"Give me the gun," Ramsey said.
"My goodness, of course. I'm not trying to hold you up. Here." She got up from the bed for the first time and walked toward them. She had firm, long legs, and used them well. She was utterly lovely and although part of it was probably her professional know-how, she made you forget that. She was the most attractive girl, Earth or outworld, Ramsey had seen in years.
Ramsey took the gun. Their hands met. Ramsey leaned forward quickly and kissed her on the lips. He was still holding the Vegan girl's slender arm, though. She tried to run away but couldn't. Margot Dennison returned the kiss for an instant, to show Ramsey that when she really wanted to return it, if she ever really would, she would pack the same kind of libidinal vitality in her responses as she did in her appearance; then she stood coldly, no longer responsive, until Ramsey stepped back.
"Maybe I was asking for it," she said. "I was prepared for that--and more. But it isn't necessary now, is it? My gosh, Ramsey! Will you please close that mind of yours? You make a girl blush."
"Then put on your cloak," Ramsey said, and, really blushing this time, she did so.
She said: "I'm prepared to pay you one thousand credits; what do you say?"
"I say it must be a pretty important appointment you have on Centauri."
"Earth, Captain Ramsey. I'm settling for Centauri. Well?"
"I'll take you," Ramsey said, "if this girl comes too."
Margot Dennison looked at the frightened Vegan girl and smiled. "So it's like that," she said.
"It isn't like anything."
Ramsey packed a few things in an expanduffle and the three of them hurried through the doorway and down stairs. The cold dark night awaiting them with a fierce howling wind and the first flurries of snow from the north.
"Where to?" Ramsey hollered above the wind.
"My place," Margot Dennison told him, and they ran.
Margot Dennison had a large apartment in Irwadi City's New Quarter. This surprised Ramsey, for not many outworlders lived there. That night, though, he was too tired to think about it. He vaguely remembered a couch for himself, a separate room for the Vegan girl, another for Margot Dennison. He slept like a log without dreaming.
He awoke with anxious hands fluttering at his shoulder. Opening one sleepy eye, he saw the Vegan girl. He saw daylight through a window but said, "Gmph! Middle of the night."
The Vegan girl said: "She's gone."
Ramsey came awake all at once, springing to his feet fully dressed and flinging aside his cloak, which he'd used as a blanket. "Margot!" he called.
"She's gone," the Vegan girl repeated. "When I awoke she wasn't here. The door--"
Ramsey ran to the door. It was a heavy plastic irising door. It was locked and naturally would not respond to the whorl patterns of Ramsey's thumb.
"So now we're prisoners," Ramsey said. "I don't get it."
"At least there's food in the kitchen."
"All right. Let's eat."
There were two windows in the room, but when Ramsey looked out he saw they were at least four stories up. They'd just have to wait for Margot Dennison.
It took the Vegan girl some time to prepare the unfamiliar Earth-style food with which Margot Dennison's kitchen was stocked. Ramsey used the time to prowl around the apartment. It was furnished in Sirian-archaic, a mode of furniture too feminine to suit Ramsey's tastes. But then, the uni-sexual Sirians, of course, often catered to their own feminine taste.
Ramsey found nothing in Margot Dennison's apartment which indicated she had done any acting on Irwadi, and that surprised him, for he'd assumed she had plied her trade here as elsewhere. He felt a little guilty about his snooping, then changed his mind when he remembered that Margot had locked them in.
In one of the slide compartments of what passed for a bureau in Sirian-archaic, he found a letter. Since it was the only piece of correspondence in the apartment, it might be important to Margot Dennison, thought Ramsey. And if it were important to her....
Ramsey opened the letter and read it. Dated five Earth months before, it ran: My darling Margot: By the time you read this I shall be dead. Ironical, isn't it? Coming so close--with death in the form of an incurable cancer intervening.
As you know, Margot, I always wished for a son but never had one. You'll have to play that role, I'm afraid, as you always have. Here is the information I told you I would write down. Naturally, if you intend to do anything about it, you'll guard it with your life.
Apparently the hyper-space pattern from Irwadi to Earth is the one I was looking for. The proto-men, if I may be bold enough to call them that, first left hyper-space at that point, perhaps a million, perhaps five million, Earth years ago. I don't have to tell you what this means, my child. I've already indicated it to you previously. It suffices to remind you that, in what science has regarded as the most amazing coincidence in the history of the galaxy, humanoid types sprang up on some three thousand stellar worlds simultaneously between one and five million years ago. I say simultaneously although there is the possibility of a four million year lag: indications are, however, that one date would do quite well for all the worlds.
Proto-man was tremendously ahead of us in certain sciences, naturally. For example, each humanoid type admirably fits the evolutionary pattern on its particular planet. The important point, Margot, is the simultaneity of the events: it means that proto-man left hyper-space, his birth-place, and peopled the man-habitable worlds of the galaxy at a single absolute instance in time. This would clearly be impossible if the thousands of journeys involved any duration. Therefore, it can only be concluded that they were journeys which somehow negated the temporal dimension. In other words, instant travel across the length and breadth of the galaxy!
Whoever re-discovers proto-man's secret, needless to say, will be the most influential, the most powerful, man in the galaxy. Margot, I thought that man would be me. It won't be now.
But it can be you, Margot. It is my dying wish that you continue my work. Let nothing stop you. Nothing. Remember this, though: I cannot tell you what to expect when you reach the original home of proto-man. In all probability the whole race has perished, or we'd have heard of them since. But I can't be sure of that. I can't be sure of anything. Perhaps proto-man, like some deistic god, became disinterested in the Milky Way Galaxy for reasons we'll never understand. Perhaps he still exists, in hyper-space.
Finally, Margot, remember this. If you presented this letter to the evolutionary scientists on any of the worlds, they'd laugh at you. It is as if unbelief of the proto-man legend were ingrained in all the planetary people, perhaps somehow fantastically carried from generation to generation in their genes because proto-man a million years ago decided that each stellar world must work out its own destiny independently of the others and independent of their common heritage. But in my own case, there are apparently two unique factors at work. In the first place, as you know, I deciphered--after discovering it quite by accident--what was probably a proto-man's dying message to his children, left a million years ago in the ruins on Arcturus II. In the second place, isn't it quite possible that my genes have changed, that I have mutated and therefore do not have as an essential part of my make-up the unbelief of the proto-man legend?
Good luck to you, Margot. I hope you're willing to give up your career to carry out your dying father's wish. If you do, and if you succeed, more power will be yours than a human being has ever before had in the galaxy. I won't presume to tell you how to use it.
Oh, yes. One more thing. Since Earth and Alpha Centauri are on a direct line from Irwadi, Centauri will do quite well as your outbound destination if for some reason you can't make Earth. Again, good luck, my child. With all my love, Dad.
Ramsey frowned at the letter. He did not know what to make of it. As far as he knew, there was no such thing as a proto-man myth in wide currency around the galaxy. He had never heard of proto-man. Unless, he thought suddenly, the dying man could have simply meant all the myths of human creation, hypothecating a first man who, somehow, had developed independently of the beasts of the field although he seemed to fit their evolutionary pattern....
But what the devil would hyper-space have to do with such a myth? Proto-man, whatever proto-man was, couldn't have lived in hyper-space. Not in that bleak, ugly, faceless infinity....
Unless, Ramsey thought, more perplexed than ever, it was the very bleak, ugly, faceless infinity which made proto-man leave.
"Breakfast!" the Vegan girl called. Ramsey joined her in the kitchen, and they ate without talking. When they were drinking their coffee, an Earth-style beverage which the Vegan girl admitted liking, the apartment door irised and Margot Dennison came in.
Ramsey, who had replaced the letter where he'd found it, said: "Just what the devil did you think you were doing, locking us in?"
"For your own protection, silly," Margot told him smoothly. "I always lock my door when I go out, so I locked it today. Naturally, we won't have a chance to apply for a new lock. Besides, why arouse suspicion?"
"Where'd you go?"
"I don't see where that's any of your business."
"Believe it or not," Ramsey said caustically, "I've seen a thousand credits before. I've turned down a thousand credits before, in jobs I didn't like. As for being stranded here on Irwadi, it's all the same to me whether I'm on Irwadi or elsewhere."
"What does all that mean, Captain Ramsey?"
"It means keep us informed. It means don't get uppity."
Margot laughed and dropped a vidcast tape on the table in front of Ramsey. He read it and did not look up. There was a description of himself, a description of the Vegan girl, and a wanted bulletin issued on them. For assaulting the Chief of Irwadi Security, the bulletin said. For assaulting a drunken fool, Ramsey thought.
"Well?" Margot asked. This morning she wore a man-tailored jumper which, Ramsey observed, clashed with the Sirian-archaic furniture. She looked cool and completely poised and no less beautiful, if less provocatively dressed, than last night.
Ramsey returned question for question. "What about the ship?"
"In a Spacer Graveyard, of course. There isn't a landing field on the planet we could go to."
"You mean we'll take off from a Graveyard? From a junk-heap of battered old derelict ships?"
"Of course. It has some advantages, believe it or not. We'll work on the ship nights. It needs plenty of work, let me tell you. But then the Graveyard is a kind of parts department, isn't it?"
Ramsey couldn't argue with that.
They spent the next three days sleeping and slowly going stir-crazy. They slipped out each night, though, and walked the two miles to the Spacer Graveyard down near the river. It was on the other side of the river, which meant they had to boat across. Risky, but there was no help for it. Each night they worked on the ship, which Ramsey found to be a fifty-year old Canopusian freighter in even worse condition than Margot had indicated. The night was usually divided into three sections. First, reviewing the work which had been done and planning the evening's activities. Then, looking for the parts they would need in the jungle of interstellar wrecks all about them. Finally, going to work with the parts they had found and with the tools which Ramsey had discovered on the old Canopusian freighter the first night.
As they made their way back across the river the first night, Ramsey paddling slowly, quietly, Margot said: "Ramsey, I--I think we're being watched."
"I haven't seen or heard a thing. You, Vardin?" Vardin was the Vegan girl's name.
Vardin shook her head.
Ramsey was anxious all at once, though. Things had gone too smoothly. They had not been interfered with at all. Personally, things hadn't gone smoothly with Ramsey, but that was another story. He found himself liking Margot Dennison too much. He found himself trying to hide it because he knew she could read minds. Just how do you hide your thoughts from a mind reader? Ramsey didn't know, but whenever his thoughts drifted in that direction he tried thinking of something else--anything else, except the proto-man letter.
"Yes, that's just what I was thinking," Margot said in the boat. "I can read minds, so I'd know best if we were being watched. To get a clear reading I have to aim my thoughts specifically, but I can pick up free-floating thoughts as a kind of emotional tone rather than words. Does that make sense?"
"If you say so. What else did you read in my mind?"
Margot smiled at him mysteriously and said nothing.
Ramsey felt thoughts of proto-man nibbling at his consciousness. He tried to fight them down purely rationally, and knew he wouldn't succeed. He grabbed Margot and pulled her close to him, seeking her lips with his, letting his thoughts wander into a fantasy of desire.
Margot slapped his face and sat stiffly in her cloak while he paddled to the other side of the river. Vardin sat like a statue. Ramsey had come to a conclusion: he did not like letting Margot know how he felt about her, but it was mostly on a straight physical level and he preferred her discovering it to her learning that he'd read the proto-man letter from her father. In his thoughts, though, he never designated it as the proto-man letter from her father. He designated it as X.
When they reached the bank, Margot said: "I'm sorry for slapping you."
"I'm sorry for making a pass."
"Ramsey, tell me, what is X?"
Ramsey laughed harshly and said nothing. That gave Margot something to think about. Maybe it would keep her thoughts out of his mind, keep her from reading....
X marks the spot, thought Ramsey. XXX marks the spot-spot-spot. X is a spot in a pot or a lot of rot....
"Oh, stop it!" Margot cried irritably. "You're thinking nonsense."
"Then get the heck out of my mind," Ramsey told her.
Vardin walked on without speaking. If she had any inkling of what they were talking about, she never mentioned it.
Margot said: "I still get the impression."
"That we're being followed. That we're being watched. Every step of the way."
Wind and cold and darkness. The hairs on the back of Ramsey's neck prickled. They walked on, bent against the wind.
Security Officer Second Class Ramar Chind reported to his Chief in the Hall of Retribution the following morning. Chind, a career man with the Irwadi Security Forces, did not like his new boss. Garr Symm was no career man. He knew nothing of police procedure. It was even rumored--probably based upon solid fact--that Garr Symm liked his brandy excessively and often found himself under its influence. Worst of all--after all, a man could understand a desire for drink, even if, sometimes, it interfered with work--worst of all, Garr Symm was a scientist, a dome-top in the Irwadi vernacular. And hard-headed Ramar Chind lost no love on dome-tops.
He saluted crisply and said: "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Garr Symm leaned forward over his desk, making a tent of his scaly green fingers and peering over it. He said three words. He said: "The Earthgirl Dennison."
"The Spacer Graveyard," Ramar Chind said promptly. That was an easy one. His agents had been following the Dennison girl, at Garr Symm's orders. Ramar Chind did not know why.
"And?" Garr Symm asked.
"The Earthman Ramsey, the Vegan Vardin, both are with her. We can close in and arrest the lot, sir, any time you wish."
"Fool," Garr Symm said softly, without malice. "That is the last thing I want. Don't you understand that? No, I guess you don't."
"Every morning after they leave we go over it. Still two or three nights away from completion, sir. Also--" Ramar Chind smiled.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Two or three nights away from completion, except for one thing. They'll need a fuel supply. Two U-235 capsules rigged for slow implosion, sir. The hopper of their ship is empty."
"Is there such a fuel supply in the Graveyard?"
"But could there be?"
"Usually, no. Naturally, the junkers drain out spaceship hoppers before scrapping them. U-235 in any form brings--"
"I know the value of U-235. Proceed."