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A Spaceship Named Mcguire



A Spaceship Named Mcguire







From: A Spaceship Named Mcguire

The basic trouble with McGuire was that, though "he" was a
robot spaceship, nevertheless "he" had a definite weakness
that a man might understand....



No. Nobody ever deliberately named a spaceship that. The staid and
stolid minds that run the companies which design and build spaceships
rarely let their minds run to fancy. The only example I can think of
is the unsung hero of the last century who had puckish imagination
enough to name the first atomic-powered submarine Nautilus. Such
minds are rare. Most minds equate dignity with dullness.

This ship happened to have a magnetogravitic drive, which
automatically put it into the MG class. It also happened to be the
first successful model to be equipped with a Yale robotic brain, so it
was given the designation MG-YR-7--the first six had had more bugs in
them than a Leopoldville tenement.

So somebody at Yale--another unsung hero--named the ship McGuire; it
wasn't official, but it stuck.

The next step was to get someone to test-hop McGuire. They needed just
the right man--quick-minded, tough, imaginative, and a whole slew of
complementary adjectives. They wanted a perfect superman to test pilot
their baby, even if they knew they'd eventually have to take second
best.

It took the Yale Space Foundation a long time to pick the right man.

No, I'm not the guy who tested the McGuire.

I'm the guy who stole it.

* * * * *

Shalimar Ravenhurst is not the kind of bloke that very many people can
bring themselves to like, and, in this respect, I'm like a great many
people, if not more so. In the first place, a man has no right to go
around toting a name like "Shalimar"; it makes names like "Beverly"
and "Leslie" and "Evelyn" sound almost hairy chested. You want a dozen
other reasons, you'll get them.

Shalimar Ravenhurst owned a little planetoid out in the Belt, a hunk
of nickel-iron about the size of a smallish mountain with a gee-pull
measurable in fractions of a centimeter per second squared. If you're
susceptible to spacesickness, that kind of gravity is about as much
help as aspirin would have been to Marie Antoinette. You get the
feeling of a floor beneath you, but there's a distinct impression that
it won't be there for long. It keeps trying to drop out from under
you.

I dropped my flitterboat on the landing field and looked around
without any hope of seeing anything. I didn't. The field was about the
size of a football field, a bright, shiny expanse of rough-polished
metal, carved and smoothed flat from the nickel-iron of the planetoid
itself. It not only served as a landing field, but as a reflector
beacon, a mirror that flashed out the sun's reflection as the
planetoid turned slowly on its axis. I'd homed in on that beacon, and
now I was sitting on it.

There wasn't a soul in sight. Off to one end of the rectangular field
was a single dome, a hemisphere about twenty feet in diameter and half
as high. Nothing else.

I sighed and flipped on the magnetic anchor, which grabbed hold of the
metal beneath me and held the flitterboat tightly to the surface. Then
I cut the drive, plugged in the telephone, and punched for "Local."

The automatic finder searched around for the Ravenhurst tickler
signal, found it, and sent out a beep along the same channel.

I waited while the thing beeped twice. There was a click, and a voice
said: "Raven's Rest. Yes?" It wasn't Ravenhurst.

I said: "This is Daniel Oak. I want to talk to Mr. Ravenhurst."

"Mr. Oak? But you weren't expected until tomorrow."

"Fine. I'm early. Let me talk to Ravenhurst."

"But Mr. Ravenhurst wasn't expecting you to--"

I got all-of-a-sudden exasperated. "Unless your instruments are
running on secondhand flashlight batteries, you've known I was coming
for the past half hour. I followed Ravenhurst's instructions not to
use radio, but he should know I'm here by this time. He told me to
come as fast as possible, and I followed those instructions, too. I
always follow instructions when I'm paid enough.

"Now, I'm here; tell Ravenhurst I want to talk to him, or I'll simply
flit back to Eros, and thank him much for a pretty retainer that
didn't do him any good but gave me a nice profit for my trouble."

"One moment, please," said the voice.

It took about a minute and a half, which was about nine billion
jiffies too long, as far as I was concerned.

Then another voice said: "Oak? Wasn't expecting you till tomorrow."

"So I hear. I thought you were in a hurry, but if you're not, you can
just provide me with wine, women, and other necessities until
tomorrow. That's above and beyond my fee, of course, since you're
wasting my time, and I'm evidently not wasting yours."

I couldn't be sure whether the noise he made was a grunt or a muffled
chuckle, and I didn't much care. "Sorry, Oak; I really didn't expect
you so soon, but I do want to ... I want you to get started right
away. Leave your flitterboat where it is; I'll have someone take care
of it. Walk on over to the dome and come on in." And he cut off.

I growled something I was glad he didn't hear and hung up. I wished
that I'd had a vision unit on the phone; I'd like to have seen his
face. Although I knew I might not have learned much more from his
expression than I had from his voice.

* * * * *

I got out of the flitterboat, and walked across the dome, my magnetic
soles making subdued clicking noises inside the suit as they caught
and released the metallic plain beneath me. Beyond the field, I was
surrounded by a lumpy horizon and a black sky full of bright, hard
stars.

The green light was on when I reached the door to the dome, so I
opened it and went on in, closing it behind me. I flipped the toggle
that began flooding the room with air. When it was up to pressure, a
trap-door in the floor of the dome opened and a crew-cut, blond young
man stuck his head up. "Mr. Oak?"

I toyed, for an instant, with the idea of giving him a sarcastic
answer. Who else would it be? How many other visitors were running
around on the surface of Raven's Rest?

Instead, I said: "That's right." My voice must have sounded pretty
muffled to him through my fishbowl.

"Come on down, Mr. Oak. You can shuck your vac suit below."

I thought "below" was a pretty ambiguous term on a low-gee lump like
this, but I followed him down the ladder. The ladder was a necessity
for fast transportation; if I'd just tried to jump down from one floor
to the next, it would've taken me until a month from next St.
Swithin's Day to land.

The door overhead closed, and I could hear the pumps start cycling.
The warning light turned red.

I took off my suit, hung it in a handy locker, showing that all I had
on underneath was my skin-tight "union suit."

"All right if I wear this?" I asked the blond young man, "Or should I
borrow a set of shorts and a jacket?" Most places in the Belt, a union
suit is considered normal dress; a man never knows when he might have
to climb into a vac suit--fast. But there are a few of the
hoity-toity places on Eros and Ceres and a few of the other
well-settled places where a man or woman is required to put on shorts
and jacket before entering. And in good old New York City, a man and
woman were locked up for "indecent exposure" a few months ago. The
judge threw the case out of court, but he told them they were lucky
they hadn't been picked up in Boston. It seems that the eye of the
bluenose turns a jaundiced yellow at the sight of a union suit, and he
sees red.

But there were evidently no bluenoses here. "Perfectly all right, Mr.
Oak," the blond young man said affably. Then he coughed politely and
added: "But I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to take off the gun."

I glanced at the holster under my armpit, walked back over to the
locker, opened it, and took out my vac suit.

"Hey!" said the blond young man. "Where are you going?"

"Back to my boat," I said calmly. "I'm getting tired of this runaround
already. I'm a professional man, not a hired flunky. If you'd called a
doctor, you wouldn't tell him to leave his little black bag behind; if
you'd called a lawyer, you wouldn't make him check his brief case. Or,
if you did, he'd tell you to drop dead.

"I was asked to come here as fast as possible, and when I do, I'm told
to wait till tomorrow. Now you want me to check my gun. The hell with
you."

"Merely a safety precaution," said the blond young man worriedly.

"You think I'm going to shoot Ravenhurst, maybe? Don't be an idiot." I
started climbing into my vac suit.

"Just a minute, please, Mr. Oak," said a voice from a hidden speaker.
It was Ravenhurst, and he actually sounded apologetic. "You mustn't
blame Mr. Feller; those are my standing orders, and I failed to tell
Mr. Feller to make an exception in your case. The error was mine."

"I know," I said. "I wasn't blaming Mr. Feller. I wasn't even talking
to him. I was addressing you."

"I believe you. Mr. Feller, our guest has gone to all the trouble of
having a suit made with a space under the arm for that gun; I see no
reason to make him remove it." A pause. "Again, Mr. Oak, I apologize.
I really want you to take this job."

I was already taking off the vac suit again.

"But," Ravenhurst continued smoothly, "if I fail to live up to your
ideas of courtesy again, I hope you'll forgive me in advance. I'm
sometimes very forgetful, and I don't like it when a man threatens to
leave my employ twice in the space of fifteen minutes."

"I'm not in your employ yet, Ravenhurst," I said. "If I accept the
job, I won't threaten to quit again unless I mean to carry it through,
and it would take a lot more than common discourtesy to make me do
that. On the other hand, your brand of discourtesy is a shade above
the common."

"I thank you for that, at least," said Ravenhurst. "Show him to my
office, Mr. Feller."

The blond young man nodded wordlessly and led me from the room.

* * * * *

Walking under low-gee conditions is like nothing else in this
universe. I don't mean trotting around on Luna; one-sixth gee is
practically homelike in comparison. And zero gee is so devoid of
orientation that it gives the sensation of falling endlessly until you
get used to it. But a planetoid is in a different class altogether.

Remember that dream--almost everybody's had it--where you're suddenly
able to fly? It isn't flying exactly; it's a sort of swimming in the
air. Like being underwater, except that the medium around you isn't so
dense and viscous, and you can breathe. Remember? Well, that's the
feeling you get on a low-gee planetoid.

Your arms don't tend to hang at your sides, as they do on Earth or
Luna, because the muscular tension tends to hold them out, just as it
does in zero-gee, but there is still a definite sensation of
up-and-down. If you push yourself off the floor, you tend to float in
a long, slow, graceful arc, provided you don't push too hard. Magnetic
soles are practically a must.

I followed the blond Mr. Feller down a series of long corridors which
had been painted a pale green, which gave me the feeling that I was
underwater. There were doors spaced at intervals along the corridor
walls. Occasionally one of them would open and a busy looking man
would cross the corridor, open another door, and disappear. From
behind the doors, I could hear the drum of distant sounds.

We finally ended up in front of what looked like the only wooden door
in the place. When you're carving an office and residence out of a
nickel-iron planetoid, importing wood from Earth is a purely luxury
matter.

There was no name plate on that mahogany-red door; there didn't need
to be.

Feller touched a thin-lined circle in the door jamb.

"You don't knock?" I asked with mock seriousness.

"No," said Feller, with a straight face. "I have to signal. Knocking
wouldn't do any good. That's just wood veneer over a three-inch-thick
steel slab."

The door opened and I stepped inside.

I have never seen a room quite like it. The furniture was all that
same mahogany--a huge desk, nineteenth century baroque, with carved
and curlicued legs; two chairs carved the same, with padded seats of
maroon leather; and a chair behind the desk that might have doubled as
a bishop's throne, with even fancier carving. Off to one side was a
long couch upholstered in a lighter maroon. The wall-to-wall carpeting
was a rich Burgundy, with a pile deep enough to run a reaper through.
The walls were paneled with mahogany and hung with a couple of huge
tapestries done in maroon, purple, and red. A bookcase along one wall
was filled with books, every one of which had been rebound in maroon
leather.

It was like walking into a cask of old claret. Or old blood.

The man sitting behind the desk looked as though he'd been built to be
the lightest spot in an analogous color scheme. His suit was mauve
with purple piping, and his wide, square, saggy face was florid. On
his nose and cheeks, tiny lines of purple tracing made darker areas in
his skin. His hair was a medium brown, but it was clipped so short
that the scalp showed faintly through, and amid all that overwhelming
background, even the hair looked vaguely violet.

"Come in, Mr. Oak," said Shalimar Ravenhurst.

I walked toward him across the Burgundy carpet while the blond young
man discreetly closed the door behind me, leaving us alone. I didn't
blame him. I was wearing a yellow union suit, and I hate to think what
I must have looked like in that room.

I sat down in one of the chairs facing the desk after giving a brief
shake to a thick-fingered, well-manicured, slightly oily hand.

He opened a crystal decanter that stood on one end of the desk. "Have
some Madeira, Mr. Oak? Or would you like something else? I never drink
spirits at this time of night."

I fought down an impulse to ask for a shot of redeye. "The Madeira
will be fine, Mr. Ravenhurst."

He poured and handed me a stemmed glass nearly brimming with the wine.
I joined him in an appreciative sip, then waited while he made up his
mind to talk.

He leaned across the desk, looking at me with his small, dark eyes. He
had an expression on his face that looked as if it were trying to
sneer and leer at the same time but couldn't get much beyond the
smirk stage.

"Mr. Oak, I have investigated you thoroughly--as thoroughly as it can
be done, at least. My attorneys say that your reputation is A-one;
that you get things done and rarely disappoint a client."

He paused as if waiting for a comment. I gave him nothing.

After a moment, he went on. "I hope that's true, Mr. Oak, because I'm
going to have to trust you." He leaned back in his chair again, his
eyes still on me. "Men very rarely like me, Mr. Oak. I am not a
likable man. I do not pretend to be. That's not my function." He said
it as if he had said it many times before, believed it, and wished it
wasn't so.

"I do not ask that you like me," he continued. "I only ask that you be
loyal to my interests for the duration of this assignment." Another
pause. "I have been assured by others that this will be so. I would
like your assurance."

"If I take the assignment, Mr. Ravenhurst," I told him, "I'll be
working for you. I can be bought, but once I'm bought I stay bought.

"Now, what seems to be your trouble?"

He frowned. "Well, now, let's get one thing settled: Are you working
for me, or not?"

"I won't know that until I find out what the job is."

His frown deepened. "Now, see here; this is very confidential work.
What happens if I tell you and you decide not to work for me?"

I sighed. "Ravenhurst, right now, you're paying me to listen to you.
Even if I don't take your job, I'm going to bill you for expenses and
time to come all the way out here. So, as far as listening is
concerned, I'm working for you now. If I don't like the job, I'll
still forget everything I'm told. All right?"

He didn't like it, but he had no choice. "All right," he said. He
polished off his glass of Madeira and refilled it. My own glass was
still nearly full.

"Mr. Oak," he began, "I have two problems. One is minor, the other
major. But I have attempted to blow the minor problem up out of
proportion, so that all the people here at Raven's Rest think that it
is the only problem. They think that I brought you out here for that
reason alone.

"But all that is merely cover-up for the real problem."

"Which is?" I prompted.

He leaned forward again. Apparently, it was the only exercise he ever
got. "You're aware that Viking Spacecraft is one of the corporations
under the management of Ravenhurst Holdings?"

I nodded. Viking Spacecraft built some of the biggest and best
spacecraft in the System. It held most of Ceres--all of it, in fact,
except the Government Reservation. It had moved out to the asteroids a
long time back, after the big mining concerns began cutting up the
smaller asteroids for metal. The raw materials are easier to come by
out here than they are on Earth, and it's a devil of a lot easier to
build spacecraft under low-gee conditions than it is under the pull of
Earth or Luna or Mars.

"Do you know anything about the experimental robotic ships being built
on Eros?" Ravenhurst asked.

"Not much," I admitted. "I've heard about them, but I don't know any
of the details." That wasn't quite true, but I've found it doesn't pay
to tell everybody everything you know.

"The engineering details aren't necessary," Ravenhurst said. "Besides,
I don't know them, myself. The point is that Viking is trying to build
a ship that will be as easy to operate as a flitterboat--a one-man
cargo vessel. Perhaps even a completely automatic job for cargo, and
just use a one-man crew for the passenger vessels. Imagine how that
would cut the cost of transportation in the Solar System! Imagine how
it would open up high-speed cargo transfer if an automatic vessel
could accelerate at twenty or twenty-five gees to turnover!"

I'll give Ravenhurst this: He had a light in his eyes that showed a
real excitement about the prospect he was discussing, and it wasn't
due entirely to the money he might make.

"Sounds fine," I said. "What seems to be the trouble?"

His face darkened half a shade. "The company police suspect sabotage,
Mr. Oak."

"How? What kind?"



"They don't know. Viking has built six ships of that type--the McGuire
class, the engineers call it. Each one has been slightly different
than the one before, of course, as they ironed out the bugs in their
operation. But each one has been a failure. Not one of them would pass
the test for space-worthiness."

"Not a failure of the drive or the ordinary mechanisms of the ship, I
take it?"

Ravenhurst sniffed. "Of course not. The brain. The ships became, as
you might say, non compos mentis. As a matter of fact, when the last
one simply tried to burrow into the surface of Eros by reversing its
drive, one of the roboticists said that a coroner's jury would have
returned a verdict of 'suicide while of unsound mind' if there were
inquests held for spaceships."

"That doesn't make much sense," I said.

"No. It doesn't. It isn't sensible. Those ships' brains shouldn't have
behaved that way. Robot brains don't go mad unless they're given
instructions to do so--conflicting orders, erroneous information, that
sort of thing. Or, unless they have actual physical defects in the
brains themselves."

"The brains can handle the job of flying a ship all right, though?" I
asked. "I mean, they have the capacity for it?"

"Certainly. They're the same type that's used to control the
automobile traffic on the Eastern Seaboard Highway Network of North
America. If they can control the movement of millions of cars, there's
no reason why they can't control a spaceship."

"No," I said, "I suppose not." I thought it over for a second, then
asked, "But what do your robotics men say is causing the
malfunctions?"

"That's where the problem comes in, Mr. Oak." He pursed his pudgy
lips, and his eyes narrowed. "The opinions are divided. Some of the
men say it's simply a case of engineering failure--that the bugs
haven't been worked out of this new combination, but that as soon as
they are, everything will work as smoothly as butter. Others say that
only deliberate tampering could cause those failures. And still others
say that there's not enough evidence to prove either of those theories
is correct."

"But your opinion is that it's sabotage?"

"Exactly," said Ravenhurst, "and I know who is doing it and why."

I didn't try to conceal the little bit of surprise that gave me. "You
know the man who's responsible?"

He shook his head rapidly, making his jowls wobble. "I didn't mean
that. It's not a single man; it's a group."

"Maybe you'd better go into a little more detail on that, Mr.
Ravenhurst."

He nodded, and this time his jowls bobbled instead of wobbled. "Some
group at Viking is trying to run me out of the managerial business.
They want Viking to be managed by Thurston Enterprises; they evidently
think they can get a better deal from him than they can from me. If
the McGuire project fails, they'll have a good chance of convincing
the stock-holders that the fault lies with Ravenhurst. You follow?"

"So far," I said. "Do you think Thurston's behind this, then?"

"I don't know," he said slowly. "He might be, or he might not. If he
is, that's perfectly legitimate business tactics. He's got a perfect
right to try to get more business for himself if he wants to. I've
undercut him a couple of times.

"But I don't think he's too deeply involved, if he's involved at all.
This smacks of a personal attack against me, and I don't think that's
Thurston's type of play.

"You see, things are a little touchy right now. I won't go into
details, but you know what the political situation is at the moment.

"It works this way, as far as Viking is concerned: If I lose the
managerial contract at Viking, a couple of my other contracts will go
by the board, too--especially if it's proved that I've been lax in
management or have been expending credit needlessly.

"These other two companies are actually a little shaky at the moment;
I've only been managing them for a little over a year in one case and
two years in the other. Their assets have come up since I took over,
but they'd still dump me if they thought I was reckless."

"How can they do that?" I asked. "You have a contract, don't you?"

"Certainly. They wouldn't break it. But they'd likely ask the
Government Inspectors to step in and check every step of the
managerial work. Now, you and I and everybody else knows that you have
to cut corners to make a business successful. If the GI's step in,
that will have to stop--which means we'll show a loss heavy enough to
put us out. We'll be forced to sell the contract for a pittance.

"Well, then. If Viking goes, and these other two corporations go,
it'll begin to look as if Ravenhurst can't take care of himself and
his companies anymore. Others will climb on the bandwagon. Contracts
that are coming up for renewal will be reconsidered instead of
continuing automatically. I think you can see where that would lead
eventually."

I did. You don't go into the managing business these days unless you
have plenty on the ball. You've got to know all the principles and all
the tricks of organization and communication, and you've got to be
able to waltz your way around all the roadblocks that are caused by
Government laws--some of which have been floating around on the books
of one nation or another for two or three centuries.

Did you know that there's a law on the American statute books that
forbids the landing of a spaceship within one hundred miles of a city?
That was passed back when they were using rockets, but it's never been
repealed. Technically, then, it's almost impossible to land a ship
anywhere on the North American continent. Long Island Spaceport is
openly flouting the law, if you want to look at it that way.

A managerial combine has to know all those little things and know how
to get around them. It has to be able to have the confidence of the
stock-holders of a corporation--if it's run on the Western Plan--or
the confidence of communal owners if it's run on the Eastern Plan.

Something like this could snowball on Ravenhurst. It isn't only the
rats that desert a sinking ship; so does anyone else who has any
sense.

"What I want to know, Mr. Oak," Ravenhurst continued, "is who is
behind this plot, whether an individual or a group. I want to know
identity and motivation."

"Is that all?" I eyed him skeptically.

"No. Of course not. I want you to make sure that the MG-YR-7 isn't
sabotaged. I want you to make sure it's protected from whatever kind
of monkey wrenches are being thrown into its works."

"It's nearly ready for testing now, isn't it?" I asked.

"It is ready. It seems to be in perfect condition so far. Viking is
already looking for a test pilot. It's still in working order now, and
I want to be certain that it will remain so."

I cocked my head to one side and gave him my Interrogative And
Suspicious Glance--Number 9 in the manual. "You didn't do any checking
on the first six McGuire ships. You wait until this one is done before
calling me. Why the delay, Ravenhurst?"

It didn't faze him. "I became suspicious after McGuire 6 failed. I put
Colonel Brock on it."

I nodded. I'd had dealings with Brock. He was head of Ravenhurst's
Security Guard. "Brock didn't get anywhere," I said.

"He did not. His own face is too well known for him to have
investigated personally, and he's not enough of an actor to get away
with using a plexiskin mask. He had to use underlings. And I'm afraid
some of them might be in the pay of the ... ah ... opposition. They
got nowhere."

"In other words, you may have spies in your own organization who are
working with the Viking group. Very interesting. That means they know
I'm working for you, which will effectively seal me up, too. You might
as well have kept Brock on the job."

He smiled in a smug, superior sort of way that some men might have
resented. I did. Even though I'd fed him the line so that he could
feel superior, knowing that a smart operator like Ravenhurst would
already have covered his tracks. I couldn't help wishing I'd told him
simply to trot out his cover story instead of letting him think I
believed it had never occurred to either of us before.

"As far as my staff knows, Mr. Oak, you are here to escort my
daughter, Jaqueline, to Braunsville, Luna. You will, naturally, have
to take her to Ceres in your flitterboat, where you will wait for a
specially chartered ship to take you both to Luna. That will be a week
after you arrive. Since the McGuire 7 is to be tested within three
days, that should give you ample time."

"If it doesn't?"

"We will consider that possibility if and when it becomes probable. I
have a great deal of faith in you."

"Thanks. One more thing: why do you think anybody will swallow the
idea that your daughter needs a private bodyguard to escort her to
Braunsville?"

His smile broadened a little. "You have not met my daughter, Mr. Oak.
Jaqueline takes after me in a great many respects, not the least of
which is her desire to have things her own way and submit to no man's
yoke, as the saying goes. I have had a difficult time with her, sir; a
difficult time. It is and has been a matter of steering a narrow
course between the Scylla of breaking her spirit with too much
discipline and the Charybdis of allowing her to ruin her life by
letting her go hog wild. She is seventeen now, and the time has come
to send her to a school where she will receive an education suitable
to her potentialities and abilities, and discipline which will be
suitable to her spirit.

"Your job, Mr. Oak, will be to make sure she gets there. You are not a
bodyguard in the sense that you must protect her from the people
around her. Quite the contrary, they may need protection from her.
You are to make sure she arrives in Braunsville on schedule. She is
perfectly capable of taking it in her head to go scooting off to Earth
if you turn your back on her."

Still smiling, he refilled his glass. "Do have some more Madeira, Mr.
Oak. It's really an excellent year."

I let him refill my glass.

"That, I think, will cover your real activities well enough. My
daughter will, of course, take a tour of the plant on Ceres, which
will allow you to do whatever work is necessary."

He smiled at me.

I didn't smile back.

"Up till now, this sounded like a pretty nice assignment," I said.
"But I don't want it now. I can't take care of a teenage girl with a
desire for the bright lights of Earth while I investigate a sabotage
case."

I knew he had an out; I was just prodding him into springing it.

He did. "Of course not. My daughter is not as scatterbrained as I have
painted her. She is going to help you."

"Help me?"

"Exactly. You are ostensibly her bodyguard. If she turns up missing,
you will, of course, leave no stone unturned to find her." He
chuckled. "And Ceres is a fairly large stone."

I thought it over. I still didn't like it too well, but if Jaqueline
wasn't going to be too much trouble to take care of, it might work
out. And if she did get to be too much trouble, I could see to it that
she was unofficially detained for a while.

"All right, Mr. Ravenhurst," I said, "you've got yourself a man for
both jobs."

"Both?"

"I find out who is trying to sabotage the McGuire ship, and I baby-sit
for you. That's two jobs. And you're going to pay for both of them."

"I expected to," said Shalimar Ravenhurst.

Fifteen minutes later, I was walking into the room where I'd left my
vac suit. There was a girl waiting for me.

She was already dressed in her vac suit, so there was no way to be sure,
but she looked as if she had a nice figure underneath the suit. Her face
was rather unexceptionally pretty, a sort of nice-girl-next-door face. Her
hair was a reddish brown and was cut fairly close to the skull; only a
woman who never intends to be in a vac suit in free fall can afford to let
her hair grow.

"Miss Ravenhurst?" I asked.

She grinned and stuck out a hand. "Just call me Jack. And I'll call
you Dan. O.K.?"

I grinned and shook her hand because there wasn't much else I could
do. Now I'd met the Ravenhursts: A father called Shalimar and a
daughter called Jack.

And a spaceship named McGuire.

* * * * *

I gave the flitterboat all the push it would take to get us to Ceres
as fast as possible. I don't like riding in the things. You sit there
inside a transite hull, which has two bucket seats inside it, fore and
aft, astraddle the drive tube, and you guide from one beacon to the
next while you keep tabs on orbital positions by radio. It's a long
jump from one rock to the next, even in the asteroid belt, and you
have to live inside your vac suit until you come to a stopping place
where you can spend an hour or so resting before you go on. It's like
driving cross-continent in an automobile, except that the signposts
and landmarks are constantly shifting position. An inexperienced man
can get lost easily in the Belt.

I was happy to find that Jack Ravenhurst knew how to handle a
flitterboat and could sight navigate by the stars. That meant that I
could sleep while she piloted and vice-versa. The trip back was a lot
easier and faster than the trip out had been.

I was glad, in a way, that Ceres was within flitterboat range of
Raven's Rest. I don't like the time wasted in waiting for a regular
spaceship, which you have to do when your target is a quarter of the
way around the Belt from you. The cross-system jumps don't take long,
but getting to a ship takes time.

The Ravenhurst girl wasn't much of a talker while we were en route. A
little general chitchat once in a while, then she'd clam up to do a
little mental orbit figuring. I didn't mind. I was in no mood to pump
her just yet, and I was usually figuring orbits myself. You get in the
habit after a while.

When the Ceres beacon came into view, I was snoozing. Jack reached
forward and shook my shoulder. "Decelerating toward Ceres," she said.
"Want to take over from here on?" Her voice sounded tinny and tired in
the earphones of my fishbowl.

"O.K.; I'll take her in. Have you called Ceres Field yet?"

"Not yet. I figured that you'd better do that, since it's your
flitterboat."

I said O.K. and called Ceres. They gave me a traffic orbit, and I
followed it in to Ceres Field.

It was a lot bigger than the postage-stamp field on Raven's Rest, and
more brightly lit, and a lot busier, but it was basically the same
idea--a broad, wide, smooth area that had been carved out of the
surface of the nickel-iron with a focused sun beam. One end of it was
reserved for flitterboats; three big spaceships sat on the other end,
looking very noblesse oblige at the little flitterboats.

I clamped down, gave the key to one of the men behind the desk after
we had gone below, and turned to Jack. "I suggest we go to the hotel
first and get a shower and a little rest. We can go out to Viking
tomorrow."

She glanced at her watch. Like every other watch and clock in the
Belt, it was set for Greenwich Standard Time. What's the point in
having time zones in space?

"I'm not tired," she said brightly. "I got plenty of sleep while we
were on the way. Why don't we go out tonight? They've got a
bounce-dance place called Bali's that--"

I held up a hand. "No. You may not be tired, but I am. Remember, I
went all the way out there by myself, and then came right back.

"I need at least six hours sleep in a nice, comfortable bed before
I'll be able to move again."

The look she gave me made me feel every one of my thirty-five years,
but I didn't intend to let her go roaming around at this stage of the
game.

Instead, I put her aboard one of the little rail cars, and we headed
for the Viking Arms, generally considered the best hotel on Ceres.

Ceres has a pretty respectable gee pull for a planetoid: Three per
cent of Standard. I weigh a good, hefty five pounds on the surface.
That makes it a lot easier to walk around on Ceres than on, say,
Raven's Rest. Even so, you always get the impression that one of the
little rail cars that scoots along the corridors is climbing uphill
all the way, because the acceleration is greater than any measly
thirty centimeters per second squared.

Jack didn't say another word until we reached the Viking, where
Ravenhurst had thoughtfully made reservations for adjoining rooms.
Then, after we'd registered, she said: "We could at least get
something to eat."

"That's not a bad idea. We can get something to line our stomachs,
anyway. Steak?"

She beamed up at me. "Steak. Sounds wonderful after all those mushy
concentrates. Let's go."

* * * * *

The restaurant off the lobby was just like the lobby and the corridors
outside--a big room hollowed out of the metal of the asteroid. The
walls had been painted to prevent rusting, but they still bore the
roughness left by the sun beam that had burnt them out.

We sat down at a table, and a waiter brought over a menu. The place
wouldn't be classed higher than a third-rate cafe on Earth, but on
Ceres it's considered one of the better places. The prices certainly
compare well with those of the best New York or Moscow restaurants,
and the price of meat, which has to be shipped from Earth, is--you
should pardon the gag--astronomical.

That didn't bother me. Steaks for two would go right on the expense
account. I mentally thanked Mr. Ravenhurst for the fine slab of beef
when the waiter finally brought it.

While we were waiting, though, I lit a cigarette and said: "You're
awfully quiet, Jack."

"Am I? Men are funny."

"Is that meant as a conversational gambit, or an honest observation?"

"Observation. I mean, men are always complaining that girls talk too
much, but if a girl keeps her mouth shut, they think there's something
wrong with her."

"Uh-huh. And you think that's a paradox or something?"

She looked puzzled. "Isn't it?"

"Not at all. The noise a jackhammer makes isn't pleasant at all, but
if it doesn't make that noise, you figure it isn't functioning
properly. So you wonder why."

Out of the corner of my eye, I had noticed a man wearing the
black-and-gold union suit of Ravenhurst's Security Guard coming toward
us from the door, using the gliding shuffle that works best under low
gee. I ignored him to listen to Jack Ravenhurst.

"That has all the earmarks of a dirty crack," she said. The tone of
her voice indicated that she wasn't sure whether to be angry or to
laugh.

"Hello, Miss Ravenhurst; Hi, Oak." Colonel Brock had reached the
table. He stood there, smiling his rather flat smile, while his eyes
looked us both over carefully.



He was five feet ten, an inch shorter than I am, and lean almost to
the point of emaciation. His scarred, hard-bitten face looked as
though it had gotten that way when he tried to kiss a crocodile.

"Hello, Brock," I said. "What's new?"

Jack gave him a meaningless smile and said: "Hello, colonel." She was
obviously not very impressed with either of us.

"Mind if I sit?" Brock asked.

We didn't, so he sat.

"I'm sorry I missed you at the spaceport," Brock said seriously, "but
I had several of my boys there with their eyes open." He was quite
obviously addressing Jack, not me.

"It's all right," Jack said. "I'm not going anywhere this time." She
looked at me and gave me an odd grin. "I'm going to stay home and be a
good girl this time around."

Colonel Brock's good-natured chuckle sounded about as genuine as the
ring of a lead nickel. "Oh, you're no trouble, Miss Ravenhurst."

"Thank you, kind sir; you're a poor liar." She stood up and smiled
sweetly. "Will you gentlemen excuse me a moment?"

We would and did. Colonel Brock and I watched her cross the room and
disappear through a door. Then he turned to look at me, giving me a
wry grin and shaking his head a little sadly. "So you got saddled with
Jack the Ripper, eh, Oak?"

"Is she that bad?"

His chuckle was harsher this time, and had the ring of truth. "You'll
find out. Oh, I don't mean she's got the morals of a cat or anything
like that. So far as I know, she's still waiting for Mister Right to
come along."

"Drugs?" I asked. "Liquor?"

"A few drinks now and then--nothing else," Brock said. "No, it's none
of the usual things. It isn't what she does that counts; it's what
she talks other people into doing. She's a convincer."

"That sounds impressive," I said. "What does it mean?"

His hard face looked wolfish, "I ought to let you find out for
yourself. But, no; that wouldn't be professional courtesy, and it
wouldn't be ethical."

"Brock," I said tiredly, "I have been given more runarounds in the
past week than Mercury has had in the past millennium. I expect
clients to be cagey, to hold back information, and to lie. But I
didn't expect it of you. Give."

He nodded brusquely. "As I said, she's a convincer. A talker. She can
talk people into doing almost anything she wants them to."

"For instance?"

"Like, for instance, getting all the patrons at the Bali to do a
snake dance around the corridors in the altogether. The Ceres police
broke it up, but she was nowhere to be found."

He said it so innocently that I knew he'd been the one to get her out
of the mess.

"And the time," he continued, "that she almost succeeded in getting a
welder named Plotkin elected Hereditary Czar of Ceres. She'd have
succeeded, too, if she hadn't made the mistake of getting Plotkin
himself up to speak in front of his loyal supporters. After that,
everybody felt so silly that the movement fell apart."

He went on, reciting half a dozen more instances of the girl's ability
to influence people without winning friends. None of them were new to
me; they were all on file in the Political Survey Division of the
United Nations Government on Earth, plus several more which Colonel
Brock either neglected to tell me or wasn't aware of himself.

But I listened with interest; after all, I wasn't supposed to know any
of these things. I am just a plain, ordinary, "confidential
expediter". That's what it says on the door of my office in New York,
and that's what it says on my license. All very legal and very
dishonest.

The Political Survey Division is very legal and very dishonest, too.
Theoretically, it is supposed to be nothing but a branch of the System
Census Bureau; it is supposed to do nothing but observe and tabulate
political trends. The actual fact that it is the Secret Service branch
of the United Nations Government is known only to relatively few
people.

I know it because I work for the Political Survey Division.

The PSD already had men investigating both Ravenhurst and Thurston,
but when they found out that Ravenhurst was looking for a confidential
expediter, for a special job, they'd shoved me in fast.

It isn't easy to fool sharp operators like Colonel Brock, but, so far, I'd
been lucky enough to get away with it by playing ignorant-but-not-stupid.

The steaks were brought, and I mentally saluted Ravenhurst, as I had
promised myself I would. Then I rather belatedly asked the colonel if
he'd eat with us.

"No," he said, with a shake of his head. "No, thanks. I've got to get
things ready for her visit to the Viking plant tomorrow."

"Oh? Hiding something?" I asked blandly.

He didn't even bother to look insulted. "No. Just have to make sure
she doesn't get hurt by any of the machinery, that's all. Most of the
stuff is automatic, and she has a habit of getting too close. I guess
she thinks she can talk a machine out of hurting her as easily as she
can talk a man into standing on his head."

Jack Ravenhurst was coming back to the table. I noticed that she'd
fixed her hair nicely and put on make-up. It made her look a lot more
feminine than she had while she was on the flitterboat.

"Well," she said as she sat down, "have you two decided what to do
with me?"

Colonel Brock just smiled and said: "I guess we'll have to leave that
up to you, Miss Ravenhurst." Then he stood up. "Now, if you'll excuse
me, I'll be about my business."

Jack nodded, gave him a quick smile, and fell to on her steak with the
voraciousness of an unfed chicken in a wheat bin.

Miss Jaqueline Ravenhurst evidently had no desire to talk to me at the
moment.

* * * * *

On Ceres, as on most of the major planetoids, a man's home is his
castle, even if it's only a hotel room. Raw nickel-iron, the basic
building material, is so cheap that walls and doors are seldom made of
anything else, so a hotel room is more like a vault than anything else
on Earth. Every time I go into one of the hotels on Ceres or Eros, I
get the feeling that I'm either a bundle of gold certificates or a
particularly obstreperous prisoner being led to a medieval solitary
confinement cell. They're not pretty, but they're solid.

Jack Ravenhurst went into her own room after flashing me a rather hurt
smile that was supposed to indicate her disappointment in not being
allowed to go nightclubbing. I gave her a big-brotherly pat on the
shoulder and told her to get plenty of sleep, since we had to be up
bright and early in the morning.

Once inside my own room, I checked over my luggage carefully. It had
been brought there from the spaceport, where I'd checked it before
going to Ravenhurst's Raven's Rest, on orders from Ravenhurst himself.
This was one of several rooms that Ravenhurst kept permanently rented
for his own uses, and I knew that Jack kept a complete wardrobe in her
own rooms.

There were no bugs in my luggage--neither sound nor sight spying
devices of any kind. Not that I would have worried if there had been;
I just wanted to see if anyone was crude enough to try that method of
smuggling a bug into the apartment.

The door chime pinged solemnly.

I took a peek through the door camera and saw a man in a bellboy's
uniform, holding a large traveling case. I recognized the face, so I
let him in.

"The rest of your luggage, sir," he said with a straight face.

"Thank you very much," I told him. I handed him a tip, and he popped
off.

This stuff was special equipment that I hadn't wanted Ravenhurst or
anybody else to get his paws into.

I opened it carefully with the special key, slid a hand under the
clothing that lay on top for camouflage, and palmed the little
detector I needed. Then I went around the room, whistling gently to
myself.

The nice thing about an all-metal room is that it's impossible to hide
a self-contained bug in it that will be of any use. A small, concealed
broadcaster can't broadcast any farther than the walls, so any bug has
to have wires leading out of the room.

I didn't find a thing. Either Ravenhurst kept the room clean or
somebody was using more sophisticated bugs than any I knew about. I
opened the traveling case again and took out one of my favorite
gadgets. It's a simple thing, really: a noise generator. But the noise
it generates is non-random noise. Against a background of "white,"
purely random noise, it is possible to pick out a conversation, even
if the conversation is below the noise level, simply because
conversation is patterned. But this little generator of mine was
non-random. It was the multiple recording of ten thousand different
conversations, all meaningless, against a background of "white" noise.
Try that one on your differential analyzers.

By the time I got through, nobody could tap a dialogue in that room,
barring, as I said, bugs more sophisticated than any the United
Nations knew about.

* * * * *

Then I went over and tapped on the communicating door between my room
and Jack Ravenhurst's. There was no answer.

I said, "Jack, I'm coming in. I have a key."

She said, "Go away. I'm not dressed. I'm going to bed."

"Grab something quick," I told her. "I'm coming in."

I keyed open the door.

She was no more dressed for bed than I was, unless she made a habit of
sleeping in her best evening togs. Anger blazed in her eyes for a
second, then that faded, and she tried to look all sweetness and
light.

"I was trying on some new clothes," she said innocently.

A lot of people might have believed her. The emotional field she threw
out, encouraging utter belief in her every word, was as powerful as
any I'd ever felt. I just let it wash past me and said: "Come into my
room for a few minutes, Jack; I want to talk to you."

I didn't put any particular emphasis into it. I don't have to. She
came.

Once we were both inside my shielded room with the walls vibrating
with ten thousand voices and a hush area in the center, I said
patiently, "Jack, I personally don't care where you go or what you do.
Tomorrow, you can do your vanishing act and have yourself a ball, for
all I care. But there are certain things that have to be done first.
Now, sit down and listen."

She sat down, her eyes wide. Evidently, nobody had ever beaten her at
her own game before.

"Tonight, you'll stay here and get some sleep. Tomorrow, we go for a
tour of Viking, first thing in the morning. Tomorrow afternoon, as
soon as I think the time is ripe, you can sneak off. I'll show you how
to change your appearance so you won't be recognized. You can have all
the fun you want for twenty-four hours. I, of course, will be hunting
high and low for you, but I won't find you until I have finished my
investigation.

"On the other hand, I want to know where you are at all times, so that
I can get in touch with you if I need you. So, no matter where you
are, you'll keep in touch by phoning BANning 6226 every time you
change location. Got that number?"

She nodded. "BANning 6226," she repeated.

"Fine. Now, Brock's agents will be watching you, so I'll have to
figure out a way to get you away from them, but that won't be too
hard. I'll let you know at the proper time. Meanwhile, get back in
there, get ready for bed, and get some sleep. You'll need it. Move."

She nodded rather dazedly, got up, and went to the door. She turned,
said goodnight in a low, puzzled voice, and closed the door.

Half an hour later, I quietly sneaked into her room just to check. She
was sound asleep in bed. I went back to my own room, and got some sack
time myself.

* * * * *

"It's a pleasure to have you here again, Miss Ravenhurst," said Chief
Engineer Midguard. "Anything in particular you want to see this time?"
He said it as though he actually enjoyed taking the boss' teenage
daughter through a spacecraft plant.

Maybe he did, at that. He was a paunchy, graying man in his sixties,
who had probably been a rather handsome lady-killer for the first
half-century of his life, but he was approaching middle age now, which
has a predictable effect on the telly-idol type.

Jack Ravenhurst was at her regal best, with the kind of noblesse
oblige that would bring worshipful gratitude to the heart of any
underling. "Oh, just a quick run-through on whatever you think would
be interesting, Mr. Midguard; I don't want to take up too much of your
time."

Midguard allowed as how he had a few interesting things to show her,
and the party, which also included the watchful and taciturn Colonel
Brock, began to make the rounds of the Viking plant.

There were three ships under construction at the time: two cargo
vessels and a good-sized passenger job. Midguard seemed to think that
every step of spacecraft construction was utterly fascinating--for
which, bully for him--but it was pretty much of a drag as far as I was
concerned. It took three hours.

Finally, he said, "Would you like to see the McGuire-7?"

Why, yes, of course she would. So we toddled off to the new ship while
Midguard kept up a steady line of patter.

"We think we have all the computer errors out of this one, Miss
Ravenhurst. A matter of new controls and safety devices. We feel that
the trouble with the first six machines was that they were designed to
be operated by voice orders by any qualified human operator. The
trouble is that they had no way of telling just who was qualified. The
brains are perfectly capable of distinguishing one individual from
another, but they can't tell whether a given individual is a space
pilot or a janitor. In fact--"

I marked the salient points in his speech. The MG-YR-7 would be
strictly a one-man ship. It had a built-in dog attitude--friendly
toward all humans, but loyal only to its master. Of course, it was
likely that the ship would outlast its master, so its loyalties could
be changed, but only by the use of special switching keys.

The robotics boys still weren't sure why the first six had gone
insane, but they were fairly certain that the primary cause was the
matter of too many masters. The brilliant biophysicist, Asenion, who
promulgated the Three Laws of Robotics in the last century, had shown
in his writings that they were unattainable ideals--that they only
told what a perfect robot should be, not what a robot actually was.



The First Law, for instance, would forbid a robot to harm a human
being, either by action or inaction. But, as Asenion showed, a robot
could be faced with a situation which allowed for only two possible
decisions, both of which required that a human being be harmed. In
such a case, the robot goes insane.

I found myself speculating what sort of situation, what sort of
Asenion paradox, had confronted those first six ships. And whether it
had been by accident or design. Not that the McGuire robots had been
built in strict accord with the Laws of Robotics; that was impossible
on the face of it. But no matter how a perfectly logical machine is
built, the human mind can figure out a way to goof it up because the
human mind is capable of transcending logic.

* * * * *

The McGuire ship was a little beauty. A nice, sleek, needle, capable
of atmospheric as well as spatial navigation, with a mirror-polished,
beryl-blue surface all over the sixty-five feet of her--or
his?--length.

It was standing upright on the surface of the planetoid, a shining
needle in the shifting sunlight, limned against the star-filled
darkness of space. We looked at it through the transparent viewport,
and then took the flexible tube that led to the air lock of the ship.

The ship was just as beautiful inside as it was outside. Neat,
compact, and efficient. The control room--if such it could be
called--was like no control room I'd ever seen before. Just an
acceleration couch and observation instruments. Midguard explained
that it wasn't necessary to be a pilot to run the ship; any person who
knew a smattering of astronavigation could get to his destination by
simply telling the ship what he wanted to do.

Jack Ravenhurst took in the whole thing with wide-eyed interest.

"Is the brain activated, Mr. Midguard?" she asked.

"Oh, yes. We've been educating him for the past month, pumping
information in as rapidly as he could record it and index it. He's
finished with that stage now; we're just waiting for the selection of
a test pilot for the final shakedown cruise." He was looking warily at
Jack as he spoke, as if he were waiting for something.

Evidently, he knew what was coming. "I'd like to talk to him," Jack
said. "It's so interesting to carry on an intelligent conversation
with a machine."

"I'm afraid that's impossible, Miss Ravenhurst," Midguard said rather
worriedly. "You see, McGuire's primed so that the first man's voice he
hears will be identified as his master. It's what we call the 'chick
reaction'. You know: the first moving thing a newly-hatched bird sees
is regarded as the mother, and, once implanted, that order can't be
rescinded. We can change McGuire's orientation in that respect, but
we'd rather not have to go through that. After the test pilot
establishes contact, you can talk to him all you want."

"When will the test pilot be here?" Jack asked, still as sweet as
sucrodyne.

"Within a few days. It looks as though a man named Nels Bjornsen will
be our choice. You may have heard of him."

"No," she said, "but I'm sure your choice will be correct."

Midguard still felt apologetic. "Well, you know how it is, Miss
Ravenhurst; we can't turn a delicate machine like this over to just
anyone for the first trial. He has to be a man of good judgment and
fast reflexes. He has to know exactly what to say and when to say it,
if you follow me."

"Oh, certainly; certainly." She paused and looked thoughtful. "I
presume you've taken precautions against anyone stealing in here and
taking control of the ship."

Midguard smiled and nodded wisely. "Certainly. Communication with
McGuire can't be established unless and until two keys are used in the
activating panel. I carry one; Colonel Brock has the other. Neither
of us will give his key up to anyone but the accredited test pilot.
And McGuire himself will scream out an alarm if anyone tries to jimmy
the locks. He's his own burglar alarm."

She nodded. "I see." A pause. "Well, Mr. Midguard, I think you've done
a very commendable job. Thank you so much. Is there anything else you
feel I should see?"

"Well--" He was smilingly hesitant. "If there's anything else you want to
see, I'll be glad to show it to you. But you've already seen
our ... ah ... piece de resistance, so to speak."

She glanced at her wrist. It had been over four hours since we'd
started. "I am rather tired," Jack said. "And hungry, too. Let's call
it a day and go get something to eat."

"Fine! Fine!" Midguard said. "I'll be honored to be your host, if I
may. We could have a little something at my apartment."

I knew perfectly well that he'd had a full lunch prepared and waiting.

The girl acknowledged his invitation and accepted it. Brock and I
trailed along like the bodyguards we were supposed to be. I wondered
whether or not Brock suspected me of being more than I appeared to be.
If he didn't, he was stupider than I thought; on the other hand, he
could never be sure. I wasn't worried about his finding out that I was
a United Nations agent; that was a pretty remote chance. Brock didn't
even know the United Nations Government had a Secret Service; it was
unlikely that he would suspect me of being an agent of a presumably
nonexistent body.

But he could very easily suspect that I had been sent to check on him
and the Thurston menace, and, if he had any sense, he actually did. I
wasn't going to give him any verification of that suspicion if I could
help it.

* * * * *

Midguard had an apartment in the executive territory of the Viking
reservation, a fairly large place with plastic-lined walls instead of
the usual painted nickel-iron. Very luxurious for Ceres.

The meal was served with an air of subdued pretension that made
everybody a little stiff and uncomfortable, with the possible
exception of Jack Ravenhurst, and the definite exception of myself. I
just listened politely to the strained courtesy that passed for small
talk and waited for the chance I knew would come at this meal.

After the eating was all over, and we were all sitting around with
cigarettes going and wine in our glasses, I gave the girl the signal
we had agreed upon. She excused herself very prettily and left the
room.

After fifteen minutes, I began to look a little worried. The bathroom
was only a room away--we were in a dining area, and the bathroom was
just off the main bedroom--and it shouldn't have taken her that long
to brush her hair and powder her face.

I casually mentioned it to Colonel Brock, and he smiled a little.

"Don't worry, Oak; even if she does walk out of this apartment, my men
will be following her wherever she goes. I'd have a report within one
minute after she left."

I nodded, apparently satisfied. "I've been relying on that," I said.
"Otherwise, I'd have followed her to the door."

He chuckled and looked pleased.

Ten minutes after that, even he was beginning to look a little
worried. "Maybe we'd better go check," he said. "She might have hurt
herself or ... or become ill."

Midguard looked flustered. "Now, just a minute, colonel! I can't allow
you to just barge in on a young girl in the ... ah ... bathroom.
Especially not Miss Ravenhurst."

Brock made his decision fast; I'll give him credit for that.

"Get Miss Pangloss on the phone!" he snapped. "She's just down the
corridor. She'll come down on your orders."

At the same time, he got to his feet and made a long jump for the
door. He grabbed the doorpost as he went by, swung himself in a new
orbit, and launched himself toward the front door. "Knock on the
bathroom door, Oak!" he bawled as he left.

I did a long, low, flat dive toward the bedroom, swung left, and
brought myself up sharply next to the bathroom door. I pounded on the
door. "Miss Ravenhurst! Jack! Are you all right?"

No answer.

Good. There shouldn't have been.

Colonel Brock fired himself into the room and braked himself against
the wall. "Any answer?"

"No."

"My men outside say she hasn't left." He rapped sharply on the door
with the butt of his stun gun. "Miss Ravenhurst! Is there anything the
matter?"

Again, no answer.

I could see that Brock was debating on whether he should go ahead and
charge in by himself without waiting for the female executive who
lived down the way. He was still debating when the woman showed up,
escorted by a couple of the colonel's uniformed guards.

Miss Pangloss was one of those brisk, efficient, middle-aged
career-women who had no fuss or frills about her. She had seen us
knocking on the door, so she didn't bother to do any knocking herself.
She just opened the door and went in.

The bathroom was empty.

Again, as it should be.

All hell broke loose then, with me and Brock making most of the
blather. It took us nearly ten minutes to find that the only person
who had left the area had been an elderly, thin man who had been
wearing the baggy protective clothing of a maintenance man.

By that time, Jack Ravenhurst had been gone more than forty minutes.
She could be almost anywhere on Ceres.

Colonel Brock was furious and so was I. I sneered openly at his
assurance that the girl couldn't leave and then got sneered back at
for letting other people do what was supposed to be my job. That
phase only lasted for about a minute, though.

Then Colonel Brock muttered: "She must have had a plexiskin mask and a
wig and the maintenance clothing in her purse. As I recall, it was a
fairly good-sized one." He didn't say a word about how careless I had
been to let her put such stuff in her purse. "All right," he went on,
"we'll find her."

"I'm going to look around, too," I said. "I'll keep in touch with your
office." I got out of there.

* * * * *

I got to a public phone as fast as I could, punched BANning 6226, and
said: "Marty? Any word?"

"Not yet."

"I'll call back."

I hung up and scooted out of there.

I spent the next several hours pushing my weight around all over
Ceres. As the personal representative of Shalimar Ravenhurst, who was
manager of Viking Spacecraft, which was, in turn, the owner of Ceres,
I had a lot of weight to push around. I had every executive on the
planetoid jumping before I was through.

Colonel Brock, of course, was broiling in his own juices. He managed
to get hold of me by phone once, by calling a Dr. Perelson whom I was
interviewing at the time.

The phone chimed, Perelson said, "Excuse me," and went to answer. I
could hear his voice from the other room.

"Mr. Daniel Oak? Yes; he's here. Well, yes. Oh, all sorts of
questions, colonel." Perelson's voice was both irritated and worried.
"He says Miss Ravenhurst is missing; is that so? Oh? Well, does this
man have any right to question me this way? Asking me? About
everything!... How well I know the girl, the last time I saw
her--things like that. Good heavens, we've hardly met!" He was getting
exasperated now. "But does he have the authority to ask these
questions? Oh. Yes. Well, of course, I'll be glad to co-operate in any
manner I can ... Yes ... Yes. All right, I'll call him."

I got up from the half-reclining angle I'd been making with the wall,
and shuffled across the room as Dr. Perelson stuck his head around the
corner and said, "It's for you." He looked as though someone had put
aluminum hydrogen sulfate in his mouthwash.

I picked up the receiver and looked at Brock's face in the screen. He
didn't even give me a chance to talk. "What are you trying to do?" he
shouted explosively.

"Trying to find Jaqueline Ravenhurst," I said, as calmly as I could.

"Oak, you're a maniac! Why, by this time, it's all over Ceres that the
boss' daughter is missing! Shalimar Ravenhurst will have your hide for
this!"

"He will?" I gave him Number 2--the wide-eyed innocent stare. "Why?"

"Why, you idiot, I thought you had sense enough to know that this
should be kept quiet! She's pulled this stunt before, and we always
managed to quiet things down before anything happened! We've managed
to keep everything under cover and out of the public eye ever since
she was fifteen, and now you blow it all up out of proportion and
create a furore that won't ever be forgotten!"

He gave his speech as though it had been written for him in full caps,
with three exclamation points after every sentence, and added gestures
and grimaces after every word.

"Just doing what I thought was best," I said. "I want to find her as
soon as possible."

"Well, stop it! Now! Let us handle it from here on in!"

Then I lowered the boom. "Now you listen, Brock. I am in charge of
Jack Ravenhurst, not you. I've lost her, and I'll find her. I'll
welcome your co-operation, and I'd hate to have to fight you, but if
you don't like the way I'm handling it, you can just tell your boys to
go back to their regular work and let me handle it alone, without

interference. Now, which'll it be?"

He opened his mouth, closed it, and blew out his breath from between
his lips. Then he said: "All right. The damage has been done, anyhow.
But don't think I won't report all this to Ravenhurst as soon as I can
get a beam to Raven's Rest."

"That's your job and your worry, not mine. Now, have you g





Next: A Spaceship Named Mcguire

Previous: The Penal Cluster



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