"The analysis appears to be fairly accurate," Dr. Egavine acknowledged, "and all detectable trouble sources are covered by the selected Fleet serum."
Dasinger said, "We'll prepare for an immediate landing then. There'll be less than an hour of daylight left on the ground, but the night's so short we'll disregard that factor." He switched off the connection to Egavine's cabin, turned to Duomart. "Now our wrist communicators, you say, have a five-mile range?"
"A little over five."
"Then," Dasinger said, "we'll keep you and the Cat stationed at an exact five-mile altitude ninety-five per cent of the time we spend on the planet. If the Spy arrives while you're up there, how much time will we have to clear out?"
She shrugged. "That depends of course on how they arrive. My detectors can pick the Spy up in space before their detectors can make out the Cat against the planet. If we spot them as they're heading in, we'll have around fifteen minutes.
"But if they show up on the horizon in atmosphere, or surface her out of subspace, that's something else. If I don't move instantly then, they'll have me bracketed ... and BLOOIE!"
Dasinger said, "Then those are the possibilities you'll have to watch for. Think you could draw the Spy far enough away in a chase to be able to come back for us?"
"They wouldn't follow me that far," Duomart said. "They know the Cat can outrun them easily once she's really stretched out, so if they can't nail her in the first few minutes they'll come back to look around for what we were interested in here." She added, "And if I don't let the Cat go all out but just keep a little ahead of them, they'll know that I'm trying to draw them away from something."
Dasinger nodded. "In that case we'll each be on our own, and your job will be to keep right on going and get the information as quickly as possible to the Kyth detective agency in Orado. The agency will take the matter from there."
Miss Mines looked at him. "Aren't you sort of likely to be dead before the agency can do anything about the situation?"
"I'll try to avoid it," Dasinger said. "Now, we've assumed the worst as far as the Spy is concerned. But things might also go wrong downstairs. Say I lose control of the group, or we all get hit down there by whatever hit the previous landing parties and it turns out that kwil's no good for it. It's understood that in any such event you again head the Cat immediately for the Hub and get the word to the agency. Right?"
He brought a flat case of medical hypodermics out of his pocket, and opened it.
"Going to take your shot of kwil before we land?" Miss Mines asked.
"No. I want you to keep one of these needles on hand, at least until we find out what the problem is. It'll knock you out if you have to take it, but it might also keep you alive. I'm waiting myself to see if it's necessary to go on kwil. The hallucinations I get from the stuff afterwards could hit me while we're in the middle of some critical activity or other, and that mightn't be so good." He closed the case again, put it away. "I think we've covered everything. If you'll check the view plate, something--or somebody--has come out from under the trees near the column of smoke. And unless I'm mistaken it's a human being."
Duomart slipped the kwil needle he'd given her into a drawer of the instrument console. "I don't think you're mistaken," she said. "I've been watching him for the last thirty seconds."
"It is a man?"
"Pretty sure of it. He moves like one."
Dasinger stood up. "I'll go talk with Egavine then. I had a job in mind for him and his hypno sprays if we happened to run into human survivors."
"Shall I put the ship down next to this one?"
"No. Land around five hundred yards to the north, in the middle of that big stretch of open ground. That should keep us out of ambushes. Better keep clear of the airspace immediately around the wrecks as you go down."
Duomart looked at him. "Darn right I'll keep clear of that area!"
Dasinger grinned. "Something about the scout?"
"Sure. No visible reason at all why the scout should have settled hard enough to buckle a drive. Handing was a good pilot."
"Hm-m-m." Dasinger rubbed his chin. "Well, I've been wondering. The Dosey Asteroids raiders are supposed to have used an unknown type of antipersonnel weapon in their attack on the station, you know. Nothing in sight on their wreck that might be, say, an automatic gun but ... well, just move in carefully and stay ready to haul away very fast at the first hint of trouble!"
The Mooncat slid slowly down through the air near the point where the man stood in open ground, a hundred yards from the clump of trees out of which smoke still billowed thickly upwards. The man watched the speedboat's descent quietly, making no further attempt to attract the attention of those on board to himself.
Duomart had said that the man was not a member of Handing's lost crew but a stranger. He was therefore one of the Dosey Asteroids raiders.
Putting down her two land legs, the Mooncat touched the open hillside a little over a quarter of a mile from the woods, stood straddled and rakish, nose high. The storeroom lock opened, and a slender ramp slid out. Quist showed in the lock, dumped two portable shelters to the ground, came scrambling nimbly down the ramp. Dr. Egavine followed, more cautiously, the two handcuffed Fleetmen behind him. Dasinger came out last, glancing over at the castaway who had started across the slope towards the ship.
"Everyone's out," he told his wrist communicator. "Take her up."
The ramp snaked soundlessly back into the lock, the lock snapped shut and the Mooncat lifted smoothly and quickly from the ground. Liu Taunus glanced after the rising speedboat, looked at Calat, and spoke loudly and emphatically in Fleetlingue for a few seconds, his broad face without expression. Dasinger said, "All right, Quist, break out the shelter."
When the shelter was assembled, Dasinger motioned the Fleetmen towards the door with his thumb. "Inside, boys!" he said. "Quist, lock the shelter behind them and stay on guard here. Come on, doctor. We'll meet our friend halfway...."
The castaway approached unhurriedly, walking with a long, easy stride, the bird thing on his shoulder craning its neck to peer at the strangers with round yellow eyes. The man was big and rangy, probably less heavy by thirty pounds than Liu Taunus, but in perfect physical condition. The face was strong and intelligent, smiling elatedly now.
"I'd nearly stopped hoping this day would arrive!" he said in translingue. "May I ask who you are?"
"An exploration group." Dasinger gripped the extended hand, shook it, as Dr. Egavine's right hand went casually to his coat lapel. "We noticed the two wrecked ships down by the lake," Dasinger explained, "then saw your smoke signal. Your name?"
"Graylock. Once chief engineer of the Antares, out of Vanadia on Aruaque." Graylock turned, still smiling, towards Egavine.
Egavine smiled as pleasantly.
"Graylock," he observed, "you feel, and will continue to feel, that this is the conversation you planned to conduct with us, that everything is going exactly in accordance with your wishes." He turned his head to Dasinger, inquired, "Would you prefer to question him yourself, Dasinger?"
Dasinger hesitated, startled; but Graylock's expression did not change. Dasinger shook his head. "Very smooth, doctor!" he commented. "No, go ahead. You're obviously the expert here."
"Very well ... Graylock," Dr. Egavine resumed, "you will cooperate with me fully and to the best of your ability now, knowing that I am both your master and friend. Are any of the other men who came here on those two ships down by the water still alive?"
There was complete stillness for a second or two. Then Graylock's face began to work unpleasantly, all color draining from it. He said harshly, "No. But I ... I don't ..." He stammered incomprehensibly, went silent again, his expression wooden and set.
"Graylock," Egavine continued to probe, "you can remember everything now, and you are not afraid. Tell me what happened to the other men."
Sweat covered the castaway's ashen face. His mouth twisted in agonized, silent grimaces again. The bird thing leaped from his shoulder with a small purring sound, fluttered softly away.
Dr. Egavine repeated, "You are not afraid. You can remember. What happened to them? How did they die?"
And abruptly the big man's face smoothed out. He looked from Egavine to Dasinger and back with an air of brief puzzlement, then explained conversationally, "Why, Hovig's generator killed many of us as we ran away from the Antares. Some reached the edges of the circle with me, and I killed them later."
Dr. Egavine flicked another glance towards Dasinger but did not pause.
"And the crew of the second ship?" he asked.
"Those two. They had things I needed, and naturally I didn't want them alive here."
"Is Hovig's generator still on the Antares?"
"How does the generator kill?"
Sweat suddenly started out on Graylock's face again, but now he seemed unaware of any accompanying emotions. He said, "It kills by fear, of course...."
The story of the Dosey Asteroids raider and of Hovig's fear generators unfolded quickly from there. Hovig had developed his machines for the single purpose of robbing the Dosey Asteroids Shipping Station. The plan then had been to have the Antares cruise in uncharted space with the looted star hyacinths for at least two years, finally to approach the area of the Federation from a sector far removed from the Dosey system. That precaution resulted in disaster for Hovig. Chief Engineer Graylock had time to consider that his share in the profits of the raid would be relatively insignificant, and that there was a possibility of increasing it.
Graylock and his friends attacked their shipmates as the raider was touching down to the surface of an uncharted world to replenish its water supply. The attack succeeded but Hovig, fatally wounded, took a terrible revenge on the mutineers. He contrived to set off one of his grisly devices, and to all intents and purposes everyone still alive on board the Antares immediately went insane with fear. The ship crashed out of control at the edge of a lake. Somebody had opened a lock and a number of the frantic crew plunged from the ramp and fell to their death on the rocks below. Those who reached the foot of the ramp fled frenziedly from the wreck, the effects of Hovig's machine pursuing them but weakening gradually as they widened the distance between themselves and the Antares. Finally, almost three miles away, the fear impulses faded out completely....
But thereafter the wreck was unapproachable. The fear generator did not run out of power, might not run out of power for years.
Dasinger said, "Doctor, let's hurry this up! Ask him why they weren't affected by their murder machines when they robbed Dosey Asteroids. Do the generators have a beam-operated shut-off, or what?"
Graylock listened to the question, said, "We had taken kwil. The effects were still very unpleasant, but they could be tolerated."
There was a pause of a few seconds. Dr. Egavine cleared his throat. "It appears, Dasinger," he remarked, "that we have failed to consider a very important clue!"
Dasinger nodded. "And an obvious one," he said drily. "Keep it moving along, doctor. How much kwil did they take? How long had they been taking it before the raid?"
Dr. Egavine glanced over at him, repeated the questions.
Graylock said Hovig had begun conditioning the crew to kwil a week or two before the Antares slipped out of Aruaque for the strike on the station. In each case the dosage had been built up gradually to the quantity the man in question required to remain immune to the generators. Individual variations had been wide and unpredictable.
Dasinger passed his tongue over his lips, nodded. "Ask him ..."
He checked himself at a soft, purring noise, a shadowy fluttering in the air. Graylock's animal flew past him, settled on its master's shoulder, turned to stare at Dasinger and Egavine. Dasinger looked at the yellow owl-eyes, the odd little tube of a mouth, continued to Egavine, "Ask him where the haul was stored in the ship."
Graylock confirmed Leed Farous's statement of what he had seen in the Antares's records. All but a few of the star hyacinths had been placed in a vault-like compartment in the storage, and the compartment was sealed. Explosives would be required to open it. Hovig kept out half a dozen of the larger stones, perhaps as an antidote to boredom during the long voyage ahead. Graylock had found one of them just before Hovig's infernal instrument went into action.
"And where is that one now?" Dr. Egavine asked.
"I still have it."
"On your person?"
Dr. Egavine held out his hand, palm upward. "You no longer want it, Graylock. Give it to me."
Graylock looked bewildered; for a moment he appeared about to weep. Then he brought a knotted piece of leather from his pocket, unwrapped it, took out the gem and placed it in Egavine's hand. Egavine picked it up between thumb and forefinger of his other hand, held it out before him.
There was silence for some seconds while the star hyacinth burned in the evening air and the three men and the small winged animal stared at it. Then Dr. Egavine exhaled slowly.
"Ah, now!" he said, his voice a trifle unsteady. "Men might kill and kill for that one beauty alone, that is true!... Will you keep it for now, Dasinger? Or shall I?"
Dasinger looked at him thoughtfully.
"You keep it, doctor," he said.
"Dasinger," Dr. Egavine observed a few minutes later, "I have been thinking...."
"Graylock's attempted description of his experience indicates that the machine on the Antares does not actually broadcast the emotion of terror, as he believes. The picture presented is that of a mind in which both the natural and the acquired barriers of compartmentalization are temporarily nullified, resulting in an explosion of compounded insanity to an extent which would be inconceivable without such an outside agent. As we saw in Graylock, the condition is in fact impossible to describe or imagine! A diabolical device...."
He frowned. "Why the drug kwil counteracts such an effect remains unclear. But since we now know that it does, I may have a solution to the problem confronting us."
Dasinger nodded. "Let's hear it."
"Have Miss Mines bring the ship down immediately," Egavine instructed him. "There is a definite probability that among my medical supplies will be an effective substitute for kwil, for this particular purpose. A few hours of experimentation, and ..."
"Doctor," Dasinger interrupted, "hold it right there! So far there's been no real harm in sparring around. But we're in a different situation now ... we may be running out of time very quickly. Let's quit playing games."
Dr. Egavine glanced sharply across at him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that we both have kwil, of course. There's no reason to experiment. But the fact that we have it is no guarantee that we'll be able to get near that generator. Leed Farous's tissues were soaked with the drug. Graylock's outfit had weeks to determine how much each of them needed to be able to operate within range of the machines and stay sane. We're likely to have trouble enough without trying to jockey each other."
Dr. Egavine cleared his throat. "But I ..."
Dasinger interrupted again. "Your reluctance to tell me everything you knew or had guessed is understandable. You had no more reason to trust me completely than I had to trust you. So before you say anything else I'd like you to look at these credentials. You're familiar with the Federation seal, I think."
Dr. Egavine took the proffered identification case, glanced at Dasinger again, then opened the case.
"So," he said presently. "You're a detective working for the Dosey Asteroids Company...." His voice was even. "That alters the situation, of course. Why didn't you tell me this?"
"That should be obvious," Dasinger said. "If you're an honest man, the fact can make no difference. The company remains legally bound to pay out the salvage fee for the star hyacinths. They have no objection to that. What they didn't like was the possibility of having the gems stolen for the second time. If that's what you had in mind, you wouldn't, of course, have led an agent of the company here. In other words, doctor, in cooperating with me you're running no risk of being cheated out of your half of the salvage rights."
Dasinger patted the gun in his coat pocket. "And of course," he added, "if I happened to be a bandit in spite of the credentials, I'd be eliminating you from the partnership right now instead of talking to you! The fact that I'm not doing it should be a sufficient guarantee that I don't intend to do it."
Dr. Egavine nodded. "I'm aware of the point."
"Then let's get on with the salvage," Dasinger said. "For your further information, there's an armed Fleet ship hunting for us with piratical intentions, and the probability is that it will find us in a matter of hours...."
He described the situation briefly, concluded, "You've carried out your part of the contract by directing us here. You can, if you wish, minimize further personal risks by using the Fleet scout's lifeboat to get yourself and Quist off the planet, providing kwil will get you to the scout. Set a normspace course for Orado then, and we'll pick you up after we've finished the job."
Dr. Egavine shook his head. "Thank you, but I'm staying. It's in my interest to give you what assistance I can ... and, as you've surmised, I do have a supply of kwil. What is your plan?"