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´╗┐Title: Kill Me If You Can!
Author: Tenneshaw, S. M.
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 "Kill Me If You Can!" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          Kill Me If You Can!

                          By S. M. Tenneshaw

               Every five years the Autarch in power was
            murdered. Bartol knew this was why he had been
             picked as a stand-in for the reigning tyrant!

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                               June 1957
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Bartol stood on the balcony of the Grand Palace and waved, smilingly,
at the throngs of people below. He couldn't help it; he struggled
silently against the implanted hypnotic commands, but it did no good.
He waved and smiled. And the crowd cheered automatically for their
Autarch.

And then the energy bolt slammed against the metaglass window that
separated him from the cheering crowds. It only took a fraction of a
second for the beam to burn through, but in that fraction of a second,
the automatic protection devices took over.

Bartol dropped as the floor beneath him dissolved, plummeting him into
a tubular chute that slanted back into the Grand Palace. The beam
sizzled hotly above his head, filling the balcony with blue-white
light, and then Bartol was in darkness.

He was sliding down the polished metal of the chute, dropping and
curving away from the balcony floor. Then, quite suddenly, a light
appeared ahead of him, and he slid out of the tube onto a polished
floor.

The Commander was standing nearby. A half smile played over his
hard, thin, gray face. "You look very undignified for the Autarch of
Apollyon. Get up."

_But I'm not the Autarch!_ Bartol thought. _I'm just plain Rad Bartol!_

But he couldn't speak the words. The hypnotic injunction in his mind
prevented him from ever denying that he was the Autarch or even acting
as though he were not.

The Commander knew who he was, of course. As Bartol stood up and
straightened his gaudy uniform, the Commander said: "So far, we've
fooled them. The Autarch will reward you handsomely for this, Bartol.
You've done well." He waved at a nearby screen. "The attack has stopped
already. We haven't spotted the Assassin yet--but we will eventually.

"Now, if you will excuse me for a moment--" there was deep sarcasm in
his voice "--I will check the progress of the search."

Bartol stood there in his gaudy red-and-gold uniform, waiting for
further orders from the Commander, trying to break the bonds that held
his mind.

It had been nine days ago that Bartol had been arrested--secretly. The
android robots of the Peace Administration had come to his apartment
in the middle of the night and taken him into custody. He was only a
common citizen of Apollyon, and had done nothing--at least, nothing
that he could remember.

But instead of being taken before an ordinary Peace Administrator, he
had been taken before the Peace Commander himself.

The blank-faced robots had held him, gently, but firmly in their
rubbery hands, while the Commander had looked him over.

"Almost perfect," he had said at last.

"What am I accused of?" Bartol asked. "I demand to know the charges!"

For an instant, the Commander's face had blazed with anger. "_Demand?_
What right has an arrested man to demand anything? As a citizen of
Apollyon, it is your duty to submit to authority." Then his face
softened. "But, come, citizen Bartol; relax. There are no charges."

"Then why--"

"No questions. You will learn."

       *       *       *       *       *

He had learned, all right. The Commander had selected him as a double
for the Autarch himself! Every citizen of the planet Apollyon had his
mental and physical characteristics on file in the Master Records of
the Grand Palace. To select a double for the Autarch, it was only
necessary to feed the physical characteristics of Apollyon's absolute
ruler into Master Records. The computer compared his total appearance
with everyone else on the planet and had come up with the one man who
most closely resembled him.

Rad Bartol.

Bartol had asked: "But why is this necessary? Why not use an android
double?"

Feeling in a somewhat expansive mood, the Commander explained. "Because
there are instruments which can tell the radiation of a human brain
from the coarser vibrations of a metal-colloid brain. No robot could
pass; you can.

"Now, I don't want you to feel that we are sacrificing you, so to
speak. Every effort will be made to save your life. But we feel that it
is better for the Benevolent Society of Assassins to nail you than for
them to nail the Autarch. Don't you agree?"

Bartol most definitely did not; he had no more intention of dying for
the tyrant dictator of Apollyon than he had of running away. But he
smiled and said: "It would be a citizen's greatest privilege."

"You may wonder," the Commander had continued, "why we take such
precautions against the Benevolent Society of Assassins. It is, after
all, their sworn duty to attempt to assassinate the Autarch every five
years. It is the democratic way of doing things, in order to change
Autarchs.

"However, this time we are taking extra precautions because it is
rumored that the Galactic League is secretly aiding the Society. They
wish to inaugurate the Free Planet of Apollyon into their stupid
League.

"They are, of course, too cowardly and chicken-hearted to attempt to
do so by force--the warrior's way. So, they are attempting to do so by
infiltrating our planet with spies and saboteurs. And this time, we
have reason to believe they are behind the BSA."

Bartol had listened silently. The Commander was handing out the same
line of propaganda that had been handed out by Autarchs and their
cohorts for fifty years. It was nothing new.

"Now, of course," the Commander explained, "you must submit to hypnotic
treatment; this must be done perfectly."

The hypnosis and the slight surgery that had made Bartol into an almost
perfect replica of the Autarch of Apollyon had taken nine days.

And on the ninth day, he had made the balcony speech in which he had
formally accepted the challenge of the BSA. One attempt had already
been made on his life.

The rules of the Benevolent Society of Assassins were strict. One man
and one man only was permitted to attempt the assassination of the
Autarch. If he succeeded, he became Autarch. If he did not--he died.

Success depended partly on the loyalty of the Peace Administration. If
its Commander were inefficient, weak, or disloyal, the Autarch might
die. But an Autarch always killed the old Commander, so there was no
chance of disloyalty. But inefficiency, stupidity, and weakness were
another matter.

The first attempt on his life had failed. But there would be more.
Bartol stood there, resplendent in his uniform, while the Commander
watched the screens.

There were about a dozen androids in the room, moving here and there,
dispatching orders as the Commander gave them.

Finally, the Commander turned. His face looked quite calm. "The BSA
androids have started their attack on the Palace. My own androids
are holding them off so far, of course, but that is only part of
the diversion. The real, human assassin may get into the Palace by
trickery. After that, it will be up to you."

He walked over to an arms cabinet. "Your personal equipment is here.
Force-field belt, cutter beam--everything. And may I say--good luck."

A moment later, Bartol was seated in the private citadel of the Autarch
himself, waiting for a murderer to come after him.

He rubbed his temples, trying to think. There was something he was
supposed to do. What? It kept nagging at the corner of his mind, but it
wouldn't come out into the open. Damn the Commander and his hypnotic
compulsions!

What was it he kept trying to remember? Something he _must_ remember!
It was something about the Galactic League--was it something the
Commander had told him?

The Galactic League was made up of some of the most powerful
governments in the Galaxy. Their sole law, throughout the Galaxy, was
that any planet could have the kind of government it wanted, except a
government imposed by force.

And yet, the League never enforced that law--at least not by using
space battleships and atomic bombs. They could send directives and
remonstrances, but the Autarchs of Apollyon had been ignoring those for
fifty years, and would go right on doing so.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bartol shook his head again. He couldn't remember what was so important
about the League. Probably some order that the Commander had given him
which would become operative at a crucial moment. It was more deeply
buried in his subconscious than the other orders.

The little speaker imbedded in his ear crackled. "Autarch! There's a
disturbance on the fifth level! The assassin has entered the Palace!"
It was the Commander's voice.

Suddenly, something clicked in Bartol's mind. He glanced down at his
bright uniform and then looked at the plain gray of the android guards.

"You! Guard! Strip off that uniform! Quickly!"

Automatically, the android robot obeyed. At the same time, Bartol took
off his own clothing. He changed with the guard and re-armed himself.

"Neither of you know where I am going. You will forget seeing me leave."

They nodded. He was the Autarch, as far as they knew; they would obey
every order.

Quietly, he walked over to the heavy door that guarded the citadel,
opened it, and stepped out into the corridor.

The assassin was on the fifth level. Seven levels above him! The
citadel was buried deep beneath the surface.

"We have two semiportable blasters aimed at him," said the voice in
Bartol's ear. "We--wait! Too late! He burned his way through the wall!
Get that gun around to the other hall! Cut him off!"

The Commander's voice kept on. In his excitement, he had forgotten that
Bartol could still hear him.

Bartol listened for a moment smiling. His job was to get his enemy
before that enemy killed him. He was _not_ going to wait in the citadel
to be killed.

Faintly, he could feel the vibration of heavy beam-rifles as they fired
at the fast-moving assassin.

"He's wearing a force shield!" the Commander said. "But what a force
shield! Hand guns have no effect, and even a beam-rifle doesn't bother
him!"

Bartol kept listening, but he started doing some fast moving himself.
First, to the elevator. The elevator was locked, but Bartol burned the
door open, wondering whether the car was above or below him. It was
below, just as he had expected. One flash of his cutter beam, and the
cables parted. There was a faint crash from far below as the automatic
brakes grabbed, holding the car in place.

He still had to move fast. There was death waiting for him, and it
might yet overtake him. If only the Commander kept busy with the
assassin!

He listened. The Commander was still in his citadel, trying to stop
the BSA killer. Only heavy-duty guns would knock the assassin out, and
they were clumsy and hard to move. The BSA man had to take a roundabout
route, but he was working his way steadily toward the citadel of the
Autarch, where an android in a gaudy uniform was waiting for him.

The assassin charged through a group of androids armed with handguns.
He bowled them over and kept on running. Bartol wished he could follow
the action with a vision screen, as the Commander was.

As he listened, Bartol was running down the corridor toward a second
elevator. He burned open the door. This time the car was above him. He
leaned into the shaft and fired a beam upwards. There was a flare and a
grinding crash as the second elevator was destroyed.

Then he stepped into a nearby closet and carefully burned a hole in the
floor. The heat was intense in the little room, but his own body shield
protected him.

As soon as the hole in the floor was big enough, Bartol dropped through
it to the level below. There was no one in the room.

He smiled grimly to himself as he ran down another corridor. There were
only a few human beings in the Palace; all the others were androids.
One of those humans was trying to kill him, the others didn't care
whether he died or not, so long as his objective was achieved.

At the end of the corridor, he came abruptly on two android guards. One
of them stopped, then the other. There was a look of confusion on their
faces. The first one said: "It is forbidden to have two assassins. And
yet, you are human. You--"

Bartol burned them both down before they could go any further. He
didn't want them spreading the alarm any sooner than necessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

He ran on, still listening to the buzzing in his ear. The two dead
androids hadn't recognized his face as that of the Autarch, but they'd
known there was something wrong.

The earpiece was still giving orders.

"He's over the Autarch's citadel! That doesn't give us much time.
Autarch! Get out of that room! He's burning a hole through the roof!"

He was addressing Bartol, of course, but Bartol kept moving. The
Commander didn't know that his phony Autarch had already left the
citadel.

Bartol dodged into a bathroom. No android would be in there--they
didn't need to. He burned another hole in the floor, dropped through
it into another bathroom. Again he burned through the floor.

"Autarch! Get out of that room! Leave the citadel immediately! It's
your only chance!"

_I knew that several minutes ago_, Bartol thought.

He only had seconds now.

The assassin blasted his way into the citadel and cut down both the
guards. Then he blasted the figure in the gaudy uniform.

"That wasn't Bart--uh--the Autarch!" the Commander's voice came.

_Damn right it wasn't!_ Bartol thought. He sprinted down a stairway. In
the lower sublevels of the Palace, the lighting was widely spaced. Here
were the storage levels, and the power supplies. He wanted to stay away
from the power rooms; they would be heavily guarded.

"Autarch! Where are you! Answer! Where are you! The assassin knows that
wasn't you! He's heading downward! Where are you?"

_He's getting panicky_, Bartol thought with grim amusement. _He knows I
wouldn't dare answer. The assassin can tap these communications._

The assassin, whoever he was, must have weapons of tremendous power to
be able to burn his way into the Autarch's citadel so easily. He could
move downward from floor to floor a lot more rapidly than Bartol could.

Bartol knew exactly where he was going--if only he could get there in
time!

He ran through the dimly lit halls which were piled high with crates
and boxes. At last he came to a wall which looked like any other
wall--but Bartol knew it was different.

"Autarch!" the ear speaker crackled. "What are you doing down there?
Why are you in the storage compartments?"

"I'm hiding," snapped Bartol. _He knows where I am now. I'll have to
work fast._

He pressed his thumb against a hidden niche in the wall. A tiny device
recorded his thumbprint, checked it against previous patterns, and then
clicked. A panel slid aside. Within it was a curiously shaped helmet.

Bartol could hear the pounding of android feet all around him. Nearby,
a wall started to smoke. He slammed the helmet on his head, locked the
chinpiece into place, and activated the mechanism within the dome.

"Where are you? What was that helmet? The assassin is coming down!"

Evidently, the now-panicky Commander was watching him in the vision
screens. He wouldn't see anything now; Bartol was invisible to
infrabeams.

Unfortunately, he was still visible to normal vision. The nearby wall
cascaded outward with a splash of molten metal, and an android stepped
through, firing a heavy beam-rifle. The beam struck Bartol with a glare
of blue-white light--and splashed.

With the helmet on, Bartol was just as impervious to ordinary beams as
the assassin who was even now burning his way down through the Palace.
Like the assassin, all he had to do was avoid anything as heavy as a
semiportable.

Bartol stepped directly into the blazing muzzle of the rifle. The
tremendous energy being reflected from his body shield dazed the
android. Bartol jerked the rifle from its hands and burned it down. He
swung around just as two more of the things rounded a nearby corner.
They, too, went down before the white-hot beam of the rifle.

Then he stepped toward the wall. Under the tremendous power of the
special body shield, the wall flowed like wax in a candle flame. It
hardly slowed him at all.

He stopped for a moment, concentrating. Where was his enemy? Dimly at
first, then with greater power, the intricate amplifier of the helmet
picked up the brain radiations of the man he was looking for.

In his ear, the speaker was still gibbering.

Bartol stood a moment longer, synchronizing the helmet with the
signals. Then, having located his enemy, he began to move again.

He headed for the elevators. There was only one. The other ended two
levels above. It must be the one.

He pushed his way through the door and dropped down the open shaft. The
antigravity field allowed him to drop rapidly, but not too rapidly;
even that marvelously designed helmet couldn't do everything. It would
slow his fall somewhat, but it couldn't lift him.

His feet struck the top of the elevator car whose cables he had cut. He
changed the polarity of his field and the force was applied vertically
instead of radially. His feet melted their way through the top of the
car. He reversed the polarity again before he touched the floor of the
car.

The assassin upstairs was running amok, burning down everything in his
path and working his way downwards.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bartol hesitated just for a second before he went onward. The elevator
bar had dropped only a few feet before its brakes had stopped it.
Bartol lifted himself up to the level of the floor, burned his way
through the elevator door, and stepped out into the corridor.

He saw the heavy-duty beam-cannon just as the android behind it fired.
It was to his right, a few yards down the corridor. The blast of energy
roared down the corridor, narrowly missing Bartol as he threw himself
back into the elevator. It swung downward, gouging gobbets of flaming
metal from the wall, aiming straight for Bartol.

There was only one way out of the trap. Bartol switched polarity again
and turned his generators up to maximum. It wasn't enough to stop that
heavy beam, but--

He leaped over the coruscating beam and literally dived headfirst into
the wall on the other side of the corridor. It melted and gassified
before him, hardly slowing his plunge.

He rolled over and landed on his feet. He kept on running toward the
rear wall--through it. He circled through the next room and the next,
dodging twice the heavy-duty beams aimed at him. The whole section was
becoming a raging inferno; without his body screen, the heat would have
been unbearable.

At last he came to the wall he was looking for. It shimmered slightly,
due to the force field that surrounded it. Just in front of the wall,
two androids were swinging a heavy-duty cannon around toward him. He
fired his own weapon, but they were shielded by more than the portable
shields they wore. This section was _really_ fortified!

He dived toward the androids, sliding under the barrel of the projector
just as it blazed into white-hot hell.

He jumped to his feet and landed a punch on the jaw of the nearest
android. It reeled backwards, and the other jumped him. Bartol flipped
the second android over his head, slamming it into the face of its
partner. They both went down. With two quick blows, he knocked their
skulls against the floor. The metal skulls didn't break, but the
metal-colloid brain within ceased to function because of the shock.

Now came the crucial part. He stepped over to the wall and touched its
shimmering surface. It was an ordinary KF-4 field; it had no reactive
surface, as did his own. Good! It could be analyzed.

The mechanism in the helmet went to work, carefully synchronizing its
own vibratory frequency with that of the wall. It was slow work; it
would take a full twenty seconds, and in that time, plenty could happen.

It was stupid not to build all the walls with force-fields that would
make them impervious to beam guns. But then, the whole set-up on
Apollyon was stupid. These petty Autarch-Assassin games could only have
been set up by a madman.

Five android guards ran into the room, firing their beam-rifles. Bartol
ignored them; the beams couldn't touch him. Two more started to pull in
a wheeled semiportable. They got it in through the door and swiveled it
toward Bartol.

At that moment, the mechanism in the helmet synchronized with the
wall's force field. Bartol slid _through_ the field, melted through the
wall, and stepped through to the other side.

He hurled himself to the floor instantly as two coruscating beams of
ravening heat met at the spot where he had stood. There was another
semiportable inside the _real_ citadel of the Autarch of Apollyon.

Before the Autarch could swivel the gun, Bartol had leaped on him,
slamming him to the floor.

"Don't kill me!" screamed the man. "I'll do anything! Just don't kill
me!"

On the other side of the wall, the androids found themselves helpless.
The force field was still up, and they had been forbidden to enter the
citadel.

"I don't intend to kill you," Bartol said. "Not unless you act up."

He cut off the man's body shield and pulled the handgun from his
holster. Helpless and disarmed, the man cowered on the floor as Bartol
stood up.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had never seen this man before. The Autarch didn't look anything
like the man Bartol had been doubling for. The Autarch was thin and
old-looking. Hatred and fear blazed in his eyes.

"So you're Lavod Quom," Bartol said. "Alias the Autarchs of Apollyon,
alias the Peace Commander."

"How did you know that name?" the man almost screamed, his voice was so
shrill. "Where did you hear it?"

"We have our ways," Bartol said. "But never mind. I'm here to tell
you that you are under arrest in the name of the Galactic League. The
charges are planetary slavery and mass murder."

"But--but--how did you do it?" He lay there on the floor, still
shivering.

"It took a lot of thinking," Bartol told him. "We've known what you've
been doing for a long time now. You set up this little dictatorship so
that you could play God with its people. We knew that the Commander
was a remote control robot--operated by you. So were all the Autarchs
who made public appearances.

"Then, every five years, you had the Benevolent Society of Assassins
pick out someone to kill the Autarch. At the same time, you picked
someone to double for the Autarch. Your twisted mind liked to watch two
men fight to the death.

"It didn't matter which one won. If it was the phony Autarch, you
simply put him under suspended animation for use five years later. If
it was the assassin, he was immediately killed and an android was made
up to duplicate him. Either way, you were safe."

"But you couldn't have known!" Lavod Quom said. "You couldn't have!"

"We did, though," Bartol said bluntly. "But we had to do it legally--we
had to stop you according to your own laws. That is the Rule of the
League.

"We've had that helmet planted in your palace for two years, waiting
for this moment. The Autarch android was studied carefully, and the
agent who looked most like him--myself--was sent here. Your records
were tampered with so that it would look as though I had always been a
citizen of Apollyon. I was put under deep hypnosis, and false memories
were implanted. It had to be deep so that your own hypnosis wouldn't
dig anything up. But my compulsion vanished as soon as the assassin
entered the Palace.

"It was all perfectly legal, you see. One human assassin is allowed.
That was me. It's perfectly legal to use trickery. The other assassin
which is causing so much trouble upstairs is an android--a special job,
like your Peace Commissioner. It's controlled by a League man. But that
android hasn't killed anyone but androids, anymore than I have."

Quom sat up. He giggled foolishly. "You mean _I_ set it up? I brought
you here? I picked you out? Why, that's wonderful! Nobody but me could
defeat me--and I did it! That was quite a performance, young man;
quite a performance. I'll see that you're properly rewarded. I'll make
you Autarch! Yes! And give you a medal, too! I have lots of pretty
medals! And I'll make you another uniform--with more gold on it!" Then
he looked up, almost wistfully. "And this time, can I wear a pretty
uniform, too?"

As he had been babbling, Bartol leaned over and gently grasped both his
hands.

"Sure you can have a uniform."

"With gold on it?"

"With diamonds," said Bartol. And then the special energy flowed
through his hands from the helmet, and the old man collapsed into
painless unconsciousness.

Bartol released him and said softly, "Only I don't think you'll want
anything that gaudy when the League psychiatrists finish with you."



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