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´╗┐Title: Security
Author: Anderson, Poul William
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Security" ***

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[Illustration]



SECURITY

BY POUL ANDERSON

ILLUSTRATED BY EBEL



          In a world where Security is all-important, nothing
            can ever be secure. A mountain-climbing vacation
            may wind up in deep Space. Or loyalty may prove
              to be high treason. But it has its rewards.


It had been a tough day at the lab, one of those days when nothing seems
able to go right. And, of course, it had been precisely the day Hammond,
the Efficiency inspector, would choose to stick his nose in. Another
mark in his little notebook--and enough marks like that meant a
derating, and Control had a habit of sending derated labmen to Venus.
That wasn't a criminal punishment, but it amounted to the same thing.
Allen Lancaster had no fear of it for himself; the sector chief of a
Project was under direct Control jurisdiction rather than Efficiency,
and Control was friendly to him. But he'd hate to see young Rogers get
it--the boy had been married only a week now.

To top the day off, a report had come to Lancaster's desk from Sector
Seven of the Project. Security had finally cleared it for general
transmission to sector chiefs--and it was the complete design of an
electronic valve on which some of the best men in Lancaster's own
division, Sector Thirteen, had been sweating for six months. There went
half a year's work down the drain, all for nothing, and Lancaster would
have that much less to show at the next Project reckoning.

He had cursed for several minutes straight, drawing the admiring glances
of his assistants. It was safe enough for a high-ranking labman to gripe
about Security--in fact, it was more or less expected. Scientists had
their privileges.

One of these was a private three-room apartment. Another was an extra
liquor ration. Tonight, as he came home, Lancaster decided to make a
dent in the latter. He'd eaten at the commissary, as usual, but hadn't
stayed to talk. All the way home in the tube, he'd been thinking of that
whiskey and soda.

Now it sparkled gently in his glass and he sighed, letting a smile
crease his lean homely face. He was a tall man, a little stooped, his
clothes--uniform and mufti alike--perpetually rumpled. Solitary by
nature, he was still unmarried in spite of the bachelor tax and had only
one son. The boy was ten years old now, must be in the Youth Guard;
Lancaster wasn't sure, never having seen him.

It was dark outside his windows, but a glow above the walls across the
skyway told of the city pulsing and murmuring beyond. He liked the quiet
of his evenings alone and had withstood a good deal of personal and
official pressure to serve in various patriotic organizations. "Damn
it," he had explained, "I'm not doing routine work. I'm on a Project,
and I need relaxation of my own choosing."

He selected a tape from his library. _Eine Kleine Nachtmusik_ lilted
joyously about him as he found a chair and sat down. Control hadn't
gotten around to making approved lists of music yet, though you'd
surely never hear Mozart in a public place. Lancaster got a cigar from
the humidor and collapsed his long gaunt body across chair and hassock.
Smoke, whiskey, good music--they washed his mind clean of worry and
frustration; he drifted off in a mist of unformed dreams. Yes, it wasn't
such a bad world.

       *       *       *       *       *

The mail-tube went _ping!_ and he opened his eyes, swearing. For a
moment he was tempted to let the pneumo-roll lie where it fell, but
habit was too strong. He grumbled his way over to the basket and took it
out.

The stamp across it jerked his mind to wakefulness. _OfiSal, sEkret, fOr
adresE OnlE_--and a Security seal!

After a moment he swallowed his thumping heart. It couldn't be serious,
not as far as he personally was concerned anyway. If that had been the
case, a squad of monitors would have been at the door. Not this message
tube.... He broke the seal and unfolded the flimsy with elaborate care.
Slowly, he scanned it. Underneath the official letterhead, the words
were curt. "_Dis iz A matr uv urjensE and iz top sEkret. destrY Dis letr
and Du tUb kontAniN it._ tUmOrO, 15 jUn, at 2130 ourz, U wil gO tU Du
obzurvatOrE, A nIt klub at 5730 viktOrE strEt, and ask Du hedwAtr fOr A
mistr Berg. U wil asUm Dat hE iz an Old frend uv yOrz and Dat Dis iz A
sOSal EveniN. Du UZUal penaltEz ar invOkt fOr fAlUr tU komplI."

There was no signature. Lancaster stood for a moment, trying to imagine
what this might be. There was a brief chill of sweat on his skin. Then
he suppressed his emotions. He had nothing to fear. His record was clean
and he wasn't being arrested.

His mind wandered rebelliously off on something that had occurred to him
before. Admittedly the new phonetic orthography was more efficient than
the old, if less esthetic; but since little of the earlier literature
was being re-issued in modern spelling not too many books had actually
been condemned as subversive--only a few works on history, politics,
philosophy, and the like, together with some scientific texts restricted
for security reasons; but one by one, the great old writings were sent
to forgetfulness.

Well, these were critical times. There wasn't material and energy to
spare for irrelevant details. No doubt when complete peace was achieved
there would be a renaissance. Meanwhile he, Lancaster, had his
Euripides and Goethe and whatever else he liked, or knew where to borrow
it.

As for this message, they must want him for something big, maybe
something really interesting.

Nevertheless, his evening was ruined.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Observatory was like most approved recreation spots--large and
raucous, selling unrationed food and drink and amusement at uncontrolled
prices of which the government took its usual lion's share. The angle in
this place was astronomy. The ceiling was a blue haze a-glitter with
slowly wheeling constellations, and the strippers began with
make-believe spacesuits. There were some rather good murals on the walls
depicting various stages of the conquest of space. Lancaster was amused
at one of them. When he'd been here three years ago, the first landing
on Ganymede had shown a group of men unfurling a German flag. It had
stuck in his mind, because he happened to know that the first expedition
there had actually been Russian. That was all right then, seeing that
Germany was an ally at the time. But now that Europe was growing
increasingly cold to the idea of an American-dominated world, the
Ganymedean pioneers were holding a good safe Stars and Stripes.

Oh, well. You had to keep the masses happy. They couldn't see that their
sacrifices and the occasional short wars were necessary to prevent
another real smashup like the one seventy-five years ago. Lancaster's
annoyance was directed at the sullen foreign powers and the traitors
within his own land. It was because of them that science had to be
strait-jacketed by Security regulations.

The headwaiter bowed before him. "I'm looking for a friend," said
Lancaster. "A Mr. Berg."

"Yes, sir. This way, please."

Lancaster slouched after him. He'd worn the dress uniform of a Project
officer, but he felt that all eyes were on its deplorable sloppiness.
The headwaiter conducted him between tables of half-crocked
customers--burly black-uniformed Space Guardsmen, army and air officers,
richly clad industrialists and union bosses, civilian leaders, their
wives and mistresses. The waiters were all Martian slaves, he noticed,
their phosphorescent owl-eyes smoldering in the dim blue light.

He was ushered into a curtained booth. There was an auto-dispenser so
that those using it need not be interrupted by servants, and an
ultrasonic globe on the table was already vibrating to soundproof the
region. Lancaster's gaze went to the man sitting there. In spite of
being short, he was broad-shouldered and compact in plain gray evening
pajamas. His face was round and freckled, almost cherubic, under a shock
of sandy hair, but there were merry little devils in his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Good evening, Dr. Lancaster," he said. "Please sit down. What'll you
have?"

"Thanks, I'll have Scotch and soda." Might as well make this expensive,
if the government was footing the bill. And if this--Berg--thought him
un-American for drinking an imported beverage, what of it? The scientist
lowered himself into the seat opposite his host.

"I'm having the same, as a matter of fact," said Berg mildly. He twirled
the dial and slipped a couple of five-dollar coins into the dispenser
slot. When the tray was ejected, he sipped his drink appreciatively and
looked across the rim of the glass at the other man.

"You're a high-ranking physicist on the Arizona Project, aren't you, Dr.
Lancaster?" he asked.

That much was safe to admit. Lancaster nodded.

"What is your work, precisely?"

"You know I can't tell you anything like that."

"It's all right. Here are my credentials." Berg extended a wallet.
Lancaster scanned the cards and handed them back.

"Okay, so you're in Security," he said. "I still can't tell you
anything, not without proper clearance."

Berg chuckled amiably. "Good. I'm glad to see you're discreet. Too many
labmen don't understand the necessity of secrecy, even between different
branches of the same organization." With a sudden whip-like sharpness:
"You didn't tell anyone about this meeting, did you?"

"No, of course not." Despite himself, Lancaster was rattled. "That is, a
friend asked if I'd care to go out with her tonight, but I said I was
meeting someone else."

"That's right." Berg relaxed, smiling. "All right, we may as well get
down to business. You're getting quite an honor, Dr. Lancaster. You've
been tapped for one of the most important jobs in the Solar System."

"Eh?" Lancaster's eyes widened behind the contact lenses. "But no one
else has informed me--"

"No one of your acquaintance knows of this. Nor shall they. But tell me,
you've done work on dielectrics, haven't you?"

"Yes. It's been a sort of specialty of mine, in fact. I wrote my thesis
on the theory of dielectric polarization and since then--no, that's
classified."

"M-hm." Berg took another sip of his drink. "And right now you're just a
cog in a computer-development Project. You see, I do know a few things
about you. However, we've decided--higher up, you know, in fact on the
very top level--to take you off it for the time being and put you on
this other job, one concerning your specialty. Furthermore, you won't be
part of a great organizational machine, but very much on your own. The
fewer who know of this, the better."

Lancaster wasn't sure he liked that. Once the job was done--if he were
possessed of all information on it--he might be incarcerated or even
shot as a Security risk. Things like that had happened. But there wasn't
much he could do about it.

"Have no fears." Berg seemed to read his thoughts. "Your reward may be a
little delayed for Security reasons, but it will come in due time." He
leaned forward, earnestly. "I repeat, this project is _top secret_. It's
a vital link in something much bigger than you can imagine, and few men
below the President even know of it. Therefore, the very fact that
you've worked on it--that you've done any outside work at all--must
remain unknown, even to the chiefs of your Project."

"Good stunt if you can do it," shrugged Lancaster. "But I'm hot.
Security keeps tabs on everything I do."

"This is how we'll work it. You have a furlough coming up in two weeks,
don't you--a three months' furlough? Where were you going?"

"I thought I'd visit the Southwest. Get in some mountain climbing, see
the canyons and Indian ruins and--"

"Yes, yes. Very well. You'll get your ticket as usual and a reservation
at the Tycho Hotel in Phoenix. You'll go there and, on your first
evening, retire early. Alone, I need hardly add. We'll be waiting for
you in your room. There'll be a very carefully prepared
duplicate--surgical disguise, plastic fingerprinting tips, fully
educated in your habits, tastes, and mannerisms. He'll stay behind and
carry out your vacation while we smuggle you away. A similar exchange
will be affected when you return, you'll be told exactly how your double
spent the summer, and you'll resume your ordinary life."

"Ummm--well--" It was too sudden. Lancaster had to hedge. "But
look--I'll be supposedly coming back from an outdoor vacation, with a
suntan and well rested. Somebody's going to get suspicious."

"There'll be sun lamps where you're going, my friend. And I think the
chance to work independently on something that really interests you will
prove every bit as restful to your nerves as a summer's travel. I know
the scientific mentality." Berg chuckled. "Yes, indeed."

       *       *       *       *       *

The exchange went off so smoothly that it was robbed of all melodrama,
though Lancaster had an unexpectedly eerie moment when he confronted his
double. It was his own face that looked at him, there in the impersonal
hotel room, himself framed against blowing curtains and darkness of
night. Then Berg gestured him to follow and they went down a cord ladder
hanging from the window sill. A car waited in the alley below and slid
into easy motion the instant they had gotten inside.

There was a driver and another man in the front seat, both shadows
against the moving blur of street lamps and night. Berg and Lancaster
sat in the rear, and the secret agent chatted all the way. But he said
nothing of informational content.

When the highway had taken them well into the loneliness of the desert,
the car turned off it, bumped along a miserable dirt track until it had
crossed a ridge, and slowed before a giant transcontinental dieselectric
truck. A man emerged from its cab, waving an unhurried arm, and the car
swung around to the rear of the van. There was a tailgate lowered,
forming a ramp; above it, the huge double doors opened on a cavern of
blackness. The car slid up the ramp, and the man outside pushed it in
after them and closed the doors. Presently the truck got into motion.

"This is _really_ secret!" whistled Lancaster. He felt awed and
helpless.

"Quite so. Security doesn't like the government's right hand to know
what its left is doing." Berg smiled, a dim flash of teeth in his
shadowy face. Then he was serious. "It's necessary, Lancaster. You don't
know how strong and well-organized the subversives are."

"They--" The physicist closed his mouth. It was true--he hadn't the
faintest notion, really. He followed the news, but in a cursory fashion,
without troubling to analyze the meaning of it. Damn it all, he had
enough else to think about. Just as well that elections had been
suspended and bade fair to continue indefinitely in abeyance. If he, a
member of the intelligentsia, wasn't sufficiently acquainted with the
political and military facts of life to make rational decisions, it
certainly behooved the ill-educated masses to obey.

"We might as well stretch ourselves," said the driver. "Long way to go
yet." He climbed out and switched on an overhead light.

       *       *       *       *       *

The interior of the van was roomy, even allowing for the car. There were
bunks, a table and chairs, a small refrigerator and cookstove. The
driver, a lean saturnine man who seemed to be forever chewing gum, began
to prepare coffee. The other sat down, whistling tunelessly. He was
young and powerfully built, but his right arm ended in a prosthetic
claw. All of them were dressed in inconspicuous civilian garb.

"Take us about ten hours, maybe," said Berg. "The spaceship's 'way over
in Colorado."

He caught Lancaster's blank stare, and grinned. "Yes, my friend, your
lab is out in space. Surprised?"

"Mmm--yeah. I've never been off Earth."

"Sokay. We run at acceleration, you won't be spacesick." Berg drew up a
chair, sat down, and tilted it back against a wall. The steady rumble of
engines pulsed under his words:

"It's interesting, really, to consider the relationship between
government and military technology. The powerful, authoritarian
governments have always arisen in such times as the evolution of warfare
made a successful fighting machine something elaborate, expensive, and
maintainable by professionals only. Like in the Roman Empire. It took
years to train a legionnaire and a lot of money to equip an army and
keep it in the field. So Rome became autarchic. However, it was not so
expensive a proposition that a rebellious general couldn't put some
troops up for a while--or he could pay them with plunder. So you did get
civil wars. Later, when the Empire had broken up and warfare relied
largely on the individual barbarian who brought his own weapons with
him, government loosened. It had to--any ruler who got to throwing his
weight around too much would have insurrection on his hands. Then as war
again became an art--well, you see how it goes. There are other factors,
of course, like religion--ideology in general. But by and large, it's
worked out the way I explained it. Because there are always people
willing to fight when government encroaches on what they consider their
liberties, and governments are always going to try to encroach. So the
balance struck depends on comparative strength. The American colonists
back in 1776 relied on citizen levies and weapons were so cheap and
simple that almost anyone could obtain them. Therefore government stayed
loose for a long time. But nowadays, who except a government can make
atomic bombs and space rockets? So we get absolute states."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lancaster looked around, feeling the loneliness close in on him. The
driver was still clattering the coffee pot. The one-armed man was
utterly blank and expressionless. And Berg sat there, smiling, pouring
out those damnable cynicisms. Was it some kind of test? Were they
probing his loyalty? What kind of reply was expected?

"We're a democratic nation and you know it," he said. It came out more
feebly than he had thought.

"Oh, well, sure. This is just a state of emergency which has lasted
unusually long, seventy-two years to be exact. If we hadn't lost World
War III, and needed a powerful remilitarization to overthrow the Soviet
world--but we did." Berg took out a pack of cigarettes. "Smoke? I was
just trying to explain to you why the subversives are so dangerous. They
have to be, or they wouldn't stand any kind of chance. When you set out
to upset something as big as the United States government, it's an all
or nothing proposition. They've had a long time now to organize, and
there's a huge percentage of malcontents to help them out."

"Malcontents? Well, look, Berg--I mean, you're the expert and of course
you know your business, but a natural human grumble at conditions
doesn't mean revolutionary sentiments. These aren't such bad times.
People have work, and their needs are supplied. They aren't hankering to
have the Hemispheric Wars back again."

"The standard revolutionary argument," said Berg patiently, "is that the
rebels aren't trying to overthrow the nation at all, but simply to
restore constitutional and libertarian government. It's common
knowledge that they have help and some subsidies from outside, but it's
contended that these are merely countries tired of a world dominated by
an American dictatorship and, being small Latin-American and European
states, couldn't possibly think of conquering us. Surely you've seen
subversive literature."

"Well, yes. Can't help finding their pamphlets. All over the place.
And--" Lancaster closed his mouth. No, damned if he was going to admit
that he knew three co-workers who listened to rebel propaganda
broadcasts. Those were silly, harmless kids--why get them in trouble,
maybe get them sent to camp?

       *       *       *       *       *

"You probably don't appreciate the hold that kind of argument has on all
too many intellectuals--and a lot of the common herd, too," said Berg.
"Naturally you wouldn't--if your attitude has always been unsympathetic,
these people aren't going to confide their thoughts to you. And then
there are bought men, and spies smuggled in, and--oh, I needn't
elaborate. It's enough to say that we've been thoroughly infiltrated,
and that most of their agents have absolutely impeccable dossiers. We
can't give neoscop to everybody, you know--Security has to rely on spot
checks and the testing of key personnel. Only when organizations get as
big as they are today, there's apt to be no real key man, and a few
spies strategically placed in the lower echelons can pick-up a hell of a
lot of information. Then there are the colonists out on the planets--our
hold on them has always necessarily been loose, because of
transportation and communication difficulties if nothing else. And, as I
say, foreign powers. A little country like Switzerland or Denmark or
Venezuela can't do much by itself, but an undercover international
pooling of resources.... Anyway, we have reason to believe in the
existence of a large, well financed, well organized underground, with
trained fighting men, big secret weapons dumps, and saboteurs ready for
the word 'go'--to say nothing of a restless population and any number of
covert sympathizers who'd follow if the initial uprising had good
results."

"Or bad, depending on whose viewpoint you take," grinned the one-armed
man.

Lancaster put his elbows on his knees and rested his forehead on shaking
hands. "What has all this got to do with me?" he protested. "I'm not
the hero of some cloak-and-dagger spy story. I'm no good at undercover
stuff--what do you want of me?"

"It's very simple," Berg replied quietly. "The balance of power is still
with the government, because it does have more of the really heavy
weapons than any other group can possibly muster. Alphabet bombs,
artillery, rockets, armor, spaceships and space missiles. You see? Only
research has lately suggested that a new era in warfare is developing--a
new weapon as decisive as the Macedonian phalanx, gunpowder, and
aircraft were in their day." As Lancaster raised his eyes, he met an
almost febrile glitter in Berg's gaze. "And _this_ weapon may reverse
the trend. It may be the cheap and simple arm that anyone can make and
use--the equalizer! So we've got to develop it before the rebels do.
They have laboratories of their own, and their skill at stealing our
secrets makes it impossible for us to trust the research to a Project in
the usual manner. The fewer who knew of this weapon, the better--because
in the wrong hands it could mean--Armageddon!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The run from Earth was short, for the space laboratory wasn't far away
at the moment as interplanetary distances go. Lancaster wasn't told
anything about its orbit, but guessed that it had a path a million miles
or so sunward from Earth and highly tilted with respect to the ecliptic.
That made for almost perfect concealment, for what spaceship would
normally go much north or south of the region containing the planets?

He was too preoccupied during the journey to estimate orbital figures,
anyway. He had seen enough pictures of open space, and some of them had
been excellent. But the reality towered unbelievably over all
representations. There simply is no way of describing that naked
grandeur, and when you have once experienced it you don't want to try.
His companions--Berg and the one-armed Jessup, who piloted the
spaceboat--respected his need for silence.

The station had been painted non-reflecting black, which complicated
temperature control but made accidental observation of its existence
almost impossible. It loomed against the cold glory of stars like a pit
of ultimate darkness, and Jessup had to guide the boat in with radar.
When the last lock had clanged shut behind him and he stood in a narrow
metal corridor, shut away from the sky, Lancaster felt a sense of
unendurable loss.

It faded, and he grew aware of others watching him. There were half a
dozen people, a motley group dressed in any shabby garment they happened
to fancy, with no sign of the semi-military discipline of a Project
crew. A Martian hovered in the background, and Lancaster didn't notice
him at first. Berg introduced the humans casually. There was a stocky
gray-haired man named Friedrichs, a lanky space-tanned young chap called
Isaacson, a middle-aged woman and her husband by the name of Dufrere, a
quiet Oriental who answered to Hwang, and a red-haired woman presented
as Karen Marek. These, Berg explained, were the technicians who would be
helping Lancaster. This end of the space station was devoted to the labs
and factories; for security reasons, Lancaster couldn't be permitted to
go elsewhere, but it was hoped he would be comfortable here.

"Ummm--pardon me, aren't you a rather mixed group?" asked the physicist.

"Yes, very," said Berg cheerfully. "The Dufreres are French, Hwang is
Chinese, and Karen here is Norwegian though her husband was Czech. Not
to mention.... There you are, I didn't see you before! Dr. Lancaster,
I'd like you to meet Rakkan of Thyle, Mars, a very accomplished labman."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lancaster gulped, shifting his feet and looking awkwardly at the small
gray-feathered body and the beaked owl-face. Rakkan bowed politely,
sparing Lancaster the decision of whether or not to shake the clawlike
hand. He assumed Rakkan was somebody's slave--but since when did slaves
act as social equals?

"But you said this project was top secret!" he blurted.

"Oh, it is," smiled Karen Marek. She had a husky, pleasant voice, and
while she was a little too thin to be really good-looking, she was cast
in a fine mold and her eyes were large and gray and lovely. "I assure
you, non-Americans are perfectly capable of preserving a secret. More so
than most Americans, really--we don't have ties on Earth. No one to blab
to."

"It's not well known today, but the original Manhattan Project that
constructed the first atomic bombs had quite an international
character," said Berg. "It even included German, Italian, and Hungarian
elements though the United States was at war with those countries."

"Come along and we'll get you settled in your quarters," invited
Isaacson.

Lancaster followed him down the long hallways, rather dazed with the
whole business. He noticed that the space station had a crude,
unfinished look, as if it had been hastily thrown together from whatever
materials were available. That didn't ring true for a government
enterprise, no matter how secret.

Berg seemed to read his thought again. "We've worked under severe
handicaps," he said. "Look, just suppose a lot of valuable material and
equipment were ferried into space. If it's an ordinary government deal,
you know how many light-years of red tape are involved. Requisitions
have to be filled out in triplicate, every last rivet has to be
accounted for--there'd simply have been too much chance of a rebel spy
getting a lead on us. It was safer all around to use whatever chance
materials could be obtained from salvage or through individual purchases
on other planets. Ever hear of the _Waikiki_?"

"Ummm--seems so--wasn't she the big freighter that disappeared many
years ago?"

"That's the one. A meteor swarm struck her on the way to Venus.
Furthermore, one of them shorted out her engine controls, so that she
swooped out of the ecliptic plane and fell into an eccentric skew orbit.
When this project was first started, one of our astronomers thought he'd
identified the swarm--it has a regular path of its own about the sun,
though the orbit is so cockeyed that spaceships hardly ever even see the
things. Anyway, knowing the orbit of the meteors and that of the
_Waikiki_ at the time, he could calculate where the disaster must have
taken place--which gave us a lead in searching for the hulk. We found it
after a lot of investigation, moved it here, and built the station up
around it. Very handy. And completely secret."

Lancaster had always suspected that Security was a little mad. Now he
knew it. Oh, well--

       *       *       *       *       *

His room was small and austere, but privacy was nice. The lab crew ate
in a common refectory. Beyond the edge of their territory, great
bulkheads blocked off three-fourths of the space station. Lancaster was
sure that many people and several Martians lived there, for in the days
that followed he saw any number of strangers appearing and disappearing
in the region allowed him. Most of these were workmen of some kind or
other, called in to help the lab crew as needed, but all of them were
tight-lipped. They must have been cautioned not to speak to the guest
more than was strictly necessary.

Living was Spartan in the station. It rotated fast enough to give
weight, but even on the outer skin that was only one-half Earth gravity.
A couple of silent Martians prepared undistinguished meals and did
housework in the quarters. There were no films or other organized
recreation, though Lancaster was told that the forbidden sector included
a good-sized room for athletics.

But the crew he worked with didn't seem to mind. They had their own
large collections of books and music wires, which they borrowed from
each other. They played chess and poker with savage skill. Conversation
was, at first, somewhat restrained in Lancaster's presence, and most of
the humor had so little reference to things he knew that he couldn't
follow it, but he became aware that they talked with more animation and
intelligence than his friends on Earth. Manners were utterly informal,
and it wasn't long before even Lancaster was being addressed by his
first name; but cooperation was smooth and there seemed to be none of
the intrigue and backbiting of a typical Project crew.

And the work filled their lives. Lancaster was caught up in it the "day"
after his arrival, realized at once what it meant, and was plunged into
the fascination of it. Berg hadn't lied; this was big!

The perfect dielectric.

Such, at least, was the aim of the project. It was explained to
Lancaster that one Dr. Sophoulis had first seen the possibilities and
organized the research. It had gone ahead slowly, hampered by a lack of
needed materials and expert personnel. When Sophoulis died, none of his
assistants felt capable of carrying on the work at any decent rate of
speed. They were all competent in their various specialties, but it
takes more than training to do basic research--a certain inborn,
intuitive flair is needed. So they had sent to Earth for a new
boss--Lancaster.

The physicist scratched his head in puzzlement. It didn't seem right
that something so important should have to take the leavings of
technical personnel. Secrecy or not, the most competent men on Earth
should have been tapped for this job, and they should have been given
everything they needed to carry it through. Then he forgot his
bewilderment in the clean chill ecstasy of the work.

       *       *       *       *       *

Man had been hunting superior dielectrics for a long time now. It was
more than a question of finding the perfect electrical insulator, though
that would be handy too. What was really important was the sort of
condensers made possible by a genuinely good dielectric material. Given
that, you could do fantastic things in electronics. Most significant of
all was the matter of energy storage. If you could store large amounts
of electricity in an accumulator of small volume, without appreciable
leakage loss, you could build generators designed to handle average
rather than peak load--with resultant savings in cost; you could build
electric motors, containing their own energy supply and hence
portable--which meant electric automobiles and possibly aircraft; you
could use inconveniently located power sources, such as remote
waterfalls, or dilute sources like sunlight, to augment--maybe
eventually replace--the waning reserves of fuel and fissionable
minerals; you could.... Lancaster's mind gave up on all the
possibilities opening before him and settled down to the immediate task
at hand.

"The original mineral was found on Venus, in the Gorbu-vashtar country,"
explained Karen Marek. "Here's a sample." She gave him a lump of rough,
dense material which glittered in hard rainbow points of light. "It was
just a curiosity at first, till somebody thought to test its electrical
properties. Those were slightly fantastic. We have all chemical and
physical data on this stuff already, of course, as well as an excellent
idea of its crystal structure. It's a funny mixture of barium and
titanium compounds with some rare earths and--well, read the report for
yourself."

Lancaster's eyes skimmed down the sheaf of papers she handed him. "Can't
make very good condensers out of this," he objected. "Too brittle--and
look how the properties vary with temperature. A practical dielectric
has to be stable in every way, at least over the range of conditions you
intend to use it in."

She nodded.

"Of course. Anyway, the mineral is very rare on Venus, and you know how
tough it is to search for anything in Gorbu-vashtar. What's important is
the lead it gave Sophoulis. You see, the dielectric constant of this
material isn't constant at all. It _increases_ with applied voltage.
Look at this curve here."

Lancaster whistled. "What the devil--but that's impossible! That much
variability means a crystal structure which is--uh--flexible, damn it!
But you've got a brittle substance here--"

According to the accepted theory of dielectricity, this couldn't be.
Lancaster realized with a thumping behind his veins that the theory
would have to be modified. Rather, this was an altogether different
phenomenon from normal insulation.

He supposed some geological freak had formed the mineral. Venus was a
strange planet anyway. But that didn't matter. The important thing now
was to get to know this process. He went off into a happy mist of
quantum mechanics, oscillation theory, and periodic functions of a
complex variable.

Karen and Isaacson exchanged a slow smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophoulis and his people had done heroic work under adverse conditions.
A tentative theory of the mechanism involved had already been
formulated, and the search had started for a means to duplicate the
super-dielectricity in materials otherwise more suitable to man's needs.
But as he grew familiar with the place and the job, Lancaster wondered
just how adverse the conditions really were.

True, the equipment was old and cranky, much of it haywired together,
much of it invented from scratch. But Rakkan the Martian, for all his
lack of formal education, was unbelievably clever where it came to
making apparatus and making it behave, and Friedrichs was a top-flight
designer. The lab had what it needed--wasn't that enough?

The rest of Lancaster's crew were equally good. The Dufreres were
physical chemists _par excellence_, Isaacson a brilliant
crystallographer with an unusual brain for mathematics, Hwang an expert
on quantum theory and inter-atomic forces, Karen an imaginative
experimenter. None of them quite had the synthesizing mentality needed
for an overall picture and a fore-vision of the general direction of
work--that had been Sophoulis' share, and was now Lancaster's--but they
were all cheerful and skilled where it came to detail work and could
often make suggestions in a theoretical line.

Then, too, there was no Security snooping about, no petty scramble for
recognition and promotion, no red tape. What was more important,
Lancaster began to realize, was the personal nature of the whole
affair. In a Project, the overall chief set the pattern, and it was
followed by his subordinates with increasingly less latitude as you
worked down through the lower ranks. You did what you were told,
produced results or else, and kept your mouth shut outside your own
sector of the Project. You had only the vaguest idea of what actually
was being created, and why, and how it fitted into the broad scheme of
society.

Hwang and Rakkan commented on that, one "evening" at dinner when they
had grown more relaxed in Lancaster's presence. "It was inevitable, I
suppose, that scientific research should become corporate," said the
Chinese. "So much equipment was needed, and so many specialties had to
be coordinated, that the solitary genius with only a few assistants
hadn't a chance. Nevertheless, it's a pity. It's destroyed initiative in
many promising young men. The top man is no longer a scientist at
all--he's an administrator with some technical background. The lower
ranks do have to exercise ingenuity, yes, but only along the lines they
are ordered to follow. If some interesting sideline crops up, they can't
investigate it. All they can do is submit a memorandum to the chief, and
most likely if anything is done it will be carried out by someone else."

"What would you do about it?" shrugged Lancaster. "You just admitted
that the old-time genius in a garret can't compete."

"No--but the small team of creative specialists, each with an excellent
understanding of the others' fields, and each working in a loose,
free-willed cooperation with the rest, can. Indeed, the results will be
much better. It was tried once, you may know. The early cybernetics men,
back in the last century, worked that way."

"I wish we could co-opt some biologists and psychologists into this,"
murmured Rakkan. His English was good, though indescribably accented by
his vocal apparatus. "The cellular and neural implications of
dielectricity look--promising. Maybe later."

"Well," said Lancaster defensively, "a large Project can be made more
secure--less chance of leakage."

Hwang said nothing, but he cocked an eyebrow at an almost treasonable
angle.

       *       *       *       *       *

In going through Sophoulis' equations, Lancaster found what he believed
was the flaw that was blocking progress. The man had used a simplified
quantum mechanics without correction for relativistic effects. That made
for neater mathematics but overlooked certain space-time aspects of the
psi function. The error was excusable, for Sophoulis had not been
familiar with the Belloni matrix, a mathematical tool that brought order
into what was otherwise incomprehensible chaos. Belloni's work was still
classified information, being too useful, in the design of new alloys,
for general consumption. Lancaster went happily to work correcting the
equations. But when he was finished, he realized that he had no business
showing his results without proper clearance.

He wandered glumly into the lab. Karen was there alone, setting up an
apparatus for the next attempt at heat treatment. A smock covered her
into shapelessness, and her spectacular hair was bound up in a kerchief,
but she still looked good. Lancaster, a shy man, was more susceptible to
her than he wanted to be.

"Where's Berg?" he asked.

"Back on Earth with Jessup," she told him. "Why?"

"Damn! It holds up the whole business till he returns." Lancaster
explained his difficulty.

Karen laughed. "Oh, that's all right," she said in the low voice he
liked to hear. "We've all been cleared."

"Not officially. I've got to see the papers."

She glared at him then and stamped her foot. "How stupid can you get
without having to be spoon fed?" she snapped. "You've seen how much we
think of regulations here. Let's have those equations, Mac."

"But--blast it, Karen, you don't appreciate the need for security. Berg
explained it to me once--how dangerous the rebels are, and how easily
they can steal our secrets. And they'll stop at nothing. Do you want
another Hemispheric War?"

She looked oddly at him, and when she spoke it was softly. "Allen, do
you really believe that?"

"Certainly! It's obvious, isn't it? Our country is maintaining the peace
of the Solar System--once we drop the reins, all hell will run away from
us."

"What's wrong with setting up a world-wide federation of countries? Most
other nations are willing."

"But that--it's not _practical_!"

"How do you know? It's never been tried."

"Anyway, we can't decide policy. That's just not for us."

"The United States is a democratic country--remember?"

"But--" Lancaster looked away. For a moment he stood unspeaking, and she
watched him with grave eyes and said nothing. Then, not really knowing
why he did it, he lifted a defiant head. "All right! We'll go ahead--and
if Berg sends us all to camp, don't blame me."

"He won't." She laughed and clapped his shoulder. "You know, Allen,
there are times when I think you're human after all."

"Thanks," he grinned wryly. "How about--uh--how about having a--a b-beer
with me now? To celebrate."

"Why, sure."

       *       *       *       *       *

They went down to the shop. A cooler of beer was there, its contents
being reckoned as among the essential supplies brought from Earth by
Jessup. Lancaster uncapped two bottles, and he and Karen sat down on a
bench, swinging their legs and looking over the silent, waiting
machines. Most of the station personnel were off duty now, in the
arbitrary "night."

He sighed at last. "I like it here."

"I'm glad you do, Allen."

"It's a funny place, but I like it. The station and all its wacky
inhabitants. They're heterodox as the very devil and would have trouble
getting a dog catcher's job back home, but they're all refreshing."
Lancaster snapped his fingers. "Say, that's it! That's why you're all
out here. The government needs your talents, and you aren't quite
trusted, so you're put here out of range of spies. Right?"

"Do you have to see a rebel with notebook in hand under every bed?" she
asked with a hint of weariness. "The First Amendment hasn't been
repealed yet, they say. Theoretically we're all entitled to our own
opinions."

"Okay, okay, I won't argue politics. Tell me about some of the people
here, will you? They're an odd bunch."

"I can't tell you much, Allen. That's where Security does apply.
Isaacson is a Martian colonist, you've probably guessed that already.
Jessup lost his hand in a--a fight with some enemies once. The Dufreres
had a son who was killed in the Moroccan incident." Lancaster remembered
that that affair had involved American power used to crush a French spy
ring centered in North Africa. Sovereignty had been brushed aside. But
damn it, you had to preserve the status quo, for your own survival if
nothing else. "Hwang had to go into exile when the Chinese government
changed hands a few years back. I--"

"Yes?" he asked when her voice faded out.

"Oh, I might as well tell you. My husband and I lived in America after
our marriage. He was a good biotechnician and had a job with one of the
big pharmaceutical companies. Only he--went to camp. Later he died or
was shot, I don't know which." Her words were flat.

"That's a shame," he said inadequately.

"The funny part of it is, he wasn't engaged in treason at all. He was
quite satisfied with things as they were--oh, he talked a little, but so
does everybody. I imagine some rival or enemy put the finger on him."

"Those things happen," said Lancaster. "It's too bad, but they happen."

"They're bound to occur in a police state," she said. "Sorry. We weren't
going to argue politics, were we?"

"I never said the world was perfect, Karen. Far from it. Only what
alternative have we got? Any change is likely to be so dangerous
that--well, man can't afford mistakes."

"No, he can't. But I wonder if he isn't making one right now. Oh, well.
Give me another beer."

They talked on indifferent subjects till Karen said it was her bedtime.
Lancaster escorted her to her apartment. She looked at him curiously as
he said good night, and then went inside and closed the door. Lancaster
had trouble getting to sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

The corrected equations provided an adequate theory of
super-dielectricity--a theory with tantalizing hints about still other
phenomena--and gave the research team a precise idea of what they wanted
in the way of crystal structure. Actually, the substance to be formed
was only semi-crystalline, with plastic features as well, all interwoven
with a grid of carbon-linked atoms. Now the trick was to produce that
stuff. Calculation revealed what elements would be needed, and what
spatial arrangement--only how did you get the atoms to assume the
required configuration and hook up in the right way?

Theory would get you only so far, thereafter it was cut and try.
Lancaster rolled up his sleeves with the rest and let Karen take over
the leadership--she was the best experimenter. He spent some glorious
and all but sleepless weeks, greasy, dirty, living in a jungle of
haywired apparatus with a restless slide rule. There were plenty of
failures, a lot of heartbreak and profanity, an occasional injury--but
they kept going, and they got there.

The day came--or was it the night?--when Karen took a slab of darkly
shining substance out of the furnace where it had been heat-aging.
Rakkan sawed it into several chunks for testing. It was Lancaster who
worked on the electric properties.

He applied voltage till his generator groaned, and watched in awe as
meters climbed and climbed without any sign of stopping. He discharged
the accumulated energy in a single blue flare that filled the lab with
thunder and ozone. He tested for time lag of an electric signal and
wondered wildly if it didn't feel like sleeping on its weary path.

The reports came in, excited yells from one end of the long, cluttered
room to the other, exultant whoops and men pounding each other on the
back. This was it! This was the treasure at the rainbow's end.

       *       *       *       *       *

The substance and its properties were physically and chemically stable
over a temperature range of hundreds of degrees. The breakdown voltage
was up in the millions. The insulation resistance was better than the
best known to Earth's science.

The dielectric constant could be varied at will by a simple electric
field normal to the applied voltage gradient--a field which could be
generated by a couple of dry cells if need be--and ranged from a hundred
thousand to about three billion. For all practical purposes, here was
the ultimate dielectric.

"We did it!" Friedrichs slapped Lancaster's back till it felt that the
ribs must crack. "We have it!"

"Whooppee!" yelled Karen.

Suddenly they had joined hands and were dancing idiotically around the
induction furnace. Lancaster clasped Rakkan's talons without caring that
it was a Martian. They sang then, sang till heads appeared at the door
and the glassware shivered.

    _Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
     The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush--_

It called for a celebration. The end of a Project meant no more than
filing a last report and waiting for the next assignment, but they ran
things differently out here. Somebody broke out a case of Venusian
aguacaliente. Somebody else led the way to a storeroom, tossed its
contents into the hall, and festooned it with used computer tape.
Rakkan forgot his Martian dignity and fiddled for a square dance, with
Isaacson doing the calling. The folk from the other end of the station
swarmed in till the place overflowed. It was quite a party.

Hours later, Lancaster was hazily aware of lying stretched on the floor.
His head was in Karen's lap and she was stroking his hair. The hardy
survivors were following the Dufreres in French drinking songs, which
are the best in the known universe. Rakkan's fiddle wove in and out, a
lovely accompaniment to voices that were untrained but made rich and
alive by triumph.

    _"Sur ma tomb' je veux qu'on inscrive:
     'Ici-git le roi des buveurs.'
     Sur ma tomb' je veux qu'on inscrive:
     'Ici-git le roi des buveurs.
       Ici-git, oui, oui, oui,
       Ici-git, non, non, non--'"_

Lancaster knew that he had never been really happy before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Berg showed up a couple of days later, looking worried. Lancaster's
vacation time was almost up. When he heard the news, his eyes snapped
gleefully and he pumped the physicist's hand. "Good work, boy!"

"There are things to clean up yet," said Lancaster, "but it's all
detail. Anybody can do it."

"And the material--what do you call it, anyway?"

Karen grinned. "So far, we've only named it _ffuts_," she said. "That's
'stuff' spelled backward."

"Okay, okay. It's easy to manufacture?"

"Sure. Now that we know how, anybody can make it in his own home--if
he's handy at tinkering apparatus together."

"Fine, fine! Just what was needed. This is the ticket." Berg turned back
to Lancaster. "Okay, boy, you can pack now. We blast again in a few
hours."

The physicist shuffled his feet. "What are my chances of getting
re-assigned back here?" he asked. "I've liked it immensely. And now that
I know about it anyway--"

"I'll see. I'll see. But remember, this is top secret. You go back to
your regular job and don't say a word on this to anyone less than the
President--no matter what happens, understand?"

"Of course," snapped Lancaster, irritated. "I know my duty."

"Yeah, so you do." Berg sighed. "So you do."

Leavetaking was tough for all concerned. They had grown fond of the
quiet, bashful man--and as for him, he wondered how he'd get along
among normal people. These were his sort. Karen wept openly and kissed
him good-bye with a fervor that haunted his dreams afterward. Then she
stumbled desolately back to her quarters. Even Berg looked glum.

He regained his cockiness on the trip home, though, and insisted on
talking all the way. Lancaster, who wanted to be alone with his
thoughts, was annoyed, but you don't insult a Security man.

"You understand the importance of this whole business, and why it has to
be secret?" nagged Berg. "I'm not thinking of the scientific and
industrial applications, but the military ones."

"Oh, sure. You can make lightning throwers if you want to. And you've
overcome the fuel problem. With a few _ffuts_ accumulators, charged from
any handy power source, you can build fuelless military vehicles, which
would simplify your logistics immensely. And some really deadly hand
guns could be built--pistols the equivalent of a cannon, almost."
Lancaster's voice was dead. "So what?"

"So plenty! Those are only a few of the applications. If you use your
imagination, you can think of dozens more. And the key point is--the
_ffuts_ and the essential gadgetry using it are cheap to make in
quantity, easy to handle--the perfect weapon for the citizen soldier. Or
for the rebel! It isn't enough to decide the outcome of a war all by
itself, but it may very well be precisely the extra element which will
tip the military balance against the government. And I've already
discussed what that means."

"Yes, I remember. That's your department, not mine. Just let me forget
about it."

"You'd better," said Berg.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the month after his return, Lancaster lived much as usual. He was
scolded a few times for an increasing absent-mindedness and a lack of
enthusiasm on the Project, but that wasn't too serious. He became more
of an introvert than ever. Having some difficulty with getting to sleep,
he resorted to soporifics and then, in a savage reaction, to stimulants.
But outwardly there was little to show the turmoil within him.

He didn't know what to think. He had always been a loyal citizen--not a
fanatic, but loyal--and it wasn't easy for him to question his own basic
assumptions. But he had experienced something utterly alien to what he
considered normal, and he had found the strangeness more congenial--more
human in every way--than the norm. He had breathed a different
atmosphere, and it couldn't but seem to him that the air of Earth was
tainted. He re-read Kipling's _Chant-Pagan_ with a new understanding,
and began to search into neglected philosophies. He studied the news in
detail, and his critical eye soon grew jaundiced--did this editorial or
that feature story have any semantic content at all, or was it only a
tom-tom beat of loaded connotations? The very statements of fact were
subject to doubt--they should be checked against other accounts, or
better yet against direct observation; but other accounts were forbidden
and there was no chance to see for himself.

He took to reading seditious pamphlets with some care, and listened to a
number of underground broadcasts, and tried clumsily to sound out those
of his acquaintances whom he suspected of rebellious thoughts. It all
had to be done very cautiously, with occasional nightmare moments when
he thought he was being spied on; and was it right that a man should be
afraid to hear a dissenting opinion?

He wondered what his son was doing. It occurred to him that modern
education existed largely to stultify independent thought.

At the same time, he was unable to discard the beliefs of his whole
life. Sedition was sedition and treason was treason--you couldn't evade
that fact. There were no more wars--plenty of minor clashes, but no real
wars. There was a stable economy, and nobody lacked for the essentials.
The universal state might be a poor solution to the problems of a time
of troubles, but it was nevertheless a solution. Change would be
unthinkably dangerous.

Dangerous to whom? To the entrenched powers and their jackals. But the
oppressed peoples of Earth had nothing to lose, really, except their
lives, and many of them seemed quite willing to sacrifice those. Did the
rights of man stop at a full belly, or was there more?

He tried to take refuge in cynicism. After all, he was well off. He was
a successful jackal. But that wouldn't work either. He required a more
basic philosophy.

One thing that held him back was the thought that if he became a rebel,
he would be pitted against his friends--not only those of Earth, but
that strange joyous crew out in space. He couldn't see fighting against
them.

Then there was the very practical consideration that he hadn't the
faintest idea of how to contact the underground even if he wanted to.
And he'd make a hell of a poor conspirator.

He was still in an unhappy and undecided whirlpool when the monitors
came for him.

       *       *       *       *       *

They knocked on the door at midnight, as was their custom, and he felt
such an utter panic that he could barely make it across the apartment to
let them in. The four burly men wavered before his eyes, and there was a
roaring and a darkness in his head. They arrested him without ceremony
on suspicion of treason, which meant that habeas corpus and even the
right of trial didn't apply. Two of them escorted him to a car, the
other two stayed to search his dwelling.

At headquarters, he was put in a cell and left to stew for some hours.
Then a pair of men in the uniform of the federal police led him to a
questioning chamber. He was given a chair and a smiling, soft-voiced
man--almost fatherly, with his plump cheeks and white hair--offered him
a cigarette and began talking to him.

"Just relax, Dr. Lancaster. This is pretty routine. If you've nothing to
hide then you've nothing to fear. Just tell the truth."

"Of course." It was a dry whisper.

"Oh, you're thirsty. So sorry. Alec, get Dr. Lancaster a glass of water,
will you, please? And by the way, my name is Harris. Let's call this a
friendly conference, eh?"

Lancaster drank avidly. Harris' manner was disarming, and the physicist
felt more at ease. This was--well, it was just a mistake. Or maybe a
simple spot check. Nothing to fear. He wouldn't be sent to camp--not he.
Such things happened to other people, not to Allen Lancaster.

"You've been immunized against neoscop?" asked Harris.

"Yes. It's routine for my rank and over, you know. In case we should
ever be kidnapped--but why am I telling _you_ this?" Lancaster tried to
smile. His face felt stiff.

"Hm. Yes. Too bad."

"Of course, I've no objection at all to your using a lie detector on
me."

"Fine, fine." Harris beamed and gestured to one of the expressionless
policemen. A table was wheeled forth, bearing the instrument. "I'm glad
you're so cooperative, Dr. Lancaster. You've no idea how much trouble
it saves me--and you."

They ran a few harmless calibrating questions. Then Harris said, still
smiling, "And now tell me, Dr. Lancaster. Where were you really this
summer?"

Lancaster felt his heart leap into his throat, and knew in a sudden
terror that the dials were registering his reaction. "Why--I took my
vacation," he stammered. "I was in the Southwest--"

"Mmmm--the machine doesn't quite agree with you." Harris remained
impishly cheerful.

"But it's _true_! You can check back and--"

"There are such things as doubles, you know. Come, come, now, let's not
waste the whole night. We both have many other things to do."

"I--look." Lancaster gulped down his panic and tried to speak calmly.
"Suppose I am lying. The machine should tell you that I'm not doing so
out of disloyalty. There are things I can't tell anyone without
clearance. Like if you asked me about my work on the Project--I can't
tell you that. Why don't you check through regular Security channels?
There was a man named Berg--at least he called himself that. You'll find
that it's all perfectly okay with Security."

"You can tell me anything," said Harris gently.

"I can't tell you this. Not anybody short of the President." Lancaster
caught himself. "Of course, that's assuming that I did really spend the
summer for something other than my vacation. But--"

Harris sighed. "I was afraid of this. I'm sorry, Lancaster." He nodded
to his policemen. "Go ahead, boys."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lancaster kept sliding into unconsciousness. They jolted him back to
life with stimulant injections and vigorous slaps and resumed working on
him. Now and then they would let up and Harris' face would swim out of a
haze of pain, smiling, friendly, sympathetic, offering him a smoke or a
shot of whiskey. Lancaster sobbed and wanted more than anything else in
the world to do as that kindly man asked. But he didn't dare. He knew
what happened to those who revealed state secrets.

Finally he was thrown back into his cell and left to himself. When he
recovered from his faint--that was a very slow process--he had no idea
of how many hours or days had gone by. There was a water tap in the room
and he drank thirstily, vomited the liquid up again, and sat with his
head in his hands.

So far, he thought dully, they hadn't done too much to him. He was short
several teeth, and there were some broken fingers and toes, and maybe a
floating kidney. The other bruises, lacerations, and burns would heal
all right if they got the chance.

Only they wouldn't.

He wondered vaguely how Security had gotten onto his track. Berg's
precautions had been very thorough. So thorough, apparently, that Harris
could find no trace of what had really happened that summer, and was
going only on suspicion. But what had made him suspicious in the first
place? An anonymous tip-off--from whom? Maybe some enemy, some rival on
the Project, had chosen this way of getting rid of his sector chief.

In the end, Lancaster thought wearily, he'd tell. Why not do it now?
Then--probably--he'd only be shot for betraying Berg's confidence. That
would be the easy way out.

No. He'd hang on for awhile yet. There was always a faint chance.

His cell door opened and two guards came in. He was past flinching from
them, but he had to be supported on his way to the questioning room.

Harris sat there, still smiling. "How do you do, Dr. Lancaster," he said
politely.

"Not so well, thank you." The grin hurt his face.

"I'm sorry to hear that. But really, it's your own fault. You know
that."

"I can't tell you anything," said Lancaster. "I'm under Security oath. I
can't speak of this to anyone below the President."

Harris looked annoyed. "Don't you think the President has better things
to do than come running to every enemy of the state that yaps after
him?"

"There's been some mistake, I tell you," pleaded Lancaster.

"I'll say there has. And you're the one that's made it. Go ahead, boys."
Harris picked up a magazine and started reading.

       *       *       *       *       *

After awhile, Lancaster focused his mind on Karen Marek and kept it
there. That helped him bear up. If they knew, out in the station, what
was happening to him, they--well, they wouldn't forget him, try to
pretend they'd never known him, as the little fearful people of Earth
did. They'd speak up, and do their damnedest to save their friend.

The blows seemed to come from very far away. They didn't do things like
this out in the station. Lancaster realized the truth at that moment,
but it held no surprise. The most natural thing in the world. And now,
of course, he'd never talk.

Maybe.

When he woke up, there was a man before him. The face blurred, seemed to
grow to monstrous size and then move out to infinite distances. The
voice of Harris had a ripple in it, wavering up and down, up and down.

"All right, Lancaster, here's the President. Since you insist, here he
is."

"Go ahead, American," said the man. "Tell me. It's your duty."

"No," said Lancaster.

"But I am the President. You wanted to see me."

"Most likely a double. Prove your identity."

The man who looked like the President sighed and turned away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lancaster woke up again lying on a cot. He must have been brought awake
by a stimulant, for a white-coated figure was beside him, holding a
hypodermic syringe. Harris was there too, looking exasperated.

"Can you talk?" he asked.

"I--yes." Lancaster's voice was a dull croak. He moved his head, feeling
the ache of it.

"Look here, fellow," said Harris. "We've been pretty easy with you so
far. Nothing has happened to you that can't be patched up. But we're
getting impatient now. It's obvious that you're a traitor and hiding
something."

Well, yes, thought Lancaster, he was a traitor, by one definition. Only
it seemed to him that a man had a right to choose his own loyalties.
Having experienced what the police state meant, he would have been
untrue to himself if he had yielded to it.

"If you don't answer my questions in the next session," said Harris,
"we'll have to start getting really rough."

Lancaster remained silent. It was too much effort to try to speak.

"Don't think you're being heroic," said Harris. "There's nothing pretty
or even very human about a man under interrogation. You've been
screaming as loud as anybody."

Lancaster looked away.

He heard the doctor's voice. "I'd advice giving him a few days' rest
before starting again, sir."

"You're new here, aren't you?" asked Harris.

"Yes, sir. I was only assigned to this duty a few weeks ago."

"Well, we don't put on kid gloves for traitors."

"That's not what I mean, sir," said the doctor. "There are limits to
pain beyond which further treatment simply doesn't register. Also, I'm a
little suspicious about this man's heart. It has a murmur, and
questioning puts a terrific strain on it. You wouldn't want him to die
on your hands, would you, sir?"

"Mmmm--no. What do you advise?"

"Just a few days in the hospital, with treatment and rest. It'll also
have a psychological effect as he thinks of what's waiting for him."

Harris considered for a moment. "All right. I've got enough other things
to do anyway."

"Very good, sir. You won't regret this."

Lancaster heard the footsteps retreat into silence. Presently the doctor
came around to stand facing him. He was a short, curly-haired man of
undistinguished appearance. For a moment they locked eyes, then
Lancaster closed his. He wanted to tell the doctor to go away, but it
wasn't worth the trouble.

Later he was put on a stretcher and carried down endless halls to
another cell. This one had a hospital look about it, somehow, and the
air was sharp with the smell of antiseptics. The doctor came when he was
installed in bed and took his arm and slipped a needle into it. "Sleepy
time," he said.

Lancaster drifted away again.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he woke up, he felt darkness and movement. He looked around,
wondering if he had gone blind, and the breath moaned out between his
bruised lips. A hand was laid on his shoulder and a voice spoke out of
the black.

"It's okay, fella. Take it easy. There'll be no more questions."

It was the doctor's voice, and the doctor looked nothing at all like
Charon, but still Lancaster wondered if he weren't being ferried over
the river of death. There was a thrumming all about him, and he heard a
low keening of wind. "Where are we going?" he mumbled.

"Away. You're in a stratorocket now. Just take it easy."

Lancaster fell asleep after awhile.

Beyond that there was a drugged, confused period where he was only dimly
aware of moving and trying to talk. Shadows floated across his vision,
shadows telling him something he couldn't quite grasp. He followed
obediently enough. Full clarity came eventually, and he was lying in a
bunk looking up at a metal ceiling. The shivering pulse of rockets
trembled in his body. A spaceship?

A spaceship!

He sat up, heart thudding, and looked wildly around. "Hey!" he cried.

The remembered figure of Berg came through the door. "Hullo, Allen," he
said. "How're you feeling?"

"I--you--" Lancaster sank weakly back to his pillow. He grew aware that
he was thoroughly bandaged, splinted, and braced, and that there was no
more pain. Not much, anyway.

"I feel fine," he said.

"Good, good. The doc says you'll be okay." Berg sat down on the edge of
the bunk. "I can't stay here long, but the hell with it. We'll be at the
station soon. You deserve to know some things, such as that you've been
rescued."

"Well, that's obvious," said Lancaster.

"By us. The rebels. The underground. Subversive characters."

"That's obvious too. And thanks--" The word was so ridiculously
inadequate that Lancaster had to laugh.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I suppose you've guessed most of it already," said Berg. "We needed a
scientist of your caliber for our project. One thing we're desperately
short of is technical personnel, since the only real education in such
lines is to be had on Earth and most graduates find comfortable berths
in the existing society. Like you, for instance. So we played a trick on
you. We used part of our organization--yes, we have a big one, and it's
pretty smart and powerful too--to convince you this was a government job
of top secrecy. More damn things can be done in the name of Security--"
Berg clicked his tongue. "Everybody you saw at the station was more or
less play-acting, of course. The whole thing was set up to fool you. We
might not have gotten away with it if we'd used some other person, more
shrewd about such things, but we'd studied you and knew you for an
amiable, unsuspicious guy, too wrapped up in your own work to go
witch-smelling."

"I guessed that much," admitted Lancaster. "After I'd been in the cells
for awhile. Your way of living and thinking was so different from
anything like--"

"Yeah. I'm sorry as hell about that, Allen. We thought you could just
return to ordinary life, but somehow--through one of those accidents or
malices inevitable in a state where every man spies on his
neighbor--you were hauled in. We knew of it at once--yes, we've even
infiltrated the secret police--and decided to do something about it.
Quite apart from the danger of your betraying what you knew--we could
have eliminated that by quietly murdering you--there was the fact that
we'd gotten you into this and did owe you something. We managed to get
Dr. Pappas transferred to the inquisitory where you were being held. He
drugged you, producing a remarkably corpse-like figure, and smuggled you
out as simply another one who'd died under questioning. I used my
Security papers to get the body for special autopsy instead of the usual
immediate cremation. Then we simply drove till we reached the
stratorocket we'd arranged to have ready, and you were flown to our
spaceboat, and now you're on the way back to the station. You were kept
under drugs most of the way to help you rest--they'd knocked you around
quite a bit in the inquisitory. So--" Berg shrugged. "Pappas can't go
back to Earth now, of course, but we can always use a medic in space,
and it was well worth the trouble to rescue you."

"I'm honored," said Lancaster.

"I still feel like hell about what happened to you, though."

"It's all right. I can't say I enjoyed it, but now that I've learned
some hard facts--oh, well, forget the painful nature of the lesson. I'll
be okay. And I'm going home!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Jessup supported Lancaster as they entered the space station. His old
crew was there waiting to greet him. They were all immensely pleased to
have him back, though Karen wept bitterly on his shoulder.

"It's all right," he told her. "I'm not in such bad shape as I look.
Honest, Karen, I'm all right. And now that I have gotten back, and know
where I really belong--damn, but it was worth it!"

She looked at him with eyes as gray as a rainy dawn. "And you are with
us?" she whispered. "You're one of us? Of your own will?"

"Of course I am. Give me a week or two to rest, and I'll be back in the
lab bossing all of you like a Simon Legree. Hell, we've just begun on
that super-dielectricity. And there are a lot of other things I want to
try out, too."

"It means exile," she said. "No more blue skies and green valleys and
ocean winds. No more going back to Earth."

"Well, there are other planets, aren't there? And we'll go back to Earth
in the next decade, I bet. Back to start a new American Revolution and
write the Bill of Rights in the sky for all to see." Lancaster grinned
shyly. "I'm not much at making speeches, and I certainly don't like to
listen to them. But I've learned the truth and I want to say it out
loud. The right of man to be free is the most basic one he's got, and
when he gives that up he finishes by surrendering everything else too.
You people are fighting to bring back honesty and liberty and the
possibility of progress. I hope nobody here is a fanatic, because
fanaticism is exactly what we're fighting against. I say we, because
from now on I'm one of you. That is, if you're sure you want me."

He stopped, clumsily. "Okay. Speech ended."

Karen drew a shivering breath and smiled at him. "And everything else
just begun, Allen," she said. He nodded, feeling too much for words.

"Get to bed with you," ordered Pappas.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jessup led Lancaster off, and one by one the others drifted back to
their jobs. Finally only Karen and Berg stood by the airlock.

"You keep your beautiful mouth shut, my dear," said the man.

"Oh, sure." Karen sighed unhappily. "I wish I'd never learned your
scheme. When you explained it to me I wanted to shoot you."

"You insisted on an explanation," said Berg defensively. "When Allen was
due to go back to Earth, you wanted us to tell him who we were and keep
him. But it wouldn't have worked. I've studied his dossier, and he's not
the kind of man to switch loyalties that easily. If we were to have him
at all, it could only be with his full consent. And now we've got him."

"It was still a lousy trick," she said.

"Of course it was. But we had no choice. We _had_ to have a first-rate
physicist."

"You know," she said, "you're a rat from way back."

"That I am. And by and large, I enjoy it." Berg grimaced. "Though I must
admit this job leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I like Allen. It was the
hardest thing I ever did, tipping off the federal police about him."

He turned on his heel and walked away, smiling faintly.



Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from _Space Science Fiction_ February 1953.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors
have been corrected without note.





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