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1 Fleetlord Atvar pressed his fingerclaw into the opening for a control. There is a last time for everything, he thought with dignity as a holographic image sprang into being above his desk. He’d studied the image of that armed and armored Big Ugly a great many times indeed in the sixty years—thirty of this planet’s slow revolutions around its star—since coming to Tosev 3.
The Tosevite rode a beast with a mane and a long, flowing tail. He wore chainmail that needed a good scouring to get rid of the rust. His chief weapon was an iron-tipped spear. The spearhead also showed tiny flecks of rust, and some not so tiny. To protect himself against similarly armed enemies, the Tosevite carried a shield with a red cross painted on it.
Another poke of the fingerclaw made the hologram disappear. Atvar’s mouth fell open in an ironic laugh. The Race had expected to face that kind of opposition when it sent its conquest fleet from Home to Tosev 3. Why not? It had all seemed so reasonable. The probe had shown no high technology anywhere on the planet, and the conquest fleet was only sixteen hundred years behind—eight hundred years here. How much could technology change in eight hundred years?
Back on Home, not much. Here . . . Here, when the conquest fleet arrived, the Big Uglies had been fighting an immense war among themselves, fighting not with spears and beasts and chainmail but with machine guns, with cannon-carrying landcruisers, with killercraft that spat death from the air, with radio and telephones. They’d been working on guided missiles and on nuclear weapons.
And so, despite battles bigger and fiercer than anyone back on Home could have imagined, the conquest fleet hadn’t quite conquered. More than half the land area of Tosev 3 had come under its control, but several not-empires—a notion of government that still seemed strange to Atvar—full of Big Uglies (and, not coincidentally, full of nuclear weapons) remained independent. Atvar couldn’t afford to wreck the planet to beat the Tosevites into submission, not with the colonization fleet on the way and only twenty local years behind the fleet he commanded. The colonists had to have somewhere to settle.
He’d never expected to need to learn to be a diplomat. Being diplomatic with the obstreperous Big Uglies wasn’t easy. Being diplomatic with the males and females of the conquest fleet had often proved even harder. They’d expected everything to be waiting for them and in good order when they arrived. They’d expected a conquered planet full of submissive primitives. They’d been loudly and unhappily surprised when they didn’t get one. Here ten local years after their arrival, a lot of them still were.
Atvar’s unhappy musings—and had he had any other kind since coming to Tosev 3?—cut off when his adjutant walked into the room. Pshing’s body paint, like that of any adjutant, was highly distinctive. On one side, it showed his own not particularly high rank. On the other, it matched the body paint of his principal—and Atvar’s pattern, as befit his rank, was the most ornate and elaborate on Tosev 3.
Pshing bent into the posture of respect. Even his tailstump twitched to one side. “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” he said in the hissing, popping language of the Race.
“And I greet you,” Atvar replied.
Straightening, Pshing said, “They are waiting for you.”
“Of course they are,” Atvar said bitterly. “Eaters of carrion always gather to feast at a juicy corpse.” His tailstump quivered in anger.
“I am sorry, Exalted Fleetlord.” Pshing had the courtesy to sound as if he meant it. “But when the recall order came from Home, what could you do?”
“I could obey, or I could rebel,” Atvar answered. His adjutant hissed in horror at the very idea. Among the Race, even saying such things was shocking. There had been mutinies and rebellions here on Tosev 3. Perhaps more than anything else, that told what sort of place this was. Atvar held up a placating hand. “I obey. I will go into cold sleep. I will return to Home. Maybe by the time I get there, those who will sit in judgment on me will have learned more. Our signals, after all, travel twice as fast as our starships.”
“Truth, Exalted Fleetlord,” Pshing said. “Meanwhile, though, as I told you, those who wish to say farewell await you.”
“I know they do.” Atvar waggled his lower jaw back and forth as he laughed, to show he was not altogether amused. “Some few, perhaps, will be glad to see me. The rest will be glad to see me—go.” He got to his feet and sardonically made as if to assume the posture of respect before Pshing. “Lead on. I follow. Why not? It is a pleasant day.”
The fleetlord even meant that. Few places on Tosev 3 fully suited the Race; most of this world was cold and damp compared to Home. But the city called Cairo was perfectly temperate, especially in summertime. Pshing held the door open for Atvar. Only the great size of that door, like the height of the ceiling, reminded Atvar that Big Uglies had built the place once called Shepheard’s Hotel. As the heart of the Race’s rule on Tosev 3, it had been extensively modified year after year. It would not have made a first-class establishment back on Home, perhaps, but it would have been a decent enough second-class place.
When Atvar strode into the meeting hall, the males and females gathered there all assumed the posture of respect—all save Fleetlord Reffet, the commander of the colonization fleet, the only male in the room whose body paint matched Atvar’s in complexity. Reffet confined himself to a civil nod. Civility was as much as Atvar had ever got from him. He’d usually had worse, for Reffet had never stopped blaming him for not presenting Tosev 3 to the colonists neatly wrapped up and decorated.
To Atvar’s surprise, a handful of tall, erect Tosevites towered over the males and females of the Race. Because they did not slope forward from the hips and because they had no tailstumps, their version of the posture of respect was a clumsy makeshift. Their pale, soft skins and the cloth wrappings they wore stood out against the clean simplicity of green-brown scales and body paint.
“Did we have to have Big Uglies here?” Atvar asked. “If it were not for the trouble the Big Uglies caused us, I would not be going Home now.” I would be Atvar the Conqueror, remembered in history forever. I will be remembered in history, all right, but not the way I had in mind before I set out with the conquest fleet.
“When some of them asked to attend, Exalted Fleetlord, it was difficult to say no,” Pshing replied. “That one there, for instance—the one with the khaki wrappings and the white fur on his head—is Sam Yeager.”
“Ah.” Atvar used the affirmative hand gesture. “Well, you are right. If he wanted to be here, you could not very well have excluded him. Despite his looks, he might as well be a member of the Race himself. He has done more for us than most of the males and females in this room. Without him, we probably would have fought the war that annihilated the planet.”
He strode through the crowd toward the Big Ugly, ignoring his own kind. No doubt they would talk about his bad manners later. Since this was his last appearance on Tosev 3, he didn’t care. He would do as he pleased, not as convention dictated. “I greet you, Sam Yeager,” he said.
“And I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” Yeager replied in the language of the Race. His accent was mushy, as a Big Ugly’s had to be. But the rhythms of his speech could almost have come from Home. More than any other Tosevite, he thought like a male of the Race. “I wish you good fortune in your return. And I also want you to know how jealous I am of you.”
“Of me? By the Emperor, why?” When Atvar spoke of his sovereign, he swung his eye turrets so he looked down to the ground as a token of respect and reverence. He hardly even knew he did it; such habits had been ingrained in him since hatchlinghood.
“Why? Because you are going Home, and I wish I could see your world.”
Atvar laughed. “Believe me, Sam Yeager, some things are better wished for than actually obtained.” Would he have said that to one of his own species? Probably not. It somehow seemed less a betrayal and more a simple truth when told to a Tosevite.
Yeager made the affirmative gesture, though it was not one Big Uglies used among themselves. “That is often true. I am jealous even so,” he said. “Exalted Fleetlord, may I present to you my hatchling, Jonathan Yeager, and his mate, Karen Yeager?”
“I am pleased to meet you,” Atvar said politely.
Both of the other Big Uglies assumed the posture of respect. “We greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” they said together in the Race’s language. The female’s voice was higher and shriller than the male’s. Her head fur was a coppery color. Jonathan Yeager cut off all the fur on his head except for the two strips above his small, immobile eyes; Big Uglies used those as signaling devices. Many younger Tosevites removed their head fur in an effort to seem more like members of the Race. Little by little, assimilation progressed.
On Tosev 3, though, assimilation was a two-way street. In colder parts of the planet, males and females of the Race wore Tosevite-style cloth wrappings to protect themselves from the ghastly weather. And, thanks to the unfortunate effects of the herb called ginger, the Race’s patterns of sexuality here had to some degree begun to resemble the Big Uglies’ constant and revolting randiness. Atvar sighed. Without ginger, his life would have been simpler. Without Tosev 3, my life would have been simpler, he thought glumly.
“Please excuse me,” he told the Yeagers, and went off to greet another Tosevite, the foreign minister—foreign commissar was the term the not-empire preferred—of the SSSR. The male called Gromyko had features almost as immobile as if he belonged to the Race.
He spoke in his own language. A Tosevite interpreter said, “He wishes you good fortune on your return to your native world.”
“I thank you,” Atvar said, directly to the Tosevite diplomat. Gromyko understood the language of the Race, even if he seldom chose to use it. His head bobbed up and down, his equivalent of the affirmative gesture.
Shiplord Kirel came up to Atvar. Kirel had commanded the 127th Emperor Hetto, the bannership of the conquest fleet. “I am glad you are able to go Home, Exalted Fleetlord,” he said, “but this recall is undeserved. You have done everything in your power to bring this world into the Empire.”
“We both know that,” Atvar replied. “Back on Home, what do they know? Signals take eleven local years to get there, and another eleven to get back. And yet they think they can manage events here from there. Absurd!”
“They do it on the other two conquered planets,” Kirel said.
“Of course they do.” Atvar scornfully wiggled an eye turret. “With the Rabotevs and the Hallessi, nothing ever happens.”
Seeing that Ttomalss, the Race’s leading expert on Big Uglies, was at the reception, Atvar went over to him. “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” the senior psychologist said. “It is a pleasure to find Sam Yeager at your reception.”
“He is your corresponding fingerclaw on the other hand, is he not?” Atvar said, and Ttomalss made the affirmative gesture. The fleetlord asked, “And how is Kassquit these days?”
“She is well. Thank you for inquiring,” Ttomalss answered. “She still presents a fascinating study on the interaction of genetic and cultural inheritances.”
“Indeed,” Atvar said. “I wonder what she would make of Home. A pity no one has yet developed cold-sleep techniques for the Tosevite metabolism. As for me, I almost welcome the oblivion cold sleep will bring. The only pity is that I will have to awaken to face the uncomprehending fools I am bound to meet on my return.”
Sam Yeager looked at the doctor across the desk from him. Jerry Kleinfeldt, who couldn’t have been above half his age, looked back with the cocksure certainty medical men all seemed to wear these days. It wasn’t like that when I was a kid, Yeager thought. It wasn’t just that he’d almost died as an eleven-year-old in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Back then, you could die of any number of things that were casually treatable now. Doctors had known it, too, and shown a little humility. Humility, though, had gone out of style with the shingle bob and the Charleston.
Kleinfeldt condescended to glance down at the papers on his desk. “Well, Colonel Yeager, I have to tell you, you’re in damn good shape for a man of seventy. Your blood pressure’s no higher than mine, no sign of malignancy, nothing that would obviously keep you from trying this, if you’re bound and determined to do it.”
“Oh, I am, all right,” Sam Yeager said. “Being who you are, being what you are, you’ll understand why, too, won’t you?”
“Who, me?” When Dr. Kleinfeldt grinned, it made him look even more like a kid than he did already—which, to Yeager’s jaundiced eye, was quite a bit. The fluorescent lights overhead gleamed off his shaven scalp. Given what he specialized in, was it surprising he’d ape the Lizards as much as a mere human being could?
But suddenly, Sam had no patience for joking questions or grins. “Cut the crap,” he said, his voice harsh. “We both know that if the government gave a good goddamn about me, they wouldn’t let me be a guinea pig. But they’re glad to let me give it a try, and they halfway hope it doesn’t work. More than halfway, or I miss my guess.”
Kleinfeldt steepled his fingers. Now he looked steadily back at Sam. The older man realized that, despite his youth, despite the foolishness he affected, the doctor was highly capable. He wouldn’t have been involved with this project if he weren’t. Picking his words with care, he said, “You exaggerate.”
“Do I?” Yeager said. “How much?”
“Some,” Kleinfeldt answered judiciously. “You’re the man who knows as much about the Race as any human living. And you’re the man who can think like a Lizard, which isn’t the same thing at all. Having you along when this mission eventually gets off the ground—and eventually is the operative word here—would be an asset.”
“And there are a lot of people in high places who think having me dead would be an asset, too,” Sam said.
“Not to the point of doing anything drastic—or that’s my reading of it, anyhow,” Dr. Kleinfeldt said. “Besides, even if everything works just the way it’s supposed to, you’d be, ah, effectively dead, you might say.”
“On ice, I’d call it,” Yeager said, and Dr. Kleinfeldt nodded. With a wry chuckle, Sam added, “Four or five years ago, at Fleetlord Atvar’s farewell reception, I told him I was jealous that he was going back to Home and I couldn’t. I didn’t realize we’d come as far as we have on cold sleep.”
“If you see him there, maybe you can tell him so.” Kleinfeldt looked down at the papers on his desk again, then back to Sam. “You mean we own a secret or two you haven’t managed to dig up?”
“Fuck you, Doc,” Sam said evenly. Kleinfeldt blinked. How many years had it been since somebody came right out and said that to him? Too many, by all the signs. Yeager went on, “See, this is the kind of stuff I get from just about everybody.”
After another pause for thought, Dr. Kleinfeldt said, “I’m going to level with you, Colonel: a lot of people think you’ve earned it.”
Sam nodded. He knew that. He couldn’t help knowing it. Because of what he’d done, Indianapolis had gone up in radioactive fire and a president of the United States had killed himself. The hardest part was, he couldn’t make himself feel guilty about it. Bad, yes. Guilty? No. There was a difference. He wondered if he could make Kleinfeldt understand. Worth a try, maybe: “What we did to the colonization fleet was as bad as what the Japs did to us at Pearl Harbor. Worse, I’d say, because we blew up innocent civilians, not soldiers and sailors. If I’d found out the Nazis or the Reds did it and told the Lizards that, I’d be a goddamn hero. Instead, I might as well be Typhoid Mary.”
“All things considered, you can’t expect it would have turned out any different,” the doctor said. “As far as most people are concerned, the Lizards aren’t quite—people, I mean. And it’s only natural we think of America first and everybody else afterwards.”
“Truth—it is only natural,” Sam said in the language of the Race. He wasn’t surprised Kleinfeldt understood. Anyone who worked on cold sleep for humans would have to know about what the Lizards did so they could fly between the stars without getting old on the way. He went on, “It is only natural, yes. But is it right?”
“That is an argument for another time,” Kleinfeldt answered, also in the Lizards’ tongue. He returned to English: “Right or wrong, though, it’s the attitude people have. I don’t know what you can do about it.”
“Not much, I’m afraid.” Yeager knew that too well. He also knew the main reason he remained alive after what he’d done was that the Race had bluntly warned the United States nothing had better happen to him—or else. He asked, “What are the odds of something going wrong with this procedure?”
“Well, we think they’re pretty slim, or we wouldn’t be trying it on people,” the doctor said. “I’ll tell you something else, though: if you ever want to have even a chance of seeing Home, Colonel, this is your only way to get it.”
“Yeah,” Sam said tightly. “I already figured that out for myself, thanks.” One of these days, people—with luck, people from the USA—would have a spaceship that could fly from the Sun to Tau Ceti, Home’s star. By the time people did, though, one Sam Yeager, ex-minor-league ballplayer and science-fiction reader, current expert on the Race, would be pushing up a lily unless he went in for cold sleep pretty damn quick. “All right, Doc. I’m game—and the powers that be won’t worry about me so much if I’m either on ice or light-years from Earth. Call me Rip van Winkle.”
Dr. Kleinfeldt wrote a note on the chart. “This is what I thought you’d decide. When do you want to undergo the procedure?”
“Let me have a couple of weeks,” Yeager answered; he’d been thinking about the same thing. “I’ve got to finish putting my affairs in order. It’s like dying, after all. It’s just like dying, except with a little luck it isn’t permanent.”
“Yes, with a little luck,” Kleinfeldt said; he might almost have been Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” intoning, Yes, for the love of God. He looked at the calendar. “Then I’ll see you here on . . . the twenty-seventh, at eight in the morning. Nothing by mouth for twelve hours before that. I’ll prescribe a purgative to clean out your intestinal tract, too. It won’t be much fun, but it’s necessary. Any questions?”
“Just one.” Sam tapped his top front teeth. “I’ve got full upper and lower plates—I’ve had ’em since my teeth rotted out after the Spanish flu. What shall I do about those? If this does work, I don’t want to go to Home without my choppers. That wouldn’t do me or the country much good.”
“Take them out before the procedure,” Dr. Kleinfeldt told him. “We’ll put them in your storage receptacle. You won’t go anywhere they don’t.”
“Okay.” Yeager nodded. “Fair enough. I wanted to make sure.” He did his best not to dwell on what Kleinfeldt called a storage receptacle. If that wasn’t a fancy name for a coffin, he’d never heard one. His wife had always insisted on looking for the meaning behind what people said. He muttered to himself as he got up to leave. He and Barbara had had more than thirty good years together. If he hadn’t lost her, he wondered if he would have been willing to face cold sleep. He doubted it. He doubted it like anything, as a matter of fact.
After reclaiming his car from the parking lot, he drove south on the freeway from downtown Los Angeles to his home in Gardena, one of the endless suburbs ringing the city on all sides but the sea. The sky was clearer and the air cleaner than he remembered them being when he first moved to Southern California. Most cars on the road these days, like his, used clean-burning hydrogen, a technology borrowed—well, stolen—from the Lizards. Only a few gasoline-burners still spewed hydrocarbons into the air.
He would have rattled around his house if he’d lived there alone. But Mickey and Donald were plenty to keep him hopping instead of rattling. He’d raised the two Lizards from eggs obtained God only knew how, raised them to be as human as they could. They weren’t humans, of course, but they came closer to it than any other Lizards on this or any other world.
The Race had done the same thing with a human baby, and had had a twenty-year start on the project. He’d met Kassquit, the result of their experiment. She was very bright and very strange. He was sure the Lizards would have said exactly the same thing about Mickey and Donald.
“Hey, Pop!” Donald shouted when Sam came in the door. He’d always been the more boisterous of the pair. He spoke English as well as his mouth could shape it. Why not? It was as much his native tongue as Sam’s. “What’s up?”
“Well, you know how I told you I might be going away for a while?” Yeager said. Both Lizards nodded. They were physically full grown, which meant their heads came up to past the pit of Sam’s stomach, but they weren’t grownups, or anything close to it. He went on, “Looks like that’s going to happen. You’ll be living with Jonathan and Karen when it does.”
Mickey and Donald got excited enough to skitter around the front room, their tailstumps quivering. They didn’t realize they wouldn’t be seeing him again. He didn’t intend to explain, either. His son and daughter-in-law could do that a little bit at a time. The Lizards had taken Barbara’s death harder than he had; for all practical purposes, she’d been their mother. Among their own kind, Lizards didn’t have families the way people did. That didn’t mean they couldn’t get attached to those near and dear to them, though. These two had proved as much.
One of these days before too long, the Race would find out what the United States and the Yeagers had done with the hatchlings. Or to them, Sam thought: they were as unnatural as Kassquit. But, since they’d meddled in her clay, how could they complain if humanity returned the compliment? They couldn’t, or not too loudly. So Sam—so everybody—hoped, anyhow.
He did put his affairs in order. That had a certain grim finality to it. At least I get to do it, and not Jonathan, he thought. He took the Lizards over to Jonathan and Karen’s house. He said his good-byes. Everybody kissed him, even if Donald and Mickey didn’t have proper lips. I may be the only guy ever kissed by a Lizard, was what went through his mind as he walked out to the car.
Next morning, bright and early—why didn’t doctors keep more civilized hours?—he went back to Dr. Kleinfeldt’s. “Nothing by mouth the past twelve hours?” Kleinfeldt asked. Sam shook his head. “You used the purgative?” the doctor inquired.
“Oh, yeah. After I got home yesterday.” Sam grimaced. That hadn’t been any fun.
“All right. Take off your clothes and lie down here.”
Sam obeyed. Kleinfeldt hooked him up to an IV and started giving him shots. He wondered if he would simply blank out, the way he had during a hernia-repair operation. It didn’t work out like that. He felt himself slowing down. Dr. Kleinfeldt seemed to talk faster and faster, though his speech rhythm probably wasn’t changing. Sam’s thoughts stretched out and out and out. The last thing that occurred to him before he stopped thinking altogether was, Funny, I don’t feel cold.
Kassquit bent herself into the posture of respect before Ttomalss in his office in a starship orbiting Tosev 3. Since she didn’t have a tailstump, it wasn’t quite perfect, but she did it as well as anyone of Tosevite blood could. Why not? She’d learned the ways of the Race, of the Empire, since the days of her hatchlinghood. She knew them much better than she did those of what was biologically her own kind.
“I greet you, superior sir,” she said.
“And I greet you, Researcher,” Ttomalss replied, an odd formality in his voice. He was the male who’d raised her. He was also the male who’d tried, for the most part unintentionally, to keep her dependent on him even after she grew to adulthood. That he’d failed, that she’d carved out her own place for herself, went a long way towards accounting for his constraint.
“By now, superior sir, you will, I am sure, have read my message,” Kassquit said. She couldn’t resist tacking on an interrogative cough at the end of the sentence, even if she claimed to be sure.
Ttomalss noticed that, as she’d intended. The way he waggled his eye turrets said he wasn’t too happy about it, either. But he held his voice steady as he answered, “Yes, I have read it. How did you learn that the Big Uglies are experimenting with the technology of cold sleep?”
“That is not the question, superior sir,” Kassquit said. “The question is, why was I not informed of this as soon as we discovered it? Am I not correct in believing the wild Big Uglies have been developing their techniques for more than ten local years now?”
“Well . . . yes,” the male who’d raised her admitted uncomfortably.
“And is it not also true that the Tosevite male named Sam Yeager availed himself of these techniques five local years ago, and in fact did not die, as was publicly reported, and as I was led to believe?”
Ttomalss sounded even more uncomfortable. “I believe that to be the case, but I am not altogether sure of it,” he replied. “The American Big Uglies are a great deal less forthcoming about their experiments, this for reasons that should be obvious to you. What we think we know is pieced together from intelligence sources and penetrations of their computer networks. They are, unfortunately, a good deal better at detecting, preventing, and confusing such penetrations than they were even a few years ago.”
“And why did you prevent me from gaining access to this important—indeed, vital—information?” Kassquit demanded.
“That should also be obvious to you,” Ttomalss said.
“What is obvious to me, superior sir, is that these techniques offer me something I never had before: a chance of visiting Home, of seeing the world that is the source of my . . . my being,” Kassquit said. That wasn’t biologically true, of course. Biologically, she was and would always be a Big Ugly. After years of shaving her entire body to try to look more like a female of the Race—forlorn hope!—she’d acknowledged that and let her hair grow. If some reactionary scholars here didn’t care for the way she looked, too bad. Culturally, she was as much a part of the Empire as they were. Even Ttomalss sometimes had trouble remembering that. Kassquit continued, “Now that I have this opportunity, I will not be deprived of it.”
After a long sigh, Ttomalss said, “I feared this would be your attitude. But do you not see how likely it is that you do not in fact have the opportunity at all, that it is in fact a snare and a delusion?”
“No.” Kassquit used the negative gesture. “I do not see that at all, superior sir. If the technique is effective, why should I not use it?”
“If the technique were proved effective, I would not mind if you did use it,” Ttomalss replied. “But the Big Uglies are not like us. They do not experiment and test for year after year, decade after decade, perfecting their methods before putting them into general use. They rashly forge ahead, trying out ideas still only half hatched. If they are mad enough to risk their lives on such foolishness, that is one thing. For you to risk yours is something else. For us to let you risk yours is a third thing altogether. We kept these data from you as long as we could precisely because we feared you would importune us in this fashion.”
“Superior sir, my research indicates that I have probably already lived more than half my span,” Kassquit said. “Must I live out all my days in exile? If I wait for certain perfection of these methods, I will wait until all my days are done. For a species, waiting and testing may be wisdom. For an individual, how can they be anything but disaster?” Tears stung her eyes. She hated them. They were a Tosevite instinctive response over which she had imperfect control.
“If the Big Uglies’ methods fail, you could give up your entire remaining span of days,” Ttomalss pointed out. “Have you considered that?”
Now Kassquit used the affirmative gesture. “I have indeed,” she answered. “First, the risk is in my opinion worth it. Second, even if I should die, what better way to do so than completely unconscious and unaware? From all I gather, dying is no more pleasant for Tosevites than for members of the Race.”
“Truth. At any rate, I believe it to be truth,” Ttomalss said. “But you have not considered one other possibility. Suppose you are revived, but find yourself . . . diminished upon awakening? This too can happen.”
He was right. Kassquit hadn’t thought about that. She prided herself on her fierce, prickly intelligence. How would she, how could she, cope with the new world of Home if she did not have every bit of that? “I am willing to take the chance,” she declared.
“Whether we are willing for you to take it may be another question,” Ttomalss said.
“Oh, yes. I know.” Kassquit did not bother to hide her bitterness. By the way Ttomalss’ eye turrets twitched uncomfortably, he understood what she felt. She went on, “Even so, I am going to try. And you are going to do everything you can to support me.” She used an emphatic cough to stress her words.
The male who’d raised her jerked in surprise. “I am? Why do you say that?”
“Why? Because you owe it to me,” Kassquit answered fiercely. “You have made me into something neither scale nor bone. You treated me as an experimental animal—an interesting experimental animal, but an experimental animal even so—for all the first half of my life. Thanks to you, I think of myself at least as much as a female of the Race as I do of myself as a Tosevite.”
“You are a citizen of the Empire,” Ttomalss said. “Does that not please you?”
“By the Emperor, it does,” Kassquit said, and used another emphatic cough. Ttomalss automatically cast his eye turrets down toward the metal floor at the mention of the sovereign. Kassquit had to move her whole head to make the ritual gesture of respect. She did it. She’d been trained to do it. As she usually wasn’t, she was consciously aware she’d been trained to do it. She continued, “It pleases me so much, I want to see the real Empire of which I am supposed to be a part. And there is one other thing you do not seem to have considered.”
“What is that?” Ttomalss asked cautiously—or perhaps fearfully was the better word.
“If the Big Uglies are working on cold sleep, what are they likely to do with it?” Kassquit asked. Her facial features stayed immobile. She had never learned the expressions most Big Uglies used to show emotion. Those cues required echoes during early hatchlinghood, echoes Ttomalss had been unable to give her. If she could have, though, she would have smiled a nasty smile. “What else but try to fly from star to star? If they reach Home, would it not be well to have someone there with at least some understanding and firsthand experience of them?”
She waited. Ttomalss made small, unhappy hissing noises. “I had not considered that,” he admitted at last. “I do not believe anyone on Tosev 3 has considered it—not in that context, at any rate. You may well be right. If the Big Uglies do reach Home, we would be better off having individuals there who are familiar with them from something other than data transmissions across light-years of space. The males and females back on Home at present plainly do not qualify.”
“Then you agree to support my petition to travel to Home?” Kassquit asked, eagerness in her voice if not on her face.
“If—I repeat, if—the Big Uglies’ techniques for cold sleep prove both effective and safe, then perhaps this may be a justifiable risk.” Ttomalss did not sound as if he wanted to commit himself to anything.
Kassquit knew she had to pin him down if she possibly could. “You will support my petition?” she asked again, more sharply this time. “Please come straight out and tell me what you will do, superior sir.”
That was plainly the last thing Ttomalss wanted to do. At last, with obvious reluctance, he made the affirmative gesture. “Very well. I will do this. But you must see that I do it much more for the sake of the Race and for Home than for your personal, petty—I might even say selfish—reasons.”
“Of course, superior sir.” Kassquit didn’t care why Ttomalss was doing as she wanted. She only cared that he was doing it. “Whatever your reasons, I thank you.”