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Authors: The Plot Against Earth

Calvin M. Knox (10 page)

explanation flew over the heads of the women. They merely looked dazed.

said, "Very well, young man.
Suppose, as you seem to be
the only spaceman among us, you find out just where we

The Morilaru rose and made his way through
the crowded single cabin to the control section up front. Catton, sitting in
the farthest corner of the cabin, scowled darkly at the floor. Lifeships were
all well and good, but this business of traveling in nullspace did have its
drawbacks. He had heard of lifeship survivors beached on the far shores of the
universe, returning to civilization only in extreme old age.

Suddenly the problems of Skorg, Morilar, and
Arenadd seemed very unimportant to him. If they emerged from the warp continuum
far enough away, he would be stranded long enough so that the current crisis
became so much galactic ancient history.

cabin was silent while the Morilaru made his computations; the only sound was
the steady rasping breathing of the Arenaddin. The bulky creature did not enjoy
the artificially sustained gravity of the lifeship, which was set for
Skorg-norm, or about 1.7 times the pull on Arenadd. Carton was mildly
discomforted by the gravity—it was also 1.4 Earthnorm, too. The difference
added some seventy pounds to his weight, better than two hundred to the
Are-naddin's; small wonder the alien was uncomfortable.

At length the Skorg crewman returned from the
computer, wearing an unreadable expression—Skorg facial expressions seemed
morose at their most cheerful, and grew darker from there.

"Well?" Royce demanded.
"What's the bad news?" "It isn't as bad as it might have
been," Sadhig said. "But it isn't very good, either."
"Where are we?" asked Catton.

five hundred light-years from Morilar," said the crewman.

"Is that within the range of this
ship?" Royce asked.

"Unfortunately, no.
We have a limited range—about a hundred light-years in radius. And,
also unfortunately, there seems to be only one planet within our immediate

"What's its name?" asked one of the
Morilaru women.

Skorg gestured unhappily. "It has none. It's listed on the charts as DX
19083. It's a small jungle world, claimed by Morilar but never settled. The
chart says there's a rescue

erected there, so we can call for help once we land." "Doesn't this
ship have a radio?"

the Skorg said.
"An ordinary radio.
It doesn't
have a generator big enough to power a nullspace communicator. So we could
send out a message, but it would take five hundred years for it to reach
Morilar. We don't have quite that much time, I'm afraid."

we'll have to make a landing on this jungle planet," Catton said.
"And use the rescue beacon communicator to get ourselves picked up."

"What if the rescue
beacon is out of order?" asked Royce.

small chance of that," said the Skorg crewman. "The beacons are built
to last, and they are service-checked every ten years. The greater danger is
that we will not be able to
beacon, once we land. But we must risk it. I will begin immediately to compute
a course taking us to DX 19083, unless there are objections."

were none. Sadhig returned to the control cabin and busied himself with the
relatively simple job of targeting the lifeship toward the uninhabited world.

prowled uneasily around the cabin. It was crowded enough, even with less than
capacity aboard. He opened a cabinet and found a considerable food supply and
an elaborate medical kit. A second cabinet yielded tools—blasters,
electrohatchets, bubbletents, a collapsible canoe no bigger than a bastketball
when folded.

were well provided for. But the delay would be a nuisance. And in case they had
any kind of survival problems, most of the' lifeship passengers would be drags
on the group. The two Morilaru women, Catton thought, would be less than
useless in any kind of situation of hardship. And the Arenaddin was obviously
not accustomed to roughing it. Catton figured that Sadhig and Royce could be
counted on to do their share of work. That left two Morilaru men— Woukidal, his
adjutant, and the other man, the one who had released the lifeship from its
parent vessel, and who had not spoken a word since.

made his way forward. Sadhig was bent over the computer, tapping out course

"Any difficulties?"
Catton asked in Skorg.

looked up.
"Of course not.
A child could operate
this lifeship. But those women had to drag me aboard—"

"Still brooding about that?"

"I shall be in disgrace when I return to
Skorg. My father will never forgive me. Do you know who my father is,

Catton shook his head.

Skorg said, "My father is Thunimon eSadhig, Earth-man.
Commander of the Skorg Navy.
How will he feel when he learns that his
eldest son escaped from a damaged ship in a lifeship?"

Sadhig's face was cold and tightly drawn.
Catton realized that within the Skorg ethic, it was undoubtedly a humiliation
for a crewman to escape alive while passengers died, no matter what the
circumstances. He pitied the Skorg.

position did you hold on the
Silver Spear?"
Catton asked.

"Flight Consultant First Class.
I was the eighth ranking officer—assistant
to the astrogator."

women sure picked the right man when they collared you, thenl"

"They seized blindly," Sadhig said
without looking up from his work. "For all they knew, they were snaring
one of the cooks. But a cook could have piloted this craft as well as I
do." Bitterly, Sadhig snapped down the course-lock and rose from the
controls. "There," he said. "It is done. We will make landing in
two days absolute time, Earthman. And then we must find the rescue beacon, or
we will die. I do not greatly care."

"If it's a disgrace to leave a ship and
let passengers remain behind," Catton said, "it must be equally
disgraceful to be cast away with passengers and not expend every effort to
ensure their survival."

Skorg nodded. "You are right. I intend to help all I can. Your lives are
important to me; mine no longer matters."

felt that the conversation was taking an uncomfortable turn. To change it he
said, "Just what happened aboard the
Silver Spear?
There was some land of explosion in the drive
compartment, wasn't there?"

Skorg's cold eyes glinted sardonically. "Yes, there was 'some kind of
explosion,' all right."

thought such accidents were so rare as to be just about mathematically

said the Skorg, "you're correct. But this was not an accident. Nor,
stricdy speaking, was it an explosion."

"Not an accident? What
do you mean?"

had little time to gather information before I was forced into this lifeship.
But as I was told by my superior, five implosion bombs had been concealed in
the drive compartment before the voyage. One would have been enough to disable
the ship. Five destroyed it completely. Hundreds must have died."

Catton was taken sharply aback.
"Implosion bombs—you mean, sabotage?"

"What else? The ship was deliberately
destroyed. I have no idea who would do such a thing."

Shrugging, Catton returned to the rest of the
group in the main segment of the ship. "We're landing in two days,"
he told Royce in Terran. "Eveiything's under control, according to the

"I heard part of your conversation. What
were you saying about implosion bombs?"

"Sadhig told me that the ship was blown
up deliberately. Five bombs went off in the drive compartment."

"What? Eight hundred passengers, aboard,

Catton said. "There's no point letting everyone know. Therell be enough
hysteria if we have trouble finding that beacon."

words had greatly disturbed Catton. There were many reasons why someone would
want to destroy
luxury liner in transit—to collect insurance,
to gain notoriety, to dispose of some important figure, even to provoke a war.
Carton's thoughts kept coming back to the assassination possibility. Suppose,
he thought, it had been decided to get rid of him before his investigation
proceeded-further. Blowing up a ship to accomplish his murder was on the
drastic side, he admitted. But these were alien beings. Their innermost
reactions were not necessarily the same as a Terran's. Their values differed
from Earth's at the most basic levels.

course, he realized he might be greatly exaggerating the situation. There had
been other important people on the
Silver Spear—
for one, a major figure in interstellar commerce. No doubt the cream of Skorg
society had been aboard. He had no right to assume that an act that killed
hundreds of innocent people had been aimed directly at him. But it was
something to consider, in any event, when and if he finally reached Skorg.

on the small ship was not pleasant in the two days that followed. Privacy was
impossible, sanitation difficult. Tempers sharpened. Royce complained privately
that he found the Skorg pilot's odor almost unbearable, but that he was
struggling to ignore it. Catton was thankful for the sensory block that
prevented him from undergoing such difficulties.

Morilaru women seemed interested only in eating; Catton compelled them to abide
by a rationing system, and unofficially established
watch rotation so that an eye would be kept on the food cabinet at all
times; he, Sadhig, and Royce took turns at the job.

Arenaddin was in considerable pain; the relatively high gravity was troubling
him, and he was not concealing the fact. Catton and Sadhig spent some time
trying to get at the mechanism that controlled the artificial gravity on the
lifeship, but the box was hermetically sealed and welded too carefully for
opening by amateurs. The idea was to keep passengers from tinkering with the
lifeship's gravity and perhaps inadvertently squashing themselves flat under a
twenty-gee pull. Since there was no other way of alleviating the Arenaddin's
difficulties, Catton went prowling through the medical supplies for a sedative.
He found one whose label was printed in Skorg, Morilaru, and Arenaddin, and
which was presumably, therefore, suitable for use by members of all three
species. Catton injected an entire ampoule into the Arenaddin's arm after
considerable trouble locating the proper vein beneath the insulation of fat;
the Arenaddin slept soundly for the rest of the trip.

the end of the second day, Sadhig reported that the mass-detector showed them
within reach of their destination. The landing would have to be made on manual
deceleration, since there was no spaceport below to supply a landing-beam as
guide. It was impossible to wake the Arenaddin, so he was strapped down securely,
and the other passengers clambered into the deceleration cradles and waited for
the landing.

There was an instant of transition as the
lifeship left nullspace and re-entered the normal universe. A planet burst into
view on the viewscreen, green except for the blueness of its seas. Up front,
Sadhig caressed the controls of the manual-landing keyboard.

landing itself took better than an hour. The tiny ship swung down on the
uninhabited planet in ever-narrowing circles. Catton felt the jounce as the ship
cracked into the thickening atmosphere. Gravity dragged at him; the ship began
to drop.

touched down gently. Catton glanced out the single port in the passenger cabin.
The landscape that greeted him was profuse with vegetation. The scene had the
fierce grandeur of prehistory.







the usual tests
before leaving the ship. The lifeship's instruments indicated an atmosphere of
breathable oxygen-nitrogen-plus-inerts-and-carbon-dioxide constitution,
though both the oxygen and the CO
were on the high side for
Carton's tastes— 34% oxygen, 1% carbon dioxide. It was a rich mixture for an
Earthman to breathe, even more so for the hapless Arenaddin; the Skorg and the
four Mor-ilaru would not be bothered by the high oxygen content. Gravity,
Catton was pleased to note, was .5 Skorg-norm, which was about three-quarters
of a gee by Terran standards; the Arenaddin would enjoy the respite from Skorg
gravitation, while Sadhig and the Morilaru, all accustomed to the fairly stiff
gravitation of their native worlds, were apt to feel a bit light-footed and
queasy-stomached for a while. Atmospheric pressure at sea-level was—as best as
Catton could translate it from Skorg terms—18.5 psi, which was something on
the soupy side.

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