No language has ever really come to grips with temporal relationships.
- A Gowachin Opinion
McKie and Tuluk were arguing about the time-regeneration theory, ignoring the squad of enforcers guarding them, although it was obvious their companions found the argument interesting.
The theory was all over the Bureau by this time - about six hours after the session with the Palenki phylum leader, Biredch of Ank. It had about as many scoffers as it had supporters.
At McKie's insistence, they had taken over one of the interspecies training rooms, had set up a datascan console, and were trying to square Tuluk's theory with the subatomic alignment phenomenon discovered in the rawhide and other organic materials captured from Abnethe.
It was Tuluk's thought that the alignment might point toward some spatial vector, giving a clue to Abnethe's hideout.
"There must be some vector of focus in our dimension," Tuluk insisted.
"Even if that's true, what good would it do us?" McKie asked. "She's not in our dimension. I say we go back to the Caleban's . . ."
"You heard Bildoon. You don't go anywhere. We leave the Beachball to enforcers while we concentrate on . . ."
"But Fanny Mae's our only source of new data!"
"Fanny . . . oh, yes; the Caleban."
Tuluk was a pacer. He had staked out an oval route near the room's instruction focus, tucked his mandibles neatly into the lower fold of his facial slit, and left only his eyes and breathing/speech orifice exposed. The flexing bifurcation which served him as legs carried him around a chairdog occupied by McKie, thence to a point near a Laclac enforcer at one extreme of the instruction focus, thence back along a mixed line of enforcers who milled around across from a float-table on which McKie was doodling, thence around behind McKie and back over the same route.
Bildoon found them there, waved the pacing Wreave to a halt. "There's a mob of newspeople outside," he growled. "I don't know where they got the story, but it's a good one. It can be described in a simple sentence: 'Calebans linked to threatened end of universe!' McKie, did you have anything to do with this?"
"Abnethe," McKie said, not looking up from a complicated chalf doodle he was completing.
"I never said she was sane. You know how many news services, 'caster systems, and other media she controls?"
"Well . . . certainly, but . . ."
"Anybody linking her to this threat?"
"No, but . . ."
"You don't find that strange?"
"How could any of these people know she . . ."
"How could they not know about Abnethe's corner on Calebans?" McKie demanded. "Especially after talking to you!" He got up, hurled his chalf scribe at the floor, started up an aisle between rows of enforcers.
"Wait!" Bildoon snapped. "Where're you going?"
"To tell 'em about Abnethe."
"Are you out of your mind? That's all she needs to tie us up - a slander and libel case!"
"We can demand her appearance as accuser," McKie said. "Should've thought about this earlier. We're not thinking straight. Perfect defense: truth of accusation."
Bildoon caught up with him, and they moved up the aisle in a protective cordon of enforcers. Tuluk brought up the rear.
"McKie," Tuluk called, "you observe an inhibition of thought processes?"
"Wait'll I check your idea with Legal," Bildoon said. "You may have something, but . . ."
"McKie," Tuluk repeated. "do you . . ."
"Save it!" McKie snapped. He stopped, turned to Bildoon. "How much more time you figure we have?"
"Five minutes, maybe?" McKie asked.
"Longer than that, surely."
"But you don't know."
I have enforcers at the Caleban's . . . well, they're keeping Abnethe's attacks to a min -"
"You don't want anything left to chance, right?"
"Naturally, not that I'd . . ."
"Well, I'm going to tell those newsies out there the . . ."
"McKie, that female has her tentacles into unsuspected areas of government," Bildoon cautioned. "You've no idea the things we found in . . . we've enough data to keep us busy for . . ."
"Some really important powers in with her, eh?"
"There's no doubt of it."
"And that's why it's time we took the wraps off."
"You'll create a panic!"
"We need a panic. A panic will set all sorts of sentients trying to contact her - friends, associates, enemies, lunatics. We'll be flooded with information. And we must develop new data!"
"What if these illegitimates" - Bildoon nodded toward the outer door - "refuse to believe you? They've heard you spout some pretty strange tales, McKie. What if they make fun of you?"
McKie hesitated. He'd never before seen such ineffectual maundering in Bildoon, a sentient noted for wit, brilliant insight, analytical adroitness. Was Bildoon one of those Abnethe had bought? Impossible! But the presence of an ego-frozen PanSpechi in this situation must have set up enormous traumatic shock waves among the species. And Bildoon was due for ego-collapse soon. What really happened in the PanSpechi psyche as that moment neared when they reverted to the mindless creche-breeder form? Did it ignite an emotional frenzy of rejection? Did it inhibit thought?
In a voice pitched only for Bildoon's ears, McKie asked, "Are you ready to step down as Chief of Bureau?"
"Of course not!"
"We've known each other a long time," McKie whispered. "I think we understand and respect each other. You wouldn't be in the king seat if I'd challenged you. You know that. Now - one friend to another: Are you functioning as well as you should in this crisis?"
Angry contortions fled across Bildoon's face, were replaced by a thoughtful frown.
McKie waited. When it came, the ego-shift would send Bildoon into shambling collapse. A new personality would step forth from Bildoon's creche, a sentient knowing everything Bildoon knew, but profoundly different in emotional outlook. Had this present shock precipitated the crisis? McKie hoped not. He was genuinely fond of Bildoon; but personal considerations had to be put aside here.
"What are you trying to do?" Bildoon muttered.
"I'm not trying to expose you to ridicule or speed up any . . . natural process," McKie said. "But our present situation is too urgent. I'll challenge you for the Bureau directorship and throw everything into an uproar, if you don't answer truthfully."
"Am I functioning well?" Bildoon mused. He shook his head. "You know the answer to that as well as I do. But you've a few lapses to explain, as well, McKie."
"Haven't we all?" McKie asked.
"That's it!" Tuluk said, stepping close to them. He glanced from Bildoon to McKie. "Forgive me, but we Wreaves have extremely acute hearing. I listened. But I must comment: The shock waves, or whatever we wish to call them, which accompanied the departure of the Calebans and left behind such death and insanity that we must buffer ourselves with angeret and other . . ."
"So our thought processes are mucked up," Bildoon said.
"More than that," Tuluk said. "These vast occurrences have left . . . reverberations. The news media will not laugh at McKie. All sentients grasp at answers to the strange unrest we sense. 'Periodic sentient madness,' it's called, and explanations are being sought every . . ."
"We're wasting time," McKie said.
"What would you have us do?" Bildoon asked.
"Several things," McKie said. "First, I want Steadyon quarantined, no access to the Beautybarbers of any kind, no movement on or off the planet."
"That's madness! What reason could we give?"
"When does BuSab have to give reasons?" McKie asked. "We have a duty to slow the processes of government."
"You know what a delicate line we walk, McKie!"
"The second thing," McKie said, unperturbed, "will be to invoke our emergency clause with the Taprisiots, get notification of every call made by every suspected friend or associate of Abnethe's."
"They'll say we're trying to take over," Bildoon breathed. "If this gets out, there'll be rebellion, physical violence. You know how jealously most sentients guard their privacy. Besides, the emergency clause wasn't designed for this; it's an identification and delay procedure within normal . . ."
"If we don't do this, we'll die, and the Taprisiots with us," McKie said. "That should be made clear to them. We need their willing cooperation."
"I don't know if I can convince them," Bildoon protested.
"You'll have to try."
"But what good will these actions do us?"
"Taprisiots and Beautybarbers both operate in some way similar to the Calebans, but without as much . . . power," McKie said. "I'm convinced of that. They're all tapping the same power source."
"Then what happens when we shut down the Beautybarbers?"
"Abnethe won't go very long without them."
"She probably has her own platoons of Beautybarbers!"
"But Steadyon is their touchstone. Quarantine it, and I think Beautybarber activity will stop everywhere."
Bildoon looked at Tuluk.
"Taprisiots understand more than they've indicated about connectives," Tuluk said. "I think they will listen to you if you point out that our last remaining Caleban is about to enter ultimate discontinuity. I think they'll realize the significance of this."
"Explain the significance to me, if you don't mind. If Taprisiots can use these . . . these . . . they must know how to avoid the disaster!"
"Has anybody asked them?" McKie asked.
"Beautybarbers . . . Taprisiots . . ." Bildoon muttered. Then, "What else do you have in mind?"
"I'm going back to the Beachball," McKie said.
"We can't protect you as well there."
"That room's too small. If the Caleban would come to . . ."
"She won't move. I've asked."
Bildoon sighed, a deeply human emotional gesture. The PanSpechi had absorbed more than shape when they had decided to copy the human pattern. The differences, though, were profound, and McKie reminded himself of this. Humans could only see dimly into PanSpechi thoughts. With creche-reversion imminent for this proud sentient, what was he truly thinking? A creche mate would come forth presently, a new personality with all the Bildoon creche's millennial accumulation of data, all the . . .
McKie pursed his lips, inhaled, blew out.
How did PanSpechi transfer that data from one unit to another? They were always linked, they said, ego holder and creche mates, dormant and active, slavering flesheater and thinking aesthete. Linked? How?
"Do you understand connectives?" McKie asked, staring into Bildoon's faceted eyes.
Bildoon shrugged. "I see the way your thoughts wander," he said.
"Perhaps we PanSpechi share this power," Bildoon said, "but if so, the sharing is entirely unconscious. I will say no more. You come close to invasion of creche privacy."
McKie nodded. Creche privacy was the ultimate defensive citadel of PanSpechi existence. They would kill to defend it. No logic or reason could prevent the automatic reaction once it was ignited. Bildoon had displayed great friendship in issuing his warning.
"We're desperate," McKie said.
"I agree," Bildoon said, overtones of profound dignity in his voice. "You may proceed as you've indicated."
"Thanks," McKie said.
"It's on your head, McKie," Bildoon added.
"Provided I can keep my head," McKie said. He opened the outer door onto a clamor of newspeople. They were being held back by a harried line of enforcers, and it occurred to McKie, grasping this scene in its first impact, that all those involved in this turmoil were vulnerable from this direction.