Nothing. Placid. Tree-shadowed, lawn-swept streets, ebony and silver in the light the moon reflected from solar space.
He'd missed. Too late. Lonnie was gone ... or was he?
Jason didn't give himself time to think; his men time to get even a momentary hesitation started. He shoved his thumb hard against the door chimes and his shield under the butler's nose.
Yes, Mr. Raichi was at home. Then, after an interval nicely calculated to allow Jason to feel how acutely precarious his position stood, "Mr. Raichi is accessible."
Lonnie was bland. Blandly accepting Jason's urgent story of a known ... er ... jewel thief traced to the neighborhood. Blandly amenable to Jason's suggestion that his men be permitted to go over the mansion (once he'd started this damfool caper, he had to go through with it). Lonnie so bland that Jason felt a skitter of perspiration down his backbone while his men hustled up the soaring circle of the stair.
"Since I've been disturbed anyway," Lonnie offered, "I'll show you around."
"Thanks," Jason shook his head stiffly. "I'll just wait."
"I think you should come."
Shrugging, Jason followed, eyes stubbornly downcast.
"... my library ... my den ... bar. Care for a drink? Well, suit yourself." As the lights of the den dimmed and one wall swooshed smoothly into the ceiling. "My theatre ... The usual tri-di stereo, of course, but I've had a couple of the new tight beams installed to channel Moon and Mars on the cube. Much better than the usual staged bilge. Say, that reminds me, a couple hours ago Mars projector had a scanner on one of the exploration parties caught out in a psychosonic storm. Jove, did they wriggle! Even in atomsuits they were better than Messalina Magdalen working on her last G-string. Here, I'll switch it on. Maybe the rescue team's--"
Building up inside the hundreds of thousands of layers of crystallized plastic came a reddish, three-dimensional landscape, as if viewed from a height. Orange dust swirled across a gaunt, clawed plain under a transparent pink haze. A feeling as of sub-visual vibration, emanating from the cube, tugged at Jason's eyelids.
"--Nope; they've cleaned up the carcasses already. Too bad. Tell you what, though. Next time I catch it happening, I'll phone you and--"
"Suit yourself." Lonnie shifted and went on, lightly. "I'm not at all satisfied with the color, are you? It's off a little, don't you think?... Well?... Well!"
Unwillingly, Jason moved his attention to the cube. Eyes widening, he studied it. "No. You're wrong. That's good! The tech who poured that stereo did a damned good job. It's--"
"Not good enough for me! That's not exactly what I saw up at Vulcan City. If those lazy--"
"Look, you can't expect exactly the same reflectivity from crystallized plastic that you get from molecules of atmosphere, no matter how scientifically the pouring and layering is controlled. It's--they're two different materials. Leaving aside the ion-index differential and quality of incident light, you still can't--"
"I can ..." As the pause lengthened, Jason's gaze was finally drawn to Lonnie's face. "You still haven't changed a bit, have you, Jasey? Still all wrapped up in how any collection of doodads work instead of just for what it'll do. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if that hasn't always been the difference between us. Where's it got you?"
Jason strode for the door.
"Wait a minute." Lonnie's voice came louder. "Better wait, copper. I'm not through ... That's better."
From behind Jason came the sound of rubbing palms. "We've come a long way from Gimlet Street, haven't we, Jasey? You particularly. Captain. Promotions. Pay raises ..." Then Lonnie was in front of him, staring up. "You're quite a substantial citizen now. Yes? Well, look at that. Go on, look at it."
Against the side wall stood a gigantic triptych. More than life size, the central panel canopied the statue of a Mongol potentate; the two side wings, a pair of guards in bas-relief. All three wrought in chryselephantine gold and ivory; the gold with flowing pallid highlights. Damascened armor, encrusted with jewels, girdled the chest of the Asiatic Prince; helmeted the sullen head carved from a single immensity of ivory.
Ruby eyes glared arrogantly under ebon brows. Against the statue's folded shins, its pommel negligently gripped by one immovable, ivory hand, leaned a short Turkish scimitar of watered steel. Beneath the carved hassock upon which the statue sat, a dais of three steps fell away to the floor.
"That's Genghis Khan," Lonnie said. "I had him made. That isn't gold he's made of; that's aureum--and it cost plenty to have the silver mixed in. It makes it better. And I get the best! A hundred thousand, it cost me. And thirty-six thousand more to brace the wall and floor. It's good. It's the best that's made!"
He came up on tiptoe, thrusting his chin as close as possible to Jason's averted face. "Why don't you buy one for your place, Captain?"
Jason stared into the malevolent eyes of the statue.
"Huh ... hu-hu ... hu-ha-ha-ha ..." At the dais, Lonnie put his foot on the second step and patted Genghis Khan familiarly on one ivory knee. "I like this old boy. He had the right idea. I have it. You haven't. You never had. If you had, you'd'a listened to the proposition I made you way back then. Remember when Aggie told you about it? Say, I wonder what's become of her, anyway. Do you know? What? What'd you say?"
Jason cleared his throat. Hard.
Jason swallowed. Blood pounded in his temples.
"Jasey, you're stupid."
Jason made his eyes close. Let them re-open slowly.
"You were born stupid and you've stayed stupid."
Still Jason held back an answer.
"You're nothing but a stupid, go-where-you're-sent, do-what-you're-told cop! What do you say to that! If you want to keep on being one, answer me! Answer me!"
Deliberately, Jason jerked his chin at the statue. "That's another example of what I mean."
"What?!!" screamed Lonnie.
"Reflectivity. The silver in the gold. Two different metals and where they're not well fused. That sword blade, too. Just the misalignment of molecules in the surface of the steel makes it look wavy, and ripple when the light changes or you move. Different even in two parts of the same material. That's why you can't get the stereo cube to reproduce color-feel exactly." Breathing heavily, Jason had to let his voice fade out.
"Gaaa ..." Lonnie convulsed. "Who cares!" Laugh sounds rolled out of his throat. "You'll never change."
He flicked his hand at Jason, brushing him away.
But, as Jason, white-faced, herded his men out through the costly grandeurs of the vestibule, Lonnie called from the inner hall: "Copper ..."
Jason turned, waited.
"You amused me, so it's all right this time. You can keep your penny-ante job. But don't try for me again. You cross my path again, I'll smear you. And what's more, I'll use whatever you're trying, to smear you with. Get that! Get it good! Now get out!"
Back in Jason's office, the desk sergeant reported as Jason came in. "Funny thing. That there tracer started to hum again soon after you was out for a while. Quit again 'bout five minutes ago, though."
Jason gritted his teeth, banished the sergeant, and spent five minutes alone gripping the edge of his desk. Then he yanked Lab Nine's silent genius down to his office. That didn't help for the tracer stayed asleep. Not even a hiccup rewarded Moglaut's most active efforts on Lonnie's wave length. On others, fine. Through the night and on into the next day, Jason kept Moglaut at work.
Late in the morning, Authority at Peiping televised publicly that the Mace of Alexander was gone from its satin pillow in the proof-glass case in the alarm-wired room off the machine-weapon-guarded main corridor of the security-policed Temple of Mankind.
The Mace, symbol of Alexander's power, was a pretty little baton barely two feet long. Its staff was mastodon ivory, the paleontologists had determined. One end sported a solid ball of gold hardly as big as a fist; studded with rubies, but none set quite so close as to actually touch.
The other end, balancing the ball of gold, mounted the largest single polished emerald crystal in the discovered universe. Neither the Moon or Mars had produced anything in the emerald line equivalent to what had come out of the mists of Earthly history.
Disregarding the bulletin, Jason kept Moglaut at the servo-tracer. In the night's smallest hours it began placidly to hum on Lonnie's aura again.
"What happened?" Jason said. "What did you do?"
"You must have done something. What was it?"
Moglaut, not looking up from the purring machine, shook his head.
"All right. You can go now." Jason watched the genius disappear hurriedly through the door. From the door he watched the man scutter down the long, long corridor out of sight. The first thing in the morning, Jason promised himself, he'd have a session about Moglaut with Lab Nine's chief.
The first thing in the morning brought word that Lab Nine's erratic genius had stumbled himself out of the seventeenth-floor window of his suburban apartment to his death. Lab Nine's chief clucked sorrowfully.
Jason shook his head and wondered. After exhaustive investigation (zero data) he still wondered. That's all he was able to do, wonder.
The second time Jason's servo-tracer on Lonnie hiccupped and dozed off was at 12:01 a.m., August 7th, 2008, just one day after the Diamond Throne arrived on Earth. The single, glittering diamond crystal, misshapen like an armchair and larger than one, had been mined out of the core of Tycho's crater. And it was also just two days before the Moon Throne would have been installed in the unbreakable safety of Raichi Museum!
"Jason, you're insane," his superior told him when Jason, reinforced by an astounding public furore, brought the matter up. "He owned it. He had no reason to steal it from himself. Besides, one man alone couldn't budge that enormous--"
"It won't do any harm to look-see."
"It can do a lot of harm!" The Commissioner glanced quickly at the ceiling. "I'll have nothing to do with it. That's all."
Officially, Jason's hands were tied. But secretly he maneuvered the transfer of a five-layers-down undercover man from Madras to Government City. And, coincidentally, in the ordinary routine of operation, Raichi Museum took on a new janitor; a little brown man who grinned constantly and was fanatical about dust. He was a good, reliable man and when he reported that neither the Diamond Throne nor any of the other missing glories were anywhere in the Museum, Jason had to believe him.
As a matter of fact, it wouldn't have done Jason any good to have installed the little brown man in Lonnie's mansion, either. The lock--not the apparent one openly in the den door, but the real one--was as unobtrusive and foolproof as twenty-first-century engineering could make it. And Lonnie always made sure he was alone and unobserved in the den before he locked it and sauntered across to bestow a peculiar, multiple tweak to the nose of Genghis Khan.
He enjoyed the gesture. On Christmas Eve he grinned broadly while the triptych pivoted in the wall, let him off in the Kruppmartite-walled, pulsing radiance of his very secret, very, very personal throne room, and swung back into place.
His grin changed to an expression of imperial dignity as he encased himself in Catherine the Great's ermine Robe of State and grasped the Mace of Alexander in his good left hand. But then the royal mien gave way to a sullen scowl as he hesitated between Charlemagne's Crown and Amenhotep's Uraeus.
Actually, neither one was worthy of him. Both purely regional coronets belonged over in the farthest dusty corner behind the curtain, along with Schicklehitler's shabby baton and that crummy Peacock Throne. What he really needed was a crown worthily symbolic of the position he'd make it possible to publicly assume in the not-too-distant future.
It was a damned imposition that he had to put up with. Well, he'd make them do since they were the best to be had. Adjusting the Crown of Charlemagne upon his brow, he stood on tiptoe to wriggle his way back into the embrace of the titanic crystal that was the Diamond Throne. There, he relaxed and gave himself over to the contemplation of the glories of Lonnie.
Who but he had developed such an efficient philosophy to such an unfailingly incisive point? Certainly not Old Boswell who, back in the early days had thought to be teaching him.
"Rule One, my boy," he remembered the old patrician twittering, "there's always someone to pull your chestnuts out of the fire for you--for a price. Pay it. Then add a plus to the payment and the man's yours to use again and again."
But even in those days as a callow, trusting youth, he'd been smarter than Boswell. Observing, from the safety of the sidelines, the way the old fool had finally tripped up, he'd added a codicil of his own to Rule One: "Make sure the payment's final!"
(... witness the Berlin chestnut pullers. And the unobtrusive and undiscovered spate of their predecessors whose usefulness had become outweighed ...) Then Boswell had said, "Rule Two: You don't have to know the how of anything. All you have to know is the man who does. He always has a price. The currency is usually odd, but find it, pay it, then proceed per Rule One."
Even tonight, in his own Throne Room, Lonnie flushed heavily at the way he'd accepted at face value what came next. "By the way," Old Boswell had added smoothly, "no connection of course, my boy, but the topic reminded me. Here are the keys to that daffodil-hued tri-phibian you ogled at Sporter's exhibit. I must admit you have an eye for dashing machinery even though I can't agree with your esthetics. No--no ... It's yours. I feel that you've earned it and more by--"
He'd rushed to the garage to gloat over the mono-cyclic, gyro-stabilized, U-powered model with the seat that flattened into a convenient bed at the touch of a button. The tri-phib, he recalled, in which he'd coaxed Agnes into taking her first ride.
The details of that recollection brought up his spirits again and, he reminded himself, the lesson had sunk in; had developed into his most useful ethic. After his narrow scrape with Jason's quantum analyzer in the Berlin incident, it hadn't taken long for a good, one-man detective agency to locate Physlab Nine's frenetic genius, Moglaut. It had taken longer to discover Moglaut's currency but, after much shadowing, the 'tec had come through handsomely. Lonnie, automatically applying his fully-developed Ethic One, always considered it a nice sentimental touch that the one-man agency's final case was successful.
Moglaut's price was a prim, brunette soprano who wore her eyes disguised behind heavy tortoiseshell. The ill-cut garb she could afford added greatly to her staid appearance, obscuring a certain full-bodied litheness. She earned a throttled existence soloing at funerals and in the worship halls of obscure, rigidly fanatic offshoot sects.
Her consuming passion was to be an opera prima donna.
Lonnie never tried to understand why Moglaut sat fascinated through endless sin-busting sermons and lachrymose requiems. To hurry afterwards, with the jerky motions, the glazed eyes of a zombie, to subsequent rendezvous with the soprano at his suburban apartment. It was entirely sufficient in Lonnie's philosophy that Moglaut did.
The soprano's continuing suburban cooperation was insured by Lonnie's judicious doling out of exactly the cash to keep a tenth-rate opera company barely functioning in a lesser quarter of Government City. Oddly, he found it pleased him and from that grew his wide patronizing of the Arts.
The immediate result of the situation he created and controlled so deftly was Moglaut's production of a closed-plenum grid suit.
None of Gov-Pol, Gov-Mil or Gov-Econ labs found out about it; much less Pol-Anx or Government itself. Moglaut did all the work in the tiny complete lab Lonnie set up in the suburbs.
Lonnie didn't care what electronic witchery took place in the minute spatial interstices between the finely-woven mesh of flexible tantalum. Sufficient for him, the silvery white suit once donned and triple-zipped through hood and glove-endings, he was immune to ordinary Earthly phenomena; free to move about, do what he wished, untraceably. In it, his words were not vulnerable to the sono-beam's eavesdropping. Photo-electric and magneto-photonic watchdogs ignored him. Even the most delicately sensitive thermo-couples continued their dreams of freezing flame undisturbed. Jason's quantum analyzer couldn't pick up the leavings of a glance--all that the suit permitted out into the physical world.
The suit had its limitations, of course. Lonnie could see out, but the suit could also be seen. That required sometimes intricate advance planning to offset. Also, occasionally, manipulating the field of the grid to permit mechanical contact with the physical world was a trifle cumbersome but never annoyingly so. All it took was a modicum of step-by-step thought and some care not to leave a personal trace for the quantum analyzer to pick up. No actual trouble. And, finally, Moglaut had warned that the compact power unit pocketed on the left breast had a half-life of only thirteen years.
That left Lonnie placid. He took the suit for granted and used it for what it let him do.
When something more was needed, he was convinced his philosophy would provide it.
He didn't waste time trying to determine whether possession of the suit or previous experiences leading to his insistence on its development brought into focus the third ethic of his philosophy: "Rules One and Two are valuable and have their use. But when the chips are really down, do it yourself!" Instead, he toddled about personally acquiring the trappings of omnipotent royalty with little thought for the means.
But while he was about that business, the very limitations of the grid suit furnished an unending challenge to Moglaut's genius. And out of a sideline experiment incited by that challenge came the disarmer which Jason greeted with such fruitless glee.
Fruitless because, of course, before turning the disarmer over to Lab Nine and Pol-Anx, Moglaut devised a new, infinitely stronger, more versatile power pack for Lonnie's suit. A power pack controlled by a simple rheostat in the palm of the left-hand glove, but whose energy derived from the electron-kinetic properties of pent and shielded tritium. Not simple. In fact, solving the problem of penning and shielding tritium in a portable package delayed the appearance of Jason's disarmer two whole years.
That power pack and the reciprocating properties of the fields of the grid suit itself made a dilly of a combination. Before, the closed-plenum mesh kept Lonnie from leaving traces. Now, anything once embraced within the palpitating fields of the grid moved with and how the suit moved; not in accord with the natural laws of the surrounding continuum. That neat new attribute took care of the cubic yard or so of Diamond Throne.
And the ravenous tritium was malignant. Let any external power be applied against the plenum and it would be smashed, hurled back full force upon its source.
Jason had an undiagnosed example of that when he got only part of his man back from the Valley of Kings.
It was the power-pack-grid-suit combo that made a sleeping Buddha of the servo-tracer on the night of Jason's call at Lonnie's mansion; bollixed up the elaborate guards of the Peiping Temple of Mankind; and, when Jason so openly displayed suspicion of the genius, made child's play of what the newspapers headlined as "Scientist's Amazing Suicide Love Pact."
Lonnie grinned, remembering the incident. Then other memories--things he'd witnessed through a tight-beam scanner secreted in the suburban apartment--crowded his mind; stirring him restlessly on the Diamond Throne. Divesting himself of imperial appurtenances, he started for a certain locked file in the den to check the specifications of available per-diem empresses.
Making sure the triptych was snugly in place behind him, he paused to flip the switch on the stereo cube. Maybe Messalina Magdalen or one of the lesser ecdysiasts was presenting the perfection of her techniques over the private channel at the moment, an event he would appreciate.
Instead, the private channel presented, as the cube glowed and cleared, the same red, clawed landscape he'd shown to Jason months before. The disembodied voice of the commentator on Mars--not the lyrical public announcer, but the industrial economist who served the private channel--picked up in mid-word: "... early to have much data on the science and material resources this dead civilization possessed, but I recommend that every Corporation in Induscomm Cabal should place a technical party at Mars Equatorial as soon as possible. We shall now key in with the public spacecast. Note the texture and color range of the adornments and artifacts. I venture that these items will prove popular among you who can well afford such rare treasures. However, subtlety in acquiring them is suggested. While common clamor for Public ownership is under control, overt provocation is not recommended. Here is the cut-over ..."
The scene in the cube flashed and coalesced, dazzling Lonnie's eyes for a moment. He was conscious of the landscape rushing "up"; of gigantic walls and spires rising out of the obscurity of a quarried chasm to tower briefly against the pink haze of the Martian sky, then expand to give the impression of engulfing him before the scanner lens settled under the center of a leaping, vaulted dome.