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Chapter 8

Bill locked the door to his office and one last time pressed a certain way at a certain place, and the secret panel slipped open. It didn't really slip any more, in fact it dropped with a loud noise, and it had been used so much during his happy year as a Gman that even when it was closed it let a positive draft in on the back of his neck. But no more, the crisis he had been dreading had come and he knew there were big changes in store-no matter what the outcome of the revolution was-and experience had taught him that all change was for the worst. With leaden, stumbling feet he tramped the caves, tripped on the rusty rails, waded the water, gave the countersign to the unseen anthropophagus who was talking with his mouth full and could barely be understood. Someone, in the excitement of the moment, had given the wrong password. Bill shivered; this was a bad omen of the day to come.

As usual Bill sat next to the robots, good, solid fellows with built-in obsequiousness in spite of their revolutionary tendencies. As X hammered for silence, Bill steeled himself for an ordeal. For months now the Gman Pinkerton had been after him for more information other than date-of-meeting and number present. Facts, facts, facts! he kept saying. loo something to earn your money. I have a question, Bill said in a loud, shaky voice, his words falling like bombs into the sudden silence that followed X's frantic hammering.

There is no time for questions, X said peevishly, the time has come to act. I don't mind acting, Bill said, nervously aware that all the human, electronic, and vat-grown eyes were upon him. I just want to know who I'm acting for. You've never told us who was going to get the job once the Emperor is gone. Our leader is a man called X, that is all you have to know. But that's your name too! You are at last getting a glimmering of Revolutionary Science. All the cell leaders are called X so as to confuse the enemy. I don't know about the enemy, but it sure confuses me. You talk like a counter-revolutionary, X screamed, and leveled the revolver at Bill. The row behind Bill emptied as everyone there scurried out of the field of fire.

I am not! I'm as good a revolutionary as anyone hereUp the Revolution! He gave the party salute, both hands clasped together over his head, and sat down hurriedly. Everyone else saluted too, and X, slightly mollified, pointed with the barrel of his gun at a large map hung on the wall.

This is the objective of our cell, the Imperial Power Station on Chauvinistisk Square. We will assemble nearby in squads, then join in a concerted attack at oo16 hours. No resistance is expected as the power station is not guarded. Weapons and torches will be issued as you leave, as well as printed instructions of the correct route to the rallying points for the benefit of the planless here. Are there any questions? He cocked his revolver and pointed it at the cringing Bill. There were no questions. Excellent. We will all rise and sing 'The Hymn For a Glorious Revolt. "' In a mixed chorus of voice and mechanical speech-box they sang:

Arise ye bureaucratic prisoners, Revolting workers o f Helior, Arise and raise the Revolution, By fist, foot, pistol, hammer, and claw!

Refreshed by this enthusiastic and monotone exercise they shuffled out in slow lines, drawing their revolutionary sup= plies. Bill pocketed his printed instructions, shouldered his torch and flintlock ray gun, and hurried one last time through the secret passages. There was barely enough time for the long trip ahead of him, and he had to report to the G. B. I. first.

This was easier assumed than accomplished, and he began to sweat as he dialed the number again. It was impossible to get a line, and even the exchanges gave a busy signal. Either the phone traffic was very heavy or the revolutionaries had already begun to interfere with the communications. He sighed with relief when Pinkerton's surly features finally filled the tiny screen. What's up? I've discovered the name of the leader of the revolution. He is a man called X. And you want a bonus for that, stupid? That information has been on file for months. Got anything else? Well, the revolution is to start at 0016 hours, I thought you might like to know. That'd show them!

Pinkerton yawned. Is that all? For your information that information is old information. You're not the only spy we've got, though you might be the worst.

Now listen. Write this down in big letters so you won't forget. Your cell is to attack the Imperial Power Station. Stay with them as far as the square, then look for a store with the sign KWIK-FREEZ KOSHER HAMS LTD., this is the cover for our unit. Get over there fast and report to me. Understood? Affirm. The line went dead, and Bill looked for a piece of wrapping paper to tie around the torch and flintlock until the moment came to use them. He had to hurry. There was little time left before zero hour and a long distance to cover by a very complicated route.

You were almost late, Ghoulem the android said, when Bill stumbled into the dead-end corridor which was the assembly point.

Don't give me any lip, you son of a bottle, Bill gasped, tearing the paper from his burden. Just give me a light for my torch. A match flared, and in a moment the pitchy torches were crackling and smoking. Tension grew as the second hand moved closer to the hour and feet shuffled nervously on the metal pavement. Bill jumped as a shrill blast sounded on a whistle, then they were sweeping out of the alley in a human and inhuman wave, a hoarse cry bursting from the throats and loudspeakers, guns at the ready. Down the corridors and walkways they ran, sparks falling like rain from their torches. This was revolution! Bill was carried away by the emotion and rush of bodies and cheered as loudly as the rest and shoved his torch first at the corridor wall, then into a chair on the chairway which put the torch out, since everything in Helior is either made of metal or is fireproof. There was no time to relight it, and he hurled it from him as they swept into the i mmense square that fronted on the power plant. Most of the other torches were out now, but they wouldn't need them here, just their trusty flintlock ray guns to blow the guts out of any filthy lackey of the Emperor who tried to stand in their way. Other units were pouring from the streets that led into the square, joining into one surging, mindless mob thundering toward the grim walls of the power station.

An electric sign blinking on and off drew Bi'll's attention, KWIK-FREEZ KOSHER HAMS LTD. it read-and he gasped as memory returned. By Ahriman, he had forgotten that he was a spy for the G. B. I. and had been about to join the raid on the power stationt Was there still time to get out before the counter-blow fell! Sweating more than a little, he began working his way through the mob toward the sign-then he was at the fringes and running toward safety. It wasn't too late. He grabbed the front door handle and pulled, but it would not open. In panic he twisted and shook it until the entire front of the building began to shake, rocking back and forth and creaking. He gaped at it in paralyzed horror until a loud hissing drew his attention.

Get over here, you stupid bowb, a voice crackled, and he looked up to see the G. B. I. agent Pinkerton standing at the comer of the building and beckoning to him angrily. Bill followed the agent around the comer and found quite a crowd standing there, and there was plenty of room for all of them because the building was not there. Bill could see now that the building was just a front made out of cardboard with a door handle on it and was secured by wooden supports to the front of an atomic tank. Grouped around the armorplated side and treads of the tank were a number of heavily armed soldiers and G. B. I.

agents as well as an even larger number of revolutionaries, their clothes singed and pitted by sparks from the torches. Standing next to Bill was the android, Ghoulem.

You! Bill gasped, and the android curled its lips in a carefully practiced sneer.

That's right-and keeping. an eye on you for the G. B. I. Nothing is left to chance in this organization. Pinkerton was peeking out through a hole in the false store front. I think the agents are clear now, he said, `but maybe we better wait a little longer.

At last count there were agents of sixty-five spy, intelligence, and counter-intelligence outfits involved in investigating this operation. These revolutionaries don't stand a chance A siren blasted from the power plant, apparently a prearranged signal, because the soldiers battered at the cardboard store front until it came loose and fell flat into the square.

Chauvinistisk Square was empty.

Well, not really empty. Bill looked again and saw that one man was left in the square; he hadn't noticed him at first. He was running their way but stopped with a pitiful screech when he saw what was hidden behind the store.

I surrender! he shouted, and Bill saw that he was the man called X. The power plant gates opened, and a squadron of flamethrower tanks rumbled out.

Coward! Pinkerton sneered, and pulled back the slide on his gun. Don't try to back out now, X, at least die like a man. I'm not X-that. is just a nom-de-espionage. He tore off his false beard and mustache, disclosing a twitching and uninteresting face with pronounced underbite. I am Gill O'Teen, M. A. and LL. D. from the Imperial School of Counter-Spying and Double-Agentry. I was hired by this operation, I can prove it, I have documents, Prince Microcephil payed me to overthrow his uncle so he could become Emperor You think I'm stupid, Pinkerton snapped, aiming his gun The Old Emperor, may he rest in eternal peace, died a year ago, and Prince Microcephil is the Emperor now. You can't revolt against the man who hired you! I never read the newspapers, O'Teen alias X moaned.

Fire! Pinkerton said sternly, and from all sides washed a wave of atomic shells, gouts of flame, bullets, and grenades. Bill hit the dirt, and when he raised his head the square was empty except for a greasy patch and a shallow hole in the pavement. Even while he watched, a street-cleaning robot buzzed by and swabbed up the grease. It hummedbriefly, backed up, then filled in the shallow hole with a squirt of repair plastic from a concealed tank. When it rolled on again there was no trace of anything whatsoever.

Hello Bill said a voice so paralyzingly familiar that Bill's hair prickled and stood up from his head like a toothbrush. He spun and looked at the squad of MPs standing there, and especially he stared at the large, loathsome form of the MP who led them.

Deathwish Drang he breathed.

The same. Save me! Bill gasped, running to G. B. I. agent Pinkerton and hugging him about the knees.

Save you? Pinkerton laughed, and kneed Bill under the jaw so that he sprawled backward. I'm the one who called them. We checked your record, boy, and found out that you are in a heap of trouble. You have been AWOL from the troopers for a year now, and we don't want any deserters on our team. But I worked for you-helped you- Take him away, Pinkerton said, and turned his back.

There's no justice, Bill moaned, as the hated fingers sank into his arms again.

Of course not, Deathwish told him, you weren't expecting any, were you? They dragged him away.

E=mc^2 OR BUST

Chapter 7 | Bill, the Galactic Hero | Chapter 1