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Authors: Larry Niven,Jerry Pournelle

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The Gripping Hand

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The Gripping Hand
by
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Table of Contents

 

THE GRIPPING HAND
Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle

Copyright © 1993 by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address
Pocket Books,
1230 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020
Niven, Larry.
The gripping hand / by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
p. cm.
ISBN: 0-671-79573-2 :
I. Pournelle, Jerry, 1933- . II. Title.
PS3564.I9G74 1993
813'.54—dc20 92-37539
CIP
First Pocket Books hardcover printing February 1993 10

 
For Marilyn and Roberta, those most patient of ladies

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

 

 

The Mote in God's Eye*
Legacy of Heorot*
(w/ Stephen Barnes)
Oath of Fealty*
Inferno*
Lucifer's Hammer
Fallen Angels
(w/ Michael Flynn)
Footfall

 

 

Jerry Pournelle

 

 

A Step Farther Out
Janissaries
The Strategy of Technology
(w/ Stefan Possony)
Falkenberg's Legion
Go Tell the Spartans
(w/ S. Stirling)
Prince of Mercenaries
Pournelle's Communication Bible

 

 

Larry Niven

 

 

Ringworld
Integral Trees
N-Space
Dream Park
(w/ Stephen Barnes)
Playgrounds of the Mind

 

 
Dramatis Personae
Sinbad:

HIS EXCELLENCY HORACE HUSSEIN BURY
, Imperial Trader and Magnate; Chairman of the Board, Imperial Autonetics, Ltd. and owner of the yacht
Sinbad

 

SIR KEVIN RENNER, KCMG
, Captain, Imperial Space Navy Reserve; pilot of
Sinbad

 

NABIL AHMED KHADURRI
, Valet and Personal Secretary to Bury

 

CYNTHIA ANWAR
, Companion to Bury

 

REUBEN FOX
, Captain of Imperial Autonetics ship
Nauvoo Vision

 

SIR LAWRENCE JACKSON
, Governor of Maxroy's Purchase

 

RUTH RACHAEL COHEN
, Lieutenant. Commander, Imperial Space Navy Intelligence

 

AJAX BOYNTON

 

JAMES SCOTT
Snow Ghost Hunters, Maxroy's Purchase

 

DARWIN SCOTT

 

RODERICK HAROLD, LORD BLAINE, DSC, GCMG
, Earl of Acrux, Capt. ISN (Ret.), former master of Imperial battle cruiser
MacArthur

 

SANDRA (SALLY) LIDDELL LEONOVNA FOWLER, LADY BLAINE
, one-time doctoral candidate in anthropology, wife of Lord Blaine

 

THE HONORABLE GLENDA RUTH FOWLER BLAINE
, Rod and Sally Blaine's daughter

 

BRUNO CZILLER
, Vice Admiral, ISN (Ret.), former master of INSS
MacArthur

 

DR. JACOB BUCKMAN
, Astrophysicist

 

HIS EXCELLENCY BENJAMIN SERGEI SACHS
, President of Imperial Traders Association, and Chairman of Union Express

 

BARON SIR ANDREW CALVIN MERCER
, newly appointed Viceroy and Governor General of His Majesty's Realms Beyond the Coal Sack

 

ARKLEY KELLEY
, Former Gunner, Imperial Marines, and Blaine family retainer

 

JENNIFER BANDA
, Graduate Student in Xenobiology, Blaine Institute

 

JOCK
Motie ambassadors to the Empire, representing the Mote

 

CHARLIE
Prime family headed by "King Peter"

 

IVAN

 

CAPTAIN RAPHAEL CUNNINGHAM
, ISN Intelligence case officer

 

ALYSIA JOYCE MEI-LING TRUJILLO
, feature columnist Imperial Post-Tribune Syndicate, Special Features reporter, Hochsweiler Broadcasting Network

 

THE HONORABLE KEVIN CHRISTIAN BLAINE
, Lieutenant. ISN
COMMISSIONER JOHN CARGILL
, Admiral, ISN (Ret.)

 

COMMISSIONER DAVID HARDY
, Bishop of the Established Church, and former Chaplain-Captain, Imperial Space Navy Reserve

 

LT. COMMANDER WILLIAM HIRAM RAWLINS, ISN
, master of the frigate
Atropos

 

COMMANDER GREGORY BALASINGHAM, ISN
, master of the cruiser
Agamemnon

 

THE HONORABLE FREDERICK TOWNSEND, owner and master of the yacht
Hecate

 

TERRY KAKUMI
, former Chief Petty Officer, ISN, engineer aboard
Hecate

 

ADMIRAL THE HONORABLE SIR HARRY WEIGLE
, Commander of the Crazy Eddie Fleet

 
The Moties:

Medina Traders Group:

 

EUDOXUS
, Mediator

 

MUSTAPHA PASHA
, Master of Inner Base Six

 

CALIPH ALMOHAD
, Master of Medina Trading

 

 

 

Last India Group:

 

LORD CORNWALLIS
, Associate Master of Inner Base Six

 

WORDSWORTH
, Junior Mediator

 

OMAR
, Senior Mediator

 

ALI BABA
, Apprentice Mediator

 

 

 

Crimean Tartars Group:

 

MERLIN
, young Master

 

OZMA
, senior Master

 

VICTORIA
, Mediator

 

DOCTOR DOOLITTLE
, Physician

 

POLLY ANNA
, Apprentice Mediator

 

 

 

Khanate Group:

 

HARLEQUIN
, Mediator

 
PART 1
SNOW GHOST

I would not spend another such a night Though 'twere to buy a world of happy days, So full of dismal terror was the time!

 

—William Shakespeare,
King Richard III

 
1: Interaction Nook

O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

 

— William Shakespeare,
Hamlet
, Act 2, Scene 2

 

 

 

 

A severed head spun across black sky. He had been a Marine: square jaw, close-cropped blond hair, glittering dead eyes. The slack mouth tried to speak. "Tell them," it said. "Stop them." Vacuum made its skin puffy, and blood made frozen bubbles on the thick neck. "Wake them. Wake them up. Mr. Bury, sir, wake up," it said urgently. The sky swarmed with small six-limbed shapes. They thrashed in the vacuum, found their balance, and swam toward him, past him, toward the battleship
Lenin
. Vacuum swallowed his scream. "Wake up," they chittered at him. "Please, Excellency, you must wake up."

 

 

His Excellency, Horace Hussein Al-Shamlan Bury, Trader and Magnate, jerked and twitched and was sitting upright. He shook his head and forced his eyes open.

 

 

The small, dark man was standing a safe distance away. Bury said, "Nabil. What time is it?"

 

 

"It's two in the morning, Excellency. Mr. Renner insisted. He said to tell you, 'The gripping hand.' "

 

 

Bury blinked. "Is he drunk?"

 

 

"Very. I woke Cynthia. She's making espresso for him. I made him take vitamins and drink some water. He was attacked outside the house. We killed all three, Excellency."

 

 

"Careless." So: three corpses. At least Renner had some excuse for waking him.

 

 

"Mr. Renner was drunk and I was asleep when the alarms rang," Nabil apologized. "Sir, they were using firearms."

 

 

"All right.
The gripping hand?
Renner's been watching too many holoflicks."

 

 

"Yes, sir. Excellency, I should be seeing to things."

 

 

"Yes, the bodies. We'll want to know all about those. The gripping hand?" Bury eased out of the water bed. His head spun with the motion, and all his joints creaked in protest. "I'll be right down. Have coffee for me, real coffee. Allah help you both if you woke me for nothing but a mugging."

 

 

 

 

 

Renner's fine new Spartan tunic was covered with blood, still wet. He had trouble focusing his eyes. He was already talking as Bury took Turkish coffee from Cynthia and sat down.

 

 

"They were waiting outside," he said. "I sent the taxi off and started for the door. Two stepped out of God knows where. One grabbed my arms from behind. One sprayed Peaceable Sam in my face. I think that's what it was; I didn't try to sniff it. Held my breath. Bit the alarm tooth and ejected my sleeve gun and sprayed him back. He fell against me. Sounded like popcorn going off all through his body. That's where all the blood came from. The guy behind me, I sprayed his feet."

 

 

Nabil was at a console, monitoring as one of Bury's agents began an autopsy on the first of the dead muggers. He looked up to say, "Mr. Renner had called in that he was coming, so the staff was waiting for him, of course. When we heard the alarm they were ready."

 

 

"Ready," Renner said. "Nabil, I haven't thanked you. Horace, he deserves a bonus, Horace."

 

 

Bury sipped at sweet Turkish coffee in a tiny cup. Renner gulped at what Nabil had given him: evil black espresso, service for four in a full-sized mug with a lemon slice floating it in. It popped his eyes open and stood his hair on end.

 

 

Bury winced, too, just watching. He said, "The gripping hand?"

 

 

"The
gripping
hand.
One
hand, other hand,
gripping
hand. I've been hearing it all night. I didn't haul you out of bed to tell you about a god damned mugging."

 

 

He could follow Bury's thoughts.
Drunk
.
Not making sense
. Then the sense came through and the blood drained from Bury's dark face. Renner said, "Hey!" and reached out to steady him.

 

 

Bury brushed the hand off. "Report."

 

 

Renner sat a little straighter. "I went out to look around, as usual. Dressed fancy. Well-paid pilot to a billionaire trader, carrying money and looking for fun. First—"

 

 

"You were doing Renner."

 

 

"It's the easy part of my job. Usually."

 

 

"Go on."

 

 

His lips felt numb and rubbery. Somehow he made them work. "On Maxroy's Purchase a brothel is called an 'interaction nook.' I'd heard about Ressina's. I went there. I didn't want their best girl; I wanted a native. I came away with a lady named Belinda. . . ."

 

 
* * *

Space is vast. Customs change, and every human colony is different. Some slavishly imitate the manners of the Imperial court. Others try to be like their Terran ancestors—or more likely, the way they've been told their Terran ancestors were.

 

 

The sun was setting somewhere behind the fog when they reached Shibano's Sea Cave. Maxroy people kept early hours.

 

 

Belinda was a pale blonde, tall, with a heart-shaped face. She had a thick Maxroy's Purchase accent. "Oh, it's lovely! I've never been here myself. You understand, you won't get a drink here?"

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