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End As a Hero - Keith Laumer

By Stanley Ramirez,2014-10-03 08:13
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End As a Hero - Keith Laumer

End as a Hero

    1

    In the dream I was swimming in a river of white fire. The dream went on and on; and then I wasawake-and the fire was still there, fiercely burning at me.

    I moved to get away from the flames, and the real pain hit me. I tried to go back to sleep andthe relative comfort of the river of fire, but it was no go. For better or worse, I was aliveand conscious.

    I opened my eyes and took a look around. I was on the floor next to an unpadded accelerationcouch-the kind the Terrestrial Space Arm installs in seldom-used lifeboats. There were threemore couches, but no one in them. I tried to sit up. It wasn't easy but, by applying a lot morewill-power than should be required of a sick man, I made it. I took a look at my left arm.Baked. The hand was only medium rare, but the forearm was black, with deep red showing at thebottom of the cracks where the crisped upper layers had burst.

    There was a first-aid cabinet across the compartment from me. I tried my right leg, felt brokenbone-ends grate with a sensation that transcended pain. I heaved with the other leg, scrabbledwith the charred arm. The crawl to the cabinet dwarfed Hillary's trek up Everest, but I reachedit after a couple of years, and found the microswitch on the floor that activated the thing,and then I was fading out again . . .

    * * *

    I came out of it clear-headed but weak. My right leg was numb, but reasonably comfortable,clamped tight in a walking brace. I put up a hand and felt a shaved skull, with sutures. Itmust have been a fracture. The left arm-well, it was still there, wrapped to the shoulder andheld out stiffly by a power truss that would keep the scar tissue from pulling up and cripplingme. The steady pressure as the truss contracted wasn't anything to do a sense-tape on forreplaying at leisure moments, but at least the cabinet hadn't amputated. I wasn't complaining.

    As far as I knew, I was the first recorded survivor of contact with the Gool-if I survived.

    I was still a long way from home, and I hadn't yet checked on the condition of the lifeboat. Iglanced toward the entry port. It was dogged shut. I could see black marks where my burned handhad been at work. I fumbled my way into a couch and tried to think. In my condition-with abroken leg and third-degree burns, plus a fractured skull-I shouldn't have been able to fallout of bed, much less make the trip from Belshazzar's CCC

    to the boat; and how had I managed to dog that port shut? In an emergency a man was capable ofgreat exertions. But running on a broken femur, handling heavy levers with charred fingers andthinking with a cracked head were overdoing it. Still, I was there-and it was time to get acall through to TSA headquarters.

    I flipped the switch and gave the emergency call-letters Col. Ausar Kayle of AerospaceIntelligence had assigned to me a few weeks before. It was almost five minutes before the"acknowledge" came through from the Ganymede relay station, another ten minutes before Kayle'sface swam into view. Even through the blur of the screen I could see the haggard look.

    "Granthan!" he burst out. "Where are the others? What happened out there?" I turned him down toa mutter.

    "Hold on," I said. "I'll tell you. Recorders going?" I didn't wait for an answer-not with afifteen-minute transmission lag. I plowed on:

    "Belshazzar was sabotaged. So was Gilgamesh-I think. I got out. I lost a little skin, but theaid cabinet has the case in hand. Tell the Med people the drinks are on me."

    I finished talking and flopped back, waiting for Kayle's reply. On the screen, his flickeringimage gazed back impatiently, looking as hostile as a swing-shift ward nurse. It would be halfan hour before I would get his reaction to my report. I dozed off-and awoke with a start. Kaylewas talking.

    "-your report. I won't mince words. They're wondering at your role in the disaster. How does ithappen that you alone survived?"

    "How the hell do I know?" I yelled-or croaked. But Kayle's voice was droning on:

    " . . . you Psychodynamics people have been telling me the Gool may have some kind of long-range telehypnotic ability that might make it possible for them to subvert a loyal man without

    his knowledge. You've told me yourself that you blacked out during the attack-and came to onthe lifeboat, with no recollection of how you got there.

    "This is war, Granthan. War against a vicious enemy who strike without warning and withoutmercy. You were sent out to investigate the possibility of-what's that term you use?-hypercortical invasion. You know better than most the risk I'd be running if you were allowedto pass the patrol line.

    "I'm sorry, Granthan. I can't let you land on Earth. I can't accept the risk."

    "What do I do now?" I stormed. "Go into orbit and eat pills and hope you think of something? Ineed a doctor!"

    Presently Kayle replied. "Yes," he said. "You'll have to enter a parking orbit. Perhaps therewill be developments soon which will make it possible to . . . ah . . . restudy the situation."He didn't meet my eye. I knew what he was thinking. He'd spare me the mental anguish of knowingwhat was coming. I couldn't really blame him; he was doing what he thought was the right thing.And I'd have to go along and pretend-right up until the warheads struck-that I didn't know I'dbeen condemned to death. 2

    I tried to gather my wits and think my way through the situation. I was alone and injured,aboard a lifeboat that would be the focus of a converging flight of missiles as soon as Iapproached within battery range of Earth. I had gotten clear of the Gool, but I wouldn'tsurvive my next meeting with my own kind. They couldn't take the chance that I was acting underGool orders.

    I wasn't, of course. I was still the same Peter Granthan, psychodynamicist, who had started outwith Dayan's fleet six weeks earlier. The thoughts I was having weren't brilliant, but theywere mine, all mine. But how could I be sure of that?

    Maybe there was something in Kayle's suspicion. If the Gool were as skillful as we thought,they would have left no overt indications of their tampering-not at a conscious level.

    But this was where psychodynamics training came in. I had been reacting like any scaredcasualty, aching to get home and lick his wounds. But I wasn't just any casualty. I had beentrained in the subtleties of the mind-and I had been prepared for just such an attack. Now wasthe time to make use of that training. It had given me one resource. I could unlock thememories of my subconscious-and see again what had happened.

    I lay back, cleared my mind of extraneous thoughts, and concentrated on the trigger word thatwould key an autohypnotic sequence. Sense impressions faded. I was alone in the nebulousemptiness of a first-level trance. I keyed a second word, slipped below the misty surface intoa dreamworld of vague phantasmagoric figures milling in their limbo of sub-conceptualization. Ipenetrated deeper, broke through into the vividly hallucinatory third level, where images ofmirror-bright immediacy clamored for attention. And deeper . . .

    * * *

    The immense orderly confusion of the basic memory level lay before me. Abstracted from it,aloof and observant, the monitoring personality-fraction scanned the pattern, searching thepolydimensional continuum for evidence of an alien intrusion.

    And found it.

    As the eye instantaneously detects a flicker of motion amid an infinity of static detail, so myinner eye perceived the subtle traces of the probing Gool mind, like a whispered touch deftlyrearranging my buried motivations. I focused selectively, tuned to the recorded gestalt.

    "It is a contact, Effulgent One!"

    "Softly, now! Nurture the spark well. It but trembles at the threshold . . ."

    "It is elusive, Master! It wriggles like a gorm-worm in the eating trough!" A part of my mindwatched as the memory unreeled. I listened to the voices-yet not voices, merely the shape ofconcepts, indescribably intricate. I saw how the decoy pseudo-personality which I hadconcretized for the purpose in a hundred training sessions had fought against the intruding

    stimuli-then yielded under the relentless thrust of the alien probe. I watched as the Gooloperator took over the motor centers, caused me to crawl through the choking smoke of thedevastated control compartment toward the escape hatch. Fire leaped up, blocking the way. Iwent on, felt ghostly flames whipping at me-and then the hatch was open and I pulled myselfthrough, forcing the broken leg. My blackened hand fumbled at the locking wheel. Then the blastas the lifeboat leaped clear of the disintegrating dreadnought-and the world-ending impact as Ifell. At a level far below the conscious, the embattled pseudo-personality lashed out again-fighting the invader.

    "Almost it eluded me then, Effulgent Lord. Link with this lowly one!"

    "Impossible! Do you forget all my teachings? Cling, though you expend the last filament of yourlife-force!"

    Free from all distraction, at a level where comprehension and retention are instantaneous andtotal, my monitoring basic personality fraction followed the skillful Gool mind as it engravedits commands deep in my subconscious. Then the touch withdrew, erasing the scars of itspassage, to leave me unaware of its tampering-at a conscious level. Watching the Gool mind, Ilearned.

    The insinuating probe-a concept regarding which psychodynamicists had theorized-was no morethan a pattern in emptiness . . . But a pattern which I could duplicate, now that I had seenwhat had been done to me.

    Hesitantly, I felt for the immaterial fabric of the continuum, warping and manipulating it,copying the Gool probe. Like planes of paper-thin crystal, the polyfinite aspects of realityshifted into focus, aligning themselves. Abruptly, a channel lay open. As easily as I wouldstretch out my hand to pluck a moth from a night-flower, I reached across the unimaginablevoid-and sensed a pit blacker than the bottom floor of hell, and a glistening dark shape.

    There was a soundless shriek. "Effulgence! It reached out-touched me!"

    * * *

    Using the technique I had grasped from the Gool itself, I struck, stifling the outcry, invadedthe fetid blackness and grappled the obscene gelatinous immensity of the Gool spy as it spasmedin a frenzy of xenophobia-a ton of liver writhing at the bottom of a dark well.

    I clamped down control. The Gool mind folded in on itself, gibbering. Not pausing to rest, Ifollowed up, probed along my channel of contact, tracing patterns, scanning the flaccid Goolmind . . .

    I saw a world of yellow seas lapping at endless shores of mud. There was a fuming pit, whereliquid sulphur bubbled up from some inner source, filling an immense natural basin. The Goolclustered at its rim, feeding, each monstrous shape heaving against its neighbors for a morefavorable position.

    I probed farther, saw the great cables of living nervous tissue that linked each eating organwith the brain-mass far underground. I traced the passages through which tendrils ran out toimmense caverns where smaller creatures labored over strange devices. These, my host's memorytold me, were the young of the Gool. Here they built the fleets that would transport the spawnto the new worlds the Prime Overlord had discovered, worlds where food was free for the taking.Not sulphur alone, but potassium, calcium, iron and all the metals-riches beyond belief inendless profusion. No longer would the Gool tribe cluster-those who remained of a once-greatrace-at a single feeding trough. They would spread out across a galaxy-and beyond.

    But not if I could help it.

    The Gool had evolved a plan-but they'd had a stroke of bad luck. In the past, they had managedto control a man here and there, among the fleets, far from home, but only at a superficiallevel. Enough, perhaps, to wreck a ship, but not the complete control needed to send a man backto Earth under Gool compulsion, to carry out complex sabotage. Then they had found me, alone, asole survivor, free from the clutter of the other mindfields. It had been their misfortune topick a psychodynamicist. Instead of gaining a patient slave, they had opened the fortress door

    to an unseen spy. Now that I was there, I would see what I could steal. A timeless time passed.I wandered among patterns of white light and white sound, plumbed the deepest recesses ofhidden Gool thoughts, fared along strange ways examining the shapes and colors of the conceptsof an alien mind.

    I paused at last, scanning a multi-ordinal structure of pattern within pattern; the diagrammedcircuits of a strange machine. I followed through its logic-sequence; and, like a bomb-burst,its meaning exploded in my mind.

    From the vile nest deep under the dark surface of the Gool world in its lonely trans-Plutonianorbit, I had plucked the ultimate secret of their kind. Matter across space.

    * * *

    "You've got to listen to me, Kayle," I shouted. "I know you think I'm a Gool robot. But what Ihave is too big to let you blow it up without a fight. Matter transmission! You know what thatcan mean to us. The concept is too complex to try to describe in words. You'll have to take myword for it. I can build it, though, using standard components, plus an infinite-area antennaand a moebius-wound coil-and a few other things . . ." I harangued Kayle for a while, and thensweated out his answer. I was getting close now. If he couldn't see the beauty of my proposal,my screens would start to register the radiation of warheads any time now. Kayle came back-andhis answer boiled down to "no." I tried to reason with him. I reminded him how I had readiedmyself for the trip with sessions on the encephaloscope, setting up the cross-networks ofconditioned defensive responses, the shunt circuits to the decoy pseudo-personality, leaving myvolitional ego free. I talked about subliminal hypnotics and the resilience quotient of theego-complex. I might have saved my breath.

    "I don't understand that psychodynamics jargon, Granthan," he snapped. "It smacks of mysticism.But I understand what the Gool have done to you well enough. I'm sorry."

    I leaned back and chewed the inside of my lip and thought unkind thoughts about Colonel AusarKayle. Then I settled down to solve the problem at hand.

    I keyed the chart file, flashed pages from the standard index on the reference screen, checkingradar coverages, beacon ranges, monitor stations, controller fields. It looked as though aradar-negative boat the size of mine might possibly get through the defensive net with a daringpilot, and as a condemned spy, I could afford to be daring. And I had a few ideas.

    3

    The shrilling of the proximity alarm blasted through the silence. For a wild moment I thoughtKayle had beaten me to the punch; then I realized it was the routine DEW line patrol contact.

    "Z four-oh-two, I am reading your IFF. Decelerate at 1.8 gee preparatory to picking up approachorbit . . ."

    The screen went on droning out instructions. I fed them into the autopilot, at the same timerunning over my approach plan. The scout was moving in closer. I licked dry lips. It was timeto try.

    I closed my eyes, reached out-as the Gool mind had reached out to me-and felt the touch of aSignals Officer's mind, forty thousand miles distant, aboard the patrol vessel. There was abrief flurry of struggle; then I dictated my instructions. The Signals Officer punched keys,spoke into his microphone:

    "As you were, Z four-oh-two. Continue on present course. At oh-nineteen seconds, pick upplanetary for re-entry and let-down." I blanked out the man's recollection of what hadhappened, caught his belated puzzlement as I broke contact. But I was clear of the DEW linenow, rapidly approaching atmosphere.

    "Z four-oh-two," the speaker crackled. "This is planetary control. I am picking you up onchannel forty-three, for re-entry and let-down." There was a long pause. Then:

    "Z four-oh-two, countermand DEW line clearance! Repeat, clearance countermanded! Emergencycourse change to standard hyperbolic code ninety-eight. Do not attempt re-entry. Repeat: do not

    attempt re-entry!" It hadn't taken Kayle long to see that I'd gotten past the outer line ofdefense. A few more minutes' grace would have helped. I'd play it dumb, and hope for a littleluck.

    "Planetary, Z four-oh-two here. Say, I'm afraid I missed part of that, fellows. I'm a littlebanged up-I guess I switched frequencies on you. What was that after 'pick up channel forty-three' . . . ?"

    "Four-oh-two, sheer off there! You're not cleared for re-entry!"

    "Hey, you birds are mixed up," I protested. "I'm cleared all the way. I checked in with DEW-"

    It was time to disappear. I blanked off all transmission, hit the controls, following myevasive pattern. And again I reached outA radar man at a site in the Pacific, fifteen thousandmiles away, rose from his chair, crossed the darkened room and threw a switch. The radarscreens blanked off . . .

    For an hour I rode the long orbit down, fending off attack after attack. Then I was clear,skimming the surface of the ocean a few miles southeast of Key West. The boat hit hard. I feltthe floor rise up, over, buffeting me against the restraining harness.

    I hauled at the release lever, felt a long moment of giddy disorientation as the escape capsuleseparated from the sinking lifeboat deep under the surface. Then my escape capsule was bobbingon the water. I would have to risk calling Kayle now-but by voluntarily giving my positionaway, I should convince him I was still on our side-and I was badly in need of a pick-up. Iflipped the sending key.

    "This is Z four-oh-two," I said. "I have an urgent report for Colonel Kayle of AerospaceIntelligence."

    Kayle's face appeared. "Don't fight it, Granthan," he croaked. "You penetrated the planetarydefenses-God knows how. I-"

    "Later," I snapped. "How about calling off your dogs now? And send somebody out here to pick meup, before I add sea-sickness to my other complaints."

    "We have you pinpointed," Kayle cut in. "It's no use fighting it, Granthan."

    * * *

    I felt cold sweat pop out on my forehead. "You've got to listen, Kayle," I shouted. "I supposeyou've got missiles on the way already. Call them back! I have information that can win thewar-"

    "I'm sorry, Granthan," Kayle said. "It's too late-even if I could take the chance you wereright."

    A different face appeared on the screen.

    "Mr. Granthan, I am General Titus. On behalf of your country, and in the name of the President-who has been apprised of this tragic situation-it is my privilege to inform you that you willbe awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor-posthumously-for your heroic effort. Although youfailed, and have in fact been forced, against your will, to carry out the schemes of theinhuman enemy, this in no way detracts from your gallant attempt. Mr. Granthan, I salute you."

    The general's arm went up in a rigid gesture.

    "Stow that, you pompous idiot!" I barked. "I'm no spy!" Kayle was back, blanking out thestartled face of the general.

    "Goodbye, Granthan. Try to understand . . ." I flipped the switch, sat gripping the couch, mystomach rising with each heave of the floating escape capsule. I had perhaps five minutes. Themissiles would be from Canaveral.

    I closed my eyes, forced myself to relax, reached out . . . I sensed the distant shore, the hotbuzz of human minds at work in the cities. I followed the coastline, found the Missile Base,flicked through the cluster of minds.

    "-missile on course; do right, baby. That's it, right in the slot." I fingered my way throughthe man's mind and found the control centers. He turned stiffly from the plotting board,tottered to a panel to slam his hand against the destruct button.

    Men fell on him, dragged him back. "-fool, why did you blow it?" I dropped the contact, foundanother, who leaped to the panel, detonated the remainder of the flight of six missiles. Then Iwithdrew. I would have a few minutes' stay of execution now.

    I was ten miles from shore. The capsule had its own power plant. I started it up, switched onthe external viewer. I saw dark sea, the glint of star-light on the choppy surface, in thedistance a glow on the horizon that would be Key West. I plugged the course into the pilot,then leaned back and felt outward with my mind for the next attacker. 4

    It was dark in the trainyard. I moved along the tracks in a stumbling walk. Just a few moreminutes, I was telling myself. A few more minutes and you can lie down . . . rest . . .

    The shadowed bulk of a box car loomed up, its open door a blacker square. I leaned against thesill, breathing hard, then reached inside for a grip with my good hand.

    Gravel scrunched nearby. The beam of a flashlight lanced out, flipped along the weathered car,caught me. There was a startled exclamation. I ducked back, closed my eyes, felt out for hismind. There was a confused murmur of thought, a random intrusion of impressions from the cityall around. It was hard, too hard. I had to sleepI heard the snick of a revolver being cocked,and dropped flat as a gout of flame stabbed toward me, the imperative Bam! echoing between thecars. I caught the clear thought:

    "God-awful looking, shaved head, arm stuck out; him all right-" I reached out to his mind andstruck at random. The light fell, went out, and I heard the unconscious body slam to the groundlike a poled steer. It was easy-if I could only stay awake.

    I gritted my teeth, pulled myself into the car, crawled to a dark corner behind a crate andslumped down. I tried to evoke a personality fraction to set as a guard, a part of my mind tostay awake and warn me of danger. It was too much trouble. I relaxed and let it all slide downinto darkness.

    * * *

    The car swayed, click-clack, click-clack. I opened my eyes, saw yellow sunlight in a bar acrossthe litter on the floor. The power truss creaked, pulling at my arm. My broken leg wasthrobbing its indignation at the treatment it had received-walking brace and all-and the burnedarm was yelling aloud for more of that nice dope that had been keeping it from realizing howbad it was. All things considered, I felt like a badly embalmed mummy-except that I was hungry.I had been a fool not to fill my pockets when I left the escape capsule in the shallows off KeyLargo, but things had been happening too fast.

    I had barely made it to the fishing boat, whose owner I had coerced into rendezvousing with mebefore shells started dropping around us. If the gunners on the cruiser ten miles away had hadany luck, they would have finished me-and the hapless fisherman-right then. We rode out acouple of near misses, before I put the cruiser's gunnery crew off the air. At a fishing campon the beach, I found a car-with driver. He dropped me at the railyard, and drove off under theimpression he was in town for groceries. He'd never believe he'd seen me.

    Now I'd had my sleep. I had to start getting ready for the next act of the farce.

    I pressed the release on the power truss, gingerly unclamped it, then rigged a sling from astrip of shirt tail. I tied the arm to my side as inconspicuously as possible. I didn't disturbthe bandages. I needed new clothes-or at least different ones-and something to cover my shavedskull. I couldn't stay hidden forever. The yard cop had recognized me at a glance.

    I lay back, waiting for the train to slow for a town. I wasn't unduly worried-at the moment.The watchman probably hadn't convinced anyone he'd actually seen me. Maybe he hadn't been toosure himself. The click-clack slowed and the train shuddered to a stop. I crept to the door,peered through the crack. There were sunny fields, a few low buildings in the distance, thecorner of a platform. I closed my eyes and let my awareness stretch out.

    "-lousy job. What's the use? Little witch in the lunch room . . . up in the hills, squirrelhunting, bottle of whiskey . . ." I settled into control gently, trying not to alarm the man. Isaw through his eyes the dusty box car, the rust on the tracks, the listless weeds growingamong cinders, and the weathered boards of the platform. I turned him, and saw the dingy glassof the telegraph window, a sagging screen door with a chipped enameled cola sign.

    I walked the man to the door, and through it. Behind a linoleum-topped counter, a coarse-skinned teen-age girl with heavy breasts and wet patches under her arms looked up withoutinterest as the door banged. My host went on to the counter, gestured toward the waxed-paper-wrapped sandwiches under a glass cover. "I'll take 'em all. And candy bars, and cigarettes. Andgive me a big glass of water."

    "Better git out there and look after yer train," the girl said carelessly.

    "When'd you git so all-fired hungry all of a sudden?"

    "Put it in a bag. Quick."

    "Look who's getting bossy-"

    My host rounded the counter, picked up a used paper bag, began stuffing food in it. The girlstared at him, then pushed him back. "You git back around that counter!"

    She filled the bag and rang up the tab. "Cash only." My host took two dog-eared bills from hisshirt pocket, dropped them on the counter and waited while the girl filled a glass. He pickedit up and started out.

    "Hey! Where you goin' with my glass?"

    The trainman crossed the platform, headed for the box car. He slid the loose door back a fewinches against the slack latch, pushed the bag inside, placed the glass of water beside it,then pulled off his grimy railroader's cap and pushed it through the opening. He turned. Thegirl watched from the platform. A rattle passed down the line and the train started up with alurch. The man walked back toward the girl. I heard him say: "Friend o' mine in there-justpassin' through." I was discovering that it wasn't necessary to hold tight control over everymove of a subject. Once given the impulse to act, he would rationalize his behavior, fill inthe details-and never know that the original idea hadn't been his own.

    I drank the water first, ate a sandwich, then lit a cigarette and lay back. So far so good. Thecrates in the car were marked "U.S. Naval Aerospace Station, Bayou Le Cochon." With any luckI'd reach New Orleans in another twelve hours. The first step of my plan included a raid on theDelta National labs; but that was tomorrow. That could wait.

    * * *

    It was a little before dawn when I crawled out of the car at a siding in the swampy country afew miles out of New Orleans. I wasn't feeling good, but I had a stake in staying on my feet. Istill had a few miles in me. I had my supplies-a few candy bars and some cigarettes-stuffed inthe pockets of the tattered issue coverall. Otherwise, I was unencumbered. Unless you wanted tocount the walking brace on my right leg and the sling binding my arm. I picked my way acrossmushy ground to a pot-holed black-top road, started limping toward a few car lights visiblehalf a mile away. It was already hot. The swamp air was like warmed-over subway fumes. Throughthe drugs, I could feel my pulse throbbing in my various wounds. I reached out and touched thedriver's mind; he was thinking about shrimps, a fish-hook wound on his left thumb and a girlwith black hair. "Want a lift?" he called. I thanked him and got in. He gave me a glance and Ipinched off his budding twinge of curiosity. It was almost an effort now not to follow histhoughts. It was as though my mind, having learned the trick of communications with others,instinctively reached out toward them. An hour later he dropped me on a street corner in ashabby marketing district of the city and drove off. I hoped he made out all right with thedark-haired girl. I spotted a used-clothing store and headed for it. Twenty minutes later I wasback on the sidewalk, dressed in a pinkish-gray suit that had been cut a long time ago by aLatin tailor-maybe to settle a grudge. The shirt that went with it was an unsuccessful violet.The black string tie lent a dubious air of distinction. I'd swapped the railroader's cap for a

    tarnished beret. The man who had supplied the outfit was still asleep. I figured I'd done him afavor by taking it. I couldn't hope to pass for a fisherman-I wasn't the type. Maybe I'd get byas a coffee-house derelict. I walked past fly-covered fish stalls, racks of faded garments,grimy vegetables in bins, enough paint-flaked wrought iron to cage a herd of brontosauri, andfetched up at a cab stand. I picked a fat driver with a wart.

    "How much to the Delta National Laboratories?" He rolled an eye toward me, shifted histoothpick.

    "What ya wanna go out there for? Nothing out there."

    "I'm a tourist," I said. "They told me before I left home not to miss it." He grunted, reachedback and opened the door. I got in. He flipped his flag down, started up with a clash of gearsand pulled out without looking.

    "How far is it?" I asked him.

    "It ain't far. Mile, mine and a quarter."

    "Pretty big place, I guess."

    He didn't answer.

    We went through a warehousing district, swung left along the waterfront, bumped over railroadtracks, and pulled up at a nine-foot cyclone fence with a locked gate.

    I looked out at the fence, a barren field, a distant group of low buildings.

    "What's this?"

    "This is the place you ast for."

    I touched his mind, planted a couple of false impressions and withdrew. He blinked, thenstarted up, drove around the field, pulled up at an open gate with a blue-uniformed guard. Helooked back at me.

    "You want I should drive in, sir?"

    "I'll get out here."

    He jumped out, opened my door, helped me out with a hand under my good elbow. "I'll get yourchange, sir," he said, reaching for his hip.

    "Keep it."

    "Thank YOU." He hesitated. "Maybe I oughta stick around. You know."

    "I'll be all right."

    "I hope so," he said. "A man like you-you and me-" he winked. "After all, we ain't both wearingberets fer nothing."

    "True," I said. "Consider your tip doubled. Now drive away into the sunrise and forget you eversaw me."

    He got into the car, beaming, and left. I turned and sized up the Delta Labs.

    There was nothing fancy about the place; it consisted of low brick and steel buildings, mud, afence and a guard who was looking at me. I sauntered over. "I'm from Iowa City," I said. "Now,the rest of the group didn't come-said they'd rather rest one day. But I like to see it all.After all, I paid-"

    "Just a minute," the guard said, holding up a palm. "You must be lost, fella. This here ain'tno tourist attraction. You can't come in here."

    "This is the cameo works?" I said anxiously. He shook his head. "Too bad you let your cab go.It's an hour yet till the bus comes."

    A dun-painted staff car came into view, slowed and swung wide to turn in. I fingered thedriver's mind. The car swerved, braked to a halt. A portly man in the back seat leaned forward,frowning. I touched him. He relaxed. The driver leaned across and opened the door. I wentaround and got in. The guard was watching, open-mouthed.

I gave him a two-finger salute, and the car pulled through the gate.

    "Stop in front of the electronics section," I said. The car pulled up. I got out, went up thesteps and pushed through the double glass doors. The car sat for a moment, then moved slowlyoff. The passenger would be wondering why the driver had stopped-but the driver wouldn'tremember. I was inside the building now; that was a start. I didn't like robbery in broaddaylight, but it was a lot easier this way. I wasn't equal to climbing any walls or breakingdown any locked doors-not until I'd had a transfusion, a skin graft and about three months'vacation on a warm beach somewhere. A man in a white smock emerged from a door. He started pastme, spun"I'm here about the garbage," I said. "Damn fools will put the cans in with the edible.Are you the one called?"

    "How's that?"

    "I ain't got all the morning!" I shrilled. "You scientist fellers are all alike. Which way isthe watchamacallit-equipment lab?"

    "Right along there." He pointed. I didn't bother to thank him. It wouldn't have been incharacter.

    A thin man with a brush mustache eyed me sharply as I pushed through the door. I looked at him,nodding absently. "Carry on with your work," I said.

    "The audit will be carried out in such a way as to disturb you as little as possible. Just showme your voucher file, if you please." He sighed and waved toward a filing cabinet. I went to itand pulled a drawer open, glancing about the room. Full shelves were visible through an innerdoor.

    Twenty minutes later I left the building, carrying a sheet metal carton containing theelectronic components I needed to build a matter transmitter-except for the parts I'd have tofabricate myself from raw materials. The load was heavy-too heavy for me to carry very far. Iparked it at the door and waited until a pick-up truck came along. It pulled over. The driverclimbed out and came up the walk to me. "Are you-uh . . . ?" He scratched his head.

    "Right." I waved at my loot. "Put it in the back." He obliged. Together we rolled toward thegate. The guard held up his hand, came forward to check the truck. He looked surprised when hesaw me.

    "Just who are you, fella?" he said.

    I didn't like tampering with people any more than I had to. It was a lot like stealing from ablind man: easy, but nothing to feel proud of. I gave him a light touch-just the suggestionthat what I would say would be full of deep meaning.

    "You know-the regular Wednesday shipment," I said darkly. "Keep it quiet. We're all relying onyou."

    "Sure thing," he said, stepping back. We gunned through the gate. I glanced back to see himlooking after the truck, thinking about the Wednesday shipment on a Friday. He decided it waslogical, nodded his head and forgot the whole thing.

    5

    I'd been riding high for a couple of hours, enjoying the success of the tricks I'd stolen fromthe Gool. Now I suddenly felt like something the student morticians had been practicing on. Iguided my driver through a second-rate residential section, looking for an M.D. shingle on afront lawn. The one I found didn't inspire much confidence-you could hardly see it for theweeds-but I didn't want to make a big splash. I had to have an assist from the driver to makeit to the front door. He got me inside, parked my box beside me and went off to finish hisrounds, under the impression that it had been a dull morning.

    The doctor was a seedy, seventyish G.P. with a gross tremor of the hands that a good belt ofScotch would have helped. He looked at me as though I'd interrupted something that was eithermore fun or paid better than anything I was likely to come up with.

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