CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON
That evening, after he had eaten dinner at the Blue Fox restaurant, he called his boss Jack Elwood at his home.
"I'd like to see the creature you call Dan Mageboom," he stated cautiously.
On the small vidscreen his boss's face writhed into a smile. "Okay. Easy enough -- go home to that rundown conapt you're stuck in, and I'll have Dan hop on over. He's here at my house. Doing dishes in the kitchen. What made you decide?"
"No particular reason," Chuck said, and rang off.
He returned to his conapt -- at night, with the faulty old recessed lighting turned on, the room was even more depressing than ever -- and seated himself to wait for Dan.
He heard, almost at once, a voice in the hall, a man's voice asking for him. And then the Ganymedean slime mold's thoughts formed in his brain. "Mr. Rittersdorf, there's a gentleman in the corridor searching for you; please open your door and greet him." Going to the door Chuck opened it.
In the hall stood a middle-aged man, short, with protruding belly, wearing an old-fashioned suit. "Are you Rittersdorf?" the man demanded sullenly. "Jeez, what a dump. And it's filled with weird non-Ts -- what's a Terran doing living here?" He wiped his red, perspiring face with a pocket handkerchief. "I'm Bunny Hentman. You're the script writer, aren't you? Or is this a complete foul-up?"
"I'm a simulacrum script writer," Chuck said. This was, of course, Mary's doing; she wanted to be sure he had a good income to support her in the post-marital situation.
"How come you didn't recognize me?" Hentman said crossly. "Aren't I world-famous? Or maybe you don't watch TV." He puffed on his cigar in irritation. "So I'm here, I'm here. You want to work for me or not? Listen, Rittersdorf -- I'm not used to coming around begging. But your stuff is good; I got to admit it. Where's your room? Or do we have to stand out here in the hall?" He saw the half-open door of Chuck's conapt; at once he strode toward it, passed through and disappeared.
Thinking rapidly, Chuck followed after him. Obviously there was no easy way to get rid of Hentman. But, as a matter of fact, he had nothing to lose by Hentman's presence; it would be a good test of the effectiveness of the Dan Mageboom simulacrum.
"You understand," he said to Hentman as he shut the apt door, "that I'm not actively seeking this job."
"Sure, sure," Hentman said, nodding. "I know; you're a patriot -- you like working for the I-spy outfit. Listen." He waved a finger at Chuck. "I can pay you three times what they pay. And you'll have a lot more latitude to write in. Although naturally I have a final say-so as to what's used and exactly how it's phrased." He gazed around the living room of the conapt with horror. "Cripes. Reminds me of my childhood in the Bronx. I mean, this is real poverty. What happened, did your wife wipe you out in the divorce settlement?" His eyes, wise and full of compassion, flickered. "Yeah, it can be bad; I know. I been divorced three times, and each time it's cost like hell. The law's with the woman. That wife of yours; she's attractive, but --" He gestured. "I don't know. She's sort of cold; you know what I mean? Sort of -- deliberate. I don't envy you. A woman like that, you want to be sure there's no legal entanglement with them when you get involved. Make sure it's extralegal; you know, limited to an affair." He studied Chuck. "But you're the marrying kind; I can see that. You play fair. A woman like that can run over you with both treads. And leave you flatter than a worm's ass."
A knock sounded on the door. And at the same time the thoughts of the Ganymedean slime mold, Lord Running Clam, formed in Chuck's mind. "A second visitor, Mr. Rittersdorf. A younger man this time."
"Excuse me," Chuck said to Bunny Hentman; he walked to the door and opened it.
'Who's doing the mind-talking act?" Hentman mumbled behind him.
An eager-faced young man, good-looking and extremely well-dressed in the most fashionable Harding Brothers clothes, said as he faced Chuck, "Mr. Rittersdorf? I'm Daniel Mageboom. Mr. Elwood asked me to drop by."
It was a good job; he would never have guessed. And realizing this Chuck felt elation. "Sure," he said, "come on in," and led the simulacrum into the shabby conapt. "Mr. Mageboom," he said, "this is the famous TV comic Bunny Hentman. You know -- ya-ya, boom-boom Hentman who runs out in a big rabbit suit with crossed eyes and flapping ears."
"What an honor," Mageboom said, extending his hand; the two of them shook, measuring one another. "I've watched your show many times. It's a fun-filled riot of laughs."
"Yeah," Bunny Hentman murmured, glancing dourly at Chuck.
Chuck said, "Dan is a new employee in my office; I'm meeting him for the first time." He added, "I'll be working with him from now on."
"Naw," Hentman said vigorously. "You'll be working for me -- don't you get it? I got the contract with me; I had my lawyers draw it up." He groped in his coat pocket, scowling.
"Did I interrupt?" Mageboom said, drawing back circumspectly. "I can come back later, Mr. Rittersdorf. Chuck, if I may call you that."
Hentman eyed him. Then, shrugging, began to unfold the contract. "See here. Look at what you're getting paid," he jabbed at it with his cigar. "Can this I-spy outfit pay you anything like that? I mean, making America laugh is patriotic; it helps the morale and defeats the Commies. In fact it's more patriotic than what you're doing; these simulacra, they all are cold fladballs -- they give me the creeps."
"I agree," Dan Mageboom said. "But, Mr. Hentman, there's another side to the argument, if I can take a moment of your time to explain. Mr. Rittersdorf, Chuck, here, does a job that no one else can do. Programming simulacra is an art; without expert programming they're nothing but hulks and anyone, even a child, can distinguish them from actual persons. But, properly programmed --" He smiled. "You've never seen one of Chuck's simulacra in action. It's incredible." He added, "Mr. Petri does a good job, too. In fact in some ways better."
Obviously it was Petri who had programmed this simulacrum. And was getting in a plug for himself. Chuck could not suppress a grin.
"Maybe I ought to hire this guy Petri," Bunny Hentman said gloomily. "If he's that good."
"For your purposes," Mageboom said, "Petri might be better. I know the element in Chuck's scripts that appeals to you, but the problem is this: it's erratic. I doubt if he could sustain it as a full-time commodity, as he would have to, for your purposes. However as one ingredient among many it --"
"Butt out," Hentman said crossly to Mageboom. To Chuck he said, "I don't like three-way conversations; can't we go somewhere else? He was visibly annoyed by Dan Mageboom ... he appeared to sense something amiss.
In Chuck's mind the slime mold's thoughts again formed. "That splendid lovely girl, although as you noted lacking a nipple-dilation job, is entering the building, Mr. Rittersdorf, looking for you; I have already told her to come on up."
Bunny Hentman, obviously also receiving the thoughts of the slime mold, groaned in despair. "Isn't there any way we can talk? Now who the hell is this?" He turned to face the door, glaring at it.
"Miss Trieste won't interfere with your conversation, Mr. Hentman," Dan Mageboom said, and Chuck glanced at the simulacrum, surprised that it had an opinion about Joan. But it was on remote; he realized that all at once. Obviously this was not a programming; Petri was operating it from the CIA building in San Francisco.
The door opened and, hesitantly, Joan Trieste, wearing a gray sweater and dirndl, no stockings but thin high heels, stood there. "Am I bothering you, Chuck?" she asked. "Mr. Hentman," she said, and flushed scarlet. "I've watched you hundreds of times -- I think you're the greatest comedian alive. You're as great as Sid Caesar and all the great old-timers." Her eyes bright, she came up to Bunny Hentman, stood close to him but carefully avoided touching him. "Are you a friend of Bunny Hentman?" she asked Chuck. "1 wish you had told me."
"We're trying," Hentman groaned, "to conduct a business deal. So I mean, how do we do it?" Perspiring freely he began to pace about the small living room. "I give up," he announced. "I can't sign you; it's out of the question. You know too many people. Writers are supposed to be recluse types, living lonely type lives."
Joan Trieste had not shut the conapt door and now, through the entrance, the slime mold slowly undulated. "Mr. Rittersdorf," its thoughts came to Chuck, "I have an urgent matter to take up with you alone, in private. Could you cross the hall to my apt for a moment, please?"
Hentman turned his back, squealed in frustration, walked to the window and stood looking out.
Puzzled, Chuck accompanied the slime mold across the hall to its own conapt.
"Shut the door and come closer to me," the slime mold said. "I don't want the others to pick up my thoughts."
Chuck did so.
"That person, Mr. Dan Mageboom," the slime mold thought at low volume. "He is not a human being; he is a construct. There is no personality within him; an individual at some distance operates him. I thought I should warn you, since after all you are a neighbor of mine."
"Thanks," Chuck said, "but I already knew that." But now he felt uneasy; it would not do to have the slime mold prying into his thoughts, in view of the direction they had taken recently. "Listen," he began, but the slime mold anticipated him.
"I have already scanned that material in your mind," it informed him. "Your hostility toward your wife, your murderous impulses. Everyone at some time or another has such impulses, and in any case it would be improper for me to discuss them with anyone else. Like a priest or a doctor, a telepath must --"
"Let's not discuss it," Chuck said. The slime mold's knowledge of his intentions put a new light on them; perhaps he would be unwise to continue. If the prosecutor could bring Lord Running Clam into court --
"On Ganymede," the slime mold declared, "vengeance is sanctified. If you do not believe me, have your attorney Mr. Nat Wilder look it up. In no way do I deplore the direction of your preoccupations; they're infinitely preferable to the previous suicidal impulse, which is contrary to nature."
Chuck started back out of the slime mold's apt.
"Wait," the slime mold said. "One item more; in exchange for my silence ... I would like a favor."
So there had been a catch to it. He was not surprised; after all, Lord Running Clam was a business-creature.
The slime mold said, "I insist, Mr. Rittersdorf, that you take the job which Mr. Hentman is offering at this very moment."
"What about my job with the CIA? Chuck demanded.
"You need not give that up; you can hold both jobs." The slime mold's thoughts were confident. "By um, moonlighting it."
"'Moonlighting.' Where did you get hold of that term?"
"I am an expert on Terran society," the slime mold informed him. "As I envision it, you will hold the job with CIA by day, the job with Bunny Hentman by night. To accomplish this you will need drugs, thalamic stimulants of the hexo-amphetamine class, which are illegal on Terra. However I will provide them; I have contacts off this planet and can procure the drugs easily. You will need no sleep at all, once your brain metabolism has been stimulated by --"
"A sixteen-hour workday! I'd be better off letting you go to the police."
"No," the slime mold disagreed. "Because here is the upshot; you will refrain from the murder, knowing that your intentions are clear to the authorities in advance. So you will not eradicate this evil woman; you will abandon your scheme and permit her to live."
Chuck said, "How do you know Mary's an 'evil woman'?" In fact, he thought, what do you know about Terran women at all?
"From your thoughts I have learned the host of minor sadisms which Mrs. Rittersdorf has practiced on you over the years; it is no doubt diabolical, by any culture's standard. Because of it you are ill and can't perceive reality correctly; for example, observe how you resist the exceedingly desirable job which Mr. Hentman is offering you."
There was a knock on the conapt door; the door opened and Bunny Hentman looked in, glowering. "I have to go. What's your answer, Rittersdorf? Yes or no? And if you join me you're not to bring any of hese gelatinous non Terran organisms with you; you come alone."
The slime mold thought-radiated, "Mr. Rittersdorf will accept your kind job-offer, Mr. Hentman."
"What are you, " Bunny Hentman demanded, "his agent?"
"I am Mr. Rittersdorf's colleague," the slime mold declared.
"Okay," Hentman said, handing the contract to Chuck. "This calls for an eight-week assignment on your part, one full-hour script a week, and a once-a- week participation in conference with the other writers. Your salary is two thousand TERPLAN skins a week; okay?"
It was more than okay; it was twice what he had expected. Accepting the contract copies he signed, as he slime mold looked on.
"I'll witness your signature," Joan Trieste said; she too had come into the apt and was standing nearby. She signed as witness on the three copies, which were then returned to Bunny Hentman; he stuffed them back into his coat pocket, then remembered that one went to Chuck -- bringing it out he handed it back.
"Cheers," the slime mold said. "This calls for a celebration."
"None for me," Bunny Hentman said. "I got to go. So long, Rittersdorf. I'll be in touch with you; get a vidphone installed in this rotten, nothing type pad you're living in. Or move to a better apt." The door of Lord Running Clam's conapt closed after him.
"The three of us," the slime mold said, "can celebrate. I know of a bar willing to serve non-Ts. It is on me; the check, I mean."
"Fine," Chuck said. He did not want to be alone anyhow, and if he stayed in his conapt it was simply one further opportunity for Mary to find him.
When they opened the door they found, to their collective surprise, a familiar chubby-faced young man waiting in the hall. It was Dan Mageboom.
"Sorry," Chuck apologized. "I forgot about you.
'"We go to celebrate," the slime mold explained to Mageboom as it oozed from its conapt. "'You are invited, despite the fact that you have no mind and are simply an empty husk."
Joan Trieste glanced with curiosity at first Mageboom, then Chuck.
By way of explanation Chuck said to her, "Mageboom here is a CIA robot, being operated from our S.F. office." To Mageboom he said, "Who is it? Petri?" Smiling, Mageboom said, "I'm on autonomous self- circuit right now, Mr. Rittersdorf; Mr. Petri cut himself off when you left the conapt. Don't you agree I'm doing a good job? See, you thought I was on remote and I'm not." The simulacrum seemed marvelously pleased with itself. "In fact, " it stated, "I can pull off this entire evening on self-circuit; I can go out to a bar with you, drink and celebrate, comport myself exactly as a non-simulacrum would, perhaps in some ways better."
So this, Chuck thought to himself as they walked to the down-ramp, is the instrument through which I'm to obtain redress against my wife.
Picking up his thoughts the slime mold cautioned, "Remember, Mr. Rittersdorf, Miss Trieste is a member of the Ross Police Department."
Joan Trieste said, "So I am." She had obtained the slime mold's thoughts but not Chuck's. "Why did you think that to Mr. Rittersdorf?" she asked the slime mold.
"I felt," the slime mold said to her, "that because of that fact you would not countenance amorous activity on his part."
The explanation seemed to satisfy her. "I think," she said to the slime mold, "that you ought to mind your own business more. Being a telepath has made you Ganymedeans terrible busybodies." She sounded cross.
"I am sorry," the slime mold said, "if I misjudged your desires, Miss Trieste; forgive me." To Chuck it thought, "Apparently Miss Trieste will entertain amorous activity on your part toward her."
"Chrissake," Joan Trieste complained. "Mind your own business, please! Leave the whole topic alone, okay?" She had turned pale.
"It is difficult," the slime mold thought morosely, to no one in particular, "to please Terran girls." For the rest of the trip to the bar it carefully did not think anything at all.
Later, as they sat in a booth -- the slime mold in a great yellow heap on the imitation-leather-covered seat -- Joan Trieste said, "I think it's wonderful, Chuck, that you're going to work for Bunny Hentman; what a thrill it must be."
The slime mold thought, "Mr. Rittersdorf, it occurs to me that you should refrain, if at all possible, from acquainting your wife with the fact that you now have two jobs. If she knew she would ask for a much larger settlement and alimony."
"True," Chuck agreed. It was sound advice.
"Since she will learn that you are working for Mr. Hentman," the slime mold continued, "you had betterconcede that fact, while concealing the retention of your job at CIA. Ask your co-workers at CIA, in particular your immediate superior, Mr. Elwood, to cover for you."
"The results of this," the slime mold pointed out, "this singular situation of your holding two jobs simultaneously, will mean that despite the settlement and alimony payments you will have enough to live comfortably on. Had you thought of that?"
To be honest he had not looked that far ahead. The slime mold was much more provident than he, and it made him feel chagrined.
"You can see," the slime mold said, "'how clearly I am looking out for your interests. My insistence that you accept Mr. Hentman's job- offer --"
Joan Trieste broke in, "I think it's terrible the way you Ganymedeans play god with Terran lives. She glared at the slime mold.
"But consider," the slime mold said urbanely, "that I brought you and Mr. Rittersdorf together. And I foresee -- although admittedly I am not a precog -- great and successful activity on your parts in the sphere of sexuality."
"Shut up," Joan said fiercely.
After their celebration at the bar Chuck left the slime mold off, got rid of Dan Mageboom, hailed a jet cab and accompanied Joan Trieste back to her own conapt.
As the two of them rode together in the rear of the cab Joan said, "I'm glad to get out of Lord Running Clam's vicinity; it's a pain in the neck, having him read your mind all the time. But it is true that he brought us --" She broke off, cocking her head and listening intently. "There's been an accident." At once she gave new instructions to the cab. "I'm needed. There's been a fatality."
When they reached the scene they found a jet hopper upended; during its landing, its rotor had somehow failed and it had crashed against the side of a building, spilling out its passengers. Under a hastily-improvised blanket composed of coats and sweaters, an elderly man lay pale and silent; the police in charge waved everyone away and Chuck realized that this was the fatality.
At once Joan hurried over to him; Chuck accompanied her, finding himself permitted past by the police. Already an ambulance was on the scene; it whirred impatiently, eager to begin the trip to Ross Hospital.
Bending, Joan studied the dead man. "Three minutes ago," she said, half to herself, half to Chuck. "All right," she said. "Just wait a minute; I'll put him back to five minutes ago." She examined the billfold of the dead man; one of the police had handed it to her. "Mr. Earl B. Ackers," she murmured, and then she shut her eyes. "This will only affect Mr. Ackers," she said to Chuck. "At least it's only supposed to. But you can never be sure with this ..." Her face became squeezed, puffed out as she concentrated. "You' d better move away," she said to Chuck. "So you're not affected."
Rising, he walked off, strolled about in the cold night air, smoking a cigarette and listening to the din from the police cars' radios; a crowd had gathered and traffic moved sluggishly, waved on by the police.
What a strange girl to get mixed up with, he thought. A member of a police department and a Psi as well ... I wonder what she'd do if she knew what I have in mind for the Daniel Mageboom simulacrum. Probably Lord Running Clam is right; it would be catastrophic to let her know.
Waving to him Joan said, "Come here."
He walked hurriedly over.
Under the improvised blankets the elderly man was breathing; his chest rose and fell slightly and at his lips faint bubbles of saliva had formed.
"He's back in time four minutes," Joan said. "Alive again, but after the accident. It was the best I could do." She nodded to the hospital simulacra; at once they approached, bent over the again-living injured man. Using what appeared to be an X-ray scanning device the senior simulacrum studied the anatomy of the injured man, seeking the source of the worst damage. Then it turned to its companion; the simulacra exchanged thoughts and all at once the junior member of the team opened its metal side, brought out a cardboard carton which it quickly tore open.
The carton contained an artificial spleen; Chuck saw, in the headlights of the police cars, the stamped information on the discarded pasteboard box. And now the simulacra, here on the spot, were beginning to operate; one administered a local anesthetic while the other, utilizing a complex surgical hand, began to cut into the dermal wall of the injured man's abdominal cavity.
"We can go," Joan said to Chuck, rousing him from his fixed scrutiny of the simulacra at work. "My job's done." Hands in the pockets of her coat, small and slender, she walked back to their jet cab, entered and seated herself to wait for him. She looked tired.
As they drove away from the accident Chuck said, "That's the first time I've seen medical simulacra in action." It had been impressive; it made him even more aware of the enormous capabilities built into the artificial pseudo-men that General Dynamics had developed and constructed. Of course he had seen the CIA's simulacra countless times, but there had been nothing like this; in a vital, basic sense this was different. Here, the enemy was not merely another group of human beings with a differing political persuasion; the enemy here was death.
And, with the simulacrum Daniel Mageboom, it would be the diametric opposite; death, instead of being fought, would be encouraged.
Obviously, after what he had just witnessed, he could never tell Joan Trieste what he planned. And in that case didn't practicality dictate his not seeing her any further? It seemed almost self-destructive to engineer a murder while at the same time keeping company with an employee of a police agency -- did he want to be caught? Was this a vitiated suicidal impulse?
"One half skin for your thoughts," Joan said.
"Pardon?" He blinked.
"I'm not like Lord Running Clam; I can't read your mind. You seem so serious; I guess it's your marital problems. I wish there was some way I could cheer you up." She pondered. "When we get to my conapt you come on in and --" All at once she flushed, obviously remembering what the slime mold had said. "Just a drink," she said firmly.
"I'd like that " he said, also remembering what Lord Running Clam had predicted.
"Listen," Joan said. "Just because that Ganymedean busybody stuck his pseudopodium or whatever they have into our lives that doesn't mean --" She broke off in exasperation, her eyes shining with animation. "Damn him. You know, he potentially could be very dangerous. Ganymedeans are so ambitious ... remember the terms under which they entered the Terra-Alpha War? And they're all like him -- a million irons in the fire, always scenting out possibilities." Her forehead wrinkled. "Maybe you should move out of that building, Chuck. Get away from him."
It's a little late for that, he realized soberly.
They reached Joan's building; it was, he saw, a modern pleasing structure, extremely simple in design and, like all new buildings, for the most part subsurface. Instead of rising it penetrated down.
"I'm on floor sixteen," Joan said, as they descended. "It's a bit like living in a mine ... too bad if you have claustrophobia." A moment later, at her door, as she got out her key and inserted it in the lock she added philosophically, "However this is affluent safety-wise in case the Alphanes attack again; we've got fifteen levels between us and an H-bomb." She opened the door. The apt's lights came on, a soft, hazy illumination.
A bright streak of light seared into being, vanished; Chuck, blinded, peered and then saw, standing in the center of the room with a camera in his hands, a man he recognized. Recognized and disliked.
"Hello, Chuck," Bob Alfson said.
"Who is this?" Joan demanded. "And why'd he take a picture of us?"
Alfson said, "Keep calm, Miss Trieste. I'm your paramour's wife's attorney; we need evidence for the litigation which, by the way --" He glanced at Chuck. "Is on the court calendar for next Monday at ten A.M. in Judge Brizzolara's courtroom." He smiled. "We had it moved up; your wife wants it accomplished as soon as possible."
"Get out of this apt," Chuck said.
Moving toward the door Alfson said, "Glad to. This film I'm using -- I'm sure you've run across it at CIA; it's expensive but helpful." He explained to both Chuck and Joan, "I've just taken an Agfom potent-shot. Does that strike a chord? What I have in this camera is not a record of what you did just now but what will go on here during the next half hour. I think Judge Brizzolara will be more interested in that."
"Nothing is going to go on here during the next half hour," Chuck said, "because I'm leaving." He pushed past the attorney and out into the corridor; he had to get away as soon as possible.
"I think you're wrong," Alfson said. "I think there'll be something of value on the film. Anyhow, what do you care? It's merely a technical device by which Mary can obtain the decree; there has to be the formal presentation of evidence. And I fail to see how you'll be hurt."
Baffled, Chuck turned. "This invasion of privacy --"
"You know there hasn't been any privacy for anybody for the last fifty years," Alfson said. "You work for an intelligence agency; don't kid me, Rittersdorf." He strolled out into the hall, passed by Chuck and made his way unhurriedly to the elevator. "If you want a print of the film --"
"No," Chuck said. He stood watching the attorney until he was gone from sight.
Joan said, "You might as well come on in. He's got it on the film anyhow." She held the conapt door open for him and at last, reluctantly, he entered. "What he did is illegal, of course. But I guess it goes on all the time in court cases." Going into the kitchen she began fixing drinks; he heard the clink of glasses. "How about Mercury Slumps? I've got a full bottle of --"
"Anything," Chuck said, roughly.
Joan brought him his drink; he accepted it reflexively.
I'll get back at her for this, he said to himself. Now it's decided; I'm fighting for my life.
"You look so grim," Joan said. "That really upset you, didn't it, that man here waiting for us with a potent-camera. Prying into our lives. First Lord Running Clam and now just when --"
"It's still possible," Chuck said, "to perform an act in secret. That no one else knows about."
He said nothing; he sipped his drink.