Аннотация: Crashlander Beowulf Shaeffer has long been one of the most popular characters in Known Space. Now, for the first time ever, Larry Niven brings together all the Beowulf Shaeffer stories-including a brand-new one-in one long tale of exploration and adventure! PLUS-an all-new framing story that pulls together all of Beowulf Shaeffer's adventures and allows Shaeffer and his family to make a clean start at life once and for all!
by Larry Niven
We had wonderful seats ten rows back from the glass.
Two hundred feet below the ocean's surface sunlight flooded down through seaweed forests in a thousand flickering golden beams. Players swirled in shoals among the forest roots like half a hundred color-coded fighting fish.
Grandstands had been set against the city dome. Beyond the glass was the playing domain for ten color-marked teams, each team being five humans and a dolphin. Sixty players, down to fifty now, the humans using breathers and oversized fins.
The prey were local life-forms, three flattened turtles armed with hind flippers as wide as wings. Their painted shells glowed like captured suns, red, yellow, violet. The point was to move the prey through the arches, paraboloids painted in the same blazing colors. A player might pull a prey against his chest to swim with it, or hold it at arm's length and steer by the strength of his arms while the prey did the work, or even leave it swimming toward the sand during a melee, hopmg a teammate could get it before it disappeared.
Sharrol was entranced. When a swarm of Entertainment Guild Players carried the violet prey through the violet arch, she bellowed with the rest.
I don't understand water war. She watched the game; I watched her.
Sharrol was dressed Shashter style, a fancy cloak over a body stocking with windows in it that would serve for swimming. She was small even by flatlander standards, beginning to bulge with our second child. Strong jaw, pale skin, straight black hair: the real Sharrol. On Earth she'd worn many fantastic images, in flatlander style.
For too long fear had lurked beneath her surface emotions. Sharrol wasn't made for this world. But we'd lived beneath Fafnir's world-spanning ocean for a year and a half, we'd conceived and birthed Jeena and started a sister for her, and we'd come to see this place as our own. Gradually the fear had been etched away. I saw no sign of it now. Sharrol was at home.
Light beams danced down through the water and played over the wonderful landscape of Sharrol Janss. But I'd missed brunch. I nudged her and said, «I'm going for provisions.»
She didn't turn. «Good! Handmeal, red, yes on veggies. Popcorn. Juice, any.»
I left my backpurse in the seat. I glanced back when I reached the aisle. Sharrol was lovely in profile, and entirely absorbed in the game.
* * *
The stands didn't include food stalls. You had to go under the stands and all the way across the Strand, by elevated slidebridge, and into a fair-sized food court.
Or you could walk twenty yards along the glass, use a transfer booth, and save fifteen minutes.
I flicked in on the second-floor balcony. I looked over the railing at several long lines. The longest was a window for handmeals. My attention snagged on a face below.
He caught me looking.
Or not. I didn't wait to be sure. I stepped to the lone phone booth at the end of the row of transfer booths. Found a coin and dialed. I did not want this call registered on my pocket phone.
We might have had a whole lifetime, I thought. We'd been promised that, but it had been a lie. But we'd had our year and a half.
The glass at the back of the booth reflected the top of the slidestair if I held my head right. I watched while Sharrol's phone chimed six times.
She was looking past her phone, watching the game.
«Bey? What?» She showed flat in one of the walls. Her pocket phone wasn't sophisticated enough to give me a hologram.
I said, «I saw a face.»
«Who?» Now she looked at me. «Not her. Tell me it's not her.»
«No, of course not, but it's not good. He was my ghostwriter —»
«Bey? Your what?»
«Dear one, I'm short of time. Ander Smittarasheed shouldn't be here. I think he knew me —»
«I was looking over a balcony. He saw just my head and shoulders, foreshortened. But maybe he doesn't know about you. So book a single for me at the Pequod as Persial January Hebert.» It was a name I hadn't used in a while, but she knew it, and we'd stayed at the Pequod once. Furnish the room a little? Luggage? No, but — «I left my backpurse on my seat. Leave it in the room. Nothing else.»
The man I'd seen hadn't appeared yet.
She was taking it all in, but muscles were flexing at the corners of her jaw and her eyes were wide and frightened. I asked, «How tough are you?»
Her eyes slid away, watching the game, because someone might be watching her. She said again, «Next?»
«If you can. Get Jeena. Go to Shasht. Get Outbound Enterprises to freeze you for transfer to Home, sign me in, too, and pay the extra to ship Jeena. I'll be there when I can.»
Her jaw set. Sharrol was a flat phobe, and the continent Shasht wasn't just halfway round the world; it was the surface. I couldn't guess whether she was strong enough to get through this. I said, «If you can't do it, leave word —»
«When can you join us?»
«If I'm not on the same ship, go to Carlos. I'll get to you soonest.»
«You'd better have one tanj of a good story for me when you do,» Sharrol said, and then a head came into view, reflected in the glass. With my head still turned away. I flicked off the phone, my back blocking the action, and wiggled out my pocket phone.
It was him. Square face, thin blond hair, jaw like a prey turde, muscles rippling under the shirt. He was puffing a little. Ander was born of Earth, and he'd kept a flatlander's wild taste in dress and appearance. Today his drawstring pants were a miracle of wriggling colored lines. He wore a tunic in solid colors, green and brown with a jagged black line across chest and back. Classical cartoon characters kept peeking over the black line, chattering to each other about what they saw, then dropping back. He wore a backpurse, disappointingly drab.
He was taking his time, looking puzzled but determined, coming right at me.
So I let him see me pocket my unused phone as I turned and stepped out of the booth and right into him. I yelped. «Aghh!»