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potential. Strong enough even to penetrate duralloy.
"I am sorry, sir. I was designed to cope with assaults from unexpected nonsentient alien lifeforms, but as
noth-ing like this has ever been encountered before it could not possibly have been foreseen. Prior
experience on new worlds suggests an explorer needs to be ready to fend off tooth and claw, venom, or
sheer muscle. I am capable of dealing efficiently with infinite variations of same, includ-ing such unlikely
forms of attack as ultrasound and acid, which we have already encountered. I was designed to defend
against hostiles which can bite, cut, bludgeon, spit, secrete, or vibrate. I was not designed to cope with a
lifeform which can lase."
Evan considered this while he watched the hedge begin to repair itself. He wasn't overly concerned. The
suit had suffered some damage, that was all.
"How long will it take you to fix the trouble?"
"It is true that I am self-repairing, but only to a degree. Even I have limits." A pause. "It appears on
introspection that the damage extends to internal functions more com-plex than motor drives. I am
attempting to isolate the fire-"
"Fire?" Evan's eyes widened slightly.
"-and prevent its spread to more sensitive compo-nents. It is not easy. Integration precludes much
isolation without compounding-
"How long will at take you to fix it?"He was growing warmer.
"You do not understand the extent of the damage, sir. It is not as if something broke. I carry ample
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spares for replacement where required. But entire integrated blocks have been vaporized, along with
their connections. The cooling unit has also been affected and this compounds the problem."
So I'm not the only one who's sweating, Evan thought anxiously.
"I am sorry that I have not been able to live up to my designers' expectations, but they could not have
antici-pated, a n t i c i p a t e d, a n t i c i ..."
As he sat in his seat the voice of the MHW, the strong, reassuring voice that had comforted him from the
moment he'd stepped out of the ship high in orbit above Prism, the voice of knowledge and infinite
resourcefulness, the voice of Commonwealth technology, died.
"We have to find a place where you can shut down nonessential functions while you repair yourself. That
means we have to move." The faint siren call of the bea-con was forgotten now. Everything else was
forgotten. He tried to take a step. This time not even a complaining whine greeted his efforts. He jammed
his leg viciously against the sensors. He might as well have been kicking granite.
"Come on, suit," he whispered nervously, "respond." He nudged switches on a panel near his belly.
"Manual emergency override. Basic systems functions, respond. Come on, damn you, respond!"
Only the echoing silence of dead metal, loud in his ears.
The audio membranes filled the suit with the unshielded sounds of Prism: electronic whispers and buzzes,
harsh whistles and ratcheting growls. Unsettling sounds, alien sounds, suddenly much closer than they'd
been before. Behind him the trees rose immobile, drained and drinking in the sunlight, a tall pink wall
separating him from the ruins of the station. They took no interest in the tall, immobilized metal shape
standing not far away. They weren't interested in him anymore. He was no longer perceived as a threat.
And rightly so.
Then he was falling, unable to slow the descent or stop it. He'd halted on a slight slope and the suit's
internal stabilizers had finally succumbed to the pervasive dam-age. He couldn't do anything to regulate
the fall, of course. His own muscles were nowhere near strong enough to hold the heavy metal and plastic
MHW upright against the pull of Prism's gravity.
There were no compensators to cushion the shock when he struck. His face bounced off the inside of
the visor and blood started from his nose. At least he'd landed on his back. Whether that was sheer luck
or a parting gesture by the suit's systems he had no way of knowing. He put his head back and waited for
the bleeding to stop. Nor was he in danger of being blinded by the glare outside, since the material of the
visor was largely self-adjusting. As he lay there in the bright light of day it compensated for the increased
glare. That rapid chemical response to light was all that had saved him from being permanently blinded by
the first burst of the hedge laser.
It was still comfortable within the suit, though several degrees warmer than optimum. That would soon
begin to change. He knew that the cooling system was ruined and that if he lay in the sun very long he'd
cook as efficiently as if in an oven.
Nothing lay unattended for very long on the surface of Prism, however. It wasn't long before he had
company.
It was crawling onto the visor and he flinched even though he knew it couldn't get at him. Short red legs
propelled a squat, triangular body. At the fore point were two bright green crystalline eyes mounted on [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]