CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON
Beside Mary, the CIA man Dan Mageboom said, "You heard that slime mold's statement; that ship contains the TV comic Bunny Hentman, who's on our top-want list." Agitated, Mageboom plucked at his throat, obviously groping for the intercom transmitter which linked him with the powerful CIA relay aboard the nearby Terran ships of the line.
"I also heard the slime mold declare," Mary said, "that you're not a person but a simulacrum."
"Person, shmerson," Mageboom said. "Does it matter?" Now he had found the microphone of the 'com; he spoke into it, ignoring her, telling his superiors that Bunny Hentman had turned up at last. And this, Mary thought, on the basis of a verbal utterance by a Ganymedean fungus. The credulity of the CIA passed all understanding. However, it was probably true. No doubt Hentman was aboard the ship; it did have as its ident marking the rabbit symbol familiar to viewers of the TV show.
She recalled, then, the ugly episode when she had approached the Hentman organization in her efforts to obtain a job for Chuck as script writer. They had neatly, adroitly propositioned her and she had never forgotten this; nor would she ever. A "side-deal," they had euphemistically called it. The lewd skunks, she thought as she watched the ship settle down like some enormous over-ripe football.
"My instructions," Mageboom spoke up suddenly, "are to approach the Hentman ship and attempt to arrest Mr. Hentman." He scrambled to his feet; amazed,she watched him trot toward the parked ship. Should I let him go? she asked herself. Why not? she decided, and lowered her laser beam. She had nothing against Mageboom, human or simulacrum, whatever he was. In any case he was decidedly ineffectual, like all CIA personnel she had met, during her years with Chuck. Chuck! At once she turned her attention back to him, where he huddled with Annette Golding. You've come a long way, dear, she thought. Just to pay me back. Is it worth it? But, she thought, you've also found a new woman; I wonder how you're going to enjoy having a polymorphic schizophrenic for a mistress. Pointing the laser tube she fired.
The harsh white light of the flare abruptly winked out; darkness returned. For a moment she could not understand what had happened and then she realized that now, since the ship had landed, it had no further use for illumination; hence it had shot the flare down. It preferred darkness to light, like some photophobic insect scuttling behind a bookcase.
She could not tell if her shot had touched Chuck.
Damn it, she thought in angered dismay. And then she felt fear. After all, it was she who was in danger; Chuck had become an assassin, here to murder her she was perfectly, rationally, wholly conscious of that: his presence on the moon verified what with professional acumen she had long suspected. It occurred to her now that during the trip and initial days on Alpha III M2 Chuck might easily have been the inhabitant of the Mageboom simulacrum. Why hadn't he done it then, instead of waiting? In any case that was not true now, since the simulacrum would be operated from Terra; that was CIA policy, as she well knew from remarks Chuck had made over the years.
I should get away, she said to herself. Before he does do it. Where can I go? The big warships can't come in because those lunatics and maniacs have that shield up; they're still trying to trace a path through it, I suppose -- whatever the reason she had lost contact with the Terran military. And now Mageboom had gone; she no longer could reach the line-ships through him. I wish I was back on Earth, she said miserably to herself. This whole project has turned out terribly. It's insane, Chuck and I trying to slay each other; how did something ghastly and psychotic like this develop? I thought we had managed to separate ... didn't the divorce accomplish that?
She thought, I never should have had my attorney Bob Alfson get those potent-pics of Chuck and that girl. That's probably what made him do this. However, it was too late; she had not only gotten the pics but had in addition used them in court. They were now a matter of public record; anyone with a little morbid curiosity who wanted to could search up the court record, animate the pics and enjoy the sequences of Chuck and the Trieste fray making love. In hoc signo vinces, my dear ...
Chuck, she thought, I'd like to surrender; I'd like to get back out of this, if not for your sake then for mine. Can't we be -- friends?
It was a squandered hope.
Now something peculiar squirmed at the horizon; she started at it, wondering at its magnitude. Surely it was too immense to be a human construct. The atmosphere was alive with something real; the stars had become dull, partially extinguished in that region and the thing, whatever it was, now began to assume a nearly-luminous shape.
The shape was that of a master lizard and she realized at once what she was witnessing; this was a schizophrenic projection, part of the primordial world experienced by the advanced psychotic, and evidently a familiar entity here on Alpha III M2 -- except why was she seeing it?
Could a schizophrenic -- or possibly several of them acting in concert -- have coordinated their psychotic perceptions with a Psionic talent? Weird idea, she thought nervously, and hoped that this was not the explanation. Because such a combination would be lethal, if these people had stumbled onto it during their quarter-century of freedom.
She remembered the hebephrenic whom she had met at Gandhitown ... he whom perhaps rightly they had called a saint, Ignatz Ledebur. At the time she had felt, despite the squalor, something of that about him, the invigorating and yet terrifying scent of unnatural abilities directed lord only knew where. In any case she had been fascinated at last by him.
The lizard -- seemingly quite real -- stretched itself, writhed its elongated neck and opened its jaws. And from it a fireball-like apparition vomited out, igniting that portion of the sky; the fireball drifted upward as if carried by the atmosphere, and she breathed a sigh of relief: at least it was departing, rather than descending. Frankly she was apprehensive about it. She did not relish this sight one bit; it was too much like covert dream-sequences which she had experienced in her own sleep -- experienced and not discussed or contemplated, not wanting even to scrutinize them in secrecy, much less discuss them with anyone else, any professional psychiatrist. God forbid.
The fireball ceased ascending. And began to break up into streamers of luminosity. The streamers drifted down, and, to her numbed surprise, quivered, as if shaped by hand, into enormous words.
The words comprised a sign. In the most literal sense. And -- a sign, she realized with embarrassment and horror, directed at her. The words blazed out:
DR. RITTERSDORF, AVOID BLOODSHED
And then in smaller blazing letters, as if by afterthought, this:
THE HOLY TRIUMVIRATE.
They're out of their minds, Mary Rittersdorf said to herself, and felt a hysterical laugh rise up in her throat. It's not I who am seeking bloodshed; it's Chuck! Why in god's name pick on me? If you're so holy you ought to be able to perceive something as obvious as that. But, she realized, perhaps it was not so obvious. She had fired at Chuck, and before that, she had killed the Mans soldier as he fled back to his tank. So perhaps after all her conscience -- her intentions -- were not so unstained.
More words formed.
"Good grief," she protested. "How?" She could hardly be expected to write her own answering letters of fire in the sky; she was scarcely a triumvirate of holy hebephrenic saint-psychotics. This is just terrible, she said to herself. Just grotesque to have to endure. And if I'm to listen to them, to believe them, I'm somehow to blame -- somehow responsible for the malignance that exists between me and Chuck. And I'm not.
There an at once was a red glow of laser-beam activity from the vicinity of the Bunny Hentman ship. Dan Mageboom, CIA simulacrum and agent in the field, was evidently fighting it out; she wondered what success he or it was having. Probably very little, if you knew the CIA. Anyhow she wished him luck.
She wondered whether the Holy Triumvirate had any instructions for him, too. Mageboom could use help; alone, he busily engaged in his frontal attack on the Hentman ship, firing away with what she now perceived to be an unhuman dedication. He may be a simulacrum, obviously is in fact a simulacrum, she said to herself, but no one can say he's a coward. And the rest of us, she reflected, she herself, Chuck and the girl with him, the slime mold, even the Mans soldier who had loped futilely for the protection of his tank -- every one of us are now pinned down by fright, motivated by nothing more than the animal instinct to save our individual hides. Out of all of them only Dan Mageboom, the simulacrum, had gone onto the offensive. And, or at least so it appeared to her, Mageboom's assault on the Hentman ship was destined for ludicrous failure.
New glowing, enormous words now appeared in the sky, And, thank heaven, these were not specifically directed at her; she was spared the humilation, this time, of being singled out.
CEASE YOUR WARFARE AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
All right, Mary Rittersdorf thought agreeably. I'll begin; I'll love my ex-husband Chuck, who came here to kill me; how's that for a new start in the midst of all this?
The red glow of laser beams near and around the parked Hentman ship picked up in intensity; the simulacrum had failed to respond to the great warning words: it continued its futile -- but highly gallant struggle.
For the first time in her life; she fully admired someone.
From the instant that Bunny Hentman's ship appeared the slime mold had become apprehensive; its thoughts, reaching Chuck Rittersdorf, were saturated with concern, now.
"I am receiving ghastly malappraisals of the recent events," the slime mold thought to Chuck. " All emanating from the Hentman ship; he and his staff, and in particular the several Alphanes around him, have dreamed up a philosophy which places you, Mr. Rittersdorf, dead center in the fictitious conspiracy against them." The slime mold was silent for an interval and then it thought, "They have dispatched a launch."
"Why?" Chuck said, and felt his heart-rate change.
"Pics taken during the exposure of the flare revealed your presence here on the surface. The launch will land; you will be nabbed; it is inevitable."
Scrambling to his feet Chuck said to Annette Golding, "I'm going to try to get away. You stay here." He started to run, away from the scene, in no direction in particular; he simply hobbled across the uneven ground as best he could. Meanwhile, the Hentman ship had landed. And, as he ran, he now made out an odd phenomenon; red trails of laser beams lit up in the form of dull streaks near the parked ship. Someone -- or some group -- had initiated an overt conflict with the Hentman ship as soon as it had opened its hatch.
Who? he wondered. Not Mary, surely. One of the clans here on the moon? Perhaps a spearhead of the Manses ... but didn't they already have their hands full, fighting off Terra, maintaining the dubious protective shield over Da Vinci Heights? And the Manses employed some other form of weapon rather than the old-fashioned laser beam; therefore this sounded more like the CIA.
Mageboom, he decided. The simulacrum had received instructions to engage the Hentman ship in battle. And being a machine it had accordingly done so.
The Manses, he thought, are fighting Terra; Mageboom, representing the CIA, is busy shooting it out with Hentman. My ex-wife Mary is fighting me. And Hentman is my enemy. Logically, what does this add up to? It must be possible to draw up a rational equation, extracted from this baroque interchange; it surely can be simplified. If the Manses are fighting Terra, and Hentman is fighting Terra, then the Manses and Hentman are allies. Hentman is fighting me, so I am his enemy and hence the ally of Terra. Mary is fighting me and I am fighting Hentman, so Mary is the ally of Hentman, hence the enemy of Terra. However, Mary leads the Terran task-force of do-gooding psychologists who landed here; she came as a rep of Terra. So, logically, Mary is both the enemy and the ally of Terra.
The equation simply could not be worked out ... there were just too many participants in the struggle, doing too many illogical things, some, as in Mary's case, entirely on their own.
But wait; his efforts to make a rational sensible equation out of the situation had borne fruit after all; as he trotted through the darkness he had an insight into his own dilemma. He was fighting to save himself from Hentman, the compatriot of the Alphanes and the enemy of Terra; this meant that by rigorous, unassailable logic, he himself was an ally of Terra whether he recognized it or not. Forgetting Mary for a moment -- her actions undoubtedly were not sanctioned by the Terran establishment -- the situation could be viewed clearly for a moment: his personal hope lay in reaching a Terran warship, seeking sanctuary there. Aboard a Terran ship of the line he would be safe -- safe there and only there.
But the clans of Alpha III M2 were fighting Terra, he remembered all at once; the equation was even more complex than he had first seen. If he were -- logically -- an ally of Terra, then he was an enemy of the clans, an enemy of Annette Golding, of everyone on the moon.
Ahead of him his shadow, feebly, was cast. Some light, originating from the sky, had materialized. Another flare? Turning, he briefly came to a halt.
And saw, in the sky, huge letters of fire, a message directed at of all people -- his wife. Avoid bloodshed, the sign admonished. And you will he permitted to leave us. Evidently this was a manifestation of the demented, silly tactics of the psychotics living here, probably of the deteriorated ones, the hebephrenics of Gandhitown. Mary, of course, would pay no attention. However, the glowing sign made him realize one further factor: the clans of this moon recognized Mary as their enemy. Mary was his enemy, too; he had tried to kill her and she him. Hence, by logic, this made him an ally of the clans, but his relationship to Terra made him an enemy of the clans. So there was no way of ignoring the conclusion of the entire line of his logical reasoning, melancholy as it was. He was both an ally and an enemy of the clans of Alpha III M2; he was for and against them.
At that point he gave up. Forewent the use of logic. Turning, he once more began to run.
The old adage, derived from the meditations of the sophisticated warrior-kings of ancient India, that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" had just not worked out in this situation. And that was that.
Something buzzed low over his head. And a voice, artificially magnified, howled at him, "Rittersdorf! Stop, stand still! Or we'll kill you on the spot." The voice boomed and echoed, bouncing back from the ground; it had been beamed at him, directed full-force from what he knew to be the Hentman launch verhead. They had, as predicted by the slime mold, located him.
Panting, he stopped.
The launch hovered in the air at the ten-foot level. A metal ladder flopped noisily down and once more the artificially-reinforced voice instructed him. "Climb the ladder, Rittersdorf. Without messing around or any delay!" In the night gloom, illuminated only by the glowing sign in the sky, the magnesium ladder quivered insubstantially like some link with the supernatural.
Taking hold, Chuck Rittersdorf, with leaden, heart-clutched reluctance, began to climb. A moment later he stepped from the ladder and found himself in the control cab of the launch. Two wild-eyed Terrans with laser pistols, faced him. Paid enemies of Bunny Hentman, he realized. One was Gerald Feld.
The ladder was drawn back up; the launch scooted for the parent ship at the greatest velocity possible.
'We saved your life," Feld said. "That woman, your ex-wife, would have ripped you apart if you had stayed out there."
"So?" Chuck said.
"So we're returning good for evil. What more can you ask? You won't find Bunny upset or sore; he's too big a man not to take all this in his stride. After all, no matter how bad things go he can always migrate to the Alphane empire." Feld managed to smile, as if the thought struck him as a happy one. From Hentman's point of view it meant things were not intolerable after all; a way out existed.
The launch reached its parent ship; an aperture tube opened, the launch fitted itself in place and then slid without use of power down the tube and to its berth, deep within the big ship.
When the launch had opened its hatch Chuck Rittersdorf found himself confronted by Bunny Hentman, who mopped his florid forehead worriedly and said, "Some lunatic's attacking us. One of the psychotics, here, evidently, from the way he's acting." The ship vibrated. "See?" Hentman said, with anger. "He's charging us with a hand weapon." Waving Chuck toward him he said, "Come along with me, Rittersdorf; I want to have a conference with you. There's been a hell of a misunderstanding between you and I but I think we can still work it out. Right?"
"Between you and me," Chuck said, in automatic correction.
Hentman led the way down a narrow corridor; Chuck followed. No one appeared at this point to have a laser beam trained on him, but he obeyed anyhow; one probably existed potentially -- he was still patently a prisoner of the organization.
A girl, naked to the waist, wearing only shorts, strolled across-corridor ahead of them, smoking a cigarette meditatively. There was some aspect about her that Chuck found familiar. And then, as she disappeared through a doorway, he realized who she was. Patty Weaver. In his flight from the Sol system Hentman had been provident enough to bring at least one of his mistresses with him.
"In here," Hentman said, unlocking a door.
Within the small, barren cabin Hentman shut the two of them up, then began immediately to pace with a restless, frantic intensity. For the time being he said nothing; he remained preoccupied. Every now and then the ship again vibrated under the attack directed at it. Once the overhead light went so far as to dim, but soon returned. Hentman glared up, then resumed his pacing.
"Rittersdorf," Hentman said, "I've got no choice; I've had to go --" A knock sounded at the door. "Jeez," Hentman said, and went to open the door a crack. "Oh, it's you."
Outside, now with a cotton shirt on, the tails not tucked in, the buttons not buttoned, Patty Weaver said, "I just wanted to apologize to Mr. Rittersdorf for --"
"Go away," Hentman said, shutting the door. He turned back to face Chuck. "I've had to go over to the Alphanes." More perspiration, in huge wax-like drops, emerged on his forehead; he did not bother to wipe them away. "Do you blame me? My TV career's ruined by that goddam CIA; I've got nothing left on Terra. If I can --"
"She has big breasts," Chuck said.
"Who? Patty? Oh yes." Hentman nodded. "Well, it's that operation they give in Hollywood and New York. It's more the rage now than the dilation, and she's had that done, too. She would have looked great on the show. Like a lot of things, too bad it didn't work out. You know, I darn near didn't get out of Brahe City. They thought they had me, but of course I was tipped off. Just in time." He glared at Chuck with nervous accusation. "If I can deliver Alpha III M2 to the Alphanes then I'm in; I can live the rest of my life in peace. If I can't, if Terra manages to take over this moon, then I'm not in." He looked tired and depressed, now; he seemed to have shrunk. Telling Chuck this had been too much for him. "What's your comment?" Hentman murmured. "Speak up?"
"Hmm," Chuck said.
"That's a comment?"
Chuck said, "If you imagine I still have any influence with my ex-wife and her report to TERPLAN on this --"
"No," Hentman agreed, nodding curtly. "I know you can't influence her decision as to this operation; we saw you all down there, taking potshots at each other. Like animals." He glowered, his energy returning. "You kill my brother-in-law, Cherigan; you're ready to -- in fact eager to -- kill your wife ... what kind of lives do you people lead? I never saw such a thing. And leaking my location to the CIA, on top of everything else."
"The Paraclete has deserted us," Chuck offered.
"The parakeet? What parakeet?" Hentman wrinkled up his nose.
"There's a war on, here. Let's say that. Maybe that explains some of it. If it doesn't --" He shrugged. It was the best he could do.
"That somewhat hefty girl you were lying with," Hentman said. "Out there where your ex was shooting at you. She's a local nut, isn't she? From one of the settlements here?" He eyed Chuck keenly.
"You could say that," Chuck said, with reluctance; the choice of wording did not especially appeal to him.
"Can you reach their governing inter-settlement supreme type council through her?"
Hentman said, "Here's the only workable solution. With or without your damn parakeet or whatever it is. Have their council meet and listen to you, to your proposal." Drawing himself up, Hentman said with firmness, "Tell them to ask for Alphane protection from Terra. Tell them they've got to ask the Alphanes to come in here and occupy this moon. So it'll legally become Alphane territory under those damn protocols, whatever they are; I don't quite understand them but the Alphs do and so does Terra. And in exchange --" He did not take his eyes from Chuck's face; tiny, unwinking, his eyes challenged everyone, all things. "The Alphanes will guarantee the civil liberties of the clans. No hospitalization. No therapy. You won't be treated as nuts; you'll be treated as bona fide colonists, owning land and engaging in manufacture and commerce, whatever it is you all do."
"Don't say 'you,'" Chuck said. "I'm not a clan member, here."
"You think they'd go for that, Rittersdorf?"
"I -- don't honestly know.
"Sure you do. You were here before, in that CIA simulacrum. Our agent, our informant at CIA, told us every move you made."
So there was a Hentman person at CIA. He had been right; the CIA had been infiltrated. That was just about par for it, too.
"Don't look at me like that," Hentman said. "They've got some nurt of theirs in here; don't forget that. Unfortunately I could never make out who he is. Sometimes I think it's Jerry Feld; other days I think it's Dark. Anyhow it was through our man at CIA that we learned you had been suspended, and so naturally we let you go -- what good were you to us if you couldn't reach your wife here on Alpha III M2? I mean, let's be reasonable."
Chuck said, "And through their agent in your organization --"
"Yeah, the CIA knew within minutes that I'd canceled the script idea and dropped you so off they went, slamming -- they thought -- the door on me ... as you read in the 'papes. But of course through my agent with them I knew the blade was about to fall, so I got away. And their agent in my organization let them know I had left Terra, only he didn't know where exactly I had gone. Only Cherigan and Feld knew that." Philosophically Hentman said, "Maybe I'll never find out who the CIA has in here. It's not important, now. I kept most of my dealings with the Alphs top secret, even from members of my staff, because of course I knew we'd been infiltrated right from the start." He shook his head. "What a mess."
Chuck said, "Who's your agent at CIA?"
"Jack Elwood." Hentman grinned lopsidedly, gleeful at Chuck's reaction. "How come do you suppose Elwood was willing to release that expensive pursuit ship to you? I told him to. I wanted you to get here. Why do you imagine Elwood urged you so strongly originally to take control of the Mageboom simulacrum? That was my strategy. From the start. Now, let's hear your info about these clans here and which way they'll jump."
No wonder Hentman and his writers had been able to whip together the so-called "TV script" which they had dropped in his lap; through Elwood they had maneuvered at dead-center, just as Hentman was now admitting.
But that was not entirely true. Elwood could inform the Hentman organization of the existence of the Mageboom simulacrum, who operated it and where it was bound. But that was all. Elwood did not know the rest
"Admittedly I was here before," Chuck said. "And spent some time here, but at the Heeb settlement, which isn't representative; the Heebs are at the bottom of the scale. I have no knowledge of either the Pares or the Manses and they're the ones who run the affair, here." He recalled Mary's brilliant analysis of the situation, her account of the intricate caste system in operation on Alpha III M2. It had proved correct.
Hentman, his eyes intense, said, "Will you try it? I personally believe the whole bunch of them have something to gain; if I was them I'd take it. Their alternative is to go back into enforced hospitalization -- and that's it. Take it or leave it ... put it that way to them. And I'll tell you what you'll get out of it."
"By all means," Chuck said. "Dilate on that aspect."
"If you do this we'll instruct Elwood to take you back into the CIA."
Chuck remained silent.
"Kriminy," Hentman said plaintively. "'You don't even bother to answer. Okay, you saw Patty here in the ship. We'll instruct her to be nice to you. Know what I mean?" He winked a hasty, nervous twitch.
"No," Chuck said emphatically. That had turned out too unpleasantly.
"All right, Rittersdorf." Hentman sighed. "We'll really up it. If you'll do this for us we'll toss you a big bone, something out of the class of what I've named." He took a deep raucous breath. "We'll guarantee to do the job of killing your wife for you. As painlessly and quickly as possible. And that's very painless ... and very quick."
After what seemed like an endless time to both men Chuck said, "I can't make out why you think I'd like Mary dead." He was able to meet Hentman's shrewd gaze, but the effort required was great.
Hentman said, "Like I said -- I watched you two scrunched down taking potshots at each other like a couple of wild animals."
"I was defending myself."
"Sure," Hentman said, nodding in a parody of compliance.
"Nothing you saw here on this moon involving me and Mary would have told you that. You must have come to Alpha III M2 with that knowledge. And you didn't get it from Elwood because he couldn't have known it either, so spare yourself the nuisance of telling me that Elwood --"
"Okay," Hentman said brusquely. "Elwood retailed to us the part about the simulacrum, you and Mageboom; that's how that got into the script. But I'm not telling you where I got the rest. And that's it."
Chuck said. "I won't go before the council. That's it, too."
Glaring, Hentman said, "What does it matter how I found out? I know; let it rest at that. I didn't ask for the info; we wrote it in as an afterthought because when she told me --" He stopped himself at once.
"Joan Trieste," Chuck said. Working with the slime mold; it had to be that. So now it had emerged. However, it hardly mattered at this point.
"Let's not get sidetracked. Do you want your wife killed or not? Make up your mind." Hentman waited impatiently.
"No," Chuck said. He shook his head. There was no doubt in his mind. The solution lay at hand and he rejected it. And with finality.
Wincing, Hentman said, "YOU want to do it yourself."
"No" he said. That was not the case. "Your offer made me remember the slime mold and Cherigan's killing it there in the hall of my conapt. I could see that happening again, only with Mary instead of Lord Running Clam." And, he thought, that's not what I want at all. Evidently I've been wrong. That terrible event told me something -- and I can't forget it. But what, then, do I want in regard to Mary? He did not know; it was obscure to him, and perhaps it would remain so forever.
Once more Hentman had gotten out his handkerchief to mop his forehead. "What a foul-up. You and your domestic life; it's wrecking the plans of two inter-system empires, Terra's and Alpha's -- did you ever think of it that way? I give up. Frankly I'm glad you said no, but we couldn't seem to find any other inducement we could offer you; we thought that was what you wanted out of all this."
"I thought so, too," Chuck said. It must be that I'm still in love with her, he realized. A woman who murdered that Mans soldier as he tried to get back to his tank. But -- at least in her own eyes -- she had been trying to protect herself, and who could blame her for that?
Again there was a knock at the door. "Mr. Hentman?"
Bunny Hentman opened the door. Gerald Feld stepped rapidly inside.
"Mr. Hentman, we've picked up the telepathic thought-emanations of a Ganymedean slime mold. It's somewhere nearby outside the ship. It wants to be allowed in so --" He glanced at Chuck. "So it can be with Rittersdorf, here; it says it wants to 'share his fate.'" Feld grimaced. "It's very concerned about him, obviously." He looked disgusted.
"Let the damn thing in," Hentman instructed. As Feld departed Hentman said to Chuck, "To be honest I don't know what's going to become of you, Rittersdorf; you seem to have managed to create a complete mess of your life in every direction. Your marriage, your job, taking your long trip here and then changing your mind ... what do you have?"
"I think perhaps the Paraclete is back," Chuck said. It would seem so, in view of the fact that he had declined, at the final moment, to take Hentman up on his offer regarding Mary.
"What's this thing you're talking about?"
"The Holy Spirit," Chuck said. "It's in every man. But hard to find."
Hentman said, "Why don't you fill the vacuum with something noble, like saving these nuts here on Alpha III M2 from mandatory hospitalization? At least you'd be getting back at the CIA. There are a couple of highly-priced Alphane military characters on the ship ... in a matter of hours they can bring in official craft to take formal, legal possession of this moon. Of course Terran warships are hanging around here, too, but this just shows how carefully it has to be handled. You're an ex-CIA man; you ought to be able to work something tricky like this out."
"I wonder how it would feel," Chuck said, "to spend the rest of my life on a moon populated solely by psychotics.
"How the hell do you think you've been living? I'd call your inter-personal relationship with your wife psychotic. You'll make out; you'll find some fray to bed down with to replace Mary. As a matter of fact when our flare went off we got a reasonably good look -- via the pics -- of the one you were huddled with. She's not so bad, is she?"
"Annette Golding," Chuck said. "Polymorphous schizophrenia."
"Yeah, but even so, won't she do?"
After a pause Chuck said, "Possibly." He was not a clinician, but Annette had not seemed very ill to him. Much less so, in fact, than Mary. But of course he knew Mary better. Still --
Once more there came a rap at the door; it opened and Gerald Feld said, "Mr. Hentman, we've discovered the identity of the individual attacking us. It's the CIA simulacrum, Daniel Mageboom." He explained, "The Ganymedean slime mold in gratitude for our letting it into the ship gave us that information. I have an idea."
"The same idea," Hentman said, "occurs to me. Or if it isn't I don't want to hear it." He turned to Chuck. "We'll contact Jack Elwood at the San Francisco office of the CIA; we'll have him pull the operator off the simulacrum, whoever it is that's operating it, probably Petri." Obviously Hentman was completely familiar with the working of the CIA 's San Francisco office. "Then, Rittersdorf, we'll have you take over operation of the simulacrum from here. As long as his radio contact is maintained you can do it, and we basically need only a handful of instructions for it; simply program it out of action and off the sidelines. Will you do that much?"
Chuck said, "Why should I?"
Blinking, Hentman said, "B-because it's going to get our power supply and blow us up, using that damn laser beam as it is; that's why."
"You'll be killed, too," Feld pointed out to Chuck, "in that event. Both you and your Ganymedean slime mold."
"If I go before the supreme council of this moon," Chuck said to Hentman, "and ask them to seek Alphane protection, and they do -- it may set off another major war between Alpha and Terra."
"Oh hell no," Hentman said emphatically. "Terra doesn't care that much about this moon; Operation Fifty-minutes, that's just a minor, minor afterthought, nothing of importance. Believe me, I've got lots of contacts; I know this. If Terra really cared that much they would have gone in here years ago. Right?"
"What he says is true," Feld said. "Our man at TERPLAN verified this some time ago."
Chuck said, "I think the idea is a good one."
Both Hentman and Feld visibly sighed with relief.
"I'll take it to Adolfville," Chuck said, "and if I can get the clans to reconvene their supreme council I'll put the idea before them. But I intend to do it in my own way. "
"What does that mean?" Hentman inquired nervously.
"I'm not a public speaker or a politician," Chuck said "My job has been programming material for simulacra. If I can get control of Mageboom I'll have him appear before the council -- I can feed him better lines to speak, better arguments, than I could possibly give my own self." And also -- but he did not say this aloud -- he would be a great deal safer here in Hentman's ship than in Adolfville. Because the Terran military could at any moment break the Manses' shield, and one of their first acts would be to round up the inter-plan council. Someone before the council right then, proposing a switch of loyalties to the Alphane empire, would be unlikely to emerge. The proposal, coming from a Terran citizen -- as he himself was -- would be identified, and correctly, as an act of treason.
What I'm doing, Chuck realized with shock, is nothing less than throwing my lot in with Hentman's.
The thoughts of the slime mold came to him, reassuringly. "You have made a wise choice, Mr. Rittersdorf. First your decision to permit your wife to live, and now this. If worst comes to worst we will all wind up subjects of the Alphanes. But under their rule I'm certain we can survive."
Hentman, also hearing the thoughts, grinned. "Shall we shake on it?" he asked Chuck, holding out his hand.
They shook. The treasonable deal, for better or worse, had been made.