From the spaceport gates, exchanging brief greetings with the guards, I took a last look at the Kharsa. For a minute I toyed with the notion of just disappearing down one of those streets. It's not hard to disappear on Wolf, if you know how. And I knew, or had known once. Loyalty to Terra? What had Terra given me except a taste of color and adventure, out there in the Dry-towns, and then taken it away again?
If an Earthman is very lucky and very careful, he lasts about ten years in Intelligence. I had had two years more than my share. I still knew enough to leave my Terran identity behind like a worn-out jacket. I could seek out Rakhal, settle our blood-feud, see Juli again....
How could I see Juli again? As her husband's murderer? No other way. Blood-feud on Wolf is a terrible and elaborate ritual of the code duello. And once I stepped outside the borders of Terran law, sooner or later Rakhal and I would meet. And one of us would die.
I looked back, just once, at the dark rambling streets away from the square. Then I turned toward the blue-white lights that hurt my eyes, and the starship that loomed, huge and hateful, before me.
A steward in white took my fingerprint and led me to a coffin-sized chamber. He brought me coffee and sandwiches--I hadn't, after all, eaten in the spaceport cafe--then got me into the skyhook and strapped me, deftly and firmly, into the acceleration cushions, tugging at the Garensen belts until I ached all over. A long needle went into my arm--the narcotic that would keep me safely drowsy all through the terrible tug of interstellar acceleration.
Doors clanged, buzzers vibrated lower down in the ship, men tramped the corridors calling to one another in the language of the spaceports. I understood one word in four. I shut my eyes, not caring. At the end of the trip there would be another star, another world, another language. Another life.
I had spent all my adult life on Wolf. Juli had been a child under the red star. But it was a pair of wide crimson eyes and black hair combed into ringlets like spun black glass that went down with me into the bottomless pit of sleep....
Someone was shaking me.
"Ah, come on, Cargill. Wake up, man. Shake your boots!"
My mouth, foul-tasting and stiff, fumbled at the shapes of words. "Wha' happened? Wha' y' want?" My eyes throbbed. When I got them open I saw two men in black leathers bending over me. We were still inside gravity.
"Get out of the skyhook. You're coming with us."
"Wha'--" Even through the layers of the sedative, that got to me. Only a criminal, under interstellar law, can be removed from a passage-paid starship once he has formally checked in on board. I was legally, at this moment, on my "planet of destination."
"I haven't been charged--"
"Did I say you had?" snapped one man.
"Shut up, he's doped," the other said hurriedly. "Look," he continued, pronouncing every word loudly and distinctly, "get up now, and come with us. The co-ordinator will hold up blastoff if we don't get off in three minutes, and Operations will scream. Come on, please."
Then I was stumbling along the lighted, empty corridor, swaying between the two men, foggily realizing the crew must think me a fugitive caught trying to leave the planet.
The locks dilated. A uniformed spaceman watched us, fussily regarding a chronometer. He fretted. "The dispatcher's office--"
"We're doing the best we can," the Spaceforce man said. "Can you walk, Cargill?"
I could, though my feet were a little shaky on the ladders. The violet moonlight had deepened to mauve, and gusty winds spun tendrils of grit across my face. The Spaceforce men shepherded me, one on either side, to the gateway.
"What the hell is all this? Is something wrong with my pass?"
The guard shook his head. "How would I know? Magnusson put out the order, take it up with him."
"Believe me," I muttered, "I will."
They looked at each other. "Hell," said one, "he's not under arrest, we don't have to haul him around like a convict. Can you walk all right now, Cargill? You know where the Secret Service office is, don't you? Floor 38. The Chief wants you, and make it fast."
I knew it made no sense to ask questions, they obviously knew no more than I did. I asked anyhow.
"Are they holding the ship for me? I'm supposed to be leaving on it."
"Not that one," the guard answered, jerking his head toward the spaceport. I looked back just in time to see the dust-dimmed ship leap upward, briefly whitened in the field searchlights, and vanish into the surging clouds above.
My head was clearing fast, and anger speeded up the process. The HQ building was empty in the chill silence of just before dawn. I had to rout out a dozing elevator operator, and as the lift swooped upward my anger rose with it. I wasn't working for Magnusson any more. What right had he, or anybody, to grab me off an outbound starship like a criminal? By the time I barged into his office, I was spoiling for a fight.
The Secret Service office was full of grayish-pink morning and yellow lights left on from the night before. Magnusson, at his desk, looked as if he'd slept in his rumpled uniform. He was a big bull of a man, and his littered desk looked, as always, like the track of a typhoon in the salt flats.
The clutter was weighted down, here and there, with solidopic cubes of the five Magnusson youngsters, and as usual, Magnusson was fiddling with one of the cubes. He said, not looking up, "Sorry to pull this at the last minute, Race. There was just time to put out a pull order and get you off the ship, but no time to explain."
I glared at him. "Seems I can't even get off the planet without trouble! You raised hell all the time I was here, but when I try to leave--what is this, anyhow? I'm sick of being shoved around!"
Magnusson made a conciliating gesture. "Wait until you hear--" he began, and broke off, looking at someone who was sitting in the chair in front of his desk, somebody whose back was turned to me. Then the person twisted and I stopped cold, blinking and wondering if this were a hallucination and I'd wake up in the starship's skyhook, far out in space.
Then the woman cried, "Race, Race! Don't you know me?"
I took one dazed step and another. Then she flew across the space between us, her thin arms tangling around my neck, and I caught her up, still disbelieving.
"Oh, Race, I thought I'd die when Mack told me you were leaving tonight. It's been the only thing that's kept me alive, knowing--knowing I'd see you." She sobbed and laughed, her face buried in my shoulder.
I let her cry for a minute, then held my sister at arm's length. For a moment I had forgotten the six years that lay between us. Now I saw them, all of them, printed plain on her face. Juli had been a pretty girl. Six years had fined her face into beauty, but there was tension in the set of her shoulders, and her gray eyes had looked on horrors.
She looked tiny and thin and unbearably frail under the scanty folds of her fur robe, a Dry-town woman's robe. Her wrists were manacled, the jeweled tight bracelets fastened together by the links of a long fine chain of silvered gilt that clashed a little, thinly, as her hands fell to her sides.
"What's wrong, Juli? Where's Rakhal?"
She shivered and now I could see that she was in a state of shock.
"Gone. He's gone, that's all I know. And--oh, Race, Race, he took Rindy with him!"
From the tone of her voice I had thought she was sobbing. Now I realized that her eyes were dry; she was long past tears. Gently I unclasped her clenched fingers and put her back in the chair. She sat like a doll, her hands falling to her sides with a thin clash of chains. When I picked them up and laid them in her lap she let them lie there motionless. I stood over her and demanded, "Who's Rindy?" She didn't move.
"My daughter, Race. Our little girl."
Magnusson broke in, his voice harsh. "Well, Cargill, should I have let you leave?"
"Don't be a damn fool!"
"I was afraid you'd tell the poor kid she had to live with her own mistakes," growled Magnusson. "You're capable of it."
For the first time Juli showed a sign of animation. "I was afraid to come to you, Mack. You never wanted me to marry Rakhal, either."
"Water under the bridge," Magnusson grunted. "And I've got lads of my own, Miss Cargill--Mrs.--" he stopped in distress, vaguely remembering that in the Dry-towns an improper form of address can be a deadly insult.
But she guessed his predicament.
"You used to call me Juli, Mack. It will do now."
"You've changed," he said quietly. "Juli, then. Tell Race what you told me. All of it."
She turned to me. "I shouldn't have come for myself--"
I knew that. Juli was proud, and she had always had the courage to live with her own mistakes. When I first saw her, I knew this wouldn't be anything so simple as the complaint of an abused wife or even an abandoned or deserted mother. I took a chair, watching her and listening.
She began. "You made a mistake when you turned Rakhal out of the Service, Mack. In his way he was the most loyal man you had on Wolf."
Magnusson had evidently not expected her to take this tack. He scowled and looked disconcerted, shifting uneasily in his big chair, but when Juli did not continue, obviously awaiting his answer, he said, "Juli, he left me no choice. I never knew how his mind worked. That final deal he engineered--have you any idea how much that cost the Service? And have you taken a good look at your brother's face, Juli girl?"
Juli raised her eyes slowly, and I saw her flinch. I knew how she felt. For three years I had kept my mirror covered, growing an untidy straggle of beard because it hid the scars and saved me the ordeal of facing myself to shave.
Juli whispered, "Rakhal's is just as bad. Worse."
"That's some satisfaction," I said, and Mack stared at us, baffled. "Even now I don't know what it was all about."
"And you never will," I said for the hundredth time. "We've been over this before. Nobody could understand it unless he'd lived in the Dry-towns. Let's not talk about it. You talk, Juli. What brought you here like this? What about the kid?"
"There's no way I can tell you the end without telling you the beginning," she said reasonably. "At first Rakhal worked as a trader in Shainsa."
I wasn't surprised. The Dry-towns were the core of Terran trade on Wolf, and it was through their cooperation that Terra existed here peaceably, on a world only half human, or less.
The men of the Dry-towns existed strangely poised between two worlds. They had made dealings with the first Terran ships, and thus gave entrance to the wedge of the Terran Empire. And yet they stood proud and apart. They alone had never yielded to the Terranizing which overtakes all Empire planets sooner or later.
There were no Trade Cities in the Dry-towns; an Earthman who went there unprotected faced a thousand deaths, each one worse than the last. There were those who said that the men of Shainsa and Daillon and Ardcarran had sold the rest of Wolf to the Terrans, to keep the Terrans from their own door.
Even Rakhal, who had worked with Terra since boyhood, had finally come to a point of decision and gone his own way. And it was not Terra's way.
That was what Juli was saying now.
"He didn't like what Terra was doing on Wolf. I'm not so sure I like it myself--"
Magnusson interrupted her again. "Do you know what Wolf was like when we came here? Have you seen the Slave Colony, the Idiot's Village? Your own brother went to Shainsa and routed out The Lisse."
"And Rakhal helped him!" Juli reminded him. "Even after he left you, he tried to keep out of things. He could have told them a good deal that would hurt you, after ten years in Intelligence, you know."
I knew. It was, although I wasn't going to tell Juli this, one reason why, at the end--during that terrible explosion of violence which no normal Terran mind could comprehend--I had done my best to kill him. We had both known that after this, the planet would not hold the two of us. We could both go on living only by dividing it unevenly. I had been given the slow death of the Terran Zone. And he had all the rest.
"But he never told them anything! I tell you, he was one of the most loyal--"
Mack grunted, "Yeah, he's an angel. Go ahead."
She didn't, not immediately. Instead she asked what sounded like an irrelevant question. "Is it true what he told me? That the Empire has a standing offer of a reward for a working model of a matter transmitter?"
"That offer's been standing for three hundred years, Terran reckoning. One million credits cash. Don't tell me he was figuring to invent one?"
"I don't think so. But I think he heard rumors about one. He said with that kind of money he could bargain the Terrans right out of Shainsa. That was where it started. He began coming and going at odd times, but he never said any more about it. He wouldn't talk to me at all."
"When was all this?"
"About four months ago."
"In other words, just about the time of the riots in Charin."
She nodded. "Yes. He was away in Charin when the Ghost Wind blew, and he came back with knife cuts in his thigh. I asked if he had been mixed-up in the anti-Terran rioting, but he wouldn't tell me. Race, I don't know anything about politics. I don't really care. But just about that time, the Great House in Shainsa changed hands. I'm sure Rakhal had something to do with that.
"And then--" Juli twisted her chained hands together in her lap--"he tried to mix Rindy up in it. It was crazy, awful! He'd brought her some sort of nonhuman toy from one of the lowland towns, Charin I think. It was a weird thing, scared me. But he'd sit Rindy down in the sunlight and have her look into it, and Rindy would gabble all sorts of nonsense about little men and birds and a toymaker."
The chains about Juli's wrists clashed as she twisted her hands together. I stared somberly at the fetters. The chain, which was long, did not really hamper her movements much. Such chains were symbolic ornaments, and most Dry-town women went all their lives with fettered hands. But even after the years I'd spent in the Dry-towns, the sight still brought an uneasiness to my throat, a vague discomfort.
"We had a terrible fight over that," Juli went on. "I was afraid, afraid of what it was doing to Rindy. I threw it out, and Rindy woke up and screamed--" Juli checked herself and caught at vanishing self-control.
"But you don't want to hear about that. It was then I threatened to leave him and take Rindy. The next day--" Suddenly the hysteria Juli had been forcing back broke free, and she rocked back and forth in her chair, shaken and strangled with sobs. "He took Rindy! Oh, Race, he's crazy, crazy. I think he hates Rindy, he--he, Race, he smashed her toys. He took every toy the child had and broke them one by one, smashed them into powder, every toy the child had--"
"Juli, please, please," Magnusson pleaded, shaken. "If we're dealing with a maniac--"
"I don't dare think he'd harm her! He warned me not to come here, or I'd never see her again, but if it meant war against Terra I had to come. But Mack, please, don't do anything against him, please, please. He's got my baby, he's got my little girl...." Her voice failed and she buried her face in her hands.
Mack picked up the solidopic cube of his five-year-old son, and turned it between his pudgy fingers, saying unhappily, "Juli, we'll take every precaution. But can't you see, we've got to get him? If there's a question of a matter transmitter, or anything like that, in the hands of Terra's enemies--"
I could see that, too, but Juli's agonized face came between me and the picture of disaster. I clenched my fist around the chair arm, not surprised to see the fragile plastic buckle, crack and split under my grip. If it had been Rakhal's neck....
"Mack, let me handle this. Juli, shall I find Rindy for you?"
A hope was born in her ravaged face, and died, while I looked. "Race, he'd kill you. Or have you killed."
"He'd try," I admitted. The moment Rakhal knew I was outside the Terran zone, I'd walk with death. I had accepted the code during my years in Shainsa. But now I was an Earthman and felt only contempt.
"Can't you see? Once he knows I'm at large, that very code of his will force him to abandon any intrigue, whatever you call it, conspiracy, and come after me first. That way we do two things: we get him out of hiding, and we get him out of the conspiracy, if there is one."
I looked at the shaking Juli and something snapped. I stooped and lifted her, not gently, my hands biting her shoulders. "And I won't kill him, do you hear? He may wish I had; by the time I get through with him--I'll beat the living hell out of him; I'll cram my fists down his throat. But I'll settle it with him like an Earthman. I won't kill him. Hear me, Juli? Because that's the worst thing I could do to him--catch him and let him live afterward!"
Magnusson stepped toward me and pried my crushing hands off her arms. Juli rubbed the bruises mechanically, not knowing she was doing it. Mack said, "You can't do it, Cargill. You wouldn't get as far as Daillon. You haven't been out of the zone in six years. Besides--"
His eyes rested full on my face. "I hate to say this, Race, but damn it, man, go and take a good look at yourself in a mirror. Do you think I'd ever have pulled you off the Secret Service otherwise? How in hell can you disguise yourself now?"
"There are plenty of scarred men in the Dry-towns," I said. "Rakhal will remember my scars, but I don't think anyone else would look twice."
Magnusson walked to the window. His huge form bulked against the light, perceptibly darkening the office. He looked over the faraway panorama, the neat bright Trade City below and the vast wilderness lying outside. I could almost hear the wheels grinding in his head. Finally he swung around.
"Race, I've heard these rumors before. But you're the only man I could have sent to track them down, and I wouldn't send you out in cold blood to be killed. I won't now. Spaceforce will pick him up."
I heard the harsh inward gasp of Juli's breath and said, "Damn it, no. The first move you make--" I couldn't finish. Rindy was in his hands, and when I knew Rakhal, he hadn't been given to making idle threats. We all three knew what Rakhal might do at the first hint of the long arm of Terran law reaching out for him.
I said, "For God's sake let's keep Spaceforce out of it. Let it look like a personal matter between Rakhal and me, and let us settle it on those terms. Remember he's got the kid."
Magnusson sighed. Again he picked up one of the cubes and stared into the clear plastic, where the three-dimensional image of a nine-year-old girl looked out at him, smiling and innocent. His face was transparent as the plastic cube. Mack acts tough, but he has five kids and he is as soft as a dish of pudding where a kid is concerned.