"Never mind. I wouldn't poison even you, if that is what you feared."
Daniel Crowley took up the new container of serum and put a lid on it. He said, "I got to get going. The guy out in front will get you back to your rooms. No tricks with him, Buster"--he was talking directly to Ross--"he's already beat a couple of homicide raps."
Back in their cell-rooms, they found that there was but one guard. Evidently, the all-out robbery attempt to be held this night involved practically all of Larry Morazzoni's forces. Beyond that, this guard did not seem particularly interested in keeping them from talking back and forth to each other through the peepholes that centered their doors.
After a couple of hours during which time they largely held silence, immersed in their own thoughts, Dr. Braun called out, "Patricia, Ross, I should tender my apologies. It was my less than brilliant idea to find the average man and use him as a guinea pig."
"No apology necessary," Patricia said impatiently. "We all went into it with open eyes."
"But you were correct, Pat," the doctor said unhappily. "Our common man turned out to be a Frankenstein monster."
Ross growled, "That's the trouble. It turned out he wasn't our common man but his brother, whose petty criminal record evidently goes back to juvenile days."
"Even that doesn't matter," Patricia said testily. "I've about come to the conclusion that it wouldn't have made any difference who we'd put in Don's ... I mean Daniel Crowley's position. Man is too near the animal, as yet at least, to be trusted with such power. Any man."
"Why, Pat," Dr. Braun said doggedly, "I don't quite believe you correct. For instance, do you feel the same about me? Would I have reacted like our friend Dan?" He chuckled in deprecation.
"That's my point," she said. "I think you would ... ultimately. Once again look at the Caesars, they held godlike power."
"You're thinking of such as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Commodus...."
"I'm also thinking of such as Claudius, the scholar who was practically forced to take the Imperial mantle. And Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher who although bound up in learning himself allowed his family free rein in their vices and finally turned the Empire over to his son Commodus, one of the most vicious men of all time. But take Caligula and Nero if you will. Both of them stepped into power comparatively clean and with the best of prospects. Well approved, well loved. What happened to them when given power without restraint?"
Ross grumbled, "I admit I missed the boat, but not for the reasons Pat presents. In a sane society, our serum would be a valuable contribution. But in a dog eat dog world, where it's each man for himself, then it becomes a criminal tool."
Patricia said sarcastically, "And can you point out a sane society?"
Ross grunted. "No," he said. After a moment he added, "You know, in a way Crowley was right. We three eggheads didn't do so well up against what he called his common sense. I tried to slug him, with negative results. Dr. Braun, you tried sweet reason on him. Forgive me if I laugh. Pat, you tried your womanly wiles, but he saw through that, too."
"The chickens have not all come home to roost," Patricia said mysteriously. "What time is it?"
Ross told her.
She called to the guard, "See here, you."
"Shut up. You ain't supposed to be talking at all. Go to sleep."
"I want to speak to Mr. Morazzoni. It's very important and you are going to be dreadfully sorry if you don't bring him."
"Larry can't be bothered. He's getting ready to go on down to the city."
"I know what he's doing, but if he doesn't listen to me, he's going to be very unhappy and probably full of bullet holes."
The guard came over to her door and stared at her for a long moment. He checked the lock on her door and then those of Dr. Braun and Ross Wooley. "We'll see who's going to be sorry," he grunted. He turned and left.
When he returned it was with both Larry Morazzoni and Paul Teeter, Dan Crowley's political adviser. Morazzoni growled, "What goes on? You squares looking for trouble?"
Patricia said testily, "I suggest you let us out of here, Mr. Morazzoni. If you do, we pledge not to press kidnaping charges against you. I believe you are aware of the penalty in this State."
"You trying to be funny?"
"Definitely not, Mr. Morazzoni," Patricia said icily. "Daniel Crowley bragged to us of your plans for tonight."
The hoodlum muttered a contemptuous obscenity under his breath.
Paul Teeter, the heavy-set southerner said jovially, "But what has this to do with releasing you, Miss O'Gara? Admittedly Dan is a bit indiscreet but...." He let the sentence fade away.
"Yes," Patricia said. "I realize that he is a nonprofessional in your ranks, and have little doubt that eventually you would have surmounted whatever precautions he has taken to keep you in underling positions. That's beside the point. The point is that by this time Daniel Crowley has, ah, infiltrated the institution you expected to burglarize tonight. He is inside, and you are still outside. There are four guards also inside, whom he is expected to eliminate before you can join him."
"He told you everything all right, the jerk," Larry said coldly. "But so what?"
"So Dan Crowley had us make up a new amount of serum tonight and tested it on a chimpanzee in the lab. If you'll go and check, you'll undoubtedly find the chimp is again visible."
The gunman looked at Paul Teeter blankly.
The other's reactions were quicker. "The serum lasts for twelve hours," Teeter barked.
"This batch lasts for three hours," Patricia said definitely. "Your friend Crowley is suddenly going to become visible right before the eyes of those four guards--and long before he had expected to eliminate them."
Teeter barked, "Larry, check that monkey."
Doc Braun spoke up for the first time since the appearance of the two. He said dryly, "You'll also notice that the animal is sound asleep. It seems that I added a slow-acting but rather potent sleeping compound to the serum."
The gunman started from the room in a rush.
Ross called after him, "If you'll look closely, you'll also note the chimp's skin has turned a brilliant red. There have been some basic changes in the pigment."
"Holy smokes," Paul Teeter protested, moping his face with a handkerchief. "Didn't he take any precautions against you people at all?"
Ross said, "He was too busy telling us how smart a country boy he happened to be."
Larry returned in moments, biting his lip in the first nervous manifestation any of them had ever seen in him. He took Teeter to one side.
Patricia called to them impatiently. "You have no time and no one to contact Crowley now. Don't be fools. Mend your bridges while you can. Let us out of here, and we'll prefer no charges."
Larry was a man of quick decisions. He snapped to the blank-faced guard who had assimilated only a fraction of all this, "Go on back to the boys and tell them to start packing to get out of here. Tell them the fix has chilled. It's all off. I'll be there in a few minutes."
"O.K., chief." The other had the philosophical outlook of those who were meant to take orders and knew it. He left.
Larry and Teeter opened the cell doors.
Teeter said, "How do we know we can trust you?"
Ross looked at him.
Larry said, "It's a deal. Give us an hour to get out of here. Then use the phone if you want to call a taxi, or whatever. I ain't stupid, this thing was too complicated to begin with."
When Teeter and Morazzoni were gone, the three stood alone in the corridor, looking at each other.
The doctor pushed his glasses back onto his nose with a thumb and forefinger. "By Caesar," he said.
Ross ran a hefty paw back through his red crew cut and twisted his face into a mock grimace. "Well," he said, "I have to revise my former statement. I used brute strength against Crowley, the doctor used sweet reason, and Pat her womanly wiles. And all failed. But as biochemists, each working without the knowledge of the others, we used science--and it paid off. I suppose the thing to do now is buy three jet tickets for California."
Braun and Patricia looked at him blankly.
Ross explained. "Didn't you hear what Crowley said? His brother, Donald, has moved out to San Francisco. He's our real Common Man, we'll have to start the experiment all over again."
Dr. Braun snorted.
Patricia O'Gara, hands on hips, snapped, "Ross Wooley, our engagement is off!"
By Michael Shaara
Beauclaire was given his first ship at Sirius. He was called up before the Commandant in the slow heat of the afternoon, and stood shuffling with awkward delight upon the shaggy carpet. He was twenty-five years old, and two months out of the Academy. It was a wonderful day.
The Commandant told Beauclaire to sit down, and sat looking at him for a long while. The Commandant was an old man with a face of many lines. He was old, was hot, was tired. He was also very irritated. He had reached that point of oldness when talking to a young man is an irritation because they are so bright and certain and don't know anything and there is nothing you can do about it.
"All right," the Commandant said, "there are a few things I have to tell you. Do you know where you are going?"
"No, sir," Beauclaire said cheerfully.
"All right," the Commandant said again, "I'll tell you. You are going to the Hole in Cygnus. You've heard of it, I hope? Good. Then you know that the Hole is a large dust cloud--estimated diameter, ten light-years. We have never gone into the Hole, for a number of reasons. It's too thick for light speeds, it's too big, and Mapping Command ships are being spread thin. Also, until now, we never thought there was anything in the Hole worth looking at. So we have never gone into the Hole. Your ship will be the first."
"Yes, sir," Beauclaire said, eyes shining.
"A few weeks ago," the Commandant said, "one of our amateurs had a lens on the Hole, just looking. He saw a glow. He reported to us; we checked and saw the same thing. There is a faint light coming out of the Hole--obviously, a sun, a star inside the cloud, just far enough in to be almost invisible. God knows how long it's been there, but we do know that there's never been a record of a light in the Hole. Apparently this star orbited in some time ago, and is now on its way out. It is just approaching the edge of the cloud. Do you follow me?"
"Yes, sir," Beauclaire said.
"Your job is this: You will investigate that sun for livable planets and alien life. If you find anything--which is highly unlikely--you are to decipher the language and come right back. A Psych team will go out and determine the effects of a starless sky upon the alien culture--obviously, these people will never have seen the stars."
The Commandant leaned forward, intent now for the first time.
"Now, this is an important job. There were no other linguists available, so we passed over a lot of good men to pick you. Make no mistake about your qualifications. You are nothing spectacular. But the ship will be yours from now on, permanently. Have you got that?"
The young man nodded, grinning from ear to ear.
"There is something else," the Commandant said, and abruptly he paused.
He gazed silently at Beauclaire--at the crisp gray uniform, the baby-slick cheek--and he thought fleetingly and bitterly of the Hole in Cygnus which he, an old man, would never see. Then he told himself sternly to leave off self-pity. The important thing was coming up, and he would have to say it well.
"Listen," he said. The tone of his voice was very strong and Beauclaire blinked. "You are replacing one of our oldest men. One of our best men. His name is Billy Wyatt. He--he has been with us a long time." The Commandant paused again, his fingers toying with the blotter on his desk. "They have told you a lot of stuff at the Academy, which is all very important. But I want you to understand something else: This Mapping Command is a weary business--few men last for any length of time, and those that do aren't much good in the end. You know that. Well, I want you to be very careful when you talk to Billy Wyatt; and I want you to listen to him, because he's been around longer than anybody. We're relieving him, yes, because he is breaking down. He's no good for us any more; he has no more nerve. He's lost the feeling a man has to have to do his job right."
The Commandant got up slowly and walked around in front of Beauclaire, looking into his eyes.
"When you relieve Wyatt, treat him with respect. He's been farther and seen more than any man you will ever meet. I want no cracks and no pity for that man. Because, listen, boy, sooner or later the same thing will happen to you. Why? Because it's too big--" the Commandant gestured helplessly with spread hands--"it's all just too damn big. Space is never so big that it can't get bigger. If you fly long enough, it will finally get too big to make any sense, and you'll start thinking. You'll start thinking that it doesn't make sense. On that day, we'll bring you back and put you into an office somewhere. If we leave you alone, you lose ships and get good men killed--there's nothing we can do when space gets too big. That is what happened to Wyatt. That is what will happen, eventually, to you. Do you understand?"
The young man nodded uncertainly.
"And that," the Commandant said sadly, "is the lesson for today. Take your ship. Wyatt will go with you on this one trip, to break you in. Pay attention to what he has to say--it will mean something. There's one other crewman, a man named Cooper. You'll be flying with him now. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut, except for questions. And don't take any chances. That's all."
Beauclaire saluted and rose to go.
"When you see Wyatt," the Commandant said, "tell him I won't be able to make it down before you leave. Too busy. Got papers to sign. Got more damn papers than the chief has ulcers."
The young man waited.
"That, God help you, is all," said the Commandant.
Wyatt saw the letter when the young man was still a long way off. The white caught his eye, and he watched idly for a moment. And then he saw the fresh green gear on the man's back and the look on his face as he came up the ladder, and Wyatt stopped breathing.
He stood for a moment blinking in the sun. Me? he thought ... me?
Beauclaire reached the platform and threw down his gear, thinking that this was one hell of a way to begin a career.
Wyatt nodded to him, but didn't say anything. He accepted the letter, opened it and read it. He was a short man, thick and dark and very powerful. The lines of his face did not change as he read the letter.
"Well," he said when he was done, "thank you."
There was a long wait, and Wyatt said at last: "Is the Commandant coming down?"
"No, sir. He said he was tied up. He said to give you his best."
"That's nice," Wyatt said.
After that, neither of them spoke. Wyatt showed the new man to his room and wished him good luck. Then he went back to his cabin and sat down to think.
After 28 years in the Mapping Command, he had become necessarily immune to surprise; he could understand this at once, but it would be some time before he would react. Well, well, he said to himself; but he did not feel it.