Except where else could you get twelve-fifty an hour soldering?
She was stretched out on the couch in the restroom lobby taking a short nap--on company time, old Liverlips being tied up with the new girls down at the other end of the line--when Riuku finally managed to call Nagor again.
"Have you found out anything, Riuku?"
Silence. Then: "We've lost another ship. Maybe you'd better turn her loose and come on back. It looks as if we'll have to run for it, after all."
Defeat. The long, interstellar search for another race, a race less technologically advanced than this one, and all because of a stupid Earth female.
"Not yet, Nagor," he said. "Her boy friend knows. I'll find out. I'll make her listen to him."
"Well," Nagor said doubtfully. "All right. But hurry. We haven't much time at all."
"I'll hurry," Riuku promised. "I'll be back with you tonight."
That night after work Pete Ganley was waiting outside the gate again. Alice spotted his copter right away, even though he had the lights turned way down.
"Gee, Pete, I didn't think...."
"Get in. Quick."
"What's the matter?" She climbed in beside him. He didn't answer until the copter had lifted itself into the air, away from the factory landing lots and the bright overhead lights and the home-bound workers.
"It's Susan, who else," he said grimly. "She was really sounding off today. She kept saying she had a lot of evidence and I'd better be careful. And, well, I sure didn't want you turning up at the bar tonight of all nights."
He didn't sound like Pete.
"Why?" Alice said. "Are you afraid she'll divorce you?"
"Oh, Alice, you're as bad as--look, baby, don't you see? It would be awful for you. All the publicity, the things she'd call you, maybe even in the papers...."
He was staring straight ahead, his hands locked about the controls. He was sort of--well, distant. Not her Petey any more. Someone else's Pete. Susan's Pete....
"I think we should be more careful," he said.
Riuku twisted his way through her thoughts, tried to push them down.... Does he love me, he's got to love me, sure he does, he just doesn't want me to get hurt....
And far away, almost completely out of phase, Nagor's call. "Riuku, another ship's gone. You'd better come back. Bring what you've learned so far and we can withdraw from the system and maybe piece it together...."
"In a little while. Just a little while." Stop thinking about Susan, you biological schizo. Change the subject. You'll never get anything out of that man by having hysterics....
"I suppose," Alice cried bitterly, "you've been leading me on all the time. You don't love me. You'd rather have her!"
"That's not so. Hell, baby...."
He's angry. He's not even going to kiss me. I'm just cutting my own throat when I act like that....
"Okay, Pete. I'm sorry. I know it's tough on you. Let's have a drink, okay? Still got some in the glove compartment?"
"Huh? Oh, sure."
She poured two drinks, neat, and he swallowed his with one impatient gulp. She poured him another.
Riuku prodded. The drink made his job easier. Alice's thoughts calmed, swirled away from Susan and what am I going to do and why didn't I pick up with some single guy, anyway? A single guy, like Tommy maybe. Tommy and his spot welder, over there by the Restricted Area. The Restricted Area....
"How come they let so much voltage loose in the plant, so we can't even go over in the Restricted Area?"
"Whatever made you think of that?" He laughed suddenly. He turned to her, still laughing. He was the old Pete again, she thought, with his face happy and his mouth quirked up at the corner. "Voltage loose ... oh, baby, baby. Don't you know what that is?"
"That's the control panel for one of the weapons, silly. It's only a duplicate, actually--a monitor station. But it's tuned to the frequencies of all the ships in this sector and--"
She listened. She wanted to listen. She had to want to listen, now.
"Nagor, I'm getting it," Riuku called. "I'll bring it all back with me. Just a minute and I'll have it."
"How does it work, honey?" Alice Hendricks said.
"You really want to know? Okay. Now the Corcoran field is generated between the ships and areas like that one, only a lot more powerful, by--"
"It's coming through now, Nagor."
"--a very simple power source, once you get the basics of it. You--oh, oh!" He grabbed her arm. "Duck, Alice!"
A spotlight flashed out of the darkness, turned on them, outlined them. A siren whirred briefly, and then another copter pulled up beside them and a loudspeaker blared tinnily.
"Okay, bud, pull down to the landing lane."
Police. Fear, all the way through Alice's thoughts, all the way through Riuku. Police. Earth law. That meant--it must mean he'd been discovered, that they had some other means of protection besides the Shielding....
"Nagor! I've been discovered!"
"Come away then, you fool!"
He twisted, trying to pull free of Alice's fear, away from the integration of their separate terrors. But he couldn't push her thoughts back from his. She was too frightened. He was too frightened. The bond held.
"Oh, Pete, Pete, what did you do?"
He didn't answer. He landed the copter, stepped out of it, walked back to the other copter that was just dropping down behind him. "But officer, what's the matter?"
Alice Hendricks huddled down in the seat, already seeing tomorrow's papers, and her picture, and she wasn't really photogenic, either.... And then, from the other copter, she heard the woman laugh.
"Pete Ganley, you fall for anything, don't you?"
"You didn't expect me to follow you, did you? Didn't it ever occur to you that detectives could put a bug in your copter? My, what we've been hearing!"
"Yeah," the detective who was driving said. "And those pictures we took last night weren't bad either."
"Susan, I can explain everything...."
"I'm sure you can, Pete. You always try. But as for you--you little--"
Alice ducked down away from her. Pictures. Oh God, what it would make her look like. Still, this hag with the pinched up face who couldn't hold a man with all the cosmetics in the drugstore to camouflage her--she had her nerve, yelling like that.
"Yeah, and I know a lot about you too!" Alice Hendricks cried.
"Why, let me get my hands on you...."
Riuku prodded. Calm down, you fool. You're not gaining anything this way. Calm down, so I can get out of here....
Alice Hendricks stopped yelling abruptly.
"That's better," Susan said. "Pete, your taste in women gets worse each time. I don't know why I always take you back."
"I can explain everything."
"Oh, Pete," Alice Hendricks whispered. "Petey, you're not--"
"Sure he is," Susan Ganley said. "He's coming with me. The nice detectives will take you home, dear. But I don't think you'd better try anything with them--they're not your type. They're single."
"Pete...." But he wouldn't meet Alice's eyes. And when Susan took his arm, he followed her.
"How could you do it, Petey...." Numb whispers, numb thoughts, over and over, but no longer frightened, no longer binding on Riuku.
Fools, he thought. Idiotic Earthmen. If it weren't for your ridiculous reproductive habits I'd have found out everything. As it is.... "Nagor, I'm coming! I didn't get anything. This woman--"
"Well, come on then. We're leaving. Right now. There'll be other systems."
Petey, Petey, Petey....
Contact thinned as he reached out away from her, toward Nagor, toward the ship. He fought his way out through the Shielding, away from her and her thoughts and every detestable thing about her. Break free, break free....
"What's the matter, Riuku? Why don't you come? Have the police caught you?"
The others were fleeing, getting farther away even as he listened to Nagor's call. Contact was hard to maintain now; he could feel communication fading.
"Riuku, if you don't come now...."
He fought, but Alice's thoughts were still with him; Alice's tears still kept bringing him back into full awareness of her.
The Shielding boost, that had integrated him so completely with Alice Hendricks, would never let him go.
"Oh, Petey, I've lost you...."
And Nagor's sad farewell slipped completely out of phase, leaving him alone, with her.
The plant. The Restricted Area. The useless secret of Earth's now unneeded weapon. Alice Hendricks glancing past it, at the spot welding machine, at Tommy.
"How's the love life?"
"You really interested in finding out, Alice?"
And Riuku gibbered unheard in her mind.
THE GHOST WORLD.
By Sewell Peaslee Wright
I was asleep when our danger was discovered, but I knew the instant the attention signal sounded that the situation was serious. Kincaide, my second officer, had a cool head, and he would not have called me except in a tremendous emergency.
"Hanson speaking!" I snapped into the microphone. "What's up, Mr. Kincaide?"