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Roger Zelazny. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth

_____________________________________________________________________ I'm a baitman. No one is born a baitman, except in a French novel where everyone is. (In fact, I think that's the title, _We are All Bait_. Pfft!) How I got that way is barely worth the telling and has nothing to do with neo-exes, but the days of the beast deserve a few words, so here they are. The Lowlands of Venus lie between the thumb and forefinger of the continent known as Hand. When you break into Cloud Alley it swings its silverblack bowling ball toward you without a warning. You jump then, inside that firetailed tenpin they ride you down in, but the straps keep you from making a fool of yourself. You generally chuckle afterwards, but you always jump first. Next, you study Hand to lay its illusion and the two middle fingers become dozen-ringed archipelagoes as the outers resolve into greengray peninsulas; the thumb is too short, and curls like the embryo tail of Cape Horn. You suck pure oxygen, sigh possibly, and begin the long topple back to the Lowlands. There, you are caught like an infield fly at the Lifeline landing area--so named because of its nearness to the great delta in the Eastern Bay--located between the first peninsula and "thumb." For a minute it seems as if you're going to miss Lifeline and wind up as canned seafood, but afterwards--shaking off the metaphors--you descend to scorched concrete and present your middle-sized telephone directory of authorizations to the short, fat man in the gray cap. The papers show that you are not subject to mysterious inner rottings and etcetera. He then smiles you a short, fat, gray smile and motions you toward the bus which hauls you to the Reception Area. At the R.A. you spend three days proving that, indeed, you are not subject to mysterious inner rottings and etcetera. Boredom, however, is another rot. When your three days are up, you generally hit Lifeline hard, and it returns the compliment as a matter of reflex. The effects of alcohol in variant atmospheres is a subject on which the connoisseurs have written numerous volumes, so I will confine my remarks to noting that a good binge is worthy of at least a week's time and often warrants a lifetime study. I had been a student of exceptional promise (strictly undergraduate) for going on two years when the _Bright Water_ fell through our marble ceiling and poured its people like targets into the city. Pause. The Worlds Almanac re Lifeline: "...Port city on the eastern coast of Hand. Employees of the Agency for Non-terrestrial Research comprise approximately 85% of its 100,000 population (2010 Census). Its other residents are primarily personnel maintained by several industrial corporations engaged in basic research. Independent marine biologists, wealthy fishing enthusiasts, and waterfront entrepreneurs make up the remainder of its inhabitants." I turned to Mike Dabis, a fellow entrepreneur, and commented on the lousy state of basic research. "Not if the mumbled truth be known." He paused behind his glass before continuing the slow swallowing process calculated to obtain my interest and a few oaths, before he continued. "Carl," he finally observed, poker playing, "they're shaping Tensquare." I could have hit him. I might have refilled his glass with sulfuric acid and looked on with glee as his lips blackened and cracked. Instead, I grunted a noncommittal. "Who's fool enough to shell out fifty grand a day? ANR?" He shook his head. "Jean Luharich," he said, "the girl with the violet contacts and fifty or sixty perfect teeth. I understand her eyes are really brown." "Isn't she selling enough face cream these days?" He shrugged. "Publicity makes the wheels go 'round. Luharich Enterprise jumped sixteen points when she picked up the Sun Trophy. You ever play golf on Mercury?" I had, but I overlooked it and continued to press. "So she's coming here with a blank check and a fishhook?" "_Bright Water_, today," he nodded. "Should be down by now. Lots of cameras. She wants an Ikky, bad." "Hmm," I hmmed. "How bad?" "Sixty day contract. Tensquare. Indefinite extension clause. Million and a half deposit," he recited. "You seem to know a lot about it." "I'm Personnel Recruitment. Luharich Enterprises approached me last month. It helps to drink in the right places. "Or own them." He smirked, after a moment. I looked away, sipping my bitter brew. After awhile I swallowed several things and asked Mike what he expected to be asked, leaving myself open for his monthly temperance lecture. "They told me to try getting you," he mentioned. "When's the last time you sailed?" "Month and a half ago. The _Corning_." "Small stuff," he snorted. "When have you been under, yourself?" "It's been awhile." "It's been over a year, hasn't it? That time you got cut by the screw, under the _Dolphin_?" I turned to him. "I was in the river last week, up at Angleford where the currents are strong. I can still get around." "Sober," he added. "I'd stay that way," I said, "on a job like this." A doubting nod. "Straight union rates. Triple time for extraordinary circumstances," he narrated. "Be at Hangar Sixteen with your gear, Friday morning, five hundred hours. We push off Saturday, daybreak." "You're sailing?" "I'm sailing." "How come?" "Money." "Ikky guano." "The bar isn't doing so well and baby needs new minks." "I repeat--" "...And I want to get away from baby, renew my contract with basics--fresh air, exercise, make cash..." "All right, sorry I asked." I poured him a drink, concentrating on H2SO4, but it didn't transmute. Finally I got him soused and went out into the night to walk and think things over. Around a dozen serious attempts to land _Ichthyform Leviosaurus Levianthus_, generally known as "Ikky", had been made over the past five years. When Ikky was first sighted, whaling techniques were employed. These proved either fruitless or disastrous, and a new procedure was inaugurated. Tensquare was constructed by a wealthy sportsman named Michael Jandt, who blew his entire roll on the project. After a year on the Eastern Ocean, he returned to file bankruptcy. Carlton Davits, a playboy fishing enthusiast, then purchased the huge raft and laid a wake for Ikky's spawning grounds. On the nineteenth day out he had a strike and lost one hundred fifty bills' worth of untested gear, along with one _Ichthyform Levianthus_. Twelve days later, using tripled lines, he hooked, narcotized, and began to hoist the huge beast. It awakened then, destroyed a control tower, killed six men, and worked general hell over five square blocks of Tensquare. Carlton was left with partial hemiplegia and a bankruptcy suit of his own. He faded into waterfront atmosphere and Tensquare changed hands four more times, with less spectacular but equally expensive results. Finally, the big raft, built only for one purpose was purchased at an auction by ANR for "marine research." Lloyd's still won't insure it, and the only marine research it has ever seen is an occasional rental at fifty bills a day--to people anxious to tell Leviathan fish stories. I've been a baitman on three of the voyages, and I've been close enough to count Ikky's fangs on two occasions. I want one of them to show my grandchildren, for personal reasons. I faced the direction of the landing area and resolved a resolve. "You want me for local coloring, gal. It'll look nice on the feature page and all that. But clear this--If anyone gets you an Ikky, it'll be me. I promise." I stood in the empty Square. The foggy towers of Lifeline shared their mists. Shoreline a couple eras ago, the western slope above Lifeline stretches as far as forty miles inland in some places. Its angle of rising is not a great one, but it achieves an elevation of several thousand feet before it meets the mountain range which separates us from the Highlands. About four miles inland and five hundred feet higher than Lifeline are set most of the surface airstrips and privately owned hangars. Hangar Sixteen houses Cal's Contract Cab, hop service, shore to ship. I do not like Cal, but he wasn't around when I climbed from the bus and waved to a mechanic. Two of the hoppers tugged at the concrete, impatient beneath flywing haloes. The one on which Steve was working belched deep within its barrel carburetor and shuttered spasmodically. "Bellyache?" I inquired. "Yeah, gas pains and heartburn." He twisted setscrews until it settled into an even keening, and turned to me. "You're for out?" I nodded. "Tensquare. Cosmetics. Monsters. Stuff like that." He blinked into the beacons and wiped his freckles. The temperature was about twenty, but the big overhead spots served a double purpose. "Luharich," he muttered. "Then you _are_ the one. There's some people want to see you." "What about?" "Cameras. Microphones. Stuff like that." "I'd better stow my gear. Which one am I riding?" He poked the screwdriver at the other hopper. "That one. You're on video tape now, by the way. They wanted to get you arriving." He turned to the hangar, turned back. "Say 'cheese.' They'll shoot the close-ups later." I said something other than "cheese." They must have been using telelens and been able to read my lips, because that part of the tape was never shown. I threw my junk in the back, climbed into a passenger seat, and lit a cigarette. Five minutes later, Cal himself emerged from the office Quonset, looking cold. He came over and pounded on the side of the hopper. He jerked a thumb back at the hangar. "They want you in there!" he called through cupped hands. "Interview!" "The show's over!" I yelled back. "Either that, or they can get themselves another baitman!" His rustbrown eyes became nailheads under blond brows and his glare a spike before he jerked about and stalked off. I wondered how much they had paid him to be able to squat in his hangar and suck juice from his generator. Enough, I guess, knowing Cal. I never liked the guy, anyway. Venus at night is a field of sable waters. On the coasts, you can never tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. Dawn is like dumping milk into an inkwell. First, there are erratic curdles of white, then streamers. Shade the bottle for a gray colloid, then watch it whiten a little more. All of a sudden you've got day. Then start heating the mixture. I had to shed my jacket as we flashed out over the bay. To our rear, the skyline could have been under water for the way it waved and rippled in the heatfall. A hopper can accommodate four people (five, if you want to bend Regs and underestimate weight), or three passengers with the sort of gear a baitman uses. I was the only fare, though, and the pilot was like his machine. He hummed and made no unnecessary noises. Lifeline turned a somersault and evaporated in the rear mirror at about the same time Tensquare broke the fore-horizon. The pilot stopped humming and shook his head. I leaned forward. Feelings played flopdoodle in my guts. I knew every bloody inch of the big raft, but the feelings you once took for granted change when their source is out of reach. Truthfully, I'd had my doubts I'd ever board the hulk again. But now, now I could almost believe in predestination. There it was! A tensquare football field of a ship. A-powered. Flat as a pancake, except for the plastic blisters in the middle and the "Rooks" fore and aft, port and starboard. The Rook towers were named for their corner positions--and any two can work together to hoist, co-powering the graffles between them. The graffles--half gaff, half grapple--can raise enormous weights to near water level; their designer had only one thing in mind, though, which accounts for the gaff half. At water level, the Slider has to implement elevation for six to eight feet before the graffles are in a position to push upward, rather than pulling. The Slider, essentially, is a mobile room--a big box capable of moving in any of Tensquare's crisscross groovings and "anchoring" on the strike side by means of a powerful electromagnetic bond. Its winches could hoist a battleship the necessary distance, and the whole craft would tilt, rather than the Slider come loose, if you want any idea of the strength of that bond. The Slider houses a section operated control indicator which is the most sophisticated "reel" ever designed. Drawing broadcast power from the generator beside the center blister, it is connected by shortwave with the sonar room, where the movements of the quarry are recorded and repeated to the angler seated before the section control. The fisherman might play his "lines" for hours, days even, without seeing any more than metal and an outline on the screen. Only when the beast is graffled and the extensor shelf, located twelve feet below waterline, slides out for support and begins to aid the winches, only then does the fisherman see his catch rising before him like a fallen Seraph. Then, as Davits learned, one looks into the Abyss itself and is required to act. He didn't, and a hundred meters of unimaginable tonnage, undernarcotized and hurting, broke the cables of the winch, snapped a graffle, and took a half-minute walk across Tensquare. We circled till the mechanical flag took notice and waved us on down. We touched beside the personnel hatch and I jettisoned my gear and jumped to the deck. "Luck," called the pilot as the door was sliding shut. Then he danced into the air and the flag clicked blank. I shouldered my stuff and went below. Signing in with Malvern, the de facto captain, I learned that most of the others wouldn't arrive for a good eight hours. They had wanted me alone at Cal's so they could pattern the pub footage along twentieth-century cinema lines. Open: landing strip, dark. One mechanic prodding a contrary hopper. Stark-o-vision shot of slow bus pulling in. Heavily dressed baitman descends, looks about, limps across field. Close-up: he grins. Move in for words: "Do you think this is the time? The time he _will_ be landed?" Embarrassment, taciturnity, a shrug. Dub something-"I see. And why do you think Miss Luharich has a better chance than any of the others? Is it because she's better equipped? [Grin.] Because more is known now about the creature's habits than when you were out before? Or is it because of her will to win, to be a champion? Is it any one of these things, or is it all of them?" Reply: "Yeah, all of them." "--Is that why you signed on with her? Because your instincts say, 'This one will be it'?" Answer: "She pays union rates. I couldn't rent that damned thing myself. And I want in." Erase. Dub something else. Fade-out as he moves toward hopper, etcetera. "Cheese," I said, or something like that, and took a walk around Tensquare, by myself. I mounted each Rook, checking out the controls and the underwater video eyes. Then I raised the main lift. Malvern had no objections to my testing things this way. In fact, he encouraged it. We had sailed together before and our positions had even been reversed upon a time. So I wasn't surprised when I stepped off the lift into the Hopkins Locker and found him waiting. For the next ten minutes we inspected the big room in silence, walking through its copper coil chambers soon to be Arctic. Finally, he slapped a wall. "Well, will we find it?" I shook my head. "I'd like to, but I doubt it. I don't give two hoots and a damn who gets credit for the catch, so long as I have a part in it. But it won't happen. That gal's an egomaniac. She'll want to operate the Slider, and she can't." "You ever meet her?" "Yeah." "How long ago?" "Four, five years." "She was a kid then. How do you know what she can do now?" "I know. She'll have learned every switch and reading by this time. She'll be all up on theory. But do you remember one time we were together in the starboard Rook, forward, when Ikky broke water like a porpoise?" "Well?" He rubbed his emery chin. "Maybe she can do it, Carl. She's raced torch ships and she's scubaed in bad waters back home." He glanced in the direction of invisible Hand. "And she's hunted in the Highlands. She might be wild enough to pull that horror into her lap without flinching. "...For Johns Hopkins to foot the bill and shell out seven figures for the corpus," he added. "That's money, even to a Luharich." I ducked through a hatchway. "Maybe you're right, but she was a rich witch when I knew her. "And she wasn't blonde," I added, meanly. He yawned. "Let's find breakfast." We did that. When I was young I thought that being born a sea creature was the finest choice Nature could make for anyone. I grew up on the Pacific coast and spent my summers on the Gulf or the Mediterranean. I lived months of my life negotiating with coral, photographing trench dwellers, and playing tag with dolphins. I fished everywhere there are fish, resenting the fact that they can go places I can't. When I grew older I wanted a bigger fish, and there was nothing living that I knew of, excepting a Sequoia, that came any bigger than Ikky. That's part of it.... I jammed a couple of extra rolls into a paper bag and filled a thermos with coffee. Excusing myself, I left the gallery and made my way to the Slider berth. It was just the way I remembered it. I threw a few switches and the shortwave hummed. "That you, Carl?" "That's right, Mike. Let me have some juice down here, you double-crossing rat." He thought it over, then I felt the hull vibrate as the generators cut in. I poured my third cup of coffee and found a cigarette. "So why am I a double-crossing rat this time?" came his voice again. "You knew about the cameraman at Hangar Sixteen?" "Yes." "Then you're a double-crossing rat. The last thing I want is publicity. 'He who fouled up so often before is ready to try it, nobly, once more.' I can read it now." "You're wrong. The spotlight's only big enough for one, and she's prettier than you." My next comment was cut off as I threw the elevator switch and the elephant ears flapped above me. I rose, settling flush with the deck. Retracting the lateral rail, I cut forward into the groove. Amidships, I stopped at a juncture, dropped the lateral, and retracted the longitudinal rail. I slid starboard, midway between the Rooks, halted, and threw on the coupler. I hadn't spilled a drop of coffee. "Show me pictures." The screen glowed. I adjusted and got outlines of the bottom. "Okay." I threw a Status Blue switch and he matched it. The light went on. The winch unlocked. I aimed out over the waters, extended an arm, and fired a cast. "Clean one," he commented. "Status Red. Call strike." I threw a switch. "Status Red." The baitman would be on his way with this, to make the barbs tempting. It's not exactly a fishhook. The cables bear hollow tubes; the tubes convey enough dope for an army of hopheads; Ikky takes the bait, dandled before him by remote control, and the fisherman rams the barbs home. My hands moved over the console, making the necessary adjustments. I checked the narco-tank reading. Empty. Good, they hadn't been filled yet. I thumbed the inject button. "In the gullet," Mike murmured. I released the cables. I played the beast imagined. I let him run, swinging the winch to simulate his sweep. I had the air conditioner on and my shirt off and it was still uncomfortably hot, which is how I knew that morning had gone over into noon. I was dimly aware of the arrivals and departures of the hoppers. Some of the crew sat in the "shade" of the doors I had left open, watching the operation. I didn't see Jean arrive or I would have ended the session and gotten below. She broke my concentration by slamming the door hard enough to shake the bond. "Mind telling me who authorized you to bring up the Slider?" she asked. "No one," I replied. "I'll take it below now." "Just move aside." I did, and she took my seat. She was wearing brown slacks and a baggy shirt and she had her hair pulled back in a practical manner. Her cheeks were flushed, but not necessarily from the heat. She attacked the panel with a nearly amusing intensity that I found disquieting. "Status Blue," she snapped, breaking a violet fingernail on the toggle. I forced a yawn and buttoned my shirt slowly. She threw a side glance my way, checked the registers, and fired a cast. I monitored the lead on the screen. She turned to me for a second. "Status Red," she said levelly. I nodded my agreement. She worked the winch sideways to show she knew how. I didn't doubt she knew how and she didn't doubt that I didn't doubt, but then-- "In case you're wondering," she said, "you're not going to be anywhere near this thing. You were hired as a baitman, remember? Not a Slider operator! A baitman! Your duties consist of swimming out and setting the table for our friend the monster. It's dangerous, but you're getting well paid for it. Any questions?" She squashed the Inject button and I rubbed my throat. "Nope," I smiled, "but I am qualified to run that thingamajigger--and if you need me I'll be available, at union rates." "Mister Davits," she said, "I don't want a loser operating this panel." "Miss Luharich, there has never been a winner at this game." She started reeling in the cable and broke the bond at the same time, so that the whole Slider shook as the big yo-yo returned. We skidded a couple of feet backward. She raised the laterals and we shot back along the groove. Slowing, she transferred rails and we jolted to a clanging halt, then shot off at a right angle. The crew scrambled away from the hatch as we skidded onto the elevator. "In the future, Mister Davits, do not enter the Slider without being ordered," she told me. "Don't worry. I won't even step inside if I am ordered," I answered. "I signed on as a baitman. Remember? If you want me in here, you'll have to _ask_ me." "That'll be the day," she smiled. I agreed, as the doors closed above us. We dropped the subject and headed in our different directions after the Slider came to a halt in its berth. She did not say "good day," though, which I thought showed breeding as well as determination, in reply to my chuckle. Later that night Mike and I stoked our pipes in Malvern's cabin. The winds were shuffling waves, and a steady pattering of rain and hail overhead turned the deck into a tin roof. "Nasty," suggested Malvern. I nodded. After two bourbons the room had become a familiar woodcut, with its mahogany furnishings (which I had transported from Earth long ago on a whim) and the dark walls, the seasoned face of Malvern, and the perpetually puzzled expression of Dabis set between the big pools of shadow that lay behind chairs and splashed in cornets, all cast by the tiny table light and seen through a glass, brownly. "Glad I'm in here." "What's it like underneath on a night like this?" I puffed, thinking of my light cutting through the insides of a black diamond, shaken slightly. The meteor-dart of a suddenly illuminated fish, the swaying of grotesque ferns, like nebulae-shadow, then green, then gone--swam in a moment through my mind. I guess it's like a spaceship would feel, if a spaceship could feel, crossing between worlds--and quiet, uncannily, preternaturally quiet; and peaceful as sleep. "Dark," I said, "and not real choppy below a few fathoms." "Another eight hours and we shove off," commented Mike. "Ten, twelve days, we should be there," noted Malvern. "What do you think Ikky's doing?" "Sleeping on the bottom with Mrs. Ikky if he has any brains." "He hasn't. I've seen ANR's skeletal extrapolation from the bones that have washed up--" "Hasn't everyone?" "...Fully fleshed, he'd be over a hundred meters long. That right, Carl?" I agreed. "...Not much of a brain box, though, for his bulk." "Smart enough to stay out of our locker." Chuckles, because nothing exists but this room, really. The world outside is an empty, sleet drummed deck. We lean back and make clouds. "Boss lady does not approve of unauthorized fly fishing." "Boss lady can walk north till her hat floats." "What did she say in there?" "She told me that my place, with fish manure, is on the bottom." "You don't Slide?" "I bait." "We'll see." "That's all I do. If she wants a Slideman she's going to have to ask nicely." "You think she'll have to?" "I think she'll have to." "And if she does, can you do it?" "A fair question," I puffed. "I don't know the answer, though." I'd incorporate my soul and trade forty percent of the stock for the answer. I'd give a couple years off my life for the answer. But there doesn't seem to be a lineup of supernatural takers, because no one knows. Supposing when we get out there, luck being with us, we find ourselves an Ikky? Supposing we succeed in baiting him and get lines on him. What then? If we get him shipside, will she hold on or crack up? What if she's made of sterner stuff than Davits, who used to hunt sharks with poison-darted air pistols? Supposing she lands him and Davits has to stand there like a video extra. Worse yet, supposing she asks for Davits and he still stands there like a video extra or something else--say, some yellowbellied embodiment named Cringe? It was when I got him up above the eight-foot horizon of steel and looked out at all that body, sloping on and on till it dropped out of sight like a green mountain range...And that head. Small for the body, but still immense. Fat, craggy, with lidless roulettes that had spun black and red since before my forefathers decided to try the New Continent. And swaying. Fresh narco-tanks had been connected. It needed another shot, fast. But I was paralyzed. It had made a noise like God playing a Hammond organ... _And looked at me!_ I don't know if seeing is even the same process in eyes like those. I doubt it. Maybe I was just a gray blur behind a black rock, with the plexi-reflected sky hurting its pupils. But it fixed on me. Perhaps the snake doesn't really paralyze the rabbit, perhaps it's just that rabbits are cowards by constitution. But it began to struggle and I still couldn't move, fascinated. Fascinated by all that power, by those eyes, they found me there fifteen minutes later, a little broken about the head and shoulders, the Inject still unpushed. And I dream about those eyes. I want to face them once more, even if their finding takes forever. I've got to know if there's something inside me that sets me apart from a rabbit, from notched plates of reflexes and instincts that always fall apart in exactly the same way whenever the proper combination is spun. Looking down, I noticed that my hand was shaking. Glancing up, I noticed that no one else was noticing. I finished my drink and emptied my pipe. It was late and no songbirds were singing. I sat whittling, my legs hanging over the aft edge, the chips spinning down into the furrow of our wake. Three days out. No action. "You!" "Me?" "You." Hair like the end of the rainbow, eyes like nothing in nature, fine teeth. "Hello." "There's a safety regulation against what you're doing, you know." "I know. I've been worrying about it all morning." A delicate curl climbed my knife then drifted out behind us. It settled into the foam and was plowed under. I watched her reflection in my blade, taking a secret pleasure in its distortion. "Are you baiting me?" she finally asked. I heard her laugh then, and turned, knowing it had been intentional. "What, me?" "I could push you off from here, very easily." "I'd make it back." "Would you push me off, then--some dark night, perhaps?" "They're all dark, Miss Luharich. No, I'd rather make you a gift of my carving." She seated herself beside me then, and I couldn't help but notice the dimples in her knees. She wore white shorts and a halter and still had an offworld tan to her which was awfully appealing. I almost felt a twinge of guilt at having planned the whole scene, but my right hand still blocked her view of the wooden animal. "Okay, I'll bite. What have you got for me?" "Just a second. It's almost finished." Solemnly, I passed her the little wooden jackass I had been carving. I felt a little sorry and slightly jackass-ish myself, but I had to follow through. I always do. The mouth was split into a braying grin. The ears were upright. She didn't smile and she didn't frown. She just studied it. "It's very good," she finally said, "like most things you do--and appropriate, perhaps." "Give it to me." I extended a palm. She handed it back and I tossed it out over the water. It missed the white water and bobbed for awhile like a pigmy seahorse. "Why did you do that?" "It was a poor joke. I'm sorry." "Maybe you are right, though. Perhaps this time I've bitten off a little too much." I snorted. "Then why not do something safer, like another race?" She shook her end of the rainbow. "No. It has to be an Ikky." "Why?" "Why did you want one so badly that you threw away a fortune?" "Many reasons," I said. "An unfrocked analyst who held black therapy sessions in his basement once told me, 'Mister Davits, you need to reinforce the image of your masculinity by catching one of every kind of fish in existence.' Fish are a very ancient masculinity symbol, you know. So I set out to do it. I have one more to go. --Why do you want to reinforce _your_ masculinity?" "I don't," she said. "I don't want to reinforce anything but Luharich Enterprises. My chief statistician once said, 'Miss Luharich, sell all the cold cream and face powder in the System and you'll be a happy girl. Rich, too.' And he was right. I am the proof. I can look the way I do and do anything, and I sell most of the lipstick and face powder in the System--but I have to be _able_ to do anything." "You do look cool and efficient," I observed. "I don't feel cool," she said, rising. "Let's go for a swim." "May I point out that we're making pretty good time?" "If you want to indicate the obvious, you may. You said you could make it back to the ship, unassisted. Change your mind?" "No." "Then get us two scuba outfits and I'll race you under Tensquare. "I'll win, too," she added. I stood and looked down at her, because that usually makes me feel superior to women. "Daughter of Lir, eyes of Picasso," I said, "you've got yourself a race. Meet me at the forward Rook, starboard, in ten minutes." "Ten minutes," she agreed. And ten minutes it was. From the center blister to the Rook took maybe two of them, with the load I was carrying. My sandals grew very hot and I was glad to shuck them for flippers when I reached the comparative cool of the corner. We slid into harnesses and adjusted our gear. She had changed into a trim one-piece green job that made me shade my eyes and look away, then look back again. I fastened a rope ladder and kicked it over the side. Then I pounded on the wall of the Rook. "Yeah?" "You talk to the port Rook, aft?" I called. "They're all set up," came the answer. "There's ladders and draglines all over that end." "You sure you want to do this?" asked the sunburnt little gink who was her publicity man, Anderson yclept. He sat beside the Rook in a deckchair, sipping lemonade through a straw. "It might be dangerous," he observed, sunken-mouthed. (His teeth were beside him, in another glass.) "That's right," she smiled. "It _will_ be dangerous. Not overly, though." "Then why don't you let me get some pictures? We'd have them back to Lifeline in an hour. They'd be in New York by tonight. Good copy." "No," she said, and turned away from both of us. "Here, keep these for me." She passed him a box full of her unseeing, and when she turned back to me they were the same brown that I remembered. "Ready?" "No," I said, tautly. "Listen carefully, Jean. If you're going to play this game there are a few rules. First," I counted, "we're going to be directly beneath the hull, so we have to start low and keep moving. If we bump the bottom, we could rupture an air tank..." She began to protest that any moron knew that and I cut her down. "Second," I went on, "there won't be much light, so we'll stay close together, and we will _both_ carry torches." Her wet eyes flashed. "I dragged you out of Govino without--" Then she stopped and turned away. She picked up a lamp. "Okay. Torches. Sorry." "...And watch out for the drive-screws," I finished. "There'll be strong currents for at least fifty meters behind them." She wiped her eyes and adjusted the mask. "All right, let's go." We went. She led the way, at my insistence. The surface layer was pleasantly warm. At two fathoms the water was bracing; at five it was nice and cold. At eight we let go the swinging stairway and struck out. Tensquare sped forward and we raced in the opposite direction, tattooing the hull yellow at ten-second intervals. The hull stayed where it belonged, but we raced on like two darkside satellites. Periodically, I tickled her frog feet with my light and traced her antennae of bubbles. About a five meter lead was fine; I'd beat her in the home stretch, but I couldn't let her drop behind yet. Beneath us, black. Immense. Deep. The Mindanao of Venus, where eternity might eventually pass the dead to a rest in cities of unnamed fishes. I twisted my head away and touched the hull with a feeler of light; it told me we were about a quarter of the way along. I increased my beat to match her stepped-up stroke, and narrowed the distance which she had suddenly opened by a couple of meters. She sped up again and I did, too. I spotted her with my beam. She turned and it caught on her mask. I never knew whether she'd been smiling. Probably. She raised two fingers in a V-for-Victory and then cut ahead at full speed. I should have known. I should have felt it coming. It was just a race to her, something else to win. Damn the torpedos! So I leaned into it, hard. I don't shake in the water. Or, if I do it doesn't matter and I don't notice it. I began to close the gap again. She looked back, sped on, looked back. Each time she looked it was nearer, until I'd narrowed it down to the original five meters. Then she hit the jatoes. That's what I had been fearing. We were about half-way under and she shouldn't have done it. The powerful jets of compressed air could easily rocket her upward into the hull, or tear something loose if she allowed her body to twist. Their main use is in tearing free from marine plants or fighting bad currents. I had wanted them along as a safety measure, because of the big suck-and-pull windmills behind. She shot ahead like a meteorite, and I could feel a sudden tingle of perspiration leaping to meet and mix with the churning waters. I swept ahead, not wanting to use my own guns, and she tripled, quadrupled the margin. The jets died and she was still on course. Okay, I was an old fuddyduddy. She _could_ have messed up and headed toward the top. I plowed the sea and began to gather back my yardage, a foot at a time. I wouldn't be able to catch her or beat her now, but I'd be on the ropes before she hit deck. Then the spinning magnets began their insistence and she wavered. It was an awfully powerful drag, even at this distance. The call of the meat grinder. I'd been scratched up by one once, under the _Dolphin_, a fishing boat of the middle-class. I _had_ been drinking, but it was also a rough day, and the thing had been turned on prematurely. Fortunately, it was turned off in time, also, and a tendon-stapler made everything good as new, except in the log, where it only mentioned that I'd been drinking. Nothing about it being off-hours when I had the right to do as I damn well pleased. She had slowed to half her speed, but she was still moving cross-wise, toward the port, aft corner. I began to feel the pull myself and had to slow down. She'd made it past the main one, but she seemed too far back. It's hard to gauge distances under water, but each red beat of time told me I was right. She was out of danger from the main one, but the smaller port screw, located about eighty meters in, was no longer a threat but a certainty. She had turned and was pulling away from it now. Twenty meters separated us. She was standing still. Fifteen. Slowly, she began a backward drifting. I hit my jatoes, aiming two meters behind her and about twenty back of the blades. Straightline! Thankgod! Catching, softbelly, leadpipe on shoulder SWIMLIKEHELL! maskcracked, not broke though AND UP! We caught a line and I remember brandy. Into the cradle endlessly rocking I spit, pacing. Insomnia tonight and left shoulder sore again, so let it rain on me--they can cure rheumatism. Stupid as hell. What I said. In blankets and shivering. She: "Carl, I can't say it." Me: "Then call it square for that night in Govino, Miss Luharich. Huh?" She: nothing. Me: "Any more of that brandy?" She: "Give me another, too." Me: sounds of sipping. It had only lasted three months. No alimony. Many $ on both sides. Not sure whether they were happy or not. Wine-dark Aegean. Good fishing. Maybe he should have spent more time on shore. Or perhaps she shouldn't have. Good swimmer, though. Dragged him all the way to Vido to wring out his lungs. Corfu should have brought them closer. Didn't. I think that mental cruelty was a trout. He wanted to go to Canada. She: "Go to hell if you want!" He: "Will you go along?" She: "No." But she did, anyhow. Many hells. Expensive. He lost a monster or two. She inherited a couple. Lot of lightning tonight. Stupid as hell. Civility's the coffin of a conned soul. By whom? --Sounds like a bloody neo-ex....But I hate you, Anderson, with your glass full of teeth and her new eyes....Can't keep this pipe lit, keep sucking tobacco. Spit again! Seven days out and the scope showed Ikky. Bells jangled, feet pounded, and some optimist set the thermostat in the Hopkins. Malvern wanted me to sit it out, but I slipped into my harness and waited for whatever came. The bruise looked worse than it felt. I had exercised every day and the shoulder hadn't stiffened on me. A thousand meters ahead and thirty fathoms deep, it tunneled our path. Nothing showed on the surface. "Will we chase him?" asked an excited crewman. "Not unless she feels like using money for fuel." I shrugged. Soon the scope was clear, and it stayed that way. We remained on alert and held our course. I hadn't said over a dozen words to my boss since the last time we went drowning together, so I decided to raise the score. "Good afternoon," I approached. "What's new?" "He's going north-northeast. We'll have to let this one go. A few more days and we can afford some chasing. Not yet." _Sleek head..._ I nodded. "No telling where this one's headed." "How's your shoulder?" "All right. How about you?" _Daughter of Lir..._ "Fine. By the way, you're down for a nice bonus." _Eyes of perdition!_ "Don't mention it," I told her back. Later that afternoon, and appropriately, a storm shattered. (I prefer "shattered" to "broke." It gives a more accurate idea of the behavior of tropical storms on Venus and saves a lot of words.) Remember that inkwell I mentioned earlier? Now take it between thumb and forefinger and hit its side with a hammer. Watch yourself! Don't get splashed or cut-- Dry, then drenched. The sky one million bright fractures as the hammer falls. And sounds of breaking. "Everyone below?" suggested the loudspeakers to the already scurrying crew. Where was I? Who do you think was doing the loudspeaking? Everything loose went overboard when the water got to walking, but by then no people were loose. The Slider was the first thing below decks. Then the big lifts lowered their shacks. I had hit it for the nearest Rook with a yell the moment I recognized the pre-brightening of the holocaust. From there I cut in the speakers and spent half a minute coaching the track team. Minor injuries had occurred, Mike told me over the radio, but nothing serious. I, however, was marooned for the duration. The Rooks do not lead anywhere; they're set too far out over the hull to provide entry downwards, what with the extensor shelves below. So I undressed myself of the tanks which I had worn for the past several hours, crossed my flippers on the table, and leaned back to watch the hurricane. The top was black as the bottom and we were in between, and somewhat illuminated because of all that flat, shiny space. The waters didn't rain down--they just sort of got together and dropped. The Rooks were secure enough--they'd weathered any number of these onslaughts--it's just that their positions gave them a greater arc of rise and descent when Tensquare makes like the rocker of a very nervous grandma. I had used the belts form my rig to strap myself into the bolted-down chair, and I removed several years in purgatory from the soul of whoever left a pack of cigarettes in the table drawer. I watched the water make teepees and mountains and hands and trees until I started seeing faces and people. So I called Mike. "What are you doing down there?" "Wondering what you're doing up there," he replied. "What's it like?" "You're from the Midwest, aren't you?" "Yeah." "Get bad storms out there?" "Sometimes." "Try to think of the worst one you were ever in. Got a slide rule handy?" "Right here." "Then put a one under it, imagine a zero or two following after, and multiply the thing out." "I can't imagine the zeros." "Then retain the multiplicand--that's all you can do." "So what are you doing up there?" "I've strapped myself in the chair. I'm watching things roll around the floor right now." I looked up and out again. I saw one darker shadow in the forest. "Are you praying or swearing?" "Damned if I know. But if this were the Slider--if only this were the Slider!" "_He's out there?_" I nodded, forgetting that he couldn't see me. Big, as I remembered him. He'd only broken surface for a few moments, to look around. _There is no power on Earth that can be compared with him who was made to fear no one._ I dropped my cigarette. It was the same as before. Paralysis and an unborn scream. "You all right, Carl?" He had looked at me again. Or seemed to. Perhaps that mindless brute had been waiting half a millennium to ruin the life of a member of the most highly developed species in business.... "You okay?" ...Or perhaps it had been ruined already, long before their encounter, and theirs was just a meeting of beasts, the stronger bumping the weaker aside, body to psyche.... "Carl, dammit! Say something!" He broke again, this time nearer. Did you ever see the trunk of a tornado? It seems like something alive, moving around in all that dark. Nothing has a right to be so big, so strong, and moving. It's a sickening sensation. "Please answer me." He was gone and did not come back that day. I finally made a couple of wisecracks at Mike, but I held my next cigarette in my right hand. The next seventy or eighty thousand waves broke by with a monotonous similarity. The five days that held them were also without distinction. The morning of the thirteenth day out, though, our luck began to rise. The bells broke our coffee-drenched lethargy into small pieces, and we dashed from the gallery without hearing what might have been Mike's finest punchline. "Aft!" cried someone. "Five hundred meters!" I stripped to my trunks and started buckling. My stuff is always within grabbing distance. I flipflopped across the deck, girding myself with a deflated squiggler. "Five hundred meters, twenty fathoms!" boomed the speakers. The big traps banged upward and the Slider grew to its full height, m'lady at the console. It rattled past me and took root ahead. Its one arm rose and lengthened. I breasted the Slider as the speakers called, "Four-eight, twenty!" "Status Red!" A belch like an emerging champagne cork and the line arced high over the waters. "Four-eight, twenty!" it repeated, all Malvern and static. "Baitman, attend!" I adjusted my mask and hand-over-handed it down the side. Then warm, then cool, then away. Green, vast, down. Fast. This is the place where I am equal to a squiggler. If something big decides a baitman looks tastier than what he's carrying, then irony colors his title as well as the water about it. I caught sight of the drifting cables and followed them down. Green to dark green to black. It had been a long cast, too long. I'd never had to follow one this far down before. I didn't want to switch on my torch. But I had to. Bad! I still had a long way to go. I clenched my teeth and stuffed my imagination into a straightjacket. Finally the line came to an end. I wrapped one arm about it and unfastened the squiggler. I attached it, working as fast as I could, and plugged in the little insulated connections which are the reason it can't be fired with the line. Ikky could break them, but by then it wouldn't matter. My mechanical eel hooked up, I pulled its section plugs and watched it grow. I had been dragged deeper during this operation, which took about a minute and a half. I was near--too near--to where I never wanted to be. Loathe as I had been to turn on my light, I was suddenly afraid to turn it off. Panic gripped me and I seized the cable with both hands. The squiggler began to glow, pinkly. It started to twist. It was twice as big as I am and doubtless twice as attractive to pink squiggler-eaters. I told myself this until I believed it, then I switched off my light and started up. If I bumped into something enormous and steel-hided my heart had orders to stop beating immediately and release me--to dart fitfully forever along Acheron, and gibbering. Ungibbering, I made it to green water and fled back to the nest. As soon as they hauled me aboard I made my mask a necklace, shaded my eyes, and monitored for surface turbulence. My first question, of course, was "Where is he?" "Nowhere," said a crewman; "we lost him right after you went over. Can't pick him up on the scope now. Musta dived." "Too bad." The squiggler stayed down, enjoying its bath. My job ended for the time being, I headed back to warm my coffee with rum. From behind me, a whisper: "Could you laugh like that afterwards?" Perceptive Answer: "Depends on what he's laughing at." Still chuckling, I made my way into the center blister with two cupfuls. "Still hell and gone?" Mike nodded. His big hands were shaking, and mine were steady as a surgeon's when I set down the cups. He jumped as I shrugged off the tanks and looked for a bench. "Don't drip on that panel! You want to kill yourself and blow expensive fuses?" I toweled down, then settled down to watching the unfilled eye on the wall. I yawned happily; my shoulder seemed good as new. The little box that people talk through wanted to say something, so Mike lifted the switch and told it to go ahead. "Is Carl there, Mister Dabis?" "Yes, ma'am." "Then let me talk to him." Mike motioned and I moved. "Talk," I said. "Are you all right?" "Yes, thanks. Shouldn't I be?" "That was a long swim. I--I guess I overshot my cast." "I'm happy," I said. "More triple-time for me. I really clean up on that hazardous duty clause." "I'll be more careful next time," she apologized. "I guess I was too eager. Sorry--" Something happened to the sentence, so she ended it there, leaving me with half a bagful of replies I'd been saving. I lifted the cigarette from behind Mike's ear and got a light from the one in the ashtray. "Carl, she was being nice," he said, after turning to study the panels. "I know," I told him. "I wasn't." "I mean, she's an awfully pretty kid, pleasant. Headstrong and all that. But what's she done to you?" "Lately?" I asked. He looked at me, then dropped his eyes to his cup. "I know it's none of my bus--" he began. "Cream and sugar?" Ikky didn't return that day, or that night. We picked up some Dixieland out of Lifeline and let the muskrat ramble while Jean had her supper sent to the Slider. Later she had a bunk assembled inside. I piped in "Deep Water Blues" when it came over the air and waited for her to call up and cuss us out. She didn't though, so I decided she was sleeping. Then I got Mike interested in a game of chess that went on until daylight. It limited conversation to several "checks," one "checkmate," and a "damn!" Since he's a poor loser it also effectively sabotaged subsequent talk, which was fine with me. I had a steak and fried potatoes for breakfast and went to bed. Ten hours later someone shook me awake and I propped myself on one elbow, refusing to open my eyes. "Whassamadder?" "I'm sorry to get you up," said one of the younger crewmen, "but Miss Luharich wants you to disconnect the squiggler so we can move on." I knuckled open one eye, still deciding whether I should be amused. "Have it hauled to the side. Anyone can disconnect it." "It's at the side now, sir. But she said it's in your contract and we'd better do things right." "That's very considerate of her. I'm sure my Local appreciates her remembering." "Uh, she also said to tell you to change your trunks and comb your hair, and shave, too. Mister Anderson's going to film it." "Okay. Run along; tell her I'm on my way--and ask if she has some toenail polish I can borrow." I'll save on details. It took three minutes in all, and I played it properly, even pardoning myself when I slipped and bumped into Anderson's white tropicals with the wet squiggler. He smiled, brushed it off; she smiled, even though Luharich Complectacolor couldn't completely mask the dark circles under her eyes; and I smiled, waving to all our fans out there in videoland. --Remember, Mrs. Universe, you, too, can look like a monster-catcher. Just use Luharich face cream. I went below and made myself a tuna sandwich, with mayonnaise. Two days like icebergs--bleak, blank, half-melting, all frigid, mainly out of sight, and definitely a threat to peace of mind--drifted by and were good to put behind. I experienced some old guilt feelings and had a few disturbing dreams. Then I called Lifeline and checked my bank balance. "Going shopping?" asked Mike, who had put the call through for me. "Going home," I answered. "Huh?" "I'm out of the baiting business after this one, Mike. The Devil with Ikky! The Devil with Venus and Luharich Enterprises! And the Devil with you!" Up eyebrows. "What brought that on?" "I waited over a year for this job. Now that I'm here, I've decided the whole thing stinks." "You knew what it was when you signed on. No matter what else you're doing, you're selling face cream when you work for face cream sellers." "Oh, that's not what's biting me. I admit the commercial angle irritates me, but Tensquare has always been a publicity spot, ever since the first time it sailed." "What, then?" "Five or six things, all added up. The main one being that I don't care any more. Once it meant more to me than anything else to hook that critter, and now it doesn't. I went broke on what started out as a lark and I wanted blood for what it had cost me. Now I realize that maybe I had it coming. I'm beginning to feel sorry for Ikky." "And you don't want him now?" "I'll take him if he comes peacefully, but I don't feel like sticking out my neck to make him crawl into the Hopkins." "I'm inclined to think it's one of the four or five other things you said you added." "Such as?" He scrutinized the ceiling. I growled. "Okay, but I won't say it, not just to make you happy you guessed right." He, smirking: "That look she wears isn't just for Ikky." "No good, no good." I shook my head. "We're both fission chambers by nature. You can't have jets on both ends of the rocket and expect to go anywhere--what's in the middle just gets smashed." "That's how it _was_. None of my business, of course--" "Say that again and you'll say it without teeth." "Any day, big man"--he looked up--"any place..." "So go ahead. Get it said!" "She doesn't care about that bloody reptile, she came here to drag you back where you belong. You're not the baitman this trip." "Five years is too long." "There must be something under that cruddy hide of yours that people like," he muttered, "or I wouldn't be talking like this. Maybe you remind us humans of some really ugly dog we felt sorry for when we were kids. Anyhow, someone wants to take you home and raise you--also, something about beggars not getting menus." "Buddy," I chuckled, "do you know what I'm going to do when I hit Lifeline?" "I can guess." "You're wrong. I'm torching it to Mars, and then I'll cruise back home, first class. Venus bankruptcy provisions do not apply to Martian trust funds, and I've still got a wad tucked away where moth and corruption enter not. I'm going to pick up a big old mansion on the Gulf and if you're ever looking for a job you can stop around and open bottles for me." "You are a yellowbellied fink," he commented. "Okay," I admitted, "but it's her I'm thinking of, too." "I've heard the stories about you both," he said. "So you're a heel and a goofoff and she's a bitch. That's called compatibility these days. I dare you, baitman, try keeping something you catch." I turned. "If you ever want that job, look me up." I closed the door quietly behind me and left him sitting there waiting for it to slam. The day of the beast dawned like any other. Two days after my gutless flight from empty waters I went down to rebait. Nothing on the scope. I was just making things ready for the routine attempt. I hollered a "good morning" from outside the Slider and received an answer from inside before I pushed off. I had reappraised Mike's words, sans sound, sans fury, and while I did not approve of their sentiment or significance, I had opted for civility anyhow. So down, under, and away. I followed a decent cast about two hundred-ninety meters out. The snaking cables burned black to my left and I paced their undulations from the yellowgreen down into the darkness. Soundless lay the wet night, and I bent my way through it like a cock-eyed comet, bright tail before. I caught the line, slick and smooth, and began baiting. An icy world swept by me then, ankles to head. It was a draft, as if someone had opened a big door beneath me. I wasn't drifting forwards that fast either. Which meant that something might be moving up, something big enough to displace a lot of water. I still didn't think it was Ikky. A freak current of some sort, but not Ikky. Ha! I had finished attaching the leads and pulled the first plug when a big, rugged, black island grew beneath me.... I flicked the beam downward. His mouth was opened. I was rabbit. Waves of the death-fear passed downward. My stomach imploded. I grew dizzy. Only one thing, and one thing only. Left to do. I managed it, finally. I pulled the rest of the plugs. I could count the scaly articulations ridging his eyes by then. The squiggler grew, pinked into phosphorescence...squiggled. Then my lamp. I had to kill it, leaving just the bait before him. One glance back as I jammed the jatoes to life. He was so near that the squiggler reflected on his teeth, in his eyes. Four meters, and I kissed his lambent jowls with two jets of backwash as I soared. Then I didn't know whether he was following or had halted. I began to black out as I waited to be eaten. The jatoes died and I kicked weakly. Too fast, I felt a cramp coming on. One flick of the beam, cried rabbit. One second, to know... Or end things up, I answered. No, rabbit, we don't dart before hunters. Stay dark. Green waters, finally, to yellowgreen, then top. Doubling, I beat off toward Tensquare. The waves from the explosion behind pushed me on ahead. The world closed in, and a screamed "He's alive!" in the distance. A giant shadow and a shock wave. The line was alive, too. Happy Fishing Grounds. Maybe I did something wrong.... Somewhere Hand was clenched. What's bait? A few million years. I remember starting out as a one-celled organism and painfully becoming an amphibian, then an air-breather. From somewhere high in the treetops I heard a voice. "He's coming around." I evolved back into homosapience, then a step further into a hangover. "Don't try to get up yet." "Have we got him?" I slurred. "Still fighting, but he's hooked. We thought he took you for an appetizer." "So did I." "Breath some of this and shut up." A funnel over my face. Good. Lift your cups and drink.... "He was awfully deep. Below scope range. We didn't catch him till he started up. Too late, then." I began to yawn. "We'll get you inside now." I managed to uncase my ankle knife. "Try it and you'll be minus a thumb." "You need rest." "Then bring me a couple more blankets. I'm staying." I fell back and closed my eyes. Someone was shaking me. Gloom and cold. Spotlights bled yellow on the deck. I was in a jury-rigged bunk, bulked against the center blister. Swaddled in wool, I still shivered. "It's been eleven hours. You're not going to see anything now." I tasted blood. "Drink this." Water. I had a remark but I couldn't mouth it. "Don't ask me how I feel," I croaked. "I know that comes next, but don't ask me. Okay?" "Okay. Want to go below now?" "No. Just get me my jacket." "Right here." "What's he doing?" "Nothing. He's deep, he's doped but he's staying down." "How long since last time he showed?" "Two hours, about." "Jean?" "She won't let anyone in the Slider. Listen, Mike says to come on in. He's right behind you in the blister." I sat up and turned around. Mike was watching. He gestured; I gestured back. I swung my feet over the edge and took a couple of deep breaths. Pains in my stomach. I got to my feet and made it into the blister. "Howza gut?" queried Mike. I checked the scope. No Ikky. Too deep. "You buying?" "Yeah, coffee." "Not coffee." "You're ill. Also, coffee is all that's allowed in here." "Coffee is a brownish liquid that burns your stomach. You have some in the bottom drawer." "No cups. You'll have to use a glass." "Tough." He poured. "You do that well. Been practicing for that job?" "What job?" "The one I offered you--" A blot on the scope! "Rising, ma'am! Rising!" he yelled into the box. "Thanks, Mike. I've got it in here," she crackled. "Jean!" "Shut up! She's busy!" "Was that Carl?" "Yeah," I called. "Talk later," and I cut it. Why did I do that? "Why did you do that?" I didn't know. "I don't know." Damned echoes! I got up and walked outside. Nothing. Nothing. Something? Tensquare actually rocked! He must have turned when he saw the hull and started downward again. White water to my left, and boiling. An endless spaghetti of cable roared hotly into the belly of the deep. I stood awhile, then turned and went back inside. Two hours sick. Four, and better. "The dope's getting to him." "Yeah." "What about Miss Luharich?" "What about her?" "She must be half dead." "Probably." "What are you going to do about it?" "She signed the contract for this. She knew what might happen. It did." "I think you could land him." "So do I." "So does she." "Then let her ask me." Ikky was drifting lethargically, at thirty fathoms. I took another walk and happened to pass behind the Slider. She wasn't looking my way. "Carl, come in here!" Eyes of Picasso, that's what, and a conspiracy to make me Slide... "Is that an order?" "Yes--No! Please." I dashed inside and monitored. He was rising. "Push or pull?" I slammed the "wind" and he came like a kitten. "Make up your own mind now." He balked at ten fathoms. "Play him?" "No!" She wound him upwards--five fathoms, four... She hit the extensors at two, and the caught him. Then the graffles. Cries without and a heat of lightning of flashbulbs. The crew saw Ikky. He began to struggle. She kept the cables tight, raised the graffles. Up. Another two feet and the graffles began pulsing. Screams and fast footfalls. Giant beanstalk in the wind, his neck, waving. The green hills of his shoulders grew. "He's big, Carl!" she cried. And he grew, and grew, and grew uneasy... "_Now!_" He looked down. He looked down, as the god of our most ancient ancestors might have looked down. Fear, shame, and mocking laughter rang in my head. Her head, too? "Now!" She looked up at the nascent earthquake. "I can't!" It was going to be so damnably simple this time, now the rabbit had died. I reached out. I stopped. "Push it yourself." "I can't. You do it. Land him, Carl!" "No. If I do, you'll wonder for the rest of your life whether you could have. You'll throw away your soul finding out. I know you will, because we're alike, and I did it that way. Find out now!" She stared. I gripped her shoulders. "Could be that's me out there," I offered. "I am a green sea serpent, a hateful, monstrous beast, and out to destroy you. I am answerable to no one. Push the Inject." Her hand moved to the button, jerked back. "Now!" She pushed it. I lowered her still form to the floor and finished things up with Ikky. It was a good seven hours before I awakened to the steady, sea-chewing grind of Tensquare's blades. "You're sick," commented Mike. "How's Jean?" "The same." "Where's the beast?" "Here." "Good." I rolled over. "...Didn't get away this time." So that's the way it was. No one is born a baitman, I don't think, but the rings of Saturn sing epithalamium the sea-beast's dower. _____________________________________________________________________ Last modified 10/7/98