I've been around, Graves. We don't want you to die, at least not until we get in production here. None of your hatchetmen could ever learn it. Remember that, my friend. I know how to run things like this and I've got the manpower and equipment to do it. If I come in I'm running it, not you. Take it or leave it. The fat man pondered for minutes, then decided. You're in, Doc. You can have a cave--two hundred seventeen is empty--and we'll go up and get things started right now.
Less than a year later, the same two men sat in Graves' office. They waited while a red light upon a peculiarly complicated deskboard faded through pink into pure white. This way, Doc. In the elevator thus revealed the two men went down to a sub-basement. Along a dimly-lit corridor, through an elaborately locked steel door, and into a steel-lined room.
Four inert bodies lay upon the floor. Graves thrust a key into an orifice and a plate swung open, revealing a chute into which the bodies were dumped. The two retraced their steps to the manager's office. Our records are fixed. Everything's on the green. Are you? Our accident rate is up three hundredths; industrial hazard rate and employee turnover about three and a half; and the Narcotics Division alone knows how much we have upped total bootleg sales.
Those figures are all in the Patrol's books. How can you give such facts the brush-off? Our distribution is so uniform throughout the galaxy that they can't center it. They can't possibly trace anything back to us. Besides, with our lily-white reputation, other firms would get knocked off in time to give us plenty of warning. Lutzenschiffer's, for instance, is putting out Heroin by the ton. What you don't seem to get, Graves, is that some of those damned Lensmen have brains.
Suppose they decide to put a couple of Lensmen onto this job--then what? The minute anybody runs a rigid statistical analysis on us, we're done for. What would you do? That's the only way we can be really safe. The way they're pushing us for production? Don't be an idiot--the chief would toss us both down the chute. Talk him into it.
It'd be best for everybody, over the long pull, believe me. He'd blow his stack. If we can't dope out something better than that, we go on as is. There's only one on the planet, and it's It isn't simple, but we of the College of Radiation know how--theoretically--the transformation can be made to occur. It has never been done because it has been impossible to extinguish the things; but now Neal Cloud is putting them out. The fact that the idea is new makes it all the better.
Then, later, we can dispose of undesirables as they appear. Vortices are absolutely unpredictable, you know. People can die of radiation or of any one of a mixture of various toxic gases and the vortex will take the blame. Cloud has enough Class-A-double-prime-urgent demands on file already to keep him busy from now on, so we won't be able to get him for a long, long time.
Nice, Doc But I'll have the boys keep an eye on Cloud just the same.
See a Problem?
At about this same time two minor cogs of TPI's vast machine sat blissfully, arms around each other, on a rustic seat improvised from rocks, branches, and leaves. Below them, almost under their feet, was a den of highly venemous snakes, but neither man or girl saw them. Before them, also unperceived, was a magnificent view of valley and stream and mountain. All they saw, however, was each other--until their attention was wrenched to a man who was climbing toward them with the aid of a thick club which he used as a staff.
Ryder, left arm tightening around the girl's waist, felt with his right hand for a club of his own and tensed his muscles, for the climbing man was completely mad. His breathing was Mouth tight-clamped, despite his terrific exertion, he was sniffing --sniffing loathsomely, lustfully, each whistling inhalation filling his lungs to bursting. He exhaled explosively, as though begrudging the second of time required to empty himself of air.
Wide-open eyes glaring fixedly ahead he blundered upward, paying no attention whatever to his path. He tore through clumps of thorny growth; he stumbled and fell over logs and stones; he caromed away from boulders; as careless of the needles which tore clothing and skin as of the rocks which bruised his flesh to the bone. He struck a great tree and bounced; felt his frenzied way around the obstacle and back into his original line.
He struck the gate of the pen immediately beneath the two appalled watchers and stopped. He moved to the right and paused, whimpering in anxious agony.
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Back to the gate and over to the left, where he stopped and howled. Whatever the frightful compulsion was, whatever he sought, he could not deviate enough from his line to go around the pen. He looked, then, and for the first time saw the gate and the fence and the ophidian inhabitants of the den. They did not matter. Nothing mattered.
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He fumbled at the lock, then furiously attacked it and the gate and the fence with his club--fruitlessly. He tried to climb the fence, but failed. He tore off his shoes and socks and, by dint of jamming toes and fingers ruthlessly into the meshes, he began to climb. No more than he had minded the thorns and the rocks did he mind the eight strands of viciously-barbed wire surmounting that fence; he did not wince as the inch-long steel fangs bit into arms and legs and body.
He did, however, watch the snakes. He took pains to drop into an area temporarily clear of them, and he pounded to death the half-dozen serpents bold enough to bar his path. Then, dropping to the ground, he writhed and scuttled about; sniffing ever harder; nose plowing the ground.
He halted; dug his bleeding fingers into the hard soil; thrust his nose into the hole; inhaled tremendously. His body writhed, trembled, shuddered uncontrollably, then stiffened convulsively into a supremely ecstatic rigidity utterly horrible to see. The terribly labored breathing ceased. The body collapsed bonelessly, even before the snakes crawled up and struck and struck and struck.
Jacqueline Comstock saw very little of the outrageous performance. She screamed once, shut both eyes, and, twisting about within the man's encircling arm, burrowed her face into his left shoulder. Ryder, however--white-faced, set-jawed, sweating--watched the thing to its ghastly end. When it was over he licked his lips and swallowed twice before he could speak. We ought to turn in an alarm I'll simply turn inside out! Keep your eyes shut. I'll pilot you and tell you when we're out of sight. More than half carrying his companion, Ryder set off down the rocky trail. Out of sight of what had happened, the girl opened her eyes and they continued their descent in a more usual, more decorous fashion until they met a man hurrying upward.
There was a Stay exactly where you are! Fairchild returned after a time, unhurried and completely at ease. He did not ask the shaken couple if they had seen what had happened. He knew. Then, in an ordinary conversational tone, he went on: "Until we have investigated this extraordinary occurrence thoroughly--sifted it to the bottom--the possibility of sabotage and spying cannot be disregarded.
As the only eye-witnesses, your reports will be exceedingly valuable; but you must not say a word until we are in a place which I know is proof against any and all spy-rays. Do you understand? Act unconcerned, casual; particularly when we get to the Administration Building. Talk about the weather--or, better yet, about the honeymoon you are going to take on Chickladoria.
Thus there was nothing visibly unusual about the group of three which strolled into the building and into Graves' private office. The fat man raised an eyebrow. This statement, so true and yet so misleading, resolved the young couple's inchoate doubts. Entirely unsuspectingly, they followed the Senior Radiationist into the elevator and, after it had stopped, along, a corridor.
They paused as he unlocked and opened a door; they stepped unquestioningly into the room at his gesture. He did not, however, follow them in. Instead, the heavy metal slab slammed shut, cutting off Jackie's piercing shriek of fear. Jackie didn't see anything--she had her eyes shut all the time--and doesn't know anything. You don't want to have the murder of such a girl as she is on your mind, I know. Let her go and she'll never say a word--we'll both swear to it--or you could Just because she's got a face and a shape?
She's not that much of a I was just suggesting to Graves that he could get a therapist He could as yet perceive only a fraction of the tremendous truth. Shock upon shock had been too much for the girl's overstrained nerves. She fainted quietly and Ryder eased her down to the cold steel floor. But keep still.
If you want to know what's going on, you can listen, but one more word out of you and I cut the circuit. Go ahead, Doc, with what you were going to say. Very small, but a little of the finest smoke seeped through. Barney must have been a sniffer before to be able to smell the trace of the stuff that was drifting down the hill. I'm having the whole cave tested with a leak-detector and sealed bottle-tight. The record can stand it that Barney--he was a snake-tender, you know--died of snake-bite. That's almost the truth, too, by the way. We've got to hold the risk at absolute minimum.
They've got to be found dead, and our books are full. We'll have to keep them alive--where they are now is as good a place as any--for a week. Dead tissues change too much. You weren't courting investigation then; now we are. We've got to keep our noses clean. How about this? They couldn't wait any longer and got married today. You, big-hearted philanthropist that you are, told them they could take their two weeks vacation now for a honeymoon--you'd square it with their department heads.
They come back in about ten days, to get settled; go up the valley to see the vortex; and out. Anything in that set-up we can't fake a cover for? We'll let 'em enjoy life for ten days, right where they are now. Hear that, Ryder? It is not necessary to go into the details of the imprisonment. Doggedly and skillfully though he tried, Ryder could open up no avenue of escape or of communication; and Jacqueline, facing the inevitability of death, steadied down to meet it.
She was a woman. In minor crises she had shrieked and had hidden her face and had fainted: but in this ultimate one she drew from the depths of her woman's soul not only the power to overcome her own weakness, but also an extra something with which to sustain and fortify her man. We're still working on that angle, though. You're looking fit. He was.
The Vortex Blaster
He carried no scars--the Phillips treatment had taken care of that. His face looked young and keen; his hard-schooled, resilient body was in surprisingly fine condition for that of a man crowding forty so nearly. He no longer wore his psychic trauma visibly; it no longer obtruded itself between him and those with whom he worked; but in his own mind he was sure that it still was, and always would be, there. But the Lensman, studying him narrowly--and, if the truth must be known, using his Lens as well--was not sure, and was well content.
I could whip a wildcat, and spot him one bite and two scratches. But what I came in here for, as you may have suspected, is--where do I go from here?
The Vortex Blaster
Spica or Rigel or Canopus? They're the worst, aren't they? See if you see what I do. Dekanore III? They've only got one, and it's 'way down in Class Z somewhere. Cloud went through the data, brow furrowed in concentration; then sketched three charts and frowned. The toxicity is too steady, but at the same time the composition of the effluvium is too varied. However, there's no real attempt at a gamma analysis--nowhere near enough data for one--this could be right; they're so utterly unpredictable. The observers were inexperienced, I take it, with medical and chemical bias? Boss, what say I skip over there and get us a full reading on that baby before she goes orthodox--or, should I say, orthodoxly unorthodox?
It's killing more people than all three of the bad ones together. I won't blow it out, though, until I find out why it's acting so--if it is. Clear ether, chief, I'm practically there! It did not take long to load Cloud's flitter aboard a Dekanore-bound liner. Half-way there however, an alarm rang out and the dread word "Pirates! Consternation reigned, for organized piracy had disappeared with the fall of the Council of Boskone.
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Furthermore, this was not in any sense a treasure ship; she was an ordinary passenger liner. She had had little enough warning--her communications officer had sent out only a part of his first distress call when the blanketing interference jammed his channels. The pirate--a first-class superdreadnought--flashed up and a visual beam drove in. Everything aboard--including any ransom you could get for our passenger list--wouldn't pay your expenses. The next one will be through your control room. Resistance being out of the question, the liner went inert.
While the intrinsic velocities of the two vessels were being matched, the pirate issued further instructions. All other officers, round up all passengers and herd them into the main saloon. Anybody that acts up or doesn't do exactly what he's told will be blasted. The pirates boarded. One squad went to the control room. Its leader, seeing that the communications officer was still trying to drive a call through the blanket of interference, beamed him down without a word. At this murder the captain and four or five other officers went for their guns and there was a brief but bloody battle.
There were too many pirates. A larger group invaded the main saloon. Most of them went through, only half a dozen or so posting themselves to guard the passengers. One of the guards, a hook-nosed individual wearing consciously an aura of authority, spoke. If any of you've got guns, don't go for 'em. That's a specialty that One of his DeLameters flamed briefly. Cloud's right arm, almost to the shoulder, vanished. The man behind him dropped--in two different places.
It was in line with that guy who was trying to pull a gun. You nurse over there--take him to sick-bay and fix up his wing. If anybody stops you tell 'em Number One said to. Now, the rest of you, watch your step. I'll cut down every damn one of you that so much as looks like he wanted to start something. They killed all our communications officers and blasted the panels, even in the lifeboats.
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You can't do much with your left hand, of course, but you may be able to boss the job of rigging up a spare. Give me a couple of technicians and I'll see what we can do. They set to work, but before they could accomplish anything a cruiser drove up, flashing its identification as a warship of the Galactic Patrol.
Let's make this snappy. Anything else I can do for you? Sign this clearance, please, and I'll get on that fellow's tail.
I'll send your copy of my report to your head office. Clear ether! The cruiser shot away. Temporary repairs were made and the liner, with Cloud and a couple of electronics technicians as communications officers, finished the voyage to Dekanore III without more interruption. The fat man was effusively sorry that Cloud had lost an arm, but assured him that the accident wouldn't lay him up very long.
He, Graves, would get a Posenian surgeon over here so fast that If the manager was taken aback to learn that Cloud had already had a Phillips treatment, he did not show it. He escorted the specialist to Deka's best hotel, where he introduced him largely and volubly. Graves took him to supper. Graves took him to a theater and showed him the town.
Graves told the hotel management to give the scientist the best rooms and the best valet they had, and that Cloud was not to be allowed to spend any of his own money. All of his activities, whatever their nature, purpose, or extent, were to be charged to Tellurian Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Graves was a grand guy. It had not been unloaded. There would be a slight delay, he was informed, because of the insurance inspections necessitated by the damage--and Cloud had not known that there had been any!
When he had learned what had been done to his little ship he swore bitterly and sought out the liner's senior officer. I don't suppose it occurred to anybody--I know it didn't to me--that you might be interested. And that was, Cloud knew, strictly true. Passengers were not informed of such occurrences.
He had been enough of an officer so that he could have learned anything he wished; but not enough of one to have been informed of such matters as routine. Nor was it surprising that it had not come up in conversation. Damage to cargo meant nothing whatever to the liner's overworked officers, standing double watches; a couple of easily-patched holes in the hull were not worth mentioning.
From their standpoint the only damage was done to the communicators, and Cloud himself had set them to rights. This delay was his own fault as much as anybody else's. Yes, more. That apparatus can't be duplicated anywhere except on Tellus, and even there it's all special-order stuff. During the following days TPI entertained him royally. Not insistently--Graves was an expert in such matters--but simply by giving him the keys to the planet. He could do anything he pleased.
He could have all the company he wanted, male or female, to help him to do it. Thus he did--within limits--just about what Graves wanted him to do; and, in spite of the fact that he did not want to enjoy life, he liked it. One evening, however, he refused to play a slot machine, explaining to his laughing companion that the laws of chance were pretty thoroughly shackled in such mechanisms--and the idle remark backfired. What was the mathematical probability that all the things that had happened to him could have happened by pure chance?
That night he analyzed his data. Six incidents; the probability was extremely small. Seven, if he counted his arm. If it had been his left arm--jet back! Since he wrote with his right hand, very few people knew that he was left-handed. Seven it was; and that made it virtually certain. Accident was out. But if he was being delayed and hampered deliberately, who was doing it, and why? It didn't make sense. Nevertheless, the idea would not down. He was a trained observer and an analyst second to none. Therefore he soon found out that he was being shadowed wherever he went, but he could not get any really significant leads.
I don't know why anybody would be spying on me, either, but--I'm neither a Lensman nor an esper, but I'd swear that somebody's peeking over my shoulder half the time. I think I'll go over to the Patrol station and borrow one. Maybe the Phillips treatment--the new one growing on--sort of pulls you out of shape.
His act had been a flop. If Graves knew anything--and he'd be damned if he could see any grounds for such a suspicion--he hadn't given away a thing. Nevertheless, Cloud went to the Patrol office, which was of course completely and permanently shielded. There he borrowed the detector and asked the lieutenant in charge to get a special report from the Patrol upon the alleged gems and what it knew about either the cruiser or the pirates.
To justify his request he had to explain his suspicions. After the messages had been sent the young officer drummed thoughtfully upon his desk. Cloud, but I don't see how I can," he decided finally. I'm not accusing anybody, yet. It may be anybody between here and Andromeda. Just call me, please, as soon as you get that report. The report came, and the Patrolman was round-eyed as he imparted the information, that, as far as Prime Base could discover, there had been no Lonabarian gems and the rescuing vessel had not been a Patrol ship at all.
Cloud was not surprised. As to where the vortex fits in, I haven't got even the dimmest possible idea, but one thing is clear. Now what kind of monkey-business would TPI--or, more likely, somebody working under cover in TPI, because undoubtedly the head office doesn't know anything about it--be doing?
I ask you. They'll almost certainly catch you at it, and if they're clean nothing can keep you from doing ninety days in the clink. What I'm asking you is, will you back my play if I catch them with the goods? Clear ether, lieutenant--until tonight! Cloud made an engagement with Graves for luncheon. Arriving a few minutes early, he was of course shown into the private office.
Since the manager was busily signing papers, Cloud strolled to the side window and seemed to gaze appreciatively at the masses of gorgeous blooms just outside. What he really saw, however, was the detector upon his wrist. Nobody knew that he had in his sleeve a couple of small, but highly efficient, tools. Nobody knew that he was left-handed.
Nobody saw what he did, nor was any signal given that he did anything at all. That night, however, that window opened alarmlessly to his deft touch. He climbed in, noiselessly. He might be walking straight into trouble, but he had to take that chance. One thing was in his favor; no matter how crooked they were, they couldn't keep armored troops on duty as night-watchmen, and the Patrolmen could get there as fast as their thugs could.
He had brought no weapons. If he was wrong, he would not need any and being armed would only aggravate his offense. If right, there would be plenty of weapons available. There were. A whole drawer full of DeLameters--fully charged--belts and everything. He leaped across the room to Graves' desk; turned on a spy-ray. The sub-basement--"private laboratories," Graves had said--was blocked. He threw switch after switch--no soap. Communicators--ah, he was getting somewhere now--a steel-lined room, a girl and a boy. They're growing broadleaf and making the stuff. That's why they're going to kill us.
Worse than I thought. Get over here fast with everything you got. Armor and semi-portables. Blast down the Mayner Street door. Stairway to right, two floors down, corridor to left, half-way along left side. Room B-Twelve. Snap it up, but keep your eyes peeled! Graves would have to kill these two youngsters, if he possibly could. He knew just how high the stakes were. Graves said he could kill us in here with rays or gas or Cloud jumped up listening with half an ear to the babblings from below as he searched for air-helmets. Radiations, in that metal-lined room, were out--except possibly for a few beam-projectors, which he could deal with easily enough.
Gas, though, would be bad; but every drug-house had air-helmets. Here they were! He put one on, made shift to hang two more around his neck--he had to keep his one hand free. He punched the yellow button; rode the elevator down until it stopped of itself. He ran along the corridor and drove the narrowest, hottest possible beam of a DeLameter into the lock of B It took time to cut even that small semi-circle in that refractory and conductive alloy--altogether too much time--but the kids would know who it was.
Zwilniks would open the cell with a key, not a torch. Get them on quick! Now help me buckle this. Jackie, you stay back there, out of the way of our feet. Bob, you lie down here in the doorway. Keep your gun outside and stick your head out just far enough so you can see. No farther. I'll join you after I see what they've got in the line of radiation. It won't be long now. Do you hear anything? The first detachment to round the corner was in fact unarmored. Cloud's weapon flamed white, followed quickly by Ryder's, and those zwilniks died.
Against the next to arrive, however, the DeLameters raved in vain. But only for a second. It could not be locked, but it could be, and was, welded to the jamb with dispatch, if not with neatness. Was this brief flare of hope false? Would not only she and her Bob, but also their would-be rescuer, die? That noise--s'pose it's the Patrol? It was not really a noise--the cell was sound-proof--it was an occasional jarring of the whole immense structure.
Heavy stuff--probably semi-portables. You might grab that bucket, Bob, and throw some of that water that's trickling in. Every little bit helps. The heavy metal of the door was glowing bright-to-dull red over half its area and that area was spreading rapidly. The air of the room grew hot and hotter. Bursts of live steam billowed out and, condensing, fogged the helmets.
The glowing metal dulled, brightened, dulled. The prisoners could only guess at the intensity of the battle being waged. They could follow its progress only by the ever-shifting temperature of the barrier which the zwilniks were so suicidally determined to burn down. For hours, it seemed, the conflict raged. New York: Gnome Press, Inc. Publishers, .. Octavo, boards. First edition. Presentation copy with signed inscription by New York: Gnome Press, .. Octavo, cloth. America is conquered by Asia, and a small group of scientists p While they may have sentimental value, bibles passed down through the family are not often worth a lot of money.
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