“There is an intruder, sir,” Jeeves announced, breaking the silence.
Sigmund Ausfaller sighed. Age had not so much mellowed as exhausted him. The universe was out to get him, and so what? It had been—years?—since he had mustered the energy to care. Maybe it had been years since he had cared that he no longer cared.
Shading his eyes with an upraised hand, Sigmund peered across the desert. The day’s final string of suns was low to the horizon. Here and there, scattered across barren landscape, cacti cast long shadows. A lone bird glided overhead. Beyond the limits of his stone patio, civilization had left no visible mark.
A cluster of cacti reminded him of other columns. Long ago. Far away. Columns of a world-shattering machine. And they had
shattered a world, although by the time it had happened he had been dead. That happened to him far too often. The getting dead part. Peril to entire worlds, too, but—
“You should withdraw to safety, sir,” Jeeves prompted.
Sigmund sighed again, this time at himself. Age made one’s mind wander. So did living by oneself. Not that, with Jeeves around, he was truly alone. To be old and alone—
“Sir,” Jeeves insisted.
Sigmund struggled out of his big mesh hammock to stand. “Describe the intruder.”
“An antigrav flitter. It’s on approach from the east at just within the low-altitude speed limit.”
“Too distant at present. Radar, sir.”
“How long until it arrives?”
“Ten minutes, sir, if the craft maintains its current velocity.”
Sigmund glanced at the dark circle inset in a corner of his patio. The circle was the bottom of a stepping disc. Apart from its active side being obstructed—and so rendered inert—the device was like millions across the world. Flip to light-colored side up and in one pace he could teleport at light speed to any disc of his choosing, almost anywhere on the planet.
But were he to invert the disc, then others, if they had the authority to preempt his privacy settings, could teleport here.
Sigmund valued his privacy, and his stepping disc stayed upside down.
And to be honest, his disc was not exactly like the millions of others. The micro-fusion reactor on this
disc would overload seconds after he stepped out, destroying all record of his destination.
valued his privacy.
Sigmund considered. “They’re not stealthed. They’re approaching from the east, easy to spot, not flying out of the setting suns. They want us to know they’re coming.” Sigmund gestured at his modest home, in which, on the oaken desk he had crafted by hand, his pocket comp sat powered down. “It’s not as though they can call ahead.”
“Very good, sir,” Jeeves said in his gentleman’s gentleman tone of voice: acknowledgment and mild reproach together.
Jeeves was more ancient even than Sigmund. The butler mannerisms that had once been a few lines of code—an affectation or a jape on
”Widescreen galactic scope, nifty super-science, crafty aliens, corporate corruption and cover-ups, and a multileveled spy vs. spy vs. spy mystery...a first-class example of pure SF entertainment.”
—SF Site on Juggler of Worlds
“Exceptional freshness and suspense…full of startling revelations about human and puppeteer politics.”
“A new Known Space book, particularly one with new information about Puppeteers and their doings behind the scenes of human history, needs recommending within the science fiction community about as much as a new Harry Potter novel does, well, anywhere. But Niven and Lerner have produced a novel that can stand on its own as well as part of the Known Space franchise.”