As far as he could tell from the gauges lined in a miniature row along the neckpiece of the suit, his heating system was functioning as designed. The batteries had an excellent chance of lasting longer than he would.
He began to dwell upon thoughts of squeezing Peters in the steel grip of his gauntlets until the pilot's fat face turned purple and his eyes popped. Another promising activity would be to bang Braigh's head against a bulkhead with one hand and Dorothy's with the other.
Wonder if they found the gun in my locker? he mused.
Finally, only a lifetime or two after he hoped to see it, he sighted the ship again. His watch claimed the trip had lasted less than ninety minutes.
He encountered unexpected trouble approaching the hull. Realizing that he was lucky to come close at all by such a guess, he tried to steer himself with brief jets from his air tank, and wound up on the verge of bashing directly into a fin. He avoided that, but had to use more air to spin back for a more gentle contact.
The metal felt like solid Earth to him as he seized the edge of a fin and planted the magnets of his boots firmly on the hull.
It was perhaps twenty minutes later, when Tremont was beginning to worry again about his air supply, that the hatch of the air lock began to open.
Crystals of frost puffed out as the water vapor left the air. Braigh's helmet appeared, then the whole spacesuited figure floated up before the spot where Tremont was watching. The highjacker dropped the magnet of his life line against the hull and started to turn around.
Tremont grabbed the edge of the hatch with one hand, yanked the magnet loose with the other, and kicked Braigh in the right area.
The spacesuited figure shot off, tumbling end over end, into the void. A startled squawk sounded over Tremont's receiver.
"See how you like it!" he snarled.
He ignored the begging of the suddenly frightened voice, and dived into the air lock. In seconds, he had the outer hatch shut and was nervously watching the air pressure building up on the gauge.
If they notice at all, they'll think it's Braigh coming back! he exulted.
He made it into the central shaft without meeting anyone. Pulling himself forward in the bulky suit was an awkward task, but well worth it for the expression on Peters' face when Tremont burst through the control-room hatch.
After dealing with the pilot in about two minutes, most of it spent in catching him, Tremont went back along the shaft and found Dorothy in her bunk. Before she could release the netting, he folded the bunk upon her and secured it to the hook. Only then did he allow himself the time to remove his helmet and make free of the ship's air.
"What are you going to do?" demanded the girl, rather shrilly.
Tremont realized that she must have seen the unconscious Peters floating outside in the shaft.
"You won't like it!" he promised.
"Tremont! I didn't know they'd do anything to you. Can't ... you and I ... make some kind of ... deal?"
Tremont stared at her levelly.
"But I'd have to really sleep sometime," he pointed out gently. "How can I trust you...?"
He was hardly a million miles out from the satellite system of Centauri VI when the Space Patrol ship he had called managed to put a pilot aboard to land the Annabel for him on the largest moon.
Tremont returned wearily from helping the man in the air lock--which he did with a practiced efficiency that surprised the pilot--to resume his talk with the patrol-ship captain waiting on the screen.
"We could have done it sooner, you know," said the latter curiously. "Well, now that I see him beside you, perhaps you'll explain your request to delay, and also what those pips trailing you are."
"It's all the same story," said Tremont, and explained his difficulties.
The patrol captain frowned and expressed a wish to lay hands on the highjackers.
"Well, they're due back in"--Tremont consulted his watch--"about two hours. I wanted them near the ends of their orbits as you approached."
"You mean there are three bodies out there?"
"Live ones, in spacesuits," said Tremont. "Experience is a great teacher. As soon as I sighted Braigh coming back, I set up a regular system."
He explained how he had removed all tools from the three spacesuits, added extra tanks, and stuffed the trio into them, either unconscious or at gunpoint.
"Then, having fastened the ankles together and wired the wrists to the thighs so they couldn't move at all, I launched them one at a time with enough pressure in the air lock to give four-hour orbits. That gave me sleeping time."
"And what about them?" asked the captain.
"Oh, at the end of that period, they'd come drifting in at one-hour intervals. Counting all the necessary operations, each of them got thirty minutes actually out of the suit to eat and so on. Then out he'd go while I fished in the next one. They didn't like it, but they weren't so tough one at a time."
"Let's see--" mused the captain. "Every four hours, you'd have to spend ... why, only two hours processing them. As a result, you kept complete control and came shooting in here with your own satellite system revolving about you."
"And your friends? How have they been passing the time?"
"Well, either figuring out how to take me next time," guessed Tremont, "or wishing they were moving in more honest circles!"
By Randall Garrett
You hear a lot of talk these days about secret weapons. If it's not a new wrinkle in nuclear fission, it's a gun to shoot around corners and down winding staircases. Or maybe a nice new strain of bacteria guaranteed to give you radio-active dandruff. Our own suggestion is to pipe a few of our television commercials into Russia and bore the enemy to death.
Well, it seems that Ivar Jorgensen has hit on the ultimate engine of destruction: a weapon designed to exploit man's greatest weakness. The blueprint can be found in the next few pages; and as the soldier in the story says, our only hope is to keep a sense of humor!
Me? I'm looking for my outfit. Got cut off in that Holland Tunnel attack. Mind if I sit down with you guys a while? Thanks. Coffee? Damn! This is heaven. Ain't seen a cup of coffee in a year.
What? You said it! This sure is a hell of a war. Tough on a guy's feet. Yeah, that's right. Holland Tunnel skirmish. Where the Ruskies used that new gun. Uhuh. God! It was awful. Guys popping off all around a guy and him not knowing why. No sense to it. No noise. No wound. Just popping off.
That's the trouble with this war. It won't settle down to a routine. Always something new. What the hell chance has a guy got to figure things out? And I tell you them Ruskies are coming up with new weapons just as fast as we are. Enough to make your hair stand on end.
Sugar? Christ, yes! Ain't seen sugar for a year. You see, it's like this: we were bottled up in the pits around the Tunnel for seven damn days. It was like nothing you ever saw before. Oops--sorry. Didn't mean to splash you. I was laughing about something that happened there--to a guy. Maybe you guys would get a kick out of it. After all, we got to keep our sense of humor.
You see, there was me and a Kentucky kid named Stillwell in this pit--a pretty big pit with lots of room--and we were all alone. This Stillwell was a nice kid--green and lonesome and it's pretty sad, really, but there's a yak in it, and--as I say--we got to keep a sense of humor.
Well, this Stillwell--a really green kid--is unhappy and just plain drooling for his gal back home. He talks about his mother, of course, and his old man, but it's the girl that's really on his mind as you guys can plainly understand.
He's seeing her every place--like spots in front of his eyes--nice spots doing things to him, when this Ruskie babe shows up.
My gun came up without any orders from me just as she poked her puss over the edge of the pit, and--huh? Oh, thank you kindly. It sure tastes good but I don't want to short you guys. Thank you kindly.
Well, as I was saying, this Ruskie babe pokes her nose over the edge of the pit and Stillwell dives and knocks down my gun. He says, "You son-of-a-bitch!" Just like that. Wild and desperate, like you'd say to a guy if the guy was just kicking over the last jug of water on a desert island.
It would have been long enough for her to kill us if I hadn't had good reflexes. Even then, all I had time to do was knock the pistol out of her hand and drag her into the pit.
With her play bollixed, she was confused and bewildered. She ain't a fighter, and she sits back against the wall staring at us dead pan with big expressionless eyes. She's a plenty pretty babe and I could see exactly what had happened as far as Stillwell was concerned. His spots had come to life in very adequate form so to speak.
Stillwell goes over and sits down beside her and I'm very much on the alert, because I know where his courage comes from. But I decide it's all right, because I see the babe is not belligerent, just confused kind of. And friendly.
And willing. Kind of a whipped-little-dog willing, and man oh man! She was sure what Stillwell needed.
They kind of went together like a hand and a glove--natural-like. And it followed--pretty natural--that when Stillwell got up and led her around a wing of the pit, out of sight, she went willing--like that same little dog.
Uhuh. No, you guys. Two's enough. I wouldn't rob you. Well, okay, and thanks kindly.
Well, there I was, all alone, but happy for Stillwell, cause I know it's what the kid needs, and in spots like that what difference does it make? Yank--Ruskie--Mongolian--as long as she's willing.
Then, you guys, Stillwell comes back out--wall-eyed--real wall-eyed--like being hit but not knocked out and still walking. I know what it is--some kind of shock. I get up and walk over and take a look at the babe where he'd left her--and I bust out laughing. I told you guys there was a yak in this. I laughed like a fool--it was that funny. As much as I had time to, before Stillwell cracked. It was enough to crack him--the little thing that pushes a guy over the edge.
He lets out a yell and screams, "For crisake! For crisake! Nothing but a bucket of bolts! Nothing but a couple of plastic lumps--"
That was when I hit him. I had to. He was for the birds, Stillwell was. An hour later we got relieved and a couple of medicos carried him away strapped to a stretcher--gone like a kite.
They took the robot too, and its clothes, but they forgot the brassiere, so I took it and I been carrying it ever since, but I'll leave it with you guys if you want--for the coffee. Might make you think about home. After all, like the man says, we got to keep our sense of humor.
Well, so long, you guys--and thanks.
FIFTY PER CENT PROPHET.
By Randall Garrett
That he was a phony Swami was beyond doubt. That he was a genuine prophet, though, seemed ... but then, what's the difference between a dictator and a true prophet? So was he....
Dr. Joachim sat in the small room behind his reception hall and held his fingers poised above the keys of the rather creaky electrotyper on his desk. The hands seemed to hang there, long, slender, and pale, like two gulls frozen suddenly in their long swoop towards some precious tidbit floating on the writhing sea beneath, ready to begin their drop instantly, as soon as time began again.
All of Dr. Joachim's body seemed to be held in that same stasis. Only his lips moved as he silently framed the next sentence in his mind.
Physically, the good doctor could be called a big man: he was broad-shouldered and well-muscled, but, hidden as his body was beneath the folds of his blue, monkish robe, only his shortness of stature was noticeable. He was only fifty-four, but the pale face, the full, flowing beard, and the long white hair topped by a small blue skullcap gave him an ageless look, as though centuries of time had flowed over him to leave behind only the marks of experience and wisdom.
The timelessness of an idealized Methuselah as he approached his ninth centennial, the God-given wisdom engraved on the face of Moses as he came down from Sinai, the mystic power of mighty Merlin as he softly intoned a spell of albamancy, all these seemed to have been blended carefully together and infused into the man who sat behind the typer, composing sentences in his head.
Those gull-hands swooped suddenly to the keyboard, and the aged machine clattered rapidly for nearly a minute before Dr. Joachim paused again to consider his next words.
A bell tinkled softly.
Dr. Joachim's brown eyes glanced quickly at the image on the black-and-white TV screen set in the wall. It was connected to the hidden camera in his front room, and showed a woman entering his front door. He sighed and rose from his seat, adjusting his blue robes carefully before he went to the door that led into the outer room.
He'd rather hoped it was a client, but-- "Hello, Susan, my dear," he said in a soft baritone, as he stepped through the door. "What seems to be the trouble?"
It wasn't the same line that he'd have used with a client. You don't ask a mark questions; you tell him. To a mark, he'd have said: "Ah, you are troubled." It sounds much more authoritative and all-knowing.
But Cherrie Tart--nee Sue Kowalski--was one of the best strippers on the Boardwalk. Her winters were spent in Florida or Nevada or Puerto Rico, but in summer she always returned to King Frankie's Golden Surf, for the summer trade at Coney Island. She might be a big name in show business now, but she had never forgotten her carny background, and King Frankie, in spite of the ultra-ultra tone of the Golden Surf, still stuck to the old Minsky traditions.
The worried look on her too-perfect face had been easily visible in the TV screen, but it had been replaced by a bright smile as soon as she had heard Dr. Joachim opening the door. The smile flickered for a moment, then she said: "Gee, Doc; you give a girl the creepy feeling that you really can read her mind."
Dr. Joachim merely smiled. Susan might be with it, but a good mitt man doesn't give away all his little secrets. He had often wished that he could really read minds--he had heard rumors of men who could--but a little well-applied psychology is sometimes just as good.
"So how's everything been, Doc?" She smiled her best stage smile--every tooth perfect in that perfect face, her hair framing the whole like a perfect golden helmet. She looked like a girl in her early twenties, but Dr. Joachim knew for a fact that she'd been born in 1955, which made her thirty-two next January.
"Reasonably well, all things considered," Dr. Joachim admitted. "I'm not starving to death, at least."
She looked around at the room--the heavy drapes, the signs of the zodiac in gold and silver, the big, over-stuffed chairs, all designed to make the "clients" feel comfortable and yet slightly awed by the ancient atmosphere of mysticism. In the dim light, they looked fairly impressive, but she knew that if the lights were brighter the shabbiness would show.
"Maybe you could use a redecorating job, then, Doc," she said. With a gesture born of sudden impulse, she reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope and pressed it into the man's hands. He started to protest, but she cut him off. "No, Doc; I want you to have it. You earned it.
"That San Juan-New York flight, remember?" she went on hurriedly. "You said not to take it, remember? Well, I ... I sort of forgot about what you'd said. You know. Anyway, I got a ticket and was ready to go when the flight was suddenly delayed. Routine, they said. Checking the engines. But I'd never heard of any such routine as that. I remembered what you told me, Doc, and I got scared.
"After an hour, they put another plane into service; they were still working on the other one. I was still worried, so I decided to wait till the next day.
"I guess you read what happened."
He closed his eyes and nodded slowly. "I read."
"Doc, I'd've been on that flight if you hadn't warned me. All the money in the world isn't enough to pay for that." The oddly worried look had come back into her eyes. "Doc, I don't know how you knew that ship was going to go, and I won't ask. I don't want to know. But, ... one thing: Was it me they were after?"