His white face was visible in the light which came down another passageway.

'Perhaps you'll stay the little one's trigger finger...' Xoxarle breathed, holding Balveda over his back with one arm and hobbling quickly to the door leading to the dormitories and accommodation section and then to the repair area. He nodded at the grinning Wubslin, who swallowed a last mouthful of food and grabbed his helmet.

What else was there left to do? Hands appeared over Horza's head, gripping something.

Oh gods, a small voice inside him said, why does this hurt so much?

'What is it?' What was he doing? 'For ever and ever. 'I've got a job for us, something I just had confirmed. He dropped out of every game before he could lose a Life, obviously waiting for a hand that would be almost unbeatable before gambling for what might be the last time in the game. The Culture was able to use almost the entire galaxy to hide in. The drone couldn't see Balveda.
Horza had warned the rest about it, but even he felt anxious and blind when it happened.

Yalson nodded; they went over to where Neisin lay. 'You will go to my cabin immediately and bring the small space helmet lying there to the port-side stem emergency lock. 'Wake up, now.
The shock was still resounding through his mind; the image seemed stuck behind his eyes. Horza looked back to the game table; they were all ready, and the game was about to begin. 'Let me up on your shoulders. Sometimes the screen had been clear, showing layers of cloud beneath; sometimes it hazed over with grey again as they entered another bank or pillar of vapour. He went on, 'I want you to take the surgery equipment and run every sort of test you can on her once she's naked to make sure she hasn't got any skin pouches, implants or prosthetics; use the ultrasound and the X-ray gear and the NMR and anything else we've got. Sorry.

It was a terrible risk even to contemplate, but the two ROUs were precious; the Culture had not yet built many, and everything possible had to be done to make sure that the craft got back safely or, if the worst came to the worst, were destroyed utterly. The Culture woman was looking at him, her features set, determined, even resigned. In the small, clear spaces that the towers and higher levels of superstructure left in the mist, lower levels could be seen: walkways and promenades, the linked arches of a monorail system, pools and small parks with trees, even a few pieces of equipment like small flyers and bits of tiny, doll's-house-like furniture.

He was silent for a while. Following the departure of the Clear Air Turbulence - aimed rather than piloted out by Perosteck Balveda for an eventual rendezvous with Culture warcraft outside the war zone - it was over forty years before any craft was allowed to cross the Quiet Barrier.

'Hmm?'. She paused for a moment, reassessing the state of that mending bone, and then - deciding it would hold up - started the descent towards the unfrozen world below. 'Well done.' When the warp unit was almost exhausted, Horza shut it off. He started to shut off the pain signals, like a weary servant picking up the litter of breakables after an employer's destructive rage. ', Yalson was quiet for a moment, then said, 'You're braver than I thought, Aviger. Almost at the centre of the close-packed green lines there was a grey smudge; the reactor trace they were used to seeing, the sensor being fooled by the nuclear pile in the train behind them. Horza was in the control room; it was clear of water and foam, though smoke was coming from a large hole in one console. What a turn-around, eh?'. The only person you needed to fool was the ship. The Gerontocrat snorted and glanced at Balveda, who was looking from under lowered brows at the man chained to the wall. I can tell,' she said. She held Horza's arm with her one good hand, grimacing with pain as she used her other shoulder to roll him further over. 'Traffic control, traffic control, this is Smallbay 27492. Strips of metal torn from the train's hull were splayed out like stray hairs from a badly groomed coat. He was weakening, running in a daze, trying to keep his balance as the long corridor vibrated and twisted around him. The trains were designed to be the wartime mobile command centres of a state which once existed on the planet, when it was at the intermediate-sophisticated stage-three phase. The noise of surf in the flight deck made him think the doors had opened again, but it was only some external microphones relaying the noise from outside. His suit was chafing already. The machine floated through the tunnels, thinking that the cathedral of darkness had become a glazed arena, a crucible.

The drone smelled ozone. Balveda looked through the armoured glass, at the rear of the train in front, the one the drone had been looking through. ', 'I don't know,' the boy said, sitting forward and putting his elbows on his knees and his head into his hands, staring at the polished wood of the deck. He went back to the control area and started punching buttons and opening sections of panelling until he got some life from the screens.


Thick cables snaked over the ceiling and along the walls, and metal floor-plates covered conduits filled with more electrical equipment.

Fal 'Ngeestra sighed and, after walking once around the yacht, sat down near the stem on a padded seat. Horza tightened his finger round the trigger, holding his breath, then roared - shouted without words or sense at the seated figure in front of him - and strode off, past the pallet. 'I don't expect you to believe me; and if you do, I don't expect you to like it. For a thousand years or more Culture drones had had aura fields which coloured according to their mood - their equivalent of facial expression and body language - but Jase was old, made long before aura fields were thought of, and had refused to be refitted to accommodate them. The artificial teeth sparkled in his mouth; rows of sharp, serrated points. He pushed the corpse over the ramp, and the limp husk fell, vanishing into the mist below. He tried shouting into the helmet mike, but the communicator was dead; his voice sounded hollow in the suit and he couldn't hear himself through the ear speaker. Horza was a little taller and fuller-chested than his neutral normal, and his hair was darker and thicker. Aviger stepped forward.

He turned to Dorolow and Wubslin. A black mass blowing spray rushed towards him; lights blazed high above. Horza found the latches securing the seat to the deck. She would stay, then, she would fight it out.). 'I am the Bora Horza Gobuchul,' the ship said, through the drone. The rear screen went white, then black. A powerful gust of oily, fiery air knocked him over, splashing into the water again.