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VIII

Paddy awoke from deep sleep to find the ship floating free. He peered out a bull's-eye. Space surrounded them like a vast pool of clear water. Astem glittered Scheat, to one side hung yellow Alpheratz, and ahead down a foreshortened line ran the stars of Andromeda's body-Adhil the train. Mirach the loins, Almach the shoulder.

Paddy unzipped the elastic sheet, clambered out, stepped into the shower, stripped, turned on the mist. The foam searched his pores, slushed out oil, dust, perspiration. A blast of warm air dried him.

He dressed, stepped up to the bridge deck, where he found Fay bending over the chart table, her dark hair tousled, the line of her profile as clean and delicate as a mathematical curve.

Paddy scowled. Fay was wearing her white blouse, dark green slacks and sandals and seemed very calm and matter-of-fact. To his mind's eye came the picture of the near-naked dancer in the fantastic gilt headdress. He saw the motion of her cream-colored body. The clench of muscles, the abandoned tilt of her head. And this was the same girl.

Fay looked up into his eyes and, as if divining his thoughts, smiled faintly, maddeningly.

Paddy maintained an injured silence, as if somehow Fay had cheated him. Fay, for motives of her own, did nothing to soothe him but turned back to the sheet of metal she had taken from the Badau book. After a minute she leaned back, handed it to Paddy.

It was minutely engraved in the Badaic block. The first paragraph described the space-drive tube, giving optimum dimensions, composition, the tri-axial equations for its inner and outer surfaces.

The second paragraph specified the type of field-coils found to be most efficient. Then followed two columns of five-digit numbers, three to a column, which Paddy-remembering the secret room at Akhabats he had broken into-knew to be field-strength settings.

Fay said, "I opened the Pherasic can, looked into it also. It had a metal sheet something like that one-describing the tube-but instead of detailing the coils it prescribed their spacing."

Paddy nodded. "Duplication of information."

"We've got two of these things, said Fay seriously, "and it's uncomfortable carrying them around with us."

"I've been thinking the same thing," said Paddy. "And since we can't get in to Earth- Well, let's see. Delta Frianguli is pretty handy and there's an uninhabited planet."

The planet was dead and dull as a clinker, showing a reticulated surface of black plains and random flows of cratered scoria three miles high, ten miles wide.

Paddy made an abrupt gesture. "The problem is not so much hiding our loot as finding it again ourselves."

"It's a big planet," said Fay dubiously. "One spot looks like another."

"It's a misfit among planets," declared Paddy. "A dirty outcast, shunned by polite society-all ragged and grimy and patched. Sure, I'd hate to be afoot down there in the waste."

"There," said Fay. "There's a landmark-that pillar or volcanic neck or whatever it is."

They settled to the black sand of the plain and it creaked harshly under the ship. The pillar rose high above them.

"Look at the face it makes." Paddy pointed out fancied features in the rock.

"Like an angry dragon or a gorgon."

" Angry Dragon Peak -that's its name," said Paddy. "And now there must be a cubbyhole somewhere near."

In their space-suits they crossed the level space, the black sand crunching and squeaking underfoot, climbed the tumble of rock and found a fissure at the base of the monolith.

"Now," said Fay, "somehow we've got to locate Angry Dragon Peak on the planet. We could cruise months around these badlands looking for it."

"Here's how we'll find it," said Paddy. "We'll take a head bubble from one of the spare space-suits, and leave it here- with the ear-phone pressed up against the mouthpiece, and the switch on 'Converse.' Next time we come we'll send out a message and the receiver will pick it up and bounce it back to us, and… We'll go down along the direction."

Behind them lay the dead planet of Delta Trianguli. Paddy looked out ahead. "Adhil's next, then Loristan."

He picked up the key, scrutinized the letters on it. RXBM NON LANG SON.

He chewed his lip. "Now this is a different problem. On Alpheratz A and on Badau we at least knew which she been to buy at. But this time we have a key, and there's a million doors on Loristan, not to mention boxes, drawers, lockers, padlocks, jam cupboards-"

Fay said without raising her head, "It's not that difficult"

"No? And why not, pray?"

"Loristan is banker, broker, financier to the Langtry worlds. The Loristan Bank regulates currency for the entire galaxy and there's nothing like its deposit boxes for safety. They're so safe that not even the Sons of Langtry themselves could break into a box. And that's what that key is-a safe-deposit key."

"And why is this safe-deposit system so safe?" asked Paddy.

Fay leaned back against the bench. "First the central vault is encased in eight inches of durible and guarded by explosive mines. Then comes a layer of molten iron, then more durible and more insulation, then the vault. Second, the goods are banked mechanically, without human handling or knowledge.

"You go to the bank, buy a box, put in your valuables, take the key. Then you code the box with whatever arrangement of letters you wish and drop it in a chute. The machine carries it away, stacks it, and nobody knows where it is or which or whose is whose. The only records are in a big gelatine brain.

"To get your box, you go to any branch, punch your code on the buttons, insert your key and the combination brings you your box. Neither the key alone nor the code alone have any effect. The box holder is doubly protected against theft.

"If he loses his key or forgets the code then he must wait for the ten-year clearing, when all boxes which have laid undisturbed for ten years are automatically ejected."

"So," said Paddy, "all we do is drop down to Loristan, use the key and take off again?"

"That's all," said Fay. "Unless-"

"Unless what?"

"Listen." She turned on the spacewave. A voice spoke in the Shaul dialect. "All citizens of the cluster be on the lookout for Paddy Blackthorn and the young woman accompanying him, both Earthers. They are desperate criminals. Reward for their apprehension alive is a million marks a year for life, perpetual amnesty for all crimes, the freedom of the universe and the rank of Langtry Lord."

"They really want us," said Fay.

"Shh-listen!" And they heard the Shaul describe them in precise detail.

Another voice began to repeat the same message in Koton. Fay turned off the set.

"We're being hunted as Grover O'Leary hunted the white-eyed stag-with tooth, nail and all odd angles."

Fay said, "I tried to make contact with Earth but there's still interference. No doubt the blockade is tighter than ever."

Paddy grunted, "And how about your Earth Agency then, that you train so exhaustively for and evidently serve with your every resource?"

Fay put on her faint smile. "Paddy, do you know I trust only three people in the world? Myself, the chief of the Agency and you? After all the Agents are human. That reward would turn almost anyone's head. And all for a very small whisper."

"The fewer that knows, the better," Paddy agreed. He ran his hand through his hair. "Black-haired, they said. They must have caught Dr. Tallogg."

"Or maybe they tied together the Earther vandals on Alpheratz A and the inept performers at the Kamborogian Arrowhead."

"That sexy dance wasn't inept. You looked as if you had lots of experience."

Fay rose to her feet. "Now don't be so old-maidish. Certainly I have good coordination and I've had dancing lessons. Anyway, what do you care about my past? I'm not your type. You like those cow-eyed underslung Maeve women, remember? So much to squeeze, remember?"

"Ah, so I did," sighed Paddy, "but that was before I saw that smooth pelt of yours and now I'm tempted to change."

"Pish! I'm plain. Remember? With a skinny posterior. Remember?"

"Very well then," said Paddy, turning away. "Since you've the memory of the most revengeful elephant of India you're still plain and still skinny."

Fay grinned to herself. She said to his back, "We'd better try to change our appearances. There's hairwash and Optichrome in the locker. Maybe we'd better be blonde for a while. We'll dye our clothes also. And I'm going to cut your hair short and wear mine differently."

Loristan was a small world and mountainous. Great forests of trees a mile high charged the air with oxygen and a visitor's first experience with the low gravity and the oxygen produced a fine exhilaration.

Where the cities of Alpheratz A and Badau were low and severe Rivveri and Tham, the twin cities of Loristan, reared spectacular towers into the air. Buttressing planes of arched metal hung between, conquering space, sometimes for no other purpose than sheer exuberance. Raw rich color glowed everywhere. There was no gloom on Loristan, none of the Pherasic mysticism, the Badau stolidity. Here were bustle, aggressiveness, activity.

Paddy now had bright blue eyes and cropped blond hair. The combination lent him an expression of boyish na"ivet'e. He wore a blouse stamped with patterns after the Pendulistic school, loose breeches flapping at the ankles.

And Fay-where was the somber dark-haired girl Paddy had first seen? Here was a bright eager creature with white-gold elf-locks, eyes blue as a frosty morning, strawberry mouth. And every time Paddy looked at her he groaned inside and the word Maeve came to be hated. Twice he tried to grab her and kiss her and twice she ducked and sprang across the cabin. Finally Paddy lapsed to a sullen indifference.

Loristan widened below, and the twin cities twinkled like jewels.

"Well," said Fay, "what'll it be? Shall we sneak down to a landing somewhere in the forest or use the public field, bold as life?"

Paddy shrugged. "If we tried slipping down out in the woods or in that Big Jelly Swamp they show on the chart there'd be a dozen guardboats on us like birds on a nutmeg. But when we pull into their public field they rub their hands and say, 'Fine, another couple of Earther savages to be fleeced,' and that's as far as their minds reach."

"I hope you're right," said Fay. She touched the controls, the boat nosed down. They slipped quietly to a landing on the pitted field, settled among a dozen other boats of similar model. For ten minutes they sat, watching through the observation dome for any sign of undue interest.

No one seemed to heed them. Other boats took off and landed, and from one of the incoming ones a dark-haired Earther couple alighted. Coincidentally, the man wore a blue jumper.

Fay nudged Paddy. "Let's follow those two. If there's any suspicion, they'll certainly arouse it."

The two Earthers sauntered off the field and no one looked at them twice. With more confidence Paddy and Fay followed, through the terminal lobby and out upon the shining streets of Rivveri.

"There's the bank," said Fay, nodding at a spire of red marble shafted and splined with silver, "and there, see that counter along the side? That's the safe deposit. You need never even step inside."

Paddy said half to himself, "It can't be this easy."

"It can't be," said Fay. "I feel the same way. As if this city is wired like a big burglar alarm-a trap-and that red spire is nothing but bait for Paddy Blackthorn and Fay Bursill."

"It's a hunch I have," muttered Paddy. "A hunch that something is fishy."

Fay looked up and down the street with her new blue eyes. "Every hunch is supposed to have subconscious reasons for being."

"It's all too bright and open. Look at those butter-yellow Loristanese in the little pleated skirts, with their silly smiles on their faces and those sassy little caps. It's as if they're all nudging each other with their elbows, telling each other to watch the big joke when the axe falls on Fay and Paddy."

Fay squared her small shoulders. "Give me the key. All we can do is take a chance. After all we have two-fifths of the data and we could always bargain for our lives."

Paddy said gloomily, "You don't bargain in a nerve tube. You talk and gladly too. Those two sheets aren't safe till they're out of our hands."

"Well, we'll have to take the chance. Give me the key. You wait here and if anything happens go back to the ship, take off fast to Delta Trianguli, pick up the sheets and get away with them."

Paddy snorted. "What do you take me for now? I'm thinking you're becoming too bold and independent with your ordering. It's me that'll go up there and draw the lion's tooth. There was never a Blackthorn yet that his woman did up the slops for him, and we won't ever start here out on this drunker planet Loristan."

"Boom-boom-boom," jeered Fay. "You sound like you're running for office." But she smiled and was evidently pleased. "Oh, let's both go. Then there won't be any argument and we can both feel virtuous."

With pumping hearts they marched up to the bench, found an empty booth. An armed guard stood at either end of the counter but paid them no heed.

Paddy pushed the key in the slot. Fay punched out the code on a set of buttons-RXBM NON LANG SON. Then came the wait. Ten seconds, twenty seconds-it was a paralyzed eternity.

A siren shrieked high on the red spire. The doors into the bank slid open, a pair of armed guards strode out toward the counter.

Paddy squared off. "Run, Fay-quick now. I'll hold 'em. They'll never take me alive. Run, girl! Get to the boat. You know where we've hid the stuff."

Fay giggled nervously. "You fool, shut up. It's lunchtime. They're the relief guards."

A rattle, a click and a package fell into the hopper at their counter.

Fay picked it up, covered the green-and-orange medallion of the Loristan Langtrys.

"Now," she said, "back to the boat."

"They're watching us like hawks," hissed Paddy.

"Come along. You're acting like you've just robbed the bank!"

They walked briskly across the square, turned into the glass-fronted lobby, set out across the field. An armed guard ran toward them, shouted.

Paddy jerked around, put his hand in the pocket where he carried his little gun. "To the ship, Fay," he ground between clenched teeth. "Run, you've still got time."

"No," said Fay. "Wrong again. He's trying to tell us a boat is coming down on our heads."

Paddy, glancing up, saw the underside of a great excursion boat not two hundred feet above. They dodged swiftly out of danger.

There was their boat-the familiar little hull which had traversed so much emptiness, the observation dome through which they had seen so many stars.

"Inside," said Paddy. "Quick! Oh, there's a trap somewhere. I can smell it. They're trailing us to our boat and they've shorted out our drive." He ran to the controls, jerked the lift lever. "See? It's dead. No power."

"Of course not," said Fay. The port is still open."

She slammed it shut. Paddy threw power to the jets, the boat lofted into the bright sky of Loristan.

"It can't be this easy," said Paddy, wiping sweat from his forehead. There must be some catch, some trick."

"It can't be this easy." Fay agreed, watching from the side window. "But it is. No one is after us. No one even knows we've been here."

Paddy sank into a seat. "Phew!" he sighed. "It would be less strain on my poor tired nerves if we had a little trouble. Then I'd feel we had earned our loot."

Fay laughed, tossed the package to the desk, began to tear it open.

It was much like the other two. The first paragraph, like the one on the Pherasic sheet, dictated the spacing of the activation coils. The second paragraph detailed the time-sequences for each of the five banks of coils. Then, as on the other sheets, there were two columns of three numbers apiece.

"We're off to Delta Trianguli and Angry Dragon Peak," said Fay. "And then to Almach and we'll see how the Shauls treat us."


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