_____________________________________________________________________


     I'm a baitman. No one is born a baitman, except in a French novel where
everyone  is.  (In fact, I think that's the title, _We are All Bait_. Pfft!)
How I got that way is barely worth the telling and has nothing  to  do  with
neo-exes, but the days of the beast deserve a few words, so here they are.


     The  Lowlands  of  Venus  lie  between  the thumb and forefinger of the
continent known as Hand. When you break  into  Cloud  Alley  it  swings  its
silverblack bowling ball toward you without a warning. You jump then, inside
that  firetailed  tenpin they ride you down in, but the straps keep you from
making a fool of yourself. You generally chuckle afterwards, but you  always
jump first.

     Next,  you  study  Hand  to lay its illusion and the two middle fingers
become dozen-ringed archipelagoes  as  the  outers  resolve  into  greengray
peninsulas;  the  thumb is too short, and curls like the embryo tail of Cape
Horn.

     You suck pure oxygen, sigh possibly, and begin the long topple back  to
the Lowlands.

     There,  you  are  caught  like  an  infield fly at the Lifeline landing
area--so named because of its nearness to the great  delta  in  the  Eastern
Bay--located  between the first peninsula and "thumb." For a minute it seems
as if you're going to miss Lifeline and  wind  up  as  canned  seafood,  but
afterwards--shaking  off the metaphors--you descend to scorched concrete and
present your middle-sized  telephone  directory  of  authorizations  to  the
short,  fat man in the gray cap. The papers show that you are not subject to
mysterious inner rottings and etcetera. He then smiles  you  a  short,  fat,
gray  smile  and motions you toward the bus which hauls you to the Reception
Area. At the R.A. you spend three days proving that,  indeed,  you  are  not
subject to mysterious inner rottings and etcetera.

     Boredom,  however,  is  another  rot.  When your three days are up, you
generally hit Lifeline hard, and it returns the compliment as  a  matter  of
reflex.  The effects of alcohol in variant atmospheres is a subject on which
the connoisseurs have written numerous volumes, so I will confine my remarks
to noting that a good binge is worthy of at least a week's  time  and  often
warrants a lifetime study.

     I  had  been  a student of exceptional promise (strictly undergraduate)
for going on two years when the  _Bright  Water_  fell  through  our  marble
ceiling and poured its people like targets into the city.

     Pause.  The  Worlds  Almanac  re Lifeline: "...Port city on the eastern
coast of Hand. Employees of the Agency for Non-terrestrial Research comprise
approximately 85%  of  its  100,000  population  (2010  Census).  Its  other
residents   are   primarily   personnel  maintained  by  several  industrial
corporations engaged  in  basic  research.  Independent  marine  biologists,
wealthy  fishing  enthusiasts,  and  waterfront  entrepreneurs  make  up the
remainder of its inhabitants."

     I turned to Mike Dabis, a fellow entrepreneur,  and  commented  on  the
lousy state of basic research.

     "Not if the mumbled truth be known."

     He  paused  behind  his  glass  before  continuing  the slow swallowing
process calculated to  obtain  my  interest  and  a  few  oaths,  before  he
continued.

     "Carl,"   he   finally   observed,   poker  playing,  "they're  shaping
Tensquare."

     I could have hit him. I might have refilled  his  glass  with  sulfuric
acid  and  looked on with glee as his lips blackened and cracked. Instead, I
grunted a noncommittal.

     "Who's fool enough to shell out fifty grand a day? ANR?"

     He shook his head.

     "Jean Luharich," he said, "the girl with the violet contacts and  fifty
or sixty perfect teeth. I understand her eyes are really brown."

     "Isn't she selling enough face cream these days?"

     He shrugged.

     "Publicity  makes  the  wheels  go  'round.  Luharich Enterprise jumped
sixteen points when she picked up the Sun Trophy.  You  ever  play  golf  on
Mercury?"

     I had, but I overlooked it and continued to press.

     "So she's coming here with a blank check and a fishhook?"

     "_Bright  Water_,  today,"  he  nodded. "Should be down by now. Lots of
cameras. She wants an Ikky, bad."

     "Hmm," I hmmed. "How bad?"

     "Sixty day contract. Tensquare. Indefinite  extension  clause.  Million
and a half deposit," he recited.

     "You seem to know a lot about it."

     "I'm  Personnel  Recruitment.  Luharich  Enterprises approached me last
month. It helps to drink in the right places.

     "Or own them." He smirked, after a moment.

     I looked away, sipping my bitter brew. After awhile I swallowed several
things and asked Mike what he expected to be asked, leaving myself open  for
his monthly temperance lecture.

     "They  told me to try getting you," he mentioned. "When's the last time
you sailed?"

     "Month and a half ago. The _Corning_."

     "Small stuff," he snorted. "When have you been under, yourself?"

     "It's been awhile."

     "It's been over a year, hasn't it? That time you got cut by the  screw,
under the _Dolphin_?"

     I turned to him.

     "I  was  in the river last week, up at Angleford where the currents are
strong. I can still get around."

     "Sober," he added.

     "I'd stay that way," I said, "on a job like this."

     A doubting nod.

     "Straight union rates. Triple time for extraordinary circumstances," he
narrated. "Be at Hangar Sixteen with your gear, Friday morning, five hundred
hours. We push off Saturday, daybreak."

     "You're sailing?"

     "I'm sailing."

     "How come?"

     "Money."

     "Ikky guano."

     "The bar isn't doing so well and baby needs new minks."

     "I repeat--"

     "...And  I  want  to  get  away  from  baby,  renew  my  contract  with
basics--fresh air, exercise, make cash..."

     "All right, sorry I asked."

     I  poured him a drink, concentrating on H2SO4, but it didn't transmute.
Finally I got him soused and went out into  the  night  to  walk  and  think
things over.

     Around  a  dozen  serious  attempts  to  land  _Ichthyform  Leviosaurus
Levianthus_, generally known as "Ikky", had been made  over  the  past  five
years.  When Ikky was first sighted, whaling techniques were employed. These
proved either fruitless or disastrous, and a new procedure was  inaugurated.
Tensquare  was  constructed  by a wealthy sportsman named Michael Jandt, who
blew his entire roll on the project.

     After a year on the Eastern Ocean,  he  returned  to  file  bankruptcy.
Carlton  Davits,  a playboy fishing enthusiast, then purchased the huge raft
and laid a wake for Ikky's spawning grounds. On the nineteenth  day  out  he
had a strike and lost one hundred fifty bills' worth of untested gear, along
with one _Ichthyform Levianthus_. Twelve days later, using tripled lines, he
hooked,  narcotized,  and  began  to hoist the huge beast. It awakened then,
destroyed a control tower, killed six men, and worked general hell over five
square blocks of Tensquare. Carlton was left with partial hemiplegia  and  a
bankruptcy  suit  of  his  own.  He  faded  into  waterfront  atmosphere and
Tensquare changed hands four more times, with less spectacular  but  equally
expensive results.

     Finally,  the  big raft, built only for one purpose was purchased at an
auction by ANR for "marine research." Lloyd's still won't insure it, and the
only marine research it has ever seen is an occasional rental at fifty bills
a day--to people anxious to tell Leviathan fish stories. I've been a baitman
on three of the voyages, and I've been close enough to count Ikky's fangs on
two occasions. I want one of them to show  my  grandchildren,  for  personal
reasons.

     I faced the direction of the landing area and resolved a resolve.

     "You  want  me  for local coloring, gal. It'll look nice on the feature
page and all that. But clear this--If anyone gets you an Ikky, it'll be  me.
I promise."

     I  stood in the empty Square. The foggy towers of Lifeline shared their
mists.


     Shoreline a couple eras ago, the western slope above Lifeline stretches
as far as forty miles inland in some places. Its angle of rising  is  not  a
great  one,  but it achieves an elevation of several thousand feet before it
meets the mountain range which separates us from the Highlands.  About  four
miles  inland and five hundred feet higher than Lifeline are set most of the
surface airstrips and privately owned hangars. Hangar Sixteen  houses  Cal's
Contract  Cab,  hop service, shore to ship. I do not like Cal, but he wasn't
around when I climbed from the bus and waved to a mechanic.

     Two of the hoppers tugged at the concrete,  impatient  beneath  flywing
haloes.  The  one  on which Steve was working belched deep within its barrel
carburetor and shuttered spasmodically.

     "Bellyache?" I inquired.

     "Yeah, gas pains and heartburn."

     He twisted setscrews until it settled into an even keening, and  turned
to me.

     "You're for out?"

     I nodded.

     "Tensquare. Cosmetics. Monsters. Stuff like that."

     He blinked into the beacons and wiped his freckles. The temperature was
about twenty, but the big overhead spots served a double purpose.

     "Luharich,"  he  muttered. "Then you _are_ the one. There's some people
want to see you."

     "What about?"

     "Cameras. Microphones. Stuff like that."

     "I'd better stow my gear. Which one am I riding?"

     He poked the screwdriver at the other hopper.

     "That one. You're on video tape now, by the way. They wanted to get you
arriving."

     He turned to the hangar, turned back.

     "Say 'cheese.' They'll shoot the close-ups later."

     I said something  other  than  "cheese."  They  must  have  been  using
telelens  and  been  able to read my lips, because that part of the tape was
never shown.

     I threw my junk in the back, climbed into a passenger seat, and  lit  a
cigarette.  Five minutes later, Cal himself emerged from the office Quonset,
looking cold. He came over and pounded on the side of the hopper. He  jerked
a thumb back at the hangar.

     "They want you in there!" he called through cupped hands. "Interview!"

     "The  show's  over!"  I  yelled  back.  "Either  that,  or they can get
themselves another baitman!"

     His rustbrown eyes became nailheads under blond brows and his  glare  a
spike  before  he jerked about and stalked off. I wondered how much they had
paid him to be able  to  squat  in  his  hangar  and  suck  juice  from  his
generator.

     Enough, I guess, knowing Cal. I never liked the guy, anyway.


     Venus at night is a field of sable waters. On the coasts, you can never
tell where  the  sea ends and the sky begins. Dawn is like dumping milk into
an inkwell. First, there are erratic curdles of white, then streamers. Shade
the bottle for a gray colloid, then watch it whiten a little more. All of  a
sudden you've got day. Then start heating the mixture.

     I  had  to  shed my jacket as we flashed out over the bay. To our rear,
the skyline could have been under water for the way it waved and rippled  in
the  heatfall.  A  hopper  can accommodate four people (five, if you want to
bend Regs and underestimate weight), or three passengers with  the  sort  of
gear a baitman uses. I was the only fare, though, and the pilot was like his
machine.  He  hummed  and  made  no  unnecessary  noises.  Lifeline turned a
somersault and evaporated  in  the  rear  mirror  at  about  the  same  time
Tensquare  broke  the  fore-horizon. The pilot stopped humming and shook his
head.

     I leaned forward. Feelings played flopdoodle in my guts. I  knew  every
bloody  inch  of  the  big  raft, but the feelings you once took for granted
change when their source is out of reach. Truthfully, I'd had my doubts  I'd
ever  board  the  hulk  again.  But  now,  now  I  could  almost  believe in
predestination. There it was!

     A tensquare football field of a ship. A-powered.  Flat  as  a  pancake,
except  for the plastic blisters in the middle and the "Rooks" fore and aft,
port and starboard.

     The Rook towers were named for their corner positions--and any two  can
work   together  to  hoist,  co-powering  the  graffles  between  them.  The
graffles--half gaff, half grapple--can raise enormous weights to near  water
level; their designer had only one thing in mind, though, which accounts for
the gaff half. At water level, the Slider has to implement elevation for six
to  eight  feet before the graffles are in a position to push upward, rather
than pulling.

     The Slider, essentially, is a mobile room--a big box capable of  moving
in  any  of  Tensquare's  crisscross groovings and "anchoring" on the strike
side by means of a powerful electromagnetic bond. Its winches could hoist  a
battleship  the  necessary  distance, and the whole craft would tilt, rather
than the Slider come loose, if you want any idea of  the  strength  of  that
bond.

     The  Slider  houses  a  section operated control indicator which is the
most sophisticated "reel" ever designed. Drawing broadcast  power  from  the
generator  beside  the center blister, it is connected by shortwave with the
sonar room, where the movements of the quarry are recorded and  repeated  to
the angler seated before the section control.

     The  fisherman  might  play  his  "lines" for hours, days even, without
seeing any more than metal and an outline on the screen. Only when the beast
is graffled and the extensor shelf, located  twelve  feet  below  waterline,
slides  out  for  support  and begins to aid the winches, only then does the
fisherman see his catch rising before him like a  fallen  Seraph.  Then,  as
Davits  learned,  one looks into the Abyss itself and is required to act. He
didn't, and a hundred meters of unimaginable  tonnage,  undernarcotized  and
hurting,  broke  the  cables  of  the  winch,  snapped a graffle, and took a
half-minute walk across Tensquare.

     We circled till the mechanical flag took notice and waved us  on  down.
We touched beside the personnel hatch and I jettisoned my gear and jumped to
the deck.

     "Luck,"  called  the pilot as the door was sliding shut. Then he danced
into the air and the flag clicked blank.

     I shouldered my stuff and went below.

     Signing in with Malvern, the de facto captain, I learned that  most  of
the  others wouldn't arrive for a good eight hours. They had wanted me alone
at Cal's so they could  pattern  the  pub  footage  along  twentieth-century
cinema lines.

     Open:  landing  strip,  dark.  One mechanic prodding a contrary hopper.
Stark-o-vision  shot  of  slow  bus  pulling  in.  Heavily  dressed  baitman
descends,  looks  about, limps across field. Close-up: he grins. Move in for
words: "Do you think this is the  time?  The  time  he  _will_  be  landed?"
Embarrassment,  taciturnity,  a  shrug. Dub something-"I see. And why do you
think Miss Luharich has a better chance  than  any  of  the  others?  Is  it
because  she's  better equipped? [Grin.] Because more is known now about the
creature's habits than when you were out before? Or is  it  because  of  her
will  to  win, to be a champion? Is it any one of these things, or is it all
of them?" Reply: "Yeah, all of them." "--Is that why you signed on with her?
Because your instincts say, 'This one will be it'?" Answer: "She pays  union
rates.  I couldn't rent that damned thing myself. And I want in." Erase. Dub
something else. Fade-out as he moves toward hopper, etcetera.

     "Cheese," I said, or something  like  that,  and  took  a  walk  around
Tensquare, by myself.

     I mounted each Rook, checking out the controls and the underwater video
eyes. Then I raised the main lift.

     Malvern  had  no  objections to my testing things this way. In fact, he
encouraged it. We had sailed together before and our positions had even been
reversed upon a time. So I wasn't surprised when I stepped off the lift into
the Hopkins Locker and found him  waiting.  For  the  next  ten  minutes  we
inspected  the big room in silence, walking through its copper coil chambers
soon to be Arctic.

     Finally, he slapped a wall.

     "Well, will we find it?"

     I shook my head.

     "I'd like to, but I doubt it. I don't give two hoots  and  a  damn  who
gets  credit  for  the  catch,  so long as I have a part in it. But it won't
happen. That gal's an egomaniac. She'll want to operate the Slider, and  she
can't."

     "You ever meet her?"

     "Yeah."

     "How long ago?"

     "Four, five years."

     "She was a kid then. How do you know what she can do now?"

     "I  know.  She'll  have  learned every switch and reading by this time.
She'll be all up on theory. But do you remember one time we were together in
the starboard Rook, forward, when Ikky broke water like a porpoise?"

     "Well?"

     He rubbed his emery chin.

     "Maybe she can do it, Carl. She's raced torch ships and  she's  scubaed
in  bad  waters  back  home." He glanced in the direction of invisible Hand.
"And she's hunted in the Highlands. She might be wild enough  to  pull  that
horror into her lap without flinching.

     "...For  Johns Hopkins to foot the bill and shell out seven figures for
the corpus," he added. "That's money, even to a Luharich."

     I ducked through a hatchway.

     "Maybe you're right, but she was a rich witch when I knew her.

     "And she wasn't blonde," I added, meanly.

     He yawned.

     "Let's find breakfast."

     We did that.


     When I was young I thought that being  born  a  sea  creature  was  the
finest  choice  Nature could make for anyone. I grew up on the Pacific coast
and spent my summers on the Gulf or the Mediterranean. I lived months of  my
life  negotiating with coral, photographing trench dwellers, and playing tag
with dolphins. I fished everywhere there are fish, resenting the  fact  that
they  can  go  places I can't. When I grew older I wanted a bigger fish, and
there was nothing living that I knew of, excepting a Sequoia, that came  any
bigger than Ikky. That's part of it....

     I  jammed a couple of extra rolls into a paper bag and filled a thermos
with coffee. Excusing myself, I left the gallery and  made  my  way  to  the
Slider  berth.  It  was just the way I remembered it. I threw a few switches
and the shortwave hummed.

     "That you, Carl?"

     "That's  right,  Mike.  Let  me  have  some  juice   down   here,   you
double-crossing rat."

     He  thought it over, then I felt the hull vibrate as the generators cut
in. I poured my third cup of coffee and found a cigarette.

     "So why am I a double-crossing rat this time?" came his voice again.

     "You knew about the cameraman at Hangar Sixteen?"

     "Yes."

     "Then you're a double-crossing rat. The last thing I want is publicity.
'He who fouled up so often before is ready to try it, nobly, once  more.'  I
can read it now."

     "You're  wrong.  The  spotlight's  only  big  enough for one, and she's
prettier than you."

     My next comment was cut off as I threw  the  elevator  switch  and  the
elephant  ears  flapped  above  me.  I  rose,  settling flush with the deck.
Retracting the lateral rail, I cut forward into  the  groove.  Amidships,  I
stopped  at  a juncture, dropped the lateral, and retracted the longitudinal
rail.

     I slid starboard, midway between the Rooks, halted, and  threw  on  the
coupler.

     I hadn't spilled a drop of coffee.

     "Show me pictures."

     The screen glowed. I adjusted and got outlines of the bottom.

     "Okay."

     I threw a Status Blue switch and he matched it. The light went on.

     The  winch  unlocked. I aimed out over the waters, extended an arm, and
fired a cast.

     "Clean one," he commented.

     "Status Red. Call strike." I threw a switch.

     "Status Red."

     The baitman would be on his way with this, to make the barbs tempting.

     It's not exactly a fishhook. The cables bear hollow  tubes;  the  tubes
convey  enough  dope  for  an army of hopheads; Ikky takes the bait, dandled
before him by remote control, and the fisherman rams the barbs home.

     My hands moved over the console, making the  necessary  adjustments.  I
checked  the narco-tank reading. Empty. Good, they hadn't been filled yet. I
thumbed the inject button.

     "In the gullet," Mike murmured.

     I released the cables. I played the beast  imagined.  I  let  him  run,
swinging the winch to simulate his sweep.

     I  had  the  air  conditioner  on  and  my  shirt  off and it was still
uncomfortably hot, which is how I knew that morning had gone over into noon.
I was dimly aware of the arrivals and departures of the hoppers. Some of the
crew sat in the  "shade"  of  the  doors  I  had  left  open,  watching  the
operation.  I  didn't  see Jean arrive or I would have ended the session and
gotten below.

     She broke my concentration by slamming the door hard  enough  to  shake
the bond.

     "Mind telling me who authorized you to bring up the Slider?" she asked.

     "No one," I replied. "I'll take it below now."

     "Just move aside."

     I  did,  and she took my seat. She was wearing brown slacks and a baggy
shirt and she had her hair pulled back in a  practical  manner.  Her  cheeks
were flushed, but not necessarily from the heat. She attacked the panel with
a nearly amusing intensity that I found disquieting.

     "Status Blue," she snapped, breaking a violet fingernail on the toggle.

     I  forced  a yawn and buttoned my shirt slowly. She threw a side glance
my way, checked the registers, and fired a cast.

     I monitored the lead on the screen. She turned to me for a second.

     "Status Red," she said levelly.

     I nodded my agreement.

     She worked the winch sideways to show she knew how. I didn't doubt  she
knew how and she didn't doubt that I didn't doubt, but then--

     "In  case you're wondering," she said, "you're not going to be anywhere
near this thing. You were  hired  as  a  baitman,  remember?  Not  a  Slider
operator!  A  baitman!  Your  duties consist of swimming out and setting the
table for our friend the monster. It's dangerous, but  you're  getting  well
paid for it. Any questions?"

     She squashed the Inject button and I rubbed my throat.

     "Nope,"  I  smiled, "but I am qualified to run that thingamajigger--and
if you need me I'll be available, at union rates."

     "Mister Davits," she said, "I don't want a loser operating this panel."

     "Miss Luharich, there has never been a winner at this game."

     She started reeling in the cable and broke the bond at the  same  time,
so  that  the  whole  Slider  shook  as the big yo-yo returned. We skidded a
couple of feet backward. She raised the laterals and we shot back along  the
groove.  Slowing,  she  transferred  rails and we jolted to a clanging halt,
then shot off at a right angle. The crew scrambled away from the hatch as we
skidded onto the elevator.

     "In the future, Mister Davits, do not enter the  Slider  without  being
ordered," she told me.

     "Don't worry. I won't even step inside if I am ordered," I answered. "I
signed  on  as  a  baitman. Remember? If you want me in here, you'll have to
_ask_ me."

     "That'll be the day," she smiled.

     I agreed, as the doors closed above us.  We  dropped  the  subject  and
headed  in  our  different directions after the Slider came to a halt in its
berth. She did not say "good day," though, which I thought  showed  breeding
as well as determination, in reply to my chuckle.


     Later  that  night  Mike and I stoked our pipes in Malvern's cabin. The
winds were shuffling waves, and a steady pattering of rain and hail overhead
turned the deck into a tin roof.

     "Nasty," suggested Malvern.

     I nodded. After two bourbons the room had become  a  familiar  woodcut,
with  its  mahogany furnishings (which I had transported from Earth long ago
on a whim) and the dark  walls,  the  seasoned  face  of  Malvern,  and  the
perpetually  puzzled expression of Dabis set between the big pools of shadow
that lay behind chairs and splashed in cornets, all cast by the  tiny  table
light and seen through a glass, brownly.

     "Glad I'm in here."

     "What's it like underneath on a night like this?"

     I  puffed,  thinking of my light cutting through the insides of a black
diamond, shaken slightly. The meteor-dart of a  suddenly  illuminated  fish,
the  swaying  of  grotesque  ferns,  like  nebulae-shadow,  then green, then
gone--swam in a moment through my mind. I guess it's like a spaceship  would
feel,  if  a  spaceship  could  feel,  crossing  between  worlds--and quiet,
uncannily, preternaturally quiet; and peaceful as sleep.

     "Dark," I said, "and not real choppy below a few fathoms."

     "Another eight hours and we shove off," commented Mike.

     "Ten, twelve days, we should be there," noted Malvern.

     "What do you think Ikky's doing?"

     "Sleeping on the bottom with Mrs. Ikky if he has any brains."

     "He hasn't. I've seen ANR's skeletal extrapolation from the bones  that
have washed up--"

     "Hasn't everyone?"

     "...Fully  fleshed,  he'd  be  over  a hundred meters long. That right,
Carl?"

     I agreed.

     "...Not much of a brain box, though, for his bulk."

     "Smart enough to stay out of our locker."

     Chuckles, because nothing exists  but  this  room,  really.  The  world
outside is an empty, sleet drummed deck. We lean back and make clouds.

     "Boss lady does not approve of unauthorized fly fishing."

     "Boss lady can walk north till her hat floats."

     "What did she say in there?"

     "She told me that my place, with fish manure, is on the bottom."

     "You don't Slide?"

     "I bait."

     "We'll see."

     "That's  all  I  do. If she wants a Slideman she's going to have to ask
nicely."

     "You think she'll have to?"

     "I think she'll have to."

     "And if she does, can you do it?"

     "A fair question," I puffed. "I don't know the answer, though."

     I'd incorporate my soul and trade forty percent of the  stock  for  the
answer.  I'd  give  a  couple  years  off  my life for the answer. But there
doesn't seem to be a lineup of supernatural takers, because  no  one  knows.
Supposing  when  we  get out there, luck being with us, we find ourselves an
Ikky? Supposing we succeed in baiting him and get lines on him.  What  then?
If  we get him shipside, will she hold on or crack up? What if she's made of
sterner stuff than Davits, who used to hunt sharks  with  poison-darted  air
pistols?  Supposing she lands him and Davits has to stand there like a video
extra.

     Worse yet, supposing she asks for Davits and he still stands there like
a video extra or something else--say, some  yellowbellied  embodiment  named
Cringe?

     It  was  when  I  got  him up above the eight-foot horizon of steel and
looked out at all that body, sloping on and on till it dropped out of  sight
like  a  green mountain range...And that head. Small for the body, but still
immense. Fat, craggy, with lidless roulettes that had  spun  black  and  red
since before my forefathers decided to try the New Continent. And swaying.

     Fresh narco-tanks had been connected. It needed another shot, fast. But
I was paralyzed.

     It had made a noise like God playing a Hammond organ...

     _And looked at me!_

     I  don't  know if seeing is even the same process in eyes like those. I
doubt it. Maybe I was just a  gray  blur  behind  a  black  rock,  with  the
plexi-reflected  sky  hurting  its  pupils.  But it fixed on me. Perhaps the
snake doesn't really paralyze the rabbit, perhaps it's just that rabbits are
cowards by constitution. But it began to struggle and I still couldn't move,
fascinated.

     Fascinated by all that power,  by  those  eyes,  they  found  me  there
fifteen  minutes  later,  a  little broken about the head and shoulders, the
Inject still unpushed.

     And I dream about those eyes. I want to face them once  more,  even  if
their finding takes forever. I've got to know if there's something inside me
that  sets  me  apart  from  a  rabbit,  from notched plates of reflexes and
instincts that always fall apart in exactly the same way whenever the

     proper combination is spun.

     Looking down, I noticed that  my  hand  was  shaking.  Glancing  up,  I
noticed that no one else was noticing.

     I  finished  my drink and emptied my pipe. It was late and no songbirds
were singing.


     I sat whittling, my legs hanging over the aft edge, the chips  spinning
down into the furrow of our wake. Three days out. No action.

     "You!"

     "Me?"

     "You."

     Hair  like  the  end  of the rainbow, eyes like nothing in nature, fine
teeth.

     "Hello."

     "There's a safety regulation against what you're doing, you know."

     "I know. I've been worrying about it all morning."

     A delicate curl climbed my knife then drifted out behind us. It settled
into the foam and was plowed under. I watched her reflection  in  my  blade,
taking a secret pleasure in its distortion.

     "Are you baiting me?" she finally asked.

     I heard her laugh then, and turned, knowing it had been intentional.

     "What, me?"

     "I could push you off from here, very easily."

     "I'd make it back."

     "Would you push me off, then--some dark night, perhaps?"

     "They're  all dark, Miss Luharich. No, I'd rather make you a gift of my
carving."

     She seated herself beside me then, and I couldn't help but  notice  the
dimples  in  her  knees. She wore white shorts and a halter and still had an
offworld tan to her which was awfully appealing. I almost felt a  twinge  of
guilt at having planned the whole scene, but my right hand still blocked her
view of the wooden animal.

     "Okay, I'll bite. What have you got for me?"

     "Just a second. It's almost finished."

     Solemnly,  I passed her the little wooden jackass I had been carving. I
felt a little sorry and slightly jackass-ish myself, but  I  had  to  follow
through. I always do. The mouth was split into a braying grin. The ears were
upright.

     She didn't smile and she didn't frown. She just studied it.

     "It's  very  good,"  she  finally  said,  "like most things you do--and
appropriate, perhaps."

     "Give it to me." I extended a palm.

     She handed it back and I tossed it out over the water.  It  missed  the
white water and bobbed for awhile like a pigmy seahorse.

     "Why did you do that?"

     "It was a poor joke. I'm sorry."

     "Maybe  you  are  right,  though.  Perhaps  this time I've bitten off a
little too much."

     I snorted.

     "Then why not do something safer, like another race?"

     She shook her end of the rainbow.

     "No. It has to be an Ikky."

     "Why?"

     "Why did you want one so badly that you threw away a fortune?"

     "Many reasons," I said. "An unfrocked analyst who  held  black  therapy
sessions in his basement once told me, 'Mister Davits, you need to reinforce
the  image  of  your  masculinity  by  catching one of every kind of fish in
existence.' Fish are a very ancient masculinity symbol, you know. So  I  set
out to do it. I have one more to go.
--Why do you want to reinforce _your_ masculinity?"

     "I  don't,"  she said. "I don't want to reinforce anything but Luharich
Enterprises. My chief statistician once said, 'Miss Luharich, sell  all  the
cold  cream  and face powder in the System and you'll be a happy girl. Rich,
too.' And he was right. I am the proof. I can look  the  way  I  do  and  do
anything, and I sell most of the lipstick and face powder in the System--but
I have to be _able_ to do anything."

     "You do look cool and efficient," I observed.

     "I don't feel cool," she said, rising. "Let's go for a swim."

     "May I point out that we're making pretty good time?"

     "If  you want to indicate the obvious, you may. You said you could make
it back to the ship, unassisted. Change your mind?"

     "No."

     "Then get us two scuba outfits and I'll race you under Tensquare.

     "I'll win, too," she added.

     I stood and looked down at her, because  that  usually  makes  me  feel
superior to women.

     "Daughter  of  Lir,  eyes  of  Picasso," I said, "you've got yourself a
race. Meet me at the forward Rook, starboard, in ten minutes."

     "Ten minutes," she agreed.

     And ten minutes it was. From the center blister to the Rook took  maybe
two  of  them,  with the load I was carrying. My sandals grew very hot and I
was glad to shuck them for flippers when I reached the comparative  cool  of
the corner.

     We  slid  into  harnesses and adjusted our gear. She had changed into a
trim one-piece green job that made me shade my eyes and look away, then look
back again.

     I fastened a rope ladder and kicked it over the side. Then I pounded on
the wall of the Rook.

     "Yeah?"

     "You talk to the port Rook, aft?" I called.

     "They're all set up," came the answer. "There's ladders  and  draglines
all over that end."

     "You  sure you want to do this?" asked the sunburnt little gink who was
her publicity man, Anderson yclept.

     He sat beside the Rook in  a  deckchair,  sipping  lemonade  through  a
straw.

     "It  might  be dangerous," he observed, sunken-mouthed. (His teeth were
beside him, in another glass.)

     "That's right," she  smiled.  "It  _will_  be  dangerous.  Not  overly,
though."

     "Then  why  don't  you let me get some pictures? We'd have them back to
Lifeline in an hour. They'd be in New York by tonight. Good copy."

     "No," she said, and turned away from both of us.

     "Here, keep these for me."

     She passed him a box full of her unseeing, and when she turned back  to
me they were the same brown that I remembered.

     "Ready?"

     "No,"  I said, tautly. "Listen carefully, Jean. If you're going to play
this game there are a few rules. First,"  I  counted,  "we're  going  to  be
directly  beneath  the  hull, so we have to start low and keep moving. If we
bump the bottom, we could rupture an air tank..."

     She began to protest that any moron knew that and I cut her down.

     "Second," I went on, "there won't be much light, so  we'll  stay  close
together, and we will _both_ carry torches."

     Her wet eyes flashed.

     "I dragged you out of Govino without--"

     Then she stopped and turned away. She picked up a lamp.

     "Okay. Torches. Sorry."

     "...And  watch  out  for  the  drive-screws,"  I finished. "There'll be
strong currents for at least fifty meters behind them."

     She wiped her eyes and adjusted the mask.

     "All right, let's go."

     We went.

     She led the way, at my insistence. The  surface  layer  was  pleasantly
warm. At two fathoms the water was bracing; at five it was nice and cold. At
eight we let go the swinging stairway and struck out. Tensquare sped forward
and  we  raced  in  the  opposite  direction,  tattooing  the hull yellow at
ten-second intervals.

     The hull stayed where it belonged, but we raced on  like  two  darkside
satellites.  Periodically,  I tickled her frog feet with my light and traced
her antennae of bubbles. About a five meter lead was fine; I'd beat  her  in
the home stretch, but I couldn't let her drop behind yet.

     Beneath us, black. Immense. Deep. The Mindanao of Venus, where eternity
might  eventually  pass  the  dead  to a rest in cities of unnamed fishes. I
twisted my head away and touched the hull with a feeler of light; it told me
we were about a quarter of the way along.

     I increased my beat to match her stepped-up stroke,  and  narrowed  the
distance  which  she  had suddenly opened by a couple of meters. She sped up
again and I did, too. I spotted her with my beam.

     She turned and it caught on her mask. I never knew whether  she'd  been
smiling.  Probably.  She  raised two fingers in a V-for-Victory and then cut
ahead at full speed.

     I should have known. I should have felt it coming. It was just  a  race
to her, something else to win. Damn the torpedos!

     So  I  leaned into it, hard. I don't shake in the water. Or, if I do it
doesn't matter and I don't notice it. I began to close the gap again.

     She looked back, sped on, looked back. Each  time  she  looked  it  was
nearer, until I'd narrowed it down to the original five meters.

     Then she hit the jatoes.

     That's  what  I  had been fearing. We were about half-way under and she
shouldn't have done it. The powerful jets of  compressed  air  could  easily
rocket  her upward into the hull, or tear something loose if she allowed her
body to twist. Their main use is in  tearing  free  from  marine  plants  or
fighting  bad currents. I had wanted them along as a safety measure, because
of the big suck-and-pull windmills behind.

     She shot ahead like a meteorite, and I could feel a  sudden  tingle  of
perspiration leaping to meet and mix with the churning waters.

     I  swept  ahead,  not  wanting  to  use  my  own guns, and she tripled,
quadrupled the margin.

     The jets died and  she  was  still  on  course.  Okay,  I  was  an  old
fuddyduddy. She _could_ have messed up and headed toward the top.

     I plowed the sea and began to gather back my yardage, a foot at a time.
I wouldn't  be  able  to  catch her or beat her now, but I'd be on the ropes
before she hit deck.

     Then the spinning magnets began their insistence and  she  wavered.  It
was  an  awfully  powerful drag, even at this distance. The call of the meat
grinder.

     I'd been scratched up by one once, under the _Dolphin_, a fishing  boat
of the middle-class. I _had_ been drinking, but it was also a rough day, and
the  thing had been turned on prematurely. Fortunately, it was turned off in
time, also, and a tendon-stapler made everything good as new, except in  the
log,  where it only mentioned that I'd been drinking. Nothing about it being
off-hours when I had the right to do as I damn well pleased.

     She had slowed to half her speed, but she was still moving  cross-wise,
toward the port, aft corner. I began to feel the pull myself and had to slow
down.  She'd  made  it  past the main one, but she seemed too far back. It's
hard to gauge distances under water, but each red beat of time told me I was
right. She was out of danger from the main one, but the smaller port  screw,
located about eighty meters in, was no longer a threat but a certainty.

     She  had  turned  and  was  pulling  away  from  it  now. Twenty meters
separated us. She was standing still. Fifteen.

     Slowly, she began a backward drifting. I  hit  my  jatoes,  aiming  two
meters behind her and about twenty back of the blades.

     Straightline!  Thankgod!  Catching,  softbelly,  leadpipe  on  shoulder
SWIMLIKEHELL! maskcracked, not broke though AND UP!

     We caught a line and I remember brandy.


Into the cradle endlessly rocking I spit, pacing.  Insomnia tonight
and left shoulder sore again, so let it rain on me--they can cure
rheumatism.  Stupid as hell.  What I said.  In blankets and shivering.
She: "Carl, I can't say it."  Me: "Then call it square for that night
in Govino, Miss Luharich.  Huh?"  She: nothing.  Me: "Any more of that
brandy?"  She: "Give me another, too."  Me: sounds of sipping.  It had
only lasted three months.  No alimony.  Many $ on both sides.  Not
sure whether they were happy or not.  Wine-dark Aegean.  Good fishing.
Maybe he should have spent more time on shore.  Or perhaps she
shouldn't have.  Good swimmer, though.  Dragged him all the way to
Vido to wring out his lungs.  Corfu should have brought them closer.
Didn't.  I think that mental cruelty was a trout.  He wanted to go to
Canada.  She: "Go to hell if you want!"  He: "Will you go along?"
She: "No."  But she did, anyhow.  Many hells.  Expensive.  He lost a
monster or two.  She inherited a couple.  Lot of lightning tonight.
Stupid as hell.  Civility's the coffin of a conned soul.  By whom?
--Sounds like a bloody neo-ex....But I hate you, Anderson, with your
glass full of teeth and her new eyes....Can't keep this pipe lit, keep
sucking tobacco.  Spit again!


     Seven days out and the scope showed Ikky.

     Bells jangled, feet pounded, and some optimist set  the  thermostat  in
the  Hopkins. Malvern wanted me to sit it out, but I slipped into my harness
and waited for whatever came. The bruise looked worse than it  felt.  I  had
exercised every day and the shoulder hadn't stiffened on me.

     A  thousand meters ahead and thirty fathoms deep, it tunneled our path.
Nothing showed on the surface.

     "Will we chase him?" asked an excited crewman.

     "Not unless she feels like using money for fuel." I shrugged.

     Soon the scope was clear, and it stayed that way. We remained on  alert
and held our course.

     I hadn't said over a dozen words to my boss since the last time we went
drowning together, so I decided to raise the score.

     "Good afternoon," I approached. "What's new?"

     "He's  going north-northeast. We'll have to let this one go. A few more
days and we can afford some chasing. Not yet."

     _Sleek head..._

     I nodded. "No telling where this one's headed."

     "How's your shoulder?"

     "All right. How about you?"

     _Daughter of Lir..._

     "Fine. By the way, you're down for a nice bonus."

     _Eyes of perdition!_

     "Don't mention it," I told her back.

     Later that afternoon, and appropriately, a storm shattered.  (I  prefer
"shattered"  to  "broke."  It  gives a more accurate idea of the behavior of
tropical storms on Venus and saves a lot of words.) Remember that inkwell  I
mentioned earlier? Now take it between thumb and forefinger and hit its side
with a hammer. Watch yourself! Don't get splashed or cut--

     Dry,  then drenched. The sky one million bright fractures as the hammer
falls. And sounds of breaking.

     "Everyone below?" suggested the loudspeakers to the  already  scurrying
crew.

     Where was I? Who do you think was doing the loudspeaking?

     Everything  loose  went overboard when the water got to walking, but by
then no people were loose. The Slider was the first thing below decks.  Then
the big lifts lowered their shacks.

     I  had  hit it for the nearest Rook with a yell the moment I recognized
the pre-brightening of the holocaust. From there I cut in the  speakers  and
spent half a minute coaching the track team.

     Minor  injuries  had occurred, Mike told me over the radio, but nothing
serious. I, however, was marooned for the duration. The Rooks  do  not  lead
anywhere;  they're set too far out over the hull to provide entry downwards,
what with the extensor shelves below.

     So I undressed myself of the tanks  which  I  had  worn  for  the  past
several  hours,  crossed  my flippers on the table, and leaned back to watch
the hurricane. The top was black as the bottom and we were in  between,  and
somewhat  illuminated  because  of  all  that  flat, shiny space. The waters
didn't rain down--they just sort of got together and dropped.

     The Rooks were secure enough--they'd  weathered  any  number  of  these
onslaughts--it's  just  that their positions gave them a greater arc of rise
and descent when Tensquare makes like the rocker of a very nervous  grandma.
I had used the belts form my rig to strap myself into the bolted-down chair,
and  I  removed  several  years in purgatory from the soul of whoever left a
pack of cigarettes in the table drawer.

     I watched the water make teepees and  mountains  and  hands  and  trees
until I started seeing faces and people. So I called Mike.

     "What are you doing down there?"

     "Wondering what you're doing up there," he replied. "What's it like?"

     "You're from the Midwest, aren't you?"

     "Yeah."

     "Get bad storms out there?"

     "Sometimes."

     "Try  to  think  of  the  worst  one you were ever in. Got a slide rule
handy?"

     "Right here."

     "Then put a one under it, imagine a zero or two  following  after,  and
multiply the thing out."

     "I can't imagine the zeros."

     "Then retain the multiplicand--that's all you can do."

     "So what are you doing up there?"

     "I've strapped myself in the chair. I'm watching things roll around the
floor right now."

     I looked up and out again. I saw one darker shadow in the forest.

     "Are you praying or swearing?"

     "Damned  if  I know. But if this were the Slider--if only this were the
Slider!"

     "_He's out there?_"

     I nodded, forgetting that he couldn't see me.

     Big, as I remembered him. He'd only broken surface for a  few  moments,
to  look  around.  _There is no power on Earth that can be compared with him
who was made to fear no one._ I dropped my cigarette. It  was  the  same  as
before. Paralysis and an unborn scream.

     "You all right, Carl?"

     He  had  looked  at me again. Or seemed to. Perhaps that mindless brute
had been waiting half a millennium to ruin the life of a member of the  most
highly developed species in business....

     "You okay?"

     ...Or  perhaps it had been ruined already, long before their encounter,
and theirs was just a meeting of beasts, the  stronger  bumping  the  weaker
aside, body to psyche....

     "Carl, dammit! Say something!"

     He  broke  again,  this  time  nearer.  Did you ever see the trunk of a
tornado? It seems like something alive, moving  around  in  all  that  dark.
Nothing  has  a  right to be so big, so strong, and moving. It's a sickening
sensation.

     "Please answer me."

     He was gone and did not come back that day. I finally made a couple  of
wisecracks at Mike, but I held my next cigarette in my right hand.


     The  next  seventy  or eighty thousand waves broke by with a monotonous
similarity. The five days that held them were also without distinction.  The
morning of the thirteenth day out, though, our luck began to rise. The bells
broke our coffee-drenched lethargy into small pieces, and we dashed from the
gallery without hearing what might have been Mike's finest punchline.

     "Aft!" cried someone. "Five hundred meters!"

     I stripped to my trunks and started buckling. My stuff is always within
grabbing distance.

     I   flipflopped  across  the  deck,  girding  myself  with  a  deflated
squiggler.

     "Five hundred meters, twenty fathoms!" boomed the speakers.

     The big traps banged upward and the Slider grew  to  its  full  height,
m'lady  at  the console. It rattled past me and took root ahead. Its one arm
rose and lengthened.

     I breasted the Slider as the speakers called, "Four-eight, twenty!"

     "Status Red!"

     A belch like an emerging champagne cork and the line  arced  high  over
the waters.

     "Four-eight,  twenty!"  it  repeated, all Malvern and static. "Baitman,
attend!"

     I adjusted my mask and hand-over-handed it down the  side.  Then  warm,
then cool, then away.

     Green,  vast,  down.  Fast.  This  is  the  place where I am equal to a
squiggler. If something big decides a baitman looks tastier than  what  he's
carrying, then irony colors his title as well as the water about it.

     I  caught sight of the drifting cables and followed them down. Green to
dark green to black. It had been a long cast, too long.  I'd  never  had  to
follow one this far down before. I didn't want to switch on my torch.

     But I had to.

     Bad!  I  still had a long way to go. I clenched my teeth and stuffed my
imagination into a straightjacket.

     Finally the line came to an end.

     I wrapped one arm about it and unfastened the squiggler. I attached it,
working as fast as I could, and plugged in the little insulated  connections
which are the reason it can't be fired with the line. Ikky could break them,
but by then it wouldn't matter.

     My  mechanical eel hooked up, I pulled its section plugs and watched it
grow. I had been dragged deeper during this operation, which  took  about  a
minute and a half. I was near--too near--to where I never wanted to be.

     Loathe as I had been to turn on my light, I was suddenly afraid to turn
it off.  Panic  gripped  me  and  I  seized  the  cable with both hands. The
squiggler began to glow, pinkly. It started to twist. It was twice as big as
I am and doubtless twice as attractive  to  pink  squiggler-eaters.  I  told
myself  this  until  I believed it, then I switched off my light and started
up.

     If I bumped into something enormous and steel-hided my heart had orders
to stop beating immediately and release me--to dart fitfully  forever  along
Acheron, and gibbering.

     Ungibbering, I made it to green water and fled back to the nest.

     As  soon  as they hauled me aboard I made my mask a necklace, shaded my
eyes, and monitored for surface turbulence. My first  question,  of  course,
was "Where is he?"

     "Nowhere,"  said  a  crewman;  "we  lost him right after you went over.
Can't pick him up on the scope now. Musta dived."

     "Too bad."

     The squiggler stayed down, enjoying its bath. My job ended for the time
being, I headed back to warm my coffee with rum.

     From behind me, a whisper: "Could you laugh like that afterwards?"

     Perceptive Answer: "Depends on what he's laughing at."

     Still chuckling, I made  my  way  into  the  center  blister  with  two
cupfuls.

     "Still hell and gone?"

     Mike  nodded.  His  big  hands  were shaking, and mine were steady as a
surgeon's when I set down the cups.

     He jumped as I shrugged off the tanks and looked for a bench.

     "Don't drip on that panel! You want to kill yourself and blow expensive
fuses?"

     I toweled down, then settled down to watching the unfilled eye  on  the
wall. I yawned happily; my shoulder seemed good as new.

     The  little  box  that  people talk through wanted to say something, so
Mike lifted the switch and told it to go ahead.

     "Is Carl there, Mister Dabis?"

     "Yes, ma'am."

     "Then let me talk to him."

     Mike motioned and I moved.

     "Talk," I said.

     "Are you all right?"

     "Yes, thanks. Shouldn't I be?"

     "That was a long swim. I--I guess I overshot my cast."

     "I'm happy," I said. "More triple-time for me. I  really  clean  up  on
that hazardous duty clause."

     "I'll  be  more  careful next time," she apologized. "I guess I was too
eager. Sorry--" Something happened to the sentence, so she ended  it  there,
leaving me with half a bagful of replies I'd been saving.

     I  lifted the cigarette from behind Mike's ear and got a light from the
one in the ashtray.

     "Carl, she was being nice," he said, after turning to study the panels.

     "I know," I told him. "I wasn't."

     "I mean, she's an awfully pretty  kid,  pleasant.  Headstrong  and  all
that. But what's she done to you?"

     "Lately?" I asked.

     He looked at me, then dropped his eyes to his cup.

     "I know it's none of my bus--" he began.

     "Cream and sugar?"


     Ikky didn't return that day, or that night. We picked up some Dixieland
out of Lifeline and let the muskrat ramble while Jean had her supper sent to
the Slider.  Later  she  had a bunk assembled inside. I piped in "Deep Water
Blues" when it came over the air and waited for her to call up and  cuss  us
out. She didn't though, so I decided she was sleeping.

     Then  I  got  Mike  interested  in  a  game of chess that went on until
daylight. It limited conversation to several "checks," one "checkmate,"  and
a  "damn!"  Since he's a poor loser it also effectively sabotaged subsequent
talk, which was fine with me. I had a steak and fried potatoes for breakfast
and went to bed.

     Ten hours later someone shook me awake and  I  propped  myself  on  one
elbow, refusing to open my eyes.

     "Whassamadder?"

     "I'm  sorry  to get you up," said one of the younger crewmen, "but Miss
Luharich wants you to disconnect the squiggler so we can move on."

     I knuckled open one eye, still deciding whether I should be amused.

     "Have it hauled to the side. Anyone can disconnect it."

     "It's at the side now, sir. But she said it's in your contract and we'd
better do things right."

     "That's very considerate of her. I'm  sure  my  Local  appreciates  her
remembering."

     "Uh,  she  also  said  to  tell you to change your trunks and comb your
hair, and shave, too. Mister Anderson's going to film it."

     "Okay. Run along; tell her I'm on my  way--and  ask  if  she  has  some
toenail polish I can borrow."

     I'll  save  on  details.  It took three minutes in all, and I played it
properly, even pardoning myself when I slipped and  bumped  into  Anderson's
white  tropicals  with  the  wet  squiggler.  He smiled, brushed it off; she
smiled, even though Luharich Complectacolor  couldn't  completely  mask  the
dark  circles under her eyes; and I smiled, waving to all our fans out there
in  videoland.  --Remember,  Mrs.  Universe,  you,  too,  can  look  like  a
monster-catcher. Just use Luharich face cream.

     I went below and made myself a tuna sandwich, with mayonnaise.


     Two  days like icebergs--bleak, blank, half-melting, all frigid, mainly
out of sight, and definitely a threat to peace of mind--drifted by and  were
good  to  put  behind.  I  experienced some old guilt feelings and had a few
disturbing dreams. Then I called Lifeline and checked my bank balance.

     "Going shopping?" asked Mike, who had put the call through for me.

     "Going home," I answered.

     "Huh?"

     "I'm out of the baiting business after this one, Mike. The  Devil  with
Ikky!  The  Devil  with  Venus  and Luharich Enterprises! And the Devil with
you!"

     Up eyebrows.

     "What brought that on?"

     "I waited over a year for this job. Now that I'm here, I've decided the
whole thing stinks."

     "You knew what it was when you signed on. No matter  what  else  you're
doing, you're selling face cream when you work for face cream sellers."

     "Oh,  that's  not  what's  biting  me.  I  admit  the  commercial angle
irritates me, but Tensquare has always been a publicity spot, ever since the
first time it sailed."

     "What, then?"

     "Five or six things, all added up. The main one being that I don't care
any more. Once it meant more to me than anything else to hook that  critter,
and  now it doesn't. I went broke on what started out as a lark and I wanted
blood for what it had cost me. Now I realize that maybe I had it coming. I'm
beginning to feel sorry for Ikky."

     "And you don't want him now?"

     "I'll take him if he comes peacefully, but I don't feel  like  sticking
out my neck to make him crawl into the Hopkins."

     "I'm  inclined  to  think it's one of the four or five other things you
said you added."

     "Such as?"

     He scrutinized the ceiling.

     I growled.

     "Okay, but I won't say it, not just  to  make  you  happy  you  guessed
right."

     He, smirking: "That look she wears isn't just for Ikky."

     "No  good,  no  good." I shook my head. "We're both fission chambers by
nature. You can't have jets on both ends of the  rocket  and  expect  to  go
anywhere--what's in the middle just gets smashed."

     "That's how it _was_. None of my business, of course--"

     "Say that again and you'll say it without teeth."

     "Any day, big man"--he looked up--"any place..."

     "So go ahead. Get it said!"

     "She  doesn't care about that bloody reptile, she came here to drag you
back where you belong. You're not the baitman this trip."

     "Five years is too long."

     "There must be something under that cruddy hide of  yours  that  people
like," he muttered, "or I wouldn't be talking like this. Maybe you remind us
humans  of some really ugly dog we felt sorry for when we were kids. Anyhow,
someone wants to take you home and raise you--also, something about  beggars
not getting menus."

     "Buddy,"  I  chuckled,  "do  you  know  what I'm going to do when I hit
Lifeline?"

     "I can guess."

     "You're wrong. I'm torching it to Mars, and then I'll cruise back home,
first class. Venus bankruptcy provisions  do  not  apply  to  Martian  trust
funds,  and I've still got a wad tucked away where moth and corruption enter
not. I'm going to pick up a big old mansion on the Gulf and if  you're  ever
looking for a job you can stop around and open bottles for me."

     "You are a yellowbellied fink," he commented.

     "Okay," I admitted, "but it's her I'm thinking of, too."

     "I've heard the stories about you both," he said. "So you're a heel and
a goofoff  and she's a bitch. That's called compatibility these days. I dare
you, baitman, try keeping something you catch."

     I turned.

     "If you ever want that job, look me up."

     I closed the door quietly behind me and left him sitting there  waiting
for it to slam.


     The  day  of the beast dawned like any other. Two days after my gutless
flight from empty waters I went down to rebait. Nothing on the scope. I  was
just making things ready for the routine attempt.

     I  hollered  a  "good  morning" from outside the Slider and received an
answer from inside before I pushed off. I had reappraised Mike's words, sans
sound, sans fury, and  while  I  did  not  approve  of  their  sentiment  or
significance, I had opted for civility anyhow.

     So  down,  under,  and  away.  I  followed  a  decent  cast  about  two
hundred-ninety meters out. The snaking cables burned black to my left and  I
paced  their  undulations  from  the  yellowgreen  down  into  the darkness.
Soundless lay the wet night, and I bent my way through it like  a  cock-eyed
comet, bright tail before.

     I  caught  the  line, slick and smooth, and began baiting. An icy world
swept by me then, ankles to head. It was a draft, as if someone had opened a
big door beneath me. I wasn't drifting forwards that fast either.

     Which meant that something might be moving up, something big enough  to
displace  a  lot of water. I still didn't think it was Ikky. A freak current
of some sort, but not Ikky. Ha!

     I had finished attaching the leads and pulled the  first  plug  when  a
big, rugged, black island grew beneath me....

     I flicked the beam downward. His mouth was opened.

     I was rabbit.

     Waves  of  the  death-fear passed downward. My stomach imploded. I grew
dizzy.

     Only one thing, and one thing only. Left to do. I managed it,  finally.
I pulled the rest of the plugs.

     I could count the scaly articulations ridging his eyes by then.

     The squiggler grew, pinked into phosphorescence...squiggled.

     Then my lamp. I had to kill it, leaving just the bait before him.

     One glance back as I jammed the jatoes to life.

     He  was so near that the squiggler reflected on his teeth, in his eyes.
Four meters, and I kissed his lambent jowls with two jets of backwash  as  I
soared.  Then  I didn't know whether he was following or had halted. I began
to black out as I waited to be eaten.

     The jatoes died and I kicked weakly.

     Too fast, I felt a cramp coming  on.  One  flick  of  the  beam,  cried
rabbit. One second, to know...

     Or end things up, I answered. No, rabbit, we don't dart before hunters.
Stay dark.

     Green waters, finally, to yellowgreen, then top.

     Doubling,  I  beat  off  toward Tensquare. The waves from the explosion
behind pushed me on ahead. The world closed in, and a screamed "He's alive!"
in the distance.

     A giant shadow and a shock wave. The line was alive, too. Happy Fishing
Grounds. Maybe I did something wrong....

     Somewhere Hand was clenched. What's bait?


     A few million years. I remember starting out as a  one-celled  organism
and  painfully  becoming  an amphibian, then an air-breather. From somewhere
high in the treetops I heard a voice.

     "He's coming around."

     I evolved back into homosapience, then a step further into a hangover.

     "Don't try to get up yet."

     "Have we got him?" I slurred.

     "Still fighting, but he's  hooked.  We  thought  he  took  you  for  an
appetizer."

     "So did I."

     "Breath some of this and shut up."

     A funnel over my face. Good. Lift your cups and drink....

     "He  was  awfully  deep. Below scope range. We didn't catch him till he
started up. Too late, then."

     I began to yawn.

     "We'll get you inside now."

     I managed to uncase my ankle knife.

     "Try it and you'll be minus a thumb."

     "You need rest."

     "Then bring me a couple more blankets. I'm staying."

     I fell back and closed my eyes.


     Someone was shaking me. Gloom and cold. Spotlights bled yellow  on  the
deck.  I  was  in  a  jury-rigged  bunk,  bulked against the center blister.
Swaddled in wool, I still shivered.

     "It's been eleven hours. You're not going to see anything now."

     I tasted blood.

     "Drink this."

     Water. I had a remark but I couldn't mouth it.

     "Don't ask me how I feel," I croaked. "I  know  that  comes  next,  but
don't ask me. Okay?"

     "Okay. Want to go below now?"

     "No. Just get me my jacket."

     "Right here."

     "What's he doing?"

     "Nothing. He's deep, he's doped but he's staying down."

     "How long since last time he showed?"

     "Two hours, about."

     "Jean?"

     "She  won't  let anyone in the Slider. Listen, Mike says to come on in.
He's right behind you in the blister."

     I sat up and turned around. Mike was watching. He gestured; I  gestured
back.

     I  swung my feet over the edge and took a couple of deep breaths. Pains
in my stomach. I got to my feet and made it into the blister.

     "Howza gut?" queried Mike.

     I checked the scope. No Ikky. Too deep.

     "You buying?"

     "Yeah, coffee."

     "Not coffee."

     "You're ill. Also, coffee is all that's allowed in here."

     "Coffee is a brownish liquid that burns your stomach. You have some  in
the bottom drawer."

     "No cups. You'll have to use a glass."

     "Tough."

     He poured.

     "You do that well. Been practicing for that job?"

     "What job?"

     "The one I offered you--"

     A blot on the scope!

     "Rising, ma'am! Rising!" he yelled into the box.

     "Thanks, Mike. I've got it in here," she crackled.

     "Jean!"

     "Shut up! She's busy!"

     "Was that Carl?"

     "Yeah," I called. "Talk later," and I cut it.

     Why did I do that?

     "Why did you do that?"

     I didn't know.

     "I don't know."

     Damned echoes! I got up and walked outside.

     Nothing. Nothing.

     Something?

     Tensquare actually rocked! He must have turned when he saw the hull and
started  downward  again.  White  water  to my left, and boiling. An endless
spaghetti of cable roared hotly into the belly of the deep.

     I stood awhile, then turned and went back inside.

     Two hours sick. Four, and better.

     "The dope's getting to him."

     "Yeah."

     "What about Miss Luharich?"

     "What about her?"

     "She must be half dead."

     "Probably."

     "What are you going to do about it?"

     "She signed the contract for this. She knew what might happen. It did."

     "I think you could land him."

     "So do I."

     "So does she."

     "Then let her ask me."

     Ikky was drifting lethargically, at thirty fathoms.

     I took another walk and happened to pass behind the Slider. She  wasn't
looking my way.

     "Carl, come in here!"

     Eyes of Picasso, that's what, and a conspiracy to make me Slide...

     "Is that an order?"

     "Yes--No! Please."

     I dashed inside and monitored. He was rising.

     "Push or pull?"

     I slammed the "wind" and he came like a kitten.

     "Make up your own mind now."

     He balked at ten fathoms.

     "Play him?"

     "No!"

     She wound him upwards--five fathoms, four...

     She hit the extensors at two, and the caught him. Then the graffles.

     Cries without and a heat of lightning of flashbulbs.

     The crew saw Ikky.

     He began to struggle. She kept the cables tight, raised the graffles.

     Up.

     Another two feet and the graffles began pulsing.

     Screams and fast footfalls.

     Giant  beanstalk  in the wind, his neck, waving. The green hills of his
shoulders grew.

     "He's big, Carl!" she cried.

     And he grew, and grew, and grew uneasy...

     "_Now!_"

     He looked down.

     He looked down, as the god of our most  ancient  ancestors  might  have
looked  down.  Fear,  shame, and mocking laughter rang in my head. Her head,
too?

     "Now!"

     She looked up at the nascent earthquake.

     "I can't!"

     It was going to be so damnably simple this time,  now  the  rabbit  had
died. I reached out.

     I stopped.

     "Push it yourself."

     "I can't. You do it. Land him, Carl!"

     "No. If I do, you'll wonder for the rest of your life whether you could
have.  You'll  throw  away  your  soul finding out. I know you will, because
we're alike, and I did it that way. Find out now!"

     She stared.

     I gripped her shoulders.

     "Could be that's me out there," I offered. "I am a green sea serpent, a
hateful, monstrous beast, and out to destroy you. I am answerable to no one.
Push the Inject."

     Her hand moved to the button, jerked back.

     "Now!"

     She pushed it.

     I lowered her still form to the floor and finished things up with Ikky.

     It was a good seven hours before I awakened to the steady,  sea-chewing
grind of Tensquare's blades.

     "You're sick," commented Mike.

     "How's Jean?"

     "The same."

     "Where's the beast?"

     "Here."

     "Good." I rolled over. "...Didn't get away this time."

     So  that's the way it was. No one is born a baitman, I don't think, but
the rings of Saturn sing epithalamium the sea-beast's dower.


     _____________________________________________________________________


     Last modified 10/7/98

Популярность: 12, Last-modified: Wed, 14 Oct 1998 16:01:54 GMT