of the Mans himself, sprawled not far off, Gabriel Baines's car, burning itself into a clinker, and there, a hundred yards away, a vast molten, seething pocket where the missile had exploded. And -- among trees to the far right, two human figures. Mary Rittersdorf and whoever else the slime mold had said. Now, too, he saw the slime mold; it had taken refuge near the wrecked ship. In the light of the flare it was a macabre sight; he suppressed an impulse to heehaw.
"A Terran warship?" Annette Golding said.
"No," Rittersdorf said. "Look at the rabbit on its side."
"A rabbit!" Her eyes widened. is it a race of sentient rabbits? Is there such a thing?"
"No," the slime mold's thoughts came to Gabriel Baines. With seeming regret the slime mold said, "This apparition is Bunny Hentman, searching for you, Mr. Rittersdorf. It was, as you anticipated pessimistically, a relatively easy guess on his part that you came here to Alpha III M2; he left Brahe City shortly after you departed from Terra." It explained, "I am just now obtaining these thoughts from his mind; of course up to now I have been ignorant of this, being in the spore stage only."
I don't understand this, Gabriel Baines said to himself. Who in god's name is Bunny Hentman? A rabbit deity? And why is he looking for Rittersdorf? As a matter of fact he was not even certain who Rittersdorf was. Mary Rittersdorf's husband? Her brother? The whole situation was confused in his mind and he wished he were back at Adolfville, in the prepared security positions which his clan had elaborated over the years for just such abominations as this.
Evidently, he decided, we are doomed. They are all ganged up against us -- the Manses, Dr. Rittersdorf, the fat ship overhead with its bunny totem painted on its side, and, somewhere nearby, the Terran military authorities waiting to move in ... what chance do we have? A massive clot of defeatism rose up within him -- and well it might, he thought grimly.
Leaning toward Annette Golding, who sat weakly trying to shake the anti-thermal foam from her arms, he said, "Good-by."
She looked at him with large, dark eyes. "Where are you going, Gabe?"
"What the heck," he said bitterly, "does it matter?" They had no chance here, caught by the flare, in sight of Dr. Rittersdorf and her laser beam -- the weapon which had already killed the Mans soldier. He rose unsteadily to his feet, slopping off foam, shaking himself like a wet dog. "I'm leaving," he informed Annette, and then he felt sad because of her: not his own death but hers -- that was what distressed him. "I wish I could do something for you," he said, on impulse. "But that woman is insane; I know firsthand."
"Oh," Annette said, and nodded. "It didn't go well, then. Your plan regarding her." She glanced at Rittersdorf, then, covertly.
"'Well, did you say?" He laughed; it was really amusing. "Remind me to describe it to you sometime." Bending, he kissed her; Annette's face, slippery and damp from the foam, pressed against his muzzle and then he straightened up and walked away, seeing clearly by the light of the still-functioning flare.
As he walked he waited for the laser beam to touch him. So brilliant was the glare that, involuntarily, he half-shut his eyes; squinting, he made his way along step by step, in no particular direction ... why hadn't she shot? It would come, he knew; he wished it would hurry. Death at the hands of this woman -- it was a good fate for a Pare; ironic and deserved.
A shape blocked his way. He opened his eyes. Three shapes, and all of them familiar to him; he faced Sarah Apostoles, Omar Diamond and Ignatz Ledebur, the three ultimate visionaries on the moon, or, put another way, he thought to himself, the three greatest nuts from among all the clans. What are they doing here? Levitated or teleported or whatever they do; anyhow got here by their neo-magic. He felt only irritation at seeing them. The situation was enough of a mess as it was.
"Evil confronts evil," Ignatz Ledebur intoned sententiously. "But out of this our friends must be preserved. Have faith in us, Gabriel. We will see that you are conducted very soon, psychopomp-wise, to safety." He extended his hand, then, to Baines, his face transfigured.
"Not me," Baines said. "Annette Golding; help her." It seemed to him, then, that all at once the weight of being a Pare, of defending himself against all harm, had been lifted from him. For the first time in his life he had acted, not to save himself, but to save someone else.
"She will be saved, too," Sarah Apostoles assured him. "By the same agency."
Above their heads the retro-rockets of the big bunny-inscribed ship continued to roar; the ship was descending slowly. Coming down to land.