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Chapter 6

What are you doing in my file cabinet? Bill asked, as the man climbed down, stretching cramped muscles. He was short, and his rusty, old-fashioned suit was badly wrinkled.

I had to see you-privately. This is the best way, I know from experience.

You are dissatisfied, are you not? Who are you? Men call me Ecks. You're catching on, you're a bright one. A smile flickered across his face, giving a quick glimpse of browned snags of teeth, then vanished as quickly as it had come. You're the kind of man we need in the Party, a man with promise. What party? Don't ask too many questions, or you'll be in trouble. Discipline is strict, just prick your wrist so you can swear a Blood Oath. For what? Bill watched closely, ready for any suspicious movements.

You hate the Emperor who enslaved you in his fascist army, you're a freedom-loving, God-fearing freeman, ready to lay down his life to save his loved ones. You're ready to join the revolt, the glorious revolution that will free Out! Bill shrieked, clutching the man by the slack of his clothes and rushing him toward the door. X slipped out of his grasp and rushed behind the desk.

You're just a lackey of the criminals now, but free your mind from its chains. Read this book-something fluttered to the floor-and think. I shall return. When Bill dived for him, X did something to the wall, and a panel swung open that he vanished through. It swung shut with a dick, and when Bill looked closely he could find no mark or seam in the apparently solid surface. With trembling fingers he picked up the book and read the title, Blood, a Layman's Guide to Armed Insurrection, then, whitefaced, hurled it from him. He tried to burn it, but the pages were noninflammable, nor could he tear them. His scissors blunted without cutting a sheet. In desperation he finally stuffed it behind the file cabinet and tried to forget that it was there.

After the calculated and sadistic slavery of the troopers, doing an honest day's work for an honest day's garbage was a great pleasure for Bill. He threw himself into his labors and was concentrating so hard that he never heard the door open and was startled when the man spoke.

Is this the Department of Sanitation? Bill looked up and saw the newcomer's ruddy face peering over the top of an immense pile of plastic trays that he clasped in his outstretched arms. Without looking back the man kicked the door shut and another hand with a gun in it appeared under the pile of trays. One false move and you're dead, he said.

Bill could count just as well as the next fellow and two hands plus one hand make three so he did not make a false move but a true move, that is he kicked upwards into the bottom of the mound of trays so they caught the gunman under the chin and knocked him backwards. The trays fell and before the last one had hit the floor Bill was sitting on the man's back, twisting his head with the deadly Venerian neck-crunch, which can snap the spine like a weathered stick.

Uncle the man moaned. Onkle, zio, tio, ujak! I suppose all you Chinger spies speak a lot of languages, Bill said, putting on the pressure.

Me friend the man gurgled.

You Chinger, got three arms. The man writhed more, and one of his arms came off. Bill picked it up to take a close look, first kicking the gun into a far corner. This is a phony arm, Bill said.

What else? the man said hoarsely, fingering his neck with two real arms. Part of the disguise. Very tricky. I can carry something and still have one arm free. How come you didn't join the revolution? Bill began to sweat and cast a quick look at the cabinet that hid the guilty book. What're you talking about? I'm a loyal Emperor-lover Yeah, then how come you didn't report to the G. B. I. that a Man Called X was here to enlist you? How do you know that? It's our job to know everything. Here's my identification, agent Pinkerton of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation. He passed over a jewel-encrusted ID card with color photograph and the works.

I just didn't want any trouble, Bill whined. That's all. I bother nobody and nobody bothers me. A noble sentiment-for an anarchist! Are you an anarchist, boy? His rapier eye pierced Bill through and through.

No! Not that! I can't even spell it! I sure hope not. You're a good kid, and I want to see you get along. I'm going to give you a second chance. When you see X again tell him you changed your mind and you want to join the Party. Then you join and go to work for us.

Every time there is a meeting you come right back and call me on the phone; my number is written on this candy bar-he threw the paper-wrapped slab on the desk-memorize it, then eat it. Is that clear? No. I don't want to do it. You'll do it or I'll have you shot for aiding-the-enemy within an hour. And as long as you're reporting we'll pay you a hundred bucks a month. In advance? In advance. The roll of bills landed on the desk. That's for next month.

See that you earn it. He hung his spare arm from his shoulder, picked up the trays and was gone.

The more Bill thought about it the more he sweated and realized what a bind he was in. The last thing he wanted to do was to get mixed up in a revolution now that he had peace, job security, and unlimited . garbage, but they just wouldn't leave him alone. If he didn't join the Party the G. B. I. would get him into trouble, which would be a very easy thing to do, since once they discovered his real identity he was as good as dead. But there was still a chance that X would forget about him and not come back, and as long as he wasn't asked, he couldn't join, could he? He grasped at this enfeebled straw and hurled himself into his work to forget his troubles.

He found pay dirt almost at once in the Refuse files. After careful cross-checking he discovered that his idea had never been tried before. It took him less than an hour to gather together the material he needed, and less than three hours after that, after questioning everyone he passed and tramping endless miles, he found his way to Basurero's office.

Now find your way back to your own office, Basurero grumbled, can't you see I'm busy. With palsied fingers he poured another three inches of Old Organic Poison into his glass and drained it.

You can forget your troubles- What else do you think I'm trying to do? Blow. Not before I've shown you this. A new way to get rid of the plastic trays. Basurero lurched to his feet, and the bottle tumbled unnoticed to the floor, where its spilled contents began eating a hole in the teflon covering. You mean it? Positive? You have a new sholution? Positive. I wish I didn' have to do this- Basurero shuddered and took from the shelf a jar labeled SOBERING-EFFECT, THE ORIGINAL INSTANT CURE FOR INEBRIATION-NOT TO BE TAKEN WITHOUT A DOCTORS PRESCRIPTION AND A LIFE INSURANCE POLICY. He extracted a polka-dotted, walnut-sized pill, looked at it, shuddered, then swallowed it with a painful gulp. His entire body instantly began to vibrate, and he closed his eyes as something went gmmmmph deep inside him and a thin trickle of smoke came from hid ears. When he opened his eyes again they were bright red but sober. What is it? he asked hoarsely.

Do you know what that is? Bill asked, throwing a thick volume onto the desk.

The classified telephone directory for the famous city of Storhestelortby on Procyon-III, I can read that on the cover. Do you know how many of these old phone books we have? The mind reels at the thought. They're shipping in new ones all the time, and right away we get the old ones. So what? So I'll show you. Do you have any plastic trays? Are you kidding? Basurero threw open a closet and hundreds of trays clattered forward into the room.

Great. Now I add just a few things more, some cardboard, string, and wrapping paper all salvaged from the refuse dump, and we have everything we need. If you will call a generalduty robot I will demonstrate step z of my plan. GD-bot, that's one short and two longs. Basurero blew lustily on the soundless whistle, then moaned and clutched his head until it stopped vibrating. The door slammed open, and a robot stood there, arms and tentacles trembling with expectancy. Bill pointed.

To work, robot. Take fifty of those trays, wrap them in cardboard and paper, and tie them securely with the string. Humming with electronic delight, the robot pounced forward, and a moment later a neat package rested on the floor. Bill opened the telephone book at random and pointed to a name. Now address this package to this name, mark it unsolicited gift, duty-free-and mail it! A stylo snapped out of the tip of the robot's finger, and it quickly copied the address onto the package, weighed it at arm's length, stamped the postage on it with the meter from Basurero's desk, and flipped it neatly through the door of the mail chute. There was the schloof sound of insufflation as the vacuum tube whisked it up to the higher levels. Basurero's mouth was agape at the rapid disappearance of fifty trays, so Bill clinched his argument.

The robot labor for wrapping is free, the addresses are free, and so are the wrapping materials. Plus the fact that, since this is a government office, the postage is free. You're right-it'll work! An inspired plan, I'll put it into operation on a large scale at once. We'll flood the inhabited galaxy with these damned trays.

I don't know how to thank you How about a cash bonus? A fine idea, I'll voucher it at once. Bill strolled back to his office with his hand still tingling from the clasp of congratulations, his ears still ringing with the words of praise. It was a fine world to live in. He slammed his office door behind him and had seated himself at his desk before he noticed that a large, crummy, black overcoat was hanging behind the door. Then he noticed that it was X's overcoat. Then he noticed the eyes staring at him from the darkness of the collar, and his heart sank as he realized that X had returned.

Chapter 5 | Bill, the Galactic Hero | Chapter 7