"I know that." "Yet you never acted on it." "Nor did she." They looked at each other. "What do you need me for?" "Need?" They know how to conceal, Lang thought. "You didn't bring me all the way through space from the prize for your amusement. Do you have amusement?" She did not answer. "If you have Alera's memories, then you know all the times she remembers laughing," Lang said, louder and angrier that he intended. "So you can call up that experience. Do you have anything like it?" The Alera thing blinked. "No." "No?" "No. We do not enjoy the absurd. We don't even really acknowledge it. We have no expectation of a rational universe, so benign violations of rationality are no more pleasurable than malign ones. "But we can laugh," it said, and proceeded to toss her head back and repeat without flaw the lilting, earthy chuckle that Alera Zool had. Lang had loved that laugh. This was like watching a horse count with its feet. "You're not really laughing." What if it's something that they're not getting? "We understand the phenomenon better than you do. It was a mystery at first, but the more of you we absorbed, the more we understood the memories, the more it fit into a personality matrix. Understand the stimulus, replicate the response." "Fine," said Lang, "You get laughter. You never answered my question. What do you need me for?" "We don't." "Then why am I here? Why haven't you absorbed me?" The Alera Thing said nothing. Lang looked at his feet for a few moments. There's something I'm not getting, he thought. He tried to figure out why they would hold him like this, why they would take the trouble. They can fly the Vulture anywhere, without him. If they've truly absorbed the memories of his crew, then they know where Earth is. They could fly straight there and... What if it's something that they're not getting? "I should be dead," said Lang. "Or, absorbed, as you put it. I should be a dust-cloud you can summon at will. Back there in the galley. You had me surrounded. Why didn't you pounce?" The Alera Thing maintained her silence. "You can't. You can't absorb me, and you don't know why. So you brought me here to sit in the escape hatch while you decide what story to concoct. You don't need me. You just don't know what to do with me."