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´╗┐Title: Zero Data
Author: Saphro, Charles
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 "Zero Data" ***

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ZERO DATA

By CHARLES SAPHRO


    _All the intricate, electronic witchery of the 21st century could
    not pin guilt on fabulous Lonnie Raichi, the irreproachable
    philanthropist. But Jason, the cop, was sweating it out ...
    searching for that fourth and final and all-knowing rule that would
    knock Lonnie's "triple ethic" for a gala loop._


Lonnie Raichi was small, heavily built, wet-eyed, dapper and successful.
His success he attributed entirely to his philosophy.

Not knowing about Lonnie's philosophy, the whole twenty-odd years of
Lonnie's success was the abiding crux of Jason's disgust. And this, in
spite of the more and more men Jason came to control and the fitful
stream of new techniques and equipment Gov-Pol and Gov-Mil Labs put at
his disposal.

Jason was a cop. In fact, by this Friday the thirteenth in the fall of
2009, squirming on what had come to be his pet Gov-Park bench right
across from the Tiara of Wold in the Fane, he was only one step short of
being the Head Cop of Government City. He was good. Gathering in a lot
of criminals was what had brought him up the steps.

But he hadn't gathered in Lonnie.

It wasn't for lack for trying. Way back, when Lonnie was known simply as
"Lonnie," Jason managed to get a little help from his associates and
superiors. Sometimes.

But as Lonnie came to be known as Lon Raichi, then Mr. Raichi, and
finally as "THE Launcelot Raichi" (to Everyone Who Mattered), and as
Jason's promotions kept pace with his widening experience and
painstakingly acquired knowledge; peculiarly, there seemed to be fewer
and fewer persons around who could be made interested in "Lonnie."

Inside Government and Gov-Pol-Anx as well as among the general
Two-Worlds public.

So Jason got less and less help, or even passive cooperation, from his
superiors. As a matter of fact, the more men he could command, the fewer
he could use on anything that could be construed as concerning Lonnie.

Equipment, though, was a little different matter. There was usually
enough so that one unit of a kind could be unobtrusively trained on Mr.
Raichi under the care of Jason's own desk sergeant. In 1999, for
example, Moglaut, that erratic and secretive genius in Physlab Nine,
came out with a quantum analyzer and probability reproducer. The machine
installed in Pol-Anx, reconstructed crimes and identified the probable
criminals by their modus operandi and the physical traces they couldn't
avoid leaving at the un-mercy of any of its portable data accumulators.

On Jason's first attempt it almost came close to Lonnie. It did gather
in the hidden, dead, still twitching, completely uncommunicative
carcasses of the five men who actually relieved the vault of the
Citizen's Bank of Berlin of its clutch of millions. It even identified
the body of the rocopilot found floating in the Potomac a few days later
as being one of the group, and the killer. It did _not_ locate the
arsonized remnants of the plane, though, nor the currency; and only
achieved the casting of a slight, or subsidiary, third-hand aspersion in
the direction of THE Launcelot Raichi.

But Lonnie came up with an irrefutable alibi, somehow, and the hassle
that followed made Jason's luck run out. And on Jason's stubborn,
secret, subsequent tries, all the analyzer could produce was a report of
zero data whenever Jason, reasonably or unreasonably, believed that
Lonnie was involved.

Every time.

Zero data when Schicklehitler's marshal's baton disappeared from the
British Museum.

[Illustration: _Lonnie on his dream throne ... Jason at his instruments.
Was the struggle endless between these two?_]

Zero data when Charlemagne's Crown lapsed unobtrusively from its shrine
in Vienna during the Year 2000 Celebration.

Subsequently, Jason realized that the Berlin job in 1999 had marked
Lonnie's last essay after money. Other things seemed to occupy Lonnie's
mind after he'd sprouted publicly into the status of full-fledged,
hyper-respectable, inter-planetary business tycoon; complete with a
many-tentacled industrial organization in Moon Colony and a far-flung
prospecting unit headquartering at Mars Equatorial.

Tycoonship was a status with which Everyone Who Mattered was always
pleased.

Jason's next attempt on Lonnie had to wait until 2005 and was the result
of two unconnected circumstances. The first was Physlab Nine's secretive
genius, Moglaut, evolving another piece of equipment, a disarmer, which,
subsequent to its first use, saved countless cops' lives. The second was
the discovery in the Valley of Kings, of Amenhotep III's own personal
official Uraeus. Positively identified beyond the shadow of doubt.

Jason, playing the hunch he'd built up about Lonnie, rushed a man, armed
with the brand new disarmer, instantly to the scene.

The next morning, Amenhotep's Uraeus was gone and the corpse of Jason's
man was found--part of it. The right hand, arm, shoulder, and most of
the head were missing; burned away. And of the disarmer, only a fused
hunk of mixed metals and silver helix remained.

And the analyzer reported zero data.

Lab Nine's taciturn and exasperating Moglaut failed to derive an
explanation for either circumstance.

"I won't shut up," Jason said, standing on the carpet in front of his
superior. "He did it. I don't know how, but he did."

Another spasm of frustration shook him and he slammed his fist down on
the sacred desk. "I've known Lonnie all my life. I know he doesn't know
phfut about anything scientific, and yet he makes a horse's--"

"Captain Jason, I insist that you stop referring to--"

"Makes a--" Jason raised his voice, "horse's--"

"CAPTAIN JASON!"

Jason subsided.

"Captain, Annex has been most forbearing all these years. We've
overlooked your incomprehensible phobia--this--this confoundedly
unfounded impossible bias against such an irreproachable philanthropist
as Launcelot Raichi--because of the sterling quality of your ... ah ...
other work. However--"

On the desk, the Commissioner's fingers took up a measured tattoo.
"--should this fixed idea begin to encroach on--uh--uh--"

"All right ... Sir." Sullenly, Jason submitted. "I understand."

With a self-congratulatory smirk up at the ceiling that separated them
from Executive Level, the bland face of the Commissioner smoothed out.
"All right, Captain, as long as we understand each other ..."

Sourly, Jason got himself back to his own office. Drumming his own
fingers on his own desk and glaring at his own desk sergeant, he purged
his soul.

"--damned equipment would only work, I'd gather him in! They couldn't
stop me, then! But--" Jason choked. When he could speak again, "He's
never studied a lick in his life, I tell you! Yet he makes a he-cow's
behind out of the best man and the best scientific equipment Annex can
provide! How? How, I ask you! He doesn't know the first blasted thing
about any blasted thing in any blasted science!"

       *       *       *       *       *

That was true. Conversely, Jason didn't know about Lonnie's philosophy.

Nowadays, Lonnie called it a "philosophy." He told reporters it was
"based on a triple ethic." (Inside his skull, a small boy jumped up and
down in glee over the magnificent language he was able to use.) But he
always replied only with a superior smile when asked by reporters to put
the philosophy and the triple ethic into words. If pressed, he
paraphrased an Ancient Man: "You know my works. Judge by them."

He was referring, of course, to his having branched out into patronizing
the Arts. He'd even erected Raichi Museum just across the velvety green
circle of Gov-Park from Government's own Fane of Artifacts.

The reporters would go away and write more articles about his modesty
and the superlative treasures of Earth, Moon and Mars that were
gathered in the Raichi Galleries; protected, the papers always boasted,
by the same ultra-safety mechanisms that guarded the mile-long,
one-gallery-wide, glass-fronted Fane itself. Government affably made up
two of every anti-break-and-entry device nowadays. One for the Fane and
the other for Raichi Museum.

Despite occasional grumbles in the letters-to-the-editor columns, the
papers never seemed to inquire into why so many priceless trans-worlds
artifacts got into Lonnie's private ownership instead of Government's
public Fane. And while some artists and architects (unendowed by Lonnie)
succeeded in publicly proclaiming Raichi Museum gaudy, such carpings
were but to be expected, particularly from modernists.

Actually, Everyone Who Mattered felt Raichi Museum's granite walls were
much more dignified than the narrow, glass-faced arcade that was the
Fane, wide open to the most disrespectfully casual public inspection all
the time. Why, even late at night gawking loiterers pressed their noses
against the glass; black, clumsy images pinned to the blazing whiteness
hurled by radionic tubes against the back wall of snowy marble from
Mars' arctic quarries. Besides, that glass, proof though it was against
anything but an atomic explosion, still made every true art lover feel
disquietingly insecure.

No, on the whole, the papers and reporters and true art lovers who felt
the Public's treasures should be more secure than visible, never
questioned Lonnie's doing good to so much Art.

Thus, nowadays, nobody did anything but accept Lonnie. Except Jason. And
he, perforce, took out his disgust not on hounding the sacrosanct
Lonnie, but on that crackpot, mumchance, captive genius of Physlab Nine.
With the result that, late in 2007, Pol-Anx had an electronic
servo-tracer.

Pending construction of sufficient hundreds of thousands more for full
Anx use, Jason swore Lab Nine to secrecy and installed the pilot model
in his own office. He had enough authority for that.

It was a hellishly unbuildable and deceptively simple gadget, that
tracer. Simply tune it in on the encephalo-aura, the brain wave pattern
of any individual ... and monitor. It never let go until deliberately
switched off by the operator. It tracked; pinpointed the subject
accurately up to twenty thousand miles. It stopped humming and started
panting in proportionately ascending decibels when the subject became
tense, nervous, afraid. It also directed pocket-sized trackers of its
own Damoclean beam. It made it a cinch to gather in known criminals in
the very midst of their first subsequent flagrante delicto.

Jason latched the servo-tracer on Lonnie and settled down to wait.

At 10 p.m., local mean time, January 25, 2008, the tracer hiccupped and,
all by itself, _went to sleep_!

Jason blinked. Jiggled the gadget. Swore. Either the gadget was haywire
or Lonnie was up to something, and, as usual, was making a--

Jason bawled for four reliable squad men he'd mentally selected before.
If he could find Lonnie--catch Lonnie in actual performance of an
act--then Commissioner or no Commissioner, Executive Level or no
Executive Level...!

He roared from Pol-Anx with the men, past the flank of Government Fane,
across the Park and around the bulk of Raichi Museum to Lonnie's mansion
in its shadow. Leaped from the gyro-van, sweeping his men out into a fan
for the neighborhood.

Nothing. Placid. Tree-shadowed, lawn-swept streets, ebony and silver in
the light the moon reflected from solar space.

He'd missed. Too late. Lonnie was gone ... or was he?

Jason didn't give himself time to think; his men time to get even a
momentary hesitation started. He shoved his thumb hard against the door
chimes and his shield under the butler's nose.

Yes, Mr. Raichi was at home. Then, after an interval nicely calculated
to allow Jason to feel how acutely precarious his position stood, "Mr.
Raichi is accessible."

Lonnie was bland. Blandly accepting Jason's urgent story of a known ...
er ... jewel thief traced to the neighborhood. Blandly amenable to
Jason's suggestion that his men be permitted to go over the mansion
(once he'd started this damfool caper, he had to go through with it).
Lonnie so bland that Jason felt a skitter of perspiration down his
backbone while his men hustled up the soaring circle of the stair.


II

"Since I've been disturbed anyway," Lonnie offered, "I'll show you
around."

"Thanks," Jason shook his head stiffly. "I'll just wait."

"I think you should come."

Shrugging, Jason followed, eyes stubbornly downcast.

"... my library ... my den ... bar. Care for a drink? Well, suit
yourself." As the lights of the den dimmed and one wall swooshed
smoothly into the ceiling. "My theatre ... The usual tri-di stereo, of
course, but I've had a couple of the new tight beams installed to
channel Moon and Mars on the cube. Much better than the usual staged
bilge. Say, that reminds me, a couple hours ago Mars projector had a
scanner on one of the exploration parties caught out in a psychosonic
storm. Jove, did they wriggle! Even in atomsuits they were better than
Messalina Magdalen working on her last G-string. Here, I'll switch it
on. Maybe the rescue team's--"

Building up inside the hundreds of thousands of layers of crystallized
plastic came a reddish, three-dimensional landscape, as if viewed from a
height. Orange dust swirled across a gaunt, clawed plain under a
transparent pink haze. A feeling as of sub-visual vibration, emanating
from the cube, tugged at Jason's eyelids.

No life.

"--Nope; they've cleaned up the carcasses already. Too bad. Tell you
what, though. Next time I catch it happening, I'll phone you and--"

"Don't bother."

"Suit yourself." Lonnie shifted and went on, lightly. "I'm not at all
satisfied with the color, are you? It's off a little, don't you
think?... Well?... Well!"

Unwillingly, Jason moved his attention to the cube. Eyes widening, he
studied it. "No. You're wrong. That's good! The tech who poured that
stereo did a damned good job. It's--"

"Not good enough for me! That's not exactly what I saw up at Vulcan
City. If those lazy--"

"Look, you can't expect exactly the same reflectivity from crystallized
plastic that you get from molecules of atmosphere, no matter how
scientifically the pouring and layering is controlled. It's--they're two
different materials. Leaving aside the ion-index differential and
quality of incident light, you still can't--"

"_I_ can ..." As the pause lengthened, Jason's gaze was finally drawn to
Lonnie's face. "You still haven't changed a bit, have you, Jasey? Still
all wrapped up in _how_ any collection of doodads work instead of just
for what it'll do. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if that hasn't
always been the difference between us. Where's it got you?"

Jason strode for the door.

"Wait a minute." Lonnie's voice came louder. "Better wait, copper. I'm
not through ... That's better."

From behind Jason came the sound of rubbing palms. "We've come a long
way from Gimlet Street, haven't we, Jasey? You particularly. Captain.
Promotions. Pay raises ..." Then Lonnie was in front of him, staring up.
"You're quite a substantial citizen now. Yes? Well, look at that. Go on,
look at it."

Against the side wall stood a gigantic triptych. More than life size,
the central panel canopied the statue of a Mongol potentate; the two
side wings, a pair of guards in bas-relief. All three wrought in
chryselephantine gold and ivory; the gold with flowing pallid
highlights. Damascened armor, encrusted with jewels, girdled the chest
of the Asiatic Prince; helmeted the sullen head carved from a single
immensity of ivory.

Ruby eyes glared arrogantly under ebon brows. Against the statue's
folded shins, its pommel negligently gripped by one immovable, ivory
hand, leaned a short Turkish scimitar of watered steel. Beneath the
carved hassock upon which the statue sat, a dais of three steps fell
away to the floor.

"That's Genghis Khan," Lonnie said. "I had him made. That isn't gold
he's made of; that's aureum--and it cost plenty to have the silver mixed
in. It makes it better. And I get the best! A hundred thousand, it cost
me. And thirty-six thousand more to brace the wall and floor. It's good.
It's the best that's made!"

He came up on tiptoe, thrusting his chin as close as possible to Jason's
averted face. "Why don't you buy one for your place, Captain?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Jason stared into the malevolent eyes of the statue.

"Huh ... hu-hu ... hu-ha-ha-ha ..." At the dais, Lonnie put his foot on
the second step and patted Genghis Khan familiarly on one ivory knee. "I
like this old boy. He had the right idea. I have it. You haven't. You
never had. If you had, you'd'a listened to the proposition I made you
way back then. Remember when Aggie told you about it? Say, I wonder
what's become of her, anyway. Do you know? What? What'd you say?"

Jason cleared his throat. Hard.

"Well?"

Jason swallowed. Blood pounded in his temples.

"Jasey, you're stupid."

Jason made his eyes close. Let them re-open slowly.

"You were born stupid and you've stayed stupid."

Still Jason held back an answer.

"You're nothing but a stupid, go-where-you're-sent, do-what-you're-told
cop! What do you say to that! If you want to keep on being one, answer
me! Answer me!"

Deliberately, Jason jerked his chin at the statue. "That's another
example of what I mean."

"_What?!!_" screamed Lonnie.

"Reflectivity. The silver in the gold. Two different metals and where
they're not well fused. That sword blade, too. Just the misalignment of
molecules in the surface of the steel makes it look wavy, and ripple
when the light changes or you move. Different even in two parts of the
same material. That's why you can't get the stereo cube to reproduce
color-feel exactly." Breathing heavily, Jason had to let his voice fade
out.

"Gaaa ..." Lonnie convulsed. "Who cares!" Laugh sounds rolled out of his
throat. "You'll never change."

He flicked his hand at Jason, brushing him away.

But, as Jason, white-faced, herded his men out through the costly
grandeurs of the vestibule, Lonnie called from the inner hall:
"Copper ..."

Jason turned, waited.

"You amused me, so it's all right this time. You can keep your
penny-ante job. But don't try for me again. You cross my path again,
I'll smear you. And what's more, I'll use whatever you're trying, to
smear you with. Get that! Get it good! Now get out!"

Back in Jason's office, the desk sergeant reported as Jason came in.
"Funny thing. That there tracer started to hum again soon after you was
out for a while. Quit again 'bout five minutes ago, though."

Jason gritted his teeth, banished the sergeant, and spent five minutes
alone gripping the edge of his desk. Then he yanked Lab Nine's silent
genius down to his office. That didn't help for the tracer stayed
asleep. Not even a hiccup rewarded Moglaut's most active efforts on
Lonnie's wave length. On others, fine. Through the night and on into the
next day, Jason kept Moglaut at work.

Late in the morning, Authority at Peiping televised publicly that the
Mace of Alexander was gone from its satin pillow in the proof-glass case
in the alarm-wired room off the machine-weapon-guarded main corridor of
the security-policed Temple of Mankind.

The Mace, symbol of Alexander's power, was a pretty little baton barely
two feet long. Its staff was mastodon ivory, the paleontologists had
determined. One end sported a solid ball of gold hardly as big as a
fist; studded with rubies, but none set quite so close as to actually
touch.

The other end, balancing the ball of gold, mounted the largest single
polished emerald crystal in the discovered universe. Neither the Moon or
Mars had produced anything in the emerald line equivalent to what had
come out of the mists of Earthly history.

       *       *       *       *       *

Disregarding the bulletin, Jason kept Moglaut at the servo-tracer. In
the night's smallest hours it began placidly to hum on Lonnie's aura
again.

"What happened?" Jason said. "What did you do?"

Moglaut shrugged.

"You must have done something. What was it?"

Moglaut, not looking up from the purring machine, shook his head.

"All right. You can go now." Jason watched the genius disappear
hurriedly through the door. From the door he watched the man scutter
down the long, long corridor out of sight. The first thing in the
morning, Jason promised himself, he'd have a session about Moglaut with
Lab Nine's chief.

The first thing in the morning brought word that Lab Nine's erratic
genius had stumbled himself out of the seventeenth-floor window of his
suburban apartment to his death. Lab Nine's chief clucked sorrowfully.

Jason shook his head and wondered. After exhaustive investigation (zero
data) he still wondered. That's all he was able to do, wonder.

The second time Jason's servo-tracer on Lonnie hiccupped and dozed off
was at 12:01 a.m., August 7th, 2008, just one day after the Diamond
Throne arrived on Earth. The single, glittering diamond crystal,
misshapen like an armchair and larger than one, had been mined out of
the core of Tycho's crater. And it was also just two days before the
Moon Throne would have been installed in the unbreakable safety of
Raichi Museum!

"Jason, you're insane," his superior told him when Jason, reinforced by
an astounding public furore, brought the matter up. "He owned it. He had
no reason to steal it from himself. Besides, one man alone couldn't
budge that enormous--"

"It won't do any harm to look-see."

"It can do a lot of harm!" The Commissioner glanced quickly at the
ceiling. "I'll have nothing to do with it. That's all."

Officially, Jason's hands were tied. But secretly he maneuvered the
transfer of a five-layers-down undercover man from Madras to Government
City. And, coincidentally, in the ordinary routine of operation, Raichi
Museum took on a new janitor; a little brown man who grinned constantly
and was fanatical about dust. He was a good, reliable man and when he
reported that neither the Diamond Throne nor any of the other missing
glories were anywhere in the Museum, Jason had to believe him.

As a matter of fact, it wouldn't have done Jason any good to have
installed the little brown man in Lonnie's mansion, either. The
lock--not the apparent one openly in the den door, but the real one--was
as unobtrusive and foolproof as twenty-first-century engineering could
make it. And Lonnie always made sure he was alone and unobserved in the
den before he locked it and sauntered across to bestow a peculiar,
multiple tweak to the nose of Genghis Khan.

He enjoyed the gesture. On Christmas Eve he grinned broadly while the
triptych pivoted in the wall, let him off in the Kruppmartite-walled,
pulsing radiance of his very secret, very, very personal throne room,
and swung back into place.

His grin changed to an expression of imperial dignity as he encased
himself in Catherine the Great's ermine Robe of State and grasped the
Mace of Alexander in his good left hand. But then the royal mien gave
way to a sullen scowl as he hesitated between Charlemagne's Crown and
Amenhotep's Uraeus.

Actually, neither one was worthy of him. Both purely regional coronets
belonged over in the farthest dusty corner behind the curtain, along
with Schicklehitler's shabby baton and that crummy Peacock Throne. What
he really needed was a crown worthily symbolic of the position he'd make
it possible to publicly assume in the not-too-distant future.

It was a damned imposition that he had to put up with. Well, he'd make
them do since they were the best to be had. Adjusting the Crown of
Charlemagne upon his brow, he stood on tiptoe to wriggle his way back
into the embrace of the titanic crystal that was the Diamond Throne.
There, he relaxed and gave himself over to the contemplation of the
glories of Lonnie.

Who but he had developed such an efficient philosophy to such an
unfailingly incisive point? Certainly not Old Boswell who, back in the
early days had thought to be teaching him.

"Rule One, my boy," he remembered the old patrician twittering, "there's
always someone to pull your chestnuts out of the fire for you--for a
price. Pay it. Then add a plus to the payment and the man's yours to use
again and again."

But even in those days as a callow, trusting youth, he'd been smarter
than Boswell. Observing, from the safety of the sidelines, the way the
old fool had finally tripped up, he'd added a codicil of his own to
Rule One: "Make sure the payment's _final_!"

(... witness the Berlin chestnut pullers. And the unobtrusive and
undiscovered spate of their predecessors whose usefulness had become
outweighed ...)

Then Boswell had said, "Rule Two: You don't have to know the how of
anything. All you have to know is _the man who does_. He always has a
price. The currency is usually odd, but find it, pay it, then proceed
per Rule One."

Even tonight, in his own Throne Room, Lonnie flushed heavily at the way
he'd accepted at face value what came next. "By the way," Old Boswell
had added smoothly, "no connection of course, my boy, but the topic
reminded me. Here are the keys to that daffodil-hued tri-phibian you
ogled at Sporter's exhibit. I must admit you have an eye for dashing
machinery even though I can't agree with your esthetics. No--no ... It's
yours. I feel that you've earned it and more by--"

He'd rushed to the garage to gloat over the mono-cyclic,
gyro-stabilized, U-powered model with the seat that flattened into a
convenient bed at the touch of a button. The tri-phib, he recalled, in
which he'd coaxed Agnes into taking her first ride.


III

The details of that recollection brought up his spirits again and, he
reminded himself, the lesson had sunk in; had developed into his most
useful ethic. After his narrow scrape with Jason's quantum analyzer in
the Berlin incident, it hadn't taken long for a good, one-man detective
agency to locate Physlab Nine's frenetic genius, Moglaut. It had taken
longer to discover Moglaut's currency but, after much shadowing, the
'tec had come through handsomely. Lonnie, automatically applying his
fully-developed Ethic One, always considered it a nice sentimental touch
that the one-man agency's final case was successful.

Moglaut's price was a prim, brunette soprano who wore her eyes disguised
behind heavy tortoiseshell. The ill-cut garb she could afford added
greatly to her staid appearance, obscuring a certain full-bodied
litheness. She earned a throttled existence soloing at funerals and in
the worship halls of obscure, rigidly fanatic offshoot sects.

Her consuming passion was to be an opera prima donna.

Lonnie never tried to understand why Moglaut sat fascinated through
endless sin-busting sermons and lachrymose requiems. To hurry
afterwards, with the jerky motions, the glazed eyes of a zombie, to
subsequent rendezvous with the soprano at his suburban apartment. It was
entirely sufficient in Lonnie's philosophy that Moglaut did.

The soprano's continuing suburban cooperation was insured by Lonnie's
judicious doling out of exactly the cash to keep a tenth-rate opera
company barely functioning in a lesser quarter of Government City.
Oddly, he found it pleased him and from that grew his wide patronizing
of the Arts.

The immediate result of the situation he created and controlled so
deftly was Moglaut's production of a closed-plenum grid suit.

None of Gov-Pol, Gov-Mil or Gov-Econ labs found out about it; much less
Pol-Anx or Government itself. Moglaut did all the work in the tiny
complete lab Lonnie set up in the suburbs.

Lonnie didn't care what electronic witchery took place in the minute
spatial interstices between the finely-woven mesh of flexible tantalum.
Sufficient for him, the silvery white suit once donned and triple-zipped
through hood and glove-endings, he was immune to ordinary Earthly
phenomena; free to move about, do what he wished, untraceably. In it,
his words were not vulnerable to the sono-beam's eavesdropping.
Photo-electric and magneto-photonic watchdogs ignored him. Even the most
delicately sensitive thermo-couples continued their dreams of freezing
flame undisturbed. Jason's quantum analyzer couldn't pick up the
leavings of a glance--all that the suit permitted out into the physical
world.

The suit had its limitations, of course. Lonnie could see out, but the
suit could also be seen. That required sometimes intricate advance
planning to offset. Also, occasionally, manipulating the field of the
grid to permit mechanical contact with the physical world was a trifle
cumbersome but never annoyingly so. All it took was a modicum of
step-by-step thought and some care not to leave a personal trace for the
quantum analyzer to pick up. No actual trouble. And, finally, Moglaut
had warned that the compact power unit pocketed on the left breast had a
half-life of only thirteen years.

That left Lonnie placid. He took the suit for granted and used it for
what it let him do.

When something more was needed, he was convinced his philosophy would
provide it.

He didn't waste time trying to determine whether possession of the suit
or previous experiences leading to his insistence on its development
brought into focus the third ethic of his philosophy: "Rules One and Two
are valuable and have their use. But when the chips are really down, _do
it yourself_!" Instead, he toddled about personally acquiring the
trappings of omnipotent royalty with little thought for the means.

       *       *       *       *       *

But while he was about that business, the very limitations of the grid
suit furnished an unending challenge to Moglaut's genius. And out of a
sideline experiment incited by that challenge came the disarmer which
Jason greeted with such fruitless glee.

Fruitless because, of course, before turning the disarmer over to Lab
Nine and Pol-Anx, Moglaut devised a new, infinitely stronger, more
versatile power pack for Lonnie's suit. A power pack controlled by a
simple rheostat in the palm of the left-hand glove, but whose energy
derived from the electron-kinetic properties of pent and shielded
tritium. Not simple. In fact, solving the problem of penning and
shielding tritium in a portable package delayed the appearance of
Jason's disarmer two whole years.

That power pack and the reciprocating properties of the fields of the
grid suit itself made a dilly of a combination. Before, the
closed-plenum mesh kept Lonnie from leaving traces. Now, anything once
embraced within the palpitating fields of the grid moved with and how
the suit moved; not in accord with the natural laws of the surrounding
continuum. That neat new attribute took care of the cubic yard or so of
Diamond Throne.

And the ravenous tritium was malignant. Let any external power be
applied against the plenum and it would be smashed, hurled back full
force upon its source.

Jason had an undiagnosed example of that when he got only part of his
man back from the Valley of Kings.

It was the power-pack-grid-suit combo that made a sleeping Buddha of the
servo-tracer on the night of Jason's call at Lonnie's mansion; bollixed
up the elaborate guards of the Peiping Temple of Mankind; and, when
Jason so openly displayed suspicion of the genius, made child's play of
what the newspapers headlined as "Scientist's Amazing Suicide Love
Pact."

Lonnie grinned, remembering the incident. Then other memories--things
he'd witnessed through a tight-beam scanner secreted in the suburban
apartment--crowded his mind; stirring him restlessly on the Diamond
Throne. Divesting himself of imperial appurtenances, he started for a
certain locked file in the den to check the specifications of available
per-diem empresses.

Making sure the triptych was snugly in place behind him, he paused to
flip the switch on the stereo cube. Maybe Messalina Magdalen or one of
the lesser ecdysiasts was presenting the perfection of her techniques
over the private channel at the moment, an event he would appreciate.

Instead, the private channel presented, as the cube glowed and cleared,
the same red, clawed landscape he'd shown to Jason months before. The
disembodied voice of the commentator on Mars--not the lyrical public
announcer, but the industrial economist who served the private
channel--picked up in mid-word: "... early to have much data on the
science and material resources this dead civilization possessed, but I
recommend that every Corporation in Induscomm Cabal should place a
technical party at Mars Equatorial as soon as possible. We shall now key
in with the public spacecast. Note the texture and color range of the
adornments and artifacts. I venture that these items will prove popular
among you who can well afford such rare treasures. However, subtlety in
acquiring them is suggested. While common clamor for Public ownership is
under control, overt provocation is not recommended. Here is the
cut-over ..."

The scene in the cube flashed and coalesced, dazzling Lonnie's eyes for
a moment. He was conscious of the landscape rushing "up"; of gigantic
walls and spires rising out of the obscurity of a quarried chasm to
tower briefly against the pink haze of the Martian sky, then expand to
give the impression of engulfing him before the scanner lens settled
under the center of a leaping, vaulted dome.

To Lonnie, the many-acred enclosure meant nothing with its shimmering,
stone-lace pillars, its tapestries that flamed with color or traced
ghostlike, barely discernible outlines on the walls. Nor did any thought
enter his mind of the exactness of the reflected color in the stereo
cube. Hands clenched into aching fists, he stood leaning forward;
striving by sheer will-power to span the void of space and force the
scanner lens closer to the truncated pyramid of steps atop which, on a
block of plain black stone, a dessicated mummy sat erect, hands folded
in its reedy lap and on its head a blazing, coruscating radiance.

A _Crown_!


IV

Dazedly, Lonnie was conscious of the public announcer's rhapsodizing:
"... Gov-Anth's ethnologists and linguistics experts are making some
progress toward deciphering the inscription carved on the plaque. Wait!
Here's a note from Gawley Worin. You remember Gawley Worin, our famous
leg-man, folks, don't you? Well, here's a note. It ... Listen to this,
folks! Listen! This is the beginning of the first rough translation of
the inscription. Listen ...

"'We, Wold, last of the Imperial Family of Wold who exercise our Power
from Wold, the Imperial City, throughout Wold, the Planet. We, last of
the line of Wold, who alone may wear the Tiara which is Our Power, and
our Symbol of Power, and the Symbol of Our Power throughout all the edos
of Raii's life-taking light, without fear, facing the fate--'"

Hissing, Lonnie cut the stereo switch. He'd seen enough. Darting across
the den, he opened his communico. "Get me Sykes in our Mars unit," he
ordered the operator. "Make sure what I say is scrambled. While you're
waiting, get through to Denisen at Gov-Forn, then Raikes at Gov-Planet,
then Butchwaeu in Gov-Int. And keep this line closed--that means you,
too--while I'm talking."

Lonnie--THE Launcelot Raichi--was going after what he wanted.

Just under a mile away, Jason turned from the public stereo in the
rotunda of Pol-Anx. Tapping the cold bit of his pipe against his teeth
as he walked, he sought the ease of his chair. In the privacy of his
office he began to ponder.

The months' developments gave him no surprise. Because it was the first
contact Humanity had had with a non-human race, the Mars discoveries
made an overwhelming impression on the man in the street. The result was
that for the first time in Post-Synthesis history all artifacts were
reserved for Earth Public!!!

Everyone Who Mattered screamed, except Lonnie. He evinced a biding
calmness while attending the ceremonies marking the installation of the
Tiara of Wold in the exact center of Government's own Fane of Artifacts;
even smiling benignly on certain Gov-Ficials who seemed to perspire more
than the coolness of the evening warranted.

Jason, loitering on the grass of Gov-Park, noted the smile and the
perspiration. The perspirers reminded him of small boys expecting a
whipping.

Once the dedication ceremonies were over, Lonnie never returned to the
Fane to examine the Tiara.

It was Jason the Tiara seemed to fascinate. He spent more and more time,
particularly evenings, crouching on the bench in Gov-Park across from
the Tiara, ignoring the constant stream of awed tourists silhouetted
against the blaze of light. He kept in constant touch with his desk
sergeant through his pocket communico, so Annex business didn't suffer.
And the summer was warm, to say the least, so that several Gov-Ficials
were almost regretful that the dignity of their positions forbade
following Jason's example.

But then, too, no mere cop had their responsibilities.

None of them was conscious of how habitually Jason frowned, scratched
his head, moved uneasily on the pleasant bench. Occasionally, he would
snap his fingers and the frown would relax. He'd switch on the
communico and speak briefly. Immediately thereafter, one or the other of
the hand-picked four in Jason's personal squad would raise his eyebrows
slightly--safely, since the pocket communico did not project video--and
take up a new position or new duties. Or, an equipment unit in Op-room
at Anx would be indifferently retuned by heedless techs.

Then for a while Jason would vent smoke pleasantly from his malodorous
pipe until the frown would settle back between his eyebrows and he'd
begin to squirm on the bench again, glancing warily at Executive Level,
feeling helpless about the inadequacy of his resources.

But Lonnie had gotten over feeling sad about _his_ resources months
earlier.

The night he'd returned from the Tiara ceremonies he'd locked himself in
his den and let the on-view smile his face was wearing lapse. He tweaked
Genghis Khan's nose viciously and slammed himself down in the Diamond
Throne without donning a single imperial trapping, pounding his fist on
the cool mineral facet and staring morosely at the grid suit hanging in
its place on the wall.

The grid suit wouldn't help him this time. The cover-alls that had
everything except the necessary invisibility to--

_Invisibility!_

Slowly, Lonnie began to grin. Very little later he had an obscure
biochemist hooked, and ended his instructions with: "... don't care if
it needs concentrated essence of chameleon juice. Invent it. And it
better work for there's going to be a total shortage of neo-hyperacth at
two-twenty-eight per cc for wifey!"

The biochemist delivered. Lonnie didn't stop to question if it really
was essence of chameleon juice. He hurried with the beaker of viscous
fluid to his throne room, drenched every square centimeter of the grid
suit with it and watched breathlessly through the hours while it dried.

In the glowing, shadowless illumination, the suit gradually disappeared.
First, the wall against which it hung shone mistily through it. Then
there was wall, slightly outlined by a greyish cast. And at last, only
an indescribable fuzziness that had to be sensed rather than seen.


V

He took the fuzziness off its hanger and threw it up in the air toward
the center light. The light was undimmed. The fuzziness was air. It
sprawled down across the Throne and became diamond, except for the
sleeve that dangled; part air, part intricately patterned Persian
carpet. It wasn't a fuzziness, exactly, it was more of a faint tone of
difference in the color-texture feel. It was as though what was behind
the suit was miraculously translated to its facing surface and then
reflected to the eye within the nth of utter fidelity.

Grinning, slowly Lonnie's lower lip crept out and up to squeeze its
mate. Then, because it was always better to be sure, he donned the suit
to try it against a variety of experimental backgrounds, indoors and
out.

Over at Pol-Anx, the servo-tracer went to sleep; the desk sergeant
yanked the creaking joints of his bunioned feet down off Jason's desk;
on the bench in Gov-Park, Jason's communico squeaked briefly and Jason
and his four men rose to emergency alert.

Two hours later, the Wold Tiara still coruscating in the Fane's blaze of
light, the servo-tracer picked up its placid humming. Jason's communico
squeaked again and Jason's men relaxed while Jason himself clutched his
head with both hands and whispered bitter things.

At the same time, Lonnie, whistling cheerfully, drew his legs out of the
suit, shook it straight and hung it back on the wall. He was sure now.
As sure as he was that the little biochemist and his wife and quintet of
daughters would not want for neo-hyperacth or anything else any longer.
He giggled a little, thinking of Jason crouched on the bench, glaring
vacantly, utterly unconscious of Lonnie passing across the grass so
close beside him.

At his own convenience, Lonnie selected his night; a full-moon night
because his now-invisible grid suit didn't require dark. He picked a
fairly early hour, too, because what matter if a few yawps gawked as the
Tiara vanished? And that one of those yawps would be Jason, stodgily on
his bench, gave Lonnie an extra fillip. Perhaps it was just for this
he'd let Jason plug along on a cold trail all these years.

So that night, wearily from his bench in Gov-Park, Jason looked up at
Friday the 13th's full moon swimming amiably through its own reflected
night-brightness. His brain, tired of its everlasting shuttle between
worries, presented him with a disconnected memory-fact: "As cited by
Zollner," Jason found himself quoting a forgotten textbook, "the Moon's
reflectivity is point one seven four ... Nuts!" Angrily, he broke off,
thumbed the button of his communico, growled into the microphone on his
lapel, "Report."

"Adams," came promptly back. "West Entry. Nothing."

"McGillis. Patrolling rear wall. All clear in both directions as far as
I can see. An' I can see both ends of the Fane in all this moonlight,
Chief."

"Holland. At Raichi House. Nothing."

"Johnson. East Entry. More of the same." Then, "Say, Jase, how about it?
These double shifts are getting me."

"What's the matter with you, now?"

"My feet hurt, Jase. Neither one of us is as young as we used to be,
remember. How about knocking off?"

"Hmphf ..." Johnson, Jason thought, was getting old. He'd been a good
man in his day but-- Hey, he was still a good man! It was Jason's own
stubbornness that was wearing Johnson down. Jason's useless
stubbornness. After all, without the backing of Anx or Gov, without
results from the equipment he had filched to use on Lonnie, what was the
use of everlastingly sticking around the Tiara like a fly buzzing
molasso-saccharine anyway? Jason opened his mouth to send them all home,
pressed the communico button and--shelved the relieving order
temporarily. Instead, he blasted into the microphone: "Sergeant!
SERGEANT!"

From the communico, an intermittent drone became a gasping gulp; changed
into a violent yawn and only then turned into startled speech. "Yeah?
Huh?... Yeah, Chief!"

"Sergeant, if I ever catch you asleep again, you won't ever get your
pension."

"Chief, I wasn't asleep! Honest! I--"

"All right. What's happening up there?"

"Nothin' ... nothin' ... I wasn't asleep, Chief. I'd'a called you 'f
anything--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Something bright, or was it dull, plucked at the edge of Jason's vision.
Inside the Fane, far down at one end. A thin, vertical bar of difference
in the blaze of light. Chin half turned, Jason stared. What?...

"_Chief!_ That tracer's asleep--I mean--that there tracer's just GONE
t'sleep! I mean--Chief! It's--"

"Shut up!" Jason hissed. "Holland! If you've let anyone slip past you
out of that house--"

"Nobody did. You know me better than that, Chief."

"Adams! McGillis! Johnson! What's happening?"

"Nothing ..."

"Not a thing ..."

"_Johnson!_" Jason licked suddenly dry lips. "Dammit, Johnson,
report!... _Johnson!_"

Silence.

Grimly, Jason watched the vertical bar of different brightness edge back
to the Fane's East wall and disappear into the even dazzle of the
marble. He had a feeling it wasn't any use calling Johnson again. Ever.

"Chief, what's up? What do we do?"

"Huh? Oh ... You, Holland, get over to the East Entry as fast as your
legs'll stretch."

"There in three minutes flat!"

"You, too, McGillis."

"On my way!"

"Adams, you stick at that West Entry. If anything gets past you, I'll--"

"Don't worry, Chief. I've got Johnson to even up for."

Not watching how he ran, Jason hurled himself toward the East Entry; his
eyes following, in the opposite direction, a dullness moving in the
blaze inside the Fane. A smoothly moving, white on white, unfaced ghost
of whiteness within, a part of, the blazing radionic light. Just as he
rounded the East end of the Fane, he glimpsed the vertical bar of
whiteness again--the edge of the marble slab that was the entry door,
reflecting the blazing light at a different angle. Behind it, McGillis's
tightly grinning face. Under McGillis's face, the stab of blue-white
light reflected a glancing ray from the old-fashioned solid-missile
service pistol that Jason had insisted all four men arm themselves with
for this assignment.

Over the sound of his own labored breathing as he plunged through the
East Entry, Jason heard panting behind him. Holland. Holland bettering
his promised three minutes--and with a forbidden disarmer in his hand.
Guiltily, Jason felt the weight of the disarmer he had himself secreted
under his armpit.

Then there wasn't time for thinking or feeling, only for running down
the dazzling half-mile inside the Fane to the Tiara. Up ahead, the
different-white shape was motionless in front of it. Oddly, a dark,
vertical line appeared from the top to what would be the waist of the
shape. And for the instant it took the Tiara to vanish inside, Jason saw
clearly in the radiant light the profile of Lonnie's unmistakable face.
Saw Lonnie's eyes swivel in the direction of the thundering echoes of
their footfalls in the silence of the Fane. Saw Lonnie turn toward them,
the dark line disappearing from waist to top as if it had never been.

Once more the different-whiteness moved. Toward them. Edging for the
back wall to skirt around them; one limb-shape fumbling in the palm of
the other.

"No you don't!" McGillis, ahead of Jason, yelled, his howl drowned in
the smacking crack of his pistol.

There seemed to be a waver in the different-whiteness. A small black dot
appeared against it; hung briefly, apparently unsupported, in the air;
then the undistorted bullet dropped inertly to the floor.

"You _still_ won't!" McGillis hurled himself, shoulders low and legs
driving, at the shape. Two feet from it, he rebounded sharply, trod on
the rolling bullet, went down, his head splatting dully against the
marble floor.

Holland grunted. Crouched to leap. Thrust his disarmer high, ready to
snap into line.

"Hold it!" Jason commanded. Silently, eyelids barely separated to endure
the dazzle, he stared at the different-whiteness that confronted him. "I
made it this time, Lonnie," he called. "Caught up with you-- No!" His
arm flung out, startling him with the feel of his disarmer now oddly in
his hand.

"Don't move!"

The white-within-white's limb-shapes moved up, the hand-ends one over
the other. Through the minute spaces the overlapping fingers left,
glimpses of a thin dark line appeared. The hood was open a trifle at
mouth level, and from the opening Lonnie's voice emerged, sifting
through the protecting screen of gloves. "You can't see me! You
_can't_!"

"No? Take one step sideways. Just _one_! Stop!"

The different-whiteness had moved, and Holland had moved with it;
crouching now, alertly motionless, in his new position. Jason changed
the angle of his own facing. "Now do you think we can't see you?"

"But ... but how!"

"Your albedo is showing," Jason chuckled harshly. "You never would take
the trouble to learn the _how_ of anything, Lonnie. Sure, your damned
disguise is the same color as the marble. Maybe even exactly the same.
But the material is different, and the surface texture; it doesn't have
the same degree or quality of reflectivity to incident light that marble
does!

"Eighty years ago, even the commercial photographers knew about
albedo--one of 'em made a picture of a cat, white on white. I told you
about the reflectivity in your stereo cube. But you wouldn't listen,
Lonnie, would you?" Jason let out a bursting peal of laughter. "_So you
tripped over your own albedo!_"

Through the dying echoes of his own laughter, Jason caught Lonnie's
harsh whisper. "You haven't got me, copper!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The black line marking the opening in the grid suit disappeared. The
barely-discernible limb-shapes dropped, one hand-end again fumbling at
the rheostat in the palm of the other.

"I'll get him, Chief!" Holland was in action, his disarmer snapping down
into aim.

"No!" Jason roared. "Holland, don't!"

Too late. Under the pressure of Holland's finger, the disarmer's
invisible ion-stream tightened to the thread-thin lethal intensity,
leaped out against the suit's grid. Then the disarmer was luminous even
in the dazzle; even through the flesh of Holland's fist. Holland
screamed and squirmed and dropped. Part of him--the part that wasn't
burned away--reached the floor.

The stench of carbonized flesh scoured Jason's nostrils. Stupidly, he
stared down at the headless, shoulderless, armless torso; black ...
sooty ... against the snowy gleam of the floor; conscious of the
sidelong, round-about approach of the different-white figure. He'd
failed again. Lonnie, in that damned suit, was impervious.

Slowly, he raised his eyes from the thing on the floor to the thing
approaching. One consolation, he himself wouldn't go on living after
this. With grim frustration, he raised his arm in a final, fruitless
gesture and hurled the useless disarmer at the shape of Lonnie.

It halted, dead, in mid-air, a yard away from the shape-thing. Dropped
straight down, clanging against the floor.

A quiver as of mirth appeared to shake the different-whiteness. It
stooped. One hand-end fumbled at the palmed rheostat, then dropped to
pick up the disarmer. Fumbled again at the rheostat while the figure
straightened up to point the glistening projector at Jason's belly.

The dark opening in the hood appeared again.

Lonnie's voice chortled, "Told you I'd use whatever you tried to smear
you with. Goodbye, Jasey ..."

The dark line was gone. The disarmer, turned to lethal potential,
settled in the shape's hand-end and began to spout. Jason went stiff.
Every muscle of his body clenching to withstand obliteration.

He waited for it. Tight ... except his eyes that, in spite of
themselves, opened.

Caught within the field, the full power of the disarmer poured itself
into the suit. The suit's capacity absorbed it. Almost. Then turned the
combined energies on itself.

With the smell of frying organic matter, slowly the grid-coveralls
appeared in dazzling radiance within the dazzle of the Fane's lights;
glowed in it; red--then white--hot. Whiter than the light itself--far,
far lighter than any reflected rays could make it.

Inside the all-encompassing, roasting grid of the melting suit,
Lonnie writhed. Faintly, as the suit failed, his screams came
through--momentarily. Then they were gone as the fused, molten heap
subsided lower ... lower ... began to trickle across the dazzling,
ice-white marble of the floor.

Afterward, had Jason known anything at all about Lonnie's Philosophy,
he'd have immediately supplied another "rule"; making a foursome out of
the "Triple Ethic": "If you do it yourself, make sure you know _what_
you're doing."



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Planet Stories_ September 1952.
    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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