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Title: The Third Party
Author: Holum, Lee B.
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 "The Third Party" ***

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                             THE 3rd PARTY

                            BY LEE B. HOLUM

                 _A series of "incidents" had provoked
            a state of emergency between two great powers.
               The reason was obvious. But why a single
           chemist as bait--and who was the third party?...
                     The 4th award winner in IF's
                   College Science Fiction Contest._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, March 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Snow beat against the tall windows of the terminal building. The
howling of the wind around the corners of the building and across
the broad expanse of the rocket field went unheard by the thousands
who streamed across the crowded floor. Each was intent on his or her
affairs, hurrying to board one of the tall spires out on the snow
covered field, seeing someone off, or waiting for incoming friends.

Roger Lorin and his wife waited near the entrances to the boarding
tunnels for the announcement that would send them out under the field
to their rocket. The shouts of porters and the voices of excited
passengers mingled with the noises of the terminal. Groups of people
moved across the floor like the currents of the ocean.

Suddenly, the announcer's voice boomed out over the p. a. "All
passengers for the Arctic City rocket report to tunnel seven."

"Come on Linda," Roger said. "That's our ship." He hurried his wife
toward the tunnel entrance. A few minutes later they stepped off the
conveyer walk at the bottom of an elevator shaft. The gray uniformed
attendant checked their tickets, before the glass cage lifted them to
the lock entrance high on the side of the rocket. The wind sang its
mournful song around the corners of the cage and fired volleys of snow
against the glass. At the air lock entrance, a stewardess checked their
tickets a second time.

"Couches 34 and 35? Follow me, please." She led them up one deck and
over to a pair of couches, one of which was next to a small eyeport.

"Take the one next to the port, honey," said Roger. "The view's worth
seeing."

A moment later, a buzzer sounded, and a red light flashed on near the
hatch to the deck above. The voice of the pilot came over the intercom
system.

"We are blasting off in five minutes. All passengers who have not
strapped in will please do so immediately." Three minutes went by, and
the final warning buzzer sounded. After another two minutes, the rumble
of the motors came from the tail of the ship. The rocket, a towering
silver needle with orange flame spouting from its lower end, paused
on the field as its motors warmed up. Then it rose majestically on a
column of fire and disappeared in the swirling snow.

Linda was surprised to find that the sound of the blast off was not as
loud as she had expected. Neither did she find the acceleration of two
and a half gravities excessively uncomfortable. The brightly lighted
compartment made the scene outside the eyeport seem dark; although it
was only four-thirty in the afternoon. Tiny pellets of snow streamed
by the port during the few seconds it took the rocket to scream through
the lower atmosphere. Then the ship burst through the clouds. Linda
gave an exclamation of surprise and pleasure at the sheer beauty of the
sight. The clouds rose like tumbled snowy mountain ranges under an ice
blue winter sky. The setting sun painted their tops in brilliant hues
of pink, orange, and violet. Their eastern sides lay in blue shadow
honeycombed with caves and grottos.

"It's beautiful!" exclaimed Linda. "I never dreamed it would be like
this."

"You have to see it to really appreciate it," Roger said. "Descriptions
never do it justice."

As the rocket continued to rise, the clouds flattened until they
resembled pack ice on an arctic sea. More of Earth became visible, and
spots of green and brown appeared on the southwestern horizon. Finally
the blue of the Pacific crept into view, brilliantly contrasted against
the now black sky.

"You may be able to see a few stars if you don't look toward Earth or
the sun," Roger said to Linda. Linda followed Roger's instructions;
and, sure enough, a few stars appeared, unwinking points of light
against black velvet. Now over three hundred miles above Earth, the
rocket had crossed the frontier into outer space.

The rocket passed the top of its arc and the scenery was forgotten; the
natural fear of falling to which all humans are heir asserted itself.
Linda suddenly realized that there was no sensation of weight and that
the rocket was falling steadily through space.

"Is ... is everything all right?" she asked in a weak voice.

"Don't worry dear," Roger replied soothingly. "We'll be landing in
another half hour. You won't have to go through much more of it."

"Thank goodness!" Linda breathed a sigh of relief and laid her dark
head on Roger's shoulder. Roger put his arm around her and held her
until the rocket came in with a squeal of runners against hard packed
snow. Lights flashed by the eyeport as they slid along the runway. In
the distance the lighted, slablike towers of Arctic City loomed against
the dark sky. The night was clear and bitterly cold.

The rocket slid to a stop, and an electric tractor came to tow the ship
to the top of an elevator shaft. A few minutes later the passengers
streamed along a conveyer walk into the Arctic City terminal. The
sounds of hurried activity echoed through the tunnel. The rumble of
heavy freight conveyers, the shouts of stevedores, the whine of heavily
loaded electric motors, and the hum of conversation mingled in a medley
of sounds that spoke of commerce and industry, of people busy at an
almost endless array of tasks.

"Are you Roger Lorin?" The question came from a short, stocky,
gray-haired individual.

"Yes, I am," Roger replied.

"I'm Jacob Darcy. I'm supposed to show you to your apartment and help
you get oriented."

"Good," Roger said. "You lead. We'll follow." Darcy turned and led them
to a small electric monorail car which sped them through a maze of
underground streets past the windows of many shops and stores.

After a ten minute ride in the monorail and a fast ascent in an
elevator, the three of them entered a small apartment high in one of
the slablike buildings. The apartment was comfortable and compact,
though not luxuriously furnished. One transparent wall of the living
room looked out over the city and the arctic landscape.

"I thought things would be more primitive," said Linda as she looked
around her future home. "This doesn't seem like a frontier at all."

"No," Darcy replied with a smile. "Arctic City is pretty well built up.
Conditions are a lot better here than they are in some of the mining
centers farther north." He turned to Roger. "I'll be around tomorrow
morning to show you the labs. Sometime around eight or eight thirty."

"I'll be ready," replied Roger. "It should be interesting to see the
facilities here."

"I suppose the high temperature work will be most interesting to you,"
said Darcy. "I read your paper on molecular linkages. We'll sure be
able to use you. We're having the devil's own time with the linings for
the reaction chambers in the neutron pile."

"I hope I can help," said Roger. "The cooling problem should be quite a
challenge without the extreme temperatures and high vacuum that we had
at the moon labs."

"That's right. You did work on the first neutron pile, didn't you?"
Darcy said as he prepared to leave. "That makes it much better. There
are too few men with practical experience in neutron pile work."

It had long been known by physicists that tremendous amounts of energy
could be released if matter could be collapsed to form neutrons. This
step had been achieved in 2047 A. D., at the Lunar atomic laboratories.
The Arctic City pile was the first attempt to apply it to industrial
uses.

Up to this time (2054), man had been barred from the planets by the
lack of a fuel cheap enough to make trips across interplanetary space
economically feasible. Long, economical orbits could be used; but these
brought on psychological problems resulting from living in cramped
quarters for long periods of time, and problems of carrying enough
supplies for such long trips. In shorter orbits, the profits would
be burned up in excessive fuel consumption. The most efficient fuel
was monatomic hydrogen, which is highly unstable unless dissolved in
a catalyst to keep it from exploding at ordinary temperatures. The
catalyst and the process for making the fuel were both expensive.
Moon colonies were maintained only because the moon was the best
known source of germanium; and its vacuum was a valuable location for
astronomical observatories and atomic research laboratories.

The neutron pile applied to space travel would make an interplanetary
civilization possible. The pile, releasing neutrons and ions at
velocities approaching that of light, would make use of small amounts
of inexpensive materials as fuels.

It also had frightening potentialities for mass destruction.

The ambassador of the South American Republic thought of the
destructive possibilities as he rode the small monorail car toward
the Government Center in Chicago, which was now the capital of the
North American Union. The shore of Lake Michigan was studded with tall
skyscrapers connected by streets with transparent coverings. At ground
level, a system of conveyer walks ranging from the hundred mile per
hour strips in the center to five mile per hour strips on the edges,
whisked brightly clad people about their business. On the second level,
monorail tracks carried the high speed freight and passenger traffic of
the city. The ambassador's car pulled in at a second level siding near
the loading platform for the Government Tower. As he stepped from his
car, he was met by two secret service agents who escorted him to the
office of the Secretary of State.

The Secretary sat behind a large desk in a comfortably furnished office
on the eightieth floor. Through the large window wall behind the
Secretary, the scattered towers of the city were somewhat obscured by
flying snow and the gloom of a December morning.

The distinguished looking man behind the desk had served his country
well during the past thirty years. He knew the problems faced by such
nations as the South American Republic, the League of Islam, the Asian
Commonwealth, the decadent subject nations of western Europe, and the
tiny, constantly warring states that comprise what was left of the once
mighty U.S.S.R. That morning he had sent a note refusing help to the
Baltic Federation, which had accused the Arctic League of aggression.
The North American Union had no desire to enter foreign wars that did
not concern it.

The Secretary rose and extended his hand.

"Good morning," he greeted the ambassador as he shook hands with him.
"Have a seat." The Secretary waved toward a comfortable chair near the
desk. The ambassador seated himself with his overcoat across his knees.

"I cannot get used to your cold weather," he said good naturedly. "I
have spent too much time in the tropics."

"We seem to be getting an unusually cold winter," the Secretary
replied. "I'll have to admit that Chicago doesn't compare with Rio as
far as weather is concerned."

"I wish that I were there now," the ambassador said in a more serious
tone. "I would not have to discuss with you this trouble that has come
up."

"What trouble?" the Secretary asked. "Your note wasn't clear about what
you wished to discuss with me."

"As you probably know, there are groups in my country that fear the
technical developments that have been going on during the past ten
years," the ambassador replied. "They do not know your country as well
as I do, and fear that you will use the neutron energy discovery as a
weapon."

"Why should they fear our energy developments?" the Secretary asked.
"The Lunar atomic laboratories are open for inspection at all times,
and the pile being built in the Arctic is no secret either. All the
developments are private ventures. The idea of making neutron bombs
hasn't even been raised in Congress."

"Unfortunately my people do not know this," replied the ambassador.
"These groups have used much propaganda and have thoroughly misled the
masses. That the laboratories are located on the moon does not help.
You know how rigid the requirements are for those who would travel in
space. Several men from my country have not been allowed to go for
health reasons. This naturally feeds the suspicions of my people, who
do not understand why such things must be done. To remedy this trouble
my government has instructed me to arrange for a meeting between our
presidents."

"I think such a meeting would be possible," the Secretary said. "I'm
sure that the president will understand the situation. The memory of
the twentieth century won't fade easily. I'll see if a trip to the
Lunar laboratories can be arranged. It would be good if some members of
the dissatisfied groups were allowed to make the trip."

"That would be very good," replied the ambassador. "It would help to
counteract their propaganda. They are seeking power, and would gain
it at the expense of good will between our nations. This will very
effectively remove the source of their grievances."

"I'll bring it up at the cabinet meeting this afternoon," the Secretary
said. "It would be wisest to get this business moving as fast as
possible."

The ambassador rose from his seat. "You will let me know the outcome
of the meeting as soon as you can?"

"Yes," replied the Secretary. "As soon as it's over."

       *       *       *       *       *

The laboratories at Arctic City were fairly new but already had the
cluttered appearance of all research labs. Electronic instruments,
coils of wire, and various articles of chemical apparatus lay on the
work benches. One room held the dial-studded face of a computer.
Another contained several induction and carbon arc furnaces used in
high temperature work. Men wearing white smocks or plastic aprons went
quietly and efficiently about their tasks.

Roger and Darcy entered a lab in which a man sat staring at the face
of an oscilloscope, where weird figures danced in yellowish-green
tracery. The bench was covered with a bewildering array of equipment.
A row of gas discharge tubes glowed with varicolored light. From them
a spaghetti-like arrangement of many colored wires led to various
instruments scattered along the bench.

"How's it coming, Phil?" Darcy asked.

The man looked up from his work. "Hi, Jake," he said. "I might get
somewhere if this oscillator would stop wandering all over the place.
This thing doesn't seem to be very accurate at high frequencies." He
indicated a piece of equipment connected to the oscilloscope.

"I'll sure be glad when we get a good physical chemist to do this work.
My business is ceramics, and I'm getting sick and tired of wrestling
with his wiring."

"Well," said Darcy, "you won't have to worry about this any more. This
is Roger Lorin, our new physical chemist. Roger, this is Philip Gordon,
our ceramics expert."

Gordon grinned and extended his hand. "I'm glad to meet you," he said.
"Sorry I blew off like that. I just get disgusted sometimes."

"It does get frustrating," Roger agreed as they shook hands.
"Electronics is rather tricky."

"You're right there," replied Gordon. "Especially when you don't know
too much about it. What I learned about electronics in college has long
since departed. Take a look at this set up. It's about as poor a job of
haywiring as you'll find anywhere."

"I see you're using high frequency excitation to get your high
temperatures," Roger commented. "Just what compounds are you working
with?"

"I've been working with some plastics, inert stuff, to see just what
they'll react with, and how fast they'll react at high temperatures."

"It isn't too easy," Lorin said. "It never has been easy to find
reaction rates. I'll get to work on these this afternoon. Maybe I can
get some of these finished tomorrow or the next day."

"Thanks," Gordon said in a relieved voice. "It'll be good to get some
results I can rely on."

Lorin and Darcy left the lab and walked through a winding succession
of corridors until they came to a large room. One wall was lined with
catwalks linked by metal ladders. Men in coveralls moved against the
slate gray background like insects on the side of a building. Through
a door to their right Lorin could see banks of instruments at which
several men were working.

"This is the south face of the pile," Darcy said. "Most of the
instruments are located here. The Klysten converters are mounted in
that room over there." He indicated a door on their left.

"I'd like to see those," Roger said. "I hear that these are pretty
large compared with what we had at the moon labs."

"They're big enough all right," Darcy said. "Each one is four stories
high. We had a deuce of a time evacuating them."

As Darcy said this, they stepped into a long high room. To their right
stood six immense transparent tubes. Each tube contained a grid of
thick steel bars which was mounted so that it completely surrounded a
coil of heavy copper bar in the center of the tube. The steel bars had
been treated so that a magnetic field would build up rapidly when they
were exposed to hard radiations. The radiation beams were passed into
the grid in pulses, thus causing the magnetic field to build up and
collapse rapidly producing current in the coils by induction. The tubes
were generators with no moving parts except electrons and protons. The
system used about seventy-five per cent of the energy produced by the
pile. The residual radiation was released as greenish yellow light.

"Why are they transparent?" Roger asked. "I should think that metals
would be stronger and easier to manage."

"The transparency helps us to maintain a more accurate control,"
Darcy replied. "When the light shifts toward the blue, we know that
more energy is being released as radiation, and can shut down the tube
before it gets a chance to heat up too much."

"Good idea," said Roger. "Control was our worst trouble at the moon
labs."

"We'll use this until we find something better," said Darcy as they
left the pile area.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unknown to Roger Lorin, events which would shape the course of the
next few weeks, and would ultimately change his whole life were taking
place far to the south. A third party had entered the political stage
of the Western Hemisphere. The League of Islam had finally decided to
do something about an incident which it had never forgiven. Over thirty
years earlier, the Union had sent marines into the Suez Canal area to
stop alleged assaults against American citizens. In a sense, the North
American Union had indicated that it thought of the League of Islam as
nothing more than a backward group, which could be pacified whenever
trouble arose within its borders. The insult had never been forgotten
by the fanatically nationalistic Moslems. Only the greater military
might of the North American power had prevented a war at that time.
Now, the League had decided that the time was ripe to gain immunity
from such insults forever by some shrewd political maneuvering.

Working through a small dissatisfied political party in South America,
they used the North's development of neutron energy to create fear in
the minds of the people of the southern republic. By stimulating this
fear, the Arabs hoped to weaken both powers through war, and thereby
to gain power and prestige among the nations. The League hoped to gain
through political devices what it could never get in open war.

Up to January 5, 2055, the leaders of the western hemispheric powers
did not realize what was actually taking place. But then reports began
coming into the offices of the investigators of both nations which
changed the picture.

On January 2, an American oil well in the Gulf of Mexico had been blown
up. The saboteur was not caught, since the bomb had been cleverly
hidden sometime before the explosion. Two days later, in the state of
Venezuela, an official of the South American government was shot and
killed. Although the assassin escaped after a grueling two day chase
and was never really identified, there were plenty of rumor mongers
to remind the people that the dead official had held opinions that
were not favorable to the North American Union. Accompanied by such
incidents friction between the two nations grew.

The events that set the pot to boiling, and nearly caused it to
boil over occurred at Arctic City. Up to this time, Roger Lorin had
considered the reports of such incidents as news that seemed rather
unreal, because of its distance from his immediate affairs. Now,
however, he found himself in the middle of the trouble between the two
nations. Although he scarcely knew it, he had become a key man on the
neutron pile project. His research into the physics of interatomic and
intermolecular forces had aided materially the work on the pile.

It started, innocently enough, during the early afternoon of January
9, when a group of ten men ostensibly bound for a mining town farther
north, took a guided tour of the pile area. About one sixth of the
reaction cells into which the pile was divided for convenience, were in
operation; and the six converter tubes were aglow with greenish yellow
light. The entrance of the men into the central chamber was the signal.
A previously planted bomb exploded with enough violence to shatter the
tubes; filling the converter room with greenish yellow fire and hard
radiations.

A smoke bomb provided extra screening and the group hurried down a
side tunnel under cover of the gray mantle. Roger heard the sounds of
confusion accompanied by the clangor of an alarm bell, announcing that
hard radiations were loose somewhere in the plant. He stepped to the
door of the lab, and a gas gun exploded in his face. He knew nothing
more, until he awoke aboard a fast moving jet.

The convertiplane winged through the Arctic twilight for nearly two
hours, and finally came down on a flat stretch of snow covered tundra,
near the shore of the Arctic Ocean. A group of three dome huts stood at
the base of a low cliff. Otherwise, the scene was one of silent, dark
desolation.

One of the men handed Roger a pair of insulated, electrically heated
coveralls. Roger put them on without argument. Next, the man motioned
toward the hatch with a machine pistol. "Get movin'," he snapped. "Make
it quick. And don't try to run for it. You wouldn't get far."

Roger dropped through the hatch and waited quietly. When his captors
finally dropped through the hatch, they steered him none too gently
toward the middle hut.

On his right as he entered, three men sat playing cards around a small
table. To his left, a man lay on a cot reading a magazine by the light
of a mining lantern. Roger was shoved across the main room, through a
passageway and into a room on the right. The metal door clanged shut
behind him, and the bolt shot home with the finality of a prison gate.

"Well, I see I have company," a voice came out of the gloom. As Roger's
eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, he saw an old man sitting on the
edge of a narrow cot.

"Who are you?" Roger asked in a bewildered voice. "And just what's been
going on? Why should I be kidnapped and brought to this God forsaken
spot?"

"You must be the chemist they were talking about," the old man replied.
"I heard them say something about one of the chief chemists at the
neutron pile project. As for me, my name is Dr. Alexander Nolan. I
came up here in my plane about a month ago to write up some historical
research I've been doing during the past five years. Instead, your
kidnappers came in and took over. But here I am rambling on about
myself as usual. What's your name, young fellow?"

"I'm Roger Lorin," Roger replied. "I'm a chemist all right. I was
working at Arctic City on the neutron project, but I still can't figure
out why I should be kidnapped. They couldn't get any ransom, and I
don't have any information that would be useful to them. I just don't
see it."

"Roger Lorin, eh," the historian mused. "I think I see why you were
kidnapped. You're more important than you think you are, which is
unusual. Most men think that they are more important than they really
are. I suppose you've heard about the oil well that was blown up in the
Gulf of Mexico and the man who was shot and killed down in Venezuela.
Now, if some North American Citizen were to be found dead, possibly
tortured for information about the neutron pile, it might be just the
spark that sets off the powder keg that's been building up during the
past ten years."

"But why should South America do anything like that?" Roger asked
nervously. "They have nothing to gain by such actions. We've shared the
information on pile developments since the projects were started."

"Oh, but South America is not the power behind this business," Nolan
said gently. "I'll admit that the evidence seems to point to South
America, but I have reasons to believe that another power is behind
this."

"But which one could it be?" asked Roger.

"Indications point to the League of Islam," replied Nolan. "They are
clever, but a student of political history can get some insight into
their plans if he looks carefully enough. If you're interested, I can
give you some background."

"Go ahead," Roger said. "I'd like to find out what's behind this."

"Well," the historian began. "I guess that you could say that this
story goes back 4000 years. The hatred between the Jews and the Arabs
goes back that far, and it plays an important part in the present
situation. Actually the seeds of the present trouble were planted
more than a hundred years ago, when the United States helped the Jews
set up a republic on land that the Arabs considered theirs. When the
republic of Israel was established, many Arabs were driven from their
homes. Added to this, American economic aid to Israel didn't help our
relations with the Arab world. As a result, the fifties and sixties of
the last century were a time of unrest throughout the Middle East.

"A short war between Israel and the Arab States lasted from 1946 to
1949. The Arabs lost out, but border incidents occurred intermittently
until 1969. After the United States and Russia were involved in the Two
Week Chaos, the Arab League moved against Israel. The Arabs had grown
in strength during the preceding twenty years and were able to push the
Jews out of Palestine or put them under their control.

"Under agreements made in the United Nations, the United States sent an
expeditionary force to the Holy Land. The whole affair was a debacle.
America had been weakened by the atom bombing of many of her cities and
military establishments. Russia was also out of the running. After the
death of Malenkov in 1968, one of the party leaders had tried to bring
union by starting a war. After American retaliation with hydrogen and
atom bombs, the growing resentment of the Russian people against an
undesirable system exploded into open revolt. The Soviet Union became a
disorganized crazy-quilt pattern of small, constantly warring states.

"On top of the destruction of atomic war, came the great economic
collapse of 1970. The financial structure of the United States and
her allies fell apart, and with it the United Nations went down into
oblivion. The states of the Arab League could now do much as they
pleased without outside interference.

"The Two Week Chaos and the great collapse incapacitated the western
powers for nearly thirty years. The Arab States prospered and formed
the League of Islam in 1990. The League covered the eastern end of the
Mediterranean and the coast of North Africa. During this period, South
America had formed the South American Republic and became a world power.

"The North American Union, which was formed in 1997, wished to take
up where the United States had left off in the development of Arabian
oil. The Arabs, who had developed the fields themselves with help from
South America, had no desire for North American intervention. The
Americans, who had a long term lease signed in the late fifties, were
not willing to give up so easily, and hard feeling developed. The Suez
incident of thirty years ago and the American control of the moon and
the satellite stations didn't help matters any.

"When the Americans finished the first satellite station in 1984
and landed the first rocket on the moon in 1991, the Arabs became
apprehensive and made known their wish to build a spaceport in the
Sahara Desert. The North American Union, which had a monopoly on rocket
building facilities, refused to allow it, out of fear of the growing
strength of the Arabs. I think that that was a serious mistake. The
sight of the satellites passing overhead, plus the knowledge that
they belong to an unfriendly power doesn't help to create good will.
The fact that the moon has an independent government makes it worse.
The leaders of Islam know that the Lunar government wouldn't allow
nationalism in space. I guess you know how the Lunar citizens feel
about the North American monopoly on space travel."

"They don't like it," Roger said. "They feel that they could be more
independent if they were receiving supplies from more than one source.
Lunar government is nothing more than a form, set up by the North
American Union to keep up appearances. The moon isn't self sufficient
enough to make its independence more than a form. If the Lunar colonies
could trade with more than one nation, they could maintain their
independence by the moon's natural defensive position; and control
of the satellite stations would help to ease international tensions.
There's not much chance of a dictatorship being formed there, because
the colonists are too individualistic and are interested in their
government. It looks to me like both sides are at fault in this mess."

"That's usually the case," the historian commented. "The Arabs aren't
free of blame either. Some of their tactics in the Holy Land weren't
exactly calculated to win the good will of the United States, and they
have been rather violent in some of their dealings with our citizens."

The conversation was interrupted when one of their captors opened the
door a few inches and slid two cans of food concentrate through the
crack.

"I see dinner has arrived," Nolan said as he stepped over to the
door and picked up the containers. He handed one to Roger, and the
two men removed the tops. In a few minutes a coil in the sides of
each container heated the contents, and the prisoners ate a warm if
uninspiring meal. Plastic spoons fastened to the sides of the cans
served as utensils.

After they had finished the food, the two prisoners sat and discussed
various topics until late in the evening, when they finally turned in.

Outside, the temperature dropped to sixty degrees below zero. The
stars sparkled with a brilliance that was reminiscent of outer space.
Once the frosty stillness was broken by the whine of the jets of a
cargo plane, hauling a train of ore gliders from the mines on an
island farther north. In the front room of the center hut a guard
sat, watching a number of television screens which showed the area
around the camp bathed in infra red light. In front of the hut lay the
convertiplane, a shining, bluish silver dart with its needle nose and
swept back wings and tail. Near the cliffs back of the huts, Nolan's
small two seater lay with its channel wings folded into the fuselage.

At six, Roger was awakened roughly by one of the guards. He was given
a can of concentrates which he ate quickly, his eyes straying now
and then to the big machine pistol held by one of his captors. After
Roger had eaten, he was ordered out to the plane and strapped into a
seat, an armed guard beside him. With screaming jets blowing air over
its channel wings, the convertiplane lifted from the snow and, a few
minutes later, streaked into the dark sky under the power of its main
jets.

Three hours later they descended to the yard of a large house on the
outskirts of Denver. The scattered buildings of the city lay on a
blinding white blanket of snow that sparkled in the winter sun like
minute jewels. Roger was hurried into the house and soon stood in
the middle of a spacious living room, his hands held firmly by steel
handcuffs. He faced a man with swarthy skin and dark hair, a typical
Latin type.

"Señor Lorin," the South American said and motioned toward an easy
chair. "Please be seated. Perhaps you are tired after your trip."

"The trip was all right," Roger replied coldly, "though I don't like
traveling against my will. I trust that the Arabs are paying you well
for this little job."

A momentary look of surprise crossed the man's handsome features, but
he smiled quickly and said in an affable voice tinged with surprise.
"Arabs? What do they have to do with this? I do not know any Arabs. You
do me an injustice to think that I would work for any other country
than my own."

Hoping that the results would justify his confidence, Roger replied.
"Quit trying to bluff. South Americans have no reason to kidnap me.
They'd have absolutely nothing to gain and plenty to lose by such
actions. Even if they could fight a long drawn out war with us, they'd
lose in the end. Why most of your scientists and engineers receive
their graduate schooling up here. I met quite a few of your countrymen
during my school days."

"You are an astute man," the South American smiled. "Yes, I am actually
working for the League of Islam." He admitted it blandly without
apparent conscience or remorse.

"I can't say that I admire a man who'd sell his country, and not only
that but the whole western hemisphere down the river. Did they pay you
thirty pieces of silver?" Roger asked scornfully.

"The stakes are much higher than that," the traitor replied, without
apparently being affected by Roger's scorn. "An empire awaits those
who are bold, greater power and riches than any ruler has even known
before."

"I thought that we had left that behind with the twentieth century."

"The desire for power is always with us," the traitor, whose name
was Manuel Juarez, said. "If I do not get it, someone else will. The
struggle never ends."

"Maybe that's true in some parts of the world," Roger said, "but we
don't do things that way here."

"Be that as it may," Juarez said with finality. "We won't speak of it
again." Abruptly he turned his chair toward a blank wall and pressed
a button on the arm of the chair. The whole wall lit up with stereo
color, and the room resounded with the hum of a crowd of people.

"Skiing is an interesting sport," Juarez commented. "I enjoy watching
the skill with which the skiers perform in these tournaments."

Roger and Juarez watched a symphony of graceful form and movement
against a backdrop of snow, blue sky, and tall pines. Both men sat in
chairs that moulded automatically to the shape of the body. Radiant
heat bathed them in warmth that was a pleasant contrast to the wintry
scene in the television wall.

The instrument which showed them the ski tournament so clearly
represented a force that had killed an entire industry eighty years
earlier. The economic collapse and the development of good color stereo
television had resulted in the complete destruction of the movie
industry. Although there was still much poor entertainment on the air,
any person could usually find entertainment to suit his taste, whether
it was for adventure stories or Shakespeare, for popular music or the
works of the great composers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Roger was held in the house for about a week and a half. Although he
did not know why he was held for such a long time, he knew that he was
being watched with unceasing vigilance. He had no chance to escape.
Then suddenly the enforced inactivity was over.

Juarez and two guards entered his room. All three were dressed in
outdoor clothing and were armed.

"You will come with us peacefully," Juarez warned. "If you try anything
foolish, we will not hesitate to kill you. We have other plans for you,
but your death here would serve our purpose."

Roger went. They left the house and prepared to enter a small channel
winged plane. The craft had a tear shaped body flanked by two
pontoon-like cylinders. Each cylinder contained two small jet engines,
one blowing a stream of air forward and the other blowing a stream
backward across wing-like plates. The supersonic blasts gave the wings
enough lift so that the plane could hover, rise vertically, or move
forward or backward with equal ease. Such planes could attain a speed
of 450 miles per hour.

At this time, a small patrol plane of the same type was flying slowly
through the area. Both of its occupants were thoroughly bored, and
one of them began to look around through a pair of light amplifying
binoculars. He spotted the abduction scene taking place below. Every
detail, including Roger's handcuffs, was crystal clear. The patrolman,
his curiosity aroused, switched to ultraviolet sensitivity, but saw
none of the code numbers that appeared on the bodies of all police
planes. Handcuffs and no police markings meant a check report to police
headquarters.

"Patrol 67," the policeman reported into the radio. "There's a prisoner
being held in Zone 18. The plane has no police markings. The prisoner
is about five feet, eleven inches tall, has light hair, a rather large
nose, and is wearing a green jacket over gray coveralls. One of the
other men is dark, short, and stocky."

"That sounds like Roger Lorin," came the reply. "He disappeared from
Arctic City about a week ago. There's a bulletin out on him. Keep a
long distance watch on that plane."

About an hour after they had taken off, the fugitives, who were flying
low, disappeared in the mountains and were lost to the police plane's
radar.

The sun set, and night settled its cold hand over the mountains. The
stars glittered like icy diamonds in the almost black firmament. The
moon bathed the world in cold silvery light. The mountains rose like
walls against the cold, dark sky.

The plane climbed out of a canyon and flew southwest along the side
of a high peak. At treetop level, they flew through a high pass, and
entered a valley where a small, ice-covered lake gleamed in the cold
moonlight. The plane landed on the glittering ice. Among the pines on
the west side of the lake, stood a stately hunting lodge. The outside
was faced with logs to give it a rustic look, but the interior was
luxuriously furnished.

Two men from the lodge pushed the plane into a hangar on the lake
shore, while Roger and his captors climbed a short flight of stairs and
entered the building.

"Now we wait," Juarez said disgustedly. "I hope that Gomez gets here
soon, so that we can get this business over with and get out of here. I
cannot be sure, but I thought I saw someone following us after we took
off this morning."

But he didn't get his wish. For the next three days, the men passed the
time in various ways. Some went fishing through the ice on the lake,
others watched television, still others played cards or pool in the
game room.

During this time the police were not idle. They staked out the house
in Denver and waited. Their patience was rewarded when, on the second
night, a small plane came down out of the dark sky and hovered over the
landing area. A man dropped to the ground and headed toward the house,
and the plane rose into the night with blue flame dancing from the ends
of the wing cylinders, and headed back toward the mountains. A large
police plane high above traced the flight of the small ship with infra
red detectors and spotted the hideout of the fugitives.

On the third night Miguel Gomez arrived. He was a big, strapping man
unusually light complected for a South American. His greetings were
loud and boisterous.

"Well, Juarez," he said loudly, "I see that you have our prisoner in
good condition. But we can do nothing for awhile. A new plan has been
developed. In one week, a rocket carrying high officials from our
Republic will take off from the Chicago spaceport. These officials go
to inspect the Lunar atomic laboratories. That rocket will crash, and
the North Americans will be blamed. There will be evidence of general
negligence with hints of sabotage. So! the fun will begin. If that does
not work, we will use our friend, Lorin, here to top it off."

That night they listened to a late newscast before going to bed. The
situation was tense. The presidents' meeting had been postponed until
after the inspection of the moon laboratories by the South American
officials. There was talk of a general mobilization and a tightening of
discipline at the military stations along the Mexican border and the
gulf coast.

       *       *       *       *       *

Five hundred miles above the Earth, the polar weather station wheeled
silently through space. A sphere two hundred feet in diameter, it was
girded by a ring deck that was home to forty men and women. The big
observation room was the real reason for the space station's existence.
Here, the weathermen kept watch over the movements of Earth's
atmosphere. The fluffy white clouds that appeared on their screens told
a tale of mass air movements that meant stormy or clear weather for
the Earth below. An almost blinding white mass of cloud over Canada
told of a cold front moving southward to collide with warm air from the
Gulf of Mexico and unleash a blizzard over the plains of the Midwest.
Tumbling clouds hid a storm that whipped the North Atlantic into a
raging fury of white water. Clear areas showed where snow sparked under
the winter sun or where soft tropical breezes ruffled the fronds of
palm trees.

The station was passing over the Pampas of Argentina on the day side
of Earth when the incident occurred. Miriam Andrews, on duty at the
time, sat watching the progress of a small rain squall. Suddenly a
look of surprise crossed her rather plain features, and she turned
the amplifier gain-knob of the light amplifying telescope to higher
magnification. On the screen appeared a sprawling airport on which lay
scores of large, box-like transport planes. Into the huge, channel
winged craft flowed lines of robot controlled armored vehicles.
Miriam, who had a keen mind and an interest in international affairs,
recognized the dangerous possibilities of these preparations. She
did not hesitate to call the station director. That individual was
summoned from a deep sleep by the imperative buzzing of the intercom.
He switched the instrument on, saw Miriam's excited face, and came
fully awake with a feeling of alarm. Excitement on the part of station
personnel was apt to mean deadly danger. He interrupted the excited
girl. "Repeat that again and slow down." Miriam repeated her story.

"I'll send a message when we get close enough to Chicago to use a tight
beam," he said. "There's no use spreading that news all over the
western hemisphere." With that he broke the connection and called the
radio room to give instructions about the message.

The station swept around the Earth untroubled by the gathering fury
below. A rocket, a slender, blue steel, winged cone, blasted away from
the station with a brief but brilliant display of its atomic jets. The
watches changed, and the weathermen continued to receive data, analyze
it, and send it to the coordinating centers on Earth.

Although most of the men on the station heard the news with the
detachment of those whose main interest lies in space and on the moon,
the North American government was not so calm. It was not long before
big formations of box-like transports were headed southward with heavy
loads of flying armored equipment, technicians, and troops. Flights of
dart like interceptors patrolled the gulf area, ranging the blue skies
at supersonic speeds. On the ground, rows of slim antiaircraft missiles
stood like candles in a birthday cake. At the first flicker on a radar
screen, they would scream skyward to intercept hydrogen and atom armed
missiles at the borderline of space. Both powers made good resolutions
of nonaggression, but the rest of the world watched the preparations
with a skeptical eye. The weapons that could unleash the horrors of
nuclear warfare at the flick of a switch stood in frightening array on
both sides of the gulf.

Meanwhile, the police prepared to close in on the mountain cabin.
Equipped with gas bombs, machine pistols and recoiless rifles, they
came struggling through a snow clogged pass and down the mountain sides
from hovering planes. Unseen in the darkness, they crept through the
woods toward the house. A rifle shot cracked as a guard sighted them
with his sniperscope. One of the policemen fell, a bullet in his leg.
The lights in the house went out, and gun flashes lanced through the
windows. Bullets, hunting their prey like angry wasps, snarled through
the darkness.

Roger was locked in an upstairs bedroom with a guard before the door.
During the next two hours, the roar of machine pistols and the crack of
rifle fire split the mountain stillness and echoed from the hillsides.
At the end of that time, the police withdrew to rearrange their
strategy.

Juarez sat on the floor near a broken window and cleaned his machine
pistol. "I think that it is time to kill Lorin and get out of here," he
said, as he placed a fresh clip in the magazine. "It will serve us to
good advantage."

"Fool!" Gomez exclaimed. "If they found us with a dead man on our
hands, we wouldn't stand a chance. I have used this place enough to
know that they have us pinned in. We can use Lorin as a bargaining
point. We will arrange to take him with us and drop him by parachute.
But--the parachute will not open. A convertiplane, which I have called,
will meet us above the clouds and take us away before they can stop us."

"They will not trust our word," Juarez said. "We cannot get away with
it."

"Oh, but we can," Gomez said. "The police know that Lorin's death would
have regrettable results. Even the fact that he is a citizen of the
North American Union would be enough to start trouble, let alone his
position as a key research man on the neutron project. They will do
anything to see that he remains alive. The scheme will further enrage
the North Americans and might perhaps incite them to war."

"I see," replied Juarez. "An excellent plan. Let's contact the police,
and see what happens."

       *       *       *       *       *

Unseen by the guards around the house, four policemen crawled through
the snow. Wearing white uniforms, they blended so well with their
background that even the sniperscope men didn't see them. Their view
was limited by the fact that most of the large lights that had flooded
the area with infra red radiation had been shattered by gunfire.
Individual beams were insufficient to sweep the whole area.

Carrying thirty-shot rocket launchers and rocket powered gas bombs,
they took positions around the house and aimed the slender guns. At a
radio signal, streams of red fire shot from the tubes, and the small
rockets tore through every window in the house. In a few minutes, the
place was saturated with sleep gas. Not a man moved throughout the
building. Policemen in gas masks converged on the house.

Roger awoke on a stretcher aboard a police plane. A police officer
sitting beside the stretcher answered his dazed inquiries. "You're on
a police plane. We gassed the place where you were being held, and then
moved in and took over." He grinned. "You looked so peaceful that I
didn't have the heart to give you stimulants."

"How long has it been?" Roger asked worriedly. "I'd like to call my
wife as soon as I can. She's probably worried sick by now."

"It's been close to three hours," the officer replied. "We had to buck
a snowstorm when we came out of that valley. We knew it was coming, but
we thought that we could move in ahead of it and get you out before it
struck. Unfortunately, they spotted us with those big infra red lights
of theirs and threw our timing all out of kilter. We should be in
Denver in less than half an hour."

Twenty minutes later the plane set down on the landing stage at the top
of police headquarters. Roger was helped to his feet and led from the
plane across the wind and snow lashed platform to an elevator.

A few minutes later, he sat in the office of the Federal Police
Commissioner for the Rocky Mountain district. Roger asked permission to
use the desk viewphone and quickly put through a call to Arctic City.
In a few minutes, Linda's face appeared on the screen. When she saw
Roger her face lit up with joy. "Roger!" she exclaimed. "I've been so
worried about you. I haven't been able to sleep for days, wondering
what they might do to you."

"I'm all right, honey," Roger reassured her. "I'll be home in less than
a day if the police don't detain me here."

"Better have her come to Chicago," the commissioner interrupted.
"You'll have to stay there until we get this mess straightened out."

"I guess it would be better for you to come to Chicago. The police say
that it'll take a while to clear this business up. Maybe you'd better
take a jet. It would be more comfortable for you."

"I'll take the evening rocket," Linda replied determinedly.

"OK," Roger said with a grin. "I'll see you this evening then."

"Your wife seems anxious to see you," the officer remarked drily.
"Well, you may as well tell me about this business. I'll send you on
the rocket this afternoon so that you can meet your wife. We're not
sure just what was behind this kidnapping."

Roger narrated the events of the past two weeks explaining the part the
Arabs were playing in the troubles between North and South America.

"The Arabs, eh," the officer mused. "I'm sending the prisoners to
Chicago with you. I don't think that it will be too hard to get a
cerebral analysis writ. At least I'm going to recommend such action."

"Cerebral analysis?" Roger asked. "That must be something new."

"It is," replied the officer. "This particular development of the
encepholograph is so new that not many people know about it. The
machine in Chicago is the only one in existence. We use truth drug
writs to make it legal and still keep it secret. It isn't exactly
according to Hoyle, but we have to be careful these days. It takes an
expert to read the charts and, even then, only very clear thoughts can
be picked up."

"It sounds like something out of science fiction," Roger commented.

"So did a lot of things we now take for granted," replied the officer.

Late that afternoon, Roger sat aboard a rocket that screamed through
the upper atmosphere on the last leg of its flight to Chicago. He
watched through an eyeport as the ship lost altitude and circled the
city, finally coming to rest with squealing tires on the concrete
runway. As soon as the locks were opened, Roger, accompanied by a
police officer, left the ship and went through the boarding tunnel into
the bustling terminal building. Roger's eyes searched the crowd until
they found Linda. He hurried toward her, and in a few minutes they were
in each other's arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

After two days of quiet relaxation, a plainclothes man took them to the
tower of the Security Building which housed the Federal Police. The
place was an electronic wonderland, with banks of instruments lining
the walls. Gomez had been drugged and strapped into a large chair in
the center of the room. His scalp was shaved, and several electrodes
had been taped on. During the next hour and a half, the silence was
broken only by the occasional click of a switch and the scratch of pens
recording data. At the end of that time the electrodes were removed,
and Gomez was carried from the room to sleep off the anesthesia. One
after another, the prisoners went through the same process. Gradually
the data added up and revealed the plan that was meant to plunge two
nations into the horrors of atomic war.

An officer gave quick orders. "I want all out going spaceships checked
for sabotage. These men didn't know the technical details. The least
obvious thing to do would be to tamper with the fuel in such a way that
it would explode violently when it was heated in the motors. The nitric
acid used in the booster stage would make the best reactant. The rocket
would be too close to the ground to drop the booster. Better check the
fuel before the rocket carrying those South American officials blasts
off."

He turned to Roger. "Would you like to see how we stake out a place?"

"Sure," replied Roger. "Spaceports are always interesting."

They left the building and rode to the rocket field. Night had fallen
and the spaceport lay stark and cold in the beams of large floodlights.
Three spaceships stood on the field, their bluish sides gleaming in the
beams of the floodlights. To the south, a transcontinental rocket rose
into the night like a spark from a chimney. The air was bitter with the
temperature at eighteen below.

"Take a look," the police officer handed Roger a pair of binoculars.
Roger placed the instrument to his eyes, and the side of the center
rocket leaped toward him. He saw a man in the red overalls of a fuel
technician climb the gantry alongside the center rocket and push
something into a valve on the side of the booster stage, near its
juncture with the main part of the ship.

"Do you see that mechanic on the center rocket?" Roger asked.

"Let's see," the officer replied and looked toward that rocket. "Yes, I
see him now. A mechanic shouldn't be pushing anything into that valve.
That particular valve is used to jettison fuel in an emergency. A
blast of compressed air will usually clear anything out of it. If that
doesn't work, the valve has to be taken apart to be cleaned. I'd like
to know just what he shoved into that valve."

The officer spoke briefly into his pocket radio. Four policemen moved
toward the entrances that led into the deep pit where the rocket stood.
The technician closed the valve and climbed down the ladder. As soon as
his feet touched the concrete floor of the pit, he was seized by the
waiting policemen. A pistol shot cracked, and the prisoner sagged to
the floor with a hole in his chest. Instant confusion reigned in the
pit, and in that confusion the assassin somehow escaped.

When the officer and Roger arrived, they found the policemen talking
with a fuel technician. The technician left the group and climbed the
ladder to the valve. He opened it and inserted a spring operated probe.

"The valve's clean," he shouted down. "I'll take off some of the nitric
acid." He did so, collecting the liquid in a small sample bottle which
he carried on his belt. Climbing down the ladder, he handed the bottle
to the officer in charge, who handed it to Roger. Roger unscrewed the
cap and cautiously sniffed the contents. "I can't be sure, but if
it's what I think it is, you'd better not have the tanks drained until
morning. Give it a chance to dissolve. Otherwise you'll have some left
in the tanks. It doesn't react very rapidly at low temperatures."

"Just what do you think it is?" the officer asked.

"Well," Roger replied, "it's probably some organic compound that would
react with the nitric acid to form an explosive nitrate. Of course,
it could be an ammonium compound that would react to form ammonium
nitrate. That would do the job just as well."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks later the agents were brought to trial for espionage and
conspiracy to start a war. The whole story of the Arab plot came out.
Following the lead of the North American Union, the South American
Republic carried out an investigation of its own, and discovered
the part the Arabs had played in various incidents on the southern
continent.

Later that summer, the Gibraltar Conference met to settle grievances
between the western powers and the League of Islam. King Ignatius II
of the restored Spanish monarchy acted as a mediator. Reluctantly the
North American Union agreed to let the Arabs build a spaceport in the
Sahara, thus giving them a chance to trade directly with the Lunar
colonies. On their part, the Arabs agreed to internationalize the Suez
Canal area, on condition of free passage across the isthmus for Arab
traffic between Egypt and Palestine. The Arabs refused flatly to allow
a re-establishment of the Republic of Israel, but would allow Jews to
settle in the Holy Land under yearly quotas. Despite reluctance and
bitterness, a compromise was reached, and war was averted ... for the
moment.

About a week after the trial Roger and Linda sat at a table in the
large Spaceport Restaurant. Through the large window facing the
rocket field, they could see clouds driven by an early March wind.
Intermittent flurries of rain splashed against the glass. Roger
happened to look up and see an elderly man approaching the table;
his face lit up with recognition. "Well, Professor Nolan," he said,
offering his hand, "I'm glad to see you."

"I'm glad to see that you got out of that trouble all right," Nolan
replied as they shook hands.

"This is my wife, Linda," Roger said. "We're just about to order lunch.
Won't you join us?"

"It would be a pleasure," replied Nolan as he sat down. "I'd like to
hear about what happened to you."

Roger talked as he had punched their order into the robot server, and
through most of the meal that arrived a few moments later.

When he had finished his story Nolan asked him, "Do you intend to go
back to Arctic City, now that this is over?"

"No," Roger answered, "The pile at Arctic City is nearly completed. My
part of the work is done anyway. I've been offered a job on the neutron
rocket project at the Lunar laboratories, and Linda and I are leaving
for the moon in about an hour. I enjoyed working there before. The
moon colonists seem to have something that most earthmen lack.... I
guess you'd call it a pioneering spirit, a desire to explore. They are
willing to accept new ideas.

"But that's enough about myself. I've been wondering how you got away."

"Simple enough," Nolan replied. "The men who were left behind pulled
out and left me at the camp when they heard about your rescue. They
probably didn't care to kill me if they didn't have to. They left while
I was asleep and probably went over the pole into Russia. They took my
ship, but I was able to call for help with the radio. What happens to
them doesn't matter anyway. We'll probably never hear of them again.

"I suppose it won't be long before we have colonies on all the planets
with that neutron rocket you mentioned."

"It'll be a while yet," Roger said. "There are a lot of problems
involved in the development of a neutron rocket, and as long as we
have to use a fuel processed by passing hydrogen through an electric
arc and into an expensive organic compound at low temperatures, space
travel will be too expensive for anything more than the exploration
expeditions that have been sent to Mars and Venus."

The voice of the announcer interrupted them. "The spaceship _Goddard_
is loading passengers from tunnel eleven. All passengers must be aboard
in twenty minutes."

Roger and Linda rose from the table. "That's our ship," Roger said.
"We'd better get aboard. Goodbye, Professor Nolan. I hope we meet
again."

"Goodbye, young fellow, and good luck." Nolan gripped Roger's hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thirty minutes later the professor stood at the window and watched the
preparations for blast off. The tail gantry crane moved away from the
rocket, and a siren blared forth its warning. The booster motors were
started, splashing green flame into the pit and shaking the ground with
their roar. The tall ship rose slowly at first, and then more rapidly
as it climbed a column of green flame into the clearing sky. It grew
small and disappeared. A few minutes later the ship's atomic drive came
to life like a tiny new sun that was a beacon on the path to space.





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