Hawks did not introduce Barker to the crew. He pointed to the suit as he reached the edge of the table. “Now, this is the best we can do for you in the way of protection. You get into it here, on the table, and you’ll be wheeled into the transmitter. You’ll be beamed up to the Moon receiver in it — once there, you’ll find it comfortable and easily maneuverable. You have power assists, activated by the various pressures your body puts on them. The suit will comply to all your movements. I’m told it feels like swimming. You have a selection of all the tools we know you’ll need, and a number of others we think might be called for. That’s something you’ll have to tell us afterward, if you can. It’s important that you thoroughly familiarize yourself with the operations of the suit — most of them are automatic, but it’s much better to be sure. Now I’d like you to get into it, so the ensign and his men, here, can check to see that you won’t have any difficulties.”
The naval officer in charge of the specialist crew stepped forward. “Excuse me, Doctor,” he said. “I understand the volunteer has an artificial limb.” He turned to Barker. “If you’ll please remove your trousers, sir?”
Hawks smiled uncomfortably. “I’ll hold your jacket,” he said to Barker.
Barker looked around. Beads of cold moisture appeared on his forehead. He handed the windbreaker to Hawks without turning his face toward him, opened his belt and stepped out of the slacks. He stood with them clutched in his hands, looked at Hawks, then rolled them up quickly and put them down on the edge of the table.
“Now, if you’ll just lie down in the suit, sir, we’ll see what needs adjusting.” The ensign gestured to his team and they closed in around Barker, lifting him up and putting him down on his back inside the opened suit. Barker lay rigid, staring up, and the ensign said, “Move yourself around, please — we want to make sure your muscles make firm contacts with all the servomotor pressure plates.”
Barker began stiffly moving his body.
The ensign said, “Yes, I thought so. The artificial limb will have to be built up in the region of the calf, and on the knee joint. Fidanzato—” He gestured to one of his men. “Measure those clearances and then get down to the machine shop. I want some shim plates on there. I’m sorry, sir,” he said to Barker, “but you’ll have to let my man take the leg with him. It won’t take long. Sampson — help this man off with his shirt so you can get at the shoulder strap.”
Barker jerked his arms up out of the suit, grasped the edges of the torso backplate, and pulled himself up to a sitting position. “I’ll take my own shirt off, sonny,” he rasped, and pulled it off over his head. As Sampson unbuckled the leg’s main strap, Barker looked twistedly at Hawks and ticked the edge of the armor shell with his fingers. “New artifices, Mage?” He seemed to be expecting some special response to this.
Hawks frowned. Barker’s grin became even more distorted with irony. He looked around him. “Well, that’s one flunk. Anybody else care to try? Maybe I should tie one hand behind my back, too?”
The ensign said uncertainly to Hawks, “It’s a quotation from a play, Doctor.” He looked at Barker, who solemnly wet a fingertip and described an X in the air.
“Score one for the NROTC graduate.”
The other men in the dressing team kept their heads down and worked.
“What kind of a play, Ensign?” Hawks asked quietly.
“I read it in my English Lit course,” the ensign said uncomfortably, flushing as Barker winked. “Merlin the Magician has made an invincible suit of armor. He intended it for Sir Galahad, but as he was making it, the needs of the magic formula forced him to fit it to Lancelot’s proportions. And even though Lancelot has been betraying King Arthur, and they’ll be fighting in the joust that day, Merlin can’t let the armor just go unused. So he calls Lancelot into his workshop, and the first thing Lancelot says when he comes in and sees the magic armor is: ‘What’s this — new artifices, Mage?’ ”
Barker grinned briefly at the ensign and then at Hawks. “I hoped you’d recognize the parallel, Doctor. After all, you say you’ve read a book or two.”
“I see,” Hawks said. He looked thoughtfully at Barker, then asked the ensign, “What’s Merlin’s reply?”
Barker’s mouth hooked upward in glee. He said to Hawks, “’Armorings? Sooth, Philosopher, you’ve come to crafting in your tremblant years? You’ve put gnarled fingers to the metal-beater’s block, and hammered on Damascus plate to mime the armiger’s employe?’”
The ensign, looking uncertainly from Hawks to Barker, quoted: “’How I have done is no concern for you Content yourself that when an eagle bends to make his nest, such nests are built as only eagles may inhabit. — Or those who have an eagle’s leave.’”
Barker cocked an eyebrow. “’And I’ve your leave, old bird?’”
“’Leave and prayer, headbreaker,’” the ensign replied to him.
“’You like me not,’” Barker said, frowning at Hawks. “’And surely Arthur’d not command you to enwrap this body’s hale and heart beyond all mortal damage. Nay, not this body — he’s not fond of my health, eh? — Well, that’s another matter. You say this armor comes from you? Then it is proof, weav’d up with your incantings? ’Tis wondrous strong? For me? As I began, you like me not — why is this, then? Who has commanded you?’”
The ensign licked his lips and looked anxiously at Hawks. “Should I go on, Doctor?”
Hawks smiled thinly at Barker. “Why, yes — let’s see how it comes out. If I like the condensation, maybe I’ll go out and buy the book.”
“Yes, sir.” The ensign’s men had not looked up. Sampson was fumbling absorbedly with the buckles of the shoulder strap.
“’My craft commands me, Knight. As yours does you, in sign that craft loves man full well as wisely as a woman will. Take it. Never has armor such as this bestrode a horse. Never so good a craftsman’s eye has measured out its joinings, or wrought so tenderly. Never have maker’s eyes so earnestly conjoined with artificer’s hands and engine-shaper’s mind, as were met here to borrow from your thews that motive force which, in the sum, will take all glory. Take it — be damned to you! — take it, you that have overmastered more than is your measure, and seek to overmaster morel’”
“’There’s a jealousy in you, old man,’” Barker said.
“’You know not what of!’”
“’You know, then, so surely, the things my silent mind wots? Be not so proud, Magician. ’Tis as you say — I, too, know what it is to be of craft. And I’ve my pride, as well as you have yours. Will it entail me glory, do you think, to take with your gift what I well might giffless gain?’”
“’You must!’ “
“’Or where’s your mageing? Aye — and what’s my craft, to ware itself of yours? Take it I shall, though I misdoubt myself. You warrant it for proof? It will not fail, upon some field, against some lance unknown to your devising?’”
“’An it shall fall, then fail I with you, Knight.’”
Barker impatiently shrugged Sampson off and reached up to where the narrow band of leather had creased his shoulder permanently. He pulled it down and unbuckled the broad band across his stomach. “’Then fail not, Armiger,’” he whispered. “’I pray you — do not fail.’”
Hawks looked at Barker quietly for a moment. Then he wet a forefinger and described an X in the air. “Score one for the whole man,” he said. As he said it, a flash of pain crossed his face.