The huge man looked at Adam now, calmly and without surprise. “Ours,” Ray said, raising an arm and pointing to the Ringwall. “Whenever we choose to take it. And after that, the Field. And, after that, the universe.”
“Merit says you killed-”
Ray interrupted, his loud voice riding over Adam’s as if he were not aware that anyone might be speaking. “I was wrong, before, when I thought that a greater race than ours might come after us. That would be impossible. I see now that we are the ultimate peak of evolution. I could have allowed pure-bred Jovian children to exist, for they could never have become our superiors. Never. But. it’s best after all that we’ve waited for them. All my decisions are for the best. When this little war is over, we will have a time of peace. There’ll be time enough for children then.”
Adam grabbed at Ray, seized the arm that a moment ago had been stretched. In his grasp it felt quite human and normal now, plain flesh and bone. “You and the others killed Vito? Why?”
“Easy, Ad. Take it easy.” Ray pulled his arm roughly away. “We had to spank Merit, but she’ll be all right in a little while. You don’t know yet what it is to be a Jovian. So don’t try to tell me what to do.”
“Spank her?” Adam could hear panic in his own voice. “What are you talking about? Who do you mean, we?”
Had the Field-builders somehow managed to drive Ray mad?
“Our ship’s up there, now.” Ray pointed overhead; listened to word by word, he sounded rational, as firmly in control of himself and of events as always. “Merit fought us, over that human husband of hers, and so we had to discipline her. I should never have allowed her to have him, to begin with-but she’ll get over it. She’ll be all right, soon.”
Adam backed up, getting as far from Ray as he could on the little plateau. The river roared at the rocks below, not caring what people did.
Why do you kill each other with such enthusiasm?
Ray was looking at him now with an expression of-well, of annoyance. And meanwhile one of Ray’s legs was beginning to elongate, doubling up under the big man’s massive body. Ray shifted his balance, putting his weight on the other leg, but otherwise he did not appear to notice the new change.
Ray said to Adam: “Don’t look so shocked. Remember, Ling was only human.”
“Yes.” Ray nodded soberly, as if he considered that he was making quite a serious point. “And he was keeping Merit away from us. Away from me especially. And what if she had become pregnant by him, and carried such a hybrid to term? That was a possibility, you know. Interbreeding is still possible, and the purity of the Jovian race must be preserved. She’ll be glad, when she finally understands what it means to be a Jovian. Yes, the purity of the race must be preserved.” A shadow crossed Ray’s face, and he raised his voice. “I tell you, don’t look that way at me! After all, we once did the same for you.”
The river thundered in Adam’s ears.
For combat Brazil was buttoned into his boarding capsule, melded with the machine into a semi-robot that along with a swarm of others like it had been fired out of the flagship into the sunlit vacuum of six hundred kilometers altitude above the Ringwall, where it now clung, a leech among other leeches, to the huge hull of the Jovian ship. Instruments now reported to Boris Brazil, the man inside this particular semi-robot, that one of its metal arms was gone now, burned or blown away already and that the temperature of the capsule’s outer surface had risen well past the melting point of lead.
The heat inside the Colonel’s capsule was still survivable. It was the hole in the armored hull of it, near his left foot, that might be going to finish him. Something had pierced the capsule at its foot, and had come through the leg of the armored suit the Colonel wore inside it, and clobbered his own left foot and ankle. The suit’s hypos and tourniquet had bitten him. Flesh and blood had no business, he thought, mixing into this kind of a fight.
The capsule had sealed itself again around him, and Brazil had no time to worry about his numbed leg. Now he was scrambling his boarding capsule, under semi-automatic control, over the surface of the Jovian “s hull, probing for some weak spot where he could hang on successfully and start trying to dig in. At the same time he was trying to coordinate the similar activities of the rest of the boarding party, which was under his command.
Until about half an hour ago, the Jovians on their ship had behaved like relatively sane people, talking calmly if a bit unreasonably to the three Space Force ships confronting them, while the four of them rode together in formation around the planet, leaving the dawn terminator behind them and keeping the Ringwall below.
Then a disturbance had erupted inside the Jovian ship. It had begun, as far as the Space Force listeners could tell, suddenly. First there was the background noise of verbal wrangling, coming plain over the communications channel open between the ships. Then there were sounds of some more violent trouble.
It began with one voice, that was heard over the radio channel for the first time as it broke into a wrangle over space law and the rights of travelers, crying jubilantly: “We’ve done it, we’ve killed with our minds alone!”
Then protest, from other voices, equally fierce and sudden:
“And what of the reaction, have you thought of that?”
But the protestors had been obviously a minority aboard the Jovian, for they were shouted down. Then pandemonium. They had forgotten to turn off their radio transmitter over there, or they had scorned to do so, or else they had deliberately wanted the human world to hear. To Boris and other outsiders listening, it was as if everyone aboard the Jovian ship had suddenly got drunk, or gone mad.
“For the purity of the race!” one voice, a woman’s, had cried out from there, exultantly. And on that note the Jovians, or their prevailing majority, had started the firefight without warning, aiming what must have been everything they had at Lorsch’s flagship. The flagship was hurled a hundred and fifty kilometers away, her outer hull punctured in spite of ready defenses, and three of her crew killed instantly.
Lorsch had driven her ship back as fast as possible to where the others were roasting each other, and her three ships had clamped on to the Jovian with forcefields, the flagship using all the power of her space-bending engines, so that the four ships hung locked together now, like atoms in some giant molecule.
While their computers fenced, striking at one another with their flickering hammers of weaponry, women and men huddled in their cocoons of metal and padding, waiting for computers to present them with the next decision that could be made slowly enough for humans to have competency.
General Lorsch made one such decision, and the boarding party was launched, led by yesmen in the first six capsules. The Jovians’ smaller weapons picked out and destroyed the yesmen, and killed or wounded the first six human beings to launch, Brazil among them, before any of the boarders reached the enemy hull. And here and there, in a capsule-cocoon that had been penetrated by no apparent physical force, a Space Force man or woman burned silently and perhaps painlessly to death.
To Boris, the battle was experienced largely as electronic signals inside his capsule, and the movements he made with the capsule’s inhuman limbs; the gabble of question and answer and noise inside his helmet, and heat and shock and pain. And the gradual conviction that his left foot and ankle were completely gone.
In his helmet a voice said, at intervals: “We’re holding, we’re holding.” The Colonel understood what the voice meant: the engines of the Space Force ships, acting as generators now, were standing the overload of combat, resisting the enemy, and striking at him with weapons of heat and force and disruption, powers like something out of the heart of a sun.
And the enemy was still resisting too, and still hitting back hard, but it seemed that he could spare none of his incredible strength to pick the metal gnats of the boarding party from his armored surface.
Each metal gnat was protected from Space Force weapons by its own friend-or-foe radar beacon; the racing combat computers on the big ships picked the tiny voices of friendship out of the inferno of battle noise, and channeled their violence elsewhere-at least, so matters went in hopeful theory. Practice, to Boris, was being bounced off the hull time and again, when something heavy hit nearby, then getting back to the hull again with his capsule’s jets, and scrambling again for a hold.