Chalker, Jack L. – Well of Souls 07

Kalindan—Yabbo Border


Ari knew just exactly what Ming meant by that. Fre­quently. Like now.

They had indeed had some training back in Kalinda with the police and intelligence agencies, but these only gave them some general idea of what their destinations might be like, and some additional hand-to-hand defensive training for their underwater environment. On the basics, they knew far more than their instructors did, and seemed to have more experi­ence and fewer scruples as well. Still, it wasn’t lost on either of them that sending a single unescorted non-native into other countries and environments wasn’t the best way to gather in­formation and ensure it would get back to whomever needed it. No, clearly they were wanted out of Kalinda for some rea­son by both the Powers That Be and Core. Anyone working for their enemies would have no doubt whatsoever why they were there. They weren’t even provided with cover identities or a cover mission; in effect, they were simply being sent on a journey to the nations bordering Kalinda to get “experience.”

Think anybody is gonna be fooled that maybe we’re off on some desperate mission or something and drop all plans to target Kalinda? Ming asked sarcastically.

It seems to me that Josich was known to be ruthless, amoral, merciless, dishonorable, and that’s just for starters, but never did I hear him described as stupid. Nor were his agents incompetent, either.

Think they expect us to get back alive? Ming asked her partner in mind.

Probably not. I don’t think they’re out to kill us, though. I think they just don’t give a damn.

That was probably the hardest idea to accept. The object was to get rid of them, and maybe distract some enemy agents, but it wasn’t in the hope that they could really divine anything of importance. Somebody just wanted them out of Kalinda.

Kalinda’s “highways” were marked by varying colored strings of a naturally occurring substance that could be “tuned” to any depth. It stayed in place by means of treating it with certain magnetic properties. The combination of color and depth allowed anyone to travel almost anywhere in the hex without getting lost or disoriented once they had the code. Some were strictly for motorized traffic, others for swim­mers. Although Kalindans were not dependent on sight and could be comfortable at depths of at least a thousand meters— depths that would crush many organisms not born and bred to those levels—they were a high-tech people, with the usual overdependence of such advanced races on their technology over their natural abilities. As such, vision was a commonly used sense, particularly at the levels at which the majority spent their lives.

Much of Kalinda was a series of high plateaus and under­water tablelands; while the valleys went very deep, they weren’t wide. The cities in which most people lived were, on average, no more than 350 meters down.

Coming from an even higher technological society, Ari and Ming had felt fairly comfortable in the Kalindan cities. Out here there was only the crisscrossing colored lines to show the routings in three-dimensional space.

There was some traffic. Most motorized transport was in the one to two hundred meter range, between towns, so it would be both out of the way of most swimming traffic and also fairly easy to maintain at a decent pressure. And, as in most technological civilizations, ancient roadways that were the underwater equivalent of long-range footpaths did not have very many people on them. Most took the trains or rented motorized scooters.

They were not more than half a day out from the Kalindan capital of Jinkinar and already they were the only ones on the road. Not that they felt alone; out here, away from the noise of the city, it was louder than ever.

The water was filled with sounds of all kinds. Loud sounds, soft sounds, clicks, whirs, whooshes, even the sounds of un­known beasts and the calls of bizarre creatures they weren’t sure they wanted to meet. These, combined with the rumbles and motor noises and whines from the steady powered traffic a hundred meters above them, made it almost a cacophony of confused tones.

This was where not being a native caused problems. Any­one who was born and raised a Kalindan would know what the sounds were, and which were worth attention. No quick course in Kalindan wildlife could possibly substitute for that experience.

They did quickly learn about some minor noises. The wind­like rushing of a school of colorful if exotic-looking fish, for example, was quite handy. Anyone who needed to could eat on the fly. Virtually all the fish in the region—except a few untouchables—were quite edible.

When the Well World made someone into one of its own 1,560 races, it did so with a balance; certain things it gave as if one were native, so that he or she stood a good chance of surviving. Experience, however, it could not give.

Ari decided to test out some Kalindan abilities while still in friendly territory. Closing his large, round eyes, which could convert the smallest light into usable views, he allowed the other senses of their shared body to take control. It was easy to use them, but much more difficult to interpret them.

The sounds were part of it, of course—as much a distrac­tion as a help—but they were peculiarly localized in time and space. Even if he didn’t know what was making most of them, he found it relatively easy to estimate how far away they were and in what direction they were moving.

And then there were the sounds he could make. They ema­nated from a small protruberance on the face, about where a conventional air breather’s nose would be, and they were quite distinctive—or, more properly, it was quite distinctive. A long, pulsing, high-pitched sound well above the range of their old human hearing, it was caught not just by the ears but by other bodily sensors and sent to the brain for interpreta­tion. It illuminated everything within thirty to forty meters around them. It was constant, like having unblinking eyes that could see in all directions at once. The images the sonar-like system sent to the brain were not interpreted as pictures, but were so recognizable that they might as well have been. Rocky outcrops from below, the route lines, fish, small crus­taceans, anything at all was clearly defined. The brain also did some kind of math that neither Ari nor Ming could have done consciously. By simply concentrating on a single fish, they instantly knew its size, shape, speed, and even type. It was easy to track and catch.

Finally, there was what Kalindans called their “sixth” sense. Rather than telepathy, it allowed them to sense changes in both the planetary and even the individual organism’s mag­netic field. It oriented them and also revealed anything nasty that might be waiting beneath the sand or disguised in one of the reefs or rocky outcrops.

This sixth sense wasn’t unusual among water-breathing races, but was unlike anything Ari and Ming had experienced before. Kalinda had long ago been relieved of any predators who could threaten Kalindans, but out in the rest of the world, where things didn’t work by Kalindan rules, the sixth sense was one of their most vital abilities.

Why didn’t we just rent one of those motor scooters at least as far as the border? Ming complained.

Because they didn’t offer one, and we’ve precious little in the way of money or lines of credit, as you well know, Ari re­sponded. Besides, I seem to remember someone telling them that it would be good to practice in Kalinda before leaving it, and that they needed the exercise.

Don’t rub it in!

The hardest thing about being a Kalindan, Ari reflected, was thinking in three dimensions. Walking in a normal situation back in the Commonwealth was essentially a two-dimensional affair; he didn’t look up unless someone yelled, and he con­centrated on one direction at a time. To go up, he needed some kind of aid, such as stairs or a lift. This was more like being in space without the suit. He floated, not on top but within the environment, and he could rise or drop as easily as going backward or forward. To do this without a suit or suit controls was unnerving in and of itself.

It took them three days to reach the border, lazily testing out their new abilities, exploring the region, and resting in small towns along the way. Things had sufficient sameness so that Ming began to wonder how they would know that they’d crossed the border at all.

She needn’t have worried.

All the senses save sight saw it as a massive brick wall. No matter how wide the spray, sonar bounced off it and gave the impression of a monstrous structure that was both solid and impenetrable. The magnetic-field sense showed it as a single solid shield. There was yet another sense—that the border was a static electromagnetic field.

But sight showed that it was not solid, but some sort of en­ergy barrier. They could see through it, but there seemed little to see. It looked dark and murky, and if there was anything solid beyond, it was blurred and indistinct.

A small Customs station sat on a narrow rock outcrop at the end of the fluorescent “road” they had been following. Clearly, the route and the lighting stopped there, in a small boxy structure that probably provided its initial power. They discovered that the other building was a small inn and Cus­toms processing center combined. Of course, they could easily penetrate the border at routes not covered by these stations, but non-Kalindans stuck out like sore thumbs. They couldn’t buy anything or rent a room or even get a ticket without valid encoded visas. They saw that the place was deliberately overly bright on the “wall” side, probably so that anyone coming into the country would see it. Above, other “roads” for more elabo­rate and motorized traffic converged onto a much larger center.

Yabbo was a semitech hex; no one could use the sleek electric scooters beyond this point, or the big fusion rigs that moved heavy freight.

Doesn’t look like theres a similar station on the other side of the barrier or whatever that thing is, Ari noted. I wonder if Yabbo is as bureaucratic?

Depends on what the hell they are, Ming responded prag­matically. Besides, steam engines wouldn’t be much use down here.

That was true, although there were a lot of other things that could be done in a semitech hex, even underwater. Many of the underwater semitech hexes were said to have substantial volcanic activity, for instance, which could be harnessed.

It was in the Customs house that they saw their first Yab­ban, and they were definitely—different.

It had an exoskeleton, which glowed from some inner light and yet seemed transparent. They could have sworn they were looking at a smudged or unclear X ray. The creature had long, thin, plierlike claws in front that appeared to be mounted on natural ball joints and seemed to be able to turn any which way; the claw itself could also revolve as needed around its wrist joints. Four long, spindly legs, two on each side, were in back of the claws. At the rear, on each side of the back end, was an incongruous-looking pair of flippers. The head seemed nothing more than two independent eye stalks, and beneath them was a round orifice filled with what seemed to be con­stantly writhing little tentacles, although a close look showed two gill slits on either side.

There were others in the Customs station, and so they could see two Yabban types. One was slightly smaller than the other, and had a translucent waving membrane on top of the head which changed color through a series of pastel hues. Clearly two sexes, although which sex was which was impos­sible to tell.

“I have been dealing with the Corithian Sons Company since I apprenticed my trade,” a Yabban was saying to a Kal­indan Customs officer as they drew closer. Ari and Ming had seen pictures and gotten a basic briefing on all the neighboring hexes, but that wasn’t the same as seeing a Yabban in the flesh. At least after all that time with the other races in South Zone, the odd workings of the translator modules no longer seemed strange. The Yabban sounded just like a Kalindan to them, even though they could not imagine where any conver­sational sounds could emerge from it.

Maybe they didn’t. Who knew what Yabbans actually sounded like to each other?

“I know, I know,” the Customs officer responded, sounding exasperated. “You are a well-known trader, Citizen Slagha. But pending clearance from the Security Service, I must hold you and your family here. It is nothing aimed at you; it is everybody who is going through this. We are having a serious problem at the moment and we must take extra precautions.”

“Indeed?” the Yabban snapped, those thousands of little tentacles around its mouth almost frenzied in pulsing move­ment. “And what of my customers? We cannot make the level of refined tubing we require, and a whole new subdivision is awaiting the shipment. Suddenly nothing is going out or com­ing in without going through this horror of a bureaucracy!”

“I’m so very sorry, but it’s the war, you know—”

“Don’t give me that!” the Yabban snapped. “That skirmish is over anyway!”

Ari and Ming decided not to dwell on the conversation but rather to go into the small, nearby cafe and get the gossip from Kalindans who were coming back home via this road house. It was odd how quickly and easily “us” meant the leathery-skinned reptilian mer-people and how everybody else had become “them.”

It didn’t take long to get a general picture of where they were going. There were no roads in the Kalindan sense, but Yabbans had laid out a series of markers using a grid system that could be “read” by the magnetic “sixth” sense. The num­bers and directional signals would tell how far one was from anyplace in the hex and also the direction to go for major habitation.

The water was said to be far warmer and the sea floor on the whole much shallower than Kalinda’s, although there were a few narrow “deeps” which the Yabbans reserved for their own use and which they guessed might have something to do with reproduction. It was suggested that all Kalindans stay away from the deeps. If they proved unavoidable, they should be crossed quickly and at a high level.

There were plenty of nutrients in the water, and the micro­scopic plants and tiny animals were filling, if not very inter­esting to a Kalindan. There was a lower oxygen content in the water, but not enough to cause serious problems.

Other than that, the Yabbans tended to be fairly friendly if visitors didn’t abuse their hospitality or overstay a welcome. Their rear flippers gave them tremendous sprinting abilities, but they preferred walking across the bottom. Essentially vegetarians, they had long ago gotten rid of the predators that once stalked the area.

Politically, they were a nation of large families, or clans, with a hierarchical structure based on age. There were no old age homes. When a Yabban became mentally feeble, there was a great clan ceremony. The ranking Elder who was no longer capable was taken in, slain, and ritually eaten by his or her clan. It was the only meat they ever ate and, it seemed, the only kind they could digest. It was a sobering end; from lord to lunch.

I don’t find growing old in that society to be very fulfilling, Ari commented.

Appetizing, though, Ming shot back. If you ve got the stom­ach for it.

Their next step was to cross over into the hex. They won­dered if Chalidang activity would be as conspicuous in such a place as they would be.

A friendly salesman gave them a fair route map marked with the main city centers, as well as a decent route to the capital city of Abudan. It also noted the deeps and ways around them—and, interestingly, some large cautionary zones.

“Volcanoes,” the salesman explained. “They’re quite ac­tive in Yabbo. That’s what makes things so rich and also pro­vides a lot of comforts. You’ll see. And don’t worry, you won’t be surprised by them—you’ll know where not to go without anybody having to yell!”

They stayed over for a last native meal and a few hours rest in one of the road house cubicles, then felt ready to venture outside Kalinda for the first time.

Approaching the hex boundary was intimidating, since all of their senses told them it was an absolute barrier from the sea floor up through and past the surface. They watched as a few Kalindans emerged from Yabbo and headed toward the road house, and some Yabban natives did the opposite. It seemed effortless. There was nothing to do but to try it.

Going through the barrier had, curiously, little sensation. There was only a slight tingling, almost like passing through a very thin wall of cobwebs. Much more dramatic was the sudden shift in all their natural senses.

Kalindan water temperature, comfortable to them, was fairly cold for active ocean water; it varied only slightly, from five to seven degrees C. With their natural fatty insulation under that thick, leathery hide, it felt very nice indeed. But this water was very warm and would take some getting used to. The sounds and smells were different as well. It meant trying to sort out things all over again. There was a kind of distant roar that seemed unplaceable, and many other unfamiliar noises amidst the usual sonic bedlam. The water tasted sulfu­ric. Vision was okay but slightly clouded. The magnetic field sense, once away from the border wall, showed tiny things all around them, in the millions or even billions, numerous and thick. They felt as if the water was alive.

And it was alive. Even those tiniest of pinhead signals was coming from a concentration of microorganisms that seemed omnipresent. They couldn’t help but take them in with the water they breathed. As they swam, their stomach and diges­tive tract seemed to fill with them as well. They had to slow down so as not to choke on the food they were consuming.

Reminds me of Malacanus, Ming commented. Tropical but so bug-infested you needed a diving mask just to filter out the little bugs. Ever get there?

No, but I know what you mean. Never thought I’d consider putting in a food screen across my mouth, though.

Going slower was soon something they chose for other reasons as well. There was in fact less oxygen. They didn’t really notice it at first, but swimming suddenly required more of an effort. They breathed harder to take in more oxygen, which, of course, meant that they also took in more of the microorganisms.

They began struggling, and the thought in both their minds was that perhaps they should turn around and get back into Kalinda while they still could. They were about to do just that when they heard someone nearby say, “First time in Yabbo, I take it?”

They could hardly reply, but Ari turned and saw a fellow Kalindan floating, who seemed to have no problems at all. Ari managed to nod.

“Put your teeth together so they mesh but don’t clench,” the stranger instructed. “Let whatever is in your throat settle and go down a bit, and breathe normally through the teeth un­til you feel more like yourself.”

They tried it, and it did help, but it also seemed a tempo­rary solution.

“Once you’re feeling better, close your mouth and relax it,” the stranger went on. “Don’t breathe through it. I know it goes against your instincts, but force yourself. You’ll get used to it. Wait a little bit and see what happens. It’s a trick they never tell you about.”

Little happened at first, and then their slitlike nostrils opened and began taking in water. Since these had heretofore only been used to breathe air into what passed for lungs when they were out of the water, there was a natural tendency to override and squelch this. At the stranger’s urging they fought it and quickly discovered that indeed the nostrils acted as a kind of bellows, and the water intake went not to the chest but to the gills. It wasn’t like air breathing; there was no exhala­tion. That function was taken over by the gills. Still, it worked. After a couple of minutes, they found the rhythm and it did seem to get much easier.

“Thank you, citizen!” Ari called to the stranger.

The Kalindan chuckled. “Just remember to swim only with your mouth shut and only speak when you’re hovering, and you’ll be okay,” she assured them. “To eat, just do it the old way. Makes it real cheap and easy to get through here, which is a good thing since we couldn’t eat anything the natives do anyway. Take it slow and easy, though. The nostril system does not deliver as much volume as the usual mouth method, and you’re dealing with lower oxygen content here as it is.”

Ari managed another nod. “Are you going into the coun­try?” he asked the stranger.

“No, coming out. I’ve been here ten days, and that’s more than enough in this boiling kettle.”

Ari was grateful to the other for saving them from retreat or worse right at the start, but Ming was already at the next level and took over. The personality differences between them even in casual speech sometimes threw people. If the stranger noticed, however, she was nice enough not to react, or more likely put it down to their recovering from the initial problem and panic.

“Where did you come from, then, if I might ask?” Ming began.

“Abudan,” the stranger replied. “We’ve been designing a new transport line.”

“Transport line? I thought you couldn’t use any fancy tech­nology here.” Both Ming and Ari were intrigued.

“This must be your first time outside Kalinda,” the other, an engineer, guessed. “Otherwise you wouldn’t confuse in­novation with high energy sources. This is a volcanic place, and it’s very active. Our biggest problem with closed systems is dealing with seaquakes when lava shifts or steam creates new outlets. We can tap that energy, though—it’s quite natu­ral, and it’s so steady in the volcanic fields that we can do wonders with it. All you need is pressure and a way to control it and you have useful power. Give me useful power and you have machinery that can do a lot. Remember, the limitations imposed on the hexes were originally put in to simulate the properties of other worlds far away so that they might support the creatures who dominate there. Getting around these sorts of environmental handicaps was part of the exercise. Of course, now, and for millennia, we’ve been on our own, so we can cheat guilt-free. They have shipped massive tons of this sea­food garden to Kalinda since we grew too lazy to remain self-sufficient in food, as well as a number of minerals that are nuisances here but very useful in our manufacturing and even medical systems. We make conduits and pipes and other things that make their lives easier here, and can be run using only their technology. We all benefit.”

It sounded clear and simple, and gave the best, succinct examples of how the international and even interspecies econ­omy worked.

“Do we do this with all our neighbors?” Ming asked her.

“Well, most of them. And some much farther off. We even trade some things with nations halfway around the world. That’s what those anchorages are for up top. There are some hexes, though, that just don’t have anything we want or need, or we don’t have anything they want or need, or they’re just so downright spooky and strange that we can’t deal with them. I’m told there are some races that shun all contact, that don’t even send ambassadors to Zone.”

“That brings up an interesting point,” Ari put in. “If you were in Abudan, there was a Zone Gate right there. How come you didn’t just use that to come home?”

The engineer laughed. “You must work for the govern­ment! Most ordinary folks can’t use those routes unless it’s a life or death situation. If we all did, why, the areas in and out of Zone would be crushed with people from all over and no­body could ever use them in an emergency or for diplomatic work. We do occasionally use them to ship delicate or time-sensitive stuff, but we have to set it up way in advance, on off-peak hours, using Yabban crews propositioned in Kalinda. The paperwork alone is a nightmare. No, I’m perfectly happy to go this way. After all, it’s only a few hours by tube to Banu City, just a kilometer or so back. After I clear here, I’ll pick up a company scooter and be in the office by midday tomorrow at the latest.”

“Urn—excuse me? Tube?”

“Yes. It does cost, and you’ll have to get your money changed, but it’s pretty reasonable. Fast, too. My company built this line decades ago.” She looked at the watch strapped to her wrist. “My goodness! Glad to have been of help, but I really must be going!”

“Oh, that’s all right. But this—tube . . . ?”

The engineer was already heading away toward the hex boundary. “Don’t worry. You’ll see what I mean! Good for­tune in your venture, whatever it is!”

They watched her go, once more alone and regretting it.

So, you want to see what she meant? Ari asked.

Might as well, Ming responded. Since we’re going that way anyway.

It may have been little more than a kilometer to Banu City, but it took them a couple of hours to get there while they got used to the vastly different and very alien environment and the new way to breathe. Compensating for the lower oxygen content was much like it would have been for high altitude work back in the Terran universe from which they’d come.

I wonder if it’s this hard for air breathers to cross a border up top? Ari mused.

I doubt it. Altitude and maybe temperature, but I doubt if there’s anyplace where the air is so filled with food that you die of gluttony by simply breathing normally, she replied.

Ain’t that the truth!

Still, they did make it to the city using the magnetic routing lines and the grids.

Banu City was actually only a small town by Yabban or any other standards, but it certainly was impressive nonetheless.

Impossible to ignore was the smell and taste of sulfurous compounds in the water. They stung the eyes and gills and any minor cuts or scrapes.

It was not a town either Ari or Ming would feel com­fortable living in for other reasons entirely. Even in the murky water, it spread out before them in an alien design. Broad boulevards were clearly designed for a species that liked to walk rather than swim. Large but low buildings no more than four stories tall were designed by and for nothing vaguely hu-manoid. The town was lit in varying colors by what could only be some sort of chemical secretions, whether natural or artificial, that were mixed and matched for shade and bright­ness and applied where needed. The streets were clearly out­lined in bright green lights, the buildings in varying reddish hues. The Yabbans were all over the place, crowding central squares and going in and out of building entrances with such speed and sense of purpose it reminded both of them less of a city—Terran or Kalindan—than of an insect colony.

Of greater interest were numerous long, thin transparent tubes. They went in and out of every building and crossed streets overhead. Things were routed inside the tubes at great speed as they went into and out of rooftop level enclosures. Since they were much too small to be the transportation tubes the Kalindan engineer had been referring to, it took several minutes and a much closer look before Ari and Ming realized what they were.

Some kind of high pressure piping! Ari noted, amazed, as he watched a Yabban at street level insert something into a small cylinder, open a branch tube, put it in, then use a claw to press a lever. There was a hiss and some bubbling and the small cylinder suddenly took off and joined the main route. As it passed the point of the lever, the yellow-painted bar shot back up on its own, closing off the start.

Wonder how it knows where it’s going? Ming mused.

Must be in those little houses up top. Somebody’s throwing switches, maybe based on color codes. We’ll never know, I suspect. Translators allow us to speak to these folks like na­tives and be understood the same way, but they don’t teach us how to read Yabban.

And, as they were learning, just because you heard some­body as if they were a native didn’t mean that you could understand what they said. Creatures like the Yabbo were quite alien to Kalindans.

Still, it wasn’t its incomprehensibility that made the town one they didn’t feel comfortable in, but rather what it was built upon and what lay just beyond it. It was an active vol­cano, and blotted out much of anything beyond to the south.

Much of the activity was coming off the sides of the mountain—smoking, hissing, and often exploding. It was unnerving, almost as unsettling as the fact that the town was built on a lava flow right up against that mountain.

You think they can predict when it’ll go off? Ming wondered.

Probably. I’d say these folks had to be experts if this is the way they live. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any Yabbans around by now. They must not hear like we do, though. Those explo­sions would not only keep you awake, they ‘d drive you batty.

In a layer of construction between the town and the volca­nic activity there were large artificial works: towers, spirals, pyramids, and cubes. Much of it had the look and feel of Kalindan construction. Even through the murkiness they could see how large the industrial works were, and they could also see networks of cables going along the floor of the sea in all directions.

There’s the answer. Power, Ari noted. Natural steam power harnessed and directed through pressure regulators anywhere else they wanted. Pressure to run turbines or move heavy machinery or even generate electrical fields. The “rules” pre­vented batteries from working here, but apparently not trans­formers, as there were several large ones just at the edge of the town. They couldn’t store it, but they could use the steam power so long as the volcano and the molten magma beneath them remained active.

Ari and Ming decided to move around the city rather than through it, at least for now. There didn’t seem to be much rea­son to go there at the moment, and the noise was deafening.

I hope all the cities and towns aren’t like this, Ming com­mented. Otherwise we’ll have no hearing left by the time we get through this place.

Unfortunately, their helpful Kalindan friend had forgotten to tell them to get earplugs or sound dampers. On the east side, though, they did find the tube that their kinsman had spoken about—and it truly was obvious.

Just as the town seemed to be shipping small parcels, mes­sages, and the like through a miniature steam-pressure-powered pneumatic tube system, there was another, similar system that was even more impressive because it was designed for people.

That is, for Yabbo’s people, anyway.

Although it drew power from the volcanic fields, it did so indirectly via the industrial works and transformers and whatever else was in those buildings. The giant tube appeared to them as a solid gigantic pipe when viewed through most of their senses, although their vision said it was the same sort of translucent material as the smaller parcel network. Clearly, a magnetic substance formed a thin coating inside the tubes. The “cars”—which looked more like oblong shaped pills— also had a coating, but of opposite polarity. When one was pushed by a pressurized rod into position to inject into the tube, it appeared to be just smaller all around than the tube. It hovered, not quite touching the sides. The craft was then in a condition that approximated weightlessness, and it didn’t take a lot of force to propel it along those tubes. The vehicle coating itself appeared inert; the tube coating seemed to get some power from a steam turbine. That was how it was con­trolled. Section by section they could apply power and there­fore create an electromagnetic field, or remove power, at which point the vehicle would skid to a halt using friction and perhaps some sort of purely mechanical braking.

It was, in effect, a national train system for moving cargo and people, in a hex that was prevented from employing the highest technology and was also underwater. It was damned clever.

It’s also on the least active side of the volcano, An noted. The sea grasses and other growths there go right on up the side of the mountain. This is old lava here.

Ming was thinking it over, and finally mused, I wonder how much they want for a foreigner to ride it? And do we have the guts to do just that?

I don’t know about you, but if we have enough money at all, I’m for it. Anything to get away from this land of the constant headache!

Where you go, 1 go, and vice versa, Ming remarked.

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Categories: Chalker, Jack L