"We had claimed a large island on a world. This was something new to our clan, to settle on an island," Ziramoth continued. "Normally, the chief of a clan would never do so. Yet this was a world of—mostly—islands and the lord saw little choice. It was large enough to support our refugee population for several generations. Moreover, the barrier of the seas around the island should serve as barriers to other clans. So the lord claimed.
"The island was fertile, and had much mineral wealth. The People prospered there. For a while.
"That entire world was gifted with fertility. None of the clans who settled felt the need to eat their nestlings. And the population grew in a way we had rarely experienced.
"Unfortunately, this world was also on the edge of a barren sector of the galaxy. We had nothing but wasted radioactive worlds behind us and we had nothing but the void in front of us. All the clans sent out scouts into the interstellar blackness. None returned soon. None returned in time."
Ziramoth again grew still, though Guanamarioch didn't know whether that was because the memory was so distant—seven orna'adars was a very long time!—or because they were so painful.
The Kenstain began to speak again. "Local scouts were sent out, across those coppery seas. It must have been that other clans had prospered as ours, for none of those scouts came back at all. Certainly other clans scouted out our island, and just as certainly their scouts were destroyed by us.
"And our population still grew. Then we did begin to eat nestlings, but it was too late. The normals had laid their eggs everywhere. No matter what we did to hang on until the scouts we had sent into space returned with the location of a new home, our population still grew. As you know . . ." And the Kenstain's voice tapered off.
"Hungry normals are dangerous normals," the God King finished.
"Dangerous in themselves and dangerous in the trouble they can cause," agreed Ziramoth, nodding his head.
"In this particular case, one philosopher's favorite normal grew too hungry to be controlled. It attacked the herd of another, killed a juvenile normal, and carted it off to feast."
"So what was the problem?" Guanamarioch asked. "Surely the Kessentai that owned the juvenile would have demanded recompense and the one whose normal had done the killing would have complied. That is the law."
"Ah, but that is only half the law," the Kenstain answered wistfully.
An assegai had been thrust into the belly of the nation.
There are not tears enough to mourn for the dead.
—Cetshwayo, King of the Zulus
Remedios, Chiriqui, Republic of Panama
Binastarion's crest expanded, fluttering in the windstream as his tenar cut through the air. That ship! That accursed, odious, stinking, CHEATING ship! I had the thresh in my claws, savoring the anticipation of the squeezing when that damnable threshkreen ship ruined everything, butchering my sons like abat and blasting their mates into unrecyclable waste. It shall pay and so shall all who sail aboard her.
This time, however, I will not risk my landers, my C-Decs and B-Decs. They are too valuable, too difficult for us to replace with my clan in such dire straits. Indeed, without the manufacturies in those ships we will not survive the first push of a rival clan. Instead, we shall swarm the bitch with tenar. I will lose sons, yes, perhaps many of them, along with their tenar. But sons and tenar I can replace, the great ships not so easily.
USS Des Moines
"Skipper, we got's problems," announced Davis.
The Des Moines was still deep within the bay, still firing in support of the Panamanians, still boxed in by the mainland to north, east and west and the island to the south.
Daisy Mae's avatar's eyes moved left and right rapidly as humans' sometimes will when trying to count large numbers or solve complex problems. Her mouth opened slightly in a worried looking moue.
"Captain," she said, "there are more than I can track. Two streams of them, flanking us to the east and the west. They're keeping low, trying to get around us and cut us off. I think it may be time to leave."
McNair hesitated a moment, then picked up the radio microphone. "Daisy, translate. Lieutenant Diaz?" he asked.
"Sir?" Even charged with the radio's static Diaz's voice seemed terribly, terribly tired.
"We're in a spot of trouble here, Lieutenant. How is the breakout coming?"
"Capitano, Colonel Suarez has the bridge over the river to the east. Your ICM cleaned off the aliens pretty well. He's already passing the soft stuff over, trucks, ambulances, things like that."
"To the west?" McNair queried, succinctly.
"Your countrymen in the Armored Combat Suits are handling that, sir. It looks basically okay."
Unseen by the glider pilot, McNair nodded, as if weighing options, duties, values and chances of survival.
"Tell Suarez I have to pull out. The Posleen are trying to box me in here. It's not looking good."
Again the radio crackled with the flying officer's voice, "I will pass that on, sir. We should be fine on the ground. Good luck and my best to your radio operator Miss Daisy. Diaz out."
McNair half turned and shouted to the navigation bridge, "Bring us around. Make for open sea. All possible speed."
Within the armored navigation bridge a crewman turned the ship's wheel hard aport. Beneath the stern the AZIPOD drives followed the command of the wheel. Water churned fiercely to starboard as the Des Moines began a turn so sharp it was almost less than the ship's length along the waterline.
As the bow turned to the break between the western-most tip of the island and the mainland, Chief Davis' eyes grew wide with horror. He pointed toward the island.
"Too late, Skipper," he announced.
* * *
"At them, my children. Punish the foilers of our plans, the blighters of our hopes, the murderers of our brothers."
Binastarion could see only a couple of hundred of his tenar-borne sons as they arose from the covering vegetation and began to converge on the threshkreen warship. In his screen, however, more than one thousand tenar appeared. Lines showing the paths of the tenar all converged in an irregular blotch above the ship. The ship itself he could not see, though bright flashes on the horizon suggested that the ship had seen the threat and was already fighting back.
The Des Moineshad four lines of defense, so to speak, against alien attack. The most visually impressive of these, the three triple turrets of eight-inch guns, were already engaged, spewing forth canister and time-fused high explosive. At the current range the time-fused shells were most effective. Unfortunately, both forward turrets were fully occupied in trying to blast a hole through the southern quadrant of the Posleen net.
The rear turret, on the other hand, was totally inadequate to covering the one hundred and eighty degrees it would have to if the Posleen were to be kept away. Daisy tried, even so, switching the gun madly from one alien cluster to another.
The secondary line of defense was composed of the six upgraded Mark 71 turrets, emplaced in lieu of the old twin five-inch mounts. These were actually the first line of defense if, as the Posleen had before, the enemy used landers to attack. The barbettes and magazines below those turrets carried only anti-lander ammunition, solid bolts of depleted uranium. These could be effective against individual tenar, but their rate of fire was just not adequate to a massed tenar attack; though no one had really imagined any of the formerly three-ship flotilla having to stand alone as the Des Moines was now. Moreover, it was a case of almost absurd overkill to use a two-hundred and sixty pound depleted uranium bolt against a single flying sled carrying a single God King.
The third line of defense, the gun tubs, had been intended for 20mm antiaircraft guns. These had been replaced in design by twin three-inch mounts when it was discovered that a 20mm shell was simply too small to stop a determined kamikaze. The three-inch mounts had, in turn, been recently replaced by fully automated turrets housing five-barreled, 30mm Gatlings, stripped from A-10 aircraft that had become useless, having had no possible chance of survival against automated Posleen air defenses.
The fourth line of defense?
"Jesus," prayed McNair, "I hope it doesn't come to that." He then added, half jokingly, "We don't have a single cutlass aboard."
Daisy, eyes closed now as if concentrating on her targeting, as in fact she was, answered, "Have Sintarleen pass out the submachine guns I traded for. He knows where they are. Indian built Sterlings. They're simple enough that anyone can use one after five minutes' familiarization."
"Submachine guns?" McNair asked incredulously.
Eyes still closed, Daisy asked, "Would you have actually preferred cutlasses? I was watching Master and Commander and got to thinking . . ."
Without another word McNair spoke over the shipwide intercom. "Mr. Sinbad, this is the captain. Pass out the small arms . . . the . . . Sterlings. And all hands, now hear this: I never expected to say this, boys, but . . . all hands stand by to repel boarders."
It was magnificent, Binastarion thought, even while hating the source of that magnificence with every fiber of his being. The ship was wreathed in fire and smoke, fighting furiously to keep the host of the People away.
The God King was puzzled, actually, that the host had not done more damage to the ship than it had. Hundreds of plasma bolts had been fired, along with several dozen hypervelocity missiles. (Those last were pricey and a clan as poor as that of Binastarion could ill afford to waste them.) Some of the HVMs had been intercepted by fire from the ship and destroyed in flight; the ship was putting out a practically solid wall of DU and iron projectiles around itself. Some seemed to have been spoofed by the immaterial holograms the ship projected. Others, though, many others, appeared to have struck home. Yet the firepower of the defenders seemed undiminished.
That sparked a thought. While the ship could spoof HVMs, while it could mimic in safe quadrants the bursts of intense flame that indicated cannon fire, the flame of the actual guns it could not mask.
And those sources cannot be far above the water nor too far from the center of the fire.
Shouting words of encouragement to his sons to press the attack closer Binastarion concentrated carefully on the pattern of flames belching forth from his enemy.
There, he thought, as a steady, measured burst of flames spewed forth from what he thought must be amidships. There is a true source.
The God King marked what he believed to be an actual weapon on his control screen, then tapped it several times to carefully sight his own, superior, HVM at the target. With a whispered prayer that the shit-demons not spoil his aim, he ordered his Artificial Sentience, "Fire."
McNair and the bridge crew were knocked senseless and thrown from their feet by the blast.
"Oh, God!" Daisy screamed, clutching her side and flickering in and out of apparent existence.
Below and behind the battle bridge an enemy missile had struck the nearest secondary turret, cutting through the armor, incinerating the lone gun crewman on station and, unfortunately, setting off the propellant charge for the gun's next round even as it was being fed into the breach. The resultant blast was enough to knock the bridge crew to the deck, to blow the turret clean off the ship and to rip a gaping hole, three feet by seven, in the portside hull above the armor deck.
At the low angle at which the HVM hit, it was unable to do more than score a long gash in the thick steel of the armor deck. Molten steel blasted off from that armor was sufficient, however, to wound or kill better than thirty crewman standing by for damage control on the port side of Des Moines' splinter deck. The screams of those who still lived, hideously mangled and burned, echoed through the ship.
Continuing on, the HVM cut through five bulkheads and a passageway before erupting into the lightly armored magazine that fed one of the 30mm Gatling turrets. The heat of its passage was sufficient to set off the 30mm ammunition in its entirety, blowing that turret, too, completely off the ship and hopelessly jamming the one next to it. The explosion of the ammunition, confined to a degree by the ship's deck and hull, fed inward through the gap torn by the HVM itself.
A dozen of Sintarleen's Indowy crewman, standing by to participate in damage control, were half crushed and badly surface burned by the explosion leaking in through that gap. Their screams added to those of the humans caught in the path of the enemy missile.
Father Dan Dwyer was first on the scene of the port side misery. His first thought was to go to the aid of the wounded. Yet the priest was an old seaman. That was important, to be sure. But more important was to let the captain know how his ship fared. The priest picked up the intercom and rang the bridge.
It seemed a long moment before anyone answered. When the captain came on he seemed stunned, groggy.
Dwyer had to shout to make himself heard over the shrieking of torn and burned crewmen. "Jeff, this is Dan. We're bad hit but not fatally. Number fifty-three secondary turret is out."
The priest looked upward at the smoky sky through the gaping hole defined by twisted and tortured metal. "I mean really out. She's gone and you've got a hole in your defenses. At least one."
"Fuck . . . the . . . hole," McNair answered, groggily. "Daisy's a . . . brave girl . . . she . . . can be . . . repaired. What about . . . my crew?"
The corpsmen had arrived on scene while Dwyer spoke with the bridge. They went from body to body, looking for live crew who had a chance of survival. More often than not a medico would make a quick examination and shake his head in resignation. Morphine was being liberally dispensed. In the dosages used it was a sure sign, the Jesuit knew, that the crewman so graced was not expected to survive. Slowly, the shrieks, moans and screams softened as one hopelessly butchered and charred sailor after another was put under.
Dwyer's eyes came to rest on a charred, disembodied leg. He fought down nausea. "It's bad, Skipper, as bad as I've ever seen. Thirty men down, at least. Might be forty. Hard to tell; some of them are in pieces. They're . . . well, they're just ripped apart . . . and flash burned. And that's only on the port side. I'm heading to starboard to check there."
Binastarion wasn't sure his HVM had struck home until he saw the odd shaped, multifaceted piece of metal flying high above the deceptive holograms projected by his enemy. Momentarily the holograms flickered out and he saw the ship's true shape, long and lean and predatory, through the smoke.
How strange, the God King thought, the one thing I have seen on this shitball of a world the aesthetics of which don't make me want to wretch. My enemy is even, in its way, the more beautiful for being so deadly.
"Forward, my sons," the God King chieftain exulted into his communicator. "Forward to victory and glory everlasting."
The great ship shuddered with the repeated hits of Posleen HVMs now. Overhead the thick armored deck rang as two- to four-inch-deep gouges were torn out of it. Even through the stout metal, the priest was certain he heard at least two more secondary explosions. Those had to be nothing less than eight-inch or 30mm batteries going up in smoke and flame.
Dimly, the priest sensed the captain desperately ordering that canister and high explosive be brought to the secondary turrets. He hurried the performance of last rites for the fallen, human and Indowy, both. After all, God will know his own.
Dwyer became aware of Sintarleen standing off to one side. The Indowy's expression was unreadable in any detail to a human not specially trained in the alien culture. Dwyer looked for a sign of disapproval, even so, and found none on the alien's furry, batlike face.
Sintarleen looked back and shrugged, a bit of body language picked up from the human crew.
"Though we have no such thing as religion, as you would think of it, it couldn't hurt, Father."
Sinbad continued, "These were a third, or nearly a third, of all that remained of my clan, Father. Of those great and industrious multitudes now only sixteen males remain on this planet, and another one hundred or so transfer neuters and females held in bondage somewhere by the Elves. We had hoped to buy our sisters and brothers out of that bondage, but now . . ."
The Indowy bowed its head so deeply its chin rested on its great chest. Sintarleen could not weep, was not built to shed tears, yet his body shook with the overwhelming emotions of seeing so large a percentage of his few remaining kinsmen slaughtered.
Dwyer did not know what to say. Instead of words, therefore, he enfolded the quivering Indowy in a great bear hug, patting the creature's back to give what comfort it might be worth. As he did so, Dwyer couldn't help but notice that, despite its small stature, the alien's body was one big chord of knotted muscle. He had the glimmerings of an idea.
We need to get antipersonnel munitions to the secondary turrets. But the shells are too heavy for one man to carry and a stretcher carried by two has the devil's own time of it squeezing through the watertight doors. But . . .
Dwyer stepped back and looked at the alien intently. "Sintarleen, how much weight can you people carry easily?"
The Indowy frowned, puzzled.
"How much weight can you pick up?" the priest demanded urgently.
The Indowy, temporarily distracted from his grief, shrugged and answered, "Maybe five or six hundred of your pounds. A bit more for some of us. Why?"
"Assemble your people, my furry friend. Go to the magazines under the great triple turrets. Get from them rounds of canister, two for each of you. Carry them to the barbettes for the secondary turrets, the singles.
"Maybe you cannot fight, boyo, but—praise the Lord!—you can pass the ammunition!"
Each effective hit of a Posleen HVM or plasma bolt was like a hot knife plunging into Daisy's vitals. She had grown almost used to the agony, enough so that her avatar barely showed it. Only the occasional wince, and the almost continuous rocking, indicated that the ship knew pain that would have killed a human.
The avatar's eyes opened up and it seemed to look directly at McNair.
"I have anti-flyer munitions for the four remaining secondaries now," she said, loudly to make herself heard over McNair's concussion-induced, and hopefully temporary, partial deafness. "A few anyway. More coming."
Even as the avatar made this announcement, the Des Moines shuddered under what felt to McNair to be at least three separate impacts amidships.
The captain shook his head for what seemed like the fiftieth time. He was still seeing double from the concussion of the first effective HVM strike. Despite this it was easy to see the smoke pouring upward from Daisy's sundered deck and bulkheads.
McNair forced himself to think. Holograms or not, the enemy can see we are hurt. They'll press in. Nothing to do about it. Or . . .
"Daisy, you can't hide us anymore, can you?"
The avatar started to shake its head, then realized that with the captain so badly concussed he might not make that out.
"I'm afraid not, sir. The smoke is rising too high, and I have lost some abilities to project false images as well."
So hard to think. Yet he had to. If we can't look healthy, maybe we can . . .
"Daisy, at the next hit . . . or the one after if it takes you longer to prepare . . . I want you to drop all the cover . . . make us look . . . worse off . . . helpless. Dead guns . . . ruined turrets. Fire . . . smoke. And cease fire until . . ."
"Until the bastards mass to close in for the kill," the avatar finished.
"And then you'll have to pick your own targets, Daisy," he said. "I can't see to direct you. But you have authorization to fire."
Another hit rang throughout the ship.
The price was appalling. Still, Binastarion was certain, it would be worth it if only the damned threshkreen vessel might be sunk.
Smoke was pouring out of the ship now as if from a chain of close set volcanoes, or some single rift in a planet's skin. Even her main batteries went out of action. As the God King watched a last group of explosive shells detonated in the air, close together, sending a storm of hot jagged metal forward in a series of cones. The agonized cries of his children, faithfully amplified by his AS, shook the Posleen chieftain.
He checked the battle screen on his tenar. There was hardly anything left in front of the enemy ship to bar its path. The ranks had been badly thinned behind it as well, so much so that he doubted the courage of his pursuing sons. Only on the flanks was the People's attack holding up and making gains. The volcanolike smoke pouring from the gaping holes in the deck and hull told as much.
The defensive fire on the flanks had been mostly to thank for that. Binastarion was not sure why, but guessed that the secondary weapons carried none of the simple, scatterable or explosive munitions that emptied tenar right and left to the ship's fore and aft.
"Press in, my children, press in! The foe is weak at the center. Close in and pinch it in two with our claws!"
Slipping and sliding on the crimson blood seeping along the smoky corridors' decks, the grunting, straining Indowy switched anti-tenar ammunition from the main batteries' magazines to the secondaries' as fast as they could fight past the wounded, dead and dying crewmen and those carrying them to sickbay.
Sintarleen hurried from barbette to barbette, directing his kinsmen to where the ammunition was most needed. While the ammunition bearers were too busy and far too strained to give much thought to the purpose or morality of their task, Sinbad had just enough freedom of thought to question his basic philosophy.
We are a peaceful folk. We may not use violence. These are our teachings from earliest age. It is only these teachings that have enabled my people to survive, as so many other species have not, the transition from barbarism to true technology and civilization.
Yet my people even now carry the means of violence to those still capable of it. We make the weapons they use.
What is it that keeps us pure? Distance? The humans of this ship fight at a distance and rarely see the violence they do. How am I or my people here more pure than they? Merely because we will not see the violence? That is absurd.
Must it always be so? Must it always be our best and finest who fall? Curse the demons who have condemned us to this, curse them more even than that threshkreen ship which is, after all, only trying to survive as we try to survive.
Binastarion's heart was heavy within his chest. Momentarily his head hung with grief. So many fine sons lost. So many brave and noble philosophers, bright beings with full lives ahead of them, cut down and sunk even beyond recovery to feed the host.
But doubts in voice or action fed no one. The God King lifted his head, steeled his heart and his voice. A group of tenar sped by to his right, led by a favored son, Riinistarka. Binastarion raised his hand in salute to the young God King, shouting encouragement over the din of battle. The clan leader's communicator picked up the hearty shout and passed it on to the junior's.
"We'll take them, Father. Never fear," the young philosopher sent back, returning his sire's salute. "Forward, my brothers. Forward that our clan might live."
Demons of fire and ice, spare me my son, the father prayed.
"Firing," Daisy answered coldly. She had come to this fight full of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm was gone, replaced by only cold determination. Now she had felt the fire in her own belly; felt the pain of burning penetration and dismemberment. The avatar had to answer coldly, for every emotion of which she was capable was suppressed to keep the agony at bay.
With two secondary turrets down, and given the specific turrets, Daisy had a choice of adding two to the defense of each side, or three to engage on one side and one on the other. She opted for the latter and six turrets, three of them triples, with a total of eleven guns still working, swiveled to engage on the side from which the nearest Posleen threat came.
Riinistarka was young. His father might have said, "young and foolish." However that might have been, he was young enough to feel the joy and exhilaration of closing on a worthy foe in company with his brothers. If this was foolishness, so be it. Besides, if he were truly foolish he would not have felt the fear that gnawed at his insides, threatening to break through the joy and exhilaration. He had not known true fear since his dangerous time in the pens as a helpless, cannibalistic nestling. The memory of that made him shudder as present fear could not.
And how can it be foolish, anyway, to fight for my clan to regain its position, he thought, to fight for my clan to survive?
Ahead of Riinistarka the threshkreen warship seemed broken and helpless with jagged-edged metal showing where the smoke and flames did not cover. The covering giant demon that the God King had seen from a distance was gone now. He knew, intellectually, that it was not a real demon, of course. Though the practical difference between a real demon and that ship seemed minimal, at best. He was sure, in his innermost being, that the representation had come from whatever intelligence quickened the ship.
Perhaps a lucky hit had destroyed whatever intellect that was, for suddenly, the false cover had fallen away, leaving only the image of a wreck such as the people only saw as the residue of battles in space. That the enemy guns had fallen silent at exactly the same time as the holographic cover had disappeared seemed to confirm this.
Despite the obvious ruination visited upon the threshkreen ship, however, it was still steaming away rapidly through the hole it had previously blasted in the People's enveloping net. Riinistarka strongly suspected that unless it were utterly destroyed it would be back. The People, themselves, were quite capable of restoring a wrecked space ship. He had seen nothing to date to suggest that these human vermin were any less clever.
Indeed, Riinistarka had already lost enough dear brothers to make him suspect that these threshkreen were quite possibly more clever. All the more reason they must be destroyed then, while they were still weak and relatively backward, lest the people later perish before a more dangerous enemy.
Dangerous? Riinistarka felt a sudden twinge of fear rise to the surface despite his best efforts to suppress it. There is the tale my father told, of Stinghal the Knower, and the siege of Joolon; how he breached his own walls and set fire to his citadel . . .
Suddenly, three quarters of the smoke and flame surrounding the threshkreen ship disappeared and Riinistarka found himself staring into the muzzles of eleven eight-inch guns.
More flame bloomed, eleven fiery blossoms of an altogether different character from that which had seemed to cover the ship. This was followed a split second later by the appearance of eleven smaller blooms. And then came agony.
The first of the humans' heavy iron balls struck the control panel of the tenar of Riinistarka. The panel stopped the ball, yet splinters torn from it pierced the young God King's body and shredded one eye. The next, so soon after the first that the Posleen could not sense the time differential, tore off one shoulder, lifting the alien onto his rear legs. The third, following the second at the tiniest interval, entered his uplifted belly, tearing apart his internal organs and crushing his spine half a meter forward of his rear legs.
None were merciful enough to kill outright.
Riinistarka barely managed to hold onto his tenar. With his controls destroyed and his spine crushed, he could not hope to do more than stay aboard as the tenar spun slowly in place a few meters above the sea.
With difficulty, the God King turned his remaining good eye onto his ruined shoulder. Splintered bone protruded between shreds of flesh. Yellow blood seeped out. Feeling sick, the young alien looked away.
In looking away from his shoulder Riinistarka's eye fell on his belly. The threshkreen projectile had caused the skin of that to split, spilling organs out. He did not want to imagine what it had done to his insides. He forced himself not to think about what it had done to his insides.
At first, the wounds had not hurt, exactly. But after a few minutes, as the initial shock of being hit wore off, the pain grew. The God King whimpered at first. Then, slowly, the pain transformed into agony, the whimpers turned to screams.
"We're through, Captain," Daisy's avatar announced with what seemed like weariness. "Some of the enemy are pursuing, but the rear turret, and the three of the remaining four secondaries that I can bring to bear should be enough to keep them at bay."
McNair, who didn't just seem weary, nodded weakly.
"Casualties? Damage?" he asked.
"Incomplete reports, Captain. Bad, in any case. I am cut off from some areas."
"You going to be okay, Babes?"
Daisy's avatar nodded through her pain. "I'll be fine, Captain."
The pain had reached its peak and then begun to ebb even as Riinistarka's life ebbed out with the flow of his yellow blood. He had only the one dull yellow eye left to contemplate the departure of the enemy, his final enemy, he knew.
So far gone was he that he did not even notice as his father's tenar pulled up next to his. The airborne sled shuddered as Binastarion crossed deftly from his own tenar to his son's. A great cry of woe and pain came from the father as he saw his son's wounds. The father folded his legs to kneel beside the dying son. He reached out one hand to scratch the youngster behind his crest.
"Father?" Riinistarka asked weakly at the familiar touch.
"Yes, Son, it's me."
"I'm sorry, Father. We failed . . . I failed."
Binastarion shook his head. "Nonsense, boy. You did all you could. No one could ask for more. I'm proud of you."
The father followed his son's gaze to where the hated threshkreen ship was escaping from his clutches. At least we hurt it badly. Though I am sure it will be back.
"You and your brothers damaged the thresh, and badly. It might well sink," he lied. "Certainly it is at least half destroyed. In any case, it won't be back to hurt us any time soon."