Lois McMaster Bujold, "FALLING FREE"

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Chapter 7

"Leo!" Silver anchored one hand and pounded softly and frantically with the other three on the door to the engineer's sleeping quarters. "Leo, quick! Wake up, help!" She laid her cheek against the cold plastic, muffling her bursting howl to a small, sliding "Leo?" She dared not cry louder, lest she attract more than Leo's ear.

His door slid open at last. He wore red T-shirt and shorts, barefoot. His sleep sack against the far wall hung open like an empty cocoon, and his thinning sandy hair stuck out in odd directions. "What the hell . . . Silver?" His face was rumpled with sleep, eyes dark-ringed but focusing fast.

"Come quick, come quick!" Silver hissed, grabbing his hand. "It's Claire. She tried to go out an airlock. I jammed the controls. She can't get the outer door open, but I can't get the inner door open either, and she's trapped in there. Our supervisor will be back soon, and then I don't know what they'll do to us. . . ."

"Son-of-a ..." he allowed her to draw him into the corridor, then lurched back into his cabin to grab a tool belt. "All right, go, go, lead on."

They sped through the maze of the Habitat, offering strained bland smiles to those quaddies and downsiders they flew past in the corridors. At last, the familiar door to "Hydroponics D" closed behind them.

"What happened? How did this happen?" Leo asked her as they brushed through the grow-tubes to the far end of the module.

"They wouldn't let me go see Claire day before yesterday, when you brought her back on the shuttle, even though we were both in the Infirmary. Yesterday we were on different work teams. I think it was on purpose. Today I made Teddie trade with me." Silver's voice smeared with her distress. "Claire said they won't even let her into the creche to see Andy on her off-shift. I went to get fertilizer from -Stores to charge the grow-tubes we were working on, and when I came back, the lock was just starting to cycle. ..." If only she hadn't left Claire alone—if only she had not let the shuttle take them downside in the first place—if only she had not betrayed them to Dr. Yei's drugs—if only they'd been born downsiders—or not been born at all. ...

The airlock at the end of the hydroponics module was almost never used, merely waiting to become the airseal door to the next module that future growth might demand. Silver pressed her face to the observation window. To her immense relief, Claire was still within.

But she was ramming herself back and forth between door and door, her face smeared with tears and blood, fingers reddened. Whether she gulped for air or only screamed Silver could not tell, for all sound was silenced by the barrier door, like a turned-down holovid. Silver's own chest seemed so tight she could scarcely breathe.

Leo glanced in. His lips drew back in a fierce scowl in his whitened face, and he turned to hiss at the lock mechanism, scrabbling at his tool belt. "You fixed it but good, Silver ..."

"I had to do something quick. Shorting it that way blocked the alarm from going off in Central Systems."

"Oh ..." Leo's hands hesitated briefly. "Not so random a stab as it looks, then."

"Random? In an airlock control box?" She stared at him in surprise, and some indignation. "I'm not a five-year-old!"

"Indeed not." A crooked grin lightened his tense face for a moment. "Any quaddie of six would know better. My apologies, Silver. So the problem then, is not how to open the door, but how to do so without tripping the alarm."

"Yes, right." She hovered anxiously.

He looked the mechanism over, glanced up rather more hesitantly at the airlock door, which vibrated to the thumping from within. "You sure Claire doesn't need—more help anyway?"

"She may need help," snapped Silver, "but what she'll get is Dr. Yei."

"Ah . . . right." His grin thinned out altogether. He clipped a couple of tiny wires and rerouted them. With one last doubtful look at the lock door, he tapped a pressure plate within the mechanism.

The inner door slid open and Claire tumbled out, gasping rawly, "... let me go, let me go, oh, why didn't you let me go—I can't stand this ..." She curled up in a huddled ball in midair, face hidden.

Silver darted to her, wrapped her arms around her. "Oh, Claire! Don't do things like that. Think—think how Tony would feel, stuck in that hospital downship, when they told him ..."

"What does it matter?" demanded Claire, muffled against Silver's blue T-shirt. "They'll never let me see him again. I might as well be dead. They'll never let me see Andy ..."

"Yes," Leo chimed in, "think of Andy. Who will protect him, if you're not around? Not just today, but next week, next year ..."

Claire unwound, and fairly screamed at him. "They won't even let me see him! They threw me out of the creche ..."

Leo seized her upper hands. "Who? Who threw you out?"

"Mr. Van Atta ..."

"Right, I might have known. Claire, listen to me. The proper response to Bruce isn't suicide, it's murder."

"Really?" said Silver, her interest sparking. Even Claire was drawn out of her tight wad of misery enough to meet Leo's eyes directly for the first time. "Well . . . perhaps not literally. But you can't let the bastard grind you down. Look, we're all smart here, right? You kids are smart—I've been known to knock down a problem or two, in my time—we've got to be able to think our way out of this mess, if we try. You're not alone, Claire. We'll help. I'll help."

"But you're a company man—a downsider—why should you . . . ?"

"GalacTech's not God, Claire. You shouldn't have to sacrifice your firstborn to it. GalacTech—any company—is just a way, one way, for people to organize themselves to do a job that's too big for one person to do alone. It's not God, it's not even a being, for pity's sake. It doesn't have a free will to answer for. It's just a collection of people, working. Bruce is only Bruce, there's got to be some way to get around him."

"You mean go over his head?" asked Silver thoughtfully. "Maybe to that vice president who was here last week?"

Leo paused. "Well . , . maybe not to Apmad. But I've been thinking—for three days, I've been thinking of nothing else but how to blow up this whole rotten set-up. But you've got to hang on, for me to have time to work—Claire, can you hang on? Can you?" His hands tightened on hers urgently.

She shook her head doubtfully. "It hurts so much ..."

"You have to. Look, listen. There's nothing I can do here at Rodeo, it's in this peculiar legal bubble. If it were a regular planetary government, I swear I'd go into debt to my eyebrows and buy each and every one of you a ticket out of here, but then, if it were a regular planet, I wouldn't need to. Anyway GalacTech has a monopoly on Jump ship seats here, you travel on a company ship or not at all. So we have to wait, and bide our time.

"But in a little time—just a few months—the first quaddies will leave Rodeo on the first real work assignments. Working in and passing through real planetary jurisdictions. Governments too big and powerful even for GalacTech to mess with. I'm sure—pretty sure, if I pick the right venue—not Apmad's planet, of course, but say, Earth—Earth's by far the best bet, I'm a citizen there—I can bring a class-action suit declaring you legal persons. I'll probably lose my job, and the costs will eat me, but it can be done. Not exactly the life's work I had in mind . . . but eventually, you can be cracked loose from GalacTech."

"So long a time," sighed Claire.

"No, no, delay is our friend. The little ones grow older every day. By the time the legal case goes through, you'll all be ready. Go as a group—hire out—find work—even GalacTech wouldn't be so bad as an employer, if you were citizens and regular employees, with all the legal protections. Maybe even the Spacer's Union would take you in, though that might constrain—well, I'm not sure. If they don't perceive you as a threat . . . anyway, something can be worked out. But you've got to hang on! Promise me?"

Silver breathed again when Claire nodded slowly. She drew Claire away to the first aid kit on the wall, to apply antisepts and plastic bandages to her torn fingernails, and wipe the blood from her bruised face. "There. There. Better ..."

Leo meanwhile restored the airlock control to its original working order, then drifted over to them. "All right now?" He turned his face to Silver. "Is she going to be all right?"

Silver could not help glowering. "As all right as any of us . . . it's not fair!" she burst out. "This is my home, but it's beginning to feel like an overpressurized oxy bottle. Everybody's upset, all the quaddies, about Tony and Claire. There hasn't been anything like this since Jamie was killed in that awful pusher accident. But this—this was on purpose. If they'd do that to Tony, who was so good, what about—about me? Any of us? What's going to happen next?"

"I don't know." Leo shook his head grimly. "But I'm pretty sure the idyll is over. This is only the beginning."

"But what will we do? What can we do?"

"Well—don't panic. And don't despair. Especially don't despair—"

The airseal doors at the end of the module slid open, and the downsider hydroponics supervisor's voice lilted in. "Girls? We got the seed delivery on the shuttle after all—is that grow-tube ready yet?"

Leo twitched, but turned back one last time before hastening away, to grasp a hand of each quaddie with determined pressure. "It's just an old saying, but I know it's true from personal experience. Chance favors the prepared mind. So stay strong—111 get back to you . . ."he escaped past the hydroponics supervisor with an elaborately casual yawn, as if he'd merely stopped in to kibbitz a moment upon the work in progress.

Silver's stomach churned as she watched Claire fearfully. Claire sniffled, and turned hurriedly away to busy herself with the grow tube, hiding her face from their supervisor. Silver shivered with relief. All right for now.

The churning in Silver's stomach was slowly replaced by something hot and unfamiliar, filling it, crowding out the fear. How dare they do this to her—to me—to us? They have no right, no right, no right. . . .

Rage made her head pound, but it was better than the knotting fear. There was almost an exultation in it. The expression Silver bent her head to conceal from the supervisor was a small, fierce frown.

The nutrition assistant, a quaddie girl of perhaps thirteen, handed Leo's lunch tray to him through the serving window without her usual bright smile. When Leo smiled and said "Thank you," the responding upward twitch of her mouth was mechanical, and fell away instantly. Leo wondered in what scrambled form the story of Claire's and Tony's downside disaster of the previous week had reached her ears. Not that the correct facts weren't distressing enough. The whole Habitat seemed plunged into an atmosphere of wary dismay.

Leo felt a flash of horrible weariness of the quaddies and their everlasting troubles. He shied away from a collection of his students eating their lunches near the serving window, though they waved to him with assorted hands, and instead floated down the module until he saw a vacant space to velcro his tray next to somebody with legs. By the time Leo realized the legged person was the supply shuttle captain, Durrance, it was too late to retreat.

But Durrance's greeting grunt was without animosity. Evidently he did not, unlike some others Leo could name, hold the engineer obscurely responsible for his student Tony's spectacular fiasco. Leo hooked his feet into the straps to free his hands to attack his meal, returned the grunt, and sucked hot coffee from his squeeze bulb. There wasn't enough coffee in the universe to dissolve his dilemmas.

Durrance, it appeared, was even in the mood for polite conversation. "You going to be taking your downside leave soon?"

"Soon ..." In about a week, Leo realized with a start. Time was getting away from him, like everything else around here. "What's Rodeo like?"

"Dull." Durrance spooned some sort of vegetable pudding into his mouth.

"Ah." Leo glanced around. "Is Ti with you?"

Durrance snorted. "Not likely. He's downside, on ice. He's appealing." A twisted grimace and raised eyebrows pointed up the double meaning. "Not, you understand, from my point of view. I got a reprimand on my record because of that damn tadpole. If it had been his first screw-up, he might have been able to duck getting fired, but now I don't think he has a chance. Your Van Atta wants his pelt riveted to the airlock doors."

"He's not my Van Atta," Leo denied strenously. "If he was, I'd trade him for a dog—"

"—and shoot the dog," finished Durrance. A grin twitched his mouth. "Van Atta. That's all right. If the rumor I heard is true, he may not have so long to strut either."

"Ah?" Leo's ears pricked hopefully.

"I was talking yesterday to the Jump pilot from the weekly personnel ship from Orient IV—he'd just finished his month's gravity leave there—listen up to this one. He swears the Betan embassy there is demonstrating an artificial gravity device."

"What! How—?"

"Piping it in from wormhole space for all I know. You bet Beta Colony is sitting on the math of it, till they make their initial killing in the marketplace and recoup their R&D costs. It's apparently been kept under wraps by their military for a couple of years already, till they got their head start, damn 'em. GalacTech and everybody else will be on the scramble to catch up. Every other R&D project in the company is going to have to kiss their budget goodbye for a couple of years, you watch."

"My God." Leo glanced up the length of the cafeteria module, crowded with quaddies. My God . . .

Durrance scratched his chin reflectively. "If it's true, do you have any idea what it's going to do to the space transport industry? The Jump pilot claims the Betans got the damned thing there in two months—from Beta Colony!—boosting at fifteen gees and insulating the crew from the acceleration using it. There'll be no limit to acceleration now but fuel costs. It probably won't affect bulk cargos much for that very reason, but the passenger trade'll be revolutionized. The speed news travels, which'll affect the rate of exchange between planetary currencies—military transport, where they don't care what they spend on fuel—and you can bet that'll affect interplanetary politics—it's a whole new game all around."

Durrance finished scraping the last globs of food out of the pockets of his lunch tray. "Damn the colonials. Good old conservative Earth-based GalacTech left in the lurch again. You know, I'm really tempted to emigrate out to the farther end of the wormhole nexus sometimes. The wife's got family on Earth, though, so I don't suppose we ever will . . ." Leo hung stunned in his straps as Durrance droned on. After a moment he swallowed the bite of squash still in his mouth, there being no more practical way to dispose of it. "Do you realize," he choked, "what this will do to the quaddies?"

Durrance blinked. "Not much, surely. There's still going to be plenty of jobs to do in free fall."

"It will destroy their edge in profitability versus ordinary workers, that's what. It was the downside medical leaves that were boosting the personnel costs. Eliminate them, and there's nothing to choose between—can this thing provide artificial gravity on a space station?"

"If they could mount it on a ship, they can put it on a station," opined Durrance. "It's not some kind of perpetual motion, though," he cautioned. "It sucks power like crazy, the Jump pilot said. That'll cost something."

"Not as much—and surely they'll find more design efficiencies as they go along—oh, God."

This chance wasn't going to favor the quaddies. This chance favored no one. Damn, damn, damn the timing! Ten years from now, even one year from now, it could have been their salvation. Here, now, might it be—a death sentence? Leo flipped his feet out of the straps and coiled to launch himself toward the module doors.

"You just leaving this tray here?" asked Durrance. "Can I have your dessert . . . ?"

Leo waved a hand in impatient assent as he sprang away.

One look at Bruce Van Atta's glum and hostile face, as Leo swung into his Habitat office, confirmed Durrance's story. "Have you heard this artificial gravity rumor?" Leo demanded anyway, one last lurch of hope—let Van Atta deny it, name it fraud. . . .

Van Atta glared at him in profound irritation. "How the hell did you find out about it?"

"It's none of your business where I found out about it. Is it true?"

"Oh, yes it is my business. I want to keep this under wraps for as long as possible."

It was true, then. Leo's heart shrank. "Why? How long have you known about it?"

Van Atta's hand flipped the edges of a pile of plastic flimsies, computer printouts and communiques, magnetized to his desk. "Three days."

"It's official, then."

"Oh, quite official." Van Atta's mouth twisted in disgust. "I got the word from GalacTech district headquarters on Orient IV. Apmad apparently met the news on her way home, and made one of her famous field decisions."

He rattled the flimsies again, and frowned. "There's no way around it. Do you know what came in yesterday on the heels of this thing? Kline Station has cancelled its construction contract with GalacTech, the first one we were going to send the quaddies out on. Paid the penalty without a murmur. Kline Station's out toward Beta Colony, they must have found out about this weeks ago—months. They've switched to a Betan contractor who, we may presume, is undercutting us. The Cay Project is cooked. Nothing left to do but wrap it up and get the hell out of here, the sooner the better. Damn! So now I'm associated with a loser project. I'll come out reeking with odor of loss."

"Wrap, wrap how? What do you mean, wrap?" "That bitch Apmad's most favored scenario. I'll bet she was purring when she cut these orders—the quaddies gave her nervous palpitations, y'know. They're to be sterilized and stashed downside. Any pregnancies in progress to be aborted—shit, and we just started fifteen of 'em! What a fiasco. A year of my career down the tubes."

"My God, Bruce, you're not going to carry out those orders, are you?"

"Oh no? Just watch me." Van Atta stared at him, chewing his lip. Leo could feel himself tensing, pale with his suppressed fury. Van Atta sniffed. "What d'you want, Leo? Apmad could have ordered them exterminated. They're getting off lightly. It could have been worse."

"And if it had been—if she had ordered the quaddies killed—would you have carried it out?" inquired Leo, deceptively calm.

"She didn't. C'mon, Leo. I'm not inhuman. Sure, I'm sorry for the little suckers. I was doing my damndest to make 'em profitable. But there's no way I can fight this. All I can do is make the wrap as quick and clean and painless as possible, and cut the losses as much as I can. Maybe somebody in the company hierarchy will appreciate it."

"Painless to whom?"

"To everybody." Van Atta grew more intent, and leaned toward Leo with a scowl. "That means I don't need a lot of panic and wild rumors floating around, you hear? I want business as usual right up to the last minute. You and all the other instructors will go on teaching your classes just as if the quaddies really were going out on a work project, until the downside facility is ready and we can start shuttling 'em. Maybe take the little ones first—the salvageable parts of the

Habitat are supposed to be moved around the orbit to the Transfer Station, we might cut some costs by using quaddies for that last job."

"To imprison them downside—"

"Oh, come off the dramatics. They're being placed in a perfectly ordinary drilling workers' dormitory, only abandoned six months ago when the field ran dry." Van Atta brightened slightly in self-congratulation. "I found it myself, looking over the possible sites to place 'em. It'll cost next to nothing to refurbish it, compared to building new."

Leo could just picture it. He shuddered. "And what happens in fourteen years, when and if Orient IV expropriates Rodeo?"

Van Atta ruffled his hair with both hands in exasperation. "How the hell should I know? At that point, it becomes Orient IV's problem. There's only so much one human being can do, Leo."

Leo smiled slowly, in grim numbness. "I'm not sure . . . what one human being can do. I've never pushed myself to the limit. I thought I had, but I realize now I hadn't. My self-tests were always carefully non-destructive."

This test was a higher order of magnitude altogether. This Tester, perhaps, scorned the merely humanly possible. Leo tried to remember how long it had been since he'd prayed, or even believed. Never, he decided, like this. He'd never needed like this before. . . .

Van Atta frowned at him suspiciously. "You're weird, Leo." He straightened his spine, as if seeking a posture of command. "Just in case you missed my message, let me repeat it loud and clear. You are to mention this artificial gravity business to no one, that means especially no quaddies. Likewise, keep their downside destination secret. I'll let Yei figure out how to make them swallow it without kicking, it's time she earned her overinflated salary. No rumors, no panics, no goddamn workers' riots—and if there are, I'll know just whose hide to nail to the wall. Got it?"

Leo's smile was canine, concealing—everything. "Got it." He withdrew without turning his back, or speaking another word.

Dr. Yei was not usually easy to track down, it being her habit to circulate often among the quaddies, observing behavior, taking notes, making suggestions. But this time Leo found her at once, in her office, with plastic flimsies stuck to every available surface and her desk console lit like a Christmas tree. Did they have Christmas at the Cay Habitat? Leo wondered. Somehow, he thought not.

"Did you hear—"

Her glum slouch answered his question, even as his white face and rapid breathing finished asking it.

"Yes, I've heard," she said wearily, glancing up at him. "Brace just dumped the whole Habitat's personnel evacuation logistics on my desk to organize. He, he tells me, being an engineer, will be doing facility dismantling and equipment salvage flow charts. Just as soon as I get the bodies out of his way. Excuse me, the damned bodies."

Leo shook his head helplessly. "Are you going to do it?"

She shrugged, her lips compressed. "How can I not do it? Quit in high dudgeon? It wouldn't change a thing. This affair would not be rendered one iota less brutal for my walking out, and it could get a lot worse."

"I don't see how," Leo ground out.

"You don't?" she frowned. "No, I don't suppose you do. You never appreciated what a dangerous legal edge the quaddies are balanced on here. But I did. One wrong move and—oh, damn it all. I knew Apmad needed careful handling. Everything got away from me. Although I suppose this artificial gravity thing would have killed the project whoever was in charge, we are very, very lucky that she didn't order the quaddies exterminated. You have to understand, she had something like four or five pregnancies terminated for genetic defects, back on her home world when she was a young woman. It was the law. She eventually gave up, got divorced, took an off-planet job with GalacTech—came up through the ranks. She has a deep emotional vested interest in her prejudices against genetic tampering, and I knew it. And blew it ... She still could order the quaddies killed—do you understand that? Any report of trouble, unrest, magnified by her genetic paranoias, and ..." she squeezed her eyes shut, massaged her forehead with her fingertips.

"She could order it—who says you've got to carry it out? You said you cared about the quaddies. We've got to do something!" said Leo.

"What?" Yei's hands clenched, spread wide. "What, what, what? One or two—even if I could adopt one or two, take them away with me—smuggle them out somehow, who knows?—what then? To live on a planet with me, socially isolated as cripples, freaks, mutants—and sooner or later they would grow to adulthood, and then what? And what about the others? A thousand, Leo!"

"And if Apmad did order them exterminated, what excuse would you find then for doing nothing?"

"Oh, go away," she groaned. "You have no appreciation for the complexities of the situation, none. What do you think one person can do? I used to have a life of my own, once, before this job swallowed it. I've given six years—which is five and three-quarters more than you have—I've given all I can. I'm burned out. When I get away from this hole, I never want to hear of quaddies again. They're not my children. I haven't had time to have children."

She rubbed her eyes angrily, and sniffed, inhaling—tears?—or just bile. Leo didn't know. Leo didn't care.

"They're not anybody's children," Leo growled. "That's the trouble. They're some kind of ... genetic orphans or something."

"If you're not going to say anything useful, please go away," she repeated. A wave of her hand encompassed the mass of flimsies. "I have work to do."

Leo had not struck a female since he was five years old. He removed himself, shaking.

He drifted slowly through the corridors, back toward his own quarters, cooling. And whatever had he hoped to get from Yei anyway? Relief from responsibility? Was he to dump his conscience on her desk, a la Bruce, and say, "Take care of it . . ."

And yet, and yet, and yet. . . there was a solution in here somewhere. He could feel it, a palpable dim shape, like a tightness in the gut, a mounting, screaming frustration. The problem that refused to fall into the right pieces, the elusive solution—he'd solved engineering problems that presented themselves at first as such solid, unscalable walls. He did not know where the leaps beyond logic that ultimately topped them came from, except that it was not a conscious process, however elegantly he might diagram it post facto. He could not solve it and he could not leave it alone, but picked uselessly at it, counterproductive like picking a scab, in a rising compulsive frenzy. The wheels spun, imparting no motion.

"It's in here," he whispered, touching his head. "I can feel it. I just. . . can't. . . see it ..."

They had to get out of Rodeo local space somehow, that much was certain. All the quaddies. There was no future here. It was the damn peculiar legal set-up. What was he to do—hijack a Jump ship? But the personnel Jump ships carried no more than three hundred passengers. He could, just barely, picture himself holding a—a what? what weapon? he had no gun, his pocket knife featured mainly screwdrivers—right, hold a screwdriver to the pilot's head and cry, "Jump us to Orient IV!"—where he would promptly be arrested and jailed for the next twenty years for piracy, leaving the quaddies to do ... what? In any case, he could not possibly hijack three ships at the same time, and that was the minimum number needed.

Leo shook his head. "Chance favors," he muttered, "chance favors, chance favors ..."

Orient IV would not want the quaddies. Nobody was going to want the quaddies. What, indeed, could their future be even if freed from GalacTech? Gypsy orphans, alternately ignored, exploited, or abused, in their dependency on the narrow environment of humanity's chain of space facilities. Talk about technology traps. He pictured Silver—he had little doubt just what sort of exploitation would be her lot, with that elegant face and body of hers. No place for her out there . . .

No! Leo denied silently. The universe was so damned big. There had to be a place. A place of their own, far, far from the trappings and traps of human so-called civilization. The histories of previous Utopian social experiments in isolation were not encouraging, but the quaddies were exceptional in every way.

Between one breath, and the next, the vision took him. It came not as a chain of reason, more words words words, but as a blinding image, all complete in its first moment, inherent, holistic, gestalt, inspired. Every hour of his life from now on would be but the linear exploration of its fullness.

A stellar system with an M or G or K star, gentle, steady, pouring out power for the catching. Circling it, a Jovian gas giant with a methane- and water-ice ring, for water, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen. Most important of all, an asteroid belt.

And some equally important absences; no Earth-like planet orbiting there also to attract competition; not on a wormhole Jump route of strategic importance to any potential conquistadors. Humanity had passed over hundreds of such systems, in its obsessive quest for new Earths. The charts were glutted with them.

A quaddie culture spreading out along the belt from their initial base, a society of the quaddies, by the quaddies, for the quaddies. Burrowing into the rocks for protection against radiation, and to seal in their precious air, expanding, leapfrogging from rock to rock, to drill and build new homes. Minerals all around, more than they could ever use. Whole hydroponics farms for Silver. A new world to build. A space world to make Morita Station look like a toy.

"Why," Leo's eyes widened with delight, "it's an engineering problem after all!"

He hung limply in air, entranced; fortunately, the corridor was empty of passers-by at the moment, or they would surely have thought him mad or drugged.

The solution had been lying around him in pieces all this time, invisible until he'd changed. He grinned dementedly, possessed. He yielded himself up to it without reservation. All. All. There was no limit to what one man might do, if he gave all, and held back nothing.

Didn't hold back, didn't look back—for there would be no going back. Literally, medically, that was the heart of it. Men adapted to free fell, it was the going back that crippled them.

"I am a quaddie," Leo whispered in wonder. He regarded his hands, clenched and spread his fingers. "Just a quaddie with legs." He wasn't going back.

As for that initial base—he was floating in it right now. It merely required relocating. His cascading thought clicked over the connections too rapidly to analyze. He didn't need to hijack a spaceship; he was in one. All it needed was a bit of power.

And the power lay ready-to-hand in Rodeo orbit, being gratuitously wasted even at this moment to shove mere bulk petrochemicals out of orbit. What might a petrochemical pod-bundle mass, compared to a chunk of the Cay Habitat? Leo didn't know, but he knew he could find out. The numbers would be on his side, anyway, whatever their precise magnitudes.

The cargo thrusters could handle the Habitat, if it were properly reconfigured, and anything the thrusters could handle, one of the monster cargo Super-jumpers could manage too. It was all there, all—for the taking.

For the taking . . .