Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
The star-ship eased into norm-space just outside the Capellan system. To go further sun-ward might bring a blast of deadly implosi-radiation from a Patrol ship. Carrick clung to the controls until a code signal activated his talkidisc as a signal voice called on him to identify himself.
“Weapons trader Alpheus Neumann, planet Clonimell, star-sun Altair,” Carrick replied. His fingers stabbed the button that would flash a duplicate of his star-pass on the viewing screen on the patrol boat. Mai had labored over that pass—there were hundreds of blank passes, officially stamped and sealed and needing only to be filled out, in a storeroom locker—enjoying herself by inventing names.
“Alpheus Neumann and wife, Carolla.”
“Permission to land on Hilnoris granted.”
They went past the patroller at a sober speed. Carrick never tired of a system-fall, as his ship drove between the planets circling a star-sun. Almost holding his breath he would watch world after world swim up into magnification in the viewer, studying the shape of its continents and oceans, wondering what sort of people and animals inhabited it. There were odd sorts of both kinds out here among the stars.
Idly he wondered if they had ever heard of Ylth’yl.
Mai was in her cabin, packing. “Just like a wife,” she called to him suddenly. “Doing all the work. Here, give me a hand with these things.”
Carrick touched the automation stud and went to help her. The ship would circle Hilnoris until confirmation came from Patrol headquarters on one of its space stations; then a tug would accompany them down to a landing. There was nothing for him to do but wait.
Mai Valoris looked flushed and untidy. A few strands of heavy yellow hair had fallen across her eyes and she had ripped a seam of her blue blouse so that the tanned skin of a shoulder was showing. She shot him a glance as he came through the door, her eyes bright with anger.
“Everything’s gone wrong,” she snapped. ” I broke a fingernail. I tore my blouse. I lost the only comb I could find on this damned ship and—”
Something in him reacted to her mood. She looked not so much like a former model as she did a harassed housewife on a vacation. He realized suddenly that he was a little fearful of Mai Valoris, the model; he did not fear Carolla Neumann, the trader’s wife; she was more familiar to him; he’d never had to do with glamour girls.
He crossed the little cabin, took her chin in a hand and gently turning her head, kissed her pouting red lips. She gasped with surprise.
“There, that’s for doing all the work while I’ve been planet-shopping at the viewer. I just wanted to tell you that you look lovelier to me right now than you ever have before.”
“You must adore sloppy women,” she exclaimed, but she was pleased. “Do you really mean it or are those just words?”
He lifted two heavy carryalls. “Mean it. Now stop fishing for compliments and waggle your tail. There’s the tug horn now. It’ll latch onto our controls and bring us down safe from gales and storms and such. They’ll have the latest weather reports, we don’t.
He was talking to give her an opportunity of standing before the little wall mirror, adjusting her blouse, mending it with an adhesi-ray, tucking the fallen strands of hair into the neater coiffure. With a wry grin, Carrick admitted that he felt like a husband at the moment.
“I had an older brother used to be a space-tug captain back on Earth. Long time ago, that was. He’s probably head of the outfit, now.” She was almost done. “He used to damn all spaceship captains who wouldn’t acknowledge signals. I’d better go answer a few myself.”
He put the carryalls at the port vents, then moved on into the control room. Seated at the automatics, ready to assume manual handling if anything went wrong, he watched the planet swim larger in the screen. Clouds, first. Then a curving sweep of horizon and mists out of which emerged blue water and brown land dotted with green forests. Lakes on which sunlight shimmered as if they were made of glass. Earth was like this. Home. Nostalgia brushed him mind and he sat remembering the past until a buzzer woke him to the present.
“Starboard power, sir. You’re veering.”
Obediently, Carrick made compensations on the panel, felt the ship turn slightly as she lowered. His thoughts fled back to Earth. Funny how many Earth-type planets there were, scattered among the stars. The Probability Laws explained their recurrence, again and again, but he was never much on astral geology. Good thing for humans there were so many planets, population explosions being what they were.
Maybe somewhere out in space, on another Earth-type planet, Ylth’yl waited. Carrick told himself that when he’d proved his innocence—or maybe even if he couldn’t do that—he would go looking for Ylth’yl someday soon. I have no choice in the matter. Stryker must have built in this hostility, this urge to seek out and destroy, along with the rest of my manufactured nerves and tissues. There was an eagerness in him to meet up with Ylth’yl. Maybe the mongoose felt this way about the cobra.
The star-ship bumped and settled.
Mai was working the port controls. The metal circle retracted and the ramp slid out. Carrick bent for the carryalls. Like any wife, Mai had a smaller bag and tucked in under one arm, half a dozen gewgaws.
The Neumanns were ready to see Hilnoris.
Their plotel room—every hotel that catered to the planetary trade was a plotel—overlooked a lake and in the far distance, a range of small hills covered by fragrant pine trees. Ever since Leeffler had discovered Hilnoris four hundred years before, they had been re-fashioning it more and more like Earth. Pine trees, cacti, spruce and evergreens, all the Earthian shrubs, were imported and planted, nursed to flourishing life.
People like the same old things, he decided, standing at the solid glass west wall of their suite. Variances like red water—you found that on Tremaire—or blue dirt such as Yann boasted, sent shudders down the spine. Only the hardiest colonists went to those worlds. But these others—Hilnoris, Xaveria, Clonimell, Dalitalla, Klinn—were replicas of Mother Earth. It was the way everyone wanted them.
He sighed and glanced at his chronometer. The library would open in another few minutes. Mai was out shopping, reveling in her role of housewife on a spree, she had a purse filled with golden karels. Let her enjoy herself, if she wanted; she’d had it pretty tough the past couple of years.
So had Kael Carrick, but he was going to do something about that. He had wasted enough time, standing here staring at the monotonous red desert sands of Dakkan planet, they were very soothing to his eyes.
Besides, he wanted time to think, to marshal his memories and make plans. First the law library, then a visit to that witness who had testified against him at his trial. Pratt, that was his name: Felton Pratt. A rat of a human being with a thin, sharp face and small black eyes. Shifty, with nervous mannerisms and pale skin unused to sunlight. It was because of Felton Pratt that he had been convicted.
He went out of the suite and the door time-locked behind him. The plotel corridors were heavy with carpeting that muffled footsteps, and the elevators merely whispered. After Dakkan, Carrick would have relished a little noise, if only for a change of pace.
The law library was quiet, too. Carrick made out his requisition, took the three cans of tri-dim films and went into a soundproof cubicle. He inserted the hubs and let the automatic projector do the rest.
The courtroom sprang suddenly alive on the viewing stage. A stab of pain lanced into Carrick. How real this was! Everyone who had taken part in this portion of his life was there in mimic, tri-dimensional life. He saw himself seated in this chair, the prosecutor—Garrett Maynall—Felton Pratt and the other witnesses waiting on the floating platform.
Carrick sat back as the sound flowed up about him.
“We hound Hannes Stryker lying on the floor of his laboratory. His skin was scorched as if a blip-gun had been used on him.”
“Have you ever seen the effect caused by a blip-gun?”
“I have, when I was with the Xaverian law patrols.”
“Go on, please.”
“Well, I went to call Kael Carrick—he’s Stryker’s assistant, the only one who’s ever there all the time—but he wasn’t in his bed. Nowhere around, far’s I could see.”
Stryker let me go fishing overnight at the lake.
“Then what did you do?”
“I called the patsies, of course—the law patrol, that is.”
The voices droned on, question and answer back and forth. Carrick sat rigid, waiting. Soon now, it would be the turn of Felton Pratt. No, not yet. This was the patsy who’d found him by the lake.
“Carrick didn’t seem surprised at the news Stryker was dead, no. He didn’t say a word, just packed up his gear and came along.”
I was too stunned to register anything but shock. Deep shock, maybe so deep it didn’t show on the surface so the law officer could recognize it.
The patsy stepped down, neat and efficient in his gray-green uniform with the protoni-gun secure in its black leather holster at his hip. He had been a good Joe, that officer. Cold and remote, not hot and hating the way the others had been when they suspected it was Kael Carrick who had done Hannes Stryker in.
A medical expert now—
“Could you explain just what bionic biology is, doctor?”
“Glad to. Though I personally prefer the term, molecular genetics. It began a thousand years ago, back before man left Earth for space. Even then scientists were experimenting on the human body, trying to reshape it, so to speak, for existence on the other planets of Sol’s solar system. Cybernetic organisms, synthetics, all the allied sciences were a part of it. Bionics, of course, is itself the study of living things.”
The voice droned on, sketching out for the judge and jurors the history of a science. As time passed and man became more familiar with the genes and chromosomes, cytoplasms and enzymes of living matter, man began also to add to and subtract from his own body. The science of cell structure—cytology—and the science of cybernetics—dealing with servomechanisms—joined forces to manufacture living flesh which could be built up by a series of interlocking tissues into something approximating life itself.
The scientists could not create life but they could add to it. Two hundred years before, Kim Lu Tan had built a dog’s body around its brain. The dog lived a week. It could wag its tail but it could not stand up. There were flaws in the nuclei of the cells, it was decided. The experiments went on.
Then Chapman discovered cybernicells, artificial building blocks of matter. Cybernicells contained the nucleolus, a nucleus, cytoplasm and the membranous cell was of the true cell. They also possessed the ability, when joined under certain pressures and radiations, to adhere and grow and function together in symbiotic solidarity.
It was the beginning. After that, specialists in medicine turned their attention to the construction of new limbs for lost ones, for diseased ones, for ugly ones. An expert could build a leg or a hand—if he were expert enough—just as well as nature. Some even went so far as to incorporate features which made man a little bit better than he should be. The hearing of the owl, the sight of the frog, the ability of the bat to travel about by bouncing supersonic impulses of walls and furniture, the odd sense organism of the rattlesnake by which it can detect minute shifts in temperature; all could be incorporated into the body of a man.
Stryker had gone beyond any of them, with Kael Carrick.
As near as the experts could tell, Stryker had given Kael Carrick a body like no other body ever seen in the star worlds. There were glands and organs built into his flesh whose functions no one could guess. Even Carrick himself did not know what they did.
He was the ultimate triumph of molecular genetics.
“Then you consider Hannes Stryker an expert in the field?”
A ripple of laughter in the court. Hannes Stryker was an expert in everything he set his mind to. The doctor went on, agreeing that no man had known more about that phase of biology than the dead man, though the witness added he considered himself something of an expert, too.
“Expert enough to have performed more than on such operation with your own hands, doctor?”
“I’d say so, yes. In all modesty.”
“Have you ever had a patient go mad as a result of your bionic transplants?”
“Not a single one. Never heard of it happening to anyone else, either.”
“Then it is your considered opinion, in view of your experience as a doctor and biologic transplant operator, that Kael Carrick was not driven insane by the nature of the bodily operations Hannes Stryker performed on him?”
“He was and is as sane as I am.”
The housekeepers, Mrs. Tellonin, the Low Town woman who did for Stryker while he was alive, plump and opinionated, inclined to run over at the mouth, was on the stand. The judge had to pull her up again and again, but she got her message across to the jury.
“—never really knew all the things that man was working on. Carrick did, though. Knew most of them, that is. Many’s the time I’ve seen him working on into the night over something big. Really big, I tell—”
“The facts, Mrs. Tellonin.”
“Well, they were big. Always talked about them in whispers, like, so’s a body couldn’t hear.”
“Would you say these work projects were valuable?”
“I object to that, your honor. No foundation as to the ability of the witness to understand whether these work projects were valuable or not has been laid.”
“I’ll withdraw the question, your honor. Now Mrs. Tellonin, did you ever hear harsh words between Stryker and the defendant?”
“Never. Kael Carrick knew when he was well off.”
“I must caution to you again, you must retrain your testimony to the facts, Mrs. Tellonin.”
The facts. Carrick could see the injured pride in the eyes of the woman as she added her voice to the net they were weaving around him. Elva Tellonin, plump and thirtyish, who had made a play for him when he ignored her, retreated into the fury of a woman scorned. She had it in for him, he knew that. She twisted what a man did to her own interpretations.
“Sure, Carrick stayed on with Stryker. Why shouldn’t he? He had a good thing going for him. Stryker had given him a new body. He pretended to be grateful and—”
Mrs. Tellonin shot a dark glance at defense counsel and settled herself more comfortably in the witness chair. She said, “Anyhow, he stayed on with Hannes Stryker, assisting him in all his experiments.”
“Object to the word ‘all’, your honor.”
“Strike it out. Let the witness state merely what she saw and heard. I want only facts.”
The damage was done by the time Elva Tellonin stepped down from the dais. She had hinted that Hannes Stryker was on the verge of remarkable discoveries. She had caught glimpses of his excitement, had overheard words between him and Kael Carrick that made her suspect that a man might amass vast wealth if he could steal those discoveries.
Hannes Stryker was an altruist, a great humanitarian. Most of his inventions he handed over to the Empire, that his fellow man might be benefited. A few he kept to himself, copy-writing them only to get funds with which to continue his experiments. Kael Carrick was no philanthropist. He had seen the opportunity offered (or so Elva Tellonin suggested) to a bright man; he could very well have killed Stryker and stolen some of his inventions, meaning to market them later. Much of her testimony was stricken from the record but nothing could erase its effect from the minds of the jurors.
She gave the prosecution the motive for murder; Felton Pratt was to give it opportunity and the murder weapon. He came now from the glass enclosure where the Empire witnesses waited their turn, walking crabwise, turning his head this way and that, grinning slyly, relishing this moment of his own importance.
He was a migrant worker, he said.
“Travel a lot. Do almost anything. Fix computers, operate a calculator, a few farm tools. I have a knack with machinery, a way with my hands.”
“Do you recall the night of Janus seven?”
” Very well. I had a roll of bills in my pocket and was out for a good time in the Lower Town. I’d just been paid for eight months work on a building project in Manikash, I rented a mono-wheeler and was traveling along the road—it was a little after the middle of the night, I guess—when I heard the sound.”
“Where were you at this time?”
“In front of the Stryker laboratories.”
“What sort of sound was it you heard?”
“A loud report—the kind made by a blipper.”
“By blipper you mean a blip-gun?”
“Yeah, sure—one of those old-fashioned protonic guns. You can get ’em in any good sporting goods store. They kill without damaging the tissue, by destroying the brain cells. Fast. You score a hit, you’ve got a deer. Or bird or whatever it is you’re hunting.”
The judge looked over the edge of his desk at Pratt, saying heavily, “The court will take official recognition of the efficiency and deadliness of the blip-gun. Continue.”
Felton Pratt looked pleased with himself.
“Have you ever used a blip-gun yourself, Mr. Pratt?”
“Lots of times. I hunt whenever I get the chance.”
“After you heard the sound which you associated with a blipper, what did you do?”
“Braked down, of course. I wanted to see who was hunting in a building at midnight and—what it was he was hunting.”
“I sat there maybe three, four minutes. There weren’t any lights on in the buildings except way in the back. A blue kind of light.”
The prosecutor lifted a photograph mounted on Bristol board and handed it to the witness. “Will you indicate on State’s exhibit eleven just which part of the building was lighted up?”
“Yeah, sure. Right here.”
The prosecutor looked from the pointing finger to the recorder. “Indicating those portions of the buildings which Hannes Stryker used for the development of new inventions.” He showed the photograph to the defense attorney, who nodded.
Pratt went on, “As I say, I sat there three, four minutes. I was wondering whether to get out of the mono-wheeler and go ask questions when a side door opened and a man came out. He had a blipper in this right hand.”
“Do you see that man in the courtroom?”
“I sure do. It’s him—Kael Carrick.”
Carrick tensed now just as his tri-dimensional image did as that finger stabbed out at him, identifying him for all time as the murderer of Hannes Stryker. It was a lying finger, for he was not the killer, but though he protested at the time—his tri-dim self was on his feet, gesturing, crying out—his protests had done no good. The jury believed Felton Pratt.
Carrick reached out to rerun his testimony, drawing a small notebook and a pencil from his pocket, writing down the temporary address Felton Pratt had given moments before he took his oath: Starways Road, close by its intersection with Edison Boulevard, 4637. Carrick jotted it down, adding his permanent address on Uthoric of the Border worlds, and put the notebook and the pencil back in his pocket.
He ran the tri-dim trial a few more minutes, then rewound its tape. Carrick had learned all he wanted to learn. No need to go through his own statements. What could you say when the truth was, you were all by yourself under the sky, dangling a baited fishing hook in cold lake waters when Hannes Stryker had been murdered? You knew nothing of any attempt to kill Hannes Stryker, nothing of a man in a mono-wheeler, nothing about any blip-gun. You were innocent.
The jury said you were guilty. And the judge sentenced you to Dakkan planet.
To be sure that he would not call attention to himself by staring so intently at the State vs Carrick trial tape, he ran through half a dozen more news features. He pretended a keen interest, but mentally he was far away from the taped events which had rocked the Empire worlds in the past year and a half.
Felton Pratt might be on Hilnoris planet, right now. Starways Road, he had said. A visit there, a face to face talk with him—how surprised he would be when desperate killer Kael Carrick walked into his rooming house and wrapped hard fingers around his throat! Surprised—even terrified—enough to spill what he knew? To tell the truth for once in his miserable life? Carrick hoped so. He was risking everything on it.
It was dusk when he handed the tapes to the librarian. She did not even look up a him, being busy with a handsome young patsy who wanted information of Patrol tests. Carrick grinned to himself as he walked away from the counter. The patsy could get a captaincy without taking tests if he only known Kael Carrick was within reaching distance to him.
There was no reason for the officer to be suspicious of a middle-aged visitor to his home world, however, no matter how hard and fit he might look for a trader. Kael Carrick had been tried and convicted for his crime, and punished by abandonment on empty Dakkan planet. Officially, Kael Carrick was dead.
Suppose he announced his name. Could he be arrested?
There was no double jeopardy in the stars, as there was no double jeopardy on Earth. Once you have been tried for a crime you can never be tried again. Ah, but did this rule apply to him? Can a man escape death if the trapdoor fails to open? Or if the electric chair fails to work? Or if the gas chamber goofs? It was an interesting point. Carrick wished he knew more about the law.
He found a skimmer stand two blocks from the library and slipped into its cushioned cubicle. “Get me to Starways Road near Edison Boulevard as fast as you can,” he told the driver.
Traffic on the star worlds was noiseless. The air compressors of the skimmers were silent, the muted hum of their nuclear motor hard to hear. There were no waste products to pollute the air; the radiation given off by the miniature reactor inside the sealed motor was absorbed and fed back into it by way of reconverter, to fuel the two compressors. This was an even smoother ride than Mai Valoris had given him on Dakkan Planet.
He had no idea of how near or far Starways Road might be so he turned his attention to the buildings past which they skimmed. Cities on the star-worlds were sprawling affairs, geometrically laid out with parts and public squares spaced at regular intervals.
No building could rise above five stories, most of them were of glittering glass and finely polished metals, bright and beautiful in the sunlight.
Carrick had not realize how much a part of all this he was, as an individual. He had fought in wars so that mankind might build these architectural masterpieces, that man might grow and reach out even further into the stars with his culture, his philosophies, his way of life. He had bled to make this mighty city of Mooralor, here on Hilnoris, safe from attack by aliens like the Vreen and Iltari, so its inventors and designers and packagers in turn might make the lives of men and women even easier and more enjoyable than they already were. He relaxed on the cushions, knowing a sense of warmth.
The skimmer was slowing, turning, easing above a glittering ramp that seemed to stretch into infinity toward the horizon. It lay above a marshland, its piled supports sun deep on tones of solidified concrete. There was a gentle push on this front as the skimmer gathered speed. Only air friction could slow it down, and the aerodyne was streamlined to perfection. Carrick guessed that they were moving at close to five hundred miles an hour. Radar and repelling-rays systems kept the skimmer from coming too close to the vehicles on either side of it.
The aerodyne slowed after a while, slid above the ramp that curved down and into a smaller edition of mighty Mooralor, where it came to a halt. Carrick paid the tab, telling the driver to wait.
Starways Road was lined with stil-front houses, two stories high. Years before, these had been the homes of the construction workers, the minor officials, the hunters and the unskilled laborers who had been sent here to make Hilnoris livable.
4637. The numbers were black in a white slab. A woman came to the hall door at his ring, clutching a kimono to herself. Her hair was black and glossy, long uncut and falling about her shoulders almost to her waist. Her face was slightly puffed from sleep.
She said nothing, staring with dull green eyes.
Carrick smiled. “I’m here to see Felton Pratt.”
She shook her head. “Can’t see him. He’s dead.”
Ice touched his middle as he heard her words. A dead Felton Pratt could tell him nothing. “When did he die? Where? Can you tell me how it happened?”
She shrugged, holding the kimono tighter. Carrick took out a credicoin and put it on his palm. “Any information at all will be appreciated.” He put a second coin beside the first.
The woman slid her eyes up and down the street. She was afraid for some reason, and Carrick thrilled. He might not have wasted his time after all. A third coin joined its fellows on his palm.
“He got hit with an atomiburner, early part of last month. Nobody knows who did it. Nobody asks questions about something like that.”
Her hand stabbed out, caught the coins.
The door slammed in his face.