"Type seventeen screens," he read. "Probably Ietorian model Nan fifty-seven generators. Strictly a sportster setup. He's got electromagnetics and physical contact screens, but there's nothing else. And, with the type of readings I've got here, I'd say he's running all the power he's got. Do we go in?"
"Sure we do." Lanko nodded confidently as he slapped the drive lever.
"This thing we've got's only an atmosphere flier, but it's made to take care of tougher stuff than luxury sportsters. Set up your can opener, just in case our boy wants to argue with us."
Banasel nodded silently.
The small sportster was parked between two peaks. Before it was a tiny level space, too small for any ship. Above it, towered bare rock, tipped with eternal snow. Lanko examined the scene disgustedly.
"Inhospitable, isn't he?" he grunted. "He could at least have had enough front yard for a visitor to land." He picked up a microphone, touched a stud, and turned a knob. A faint hiss sounded from the speaker before him.
"Philcor resident calling sportster," he snapped. "Come in, Over."
The hiss continued. Lanko punched another stud, and listened. The hiss remained unchanged.
"Open him up, Banasel," he finally ordered. "I'm going in."
He rose from his chair, crossing to the exit port. For an instant, he stood, checking his equipment belt. Then, he reached to a cabinet, to pick up a tool kit. He opened the box, examined its contents, then turned and nodded to Banasel.
The port opened wide, and he stepped through.
He dropped lightly to the space before the sportster, then stepped away, crouching behind a rock out-crop, and turned his body shield to full power.
"Screens down," he ordered.
A faint haze grew about the sportster. At first, it was a barely perceptible fluorescence. Then, it became a fiercely incandescent glow. It flamed for a few seconds, then faded, becoming green, yellow, red, and at last, blinking to invisibility.
"They're damped," Banasel's voice announced. "Shall I give him some more and knock out the generators?"
"Not necessary," Lanko told him. "Just hold complete neutralization. I'll cut them from inside."
He rose from his position behind the rock, idly kicking at the face of it as he walked past. A shower of dust crumbled to the ground.
"Good thing there aren't any trees around here," he laughed. "We'd have to put out a forest fire."
He pulled his hand weapon from his belt, made a careful adjustment, then walked over to the ship. After a quick examination, he directed the weapon toward a spot in the hull.
"Lot of credits here," he commented laconically. "Shame to hurt the finish too much."
A few minutes later, he stepped back, examining his work. Then, he nodded and removed another instrument from his tool kit. He focused it on the ship's port, flicked a switch on his belt, then snapped the instrument on.
For a few seconds, nothing happened, then there was a grinding screech of tortured metal, and the port swung open.
As Lanko stepped inside, he examined the control room with care. At last, satisfied that no booby traps were set, he crossed to the control panel. He located the communicator controls, and picked up the microphone.
"All's well, Ban," he reported. "Ease off."
He watched as the overloaded generator recovered. When the needles were at normal readings, he flicked the screen controls off, then picked up the microphone again.
"Haul out, Banasel," he ordered. "I'm going to fix this can up again, close the port, run up the screens, and wait for our boy to come home. Like to talk to him."
The sportster had a well stocked galley. Lanko ate with enjoyment, studying the tapes he had found interestedly. Finally, he pushed the last reel aside, then sat back to gaze at the wall.
A low tone sounded, and the viewscreen activated. Lanko nodded to himself, then went to the control room aperture, turning off the alarm as he went through. A few strides took him to the entry port, where he waited, weapon in hand.
The door swung open and Lanko touched his trigger. The newcomer's screen flared briefly, then collapsed. Lanko stepped forward, examining his prisoner.
He was humanoid. There were some differences from the usual type encountered on the planet, but they were not serious. He could have passed in most of the Galankar, if not anywhere. Some might even be attracted by his slightly unusual appearance. Lanko drew him into the ship, and closed the port.
He took his time, making a complete search of the captive's clothing, and removing equipment and weapons. At last, he drew back, satisfied that the being was harmless. He waited. It wouldn't be too long before the business could begin.
As the paralysis effect wore off, the man on the floor flexed his muscles, then got to his feet. Lanko watched him, his weapon resting on his knees. As the man tensed to spring, Lanko raised the weapon a little.
"You are Genro Kir?"
"Who are you? What's the idea?" Kir reached for his belt, then dropped his hand again as he found nothing there.
"Resident Guardsman. Name's Lanko. You seem to be a little out of place on this planet."
"I'm not responsible to some native patrolman." Kir's face became stubborn. "I'm a Galactic Citizen."
"Possibly. We'll leave that to the Sector authorities." Lanko shrugged, his face expressionless. "Meantime, you'll have to accept things as they are. Or would you rather be paralyzed again?"
Genro Kir tensed again, making an obvious mental effort.
Lanko grinned at him in real amusement. "I took it. Wouldn't do you much good anyway. They gave me heavy-duty equipment, you know." He waved toward a chair with his weapon. "Might as well sit down and talk about it. I've been through your tapes, of course."
Kir looked around unhappily, then sank into a chair. "What's there to talk about, then? You know what we were doing."
"In general, yes, we do. A good deal was on your tapes. But we need more detail, and we've got to pick up your companions, you know. It would be a lot better if we knew where they were."
"I don't know where they are myself. They're building up their forces, and working for position. This is just the opening, you see. The real game won't start for quite a while."
Lanko laughed shortly. "Frankly, I don't think it will start. But it would make it simpler for all concerned if you'd help us find the players."
"I told you. I don't know where they are. They don't have to tell the referee every move they make, unless they want a consultation as to legality. I was just keeping watch on the general picture, to see that neither of them broke a rule, or took an unfair advantage."
"You may not know where they are," Lanko admitted, "but you can certainly contact them."
Genro Kir smiled tightly. "But I won't."
"They'll be hunted down, you know. We'll have them eventually. Be a lot easier for all concerned if you'd cooperate."
"Cooperate with a bunch of half savage natives, against my own friends? Don't be more stupid than you have to be!"
"I see." Lanko glanced away. "All very ethical, of course. Well, in that case, we'll have to go to work." He pulled a fine chain from a case at his belt, and walked over to his captive, weapon ready.
"Just hold still," he ordered. He slipped the delicate looking necklace over the man's head, squeezed the pendant, and jumped back.
"I don't know whether you're familiar with this device," he said, "so I'll explain it to you. It's a type ninety-two gravitic manacle, and is designed to hold any known being. You can move about freely, so long as you don't make any sudden or violent motion. The device is keyed to my shield, and you'll suffer temporary paralysis if you get within my near zone. You're safe enough a couple of meters from me." He walked back to the control console.
"Oh, yes," he added, "don't try to take it off. It's designed to prevent that action by positive means. It won't do you any permanent damage, but it can make you pretty uncomfortable. And, remember, if it becomes necessary, I can activate the manacle. It'll put you into full paralysis and send out a strong homing signal."
Genro Kir looked at him sourly. "I won't try to escape," he promised.
"That's immaterial to me." Lanko flicked switches and the ship rose from the ground, swung, and started westward. "I was merely describing the capabilities of the manacle."
On the way over the sea, Lanko noted the positions of a few of the trading ships, and approached them closely, examining them. As he approached a small archipelago, his communicator screen brightened.
"Resident Guardsman to Sportster. Identity yourself. Over."
Lanko picked up the microphone. "It's all right, Ban. Got one. Two more to go."
"Fair enough. Come on in. I've got a beam on you."
Lanko checked the approach scope. The small circle was a trifle out of center. He touched the control bar, and as the circle centered, he snapped a switch and sat back.
The sportster dipped over an island, crossed a narrow lagoon, and settled to the ground beside the guard flier. Lanko started pulling tools from his kit. Working carefully, he removed the cover from the control console, examined the terminal blocks, then attached a small cylinder between two terminals.
He closed the console again and walked over to the exit port, where he pressed the emergency release. The port swung wide. For an instant, the control console was blurred. Lanko waited, then as the panel returned to focus, he walked back to it. He snapped the drive switch on and pushed the drive to maximum. Nothing happened. He punched the emergency power button, and waited an instant. There was no result. He nodded to his prisoner.
"Come on, Genro Kir. We may want you to talk to someone." He pointed to the port. Kir hesitated, then went through. He managed a sneer as he did so.
The port of the flier opened, and Banasel looked out. "Need any help?"
"No. This spaceship won't fly till someone from Sector comes out to pull the block." Lanko pointed. "This is Genro Kir. He was refereeing a sort of battle game between a couple of his companions."
Lanko herded Kir in front of him, and entered his own flier. He placed the equipment kit on a shelf, and sat down. Banasel perched on his workbench.
"What kind of a setup did these jokers have?"
"Well, you can review the tapes later and get a few of the details, but here's the general idea: "Genro Kir and his two companions made planetfall some years back. They didn't know it was a discovered planet, and failed to note any evidence of our presence. Somehow, we missed them, too, for which we should hang our heads.
"Anyway, they checked the planet, found it was suitable to their purpose, and decided that Koree Buron and Sira Nal could use it as a playing board. Seems they had a bet on, and their last game was inconclusive. Both of the involved civilizations collapsed.
"Each of them selected a portion of the habitable part of the eastern continent as a primary base. Buron took the east, and that left the west to Nal. It so happens that the central portion of the continent is difficult to pass, and that fitted in with their plans. You remember the desert and mountain ranges, of course? Well, so far as I can discover, there was virtually no contact before the arrival of these three prizes of ours. And after their arrival, they made sure that there would be no contact--not until they wanted it.
"Of course, deserts can be crossed, and mountains can be climbed, but our three boys fixed it so it would be fatal for any native to try it. Then, each of the two contestants set to work to build up the war potential of his part of the continent.
"In the meantime, Genro was acting as referee. He's been checking the progress of the two contestants, and making sure that neither of them sneaks into the territory of the other to upset something, or commits any other breach of rules."
Banasel slid off his bench. "Atmosphere of mutual trust, I see."
"Where do the Kondaran priests come in?"
"Oh, those two aren't going to confine the final stage of their game to the one continent. That's just the starting point--the home base. And what they're doing now is just the opening of the game. The end game will decide control of the entire planet. Sira Nal's just getting off to an early start, that's all."
"This is legitimate, according to their rules?"
"I guess so. According to Kir's tapes, he thinks it's a clever maneuver. 'Sound move' is the way he expressed it." Lanko stood and walked over to the reproducer set. "That all came from the tapes, of course."
"How much more has Kir told you?"
"As little as possible."
Banasel looked toward the prisoner. "Why not cooperate? You're due for Aldebaran anyway. And a little help now would make it easier for you and your partners later."
Genro Kir's lip curled. "As I told your friend, I don't have to lower myself to work with a bunch of low-grade primitives."
"See what I mean?" Lanko slanted an eyebrow at Banasel. "But I think our friend here will help us some, anyway. That 'sound move' he recorded is almost sure to catch us one of the players."
"Sure. What's the whole foundation of this cult of Kondaro?"
"Why, they navigate ships. They keep strict security on their methods. They enforce that security by terrorism. They claim that no one else can successfully cross the Great Sea, and it seems to be a proven fact that they're right. So, they collect from seamen, traders, and shipowners."
"That's right. And they claim that only they can overcome the spells and actions of the sea demons, which try to destroy any ship that sails the sea. First, though, they navigate ships. They guarantee to get 'em across the sea and back. Right?"
"Suppose they start losing ships? Suppose that from now on, no ship returns to port?" Lanko walked over to the control console.
"Hey, wait a minute. I know these priests are a bunch of pirates--or some of them are, at any rate. But we can't--"
"Who said anything about destroying life?" Lanko spread his hands. "We have here a fairly nice group of islands," he pointed out. "Not too spacious, of course, and not possessed of any luxurious cities. But there's water, and fresh fruits are available in plenty. The ships are provisioned fairly well, but they generally put in here for those very fruits. So, all we need do is give a little unwanted help."
"Something like that."
Banasel shook his head doubtfully. "It'll take a long time to undermine their reputation that way," he objected. "And we'd have a lot of people on these islands before we were through."
"I don't think so. Kondaro's a god, remember? And gods are infallible. Sira Nal can explain a few disappearances by accusations of irreverence, but he'll know better than to try explaining too many that way. I should imagine that the normal losses due to unexpected storms just about use up his allotment along that line."
Lanko shook his head. "No, Sira Nal's going to have to do something to prevent any rumor to the effect that the sea god is losing his grip." He paused. "And what ship do you think I spotted standing this way?"
"Oh, no! That's too much of a coincidence."