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´╗┐Title: Assassin
Author: Jones, Bascom
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.


*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Assassin" ***


                               ASSASSIN

                         By BASCOM JONES, JR.

                        _Everyone is allowed to
                     commit an error. The trouble
                         was that I couldn't._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


I deliberately dug my heels into the concrete floor of the corridor of
the Pentagon. The steel plates on the heels of my black uniform boots
heralded my approach with sharp anvil sounds as I marched confidently
toward the unmarked door five hundred feet ahead.

What was that expression used by Earth people of the 20th century? I
shifted back through my training, shuffled through the facts about
Earth's past history with which I had been indoctrinated, searching for
the word. _Assassin!_ That was it. But the term fell short. It lacked
in magnitude. There was a difference in the murder of one person and
the assassination of the occupants of an entire planet!

One foot in front of the other, I paced off the distance toward the end
of the hallway, carefully duplicating the strut which was a trademark
of the Earth Council's Security Police. I'd practiced the peculiar,
jolting method of walking a thousand times, but I began to feel the
effects of Earth's heavier gravity before I had covered half the
distance. It had been impossible to simulate the difference in gravity
in my training.

The two guards standing outside the door alertly watched my approach.
When I was still four paces away, one of them ordered me to stop.
They ignored as though they were not there the gold stars prominently
displayed on the shoulders of my tunic.

The guard on the left said, "Your ID card, sir."

The guards were well trained. They would not hesitate to shoot if I
made the slightest slip.

I handed the card to him and watched as he held it up to a visi-scanner
in the wall. The scanner glowed into life and purred softly, rapidly
checking the invisible identification codings on the card against the
ID component of Earth's Master Machine. Then it dulled and was silent.
The strident alarm siren over the scanner remained inactive. The ID
card was returned to me and the guards snapped smartly to attention as
I went on into the room beyond the door.

I had passed the first test.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reception room was small. Thick carpeting deadened the clump of my
heels as I marched toward the chromed desk guarding a second unmarked
door. A flawlessly proportioned redhead sat behind the desk. Her eyes
and face showed no expression when I stopped in front of her. Her
tight-fitting uniform was black and bore the gold trim of the Security
Police.

Constricting my throat, I let the words snap out crisply, as I had been
trained.

"General Spicer," I said, "commanding general of the Security Police,
reporting to the Secretary of Defense. As requested."

I waited.

Her eyes, still showing no outward expression, ran over me rapidly.
Then she thumbed a button on the desk and a screen, recessed into the
chromed surface, glowed into life.

Almost immediately, a full-face reproduction of the features of General
Spicer appeared on the screen in color. She checked the image against
my face, her eyes flickering to the tiny scar under my left eye and to
the old blaster burn across my right ear. When the image changed to a
profile view, I turned my head to give her the same angle.

She nodded, pressing the button on her desk which darkened the screen.

She said, "You're early. Your appointment with Secretary Bartlett is--"

"For 1300 hours," I filled in automatically, when she hesitated in one
last routine test. "I was in the building on another matter, however,
and came here after I had finished my other business."

"Yes, of course," she said. "Please take a seat. Senator Chambers is
ahead of you, but his business will not take long."

I fought back the sudden impulse to pivot and stare in the direction
her eyes were indicating. _Senator Carl Chambers._ My briefing on
him had been lengthy. For 60 Earth years, he had headed the un-Earth
Activities Committee. As General Spicer, I was supposed to have a
nodding acquaintance with him, but no more than that. During the
years, our rivalry had become legend. His unanticipated presence in
the waiting room could prove disastrous. Chambers would not be fooled
easily.

Turning slowly, I nodded stiffly and curtly in Chambers' direction and
then selected a chair across the room from him.

The senator's head merged directly into the shoulders of his grossly
rotund body. Small, round eyes stared unblinkingly at me from the red
pudginess of his face. They hesitated on the black swagger stick which
I held loosely in my right hand, moved on, and then returned to it. The
invisible scars, made by the electro-surgical knives in re-designing my
body, began to tense slowly. I shifted the swagger stick in my hand.

Then the redheaded secretary stood up. She said, "Secretary Bartlett
will see you now. Senator."

       *       *       *       *       *

For a fraction of a time, I thought Senator Chambers had not heard her.
His expressionless eyes were still on me. Then, with a grunt, he lifted
himself to his feet and disappeared through the door behind her. A tiny
clicking noise indicated that it locked automatically.

I shifted my gaze and saw that the secretary was looking at me
intently. It was impossible to guess at what might be going on behind
those eyes. The tension began to build inside me again, but I kept my
own eyes as expressionless as hers.

The girl picked up a folded piece of paper out of a receptacle on her
desk and brought it over to me.

She said, "While you're waiting, General, you might like to read the
latest facsimile. Or have you already seen it?"

I shook my head. "I saw the 1100 fac-report, but I missed this one."

She handed it to me and returned to her desk. There was just the
slightest suggestion of a rolling movement in her walk, not at all
unpleasant.

When I looked down at the facsimile sheet, the headline screamed
silently up at me. I swiveled my eyes over at the secretary, but
she was working her recordo-writer, her fingers moving rapidly,
mechanically.

The headline read: ALIEN INVADER DISCOVERED! The story that followed
reported that two Security Police guards had intercepted someone who
looked like and was dressed like an Earthman, trying to enter the
Senate at 1109 hours that morning. A discrepancy had been discovered
during the routine ID card check and the imposter had tried to escape.
The guards had opened fire at close range, scoring two direct hits.

While the account was obviously censored, it intimated that a full
report to be released later by Security Police Headquarters would be
almost unbelievable. It hinted that the hideous mess revealed when the
guards' weapons had ripped through the surprisingly soft body armor of
the impostor positively confirmed the fact that the individual was an
enemy alien.

Before I could read any further, there was a muted tone from the
direction of the desk. The secretary acknowledged the signal, spoke
several words which I couldn't hear, then looked at me.

She said, "You may go in now, General Spicer."

I placed the facsimile sheet on her desk and waited while she activated
the circuit, which would release the catch on her side of the door.

_Who had it been? There had been four of us. Volunteers. We had been
selected, briefed and trained separately. We had been housed separately
during the mental and physical tortures of the surgical and the psych
labs. The ship which had brought us to Earth had released us at
separate points above the Earth capital. Only our ultimate goal was the
same. But now there was one less of us to accomplish that goal! And we
had lost the element of surprise._

The door clicked twice and swung open. I stepped through, just in time
to see the rotund shape of Senator Chambers go out a private exit on
the far side of the room. Both doors closed at almost the same moment
and I stood alone before the Secretary of Defense for the planet Earth.

The secretary sat behind a desk on the far side of the room. He was a
powerful man, in keeping with the importance of the job he filled. But
the huge memory bank which he relied upon and which filled the entire
wall behind his desk seemed to dwarf him.

Without looking up immediately, Secretary Bartlett carefully rewound a
tape he had been referring to and fed it back into the open mouth of
the memory unit.

       *       *       *       *       *

He said, "Spicer, we've been talking about you. Do you have anything
new on this alien incident? Chambers said an impulse cleared the Master
Machine last night, indicating there may have been some sort of ship
overhead."

"No, sir," I lied. "My people are working on it, but we don't have much
more to go on than appeared in the latest fac-report."

"If there was a ship overhead, it was protected by a new type of
anti-identification device. The Master Machine probed for more than six
minutes and registered only a void. Chambers, of course, is always--"

Bartlett didn't finish the sentence. His words trailed off into a
moment of puzzled silence as he turned and looked squarely at me for
the first time.

Something had gone wrong. Something that I had done or hadn't done had
revealed to him that I wasn't General Spicer.

Secretary Bartlett started to rise. "Why, you're not Spicer! You're an
impostor!"

His eyes displayed neither fear nor surprise, but his hand was less
than a time point from the alarm buzzer on the top of his desk when I
touched the tiny stud on the hilt of my useless-looking swagger stick.

For the tick of a pulse, he sat there with his body bathed in the
colored ray, his finger poised above the warning buzzer. Then his body
began to glow. I closed my eyes when the heat and brightness reached
my face. When I opened them, there was nothing left of Bartlett but a
swirl of dust motes.

Stepping behind the desk, I stripped off the thin plasti-mask which had
disguised my features to look like those of General Spicer. My hands
moved almost automatically. Each motion had been rehearsed, timed,
analyzed, and timed again.

I reversed my coat, hiding the gold markings of the Security Police,
and revealing the precious-metal insignia which had been worn by the
Secretary of Defense. The now-useless ID card, which I had obtained
earlier when I destroyed the real General Spicer, was dropped into the
office incendiary tube, along with the mask and the removable steel
cappings of my boots.

By the time I had finished, only the swagger stick remained to connect
me with General Spicer. I carefully telescoped its length, twisting
and turning the artfully designed tubing, until it was identical to
Bartlett's cane of state, leaning against the desk. The real cane I
disposed of by dropping it into the incendiary tube after the other
articles.

I turned the stiff black collar of my coat up, in the same manner
that Bartlett had worn his. The upturned collar hid the tiny metal
electrodes protruding from the base of my neck, under each ear.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I sat down behind the desk, the image reflected up at me from
the chromed top was, feature for feature, that of Defense Secretary
Bartlett. The electro-surgical knives, wielded by experts, had done a
good job. I grimaced. I puffed out my cheeks. I rolled my eyes. And, in
turn, the reflected image grimaced, puffed out its cheeks, and rolled
its eyes. The texture of my skin was that of Bartlett's. Even the pore
structure.

This had been the final big hurdle. The rest was now up to me.

No! More accurately, the rest depended upon routine--a routine
established more than 70 Earth years ago--a routine so inflexible that
it had not been broken for a single day. My mission was to break that
routine.

Destruction of Spicer and Bartlett was important only as a means to an
end. As soon as they were missed, others would fill their places. I
had to destroy _all_ Spicers and _all_ Bartletts. I had to destroy the
residents of Washington, of London, of New York, of Earth!

My mission was to destroy so that we could live. That was what the
technicians in the psych-labs had told me. That was what the physicians
behind the electro-surgical knives had told me. It had been drummed
into me over and over, through every phase of the mental and physical
preparation that I had been put through.

So I sat in Bartlett's office, looking like Bartlett, waiting. I knew
almost to the exact time point when the buzzer on the desk in front of
me would sound. I expected it, but when the strident tone filled the
room, I jumped.

I thumbed the switch on the desk video-com and the features of the
redheaded secretary looked out at me from the recessed screen. I
deepened my voice to mimic Bartlett's.

"Yes, Meta?"

The video-com was a two-way security system and I knew that she could
see me, too. She continued to stare, and I felt the scar tissue
tighten around the electrodes in my neck.

Through some flaw in transmission, for a brief moment, I thought I saw
the twinkle of an expression deep in her eyes. But that was impossible.
Her lips twitched and the transmission flaw, or whatever it might have
been, was corrected. Her eyes were as inscrutable as ever.

She said, "It's 1324, sir. The inspection group will be here in two
minutes. Shall I bring them in?"

I nodded my head to one side slightly, in a manner peculiar to
Bartlett. "Thank you, Meta. Yes, of course. Bring them in as soon as
they arrive."

I switched the video-com off and let my fingers lightly play with the
button on the desk that activated the lock on Bartlett's private door
into the inner corridor. It was a temptation to open the door and
attempt to go the rest of the way on my own. But I wouldn't make it.
Not even disguised as Defense Secretary Bartlett. I had been warned not
to try.

       *       *       *       *       *

My only hope lay in the routine set up by Earth's scientists more
than 70 years ago--the daily inspection of the unit. As a member of
the inspection party, I could pass through the security guards. More
important, as a member of the group, I would arrive at the protective
force sphere at the hub of the Pentagon at the only time and at the
only place the force sphere could be breached.

I waited.

Precisely at the end of Meta's two minutes, the lock buzzed on the door
to the reception room. I touched the control which opened the door and
stood as the group filed into the room. My briefings on each of them
had been exhaustive, but I examined their faces for some sign that one
or more might penetrate my disguise as Bartlett.

The redheaded Meta nodded. She had been with Bartlett as his security
secretary for 70 years. Senator Chambers, as a representative of the
electorate, darted rapid glances around the room as soon as the door
had closed, counting noses. General Whit Marshall, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff of the police systems, nodded with the cold
reserve of the high-ranking military to the higher-ranking civilian.
The fourth member of the group, Chet Meyers, chief Master Machine
technician, was the only one to speak.

The lanky Meyers looked around the room. "Where's General Spicer, sir?
Senator Chambers was telling us you were going to invite him because of
this scare today."

The invisible scars which cobwebbed across my body from the
electro-surgical knives tensed so suddenly that I almost screamed. I
made myself reach for my cane casually. I had come so close!

No, wait--there was the bitter rivalry between Chambers and Spicer.
Chambers was too complete a politician to pass up an opportunity to
discredit General Spicer.

His black pin-prick eyes darted up toward the time unit on the wall.

"There's no time to wait, Meyers," he said eagerly. "Spicer knows the
schedule. We must go without him."

Conscious of the stares of Meta and Meyers, I pushed the button which
opened the door into the inner corridor.

I looked directly at the Master Machine technician. "I asked Spicer to
get a late report on the incident for us. But you know that Chambers is
right--we cannot afford to wait any longer. Perhaps he'll catch up."

We followed the corridor toward the hub of the Pentagon. Senator
Chambers led the way, almost at a trot, as though he were afraid that
Spicer would catch up. General Marshall and Meyers, hard put to keep
up, were strung out behind him, with Meta and me bringing up the rear.

That was the way we went through the check points manned by the
security guards. Twice I caught Meta looking at me. At one of the
check points, I thought she was going to say something. I lifted the
tip of my cane and put my finger near the stud, but she remained silent.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tension began to mount inside me as we approached the door opening
on the invisible force wall. Through the wall, I could see the squat,
ugly building in the center of the hub of the Pentagon, which was our
destination. I held my cane ready. But even a CT-bomb wouldn't break
through the force field.

As we drew near the final guard point, a scrubwoman who had been
working on the floor of the corridor picked up her bucket and fell in
with our party.

Chambers was already gesturing at the guard to set the combination,
which would open the force wall at precisely 1330. I looked at the time
unit on my wrist and saw that we had twenty seconds to wait. I resisted
the betraying impulse to rub the irritated area around the electrodes
set in my neck.

When I looked up from the time unit, everything was too quiet. Senator
Chambers was no longer dancing around impatiently. He was staring at
the bucket carried by the scrubwoman.

The inside of the bucket was not even damp. And the mop she had been
using was dry. The implication must have hit both Chambers and me at
the same moment. I wanted to shout a warning.

Chambers jumped back against the wall, yelling at the guard, "Shoot
her! Shoot! She is an alien!"

The scrubwoman did the wrong thing. She turned and tried to run, her
legs lifting awkwardly against the pull of the unaccustomed gravity.
But the guard's weapon was already at his shoulder. The low-velocity
missile thudded into the body of the scrubwoman, flipping her up into
the air in a graceless somersault. She landed on the concrete floor
with a second thud, which echoed softly down the long hall. A pool
slowly widened around her body and she lay still.

I looked at my wrist time unit again. It was 1330. The door through the
force wall was open. I went past the huddled heap lying on the floor,
careful not to step in the pool of moisture.

_Too hideous to put into words in a public fac-report! That's what the
facsimile sheet had hinted about the broken body of the other "alien."
Two from four left only two. But the door through the force wall was
open. I had to get through the door and into the building._

Senator Chambers stepped out from behind the guard and blocked the
doorway. His little eyes flashed from one expressionless face to
another as he tried to come to some inner decision. His shoulders
slumped.

"I--I don't like it," he said. "The door is open now. I think perhaps
we had better wait for General Spicer, after all."

But Meta shook her head and pushed past Chambers. She said, "No. You
know the routine as well as we, Senator. We are required to inspect the
unit. Leave the guard on duty here."

       *       *       *       *       *

I took advantage of the indecision of the others and pushed through the
door after her toward the squat, ugly little building that was my goal.

Meta was almost to the door of the building when I heard Chambers yell.

"Stop her, Secretary Bartlett! She's malfunctioning. We've all been
ordered to wait outside for an ID check." I ignored him and he yelled
again. "Guard, open fire on the girl. Don't let her get inside that
door!"

But he was too late. Meta disappeared through the door into the black
building. I stepped inside just as it slammed shut and the first
missile smashed against the door from the guard's weapon.

The building was not large. The Master Machine squatted like a huge,
thick-bodied black spider in the center of the building. A cobweb of
power lines and control cables criss-crossed the floor and fed into the
base of the unit.

A myriad of tiny moving parts, levers and cams and elbowed arms and
gears pulsed and shifted and moved to give the impression that the
Master Machine was breathing, that it was alive. Tiny multicolored
lights twinkled on and off. Giant vacuum tubes hummed and glowed. And
all the while, it munched on endless tapes.

The black monster was the heart of Earth's civilization, and it was the
means of it. As I started toward the machine, a grid at the top turned
slowly and ogled me. Almost immediately, a red tube blinked on, and
the moving parts on one section of the machine plunged into a frenzied
rhythm of action.

I ran forward, breathing heavily under the strain of the unaccustomed
gravity. I had only seconds in which to act. At any moment, Senator
Chambers and the guards would be coming through the door behind me.

I raised the cane and touched the stud.

The finger of lavender light knifed toward the machine, searching for
its heart and memory unit.

The ray fused and melted and burned, cutting deeper and deeper into the
maze of wires and tubes and relays. There was a blinding flash and one
section of the machine ground to a stop. Other sections immediately
increased their tempo of movement.

Behind me the door slammed open, and Senator Chambers and two guards
stumbled into the building.

Chambers yelled, "He's over there in front of the Master Machine. Hurry
up ... and ... shoot! Before it's ... too late! _Shoot!_"

His face almost a cherry red, Chambers danced out of the way. The
guards raised their weapons and sighted.

Then the ray from my cane cut deeply into the very innermost section
of the master unit and the machine died. A dial on the front of the
blackened, twisted mess spun slowly to a stop. There was no more noise
and no more movement.

It was done.

       *       *       *       *       *

As I released the stud on the cane, the weapons of the guards were
pointed directly at my back. Chambers' eyes were like two black
marbles, staring at me, his head strained forward to watch the results
of the missiles.

I took a careful step to the left. And another. And then another. They
didn't move.

The guards' weapons remained trained on the spot where I had been
standing. Senator Chambers continued staring at the place where I had
been.

None of them moved. They remained there, pointing at nothing. The
electrodes at the bases of their necks reflecting the molten glow from
the wrecked Master Machine.

I relaxed. I rubbed the tender skin around the dummy electrodes set in
my neck. It was finally over.

Then a shadow moved against the wall where there should have been no
movement. It lengthened and took on the shapely form of the redheaded
Meta.

Only now her eyes were no longer dead and expressionless. They were
alive with feeling.

I said, "So you are the other one. I should have guessed when you ran
into the building ahead of me. But I was too busy thinking of those
guards and of Chambers."

She nodded. Her lips relaxed into a smile.

_Two from four leaves two! But we had accomplished our mission. And
outside the building, in Washington, London, New York--in every Earth
city--figures on the streets, in office buildings, and at home had
become motionless, poised like mechanical toys with their springs run
down. Housewives, cab drivers, copter pilots, passengers, shoppers,
policemen, government workers had ceased to move, had stopped
functioning with the destruction of the Master Machine._

The redhead said, "It's really over, isn't it? They're stopped." She
looked at the still figures, the dummy electrodes in her neck quivering
in a shiver. "They can't kill any more?"

I said, "It's over."

"They can't destroy or move?"

"Without the Master Machine, they have no power supply--nothing. And
they can't kill or destroy."

She walked over to look at the figures. "What went wrong? What happened
to them?"

I shrugged. "You can't blame them any more than you can blame a boiler
that explodes or a dam that breaks. It was the human race itself that
was responsible for what happened. We became lazy, careless. We built
too many time saving gimmicks to do too many jobs for us."

       *       *       *       *       *

"But the machines were designed to help us," she said. "To make life
better and more pleasant."

"At the beginning," I agreed, "but we didn't know where to stop. We
started with labor-saving devices. We replaced ourselves in factories,
offices, restaurants, stores. Still it wasn't enough. We designed
robots to serve as traffic policemen, to drive cars, and to handle
thinking tasks. Then we designed humanoid robots, mechanical replicas
of man and woman, controlled by the computing sections of the Master
Machine, activated by its power supply, able to move and talk and
think. We used them as servants. We had the means to replace ourselves
completely--everywhere."

"Why did they turn on the human race?" she asked.

I pointed to the smoldering wreck of the Master Machine in the center
of the room. "Perhaps there was a weak circuit, or a tape was garbled,
or a relay didn't close properly. The scientific colony on the Moon
helped some of us to escape. The rest of mankind was destroyed by the
robots--systematically and ruthlessly."

The redhead shivered again and walked over to the door leading from the
building. She stood there, looking up at the thin curve of the Moon
showing in the blue of the afternoon sky.

Finally she said, "Up there, by now, they will know that we have
accomplished our mission. In a few hours, they will be filing out of
the underground caverns and loading onto the giant rockets. They'll be
coming back. But only the very oldest will have been on Earth before.
Like us, thousands of them will be coming to a new world for the first
time. A world of beauty and opportunity--if they want it that way. What
will they decide?"

What _would_ they decide?

I looked down at the redhead. Deep in her eyes, I saw the emotions
which no humanoid robot could ever know. I saw them, and suddenly the
tension eased out of my muscles.

The answer to her question was in her own eyes.





*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Assassin" ***

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