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.Note, however, that this suggestion is inconsistent with the physical dimensions (4,000 x 900 kilometers) of Elephant itself, unless such objects were subjected to multiple passes through the Paradox sphere.—From the Lang Universal Artifact Catalog, Fourth Edition.CHAPTER 2Summertideminus thirty-six.The second shift of the working day was just beginning, and already it was clear to Birdie Kelly that it was going to be a bad one.The new supervisor might still be half a world away on Starside, but already the boss was brooding over the man's impending arrival."How can someone who has never even visited this system be competent to control travel between Opal and Quake?" Max Perry stared at Birdie with pale, unhappy eyes.Birdie looked back, saw the starved jut of Perry's jaw, and thought how much good it would do if the other man could just eat a square meal and relax for a day or two."Quake traffic is our job," Perry went on."We've been doing it for six years.How much does this Rebka, a total stranger, know about that? Not a thing.Do they think at Circle headquarters that there's nothing to it, and any idiot can understand Quake? We know the importance of forbidding access to Quake.Especially now, with Summertide almost here.But do they know it?"Birdie listened to Max Perry's stream of complaints and nodded sympathetically.One thing was sure: Perry was a good man and a conscientious boss, but he had his obsessions.And Captain Hans Rebka, whoever he might be, was sure going to make Birdie's own life more difficult.Birdie sighed and leaned back in his wicker chair.Perry's office stood on the top floor of Opal's highest Quakeside building, a four-story experimental structure that had been built to Perry's own specifications.Birdie Kelly still felt uncomfortable inside it.The foundation extended down through layers of mud and a tangle of dead and living roots, right on past the lower basement of the Sling to the brackish waters of Opal's ocean.It was buoyed by a hollow chamber just below the surface, and the hydrostatic lift from there carried most of the load.Even such a low building did not feel safe to Birdie.The Slings were delicate; without firm foundations, most buildings on Opal were held to one or two stories.For the past six months this Sling had been tethered in one spot, but as Summertide approached that would be too dangerous.Perry had ordered that in eight more days the Sling should be released to move at the mercy of the tides—but was that soon enough?The communicator sounded.Max Perry ignored it.He was leaning back in his reclining chair, staring up at the ceiling.Birdie rubbed at his threadbare white jacket, leaned forward, and read the crude display.He sniffed.It was not a message likely to put Max Perry in a better mood."Captain Rebka is closer than we thought, sir," he said."In fact, he left Starside hours ago.His aircar should be ready to land in a few minutes.""Thanks, Birdie." Perry did not move."Ask the Slingline to keep us posted.""I'll do that, Commander." Kelly knew he had been dismissed, but he ignored it."Before Captain Rebka gets here you should take a look at these, sir.As soon as you can."Kelly laid a folder on the plaited-reed tabletop that lay between them, sat back, and waited.Max Perry could not be rushed in his current mood.The ceiling of the room was transparent, looking directly up into Opal's normally cloudy skies.The location had been carefully chosen.It was close to the center of Quakeside, in a region where atmospheric circulation patterns increased the chance of clear patches.At the moment there was a brief predusk break in the overcast, and Quake was visible.With its surface only twelve thousand kilometers from the closest point of Opal, the parched sphere filled more than thirty-five degrees of the sky like a great, mottled fruit, purple-gray and overripe, poised ready to fall.From that distance it appeared peaceful, but already the dusky limb of the planet showed the softening of edges that spoke of rising dust storms.Summertide was just thirty-six days away, less than two standard weeks.In ten days' time Perry would order the evacuation from Quake's surface, then monitor that evacuation personally.In every exodus for the past six years he had been the last man or woman to leave Quake, and the first to return after Summertide.It was a compulsion with Perry.And regardless of what Rebka might want, Birdie Kelly knew that Max Perry would try to keep it that way.Already night was advancing on the surface of Opal.Its dark shadow would soon create the brief false-night of Mandel eclipse on Quake.But Perry and Kelly would not be able to see that.The break in the overcast was closing, eaten away by swirls of rapidly moving cloud.There was a final flash of silver from far above, light reflected from the glittering knot of Midway Station and the lower part of the Umbilical; then Quake faded rapidly from view.Minutes later the roof above their heads showed the starred patterns of the first raindrops.Perry sighed, leaned forward, and picked up the folders.Kelly knew that the other man had registered his earlier words without really hearing them.But Perry knew that if his right-hand man said he ought to look at the folder at once, there was a good reason for it.The green covering held three long message summaries, each one a request for a visit to the surface of Quake.There was nothing very unusual in that.Birdie had been ready to give routine approval pending examination of travel plans—until he saw the source of the requests.Then he knew that Perry had to see them and would want to study them in detail.The communicator buzzed again as Perry began to concentrate on the contents of the folder.Birdie Kelly took one look at the new message and quietly left the room.Rebka was arriving, but Perry did not need to be on the airstrip to welcome him.Birdie could do that.Perry had quite enough to worry about with the visit requests.Every one had come from outside the Dobelle system—outside, in fact, the worlds of the Phemus Circle [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]