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The Star Hyacinths



The Star Hyacinths







From: The Star Hyacinths

On a bleak, distant unchartered world two ships lay wrecked and a
lone man stared at a star hyacinth. Its brilliance burned into his
retina ... and he knew that men could easily kill and kill for that
one beauty alone.


The robbery of the Dosey Asteroids Shipping Station in a remote and
spottily explored section of space provided the newscasting systems of
the Federation of the Hub with one of the juiciest crime stories of the
season. In a manner not clearly explained, the Dosey Asteroids Company
had lost six months' production of gem-quality cut star hyacinths
valued at nearly a hundred million credits. It lost also its Chief
Lapidary and seventy-eight other company employees who had been in the
station dome at the time.



All these people appeared at first to have been killed by gunfire, but a
study of their bodies revealed that only in a few instances had gun
wounds been the actual cause of death. For the most part the wounds had
been inflicted on corpses, presumably in an attempt to conceal the fact
that disaster in another and unknown form had befallen the station.

The raiders left very few clues. It appeared that the attack on the
station had been carried out by a single ship, and that the locks to the
dome had been opened from within. The latter fact, of course, aroused
speculation, but led the investigators nowhere.

Six years later the great Dosey Asteroids robbery remained an unsolved
mystery.

* * * * *

The two wrecked spaceships rested almost side by side near the tip of a
narrow, deep arm of a great lake.

The only man on the planet sat on a rocky ledge three miles uphill from
the two ships, gazing broodingly down at them. He was a big fellow in
neatly patched shipboard clothing. His hands were clean, his face
carefully shaved. He had two of the castaway's traditional possessions
with him; a massive hunting bow rested against the rocks, and a minor
representative of the class of life which was this world's equivalent of
birds was hopping about near his feet. This was a thrush-sized creature
with a jaunty bearing and bright yellow eyes. From the front of its
round face protruded a short, narrow tube tipped with small, sharp
teeth. Round, horny knobs at the ends of its long toes protected
retractile claws as it bounded back and forth between the bow and the
man, giving a quick flutter of its wings on each bound. Finally it
stopped before the man, stretching its neck to stare up at him, trying
to catch his attention.

He roused from his musing, glanced irritably down at it.

"Not now, Birdie," he said. "Keep quiet!"

The man's gaze returned to the two ships, then passed briefly along a
towering range of volcanos on the other side of the lake, and lifted to
the cloudless blue sky. His eyes probed on, searching the sunlit, empty
vault above him. If a ship ever came again, it would come from there,
the two wrecks by the lake arm already fixed in its detectors; it would
not come gliding along the surface of the planet....

Birdie produced a sharp, plaintive whistle. The man looked at it.

"Shut up, stupid!" he told it.

He reached into the inner pocket of his coat, took out a small object
wrapped in a piece of leather, and unfolded the leather.

Then it lay in his cupped palm, and blazed with the brilliance of twenty
diamonds, seeming to flash the fires of the spectrum furiously from
every faceted surface, without ever quite subduing the pure violet
luminance which made a star hyacinth impossible to imitate or, once
seen, to forget. The most beautiful of gems, the rarest, the most
valuable. The man who was a castaway stared at it for long seconds, his
breath quickening and his hand beginning to tremble. Finally he folded
the chip of incredible mineral back into the leather, replaced it
carefully in his pocket.

When he looked about again, the sunlit air seemed brighter, the coloring
of lake and land more vivid and alive. Once during each of this world's
short days, but no oftener, he permitted himself to look at the star
hyacinth. It was a ritual adhered to with almost religious strictness,
and it had kept him as sane as he was ever likely to be again, for over
six years.

It might, he sometimes thought, keep him sane until a third ship
presently came along to this place. And then ...

The third ship was coming along at the moment, still some five hours'
flight out from the system. She was a small ship with lean, rakish
lines, a hot little speedster, gliding placidly through subspace just
now, her engines throttled down.

Aboard her, things were less peaceful.

* * * * *

The girl was putting up a pretty good fight but getting nowhere with it
against the bull-necked Fleetman who had her pinned back against the
wall.

Wellan Dasinger paused in momentary indecision at the entrance to the
half-darkened control section of the speedboat. The scuffle in there
very probably was none of his business. The people of the roving
Independent Fleets had their own practices and mores and resented
interference from uninformed planet dwellers. For all Dasinger knew,
their blue-eyed lady pilot enjoyed roughhousing with the burly members
of her crew. If the thing wasn't serious....

He heard the man rap out something in the Willata Fleet tongue,
following the words up with a solid thump of his fist into the girl's
side. The thump hadn't been playful, and her sharp gasp of pain
indicated no enjoyment whatever. Dasinger stepped quickly into the
room.

He saw the girl turn startled eyes toward him as he came up behind the
man. The man was Liu Taunus, the bigger of the two crew members ... too
big and too well muscled by a good deal, in fact, to make a
sportsmanlike suggestion to divert his thumpings to Dasinger look like a
sensible approach. Besides Dasinger didn't know the Willata Fleet's
language. The edge of his hand slashed twice from behind along the thick
neck; then his fist brought the breath whistling from Taunus's lungs
before the Fleetman had time to turn fully towards him.

It gave Dasinger a considerable starting advantage. During the next
twenty seconds or so the advantage seemed to diminish rapidly. Taunus's
fists and boots had scored only near misses so far, but he began to look
like the hardest big man to chop down Dasinger had yet run into. And
then the Fleetman was suddenly sprawling on the floor, face down, arms
flung out limply, a tough boy with a thoroughly bludgeoned nervous
system.

Dasinger was straightening up when he heard the thunk of the wrench.
He turned sharply, discovered first the girl standing ten feet away with
the wrench in her raised hand, next their second crew member lying on
the carpet between them, finally the long, thin knife lying near the
man's hand.

"Thanks, Miss Mines!" he said, somewhat out of breath. "I really should
have remembered Calat might be somewhere around."

Duomart Mines gestured with her head at the adjoining control cabin. "He
was in there," she said, also breathlessly. She was a long-legged blonde
with a limber way of moving, pleasing to look at in her shaped Fleet
uniform, though with somewhat aloof and calculating eyes. In the dim
light of the room she seemed to be studying Dasinger now with an
expression somewhere between wariness and surprised speculation. Then,
as he took a step forward to check on Calat's condition, she backed off
slightly, half lifting the wrench again.

Dasinger stopped and looked at her. "Well," he said, "make up your mind!
Whose side are you on here?"

Miss Mines hesitated, let the wrench down. "Yours, I guess," she
acknowledged. "I'd better be, now! They'd murder me for helping a
planeteer."

* * * * *

Dasinger went down on one knee beside Calat, rather cautiously though
the Fleetman wasn't stirring, and picked up the knife. Miss Mines turned
up the room's lights. Dasinger asked, "What was this ... a mutiny?
You're technically in charge of the ship, aren't you?"

"Technically," she agreed, added, "We were arguing about a Fleet
matter."

"I see. We'll call it mutiny." Dasinger checked to be sure Calat wasn't
faking unconsciousness. He inquired, "Do you really need these boys to
help you?"

Duomart Mines shook her blond head. "Not at all. Flying the Mooncat is a
one-man job."

"I did have a feeling," Dasinger admitted, "that Willata's Fleet was
doing a little featherbedding when they said I'd have to hire a crew of
three to go along with their speedboat."

"Uh-huh." Her tone was non-committal. "They were. What are you going to
do with them?"

"Anywhere they can be locked up safely?"

"Not safely. Their own cabin's as good as anything. They can batter
their way out of here if they try hard enough. Of course we'd hear them
doing it."

"Well, we can fix that." Dasinger stood up, fished his cabin key out of
a pocket and gave it to her. "Tan suitcase standing at the head of my
bunk," he said. "Mind bringing that and the little crane from the
storeroom up here?"

Neither of the Fleetmen had begun to stir when Duomart Mines came riding
a gravity crane back in through the door a couple of minutes later, the
suitcase dangling in front of her. She halted the crane in the center of
the room, slid out of its saddle with a supple twist of her body, and
handed Dasinger his cabin key.

"Thanks." Dasinger took the suitcase from the crane, unlocked and opened
it. He brought out a pair of plastic handcuffs, aware that Miss Mines
stood behind him making an intent scrutiny of what could be seen of the
suitcase's contents. He didn't blame her for feeling curious; she was
looking at a variety of devices which might have delighted the eyes of
both a professional burglar and military spy. She offered no comment.

Neither did Dasinger. He hauled Liu Taunus over on his back, fastened
handcuffs about the Fleetman's wrists, then rolled him over on his face
again. He did the same for Calat, hung the suitcase back in the crane,
slung a leg across the crane's saddle and settled into it.

Miss Mines remarked, "I'd look their cabin over pretty closely for guns
and so on before leaving them there."

"I intend to. By the way, has Dr. Egavine mentioned how close we are to
our destination?" Dasinger maneuvered the crane over to Taunus, lowered
a beam to the small of the Fleetman's back and hoisted him up
carefully, arms, head and legs dangling.

The blond girl checked her watch. "He didn't tell me exactly," she said,
"but there's what seems to be a terraprox in the G2 system ahead. If
that's it, we'll get there in around five hours depending on what
subspace conditions in the system are. Dr. Egavine's due up here in
thirty minutes to give me the final figures." She paused, added
curiously, "Don't you know yourself just where we're going?"

"No," Dasinger said. "I'm financing the trip. The doctor is the man with
the maps and other pertinent information."

"I thought you were partners."

"We are. Dr. Egavine is taciturn about some things. I'll bring him back
here with me as soon as I have these two locked away." Dasinger finished
picking up Calat, swung the crane slowly towards the door, the
unconscious Fleetmen suspended ahead of him.

* * * * *

Dr. Egavine stood at the open door to his stateroom as Dasinger came
walking back up the passage from the crew quarters and the storage.
Quist, the doctor's manservant, peered out of the stateroom behind him.

"What in heaven's name were you doing with those two men?" Egavine
inquired, twitching his eyebrows disapprovingly up and down. The doctor
was a tall, thin man in his forties, dressed habitually in undertaker
black, with bony features and intense dark eyes. He added, "They
appeared to be unconscious ... and fettered!"

"They were both," Dasinger admitted. "I've confined them to their
cabin."

"Why?"

"We had a little slugfest in the control section a few minutes ago. One
of the boys was beating around on our pilot, so I laid him out, and she
laid out the other one when he tried to get into the act with a knife.
She says the original dispute was a Fleet matter ... in other words,
none of our business. However, I don't know. There's something decidedly
fishy about the situation."

"In what way?" Egavine asked.

Dasinger said, "I checked over the crew quarters for weapons just now
and found something which suggests that Willata's Fleet is much more
interested in what we're doing out here than we thought."

Egavine looked startled, peered quickly along the passage to the control
section. "I feel," he said, lowering his voice, "that we should continue
this discussion behind closed doors...."

"All right." Quist, a bandy-legged, wiry little man with a large bulb
of a nose and close-set, small eyes, moved back from the door. Dasinger
went inside. Egavine pulled the door shut behind them and drew a chair
out from the cabin table. Dasinger sat down opposite him.

"What did you find?" Dr. Egavine asked.

Dasinger said, "You know Miss Mines is supposed to be the only Fleet
member on board who speaks the Federation's translingue. However, there
was a listening device attached to the inside of the cabin communicator
in the crew quarters. Its settings show that the Willata Fleet people
have bugged each of the Mooncat's other cabins, and also--which I think
is an interesting point--the control section. Have you and Quist
discussed our project in any detail since coming aboard?"

"I believe we did, on several occasions," Egavine said hesitantly.

"Then we'd better assume Taunus and Calat knew that we're looking for
the wreck of the Dosey Asteroids raider, and ..."

Egavine put a cautioning finger to his lips. "Should we...?"

"Oh, no harm in talking now," Dasinger assured him. "I pulled the
instrument out and dropped it in my cabin. Actually, the thing needn't
be too serious if we stay on guard. But of course we shouldn't go back
to the Fleet station after we have the stuff. Gadgetry of that kind
suggests bad intentions ... also a rather sophisticated level of
criminality for an I-Fleet. We'll return directly to the Hub. We might
have to go on short rations for a few weeks, but we'll make it. And
we'll keep those two so-called crew members locked up."

The doctor cleared his throat. "Miss Mines ..."

"She doesn't appear to be personally involved in any piratical schemes,"
Dasinger said. "Otherwise they wouldn't have bugged her cabin and the
control rooms. If we dangle a few star hyacinths before her eyes, she
should be willing to fly us back. If she balks, I think I can handle the
Mooncat well enough to get us there."

Dr. Egavine tugged pensively at his ear lobe. "I see." His hand moved on
toward his right coat lapel. "What do you think of ..."

"Mind watching this for a moment, doctor?" Dasinger interrupted. He
nodded at his own hand lying on the table before him.

"Watch...?" Egavine began questioningly. Then his eyes went wide with
alarm.

Dasinger's hand had turned suddenly sideways from the wrist, turned up
again. There was a small gun in the hand now, its stubby muzzle
pointing up steadily at Egavine's chest.

"Dasinger! What does ..."

"Neat trick, eh?" Dasinger commented. "Sleeve gun. Now keep quiet and
hold everything just as it is. If you move or Quist over there moves
before I tell you to, you've had it, doctor!"

* * * * *

He reached across the table with his left hand, slipped it beneath
Egavine's right coat lapel, tugged sharply at something in there, and
brought out a flat black pouch with a tiny spray needle projecting from
it. He dropped the pouch in his pocket, said, "Keep your seat, doctor,"
stood up and went over to Quist. Quist darted an anxious glance at his
employer, and made a whimpering sound in his throat.

"You're not getting hurt," Dasinger told him. "Just put your hands on
top of your head and stand still. Now let's take a look at the thing you
started to pull from your pocket a moment ago ... Electric stunsap, eh?
That wasn't very nice of you, Quist! Let's see what else--

"Good Lord, Egavine," he announced presently, "your boy's a regular
armory! Two blasters, a pencil-beam, a knife, and the sap ... All right,
Quist. Go over and sit down with the doctor." He watched the little man
move dejectedly to the table, then fitted the assorted lethal devices
carefully into one of his coat pockets, brought the pouch he had taken
from Egavine out of the other pocket.

"Now, doctor," he said, "let's talk. I'm unhappy about this. I
discovered you were carrying this thing around before we left Mezmiali,
and I had a sample of its contents analyzed. I was told it's a hypnotic
with an almost instantaneous effect both at skin contact and when
inhaled. Care to comment?"

"I do indeed!" Egavine said frigidly. "I have no intention of denying
that the instrument is a hypnotic spray. As you know, I dislike guns and
similar weapons, and we are engaged in a matter in which the need to
defend myself against a personal attack might arise. Your assumption,
however, that I intended to employ the spray on you just now is simply
ridiculous!"

"I might be chuckling myself," Dasinger said, "if Quist hadn't had the
sap halfway out of his pocket as soon as you reached for your lapel. If
I'd ducked from the spray, I'd have backed into the sap, right? There's
a little too much at stake here, doctor. You may be telling the truth,
but just in case you're nourishing unfriendly ideas--and that's what it
looks like to me--I'm taking a few precautions."

Dr. Egavine stared at him, his mouth set in a thin, bitter line. Then
he asked, "What kind of precautions?"

Dasinger said, "I'll keep the hypnotic and Quist's bag of dirty tricks
until we land. You might need those things on the planet but you don't
need them on shipboard. You and I'll go up to the control section now to
give Miss Mines her final flight directions. After that, you and Quist
stay in this cabin with the door locked until the ship has set down. I
don't want to have anything else to worry about while we're making the
approach. If my suspicions turn out to be unjustified, I'll apologize
... after we're all safely back in the Hub."

* * * * *

"What was your partner looking so sour about?" Duomart Mines inquired a
little later, her eyes on the flight screens. "Have a quarrel with him?"

Dasinger, standing in the entry to the little control cabin across from
her, shrugged his shoulders.

"Not exactly," he said. "Egavine tried to use a hypno spray on me."

"Hypno spray?" the young woman asked.

"A chemical which induces an instantaneous hypnotic trance in people.
Leaves them wide open to suggestion. Medical hypnotists make a lot of
use of it. So do criminals."

She turned away from the control console to look at him. "Why would your
partner want to hypnotize you?"

"I don't know," Dasinger said. "He hasn't admitted that he intended to
do it."

"Is he a criminal?"

"I wouldn't say he isn't," Dasinger observed judiciously, "but I
couldn't prove it."

Duomart puckered her lips, staring at him thoughtfully. "What about
yourself?" she asked.

"No, Miss Mines, I have a very high regard for the law. I'm a simple
businessman."

"A simple businessman who flies his own cruiser four weeks out from the
Hub into I-Fleet territory?"

"That's the kind of business I'm in," Dasinger explained. "I own a
charter ship company."

"I see," she said. "Well, you two make an odd pair of partners...."

"I suppose we do. Incidentally, has there been any occasion when you and
Dr. Egavine--or you and Dr. Egavine and his servant--were alone
somewhere in the ship together? For example, except when we came up here
to give you further flight instructions, did he ever enter the control
room?"

She shook her blond head. "No. Those are the only times I've seen him."

"Certain of that?" he asked.

Duomart nodded without hesitation. "Quite certain!"

Dasinger took an ointment tube from his pocket, removed its cap,
squeezed a drop of black, oily substance out on a fingertip. "Mind
rolling up your sleeve a moment?" he asked. "Just above the elbow...."

"What for?"

"It's because of the way those hypno sprays work," Dasinger said. "Give
your victim a dose of the stuff, tell him what to do, and it usually
gets done. And if you're being illegal about it, one of the first things
you tell him to do is to forget he's ever been sprayed. This goop is
designed for the specific purpose of knocking out hypnotic commands.
Just roll up your sleeve like a good girl now, and I'll rub a little of
it on your arm."

"You're not rubbing anything on my arm, mister!" Duomart told him
coldly.

Dasinger shrugged resignedly, recapped the tube, and dropped it in his
pocket. "Have it your way then," he remarked. "I was only ..."

He lunged suddenly towards her.

Duomart gave him quite a struggle. A minute or two later, he had her
down on the floor, her body and one arm clamped between his knees, while
he unzipped the cuff on the sleeve of the other arm and pulled the
sleeve up. He brought out the tube of antihypno ointment and rubbed a
few drops of the ointment into the hollow of Duomart's elbow, put the
tube back in his pocket, then went on holding her down for nearly
another minute. She was gasping for breath, blue eyes furious, muscles
tensed.

* * * * *

Suddenly he felt her relax. An expression of stunned surprise appeared
on her face. "Why," she began incredulously, "he did ..."

"Gave you the spray treatment, eh?" Dasinger said, satisfied. "I was
pretty sure he had."

"Why, that-- At his beck and call, he says! Well, we'll just see about
... let me up, Dasinger! Just wait till I get my hands on that bony
partner of yours!"

"Now take it easy."

"Take it easy! Why should I? I ..."

"It would be better," Dasinger explained, "if Egavine believes you're
still under the influence."

She scowled up at him; then her face turned thoughtful. "Ho! You feel it
isn't that he's a depraved old goat, that he's got something more
sinister in mind?"

"It's a definite possibility. Why not wait and find out? The ointment
will immunize you against further tricks."

Miss Mines regarded him consideringly for a few seconds, then nodded.
"All right! You can let me up now. What do you think he's planning?"

"Not easy to say with Dr. Egavine. He's a devious man." Dasinger got
himself disentangled, came to his feet, and reached down to help her
scramble up.

"They certainly wrap you up with that hypno stuff, don't they!" she
observed wonderingly.

Dasinger nodded. "They certainly do!" Then he added, "I'm keeping the
doctor and his little sidekick locked up, too, until we get to the
planet. That leaves you and me with the run of the ship."

Duomart looked at him. "So it does," she agreed.

"Know how to use a gun?"

"Of course. But I'm not allow-- I don't have one with me on this trip."

* * * * *

He reached into his coat, took out a small gun in a fabric holster.
Duomart glanced at it, then her eyes went back to his face.

"Might clip it to your belt," Dasinger said. "It's a good little
shocker, fifty-foot range, safe for shipboard use. It's got a full load,
eighty shots. We may or may not run into emergencies. If we don't,
you'll still be more comfortable carrying it."

Duomart holstered the gun and attached the holster to her belt. She
slid the tip of her tongue reflectively out between her lips, drew it
back, blinked at the flight screens for a few seconds, then looked
across at Dasinger and tapped the holster at her side.

"That sort of changes things, too!" she said.

"Changes what?"

"Tell you in a minute. Sit down, Dasinger. Manual course corrections
coming up...." She slid into the pilot seat, moved her hands out over
the controls, and appeared to forget about him.

Dasinger settled into a chair to her left, lit a cigarette, smoked and
watched her, glancing occasionally at the screens. She was jockeying the
Mooncat deftly in and out of the fringes of a gravitic stress knot,
presently brought it into the clear, slapped over a direction lever and
slid the palm of her right hand along a row of speed control buttons
depressing them in turn.

* * * * *

"Nice piece of piloting," Dasinger observed.

Duomart lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. "That's my job." Her face
remained serious. "Are you wondering why I edged us through that thing
instead of going around it?"

"Uh-huh, a little," Dasinger admitted.

"It knocked half an hour off the time it should take us to get to your
planet," she said. "That is, if you'll still want to go there. We're
being followed, you see."

"By whom?"

"They call her the Spy. After the Mooncat she's the fastest job in the
Fleet. She's got guns, and her normal complement is twenty armed men."

"The idea being to have us lead them to what we're after, and then take
it away from us?" Dasinger asked.

"That's right. I'm not supposed to know about it. You know what a Gray
Fleet is?"

Dasinger nodded. "An Independent that's turned criminal."

"Yes. Willata's Fleet was a legitimate outfit up to four years ago. Then
Liu Taunus and Calat and their gang took over. That happened to be the
two Fleet bosses you slapped handcuffs on, Dasinger. We're a Gray Fleet
now. So I had some plans of my own for this trip. If I can get to some
other I-Fleet or to the Hub, I might be able to do something about
Taunus. After we were down on the planet, I was going to steal the
Mooncat and take off by myself."

"Why are you telling me?"

Miss Mines colored a little. "Well, you gave me the gun," she said. "And
you clobbered Taunus, and got me out of that hypno thing ... I mean, I'd
have to be pretty much of a jerk to ditch you now, wouldn't I? Anyway,
now that I've told you, you won't be going back to Willata's Fleet,
whatever you do. I'll still get to the Hub." She paused. "So what do you
want to do now? Beat it until the coast's clear, or make a quick try for
your loot before the Spy gets there?"

"How far is she behind us?" Dasinger asked.

Duomart said, "I don't know exactly. Here's what happened. When we
started out, Taunus told me not to let the Mooncat travel at more than
three-quarters speed for any reason. I figured then the Spy was involved
in whatever he was planning; she can keep up with us at that rate, and
she has considerably better detector reach than the Cat. She's stayed
far enough back not to register on our plates throughout the trip.

"Late yesterday we hit some extensive turbulence areas, and I started
playing games. There was this little cluster of three sun systems ahead.
One of them was our target, though Dr. Egavine hadn't yet said which. I
ducked around a few twisters, doubled back, and there was the Spy coming
the other way. I beat it then--top velocity. The Spy dropped off our
detectors two hours later, and she can't have kept us on for more than
another hour herself.

"So they'll assume we're headed for one of those three systems, but
they don't know which one. They'll have to look for us. There's only one
terraprox in the system we're going to. There may be none in the others,
or maybe four or five. But the terraprox worlds is where they'll look
because the salvage suits you're carrying are designed for ordinary
underwater work. After the way I ran from them, they'll figure
something's gone wrong with Taunus's plans, of course."

* * * * *

Dasinger rubbed his chin. "And if they're lucky and follow us straight
in to the planet?"

"Then," Miss Mines said, "you might still have up to six or seven hours
to locate the stuff you want, load it aboard and be gone again."

"Might have?"

She shrugged. "We've got a lead on them, but just how big a lead we
finally wind up with depends to a considerable extent on the flight
conditions they run into behind us. They might get a break there, too.
Then there's another very unfortunate thing. The system Dr. Egavine's
directed us to now is the one we were closest to when I broke out of
detection range. They'll probably decide to look there first. You see?"

"Yes," Dasinger said. "Not so good, is it?" He knuckled his jaw again
reflectively. "Why was Taunus pounding around on you when I came
forward?"

"Oh, those two runches caught me flying the ship at top speed. Taunus
was furious. He couldn't know whether the Spy still had a fix on us or
not. Of course he didn't tell me that. The lumps he was preparing to
hand out were to be for disregarding his instructions. He does things
like that." She paused. "Well, are you going to make a try for the
planet?"

"Yes," Dasinger said. "If we wait, there's entirely too good a chance
the Spy will run across what we're after while she's snooping around for
us there. We'll try to arrange things for a quick getaway in case our
luck doesn't hold up."

Duomart nodded. "Mind telling me what you're after?"

"Not at all. Under the circumstances you should be told....

* * * * *

"Of course," Dasinger concluded a minute or two later, "all we'll have a
legal claim to is the salvage fee."

Miss Mines glanced over at him, looking somewhat shaken. "You are
playing this legally?"

"Definitely."

"Even so," she said, "if that really is the wreck of the Dosey Asteroids
raider, and the stones are still on board ... you two will collect
something like ten million credits between you!"

"Roughly that," Dasinger agreed. "Dr. Egavine learned about the matter
from one of your Willata Fleetmen."

Her eyes widened. "He what!"

"The Fleet lost a unit called Handing's Scout about four years ago,
didn't it?"

"Three and a half," she said. She paused. "Handing's Scout is the other
wreck down there?"

"Yes. There was one survivor ... as far as we know. You may recall his
name. Leed Farous."

Duomart nodded. "The little kwil hound. He was assistant navigator. How
did Dr. Egavine...?"

Dasinger said, "Farous died in a Federation hospital on Mezmiali two
years ago, apparently of the accumulative effects of kwil addiction.
He'd been picked up in Hub space in a lifeboat which we now know was one
of the two on Handing's Scout."

"In Hub space? Why, it must have taken him almost a year to get that far
in one of those tubs!"

"From what Dr. Egavine learned," Dasinger said, "it did take that long.
The lifeboat couldn't be identified at the time. Neither could Farous.
He was completely addled with kwil ... quite incoherent, in fact already
apparently in the terminal stages of the addiction. Strenuous efforts
were made to identify him because a single large star hyacinth had been
found in the lifeboat ... there was the possibility it was one of the
stones the Dosey Asteroids Company had lost. But Farous died some months
later without regaining his senses sufficiently to offer any
information.

"Dr. Egavine was the physician in charge of the case, and eventually
also the man who signed the death certificate. The doctor stayed on at
the hospital for another year, then resigned, announcing that he
intended to go into private research. Before Farous died, Egavine had of
course obtained his story from him."

Miss Mines looked puzzled. "If Farous never regained his senses ..."

"Dr. Egavine is a hypnotherapist of exceptional ability," Dasinger said.
"Leed Farous wasn't so far gone that the information couldn't be pried
out of him with an understanding use of drug hypnosis."

"Then why didn't others ..."

"Oh, it was attempted. But you'll remember," Dasinger said, "that I had
a little trouble getting close to you with an antihypnotic. The good
doctor got to Farous first, that's all. Instead of the few minutes he
spent on you, he could put in hour after hour conditioning Farous. Later
comers simply didn't stand a chance of getting through to him."

* * * * *

Duomart Mines was silent a moment, then asked, "Why did you two come out
to the Willata Fleet station and hire one of our ships? Your cruiser's a
lot slower than the Mooncat but it would have got you here."

Dasinger said, "Dr. Egavine slipped up on one point. One can hardly
blame him for it since interstellar navigation isn't in his line. The
reference points on the maps he had Farous make up for him turned out to
be meaningless when compared with Federation star charts. We needed the
opportunity to check them against your Fleet maps. They make sense
then."

"I see." Duomart gave him a sideways glance, remarked, "You know, the
way you've put it, the thing's still pretty fishy."

"In what manner?"

"Dr. Egavine finished off old Farous, didn't he?"

"He may have," Dasinger conceded. "It would be impossible to prove it
now. You can't force a man to testify against himself. It's true, of
course, that Farous died at a very convenient moment, from Dr. Egavine's
point of view."

"Well," she said, "a man like that wouldn't be satisfied with half a
salvage fee when he saw the chance to quietly make away with the entire
Dosey Asteroids haul."

"That could be," Dasinger said thoughtfully. "On the other hand, a man
who had committed an unprovable murder to obtain a legal claim to six
million credits might very well decide not to push his luck any farther.
You know the space salvage ruling that when a criminal act or criminal
intent can be shown in connection with an operation like this, the
guilty person automatically forfeits any claim he has to the fee."

"Yes, I know ... and of course," Miss Mines said, "you aren't
necessarily so lily white either. That's another possibility. And
there's still another one. You don't happen to be a Federation
detective, do you?"

Dasinger blinked. After a moment he said, "Not a bad guess. However, I
don't work for the Federation."

"Oh? For whom do you work?"

"At the moment, and indirectly, for the Dosey Asteroids Company."

"Insurance?"

"No. After Farous died, Dosey Asteroids employed a detective agency to
investigate the matter. I represent the agency."

"The agency collects on the salvage?"

"That's the agreement. We deliver the goods or get nothing."

"And Dr. Egavine?"

Dasinger shrugged. "If the doctor keeps his nose clean, he stays
entitled to half the salvage fee."

"What about the way he got the information from Farous?" she asked.

"From any professional viewpoint, that was highly unethical procedure.
But there's no evidence Egavine broke any laws."

Miss Mines studied him, her eyes bright and quizzical. "I had a feeling
about you," she said. "I ..."

A warning burr came from the tolerance indicator; the girl turned her
head quickly, said, "Cat's complaining ... looks like we're hitting the
first system stresses!" She slid back into the pilot seat. "Be with you
again in a while...."

* * * * *

When Dasinger returned presently to the control section Duomart sat at
ease in the pilot seat with coffee and a sandwich before her.

"How are the mutineers doing?" she asked.

"They ate with a good appetite, said nothing, and gave me no trouble,"
Dasinger said. "They still pretend they don't understand Federation
translingue. Dr. Egavine's a bit sulky. He wanted to be up front during
the prelanding period. I told him he could watch things through his
cabin communicator screen."

Miss Mines finished her sandwich, her eyes thoughtful. "I've been
wondering, you know ... how can you be sure Dr. Egavine told you the
truth about what he got from Leed Farous?"

Dasinger said, "I studied the recordings Dr. Egavine made of his
sessions with Farous in the hospital. He may have held back on a few
details, but the recordings were genuine enough."

"So Farous passes out on a kwil jag," she said, "and he doesn't even
know they're making a landing. When he comes to, the scout's parked, the
Number Three drive is smashed, the lock is open, and not another soul is
aboard or in sight.

"Then he notices another wreck with its lock open, wanders over, sees a
few bones and stuff lying around inside, picks up a star hyacinth, and
learns from the ship's records that down in the hold under sixty feet of
water is a sealed compartment with a whole little crateful of the
stones...."

"That's the story," Dasinger agreed.

"In the Fleets," she remarked, "if we heard of a place where a couple of
ship's crews seemed to have vanished into thin air, we'd call it a
spooked world. And usually we'd keep away from it." She clamped her
lower lip lightly between her teeth for a moment. "Do you think Dr.
Egavine has considered the kwil angle?"



Dasinger nodded. "I'm sure of it. Of course it's only a guess that the
kwil made a difference for Farous. The stuff has no known medical value
of any kind. But when the only known survivor of two crews happens to be
a kwil-eater, the point has to be considered."

"Nobody else on Handing's Scout took kwil," Duomart said. "I know that.
There aren't many in the Fleet who do." She hesitated. "You know,
Dasinger, perhaps I should try it again! Maybe if I took it straight
from the needle this time ..."

Dasinger shook his head. "If the little flake you nibbled made you feel
drowsy, even a quarter of a standard shot would put you out cold for an
hour or two. Kwil has that effect on a lot of people. Which is one
reason it isn't a very popular drug."

"What effect does it have on you?" she asked.

"Depends to some extent on the size of the dose. Sometimes it slows me
down physically and mentally. At other times there were no effects that
I could tell until the kwil wore off. Then I'd have hallucinations for a
while--that can be very distracting, of course, when there's something
you have to do. Those hangover hallucinations seem to be another fairly
common reaction."

He concluded, "Since you can't take the drug and stay awake, you'll
simply remain inside the locked ship. It will be better anyway to keep
the Mooncat well up in the air and ready to move most of the time we're
on the planet."

"What about Taunus and Calat?" she asked.

"They come out with us, of course. If kwil is what it takes to stay
healthy down there, I've enough to go around. And if it knocks them out,
it will keep them out of trouble."

* * * * *

"Looks like there's a firemaker down there!" Duomart's slim forefinger
indicated a point on the ground-view plate. "Column of smoke starting to
come up next to that big patch of trees!... Two point nine miles due
north and uphill of the wrecks."

From a wall screen Dr. Egavine's voice repeated sharply, "Smoke? Then
Leed Farous was not the only survivor!"

Duomart gave him a cool glance. "Might be a native animal that knows how
to make fire. They're not so unusual." She went on to Dasinger. "It
would take a hand detector to spot us where we are, but it does look
like a distress signal. If it's men from one of the wrecks, why haven't
they used the scout's other lifeboat?"

"Would the lifeboat still be intact?" Dasinger asked.

Duomart spun the ground-view plate back to the scout. "Look for
yourself," she said. "It couldn't have been damaged in as light a
crash as that one was. Those tubs are built to stand a really solid
shaking up! And what else could have harmed it?"

"Farous may have put it out of commission before he left," Dasinger
said. "He wanted to come back from the Hub with an expedition to get the
hyacinths, so he wouldn't have cared for the idea of anyone else getting
away from the planet meanwhile." He looked over at the screen. "How
about it, doctor? Did Farous make any mention of that?"

Dr. Egavine seemed to hesitate an instant. "As a matter of fact, he did.
Farous was approximately a third of the way to the Hub when he realized
he might have made a mistake in not rendering the second lifeboat
unusable. But by then it was too late to turn back, and of course he was
almost certain there were no other survivors."

"So that lifeboat should still be in good condition?"

"It was in good condition when Farous left here."

"Well, whoever's down there simply may not know how to handle it."

Duomart shook her blond head decidedly. "That's out, too!" she said.
"Our Fleet lifeboats all came off an old Grand Commerce liner which was
up for scrap eighty, ninety years ago. They're designed so any fool can
tell what to do, and the navigational settings are completely automatic.
Of course if it is a native firemaker--with mighty keen eyesight--down
there, that could be different! A creature like that mightn't think of
going near the scout. Should I start easing the Cat in towards the
smoke, Dasinger?"

"Yes. We'll have to find out what the signal means before we try to
approach the wrecks. Doctor, are you satisfied now that Miss Mines's
outworld biotic check was correct?"

"The analysis appears to be fairly accurate," Dr. Egavine acknowledged,
"and all detectable trouble sources are covered by the selected Fleet
serum."

* * * * *

Dasinger said, "We'll prepare for an immediate landing then. There'll be
less than an hour of daylight left on the ground, but the night's so
short we'll disregard that factor." He switched off the connection to
Egavine's cabin, turned to Duomart. "Now our wrist communicators, you
say, have a five-mile range?"

"A little over five."

"Then," Dasinger said, "we'll keep you and the Cat stationed at an exact
five-mile altitude ninety-five per cent of the time we spend on the
planet. If the Spy arrives while you're up there, how much time will we
have to clear out?"

She shrugged. "That depends of course on how they arrive. My detectors
can pick the Spy up in space before their detectors can make out the Cat
against the planet. If we spot them as they're heading in, we'll have
around fifteen minutes.

"But if they show up on the horizon in atmosphere, or surface her out of
subspace, that's something else. If I don't move instantly then, they'll
have me bracketed ... and BLOOIE!"

Dasinger said, "Then those are the possibilities you'll have to watch
for. Think you could draw the Spy far enough away in a chase to be able
to come back for us?"

"They wouldn't follow me that far," Duomart said. "They know the Cat can
outrun them easily once she's really stretched out, so if they can't
nail her in the first few minutes they'll come back to look around for
what we were interested in here." She added, "And if I don't let the
Cat go all out but just keep a little ahead of them, they'll know that
I'm trying to draw them away from something."

Dasinger nodded. "In that case we'll each be on our own, and your job
will be to keep right on going and get the information as quickly as
possible to the Kyth detective agency in Orado. The agency will take the
matter from there."

* * * * *

Miss Mines looked at him. "Aren't you sort of likely to be dead before
the agency can do anything about the situation?"

"I'll try to avoid it," Dasinger said. "Now, we've assumed the worst as
far as the Spy is concerned. But things might also go wrong downstairs.
Say I lose control of the group, or we all get hit down there by
whatever hit the previous landing parties and it turns out that kwil's
no good for it. It's understood that in any such event you again head
the Cat immediately for the Hub and get the word to the agency. Right?"

Duomart nodded.

He brought a flat case of medical hypodermics out of his pocket, and
opened it.

"Going to take your shot of kwil before we land?" Miss Mines asked.

"No. I want you to keep one of these needles on hand, at least until we
find out what the problem is. It'll knock you out if you have to take
it, but it might also keep you alive. I'm waiting myself to see if it's
necessary to go on kwil. The hallucinations I get from the stuff
afterwards could hit me while we're in the middle of some critical
activity or other, and that mightn't be so good." He closed the case
again, put it away. "I think we've covered everything. If you'll check
the view plate, something--or somebody--has come out from under the
trees near the column of smoke. And unless I'm mistaken it's a human
being."

Duomart slipped the kwil needle he'd given her into a drawer of the
instrument console. "I don't think you're mistaken," she said. "I've
been watching him for the last thirty seconds."

"It is a man?"

"Pretty sure of it. He moves like one."

Dasinger stood up. "I'll go talk with Egavine then. I had a job in mind
for him and his hypno sprays if we happened to run into human
survivors."

"Shall I put the ship down next to this one?"

"No. Land around five hundred yards to the north, in the middle of that
big stretch of open ground. That should keep us out of ambushes. Better
keep clear of the airspace immediately around the wrecks as you go
down."

Duomart looked at him. "Darn right I'll keep clear of that area!"

Dasinger grinned. "Something about the scout?"

"Sure. No visible reason at all why the scout should have settled hard
enough to buckle a drive. Handing was a good pilot."

"Hm-m-m." Dasinger rubbed his chin. "Well, I've been wondering. The
Dosey Asteroids raiders are supposed to have used an unknown type of
antipersonnel weapon in their attack on the station, you know. Nothing
in sight on their wreck that might be, say, an automatic gun but ...
well, just move in carefully and stay ready to haul away very fast at
the first hint of trouble!"

* * * * *

The Mooncat slid slowly down through the air near the point where the
man stood in open ground, a hundred yards from the clump of trees out of
which smoke still billowed thickly upwards. The man watched the
speedboat's descent quietly, making no further attempt to attract the
attention of those on board to himself.

Duomart had said that the man was not a member of Handing's lost crew
but a stranger. He was therefore one of the Dosey Asteroids raiders.

Putting down her two land legs, the Mooncat touched the open hillside a
little over a quarter of a mile from the woods, stood straddled and
rakish, nose high. The storeroom lock opened, and a slender ramp slid
out. Quist showed in the lock, dumped two portable shelters to the
ground, came scrambling nimbly down the ramp. Dr. Egavine followed, more
cautiously, the two handcuffed Fleetmen behind him. Dasinger came out
last, glancing over at the castaway who had started across the slope
towards the ship.

"Everyone's out," he told his wrist communicator. "Take her up."

The ramp snaked soundlessly back into the lock, the lock snapped shut
and the Mooncat lifted smoothly and quickly from the ground. Liu Taunus
glanced after the rising speedboat, looked at Calat, and spoke loudly
and emphatically in Fleetlingue for a few seconds, his broad face
without expression. Dasinger said, "All right, Quist, break out the
shelter."

When the shelter was assembled, Dasinger motioned the Fleetmen towards
the door with his thumb. "Inside, boys!" he said. "Quist, lock the
shelter behind them and stay on guard here. Come on, doctor. We'll meet
our friend halfway...."

* * * * *

The castaway approached unhurriedly, walking with a long, easy stride,
the bird thing on his shoulder craning its neck to peer at the strangers
with round yellow eyes. The man was big and rangy, probably less heavy
by thirty pounds than Liu Taunus, but in perfect physical condition. The
face was strong and intelligent, smiling elatedly now.

"I'd nearly stopped hoping this day would arrive!" he said in
translingue. "May I ask who you are?"

"An exploration group." Dasinger gripped the extended hand, shook it, as
Dr. Egavine's right hand went casually to his coat lapel. "We noticed
the two wrecked ships down by the lake," Dasinger explained, "then saw
your smoke signal. Your name?"

"Graylock. Once chief engineer of the Antares, out of Vanadia on
Aruaque." Graylock turned, still smiling, towards Egavine.

Egavine smiled as pleasantly.

"Graylock," he observed, "you feel, and will continue to feel, that this
is the conversation you planned to conduct with us, that everything is
going exactly in accordance with your wishes." He turned his head to
Dasinger, inquired, "Would you prefer to question him yourself,
Dasinger?"

Dasinger hesitated, startled; but Graylock's expression did not change.
Dasinger shook his head. "Very smooth, doctor!" he commented. "No, go
ahead. You're obviously the expert here."

"Very well ... Graylock," Dr. Egavine resumed, "you will cooperate with
me fully and to the best of your ability now, knowing that I am both
your master and friend. Are any of the other men who came here on those
two ships down by the water still alive?"

There was complete stillness for a second or two. Then Graylock's face
began to work unpleasantly, all color draining from it. He said harshly,
"No. But I ... I don't ..." He stammered incomprehensibly, went silent
again, his expression wooden and set.

"Graylock," Egavine continued to probe, "you can remember everything
now, and you are not afraid. Tell me what happened to the other men."

Sweat covered the castaway's ashen face. His mouth twisted in agonized,
silent grimaces again. The bird thing leaped from his shoulder with a
small purring sound, fluttered softly away.

Dr. Egavine repeated, "You are not afraid. You can remember. What
happened to them? How did they die?"

And abruptly the big man's face smoothed out. He looked from Egavine to
Dasinger and back with an air of brief puzzlement, then explained
conversationally, "Why, Hovig's generator killed many of us as we ran
away from the Antares. Some reached the edges of the circle with me, and
I killed them later."

Dr. Egavine flicked another glance towards Dasinger but did not pause.

"And the crew of the second ship?" he asked.

"Those two. They had things I needed, and naturally I didn't want them
alive here."

"Is Hovig's generator still on the Antares?"

"Yes."

"How does the generator kill?"

Sweat suddenly started out on Graylock's face again, but now he seemed
unaware of any accompanying emotions. He said, "It kills by fear, of
course...."

* * * * *

The story of the Dosey Asteroids raider and of Hovig's fear generators
unfolded quickly from there. Hovig had developed his machines for the
single purpose of robbing the Dosey Asteroids Shipping Station. The plan
then had been to have the Antares cruise in uncharted space with the
looted star hyacinths for at least two years, finally to approach the
area of the Federation from a sector far removed from the Dosey system.
That precaution resulted in disaster for Hovig. Chief Engineer Graylock
had time to consider that his share in the profits of the raid would be
relatively insignificant, and that there was a possibility of increasing
it.

Graylock and his friends attacked their shipmates as the raider was
touching down to the surface of an uncharted world to replenish its
water supply. The attack succeeded but Hovig, fatally wounded, took a
terrible revenge on the mutineers. He contrived to set off one of his
grisly devices, and to all intents and purposes everyone still alive on
board the Antares immediately went insane with fear. The ship crashed
out of control at the edge of a lake. Somebody had opened a lock and a
number of the frantic crew plunged from the ramp and fell to their death
on the rocks below. Those who reached the foot of the ramp fled
frenziedly from the wreck, the effects of Hovig's machine pursuing them
but weakening gradually as they widened the distance between themselves
and the Antares. Finally, almost three miles away, the fear impulses
faded out completely....

But thereafter the wreck was unapproachable. The fear generator did not
run out of power, might not run out of power for years.

Dasinger said, "Doctor, let's hurry this up! Ask him why they weren't
affected by their murder machines when they robbed Dosey Asteroids. Do
the generators have a beam-operated shut-off, or what?"

Graylock listened to the question, said, "We had taken kwil. The effects
were still very unpleasant, but they could be tolerated."

There was a pause of a few seconds. Dr. Egavine cleared his throat. "It
appears, Dasinger," he remarked, "that we have failed to consider a
very important clue!"

Dasinger nodded. "And an obvious one," he said drily. "Keep it moving
along, doctor. How much kwil did they take? How long had they been
taking it before the raid?"

Dr. Egavine glanced over at him, repeated the questions.

Graylock said Hovig had begun conditioning the crew to kwil a week or
two before the Antares slipped out of Aruaque for the strike on the
station. In each case the dosage had been built up gradually to the
quantity the man in question required to remain immune to the
generators. Individual variations had been wide and unpredictable.

Dasinger passed his tongue over his lips, nodded. "Ask him ..."

* * * * *

He checked himself at a soft, purring noise, a shadowy fluttering in the
air. Graylock's animal flew past him, settled on its master's shoulder,
turned to stare at Dasinger and Egavine. Dasinger looked at the yellow
owl-eyes, the odd little tube of a mouth, continued to Egavine, "Ask him
where the haul was stored in the ship."

Graylock confirmed Leed Farous's statement of what he had seen in the
Antares's records. All but a few of the star hyacinths had been placed
in a vault-like compartment in the storage, and the compartment was
sealed. Explosives would be required to open it. Hovig kept out half a
dozen of the larger stones, perhaps as an antidote to boredom during the
long voyage ahead. Graylock had found one of them just before Hovig's
infernal instrument went into action.

"And where is that one now?" Dr. Egavine asked.

"I still have it."

"On your person?"

"Yes."

Dr. Egavine held out his hand, palm upward. "You no longer want it,
Graylock. Give it to me."

Graylock looked bewildered; for a moment he appeared about to weep. Then
he brought a knotted piece of leather from his pocket, unwrapped it,
took out the gem and placed it in Egavine's hand. Egavine picked it up
between thumb and forefinger of his other hand, held it out before him.

There was silence for some seconds while the star hyacinth burned in the
evening air and the three men and the small winged animal stared at it.
Then Dr. Egavine exhaled slowly.

"Ah, now!" he said, his voice a trifle unsteady. "Men might kill and
kill for that one beauty alone, that is true!... Will you keep it for
now, Dasinger? Or shall I?"

Dasinger looked at him thoughtfully.

"You keep it, doctor," he said.

* * * * *

"Dasinger," Dr. Egavine observed a few minutes later, "I have been
thinking...."

"Yes?"

"Graylock's attempted description of his experience indicates that the
machine on the Antares does not actually broadcast the emotion of
terror, as he believes. The picture presented is that of a mind in which
both the natural and the acquired barriers of compartmentalization are
temporarily nullified, resulting in an explosion of compounded insanity
to an extent which would be inconceivable without such an outside agent.
As we saw in Graylock, the condition is in fact impossible to describe
or imagine! A diabolical device...."

He frowned. "Why the drug kwil counteracts such an effect remains
unclear. But since we now know that it does, I may have a solution to
the problem confronting us."

Dasinger nodded. "Let's hear it."

"Have Miss Mines bring the ship down immediately," Egavine instructed
him. "There is a definite probability that among my medical supplies
will be an effective substitute for kwil, for this particular purpose. A
few hours of experimentation, and ..."

"Doctor," Dasinger interrupted, "hold it right there! So far there's
been no real harm in sparring around. But we're in a different situation
now ... we may be running out of time very quickly. Let's quit playing
games."

Dr. Egavine glanced sharply across at him. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that we both have kwil, of course. There's no reason to
experiment. But the fact that we have it is no guarantee that we'll be
able to get near that generator. Leed Farous's tissues were soaked with
the drug. Graylock's outfit had weeks to determine how much each of them
needed to be able to operate within range of the machines and stay sane.
We're likely to have trouble enough without trying to jockey each
other."

Dr. Egavine cleared his throat. "But I ..."

Dasinger interrupted again. "Your reluctance to tell me everything you
knew or had guessed is understandable. You had no more reason to trust
me completely than I had to trust you. So before you say anything else
I'd like you to look at these credentials. You're familiar with the
Federation seal, I think."

Dr. Egavine took the proffered identification case, glanced at Dasinger
again, then opened the case.

"So," he said presently. "You're a detective working for the Dosey
Asteroids Company...." His voice was even. "That alters the situation,
of course. Why didn't you tell me this?"

"That should be obvious," Dasinger said. "If you're an honest man, the
fact can make no difference. The company remains legally bound to pay
out the salvage fee for the star hyacinths. They have no objection to
that. What they didn't like was the possibility of having the gems
stolen for the second time. If that's what you had in mind, you
wouldn't, of course, have led an agent of the company here. In other
words, doctor, in cooperating with me you're running no risk of being
cheated out of your half of the salvage rights."

Dasinger patted the gun in his coat pocket. "And of course," he added,
"if I happened to be a bandit in spite of the credentials, I'd be
eliminating you from the partnership right now instead of talking to
you! The fact that I'm not doing it should be a sufficient guarantee
that I don't intend to do it."

Dr. Egavine nodded. "I'm aware of the point."

"Then let's get on with the salvage," Dasinger said. "For your further
information, there's an armed Fleet ship hunting for us with piratical
intentions, and the probability is that it will find us in a matter of
hours...."

* * * * *

He described the situation briefly, concluded, "You've carried out your
part of the contract by directing us here. You can, if you wish,
minimize further personal risks by using the Fleet scout's lifeboat to
get yourself and Quist off the planet, providing kwil will get you to
the scout. Set a normspace course for Orado then, and we'll pick you up
after we've finished the job."

Dr. Egavine shook his head. "Thank you, but I'm staying. It's in my
interest to give you what assistance I can ... and, as you've surmised,
I do have a supply of kwil. What is your plan?"

"Getting Hovig's generator shut off is the first step," Dasinger said.
"And since we don't know what dosage of the drug is required for each of
us, we'd be asking for trouble by approaching the Antares in the ship.
Miss Mines happens to be a kwil-sensitive, in any case. So it's going to
take hiking, and I'll start down immediately now. Would Graylock and the
Fleetmen obey hypnotic orders to the extent of helping out dependably in
the salvage work?"

Egavine nodded. "There is no question of that."

"Then you might start conditioning them to the idea now. From the outer
appearance of the Antares, it may be a real job to cut through inside
her to get to the star hyacinths. We have the three salvage suits. If I
can make it to the generator, shut it off, and it turns out then that I
need some hypnotized brawn down there, Miss Mines will fly over the
shelter as a signal to start marching the men down."

"Why march? At that point, Miss Mines could take us to the wreck within
seconds."

Dasinger shook his head. "Sorry, doctor. Nobody but Miss Mines or myself
goes aboard the Mooncat until we either wind up the job or are forced to
clear out and run. I'm afraid that's one precaution I'll have to take.
When you get to the Antares we'll give each of the boys a full shot of
kwil. The ones that don't go limp on it can start helping."

Dr. Egavine said reflectively, "You feel the drug would still be a
requirement?"

"Well," Dasinger said, "Hovig appears to have been a man who took
precautions, too. We know he had three generators and that he set off
one of them. The question is where the other two are. It wouldn't be so
very surprising, would it, if one or both of them turned out to be
waiting for intruders in the vault where he sealed away the loot?"

* * * * *

The night was cool. Wind rustled in the ground vegetation and the
occasional patches of trees. Otherwise the slopes were quiet. The sky
was covered with cloud layers through which the Mooncat drifted
invisibly. In the infrared glasses Dasinger had slipped on when he
started, the rocky hillside showed clear for two hundred yards, tinted
green as though bathed by a strange moonlight; beyond was murky
darkness.

"Still all right?" Duomart's voice inquired from the wrist communicator.

"Uh-huh!" Dasinger said. "A little nervous, but I'd be feeling that way
in any case, under the circumstances."

"I'm not so sure," she said. "You've gone past the two and a half mile
line from the generator. From what that Graylock monster said, you
should have started to pick up its effects. Why not take your shot, and
play safe?"

"No," Dasinger said. "If I wait until I feel something that can be
definitely attributed to the machine, I can keep the kwil dose down to
what I need. I don't want to load myself up with the drug any more than
I have to."

A stand of tall trees with furry trunks moved presently into range of
the glasses, thick undergrowth beneath. Dasinger picked his way through
the thickets with some caution. The indications so far had been that
local animals had as much good reason to avoid the vicinity of Hovig's
machine as human beings, but if there was any poisonous vermin in the
area this would be a good place for it to be lurking. Which seemed a
fairly reasonable apprehension. Other, equally definite, apprehensions
looked less reasonable when considered objectively. If he stumbled on a
stone, it produced a surge of sharp alarm which lingered for seconds;
and his breathing had quickened much more than could be accounted for by
the exertions of the downhill climb.

* * * * *

Five minutes beyond the wood Dasinger emerged from the mouth of a narrow
gorge, and stopped short with a startled exclamation. His hand dug
hurriedly into his pocket for the case of kwil needles.

"What's the matter?" Duomart inquired sharply.

Dasinger produced a somewhat breathless laugh. "I've decided to take the
kwil. At once!"

"You're feeling ... things?" Her voice was also shaky.

"I'll say! Not just a matter of feeling it, either. For example, a
couple of old friends are walking towards me at the moment. Dead ones,
as it happens."

"Ugh!" she said faintly. "Hurry up!"

Dasinger shoved the needle's plunger a quarter of the way down on the
kwil solution, pulled the needle out of his arm. He stood still for some
seconds, filled his lungs with the cool night air, let it out in a long
sigh.

"That did it!" he announced, his voice steadying again. "The stuff works
fast. A quarter shot...."

"Why did you wait so long?"

"It wasn't too bad till just now. Then suddenly ... that generator can't
be putting out evenly! Anyway, it hit me like a rock. I doubt you'd be
interested in details."

"I wouldn't," Duomart agreed. "I'm crawly enough as it is up here. I
wish we were through with this!"

"With just a little luck we should be off the planet in an hour."

By the time he could hear the lapping of the lake water on the wind, he
was aware of the growing pulse of Hovig's generator ahead of him, alive
and malignant in the night. Then the Fleet scout came into the glasses,
a squat, dark ship, its base concealed in the growth that had sprung up
around it after it piled up on the slope. Dasinger moved past the scout,
pushing through bushy aromatic shrubbery whi





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Previous: The Premiere



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