No, in these days of mental telepathy and extra sensory perception, crumbs do not erase other crumbs. They just grab some citizen and put him in a box until he is ready to do their dirty work for them.
Guilt? That would be mine. A crime is a crime and the guy who does it is a criminal, no matter how he justifies his act of violence.
The truth? Any court mentalist who waded through that pair of unwashed minds would find no evidence of any open deal with Steve Hammond. Sure, he would find violence there, but the Court is more than well aware of the fact that thinking of an act of violence is not illegal. This Rhine training has been too recent to get the human race trained into the niceties of polite mental behavior. Sure, they'd get a few months or maybe a few years for breaking and entering as well as assault, but after all, they were friends of Rambaugh and this might well be a matter of retaliation, even though they thought Rambaugh was an incompetent bungler.
So if Steve Hammond believed that he could go free with a whole hand by planning to rub out a man named Scarmann, that would be Steve Hammond's crime, not theirs.
They didn't take any chances, even though I knew that they could read my mind well enough to know that I would go through with their nasty little scheme. They hustled Martha into the kitchen, chair and all, and one of them stood there with my paring knife touching her soft throat enough to indent the skin but not enough to draw blood. The other rat untaped me and stood me on my feet.
I hurt all over from the pasting I'd taken, so I took a boiling shower and dressed leisurely. The guy handed me my forty-five, all loaded, as I came out of the bathroom. The other bird hadn't moved a muscle out in the kitchen. His knife was still pressing against Martha's throat. He was still standing pat when I passed out of esper range on the street below.
In pre-Rhine days, a citizen in my pinch would holler for the cops because he couldn't be sure that the crooks would keep their end of the bargain. But Rhine training has produced a real "Honor Among Thieves" so that organized crime can run as fast as organized justice. If I kept my end and they didn't keep theirs, the word would get around from their own dirty minds that they couldn't keep a bargain. Well, I was going to keep mine for the same reason, even though I am not a thief.
That's the way it's done these days. You get a good esper like me to knock off a sharp mental operator like Scarmann.
The trouble was that I didn't really want Scarmann, I wanted that pair of mental sadists up in my apartment who were holding a knife against Martha's throat. I wanted them, and I wanted Martha Franklin's skin to be happily whole. And if I crossed them now, the only guys that wouldn't play ball with me in the future would be the crooks. Them I could do without.
So if they figured that an esper could take a mental like Scarmann, why couldn't an esper take the pair of them?
All I had to do was to think of something else until I could get my hands on their throats. Sure, they'd follow my mind as soon as they felt my mental waves within range, but if I could really find something interesting enough to occupy my attention--and maybe theirs as well--they could not identify me.
So I went back into the lobby of my apartment and dug into the mailbox of another party, thus identifying myself as the man in three eight four. Then I punched the elevator button for the Fourth and leaned back against the elevator and let my mind wander up through the apartments above.
I violated all the laws against Esping Toms as the elevator oozed upwards. Eventually my sense of perception wandered through my own apartment and I located her lying on the bed, fully dressed. She'd probably been freed lest some esper cop get to wondering why there was a woman taped to a chair in a bachelor's kitchen. I shut my mind like a clam, but I couldn't withdraw my perception too fast. I let it ooze back there like the eyes of a lecherous old man at a burleycue.
I left the elevator at the Fourth and walked up the stairs by reflex, while my mind was positively radiating waves of vulgarity.
My mind managed to identify her as "The girl on the bed" without thinking any name. She was a good looking strawberry blonde with a slender waist and a high bosom and long, slender legs. She was wearing a pair of Dornier shoes with three inch heels that did things to her ankles. Her nylons were size eight and one half, medium length, in that dark shade that always gives me ideas. Her dress was a simple thing that did not have a store label on it, and so I dug the stitches for a bit and decided that it had been hand made. Someone was a fine dress-maker because it fitted her slender body perfectly. Her petticoat was store type. It was simple and fitted, too, but it had a label from Forresters in the hem. Her bra was a Graceform, size thirty two, medium cup, but the girl on the bed did not have much need for molding, shaping, uplifting, padding or pretense. She was all her and she filled it right to the brim. I let my perception dawdle on the slender ankles, the lissome waist, and the rounded hips.
My door key came out by habit-reflex and entered the keyhole while my sense of perception let them have one last vicarious thrill. The girl on the bed was an honest allover strawberry blonde. She....
Then the door swung open and hell went out for breakfast.
My forty-five bellowed at the light as I slid in and sloped to one side. The room went dark as I dropped to the floor in front of my bookcase. From across the room a hitburner seared the door and slashed sidewise, cutting a smoking swathe across my encyclopedia from A-AUD to CAN-DAN and then came down as I squirmed aside. It took King Lear right out of Shakespeare before the beam winked out. It went off just in time to keep me from sporting a cooked stripe down my face.
I triggered the automatic again to make a flash in their faces while I dug the room to locate them in the dark. The needle beam flared out again and drilled a hole in the bookcase behind me. The other guy made a slashing motion with his beam to pin me down, but he made a mistake by standing up to do it.
I put a slug in his middle that slammed him back against the wall. He hung there for a moment before he fell to the floor with a dull, limp sound. His needle beam slashed upward and burned the ceiling before his hand went limp and let the weapon drop.
I whirled to dig the other guy in the room just as the throb of a stun-gun beam moaned over my head. I wondered where they'd got the arsenal, dug the serial number, and realized that it was mine. It gave me a chuckle. I'm a pistol man, so the stun-gun that old gorilla-man was toting couldn't have had more than one more charge. I tried to dig it but couldn't. Even a Doctor Of Perception can't really dig the number of kilo-watt-seconds in a meson chamber.
My accurate esping must have made the other guy desperate, because he made a dive and let his needle ray burn out a slashing beam that zipped across over my head. My forty-five blazed twice. He missed but I didn't, just as the throb of the stun-gun rang the air again. I whirled to face my stun-gun coming out of the bedroom door in front of Martha Franklin.
The slug intended for Martha's body never came out of my gun because her stun-gun got to me first. It froze me like a hunk of Greek statuary and I went forward and toppled over until I came on a three-point landing of elbow, the opposite knee, and the side of my face.
I was as good as dead.
My brain was still functioning but nothing else was. I was completely paralyzed. My heart had stopped breathing and my lungs had stopped breathing, and I've been told that a healthy man can retain consciousness for maybe a minute or so without a fresh supply of blood to the brain. Then things get muddy black and you've had it for good. My esp was still functioning, but that would black out with the rest of Steve Hammond.
There was no physical pain. They could have drilled me with a blunt two-by-four and I'd not have felt it.
Then because I couldn't stare Death in the face, I shut my mind on the fact and esped my late girl friend. She was standing there with my stun-gun in her hand with a smile on her beautiful puss and that vibrant body swaying gently. I wanted to vomit and I would have if I'd not been frozen solid. That beautiful body presided over by that vicious brain made me sick.
Her smile faded as I began to realize the truth. Her story was thin. Rambaugh, a mental, would have been able to play his blackmail game to the fine degree; he would have known when Martha's patience was about to grow short--if Martha's story were true. No blackmailer pushed his victim to the breaking point. And Rambaugh wouldn't have gone for me if this had just been a plain case of blackmail.
No, by thinking deeply, Martha Franklin had engineered the death of Rambaugh and she'd almost engineered the rubbing-out of Scarmann. A mental, Martha Franklin. A high-grade mental, capable of controlling her thoughts so that her cohorts could be led by the mind into doing her dirty work.
My mind chuckled. I'd be gone before they caught up with Martha, but they'd catch up all right. She'd leave the apartment positively radiating her act of violence and then the cops would have a catch. And you should see how a set of Court Mentalists go to work on a guilty party these days. Once they get the guy that pulled the trigger on the witness stand, in front of a jury consisting of mixed mentals and espers, with no holds barred, the court record gets a full load of the killer's life, adventures, habits, and attitude; just before the guilty party heads for the readjustment chamber.
Things were growing blacker. Waves of darkness clouded my mind and I found it hard to think straight. My esper sense faded first and as it faded I let it run once more over Martha's attractiveness and found my darkening mind wishing that she were the girl I'd believed her to be instead of the female louse she was. It could have been fun.
But now I was about to black out from stun-gun paralysis, and Martha was headed for the readjustment chamber where they'd reduce her mental activity to the level of a menial, sterilize her, and put her to work in an occupation that no man or woman with a spark of intelligence, ambition, or good sense would take.
She would live and die a half-robot, alone and ignored, her attractiveness lost because of her own lack-luster mind.
And I'd been willing to go out and plug Scarmann for her.
And then she was at my side. I perceived her dimly, inconstantly, through the waves of blackness and unreality that were like the half-dreams that we have when lying a-doze. She levered my frozen body over on its hard back and went to work on my chest. Her arms went around me and she squeezed. Air whooshed into my dead lungs, and then she was beating my breastbone black and blue with her small fists. Beat. Beat-beat. Beat. I couldn't feel a thing but I could dig the fact that she was hurting her hands as she beat on my chest in a rhythm that matched the beat of her own heart.
I dug her own heartbeat for her, and she read my mind and matched the beat perfectly.
Then I felt a thump inside of me and dug my own heart. It throbbed once, sluggishly. It struggled, slowly. Then it throbbed to the beat of her hands and the blackening waves went away. My frozen body relaxed and I came down to rest on the floor like a melting lump of sugar.
Martha dropped on top of my body and pressed me down. Her arms were around my chest as she forced air into my lungs. She beat my ribs sore when my heart faltered, and squeezed me when my breathing slowed. I felt the life coming back into me; it came in like the tide, with a fringe of needles-and-pins that flowed inward from fingers and toes and scalp.
Martha pressed me down on the carpet and kissed me, full, open mouthed, passionate. It stirred my blood and my mind and I took a deep, shuddering breath.
I looked up into her soft blue eyes and said, "Thanks--slut!"
She kissed me again, pressing me down and writhing against me and obviously getting a kick out of my reaction.
Then I came alive and threw her off with no warning. I sat up, and swung a roundhouse right that clipped her on the jaw and sent her rolling over and over. Her eyes glazed for a moment but she came out of it and looked pained and miserable.
"You promised," she said huskily.
"To kill Scarmann."
"You thought how you'd kill Scarmann for me, Steve."
"Someday," I said flatly, "I may kill Scarmann, but it won't be for you!"
She tried to claw me but I clipped her again and this time I made it stick. She went out cold and she was still out like a frozen herring by the time Lieutenant Williamson arrived with his jetcopter squad to take her away.
The last time I saw Martha Franklin, she was still trying to convince twelve Rhine Scholars and True that any woman with a body as beautiful as hers couldn't possibly have committed any crime. She was good at it, but not that good.
Funny. Mental sensitives always think they're so damn superior to anyone else.
THE VENUS TRAP.
By Evelyn E. Smith
One thing Man never counted on to take along into space with him was the Eternal Triangle--especially a true-blue triangle like this!
"What's the matter, darling?" James asked anxiously. "Don't you like the planet?"
"Oh, I love the planet," Phyllis said. "It's beautiful."
It was. The blue--really blue--grass, blue-violet shrubbery and, loveliest of all, the great golden tree with sapphire leaves and pale pink blossoms, instead of looking alien, resembled nothing so much as a fairy-tale version of Earth.
Even the fragrance that filled the atmosphere was completely delightful to Terrestrial nostrils--which was unusual, for most other planets, no matter how well adapted for colonization otherwise, tended, from the human viewpoint, anyway, to stink. Not that they were not colonized nevertheless, for the population of Earth was expanding at too great a rate to permit merely olfactory considerations to rule out an otherwise suitable planet. This particular group of settlers had been lucky, indeed, to have drawn a planet as pleasing to the nose as to the eye--and, moreover, free from hostile aborigines.
As a matter of fact, the only apparent evidence of animate life were the small, bright-hued creatures winging back and forth through the clear air, and which resembled Terrestrial birds so closely that there had seemed no point to giving them any other name. There were insects, too, although not immediately perceptible--but the ones like bees were devoid of stings and the butterflies never had to pass through the grub stage but were born in the fullness of their beauty.
However, fairest of all the creatures on the planet to James Haut--just then, anyhow--was his wife, and the expression on her face was not a lovely one.
"You do feel all right, don't you?" he asked. "The light gravity gets some people at first."
"Yes, I guess I'm all right. I'm still a little shaken, though, and you know it's not the gravity."
He would have liked to take her in his arms and say something comforting, reassuring, but the constraint between them had not yet been worn off. Although he had sent her an ethergram nearly every day of the voyage, the necessarily public nature of the messages had kept them from achieving communication in the deeper sense of the word.
"Well, I suppose you did have a bit of a shock," he said lamely. "Somehow, I thought I had told you in my 'grams."
"You told me plenty in the 'grams, but not quite enough, it seems."
Her words didn't seem to make sense; the strain had evidently been a little too much. "Maybe you ought to go inside and lie down for a while."
"I will, just as soon as I feel less wobbly." She brushed back the long, light brown hair which had got tumbled when she fainted. He remembered a golden rather than a reddish tinge in it, but that had been under the yellow sun of Earth; under the scarlet sun of this planet, it took on a different beauty.
"How come the preliminary team didn't include--it in their report?" she asked, avoiding his appreciative eye.
"They didn't know. We didn't find out ourselves until we'd sent that first message to Earth. I suppose by the time we did relay the news, you were on your way."
"Yes, that must have been it."
The preliminary exploration team had established the fact that the planet was more or less Earth-type, that its air was breathable, its temperature agreeably springlike, its mineral composition very similar to Earth's, with only slight traces of unknown elements, that there was plenty of drinkable water and no threatening life-forms. Human beings could, therefore, live on it.
It remained for the scout team to determine whether human beings would want to live on it--whether, in fact, they themselves would want to, because, if so, they had the option of becoming the first settlers. That was the way the system worked and, in the main, it worked well enough.
After less than two weeks, this scout team had beamed back to Earth the message that the planet was suitable for colonization, so suitable that they would like to give it the name of Elysium, if there was no objection.
There would be none, Earth had replied, so long as the pioneers bore in mind the fact that six other planets had previously been given that name, and a human colony currently existed on only one of those. No need to worry about a conflict of nomenclature, however, because the name of that other planet Elysium had subsequently been changed by unanimous vote of settlers to Hades.
After this somewhat sinister piece of information, Earth had added the more cheerful news that the wives and families of the scouts would soon be on their way, bringing with them the tools and implements necessary to transform the wilderness of the frontier into another Earth. In the meantime, the men were to set up the packaged buildings with which all scout ships were equipped, so that when the women came, homes would be ready for them.
The men set to work and, before the month was out, they discovered that Elysium was neither a wilderness nor a frontier. It was populated by an intelligent race which had developed its culture to the limit of its physical abilities--actually well beyond the limit of what the astounded Terrestrials could have conceived its physical abilities to be--then, owing to unavoidable disaster, had started to die out.
The remaining natives were perspicacious enough to see in the Terrestrials' coming not a threat but a last hope of revivifying their own moribund species. Accordingly, the Earthmen were encouraged to go ahead building on the sites originally selected, the only ban being on the type of construction materials used--and a perfectly reasonable one under the circumstances.
James had built his cottage near the largest, handsomest tree in the area allotted to him; since there were no hostile life-forms, there was no need for a closely knit community. Everyone who had seen it agreed that his house was the most attractive one of all, for, although it was only a standard prefab, he had used taste and ingenuity to make it a little different from the other unimaginative homes.
And now Phyllis, for whom he had performed all this labor of love, for whom he had waited five long months--the tedium of which had been broken only by the intellectual pleasure of teaching English to a sympathetic native neighbor--Phyllis seemed unappreciative. She had hardly looked at the inside of the cottage, when he had shown her through, and now was staring at the outside in a blank sort of way.
The indoctrination courses had not, he reflected, reconciled her to the frontiersman's necessarily simple mode of living--which was ironic, considering that one of her original attractions for him had been her apparent suitability for the pioneer life. She was a big girl, radiantly healthy, even though a little green at the moment.
He just managed to keep his voice steady. "You don't like the house--is that it?
"But I do like it. Honestly I do." She touched his arm diffidently. "Everything would be perfect if only--"
"If only what? Is it the curtains? I'm sorry if you don't like them. I brought them all the way from Earth in case the planet turned out to be habitable. I thought blue was your favorite color."
"Oh, it is, it is! I'm mad about the curtains."
Perhaps it wasn't the house that disappointed her; perhaps it was he himself who hadn't lived up to dim memory and ardent expectation.
"If you want to know what is bothering me--" she glanced up apprehensively, lowering her voice as she did--"it's that tree. It's stuck on you; I just know it is."
He laughed. "Now where did you get a preposterous idea like that, Phyl? You've been on the planet exactly twenty-four hours and--"
"--and I have, in my luggage, one hundred and thirty-two ethergrams talking about practically nothing but Magnolia this, Magnolia that. Oh, I had my suspicions even before I landed, James. The only thing I didn't suspect was that she was a tree!"