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that alien ship."
Pete had precalculated a possible shift destination for the alien ship. Within
twenty minutes they followed the other vessel, flaring-in less than a
hundred-thousand miles from the other ship. For some minutes it seemed as if
the alien vessel was not even aware of them. But then, as the Bei under Pete's
direction closed the gap between the two ships by a quick, short shift of some
eighty thousand miles, the alien ship winked into shift again and disappeared.
"Pete!" barked Cully into the intercom from the Control to the Equipment Room.
"It's all right, Cully," Pete's voice answered him. "We've got him located in
the screen. We'll be after him inside a couple of hours at the most."
Cully let up the intercom button, cutting communications. He sat back in his
control chair. From this point on, and for some little while, there would be
little for him and Will and Doak to do. Just as there would be little for the
three Pilots of the alien ship to do. For the moment it would be a duel
between the two Navigators Pete Hyde and the alien Navigators, whoever they
might be.
They paused, calculated and shifted. And shifted again. And again. Slowly,
Pete, by greater correctness of calculation, was gradually narrowing both the
time and distance gaps between themselves and the alien ship. With each shift
the alien had less time to calculate an escape shift before Pete moved the Bei
in close to it. With the shortening of each calculation time, his jumps
necessarily became shorter and shorter to minimize the inherent error of his
calculations. They were, thought Cully with a sudden touch of dry humor, like
two fleas in a large box one trying to escape from, one trying to capture, the
other. And gradually the pursuer was wearing down the pursued. Prowling
restlessly in the Control Room, Cully glanced at his two other Demon
components. Will was cleaning the old-fashioned chemical-powered revolver he
had bought back on Kalestin, and carried ever since, though no one had ever
seen him use it. Doak was honing his familiar, prison-made knife now fitted
with a hand-carved wooden handle. Like the jealously guarded locket on the
cord about his neck, the knife was so constantly in his hands that it seemed a
part of him.
The chase continued. There was nothing dramatic about it. Hour by slow hour,
Pete, and his two assistants at the navigational consoles in the Equipment
Room, by superior navigation were cutting down the calculation time available
to the alien ship. In the endless depths of space, under the countless eyes of
the uncaring stars, they calculated and shifted and calculated and shifted
again. And tension began to grow and expand aboard the Bei as the chase wore
on.
Cully left the Control Room and made a tour about the ship. All the men aboard
were under arms and had their airsuits ready. Some were sleeping, if fitfully,
some reading or writing letters, or talking in low voices. The growing tension
was there, all right. Cully felt it like the pressure of a spring. The men
needed something to snap it, something to jerk their minds away from the hunt
at least momentarily.
In the Aft Laser-control Center he found the six man weapons crew playing
poker on the flat top of the back-up fire-control computer. The Assistant
Fire-control Chief, a slim, dark-haired, crookedly smiling young man named
Mike Bourjoi, had a small rampart of lead-colored plastic chips stacked in
front of him.
"Don't clean them all out, Mike," said Cully lightly. "When we catch up with
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that alien ship I want this crew thinking about their weapons, not about their
money in your pocket."
"No money to it, Admiral," replied Mike, looking up with a flash of almost
black-pupilled eyes and a brush-country twang to his voice. "We're just
playing for a few little drinks."
"A few, he says!" Lige Jenkins, the Crew Chief, snorted. "Wouldn't you know a
beer drinker would do it to us? Look at those chips in front of him, Admiral.
Nothing but beer chips. Now, nobody's going to drink two hundred and forty
cases of beer before the bottles explode." , "Kalestin City beer doesn't
explode any more," retorted Mike. "They been fixing it up since the first of
the year just like they do on the Old Worlds. All the modern luxuries coming
in, Lige you ought to know that." He passed one of the chips up to Cully.
"Hey, Admiral, take a look at this."
Cully took the chip. It was stamped out of plastic with a bottle on one side;
and when he turned it over he discovered the word "beer" printed on the other.
"That's my cousin's and mine our new business back at Kalestin City now,
Admiral," said Mike. "Five beer chips make a booze chip. Two booze chips make
a champagne chip. Cute, hey? 'Bourjoi and Shawley, Games Equipment,' that's
us."
He won the hand before him, raked in the pot, and reached into his pocket for [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]