"Hi, honey," she giggled into his ear. "Havin' a time?"
He reached for the white arm to pull her to him, but she eluded his grasp and reeled away into the waiting arms of a tall toreador. Hyrel gulped his whiskey and watched her nestle into the arms of her partner and begin with him a sinuous, suggestive dance. The whiskey had begun its warming effect, and he laughed.
This was the land of the lotus eaters, the sanctuary of the escapists, the haven of all who wished to cast off their shell of inhibition and become the thing they dreamed themselves to be. Here one could be among his own kind, an actor upon a gay stage, a gaudy butterfly metamorphosed from the slug, a knight of old.
The Persian dancing girl was probably the wife of a boorish oaf whose idea of romance was spending an evening telling his wife how he came to be a successful bank president. But she had found her means of escape. Perhaps she had pleaded a sick headache and had retired to her room. And there upon the bed now reposed her shell of reality while her inner self, the shadowy one, completely materialized, became an exotic thing from the East in this never-never land.
The man, the toreador, had probably closeted himself within his library with a set of account books and had left strict orders not to be disturbed until he had finished with them.
Both would have terrific hangovers in the morning. But that, of course, would be fully compensated for by the memories of the evening.
Hyrel chuckled. The situation struck him as being funny: the shadowy self got drunk and had a good time, and the outer husk suffered the hangover in the morning. Strange. Strange how a device such as the telporter suit could cause the shadow of each bodily cell to leave the body, materialize, and become a reality in its own right. And yet ...
He looked at the heel of his left hand. There was a long, irregular scar there. It was the result of a cut he had received nearly three weeks ago when he had fallen over this very table and had rammed his hand into a sliver of broken champagne glass. Later that evening, upon re-telporting back home, the pain of the cut had remained in his hand, but there was no sign of the cut itself on the hand of his outer self. The scar was peculiar to the shadowy body only. There was something about the shadowy body that carried the hurts to the outer body, but not the scars....
Sudden laughter broke out near him, and he turned quickly in that direction. A group of gaily costumed revelers was standing in a semi-circle about a small mound of clothing upon the floor. It was the costume of the toreador.
Hyrel laughed, too. It had happened many times before--a costume suddenly left empty as its owner, due to a threat of discovery at home, had had to press the switch in haste to bring his shadowy self--and complete consciousness--back to his outer self in a hurry.
A waiter picked up the clothing. He would put it safely away so that the owner could claim it upon his next visit to the club. Another waiter placed a fresh bottle of whiskey on the table before Hyrel, and Hyrel paid him for it.
The whiskey, reaching his head now in surges of warm cheerfulness, was filling him with abandonment, courage, and a desire for merriment. He pushed himself up from the table, joined the merry throng, threw his arm about the Persian dancer, drew her close.
They began dancing slowly to the throbbing rhythm, dancing and holding on to each other tightly. Hyrel could feel her hot breath through her veil upon his neck, adding to the headiness of the liquor. His feeling of depression and inferiority flowed suddenly from him. Once again he was the all-conquering male.
His arm trembled as it drew her still closer to him and he began dancing directly and purposefully toward the shadows of a clump of artificial palms near one corner of the room. There was an exit to the garden behind the palms.
Half way there they passed a secluded booth from which protruded a long leg clad in black mesh stocking. Hyrel paused as he recognized that part of the costume. It was she! The girl! The one he had met so briefly the night before!
His arm slid away from the Persian dancer, took hold of the mesh-clad leg, and pulled. A female form followed the leg from the booth and fell into his arms. He held her tightly, kissed her white neck, let her perfume send his thoughts reeling.
"Been looking for me, honey?" she whispered, her voice deep and throaty.
"You know it!"
He began whisking her away toward the palms. The Persian girl was pulled into the booth.
Yes, she was wearing the same costume she had worn the night before, that of a can-can dancer of the 90's. The mesh hose that encased her shapely legs were held up by flowered supporters in such a manner as to leave four inches of white leg exposed between hose top and lacy panties. Her skirt, frilled to suggest innumerable petticoats, fell away at each hip, leaving the front open to expose the full length of legs. She wore a wig of platinum hair encrusted with jewels that sparkled in the lights. Her jewel-studded mask was as white as her hair and covered the upper half of her face, except for the large almond slits for her eyes. A white purse, jewel crusted, dangled from one arm.
He stopped once before reaching the palms, drew her closer, kissed her long and ardently. Then he began pulling her on again.
She drew back when they reached the shelter of the fronds. "Champagne, first," she whispered huskily into his ear.
His heart sank. He had very little money left. Well, it might buy a cheap brand....
She sipped her champagne slowly and provocatively across the table from him. Her eyes sparkled behind the almond slits of her mask, caught the color changes and cast them back. She was wearing contact lenses of a garish green.
He wished she would hurry with her drink. He had horrible visions of his wife at home taking off her telovis and coming to his chair. He would then have to press the switch that would jerk his shadowy self back along its invisible connecting cord, jerk him back and leave but a small mound of clothes upon the chair at the table.
Deep depression laid hold of him. He would not be able to see her after tonight until he received his monthly dole two weeks hence. She wouldn't wait that long. Someone else would have her.
Yes, he knew now that he was going to kill his wife as soon as the opportunity presented itself. It would be a simple matter. With the aid of the telporter suit, he could establish an iron-clad alibi.
He took a long drink of whiskey and looked at the dancers about him. Sight of their gay costumes heightened his depression. He was wearing a cheap suit of satin, all he could afford. But some day soon he would show them! Some time soon he would be dressed as gaily....
"Something troubling you, honey?"
His gaze shot back to her and she blurred slightly before his eyes. "No. Nothing at all!" He summoned a sickly smile and clutched her hand in his. "Come on. Let's dance."
He drew her from the chair and into his arms. She melted toward him as if desiring to become a part of him. A tremor of excitement surged through him and threatened to turn his knees into quivering jelly. He could not make his feet conform to the flooding rhythm of the music. He half stumbled, half pushed her along past the booths.
In the shelter of the palms he drew her savagely to him. "Let's--let's go outside." His voice was little more than a croak.
"But, honey!" She pushed herself away, her low voice maddening him. "Don't you have a private room? A girl doesn't like to be taken outside...."
Her words bit into his brain like the blade of a hot knife.
No, he didn't have a private room at the club like the others. A private room for his telporter receiver, a private room where he could take a willing guest. No! He couldn't afford it! No! No! NO! His lot was a cheap suit of satin! Cheap whiskey! Cheap champagne! A cheap shack by the river....
An inarticulate cry escaped his twisted lips. He clutched her roughly to him and dragged her through the door and into the moonlight, whiskey and anger lending him brutal strength.
He pulled her through the deserted garden. All the others had private rooms! He pulled her to the far end, behind a clump of squatty firs. His hands clawed at her. He tried to smother her mouth with kisses.
She eluded him deftly. "But, honey!" Her voice had gone deeper into her throat. "I just want to be sure about things. If you can't afford one of the private rooms--if you can't afford to show me a good time--if you can't come here real often ..."
The whiskey pounded and throbbed at his brain like blows from an unseen club. His ego curled and twisted within him like a headless serpent.
"I'll have money!" he shouted, struggling to hold her. "I'll have plenty of money! After tonight!"
"Then we'll wait," she said. "We'll wait until tomorrow night."
"No!" he screamed. "You don't believe me! You're like the others! You think I'm no good! But I'll show you! I'll show all of you!"
She had gone coldly rigid in his arms, unyielding.
Madness added to the pounding in his brain. Tears welled into his eyes.
"I'll show you! I'll kill her! Then I'll have money!" The hands clutching her shoulders shook her drunkenly. "You wait here! I'll go home and kill her now! Then I'll be back!"
"Silly boy!" Her low laughter rang hollowly in his ears. "And just who is it you are going to kill?"
"My wife!" he cried. "My wife! I'll ..."
A sudden sobering thought struck him. He was talking too much. And he wasn't making sense. He shouldn't be telling her this. Anyway, he couldn't get the money tonight even if he did kill his wife.
"And so you are going to kill your wife...."
He blinked the tears from his eyes. His chest was heaving, his heart pounding. He looked at her shimmering form. "Y-yes," he whispered.
Her eyes glinted strangely in the light of the moon. Her handbag glinted as she opened it, and something she took from it glittered coldly in her hand.
The first shot tore squarely through his heart. And while he stood staring at her, mouth agape, a second shot burned its way through his bewildered brain.
Mrs. Herbert Hyrel removed the telovis from her head and laid it carefully aside. She uncoiled her long legs from beneath her, walked to her husband's chair, and stood for a long moment looking down at him, her lips drawn back in contempt. Then she bent over him and reached down his thigh until her fingers contacted the small switch.
Seconds later, a slight tremor shook Hyrel's body. His eyes snapped open, air escaped his lungs, his lower jaw sagged inanely, and his head lolled to one side.
She stood a moment longer, watching his eyes become glazed and sightless. Then she walked to the telephone.
"Police?" she said. "This is Mrs. Herbert Hyrel. Something horrible has happened to my husband. Please come over immediately. Bring a doctor."
She hung up, went to her bathroom, stripped off her clothing, and slid carefully out of her telporter suit. This she folded neatly and tucked away into the false back of the medicine cabinet. She found a fresh pair of blue, plastifur pajamas and got into them.
She was just arriving back into the living room, tying the cord of her dressing gown about her slim waist, when she heard the sound of the police siren out front.
DAUGHTERS OF DOOM.
By Herbert Livingston
Deep in space lay a weird and threatening world. And it was there that Ben Sessions found the evil daughters . . .
Beyond Ventura B there was no life; there was nothing but one worn out sun after another, each with its retinue of cold planets and its trail of dark asteroids. At least that was what the books showed, and the books had been written by men who knew their business. Yet, despite the books and the men who had written them, Ben Sessions went past Ventura B, deliberately and all alone and knowing that the odds were against his returning alive.
He went because of a file clerk's error. More correctly, he went as the final result of a chain of events which had begun with the clerk's mistake.
The clerk's name was Gilbert Wayne and he worked at the Las Vegas Interplanetary Port. It was Wayne's job to put through the orders for routine overhaul of interplanetary rockets. Usually Wayne was quite efficient, but even efficient men have bad days, and on one of those days Wayne had removed from the active list the name of Astra instead of its sister ship, the Storan.
The very next morning the Astra had been turned over to Maintenance. Maintenance asked no questions. It was that department's job to take the ship apart, fix what needed fixing, and put it. Ten minutes later Jacobs saw Armando Gomez was the mechanic detailed to check the rocket tubes.
Gomez, who always got that job because he was small and slender, dutifully dropped his instruments into his overall pockets and crawled into the left firing tube. Half an hour later he stuck his head out of the tube and yelled to Jacobs, who was in charge of the job: "Amigo! How many hours this ship she got?"
Jacobs ran his finger down a chart and discovered to his surprise that the Astra had only two hundred hours on its log since the last overhaul. Ordinarily a ship was checked each thousand hours. He scratched his head but decided that if Operations wanted the Astra tuned it was none of his business. So he told Gomez not to ask useless questions and to get back in the tube.
Anyone else but Gomez would have obeyed orders and forgotten all about it. Ten minutes later Jacobs saw Armando's head appear.
"Amigo!" Gomez shouted. "How many hours?"
"Two hundred!" Jacobs shouted back, knowing he would have no peace until Gomez was answered. "Now get to work! We ain't got all year."
But Gomez was out of the tube again in five minutes and yelling for the foreman.
"What do you want now?" Jacobs demanded. He swung himself up on the catwalk beside Gomez.
"Something very funny in here, amigo," Gomez replied. "One plate she is too clean."
"Less work for you," Jacobs grunted. "So why complain?"
Nevertheless he took a look at the plate, which was near the mouth of the tube. It should have been lightly encrusted with the oxides of rocket fuel. Instead, it was only beginning to dull, in strange contrast to its neighbors which were welded to it.
"That is queer," Jacobs muttered.
"Si. As you say, amigo. Queer."
Once Jacob's interest was aroused he was also not one to let a matter drop; he told Gomez to work on another tube while he consulted the front office. The front office was not especially interested, but at Jacobs' insistence they called in a metallurgist. The metallurgist, whose name was Britton, was fortunately a thorough young man. He ordered the plate removed and sent to his laboratory for complete analysis.
After that things happened fast. Britton scanned the analysis of the plate and without hesitation called in his superior who ordered a second test just to be safe, and then notified Washington. Washington turned it over to Interplanetary Intelligence, of which Carson was chief of staff.
One week later Ben Sessions stood before Carson's desk.
Sessions was only thirty-five, but in his few years with "Two Eyes," as the organization was known, he had rung up an enviable record. Tall, lithe, darkly handsome, he was well liked by the men who worked with him. At the moment there was a puzzled frown on his face, lengthening the line made by a scar which ran from his forehead down the side of his nose. The scar was the result of a crash landing on Neptune.
"I don't get it, sir," he said. "A single plate from a rocket tube . . . So what if it didn't oxidize?"
"That makes me feel much better." Carson smiled, an inner bitterness making the smile wry. "I didn't get it either," he went on. "A mechanic named Gomez got it; a foreman named Jacobs got it; a lab man named Britton got it; but the chief of "Two Eyes" missed the boat. I feel swell about that." He rose suddenly and hammered his fist on the desk. "Every one of us in Intelligence ought to be cashiered!"