The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 27

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"Not a machine," I said gently. "Six of them. Each time the basic data was pumped into a new McGuire brain, you a.s.sumed that it was the same machine you'd known before with a little of its memory removed. Each time, you'd tell it to 'remember' certain things, and, of course, he did. If you tell a robot that a certain thing is in his memory banks, he'll automatically put it there and treat it as a memory.

"To keep you from ruining him a seventh time, we had them put in one little additional built-in inhibition. McGuire won't take orders from a woman."

"So, even after I turned him on, he still wouldn't take orders from me," she said. "But when you came in, he recognized you as his master."

"If you want to put it that way."

Again, she laughed a little. "I know why he took off from Ceres. When I hit you, you said, 'Get away'. McGuire had been given his first order, and he obeyed it."'



"I had to say something," I said. "If I'd had time, I'd have done a little better."

She thought back. "You said, 'We had them add that inhibition.' Who's we?"

"I can't tell you yet. But we need young women like you, and you'll be told soon enough."

"Evidently they need men like you, too," she said. "You don't react to an emotional field, either."

"Oh, yes, I do. Any human being does. But I use it; I don't fight it. And I don't succ.u.mb to it."

"What do we do now?" she asked. "Go back to Ceres?"

"That's up to you. If you do, you'll be accused of stealing McGuire, and I don't think it can be hushed up at this stage of the game."

"But I can't just run away."

"There's another out," I said. "We'll have a special s.h.i.+p pick us up on one of the nearer asteroids and leave McGuire there. We'll be smuggled back, and we'll claim that McGuire went insane again."

She shook her head. "No. That would ruin Father, and I can't do that, in spite of the fact that I don't like him very much."

"Can you think of any other solution?"

"No," she said softly.

"Thanks. But you have. All I have to do is take it to Shalimar Ravenhurst. He'll scream and yell, but he has a sane s.h.i.+p--for a while. Between the two of us. I think we can get everything straightened out."

"But I want to go to school on Luna."

"You can do that, too. And I'll see that you get special training, from special teachers. You've got to learn to control that technique of yours."

"You have that technique, don't you? And you can control it. You're wonderful."

I looked sharply at her and realized that I had replaced McGuire as the supermind in her life.

I sighed. "Maybe in another three or four years," I said. "Meanwhile, McGuire, you can head us for Raven's Rest."

"Home, James," said Jack Ravenhurst.

"I am McGuire," said McGuire.

THE END.

Contents

AND DEVIOUS THE LINE OF DUTY.

by Tom G.o.dwin

Sometimes the most diligent and loyal thing an old man can do is fumble, drink beer, and let a young man get into trouble....

"We're almost there, my boy." The big, gray-haired man who would be Lieutenant Dale Hunter's superior--Strategic Service's Special Agent, George Rockford--opened another can of beer, his fifth. "There will be intrigue already under way when this helicopter sets down with us. Attempted homicide will soon follow. The former will be meat for me. You will be meat for the latter."

Rockford was smiling as he spoke; the genial, engaging smile of a fond old father. But the eyes, surrounded by laughter crinkles, were as unreadable as two disks of gray slate. They were the eyes of a poker player--or master con man.

"I don't understand, sir," Hunter said.

"Of course not," Rockford agreed. "It's a hundred light-years back to Earth. Here on Vesta, to make sure there is an Earth in the future, you're going to do things never dreamed of by your Terran s.p.a.ce Patrol instructors there. You'll be amazed, my boy."

Hunter said nothing but he felt a growing dislike for the condescending Rockford. Only a few weeks ago President Diskar, himself, had said: For more than a century these truly valiant men of the s.p.a.ce Patrol have been our unwavering outer guard; have fought and died by legions, that Earth and the other worlds of the Terran Republic might remain free-- "I suppose you know," Rockford said, "that there will be no more than four days in which to stop the Verdam oligarchy from achieving its long-time ambition of becoming big enough to swallow the Terran Republic."

"I know," Hunter answered.

Jardeen, Vesta's companion world, was the key. Jardeen was large and powerful, with a s.p.a.ce navy unsurpa.s.sed by that of any other single world. A large group of now-neutral worlds would follow Jardeen's lead and Jardeen's alliance with the Verdam People's Worlds would mean the quick end for the Terran Republic. But, if Jardeen could be persuaded to ally with the Terran Republic, the spreading, grasping arms of the Verdam octopus would begin to wither away-- Rockford spoke again: "Val Boran, Jardeen's Secretary of Foreign Relations, is the man who will really make Jardeen's decision. I know him slightly. Since my public role is that of Acting Amba.s.sador, he agreed--reluctantly--to come to Vesta so that the talks could be on a neutral world. With him will be Verdam's Special Envoy Sonig; a wily little man who has been working on Boran for several weeks. He seems to be succeeding quite well--here's a message I received from Earth early this morning."

Rockford handed him a sheet of the green Hypers.p.a.ce Communications paper. The message was in code, with Rockford's scribbled translation beneath: Intelligence reports Verdam forces already ma.s.sed for attack in Sector A-13, in full expectation of Jardeen's alliance. Anti-Terran propaganda, stressing the New Jardeen Incident, being used in preparation for what will be their claim of "defensive action to protect innocent worlds from Terran aggression." Terran forces will be outnumbered five to one. The urgent necessity of immediate and conclusive counter measures by you on Vesta is obvious.

Hunter handed the paper back, thinking, It's worse than any of us thought, and wondering how Supreme Command could ever have entrusted such an important task to a beer-guzzling old man from Strategic Service--a branch so unknown that he had never even heard of it until his briefing the day before he left Earth.

He saw that they had left the desert behind and were going up the long slope of a mountain. "The meeting will be on this mountain?" he asked.

Rockford nodded. "The rustic Royal Retreat. Princess Lyla will be our hostess. Her mother and father were killed in an airplane accident a year ago and she was the only child. You will also get to meet Lord Narf of the Sea Islands, her husband-by-proxy, who regards himself as a rare combination of irresistible woman-killer and rugged man-among-men."

"Husband-by-proxy?" Hunter asked.

"The king wors.h.i.+ped his daughter and his dying request to her was that she promise to marry Lord Narf. Narf's father had been the king's closest friend and the king was sure that his old friend's son would always love and care for Lyla. Lyla dutifully, at once, married Narf by proxy, which is like a legally binding formal engagement under Vestan law. Four days from now the time limit is up and they'll be formally married. Unless she should do the unprecedented thing of renouncing the proxy marriage."

Rockford drained the last of the beer from the can. "Those are the characters involved in our play. I have a plan. That's why I told s.p.a.ce Patrol to send me a brand-new second lieutenant--young, strong, fairly handsome--and expendable. I hope you can be philosophical about the latter."

"Sir," Hunter said, unable to keep a touch of stiffness out of his tone, "it is not exactly unknown in the s.p.a.ce Patrol for a man to die in the line of duty."

"Ah ... yes." Rockford was regarding him with disturbing amus.e.m.e.nt. "You are thinking, of course, of dying dramatically behind a pair of blazing blasters. But you will soon learn, my boy, that a soldier's duty is to protect the worlds he represents by whatever actions will produce the best results, no matter how unheroic those actions may be."

"Attention, please." It was the voice of the pilot. "We are now going to land."

Hunter preceded Rockford out of the helicopter and onto the green gra.s.s of a small valley, across which tall, red-trunked cloud trees were scattered. Pale gray ghost trees, with k.n.o.bby, twisted limbs, grew thickly among the cloud trees. There was a group of rustic cabins, connected by gravel paths, and a much larger building which he a.s.sumed would be a meeting hall.

"h.e.l.lo."

He turned, and looked into the brown eyes of a girl. Her green skirt and orange blouse made a gay splash of color, her red-brown hair was wind-tumbled and carefree about her shoulders, in her hand was a bouquet of bright spring flowers.

But there was no smile of spring in the dark eyes and the snub-nosed little face was solemn and old beyond its years.

"You're Lieutenant Hunter, aren't you?" she asked in the same low, quiet voice.

"Princess Lyla!" There seemed to be genuine delight in Rockford's greeting as he hurried over. "You're looking more like a queen every day!"

Her face lighted with a smile, making it suddenly young and beautiful. "I'm so glad to see you again, George--"

"Ah ... good afternoon."

The voice was loud, unpleasantly gravelly. They turned, and Hunter saw a tall, angular man of perhaps forty whose pseudogenial smile was not compatible with his sour, square-jawed face and calculating little eyes.

He spoke to Rockford. "You're Amba.s.sador Rockford, here to represent the Terran Republic, I believe." He jerked his head toward Princess Lyla, who was no longer smiling. "My wife, Princess Lyla."

"Oh, she and I have been friends since she was ten, Lord Narf."

"And this young man"--Narf glanced at Hunter--"is your aide, I presume. Lyla, did you think to send anyone after their luggage?"

A servant was already carrying their luggage--and cases of Rockford's beer--out of the helicopter. Hunter followed the other toward the cabins. Narf, in the lead, was saying: "... Ridiculously primitive here, now, but I'm having some decent furniture and well-trained servants sent up from my Sea Island estates...."

The cabin was large and very comfortable, as Rockford mentioned to Princess Lyla.

"I'm glad you like it," she said. "Val Boran and Envoy Sonig are already here and we'll meet for dinner in the central hall. I thought that if we all got acquainted in a friendly atmosphere like that, it might help a lot to...."

"That reminds me"--Narf glanced at his watch--"I promised this Boran he could have a discussion with me--Vesta-Jardeen tariff policies. I suppose he's already waiting. Come on, Lyla--it will do you no harm to listen and learn a bit about interplanetary business."

For a long moment she looked at Narf silently, her eyes thoughtful, then she said to Rockford, "If you will excuse us, please. And be prepared for Alonzo to come bounding in the minute he learns you're here."

She walked beside Narf to the door and out it, the top of her dark hair coming just even with his shoulder.

"And that," Rockford said as he settled down in the largest, softest chair, "was king-to-be Narf, whose business ability is such that all his inherited Sea Island estates are gone but the one Lyla saved for him and who owes a total of ten million monetary units, to everyone from call girls to yacht builders."

"And she is going to marry him?" Hunter asked. "Marry that jacka.s.s and let him bankrupt her kingdom?"

Rockford shrugged. "You may have noticed that she doesn't look the least bit happy about it--but she is a very conscientious young lady who regards it as her most solemn duty to keep the promise she made to her father. For her, there is no escape."

"But--"

"Your first duty will be to cultivate a friends.h.i.+p with her. I'm going to use her, and you, to get what I want."

"Use us?"

"Yes. One of the most rigid requirements of a Strategic Service man's character is that he be completely without one."

Rockford was asleep in his chair an hour later, three empty beer cans beside him. Hunter watched him, his doubt of Rockford's competence growing into a conviction. Rockford had spoken knowingly of his plan--and had done nothing but drink more beer. Now he was asleep while time--so limited and precious--went by. He hadn't even bothered to reply to Hunter's suggestion that perhaps he should call on Val Boran and counteract some of Envoy Sonig's anti-Terran propaganda.

Hunter came to a decision. If Rockford was still doing nothing when morning came, he would send an urgent message to Supreme Command.

He went outside, to find a servant and learn how mail was handled.

"Rook out!"

Gravel flew as overgrown feet tried to stop, and something like a huge black dog lunged headlong around the corner and into his legs. He went to the ground head first over the animal, acutely aware as he went down of the fascinated interest on the face of a not-so-distant servant.

"I sorry, Rootenant."

He got up, to look down at the doglike animal. There was a concerned expression in its brown eyes and an apologetic grin on its face. He recognized it as one of the natives of the grim starvation world of Altair Four. The Altairians had emigrated to all sections of the galaxy, to earn a living in whatever humble capacity they could fill. Many were empathic.

"I run too fast to meet, Mr. Rockford, I guess. Are you hurt, Rootenant?"

He pulled a cloud tree needle out of his hand and looked grimly down into the furry face. "In the future, try to look where you're going."

"Oh, I rook, awr right. I just not see. My name is Aronzo, Rootenant, and I stay here awr the time and guard everything for Princess Ryra. I prease to meet you and I wirr run errands for you, and do things rike mair your retters, for candy or cookies, which I are not supposed to eat much of, but Princess Ryra say not too many wirr hurt me--"

"Mail letters?" Hunter's animosity vanished. "I'm sorry I was rude, Alonzo--all my fault. I may write a letter to my dear old mother tonight, and if you would mail it for me in the morning--"

Rockford left ahead of Hunter and it was a minute past the appointed time when Hunter reached the meeting hall. He heard Narf's loud voice inside: "... Boran must have stopped to watch the sunset. Told him I wanted everyone here on time--"

The low voice of Lyla said something and Narf said, "Not necessary for you to defend him, my dear. I made it plain to him."

A new voice spoke from behind Hunter: "It seems I have annoyed Lord Narf."

He was a tall, black-eyed man, with the dark, saturnine face of an Indian. There was a strange, indefinable air of sadness about him which reminded Hunter of the sombre little Princess Lyla.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 27

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