chairs and tables were needed;

the loan would be repaid. For the labor of the children and young adults now spilling out of the courtyard, money would be paid tonight. Sherbet might come during a slack moment, or days from now, when the merchants were gone.

So chairs and tables were brought and stacked. The ancient freezer ran at its humming maximum, using power stored for months. Guilda's extended family occupied her huge kitchen, and there they turned fruit into juice and whipped it while it froze.

In midafternoon the caravan flowed around the curve of the Road. The wagons were nearly hidden within the crowd of customers. Every level of Spiral Town society had something to buy or sell or trade. Around the shell of customers seethed an outer shell of Spiral Town children.

Now Jemmy and his friends could deploy tables and chairs and silver umbrellas, competing for speed, competing for how many chairs a boy could stack and lift. In the wake of the wagons Guilda's sprawled across the square.

And suddenly there was nothing more to do. The caravan stopped near Spiral Town's hub, and business was being done there. Sherbet was ready, but the merchants were not.

The rules were known. Jemmy had never heard them. Perhaps they'd all learned them through osmosis. This was one: children would not interfere between merchants and the adults who wanted to meet them. The front of Guilda's was the square. The back was a slope of hill that became Endersin's Ranch at its top. Spiral Town's youth now began collecting on the grass behind Guilda's.

Guilda's daughters moved among them, serving minuscule cups of sherbet. Sheeko Radner, Guilda's eldest and as tall as most men, wove a contorted path, pushing a tub on rollers, doling out refill scoops.

The merchants were gathering out front. Yatsen's Far East would be gearing up to serve them dinner. The square must have filled with amazing speed, because merchants were already moving here to the grass slopes.

Four merchants. One was the brawny man who bought the drum of sherbet. Jemmy and the others made haste to make room, and the four traders sat in a circle.

Thonny, eight, was whispering to Ronny, seven. Jemmy couldn't hear. He kept his dignity for a long moment, then glared at them. 'What?'

'They've all got guns,' Thonny said, louder than he intended, his eyes invading the merchants' privacy. 'See, the fat one has his in that loose

jacket, and him and him have those holders in their pocket belts, and the guy with the muscles-'

'That's you, Fedrick,' the fat one laughed at the guy with the muscles. A wagon was pulling up in the radial street. More produce for Guilda's sherbet. Sheeko Radner waved prettily at a tableful of farmers. The six obliged: they followed her to the wagon and began lifting watermelons.

Fedrick grinned at Thonny. He pulled an L-shaped object from his belt. Jemmy too had been half-sure it was a gun. The brawny merchant made as if to hand it to Thonny, but he was pulling it back even as the fat one's hand blocked him. 'I can't let you handle this, boy,' he said, or something like that; his words were twisted almost beyond recognition. 'I can show you, maybe.'

Six farmers carrying six watermelons were trooping toward the kitchen door. The merchant named Fedrick fired at the sixth.

The watermelon in Davish Scrivner's hands exploded. It splashed in all directions, a sudden scarlet flower.

Scrivner stared at his arms, his clothes, hardly believing that it wasn't blood. For that moment he was too flabbergasted even to be afraid. Then, amid a sea of laughter, he turned.

He studied the tableful of merchants, and the roar in his throat didn't emerge. If it had been the fat one... well. But the grinning man now pushing a gun into his armpit looked like he could lift a wagonful of watermelons.

And he was coming forward with helpless laughter on his face and money in his hand. 'It was for the children,' he told the farmer. 'Think, they'll never see a sight like that again! Friend, this should be the price to clean your clothes and a steam bath too. Really, I did look to see there was nothing behind you but hill. Forgive me! Come, share sherbet with us.'

Thonny said, 'Damn! Did you see that?'

In truth, Jemmy would never forget it. What the gun had done to a watermelon, it could do to a man. Davish Scrivner could have exploded like that. Would the merchant still have been laughing?

It never faded, never lost a trace of color: the watermelon exploding in Scrivner's arms, the pulp splashing every part of him like blood, the horror in his face as he gave up his hope of life. It was there in his mind eight years later, on Jemmy Bloocher's last night in Spiral Town.


Warkan s Tavern

'Dr. Maners, do you represent the crew of Argos?'

''I do.''

'How do the defendants plead?'

'On the charge 0f mutiny, not guilty. On the charge 0f sabotage, not guilty. On the charge 0f treason, not guilty. On the charge 0f grand larceny, not guilty

-Eric Maners, advocate for the crew of Argos

2730 A.D.

The Bloocher clan gathered in wilderness for the third time in three days. Mountains stood above them, the spinal ridge of the Crab. A stream ran foaming over rocks. The water had cut a shallow channel across the Road below, and somebody-merchants-had built a bridge across that.

The New Hann Holding would be here, four kilometers down the Road from the Bloocher Farm on the inland side.

Two hundred and forty years ago, Earthlife had been seeded over the entire peninsula in a random mix. You could make bread out of these waist-high grasses, corn and rye and wheat and a sprinkling of sesame. Apple and orange and pomegranate groves grew randomly. The tallest trees, twenty and thirty feet high, were both redwoods.

An early-morning fog had burned off. The Bloocher clan rested beneath a handful of oaks, the girls around Junior, the boys around Curdis Hann. Jemmy tended a cage that held Destiny tree lace and a pophopper. The pop- hopper was a Destiny burrowing creature, and nobody knew how to take care of it. After two days it looked to be dying. Here and there were patches of darker vegetation, black trunks and branches and lacy extrusions touched with green and yellow-green and bronze. That was local life, Destiny life. Three patches below the clump of oaks had merged.

Varmint Killer rested within that patch.

Killer's surface was very like poured stone, Jemmy thought, pocked with small apertures for light-threads, tiny glass-bead eyes, whips and pellets, all retractable into an ovoid shell. It sat like a statue or a rock, but it had moved in the night.

Killer had siblings.

A myriad tiny machines, specks just bigger than speckles, turned rock and ore into Begley cloth within a cave in Mount Apollo. Similar machines made Earthtime watches in Mount Chronos. Jemmy had looked at both kinds under a microscope. In the places where tools branched out, and in the ovoid shell itself, Jemmy saw an artistic relationship to Varmint Killer. Then again, he'd known in advance: these machines had come from Sol system

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