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CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 3

What matters most is the search itself. This is more important than the searchers. Consciousness must dream, it must have a dreaming ground -- and, dreaming, must invoke ever-new dreams.

-Morgan Hempstead, Lectures at Moonbase

AS SHE AWOKE, Prudence thought: We made it!

Excitement filled her at the thought of stepping out onto a virgin world with all its strange newness and never-before problems. Six failures were worth it. The seventh try was a charm. We have succeeded. Otherwise . . . otherwise . . .

Her mind bogged down in sluggishness. Otherwise was a concept with several pathways out of it.

The tingle-ache of dehyb ran along the muscles of her arms and legs, produced transient knots of pain. She knew as a doctor the reasons for the pain, could rationalize the fact of it: human hybernation was a far different process from animal hibernation. Not a drop of water could remain in the body -- and you went so close to the borders of death that some contended you were suspended within death.

She tried to sit up.

It was then she saw Timberlake and Flattery looking down at her where she lay on the lab shuttle. Their expressions brought otherwise to full focus. For a moment, she looked beyond them to the tubes and stimulant plugs that had been removed from functional contact with her body.

Flattery restrained her. "Easy now, Dr. Weygand," he said.

Dr. Weygand, she thought. Not Prudence. Not Prue. Dr. Weygand. Cold formality.

She began losing that first elation.

Then Flattery began explaining in his soft, soothing voice and she knew her elation had to be put away. The contingency problem had arisen. She had been awakened for that.

"Just tell me who we lost," she said, and her throat hurt from its months of disuse.

Timberlake told her.

"Three dead?" she said. She didn't ask how they had died. The other problem, the contingency for which she had been prepared, took precedence over mere curiosity.

"Bickel requested you be brought out of hyb," Flattery said.

"Does he know why?" she asked, ignoring the strange look Timberlake shifted from her to Flattery.

"He rationalized it," Flattery said, and he wished she'd withheld these questions until they were alone.

"Of course he did," she said. "But has --"

"He hasn't posed the problem yet," Flattery said.

Don't push him," she said, and glanced at Timberlake. "Forget what you just heard here, Tim."

Timberlake scowled, suddenly withdrawn and wary.

Flattery bent over her right arm with a slapshot hypo in his hand.

"Must you?" she asked. Then: "Yes, of course."

"There's nothing for you to do right now except recuperate," he said, and pressed the slapshot against her arm.

She felt the mechanism's kick and, presently, the soft spread of narcosis. Flattery and Timberlake became wavering figures haloed in light.

At least Bickel is still alive, she thought. We do not have to replace him with a backup -- take second best.

And just before sinking into the downy cloud of sleep, she wondered: How did Maida die? Lovely Maida who . . .

Timberlake watched the film of withdrawal wash over her light blue eyes. Her breathing took on soft regularity.

As life-systems specialist, Timberlake had checked the computer-filed tape flag for every person on the Tin Egg. He recalled now that Prudence Lon Weygand was classed superb as a surgeon -- "Superior 9 in tool facility." And the scale went only to 10. He reflected now on her strange conversation with Flattery and realized the tape had not told the full story. She obviously had ship functions beyond surgeon-ecologist . . . and at least one of these functions concerned Bickel.

"Forget what you just heard here, Tim."

Timberlake could still hear that cold-voiced command and he knew it did not square with the emotional index on Prudence Lon Weygand's tapes. There, she was listed as "Place nine-d green" on the compassionate vector. In the close-quarters living of this umbilicus crew, that emotional index posed problems because of its tightly linked sex drive. With a sense of shock, Timberlake took a closer look at her feed-tube spectrum on the hyb chart, saw that she had been fed the sex-suppressant anti-S drugs even under hyb. She had been kept ready.

Ready for what? he asked himself.

Flattery closed and locked her litter cocoon, said: "She'll sleep until she's almost back to normal. We'd better get her a full-vac suit out of stores. She'll need it when she comes out."

Timberlake nodded, made a last check on the few remaining life-systems linkages into her litter. Flattery was acting very odd -- mysterious.

"You can ignore all that conversation as she woke up," Flattery said. "Common dehyb confusion. You know how it is."

But she was fed anti-S drugs in hybernation, Timberlake thought.

Flattery nodded toward the hatch into Com-central, said: "John's been almost four hours alone on the board. Time he got some relief."

Timberlake finished his inspection of the litter gauges, turned, led the way through the hatch.

Seeing the wary, thoughtful look on Timberlake's face, Flattery thought: Damn that woman's big mouth. If Tim says the wrong thing to Bickel now it could muddy the whole project.



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