"Because they're afraid of the Troopers. You men did too good a job out in Chi. You are the deadliest weapon that has ever been made. You. Single airborne infantrymen!"
Lane said, "They told us in Trooper Academy that it's the men that win the wars."
"Yes, but people had forgotten it until the SocioSpecs of Newyork came up with the Troopers. Before the Troopers, governments concentrated on the big weapons, the missiles, the bombs. And the cities, with the Shells, were safe from bombs. They learned to be self-sufficient under the Shells. They were so safe, so isolated, that national governments collapsed. But you Troopers wiped out that feeling of security, when you infiltrated Chi and conquered it."
"We scared them, huh?"
Gerri said, "You scared them so much that they were afraid to let you have a furlough in the city when you came back. Afraid you Troopers would realize that you could easily take over the city if you wanted to. You scared them so much that they'll let me be killed. They'll actually risk trouble with Mars just to kill you."
"I'm sorry about you. I mean it, I like--"
At that moment a titanic, ear-splitting explosion hurled him to the carpet, deafened and blinded him.
He recovered and saw Gerri a few feet away, dazed, groping on hands and knees.
Lane jumped to the window, looked quickly, sprang back. Cybrain pumped orders to his nervous system.
"Blaster cannon," he said. "But just one. Gotcha, cybrain. I can beat that."
He picked up the black box that generated his protective screen. Snapping it open with thumb-pressure, he turned a small dial. Then he waited.
Again an enormous, brain-shattering concussion.
Again Lane and Gerri were thrown to the floor. But this time there was a second explosion and a blinding flash from below.
Lane laughed boyishly and ran to the window.
"Look!" he called to Gerri.
There was a huge gap in the crowd below. The pavement was blackened and shattered to rubble. In and around the open space sprawled dozens of tiny black figures, not moving.
"Backfire," said Lane. "I set the screen to throw their blaster beam right back at them."
"And they knew you might--and yet they let a crowd congregate!"
Gerri reeled away from the window, sick.
Lane said, "I can do that a couple times more, but it burns out the force-globe. Then I'm dead."
He heard the 3V newscaster's amplified voice: "--approximately fifty killed. But Lane is through now. He has been able to outthink police with the help of his cybrain. Now police are feeding the problem to their giant analogue computer in the sub-basement of the Court House. The police analogue computer will be able to outthink Lane's cybrain, will predict Lane's moves in advance. Four more blaster cannon are coming down Broadway--"
"Why don't they clear those people out of the Square?" Gerri cried.
"What? Oh, the Fans--nobody clears them out." He paused. "I got one more chance to try." He raised a mailed glove to his mouth and pressed a small stud in the wrist. He said, "Trooper HQ, this is Lane."
A voice spoke in his helmet. "Lane, this is Trooper HQ. We figured you'd call."
"Get me Colonel Klett."
Thirty seconds passed. Lane could hear the clank of caterpillar treads as the mobile blaster cannon rolled into Tammany Square.
The voice of the commanding officer of the Troopers rasped into Lane's ear: "Meat-head! You broke out against my orders! Now look at you!"
"I knew you didn't mean them orders, sir."
"If you get out of there alive, I'll hang you for disobeying them!"
"Yes, sir. Sir, there's a girl here--somebody important--from Mars. You know, the planet. Sir, she told me we could take over the city if we got loose. That right, sir?"
There was a pause. "Your girl from Mars is right, Lane. But it's too late now. If we had moved first, captured the city government, we might have done it. But they're ready for us. They'd chop us down with blaster cannon."
"Sir, I'm asking for help. I know you're on my side."
"I am, Lane." The voice of Colonel Klett was lower. "I'd never admit it if you had a chance of getting out of there alive. You've had it, son. I'd only lose more men trying to rescue you. When they feed the data into that analogue computer, you're finished."
"I'm sorry, Lane."
"Yes, sir. Over and out."
Lane pressed the stud on his gauntlet again. He turned to Gerri.
"You're okay. I wish I could let you out. Old cybrain says I can't. Says if I drop the force-globe for a second, they'll fire into the room, and then we'll both be dead."
Gerri stood with folded arms and looked at him. "Do what you have to do. As far as I can see, you're the only person in this city that has even a little bit of right on his side."
Lane laughed. "Any of them purple-haired broads I know would be crazy scared. You're different."
"When my grandparents landed on Mars, they found out that selfishness was a luxury. Martians can't afford it."
Lane frowned with the effort of thinking. "You said I had a little right on my side. That's a good feeling. Nobody ever told me to feel that way about myself before. It'll be better to die knowing that."
"I know," she said.
The amplified voice from below said, "The police analogue computer is now hooked directly to the controls of the blaster cannon battery. It will outguess Lane's cybrain and check his moves ahead of time."
Lane looked at Gerri. "How about giving me a kiss before they get us? Be nice if I kissed a girl like you just once in my life."
She smiled and walked forward. "You deserve it, Lane."
He kissed her and it filled him with longings for things he couldn't name. Then he stepped back and shook his head. "It ain't right you should get killed. If I take a dive out that window, they shoot at me, not in here."
"And kill you all the sooner."
"Better than getting burned up in this lousy little room. You also got right on your side. There's too many damn Troopers and not enough good persons like you. Old cybrain says stay here, but I don't guess I will. I'm gonna pay you back for that kiss."
"But you're safe in here!"
"Worry about yourself, not about me." Lane picked up the force-bomb and handed it to her. "When I say now, press this. Then take your hand off, real fast. It'll shut off the screen for a second."
He stepped up on to the window ledge. Automatically, the cybrain cut in his paragrav-paks. "So long, outa-towner. Now!"
He jumped. He was hurtling across the Square when the blaster cannons opened up. They weren't aimed at the window where the little red-white-and-green tricolor was flying. But they weren't aimed at Lane, either. They were shooting wild.
Which way now? Looks like I got a chance. Old cybrain says fly right for the cannons.
He saw the Mayor's balcony ahead. Go to hell, old cybrain. I'm doing all right by myself. I come to see the Mayor, and I'm gonna see him.
Lane plunged forward. He heard the shouts of frightened men.
He swooped over the balcony railing. A man was pointing a blaster pistol at him. There were five men on the balcony--emergency! Years of training and cybrain took over. Lane's hand shot out, fingers vibrating. As he dropped to the balcony floor in battle-crouch, the men slumped around him.
He had seen the man with the blaster pistol before. It was the Mayor of Newyork.
Lane stood for a moment in the midst of the sprawled men, the shrieks of the crowd floating up to him. Then he raised his glove to his lips. He made contact with Manhattan Armory.
"Colonel Klett, sir. You said if we captured the city government we might have a chance. Well, I captured the city government. What do we do with it now?"
Lane was uncomfortable in his dress uniform. First there had been a ceremony in Tammany Square inaugurating Newyork's new Military Protectorate, and honoring Trooper Lane. Now there was a formal dinner. Colonel Klett and Gerri Kin sat on either side of Lane.
Klett said, "Call me an opportunist if you like, Miss Kin, my government will be stable, and Mars can negotiate with it." He was a lean, sharp-featured man with deep grooves in his face, and gray hair.
Gerri shook her head. "Recognition for a new government takes time. I'm going back to Mars, and I think they'll send another ambassador next time. Nothing personal--I just don't like it here."
Lane said, "I'm going to Mars, too."
"Did she ask you to?" demanded Klett.
Lane shook his head. "She's got too much class for me. But I like what she told me about Mars. It's healthy, like."
Klett frowned. "If I thought there was a gram of talent involved in your capture of the Mayor, Lane, I'd never release you from duty. But I know better. You beat that analogue computer by sheer stupidity--by disregarding your cybrain."
Lane said, "It wasn't so stupid if it worked."
"That's what bothers me. It calls for a revision in our tactics. We've got a way of beating those big computers now, should anyone use them against us."
"I just didn't want her to be hurt."
"Exactly. The computer could outguess a machine, like your cybrain. But you introduced a totally unpredictable factor--human emotion. Which proves what I, as a military man, have always maintained--that the deadliest weapon in man's arsenal is still, and will always be, the individual soldier."
"What you just said there, sir," said Lane. "That's why I'm leaving Newyork."
"What do you mean?" asked Colonel Klett.
"I'm tired of being a weapon, sir. I want to be a human being."
ONE MAN'S POISON.
By Robert Sheckley
They could eat a horse, only luckily there was none ... it might have eaten them first!
Hellman plucked the last radish out of the can with a pair of dividers. He held it up for Casker to admire, then laid it carefully on the workbench beside the razor.
"Hell of a meal for two grown men," Casker said, flopping down in one of the ship's padded crash chairs.
"If you'd like to give up your share--" Hellman started to suggest.
Casker shook his head quickly. Hellman smiled, picked up the razor and examined its edge critically.
"Don't make a production out of it," Casker said, glancing at the ship's instruments. They were approaching a red dwarf, the only planet-bearing sun in the vicinity. "We want to be through with supper before we get much closer."
Hellman made a practice incision in the radish, squinting along the top of the razor. Casker bent closer, his mouth open. Hellman poised the razor delicately and cut the radish cleanly in half.
"Will you say grace?" Hellman asked.
Casker growled something and popped a half in his mouth. Hellman chewed more slowly. The sharp taste seemed to explode along his disused tastebuds.
"Not much bulk value," Hellman said.
Casker didn't answer. He was busily studying the red dwarf.