Dawn pierced golden-green through the forest leaves, the glacia-view, the blue gauze, and woke us.
“Dearest ooma,” he said, “what’s that racket?”
“Frogs? Binni-thing-a-mies? What racket? My heart, perhaps, stirred by your nearness.”
“Or mine by yours? No. A Kind of humming.”
“Nilla in the bath unit?”
“Fool of my dreams. A metallic sound. Robots?”
“Yay in the bath unit? He’ll go rusty.”
“Do you always get this silly after love?” he asked me.
“Don’t you know, ooma?”
“Still striving to guess my identity when I tell you we’ve never met before?”
“Still striving. I’ll guess. Maybe I have.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, seriously, with that heart-wrenching, loin-quickening sorrow chiseling his handsome face just as it had once chiseled my handsome face. “You see, whatever else, you’re bound to be confused by the subconscious permanent notion that I’m really you. It diverts and tangles you up, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. I think it’s sick and perverted, and we’re a couple of perverts, you to think of it, me to agree to it. And don’t go on looking at me like that or I’ll demand further proof of how much I like it, and you’re obviously far too fragile to cope with so much libido, what with your consumption and all.”
“Balls,” said my lover.
“Quite,” I said, and got off the bed.
I could hear it now, that humming, very clearly.
I stared through the window, but sun and leaves and the ravages of lust made seeing out difficult.
“I’m going to investigate,” I said.
“You always were a nosy character.”
“Whoops,” I said. “ ‘Always were.’ Your former relationship with me is showing.”
We weren’t outside for another hour, of course. When we made it, both pairs of sapphire-opal eyes with romantic rings under them, the terrace was alive. Everyone was out, and first meal was being eaten.
Danor glanced up at us, and never smiled. Or rather, her whole body smiled, everything absolutely beaming approval, everything but her mouth, which she very carefully kept straight. Kam, on the other hand, grinned broadly, and said something under his breath that sounded like “Cheers.”
The Jang were too preoccupied with being Jang really to notice; only Nilla shot us an evil look, and Esten bowed to her.
Then a warm, murmurous voice sounded in my ear, and surprised me: Talsi.
“Moddik has asked us to meet him, just beyond the purple trees, as soon as possible.”
“Do you mean to say he’s really made nine water mixers?” I asked.
Talsi said, “Very definitely. I think the dear creature wants to show them off.”
“Why not?” I cried, grabbing up a fruit from the table—everyone seemed to be eating them now, bar Nilla. Even Naz had a sun-peach, but he was probably too blasted to realize what it was, maybe thought it was a syntho-cake or something.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s go and see Moddik’s water mixers.”
The Jang groaned and prised themselves off the angel-food. One good thing, when the provision dispenser had to switch onto pure syntho-basics there’d be no more of that yuk served up on my ship.
Esten, Danor, Kam, and I went first, the Jang tottering after. Glis and Felain had even persuaded Naz into coming. Talsi came last, rather as if shepherding us. Her maternal sex-drive thing again?
We’d forgotten about the humming, Esten and I, and got used to it meanwhile. Now I recollected, because right here was the source.
“Good day,” said Moddik, as we emerged on the grass lawn just beyond the grove, and found ourselves facing a semicircle of water mixers.
“Moddik!” I exclaimed. “There are twelve! Do they all work?”
“Of course. Do you doubt the master?”
“Activate them,” I pleaded. “Let’s get soaked with mixed-water rain. Or shall I press the starter?”
Moddik stared at me, and suddenly he wasn’t the same. He looked portentous, somehow. Maybe his achievement had moved him.
“A moment,” he said. “Before we do anything, I’d like everybody to listen to something I have to say.”
Not one of us missed it. A sort of change in the air, like the change you finally come to recognize in the atmosphere before a sandstorm or before the great rains. In the absolute quiet I said:
“Moddik, has something grim happened? If it has, could you tell us quickly? Because perhaps every second counts.”
“Nothing grim,” said Moddik. “It may seem so, just for a split. But if we take it calmly, I think we can work it out.”
I was so tense, I jumped when Esten spoke.
“Do the water mixers actually work?”
“Oh, yes. They really are water mixers. Have you already guessed, Jang Esten, what I’ve been up to?”
“No. I’m not certain. You’d better tell us, anyhow.”
“Yes, you’d better,” said Kam from my right, “and fairly fast.”