"Son of the Ape! Get your skean out, you stinking coward!"
"I won't do it, Rakhal." I stood and defied him. I had outmaneuvered Dry-towners in a shegri bet. I knew Rakhal, and I knew he would not knife an unarmed man. "We fought once with the kifirgh and it didn't settle anything. This time we'll do it my way. I threw my skean away before I came here. I won't fight."
He thrust at me. Even I could see that the blow was a feint, and I had a flashing, instantaneous memory of Dallisa's threat to drive the knife through my palms. But even while I commanded myself to stand steady, sheer reflex threw me forward, grabbing at his wrist and the knife.
Between my grappling hand he twisted and I felt the skean drive home, rip through my jacket with a tearing sound; felt the thin fine line of touch, not pain yet, as it sliced flesh. Then pain burned through my ribs and I felt hot blood, and I wanted to kill Rakhal, wanted to get my hands around his throat and kill him with them. And at the same time I was raging because I didn't want to fight the crazy fool, I wasn't even mad at him.
Miellyn flung the door open, shrieking, and suddenly the Toy, released, was darting a small whirring droning horror, straight at Rakhal's eyes. I yelled. But there was no time even to warn him. I bent and butted him in the stomach. He grunted, doubled up in agony and fell out of the path of the diving Toy. It whirred in frustration, hovered.
He writhed in agony, drawing up his knees, clawing at his shirt, while I turned on Miellyn in immense fury--and stopped. Hers had been a move of desperation, an instinctive act to restore the balance between a weaponless man and one who had a knife. Rakhal gasped, in a hoarse voice with all the breath gone from it: "Didn't want to use. Rather fight clean--" Then he opened his closed fist and suddenly there were two of the little whirring droning horrors in the room and this one was diving at me, and as I threw myself headlong to the floor the last puzzle-piece fell into place: Evarin had made the same bargain with Rakhal as with me!
I rolled over, dodging. Behind me in the room there was a child's shrill scream: "Daddy! Daddy!" And abruptly the birds collapsed in midair and went limp. They fell to the floor like dropping stones and lay there quivering. Rindy dashed across the room, her small skirts flying, and grabbed up one of the terrible vicious things in either hand.
"Rindy!" I bellowed. "No!"
She stood shaking, tears pouring down her round cheeks, a Toy squeezed tight in either hand. Dark veins stood out almost black on her fair temples. "Break them, Daddy," she implored in a little thread of a voice. "Break them, quick. I can't hang on...."
Rakhal staggered to his feet like a drunken man and snatched one of the Toys, grinding it under his heel. He made a grab at the second, reeled and drew an anguished breath. He crumpled up, clutching at his belly where I'd butted him. The bird screamed like a living thing.
Breaking my paralysis of horror I leaped up, ran across the room, heedless of the searing pain along my side. I snatched the bird from Rindy and it screamed and shrilled and died as my foot crunched the tiny feathers. I stamped the still-moving thing into an amorphous mess and kept on stamping and smashing until it was only a heap of powder.
Rakhal finally managed to haul himself upright again. His face was so pale that the scars stood out like fresh burns.
"That was a foul blow, Race, but I--I know why you did it." He stopped and breathed for a minute. Then he muttered, "You ... saved my life, you know. Did you know you were doing it, when you did it?"
Still breathing hard, I nodded. Done knowingly, it meant an end of blood-feud. However we had wronged each other, whatever the pledges. I spoke the words that confirmed it and ended it, finally and forever: "There is a life between us. Let it stand for a death."
Miellyn was standing in the doorway, her hands pressed to her mouth, her eyes wide. She said shakily, "You're walking around with a knife in your ribs, you fool!"
Rakhal whirled and with a quick jerk he pulled the skean loose. It had simply been caught in my shirtcloak, in a fold of the rough cloth. He pulled it away, glanced at the red tip, then relaxed. "Not more than an inch deep," he said. Then, angrily, defending himself: "You did it yourself, you ape. I was trying to get rid of the knife when you jumped me."
But I knew that and he knew I knew it. He turned and scooped up Rindy, who was sobbing noisily. She dug her head into his shoulder and I made out her strangled words. "The other Toys hurt you when I was mad at you...." she sobbed, rubbing her fists against smeared cheeks. "I--I wasn't that mad at you. I wasn't that mad at anybody, not even ... him."
Rakhal pressed his hand against his daughter's fleecy hair and said, looking at me over her head, "The Toys activate a child's subconscious resentments against his parents--I found out that much. That also means a child can control them for a few seconds. No adult can." A stranger would have seen no change in his expression, but I knew him, and saw.
"Juli said you threatened Rindy."
He chuckled and set the child on her feet. "What else could I say that would have scared Juli enough to send her running to you? Juli's proud, almost as proud as you are, you stiff-necked Son of the Ape." The insult did not sting me now.
"Come on, sit down and let's decide what to do, now we've finished up the old business." He looked remotely at Miellyn and said, "You must be Dallisa's sister? I don't suppose your talents include knowing how to make coffee?"
They didn't, but with Rindy's help Miellyn managed, and while they were out of the room Rakhal explained briefly. "Rindy has rudimentary ESP. I've never had it myself, but I could teach her something--not much--about how to use it. I've been on Evarin's track ever since that business of The Lisse.
"I'd have got it sooner, if you were still working with me, but I couldn't do anything as a Terran agent, and I had to be kicked out so thoroughly that the others wouldn't be afraid I was still working secretly for Terra. For a long time I was just chasing rumors, but when Rindy got big enough to look in the crystals of Nebran, I started making some progress.
"I was afraid to tell Juli; her best safety was the fact that she didn't know anything. She's always been a stranger in the Dry-towns." He paused, then said with honest self-evaluation, "Since I left the Secret Service I've been a stranger there myself."
I asked, "What about Dallisa?"
"Twins have some ESP to each other. I knew Miellyn had gone to the Toymaker. I tried to get Dallisa to find out where Miellyn had gone, learn more about it. Dallisa wouldn't risk it, but Kyral saw me with Dallisa and thought it was Miellyn. That put him on my tail, too, and I had to leave Shainsa. I was afraid of Kyral," he added soberly. "Afraid of what he'd do. I couldn't do anything without Rindy and I knew if I told Juli what I was doing, she'd take Rindy away into the Terran Zone, and I'd be as good as dead."
As he talked, I began to realize how vast a web Evarin and the underground organization of Nebran had spread for us. "Evarin was here today. What for?"
Rakhal laughed mirthlessly. "He's been trying to get us to kill each other off. That would get rid of us both. He wants to turn over Wolf to the nonhumans entirely, I think he's sincere enough, but"--he spread his hands helplessly--"I can't sit by and see it."
I asked point-blank, "Are you working for Terra? Or for the Dry-towns? Or any of the anti-Terran movements?"
"I'm working for me", he said with a shrug. "I don't think much of the Terran Empire, but one planet can't fight a galaxy. Race, I want just one thing. I want the Dry-towns and the rest of Wolf, to have a voice in their own government. Any planet which makes a substantial contribution to galactic science, by the laws of the Terran Empire, is automatically given the status of an independent commonwealth.
"If a man from the Dry-towns discovers something like a matter transmitter, Wolf gets dominion status. But Evarin and his gang want to keep it secret, keep it away from Terra, keep it locked up in places like Canarsa! Somebody has to get it away from them. And if I do it, I get a nice fat bonus, and an official position."
I believed that, where I would have suspected too much protestation of altruism. Rakhal tossed it aside.
"You've got Miellyn to take you through the transmitters. Go back to the Mastershrine, and tell Evarin that Race Cargill is dead. In the Trade City they think I'm Cargill, and I can get in and out as I choose--sorry if it caused you trouble, but it was the safest thing I could think of--and I'll 'vise Magnusson and have him send soldiers to guard the street-shrines. Evarin might try to escape through one of them."
I shook my head. "Terra hasn't enough men on all Wolf to cover the street-shrines in Charin alone. And I can't go back with Miellyn." I explained. Rakhal pursed his lips and whistled when I described the fight in the transmitter.
"You have all the luck, Cargill! I've never been near enough even to be sure how they work--and I'll bet you didn't begin to understand! We'll have to do it the hard way, then. It won't be the first time we've bulled our way through a tight place! We'll face Evarin in his own hideout! If Rindy's with us, we needn't worry."
I was willing to let him assume command, but I protested, "You'd take a child into that--that--"
"What else can we do? Rindy can control the Toys, and neither you nor I can do that, if Evarin should decide to throw his whole arsenal at us." He called Rindy and spoke softly to her. She looked from her father to me, and back again to her father, then smiled and stretched out her hand to me.
Before we ventured into the street, Rakhal scowled at the sprawled embroideries of Miellyn's robe. He said, "In those things you show up like a snowfall in Shainsa. If you go out in them, you could be mobbed. Hadn't you better get rid of them now?"
"I can't," she protested. "They're the keys to the transmitter!"
Rakhal looked at the conventionalized idols with curiosity, but said only, "Cover them up in the street, then. Rindy, find her something to put over her dress."
When we reached the street-shrine, Miellyn admonished: "Stand close together on the stones. I'm not sure we can all make the jump at once, but we'll have to try."
Rakhal picked up Rindy and hoisted her to his shoulder. Miellyn dropped the cloak she had draped over the pattern of the Nebran embroideries, and we crowded close together. The street swayed and vanished and I felt the now-familiar dip and swirl of blackness before the world straightened out again. Rindy was whimpering, dabbing smeary fists at her face. "Daddy, my nose is bleeding...."
Miellyn hastily bent and wiped the blood from the snubby nose. Rakhal gestured impatiently.
"The workroom. Wreck everything you see. Rindy, if anything starts to come at us, you stop it. Stop it quick. And"--he bent and took the little face between his hands--"chiya, remember they're not toys, no matter how pretty they are."
Her grave gray eyes blinked, and she nodded.
Rakhal flung open the door of the elves' workshop with a shout. The ringing of the anvils shattered into a thousand dissonances as I kicked over a workbench and half-finished Toys crashed in confusion to the floor.
The dwarfs scattered like rabbits before our assault of destruction. I smashed tools, filigree, jewels, stamping everything with my heavy boots. I shattered glass, caught up a hammer and smashed crystals. There was a wild exhilaration to it.
A tiny doll, proportioned like a woman, dashed toward me, shrilling in a supersonic shriek. I put my foot on her and ground the life out of her, and she screamed like a living woman as she came apart. Her blue eyes rolled from her head and lay on the floor watching me. I crushed the blue jewels under my heel.
Rakhal swung a tiny hound by the tail. Its head shattered into debris of almost-invisible gears and wheels. I caught up a chair and wrecked a glass cabinet of parts with it, swinging furiously. A berserk madness of smashing and breaking had laid hold on me.
I was drunk with crushing and shattering and ruining, when I heard Miellyn scream a warning and turned to see Evarin standing in the doorway. His green cat-eyes blazed with rage. Then he raised both hands in a sudden, sardonic gesture, and with a loping, inhuman glide, raced for the transmitter.
"Rindy," Rakhal panted, "can you block the transmitter?"
Instead Rindy shrieked. "We've got to get out! The roof is falling down! The house is going to fall down on us! The roof, look at the roof!"
I looked up, transfixed by horror. I saw a wide rift open, saw the skylight shatter and break, and daylight pouring through the cracking walls, Rakhal snatched Rindy up, protecting her from the falling debris with his head and shoulders. I grabbed Miellyn round the waist and we ran for the rift in the buckling wall.
We shoved through just before the roof caved in and the walls collapsed, and we found ourselves standing on a bare grassy hillside, looking down in shock and horror as below us, section after section of what had been apparently bare hill and rock caved in and collapsed into dusty rubble.
Miellyn screamed hoarsely. "Run. Run, hurry!"
I didn't understand, but I ran. I ran, my sides aching, blood streaming from the forgotten flesh-wound in my side. Miellyn raced beside me and Rakhal stumbled along, carrying Rindy.
Then the shock of a great explosion rocked the ground, hurling me down full length, Miellyn falling on top of me. Rakhal went down on his knees. Rindy was crying loudly. When I could see straight again, I looked down at the hillside.
There was nothing left of Evarin's hideaway or the Mastershrine of Nebran except a great, gaping hole, still oozing smoke and thick black dust. Miellyn said aloud, dazed, "So that's what he was going to do!"
It fitted the peculiar nonhuman logic of the Toymaker. He'd covered the traces.
"Destroyed!" Rakhal raged. "All destroyed! The workrooms, the science of the Toys, the matter transmitter--the minute we find it, it's destroyed!" He beat his fists furiously. "Our one chance to learn--"
"We were lucky to get out alive," said Miellyn quietly. "Where on the planet are we, I wonder?"
I looked down the hillside, and stared in amazement. Spread out on the hillside below us lay the Kharsa, topped by the white skyscraper of the HQ.
"I'll be damned," I said, "right here. We're home. Rakhal, you can go down and make your peace with the Terrans, and Juli. And you, Miellyn--" Before the others, I could not say what I was thinking, but I put my hand on her shoulder and kept it there. She smiled, shakily, with a hint of her old mischief. "I can't go into the Terran Zone looking like this, can I? Give me that comb again. Rakhal, give me your shirtcloak, my robes are torn."
"You vain, stupid female, worrying about a thing like that at a time like this!" Rakhal's look was like murder. I put my comb in her hand, then suddenly saw something in the symbols across her breasts. Before this I had seen only the conventionalized and intricate glyph of the Toad God. But now-- I reached out and ripped the cloth away.
"Cargill!" she protested angrily, crimsoning, covering her bare breasts with both hands. "Is this the place? And before a child, too!"
I hardly heard. "Look!" I exclaimed. "Rakhal, look at the symbols embroidered into the glyph of the God! You can read the old nonhuman glyphs. You did it in the city of The Lisse. Miellyn said they were the key to the transmitters! I'll bet the formula is written out there for anyone to read!
"Anyone, that is, who can read it! I can't, but I'll bet the formula equations for the transmitters are carved on every Toad God glyph on Wolf. Rakhal, it makes sense. There are two ways of hiding something. Either keep it locked away, or hide it right out in plain sight. Whoever bothers even to look at a conventionalized Toad God? There are so many billions of them...."
He bent his head over the embroideries, and when he looked up his face was flushed. "I believe--by the chains of Sharra, I believe you have it, Race! It may take years to work out the glyphs, but I'll do it, or die trying!" His scarred and hideous face looked almost handsome in exultation, and I grinned at him.
"If Juli leaves enough of you, once she finds out how you maneuvered her. Look, Rindy's fallen asleep on the grass there. Poor kid, we'd better get her down to her mother."
"Right." Rakhal thrust the precious embroidery into his shirtcloak, then cradled his sleeping daughter in his arms. I watched him with a curious emotion I could not identify. It seemed to pinpoint some great change, either in Rakhal or myself. It's not difficult to visualize one's sister with children, but there was something, some strange incongruity in the sight of Rakhal carrying the little girl, carefully tucking her up in a fold of his cloak to keep the sharp breeze off her face.
Miellyn was limping in her thin sandals, and she shivered. I asked, "Cold?"
"No, but--I don't believe Evarin is dead, I'm afraid he got away."
For a minute the thought dimmed the luster of the morning. Then I shrugged. "He's probably buried in that big hole up there." But I knew I would never be sure.
We walked abreast, my arm around the weary, stumbling woman, and Rakhal said softly at last, "Like old times."
It wasn't old times, I knew. He would know it too, once his exultation sobered. I had outgrown my love for intrigue, and I had the feeling this was Rakhal's last adventure. It was going to take him, as he said, years to work out the equations for the transmitter. And I had a feeling my own solid, ordinary desk was going to look good to me in the morning.
But I knew now that I'd never run away from Wolf again. It was my own beloved sun that was rising. My sister was waiting for me down below, and I was bringing back her child. My best friend was walking at my side. What more could a man want?
If the memory of dark, poison-berry eyes was to haunt me in nightmares, they did not come into the waking world. I looked at Miellyn, took her slender unmanacled hand in mine, and smiled as we walked through the gates of the city. Now, after all my years on Wolf, I understood the desire to keep their women under lock and key that was its ancient custom. I vowed to myself as we went that I should waste no time finding a fetter shop and having forged therein the perfect steel chains that should bind my love's wrists to my key forever.
By James Causey
Vogel started with crossword puzzles ... and worked his way up to Man's greatest enigma!
When he was nine, Vogel almost killed another boy who inadvertently scattered his half-completed jigsaw puzzle.
At sixteen, he discovered the mysteries of the Danish Gambit, and cried.
At twenty-two, he crouched in a foxhole on Okinawa, oblivious to the death bursting about him, squinting in a painful ecstasy at the tattered fragment of newspaper on his knee. His sergeant screamed in agony, then died at his elbow. Vogel's face lit up. "Slay," he said happily, scribbling. As crossword puzzles go, it had been a toughie.
At thirty, he was Production Manager of Sachs Fixtures. His men hated him. The General Manager loved him. Tall, gaunt and ruthless, he could glance at any detail print and instantly pinpoint the pattern of final assembly, total man-hour budget and fabrication lead time.
Once, he made a mistake.
On a forty-thousand-dollar job lot he estimated too high on production scrap. When the final assemblies were completed, they had two feet of bulb extension left over. It disturbed him. He spent that evening in his den brooding over chessmen. His wife let him alone.
Next day, he hired Amenth.
Personnel called that morning and apologized. "No experience, but amazing shop aptitude. He's coming down to you for an interview."
"I want," Vogel said into the phone, "three bench men. By noon. With shop experience."
Personnel was sorry. Vogel snarled and hung up.
"Hello, please, sir," said a voice.
Vogel stared, icily.