As if a benign harbinger, Patricia Weaver was at home; she opened the door of her conapt and said, "Oh goodness, so you're the man with the my script. How early you are; you said on the vidphone --"
"I got finished earlier than I had expected." Chuck entered her apt, glancing at the excessively modern furniture; it was neo-pre-Columbian in style, based on recent archeological discoveries of the Incan culture in South America. All the furniture of course was hand wrought. And on the walls hung the new animated action-paintings that never ceased moving; they consisted of two-dimensional machines that clattered away softly, like the rush of a distant ocean. Or, he thought more practically, like a subsurface autofac. He was not certain he liked them.
"You've got it with you," Miss Weaver said delightedly. She wore -- and this seemed odd for so early in the evening -- a high-fashion Paris dress, the like of which he had witnessed in magazines but never before in actual life. This was a long way from his desk at CIA. The dress was lavish and complex, like the petals of a non-T flower; it must have cost a thousand skins, Chuck decided. This was a dress in which to get a job; her right breast, firm and uptilted, was totally exposed; it was a very fashionable dress indeed. Had she been expecting someone else? Bunny Hentman, for example?
"I was going out, " Patty explained. "For a cocktail. But I'll call and cancel it." She walked to the vidphone, her sharp, high heels clacking against the synthetic-Inca-style-dirt floor.
"I hope you like the script," he said, wandering about and feeling small-time. This was a bit over his head, the elaborate, expensive dress, the handwrought furnishings ... he stood facing a painting, watched as its nonobjective surfaces slid and altered, forming entirely new --and never to be repeated -- combinations.
Patty returned from the vidphone. "I was able to catch him before he left MGB Studios." She did not specify who and Chuck decided not to ask; it would probably deflate him even further. "A drink?" She went to the sideboard, opened a pre-Columbian wood and gold cabinet, revealing bottle after bottle. "What about an Ionian Wuzzball? It's the snig; you must try it. I bet it hasn't gotten up into Northern California -- you're so --" She gestured. "So gas-headed up there." She began to mix drinks.
"Can I help?" He came over beside her, feeling serious and protective ... or at least wanting to be.
"No thanks." Patty expertly handed him his glass. "Let me ask you something," she said, "even before I look at the script. Is my part large?"
"Um," he said. He had made it as large as he could, but the fact of the matter was this: her role was minor. The head of the fish got thrown to her, but the fillets had -- of necessity -- gone to Bunny.
"You mean it's small," Patty said, walking to the bench-like couch and seating herself; the petals of her dress spread out on each side of her. "Let me see it, please." She had now an astute and entirely professional air about her; she was absolutely calm.
Seating himself across from her Chuck handed her the pages of the script. It included what he had sent to Bunny -- and the more recent portion, her part in particular, which Bunny had not yet seen. Perhaps this was improper, showing Patty her script before Bunny saw it ... but he had decided to do it, mistake or not.
"This other woman," Patty said, shortly; it did not take her long to leaf through the pages. "The wife. The shrew that Ziggy decides to kill. She's got a much bigger part; she goes all the way through it and I'm really only in this one scene. At his office, where she comes in ... at the CIA headquarters. She pointed to the part.
What Patty said was true. He had done his best, but that was it; a fact was a fact, and Patty was too wise professionally to be deceived.
"I made it as big as I could," he said honestly.
Patty said, "It's almost one of those awful parts where a girl is just brought in to stand and look sexy, and not really do anything. I don't just want to come in wearing a tight open-bodice dress and be an ornament. I'm an actress; I want lines." She handed him the script back. "Please," she said. "Mr. Rittersdorf, for chrissakes, build up my part. Bunny hasn't seen this, has he? This is still just between you and me. So maybe between us we can think up something. How about a restaurant scene? Ziggy is meeting the girl -- Sharon -- at this fancy little out-of-the-way restaurant, and the wife shows up ... Ziggy has it out with her there, not at home in their conapt, and then Sharon, my part, she can be involved in that scene, too."
"Hmm," he said. He sipped his drink; it was an odd, sweet concoction, much like mead. It occurred to him to wonder what it had in it. Across from him Patty had already drunk hers; she now returned to the sideboard to fix herself another.
He also rose, walked over to stand beside her; against him her small shoulder brushed and he could smell the peculiar strange scent of the drink which she was making. One ingredient, he noticed, came from a distinctly non-T bottle; the printing on it seemed Alphane.
"It's from Alpha I," Patty said. "Bunny gave it to me; he got it from some Alphs he knows; Bunny knows every kind of creature in the inhabited universe. Did you know he lived for a while in the Alpha system?" She raised her glass, turned to face him and stood sipping meditatively. "I wish I could visit another star system. It must make you feel almost -- you know -- superhuman."
Setting his glass down Chuck put his hands on Patty Weaver's slight, rather hard shoulders; the dress crinkled. "I can make your part somewhat larger," he said.
"Okay," Patty said. She leaned against him, sighed as she rested her head on his shoulder. "It does mean a lot to me," she said. Her hair, long and auburn, brushed his face, tickling his nose. Taking her glass from her he sipped, then set it down on the sideboard.
The next he knew, they were in the bedroom.
The drinks, he thought. Mixing with the illegal GB- 40 thalamic stimulant that Lord whatever-his-name-is gave me. The bedroom was nearly dark but he could see, outlined beyond his right arm, Patty Weaver sitting on the edge of the bed, unhooking some intricate part of her dress. The dress came off at last and Patty carried it carefully to the closet to hang it up; she returned, doing something strange with her breasts. He watched her for a moment and then he realized that she was massaging her ribcage; she had been bound up in the dress and now she could relax, move about unhindered. Both breasts, he saw, were of an ideal size, albeit for the most part synthetic. As she walked they did not wobble in the slightest; the left, as well as the previously-exposed right, was strikingly firm.
As Patty dropped like a well-oiled stone into the bed next to the spot where he himself lay the vidphone rang.
"--," Patty said, startling him. She slid from the bed, stood, groped for her robe; finding it she started barefoot from the room, tying its sash. "I'll be right back, dear," she said matter-of-factly. "You just stay there. "
He lay staring at the ceiling, feeling the softness, smelling the fragrance, of the bed. A long, long time seemed to pass. He felt very happy. This kind of waiting was a great peaceful pleasure.
And then, suddenly, there stood Patty Weaver in the bedroom doorway, in her robe, her hair down over her shoulders in a loose cloud. He waited but she did not approach the bed. All at once he realized that she was not going to; she was coming no farther in. Instantly he sat up; his mood of supine relaxation dwindled, vanished.
"Who was it?" he said.
"The deal is off." She came in now, but to the closet; from it she took a simple skirt and blouse. Picking up her underclothing she departed, obviously to dress somewhere else.
"Why is it off?" He hopped from the bed, began feverishly to dress. Patty had disappeared; somewhere in the apt a door closed. She did not answer. Evidently she had not heard him.
As he sat on the bed fully dressed, tying his shoelaces, Patty reappeared; she, too, was fully dressed. She stood brushing her hair, her face expressionless; she watched him fumble with his laces, making no comment. It was, he thought, as if she were a light year away; the bedroom was pervaded by her neutral coolness.
"Tell me," he repeated, "why the deal is off. Tell me exactly what Bunny Hentman said."
"Oh, he said he's not going to use your script, and if I called you or if you called me --" Now, for the first time since the vidcall, her eyes focused on him, as if she were seeing him at last. "I didn't say you were here. But he said if I talked to you I was to tell you that he's thought your idea over and it isn't any good."
"The whole script. He got the pages you expressed to him and he thought they were terrible."
Chuck felt his ears burn and freeze at once; the pain spread to his face, like frost, numbing his lips and nose.
"So," Patty said, "he's having Dark and Jones, his regular writers, do something entirely different."
After a long time Chuck said huskily, "Am I supposed to get in touch with him?"
"He didn't say." She had finished brushing her hair; now she left the bedroom, again disappearing. Rising, he followed after her, finding her in the living room; she was at the vidphone, dialing.
"Who are you calling?" he demanded.
Patty said remotely, "Someone I know. To take me out to dinner."
In a voice that cracked with chagrin Chuck said, "Let me take you out to dinner. I'd love to."
The girl did not even bother to answer; she continued to dial.
Going over to the pre-Columbian bench he began to gather up the pages of his script; he returned them to the envelope. Meanwhile Patty had gotten her party; he heard, in the background, her low, muted voice.
"I'll see you," Chuck said. He put on his coat, strode to the door of the apt.
She did not look up from the vidphone screen; she was absorbed.
With anguished wrath he slammed the door after him and hurried down the carpeted hall to the elevator. Twice he stumbled, and he thought, God, the drink is still afflicting me. Maybe the whole thing's a hallucination, brought on by the mixture of GV-40 and the -- whatever she called it. The Ganymedean Wuzzfur or whatever. His brain felt dead, cold and dry of animation; his spirit had completely frozen over and all he could think of was getting out of the building, getting out of Santa Monica and back up to Northern California and his own conapt.
Had London been right? He couldn't tell; perhaps it was just what the girl had said: the pages he had sent to Bunny had been terrible and that was all there was to it. But on the other hand --
I've got to get in touch with Bunny, he realized. Right now. In fact, I should have called him back there from the apt.
On the ground-level floor of the conapt building he found a pay vidphone booth; inside it he began dialing the number of the Hentman organization. And then, all at once, he put the receiver back on its hook. Do I want to know? he asked himself, Can I stand knowing?
He left the vidphone booth, stood momentarily, and then passed out through the main doors of the building, onto the early-evening street. At least I should wait until my wits are clear, he thought. Until that drink has worn off, that non-T intoxicant she gave me.
Hands in his pockets he began to walk aimlessly down the sidewalk runnel. And, each minute, feeling more and more scared and desperate. Everything was falling apart around him. And he seemed helpless to halt the collapse; he could only witness it, completely impotent, snatched up and gripped by processes too powerful for him to understand.
A voice in his ear, female and recorded, was repeating, "That will be one quarter skin, sir. Please deposit in coins, no bills."
Blinking, he looked around him, discovered that he was once again in a vidphone booth. But whom was he calling? Bunny Hentman? Rummaging in his pockets he found the quarter skin, dropped it in the slot of the pay vidphone. At once the image cleared.
It was not Bunny Hentman that he was calling. On the screen facing him was the miniature image of Joan Trieste.
'What's the matter?" Joan said; perceptively. "You look awful, Chuck. Are you sick? Where are you phoning from?"
"I'm in Santa Monica," he said. At least he assumed he still was; he had no memory of a ride back up to the Bay Area. And it did not feel much later ... or did it? He examined his wristwatch. Two hours had passed; it was now after eight o'clock. "I can't believe it," he said, "but this morning I was suspended by the CIA as a security risk and now --"
"Good grief," Joan said, listening intently.
He grated, "Evidently I've been fired by Bunny Hentman but I can't be sure. Because frankly I'm afraid to get in touch with him."
There was silence. And then Joan said calmly, "You must call him, Chuck. Or I can do it for you; I'll tell him I'm your secretary or something -- I can handle it, don't worry. Give me the number of the phone booth you're in. And don't give way to depression; I know you well enough already to know that you're going back to considering suicide, and if you try it in Santa Monica I can't help you; I couldn't get to you in time."
"Thanks," he said. "It's nice to hear someone cares."
"You've just had too much disruption in your life lately," Joan said in her intelligent, commonsense way. "The breakup of your marriage, now --"
"Call him," Chuck interrupted. "Here's the number." He held the slip of paper to the vidscreen and Joan wrote it down.
After he had hung up he stood in the phone booth smoking and meditating. His brain was beginning to clear now, and he wondered what he had done between the hours of six and eight. His legs felt stiff, aching with fatigue; perhaps he had been walking. Up and down the streets of Santa Monica, with no destination, no plans.
Reaching into his coat pocket he got out the tin of GB-40 capsules which he had brought along; without benefit of water he managed to swallow one. That would -- he presumed -- take away the fatigue effects. But nothing short of a frontal-lobe retirement would take away the realization of the disaster which his situation had become.
The slime mold, he thought. Maybe it can help me.
From Marin County info he obtained Lord Running Clam's vidphone number; at once he placed the call, deposited the coins, waited as the phone rang and the screen remained blank.
"Hello." Words, not auditory but visual, greeted him, manifesting themselves on the screen; the slime mold, unable to talk, could not make use of the audio circuit.
"This is Chuck Rittersdorf," he said.
More words. "You are in trouble. I can't read your mind over such a distance, of course, but I catch the nuance m your voice."
"Do you have influence with Hentman?" Chuck asked.
"As I informed you earlier --" The words, a narrow band, passed in sequence by the video scanner. "I do - not even know the man."
Chuck said, "Evidently he's fired me. I'd like you to try to talk him into taking me back." God, he thought, I have to have some kind of a job. "It was you," he said, "who induced me to sign the contract with him; there's a lot of responsibility that can be laid to your door."
"Your job with the CIA --"
"Suspended. Because of my association with Hentman." Brutally Chuck said, "Hentman knows too many non Terrans."
"I see," the words formed. "Your highly-neurotic security agency. I should have expected it, but I did not. You should have, since you are an employee of several years."
"Look," Chuck said. "I didn't call to engage in a dispute as to who's to blame; I just want a job, any job." I've got to have it tonight, he said to himself; I can't wait.
"I must ponder this," the slime mold informed him, via the moving strip of words. "Give me --"
Chuck savagely hung up the phone.
Again he stood closed up within the booth, smoking and waiting, wondering what Joan would say when she called back. Maybe, he thought, she won't call back. Especially if the news is bad. What a mess. What a state I've single-handedly --
The phone rang.
Lifting the receiver he said, "Joan?"
On the screen her small image formed. "I called the number you gave me, Chuck. I got someone on his staff, a Mr. Feld. Everything was in a state of agitation. All Feld would say was for me to look at the evening homeopape."
"Okay," Chuck said, and felt even colder than before. "Thanks. I'll get a L.A. 'pape down here and maybe I'll see you later." He broke the connection, hurriedly left the booth, walked outdoors to the sidewalk and began searching for a peripatetic 'pape vendor.
It took him only moments to get his hands on the evening 'pape; in the light of a store window he stood reading. There it was on page one. Of course it would be; Hentman was the top TV clown.
BUNNY HENTMAN ARRESTED BY CIA AS AGENT OF NON-TERRAN POWER. FLEES CAPTORS IN RUNNING LASER-BATTLE
He had to read the article twice before he could believe it. What had happened was this. The CIA had, through its network of data-collecting mechanisms, learned during the course of the day that the Hentman organization was dropping Chuck Rittersdorf. This, to the CIA minds, had proved their thesis; Hentman was only interested in Chuck because of Operation Fifty-minutes on Alpha III M2. Hence, they reasoned, Hentrnan was, as they had long suspected, an agent of the Alphanes, and the CIA had acted at once -- because Hentman's own informant in CIA would, if they had dallied, have tipped him off and permitted him to escape. It was all very simple and very terrible; his hands shook as he held the 'pape up to the light.
And Hentman had gotten away. Despite the CIA's swift action. Perhaps Hentman's own machinery had been efficient enough to warn him; he had been expecting the flying action-squad of CIA men that had tried to close in on him at, as the article said, the TV network studios in New York.
So now where was Bunny Hentman? Probably on his way to the Alpha system. And where was Chuck Rittersdorf? On his way to nothing; ahead of him lay only a bog-like emptiness, filled with no persons, no tasks, no reason for existence. Hentman might call Patty Weaver, the TV starlet, and tell her that the script was out, but he hadn't bothered to --
The vidphone call from Hentman had come in the evening. After the aborted arrest. Therefore Patty Weaver knew where Hentman was. Or at least might know. But that was something to go on.
By cab he quickly made his way back to Patty Weaver's magnificent conapt building; he paid the cab and hurried to the entrance, pressed the buzzer for her apt.
"Who is it?" Her voice still was cool, impersonal, even more so.
Chuck said, "This is Rittersdorf. I left part of my script in your apt."
"I don't see any pages." She did not sound convinced.
"If you'll let me in I think I can lay my hands right on them. It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes."
"Okay." The tall metal door clicked, swung open; upstairs in her apt Patty had released it.
He ascended by elevator. The door to her apt was open and he walked on in. In the living room Patty greeted him with chilly indifference; she stood with her arms folded, gazing stonily out the window at the view of nighttime Los Angeles. "There are no pages of your goddam script here," she informed him. "I don't know what --"
"That call from Bunny," Chuck said. 'Where was he calling from?"
She eyed him, one eyebrow raised. "I don't remember."
"Have you seen tonight's homeopape?"
After a long pause she shrugged. "Maybe."
"Bunny called you after the CIA made their arrest attempt. You know it and I know it."
"So?" She did not even bother to look at him; in all his life he had never been so glacially ignored. And yet, it seemed to him that underneath the hardness of her manner she was frightened. After all she was very young, hardly twenty. He decided to take the chance on that.
"Miss Weaver, I'm an agent of the CIA." He still had his CIA identification; reaching into his coat he now got it out, held it toward her. "You're under arrest."
Her eyes flew wide-open in a startled reaction; she spun, stifling an exclamation of dismay. And he could see how radically her breathing had altered; the heavy red pullover sweater rose and fell rapidly. "You really are a CIA agent?" she asked in a strangled whisper. "I thought you were a TV script writer; that's what Bunny said."
"We've penetrated the Hentman organization. I posed as a TV script writer. Come on." He took hold of Patricia Weaver by the arm.
"Where are we going?" She tugged away, horrified.
"To the L.A. CIA office. Where you'll be booked."
"You know where Bunny Hentman is," he said.
There was silence.
"I don't," she said, and sagged. "I really don't. When he called I didn't know he'd been arrested or whatever it was -- he didn't say anything about that. It was only when I went out to dinner, after you left, that I saw the 'pape headlines." She moved morosely toward the bedroom. "I'll get my coat and purse. And I'd like to put on a little lipstick. But I'm telling you the truth; honest I am."
He followed after her; in the bedroom she got her coat down from a hanger in the closet, then opened a dresser drawer for her purse.
"How long do you think they'll keep me?" she asked as she rooted in her purse.
"Oh," he answered, "not more than --" He broke off. Because Patty held a laser pistol pointed toward him. She had found it in her purse.
"I don't believe you're a CIA agent," she said.
"But I am," Chuck said.
"Get out of here. I don't understand what you're trying to do, but Bunny gave me this and told me to use it when and if I had to." Her hand shook, but the laser pistol remained pointed at him. "Please go on," she said. "Get out of my apt -- if you don't go I'll kill you; honestly I will -- I mean it. " She looked terribly, terribly frightened.
Turning, he walked out of the apt, into the hall, down the hall to the elevator. It was still there and he stepped inside it.
A moment later he was back downstairs, stepping out onto the dark sidewalk. Well, that was that. It had scarcely worked out as he intended. On the other hand, he reflected stoically, he had lost nothing ... except perhaps his dignity And that, given time, would return.
There was nothing to do now but return to Northern California.
Fifteen minutes later he was in the air, beading home to his dreary conapt in Marin County. All in all, his experience in L.A. had failed to be sanguine.
When he arrived he found the apt's lights on and the heater on; seated in a chair, listening to an early Haydn symphony on the FM, was Joan Trieste. As soon as she saw him she hopped to her feet. "Thank god," she said. "I was so worried about you." Bending, she picked up the San Francisco Chronicle. "You saw the 'pape by now. Where does this put you, Chuck? Does it mean the CIA is after you, too? As a Hentrnan employee?"
"I dunno," be said, shutting the door of the apt. As far as he could make out the CIA was not after him, but it was something to ponder; Joan was right. Going into the kitchen he put on the teakettle for coffee, missing, at a time like this, the autonomic coffee-making circuit of the stove he had gotten Mary -- gotten her, left with her, along with almost everything else.
At the doorway Joan appeared. "Chuck, I think you ought to call into CIA; talk with someone you know there. Your former boss. Okay?"
He said, with bitterness, "You're so law-abiding. Always comply with the authorities -- correct?" He did not tell her that in the hour of crisis, when everything was falling apart around him right and left, his impulse had been to seek out Bunny Hentman, not the CIA.
"Please," Joan said. "And I've been conversing with Lord R.C. and he feels the same way. I was listening to news on the radio and they said something about other employees of the Hentman machine being arrested --"
"Just leave me alone." He got down the jar of instant coffee; his hands shaking, he put a large teaspoonful in a mug.
"If you don't contact them," Joan stated, "then I can't do anything for you. So I think it would be best if I left."
Chuck said, "What could you do for me anyhow? What have you done for me in the past? I'll bet I'm the first person you ever met who lost two jobs in one day."
"Then what are you going to do?"
"I think," Chuck said, "I'll emigrate to Alpha." Specifically, he thought, to Alpha III M2. Had he been able to find Hentman --
"The CIA's right, then," Joan said; her eyes smoldered. "The Hentman machine is in the pay of a non-Terran power."
"Lord," Chuck said, with disgust. "The war's been over for years! I'm sick of this cloak-mit-dagger rubbish; I've had enough to last me forever. If I want to emigrate then let me emigrate."
"What I should do," Joan said, without enthusiasm, "is arrest you. I'm armed." She displayed for his benefit, then, the incredibly tiny but undoubtedly genuine side arm which she carried. "But I can't do it, I feel so sorry for you. How could you make such a mess of your life? And Lord R.C. tried so hard to --"
"Blame him," Chuck said.
"He only wanted to help; he could see you weren't taking responsibility." Her eyes flashed. "No wonder Mary divorced you."
"You just won't try," Joan said. "You've given up; you --" She ceased. And stared at him. He had heard it, too. The thoughts of the Ganymedean slime mold, from across the hall.
"Mr. Rittersdorf, a gentleman is passing along the hall in the direction of your apt; he is armed and he intends to force you to accompany him. I can't tell who he is or what he wants because he's got a grid of some sort installed as a brain-box lining to shield him from telepaths; therefore he's either a military person or a member of the security or intelligence police or part of a criminal or traitorous organization. In any case prepare yourself."
To Joan, Chuck said, "Give me that little laser pistol."
"No." She lifted it from its holster, turned it toward the door of the apt; her face was clear and fresh. Evidently she had herself completely under control.
"My god," Chuck said, "you're going to get killed." He knew it, foresaw it as fully as if he were a precog; reaching out with lashing speed he grasped the laser tube and yanked it from her hand. The tube got away from him; both he and Joan surged toward it, groping -- they collided and with a gasp Joan tumbled gainst the wall of the kitchen. Chuck's clutching fingers found the tube; he straightened up, holding it ...
Something struck his hand and he experienced heat; he dropped the laser tube and it clattered away. At the same time a man's voice -- unfamiliar to him -- rang in his ears. "Rittersdorf, I'll kill her if you try to pick hat tube up again." The man, now in the living room, shut the apt door after him and came a few steps toward the kitchen, his own laser beam held in Joan's direction. He 'was middle-aged, wearing a cheap gray overcoat of domestic material and odd, archaic boots; the impression that flashed over Chuck was that the man hailed from some totally alien ecology, perhaps from another planet entirely.
"I think he's from Hentman," Joan said as she slowly rose to her feet. "So he probably would do it. But if you think you could get hold of the tube before --"
"No," Chuck said at once. "We'd both be dead." He faced the man, then. "I tried to reach Hentman earlier."
"Okay," the man said, and gestured toward the door. "The lady may stay here; I only want you, Mr. Rittersdorf. Come along and let's not fnop any time; we have a long trip."
"You can check with Patty Weaver," Chuck said as he walked ahead of the middle-aged man out into the hall.
Behind him the man grunted. "No more talking, Mr. Rittersdorf. There's been too much glucking talk already."
"Such as what?" He halted, feeling ominous gradations of fear.
"Such as your entering the organization as a CIA spy. We realize now why you wanted that job as TV scriptwriter; it was to get evidence on Bun. So what evidence did you get? You saw an Alphane; is that a crime?"
"No," Chuck said.
"They're going to pelt him to death for that," the man with the gun said. "Hell, they've known for years that Bun lived in the Alpha system. The war's over. Sure he's got economic connections with Alpha; who that's in business hasn't? But he's a big figure nationally; the public knows him. I'll tell you what got the CIA where they decided to crack down on him. It was Bun's idea for a script about a CIA sim killing someone; the CIA figured he was beginning to use his TV show to --"
Ahead in the hall the Ganymedean slime mold, in a huge yellow heap, manifested itself, blocking the way; it had flowed out of its conapt.
"Let us by," the man with the gun said.
"I am sorry," Lord Running Clam's thoughts came to Chuck, "but I am a colleague of Mr. Rittersdorf's and it is impractical for me to allow him to be carted off."
The laser beam clacked on; red and thin it traveled by Chuck and disappeared into the center of the slime mold. With a crackling, tearing noise the slime mold shriveled-up, dried into a black encrusted blob which smoked and sputtered, charring the wooden floor of the hallway.
"Move," the man with the gun said to Chuck.
"He's dead," Chuck said. He couldn't believe it.
"There's some more of them," the man with the gun said. "On Ganymede." His fleshy face showed no emotion, only alertness. "When we get into the elevator press the up button; my ship's on the roof, and what a louzled up little field it is."
Numbly, Chuck entered the elevator. The man with the gun followed and an instant later they had reached the roof; they stepped out into the cold of a foggy night. "Tell me your name," Chuck said. "Just your name."
"So I can find you again. For killing Lord Running Clam." Sometime sooner or later he would be set down in the same vector with this person.
"I'll be glad to tell you my name," the man said as he herded Chuck into the parked hopper; its landing lights glowed and its turbine buzzed faintly. "Alf Cherigan," he said as he stationed himself at the controls.
"You like my name? You find it pleasant?"
Saying nothing Chuck stared ahead.
"You've stopped talking," Cherigan observed. "Too bad, because you and I'll be cooped up together until we reach Luna and Brahe City." He reached to snap on the auto course-finding pilot.
Beneath them the hopper bucked and leaped but did not ascend.
"Wait here," Cherigan said, with a wave of his laser pistol in Chuck's direction. "Don't touch any of the controls." Opening the hatch of the hopper he irritably put his head out, peering to see in the darkness, what had stalled the lift-action. "Holy critter," he said, "the outside conduit to the rear rubes --" His speech stopped; he rapidly yanked himself back into the hopper once again, then fired with his laser beam.
From the darkness of the roof an answering beam paralleled his own, found its way through the open hatch and to him; Cherigan dropped his weapon and flopped convulsively against the hull of the cabin, then twisted and sagged like a gored animal, his mouth hanging, his eyes corrupted and vague.
Bending, Chuck picked up the discarded laser beam, looked out to see who it was, there in the darkness. It was Joan; she had followed him and Cherigan up the hall, had taken the manual emergency lift to the roof field and arrived behind them. He got hesitantly from the hopper and greeted her. Cherigan had made a mistake; he had not been informed that Joan was an armed policewoman and accustomed to emergencies. It was even hard for Chuck to realize what she had done so quickly, first with one shot at the guidance-system of the hopper, then the second shot which had killed Alf Cherigan.
"Are you getting out?" Joan asked. "I didn't hit you, did I?"
"I'm untouched," Chuck said.
"Listen." She approached the hatch of the hopper, regarded the slumped, discarded shape that had just now been Alf Cherigan. "I can bring him back. Remember? Do you want me to, Chuck?"
He considered a moment; he remembered Lord Running Clam. And because of that he shook his head no.
"It's up to you," Joan said. "I'll let him stay dead. I don't like to but I understand."
"How about Lord --"
"Chuck, I can't do anything for him; it's too late. More than five minutes has passed. I had the choice of staying there with him or following you and trying to assist you."
"I think it would have been better if you --"
"No," Joan said firmly ... I did the right thing; you'll see why. Do you have a magnifying glass?"
Startled, he said, "No, of course not."
"Look in the repair case of the hopper, in the storage region under the control panel. There're micro-tools for fixing the miniaturized portions of the ship's circuits ...you'll find a loupe there."
He opened the cabinet, rummaged about, mindlessly obeying her. A moment later his hands found the jeweler's loupe; he stepped from the hopper, holding it.
"We'll go back below," Joan said. "To where he is."
Presently the two of them bent over the reduced cinder which had previously been their compatriot, the Ganymedean slime mold. "Stick the loupe in your eye," Joan instructed, "and search around. Very closely, especially down in the pile of the carpet."
"Jan said, "His spores."
Taken aback he said, "Did he have a chance to --"
"Sporification for them is automatic, the moment they're attacked; it would have functioned instantaneously, I hope. They'll be microscopic, brown and round; you should be able to find them with the loupe. It's of course impossible to with the naked eye. While you're doing that I'll prepare a culture." She disappeared into Chuck's apt; he hesitated and then got down on his hands and knees to search the hall carpet for the spores of Lord Running Clam.
When Joan returned he had, in the palm of his hand, seven tiny spheres; under the lens they were smooth and brown and shiny, definitely spores. And he had located them near the spot where the waste-remains of the slime mold lay.
"They need soil," Joan said as she watched him sprinkle the spores into the measuring cup which she had found in his kitchen. "And moisture. And time. Find at least twenty, because of course not all of them will survive."
At last he managed to acquire, from the dirty, much-used carpet, twenty-five spores in all. These were transferred to the measuring cup and then he and Joan descended to the lowest floor of the building, made their way out into the backyard. In the darkness they clutched handfuls of dirt, deposited the loose, black soil into the measuring cup. Joan located a hose; she sprinkled drops of water onto the soil and then sealed the cup off from the air with a polyfilm wrapper.
"On Ganymede," she explained, "the atmosphere is warm and dense; this is the best I can do to simulate proper conditions for the spores but I think it'll work. Lord R.C. told me once that in an emergency Ganymedeans have managed to sporify successfully in open-air conditions on Terra. So let's hope." With Chuck she returned to the building, carrying the cup with great care.
"How long will it take?" he asked. "Before we know."
"I'm not sure. As soon as two days or -- and this has happened in some cases -- depending on the phase of the moon as long as a month." She explained, "It may sound like superstition but the moon will affect the activation of these spores. So resign yourself to that. The fuller the better; we can look it up in tonight's homeopape." They ascended to the floor of his apt.
"How much memory will there be in the new --" He hesitated. "In the next generation of slime mold? Will it or they remember us and what took place here?"
As she sat examining the homeopape Joan said, "It depends entirely on how quickly he managed to act; if he got off spores from his --" She shut the 'pape. "The spores should react in a matter of days."
"What would happen," Chuck asked, "if I took them off Terra? Away from Luna's influence?"
"They'd still grow. But it might take longer. What's on your mind?"
"If the Hentman organization would send someone to find me," Chuck said, "and something happened to him --"
"Oh yes of course," Joan agreed, "They'll be sending another. Probably in a few hours, as soon as they realize we got the first one. And he may have had a deadman's-signal installed on him somewhere, so they had the information as soon as his heart stopped. I think you're right; you should get off Terra as soon as possible. But how, Chuck? To really disappear you'd have to have resources, some money and support, and you don't; you have no source of income at all now. Do ou have anything at all saved up?"
"Mary got the joint account," he said, pondering; he seated himself, lit a cigarette. "I have an idea," he said at last, "of what I'm going to try. I'd prefer you didn't hear. Do you understand? Or do I just sound neurotic and fearful?"
"You just sound anxious. And you ought to be." She rose. "I'll go out into the hall; I know you want to place a call. While you're doing that I'll contact the Ross Police Department and have them come here to dispose of that man in the hopper up above us." At the door of the apt she lingered, however. "Chuck, I'm glad I was able to keep them from taking you. I barely made it. Where was the hopper going?"
"I'd rather not tell you. For your own protection."
She nodded. And the door shut after her. Now he was alone.
At once he placed a call to the San Francisco CIA office. It took some time, but at last he was able to trace down his former boss, Jack Elwood. At home with his family, Elwood answered the vidphone with irritation. Nor was he pleased to see who it was.
"I'll make a deal with you," Chuck said.
"A deal! We believe you directly or indirectly tipped off Hentman so that he had the opportunity to escape. Isn't that what happened? We even know whom you worked through: that starlet in Santa Monica that's Hentman's current mistress." Elwood scowled.
This was news to Chuck; he hadn't realized this about Patty Weaver. However, it hardly mattered now. "The deal," Chuck said, "that I intend to make with you -- with the CIA, officially -- is this. I know where Hentman is."
"That doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is that you're willing to tell us. Why is that, Chuck? A falling-out within the Hentman happy family, with you on the outside?"
"The Hentman organization has already sent one nurt out," Chuck said. "We were able to stop him, but there'll be another and then another until finally Hentman gets me." He did not bother to try to explain his difficult situation to Elwood; his former boss wouldn't believe him and anyhow his wants would remain the same. "I'll tell you where Hentman is hiding out in exchange for a CIA C-plus ship. An intersystem ship, one of those small military-style pursuit-class vessels. I know you've got a few of them; you canspare one, and you're getting back something of enormous value." He added, "And I'll return the ship -- eventually. It's just the use of it that I want."
"You actually do sound as if you're trying to get away," Elwood said with acuity.
"Okay." Elwood shrugged. "I'll believe you; why not? And so what? Tell me where Hentman is; I'll have the ship for you within five hours."
In other words, Chuck realized, they'll hold up delivery until they have had a chance to check my information. If Hentman isn't found, there will be no ship; I'll be waiting in vain. But it was hopeless to expect the pros of the CIA to operate in any other fashion; this was their business -- life for them was one great card game.
Resignedly he said, "Hentman is on Luna, at Brahe City."
'Wait at your apt," Elwood said instantly. "The ship will be there by two this morning. If." He eyed Chuck.
Breaking the connection Chuck went to pick up his burned down cigarette from the edge of the living room coffee table. Well, if the ship did not show up then this was the end; he had no other plans, no alternative solution. Joan Trieste might save him again, might even bring him back after a nurt of Hentman's had actually killed him ... but if he stayed on Terra eventually they would find and destroy him or at the very least capture him: detection devices were simply too good, now. Given sufficient time they always found the target if it were still somewhere on the planet. But Luna, unlike Terra, had uncharted areas; detection there posed a problem. And there existed remote moons and planets where detection, by anyone, was a near impossibility.
One of those areas was the Alpha system. For example Alpha III and its several moons, including M2; most especially M2. And with a CIA faster-than-light ship he could reach it in a matter of days. As had Mary and the gang with her.
Opening the door to the hall he said to Joan, "Okay. I made my one puny call. That's that,"
"Are you leaving Terra?" Her eyes were enormous and dark.
"We'll see," He seated himself, prepared to wait it out.
With great care Joan set the measuring cup of Lord Running Clam's spores on the arm of the couch by Chuck. "I'll give these to you. I know you want them; it was you he gave his life for and you feel responsible. Better let me tell you what to do as soon as the spores become active."
He got pen and paper in order to write down her instructions.
It was actually several hours later -- the Ross Police Department had shown up and lugged off the dead man on the roof, and Joan Trieste had departed -- that he realized what he had done. Now Bunny Hentman was right; he had betrayed Hentman to the CIA. But he had done it to save his life. That, however, would hardly justify it in Hentman's eyes; he, too, was trying to save his life.
In any case it was done. He continued to wait, alone in his apt, for the C-plus ship from CIA. A ship which very likely was never going to arrive. And what then? Then, he decided, I'll be sitting here and waiting for something else, for the next nurt from the Hentman organization. And my life can be measured out in teaspoonfuls.
It was one hell of a long wait.