raised patch in its centre the panel slid back into the
wall, revealing an empty corridor beyond.
After cautious listening for footsteps or hushing
wheels such as he had heard earlier, when he was being
brought in, he darted down the passage and around the
Here the nature of his surroundings changed com-
pletely. Instead of barely delineated doors, there were
large oblong windows, and not giving on to the outside,
either, like any windows he had seen before. They re-
vealed the interior of the adjacent rooms.
He crept to the first one and peered through. All he
could see was a tangle of equipment like the interior of
his fish-finder, but much more complicated. He tried to
discern its function, and failed; then it moved of its own
accord, some shining arm making a connection, and
alarmed at this he moved on.
Here what he found was far more interesting. There
was a naked woman.
She was tall, and very beautiful even though her skin
was darker than Bracy’s owna sign, according to his
standards, that she was of his own low class, too poor to
sit in the shade when the sun was hot. She lay supine on
a padded trolley, eyes closed. Around her, the whole
room was filled with mechanisms that moved slowly,
slowly, on incomprehensible tasks.
His eyes traced the curves of her shapely body: left
arm here, folded over her breast, right armwhere?
With sudden shock he realised that her right arm was
in the maw of one of the machines, which was moving
up it in precisely the same way as a suckermouth lam-
prey engulfed its unfortunate prey.
Like all poverty-line children on Cyclops, he had been
threatened with the vengeance of the Corps when he
misbehaved as a youngster. To see what he mistook for
some terrible torture unnerved him, and he uttered a cry
“What was that?” a voice said, distant but distinct, and
he realised abruptly that had he not been so fascinated
by what he had discovered he would have heard foot-
steps approaching. Gasping, he spun, and caught sight of
a man and a woman at the intersection of corridors be-
“Who in the-?” the man said. “Hey, you!”
Bracy took to his heels, fleeing randomly down the
blank-walled passages. Behind him came the fearful pur-
suers, shouting, until the superior speed which terror lent
enabled him to outstrip them, and he came to a dark tun-
nel-like tube down which he dived, thinking to find
“That must be the fisherboy who rescued Kolb,” Lan-
genschmidt told Maddalena. “No one else with hair like
that would be in the hospital. And where the hell he’s
managed to disappear to, I don’t know. But one thing’s
surehe was heading for master operations control, and
we’ve got to winkle him out before he breaks something.
See a communicator anywhere? Whatever Nole has
found it will just have to wait.”
Overnight rain had made the track into a muddy
swamp. The patient, immensely strong yorb floundered
many times, its broad pads sliding on the greasy ground
as it strove to drag the laden cart past a particularly
treacherous patch. On each occasion, however, Firdausi
got down without complaint to break branches from the
surrounding undergrowth and spread them in front of
The reins limp and slippery in her hands, Soraya
found herself stirred to dim gratitude for the boy’s
silence. Almost, she was minded to go back on her deci-
sion that if the Receivers of the Sick accepted her
mother she would leave home forever. Perhaps Firdausi
did indeed have her best interests at heart. . .
The old woman lay uncomplaining on the heap of soft
skins with which they had padded the crude wooden
cart. Occasionally her hands twitched in her sleep. It was
better that she should sleep, Soraya thought. Even
though she had had a long lucid period since her near-fa-
tal attack of the quakes, the disease had weakened her
dreadfully; she could hardly walk more than a dozen
steps without a fit of fainting, and her skin was shrunken
over her wasted flesh.
She had said she was pleased at Soraya’s decision to try