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Unwise Child
by Gordon Randall Garrett
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Unwise Child

RANDALL GARRETT

DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC. GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK

1962

All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 60-13524 Copyright (C) 1962 by Randall Garrett All Rights Reserved

Printed in the United States of America First Edition

Transcriber's Note Extensive search has failed to find any evidence that the U.S. copyright of this publication has been renewed.

BOOKS BY RANDALL GARRETT

Biography Pope John XXIII: Pastoral Prince

Science Fiction Unwise Child

Books by "Robert Randall"

The Shrouded Planet The Dawning Light

"Robert Randall" is a pseudonym used on books written in collaboration with Robert Silverberg.

With sincere appreciation, this book is dedicated to TIM and NATALIE who waited ... and waited ... and waited ... and waited for it.



1

The kids who tried to jump Mike the Angel were bright enough in a lot of ways, but they made a bad mistake when they tangled with Mike the Angel.

They'd done their preliminary work well enough. They had cased the job thoroughly, and they had built the equipment to take care of it. Their mistake was not in their planning; it was in not taking Mike the Angel into account.

There is a section of New York's Manhattan Island, down on the lower West Side, that has been known, for over a century, as "Radio Row." All through this section are stores, large and small, where every kind of electronic and sub-electronic device can be bought, ordered, or designed to order. There is even an old antique shop, known as Ye Quainte Olde Elecktronicks Shoppe, where you can buy such oddities as vacuum-tube FM radios and twenty-four-inch cathode-ray television sets. And, if you want them, transmitters to match, so you can watch the antiques work.

Mike the Angel had an uptown office in the heart of the business district, near West 112th Street—a very posh suite of rooms on the fiftieth floor of the half-mile-high Timmins Building, overlooking the two-hundred-year-old Gothic edifice of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The glowing sign on the door of the suite said, very simply:

M. R. GABRIEL POWER DESIGN

But, once or twice a week, Mike the Angel liked to take off and prowl around Radio Row, just shopping around. Usually, he didn't work too late, but, on this particular afternoon, he'd been in his office until after six o'clock, working on some papers for the Interstellar Commission. So, by the time he got down to Radio Row, the only shop left open was Harry MacDougal's.

That didn't matter much to Mike the Angel, since Harry's was the place he had intended to go, anyway. Harry MacDougal's establishment was hardly more than a hole in the wall—a narrow, long hallway between two larger stores. Although not a specialist, like the proprietor of Ye Quainte Olde Elecktronicks Shoppe, Harry did carry equipment of every vintage and every make. If you wanted something that hadn't been manufactured in decades, and perhaps never made in quantity, Harry's was the place to go. The walls were lined with bins, all unlabeled, filled helter-skelter with every imaginable kind of gadget, most of which would have been hard to recognize unless you were both an expert and a historian.

Old Harry didn't need labels or a system. He was a small, lean, bony, sharp-nosed Scot who had fled Scotland during the Panic of '37, landed in New York, and stopped. He solemnly declared that he had never been west of the Hudson River nor north of 181st Street in the more than fifty years he had been in the country. He had a mind like that of a robot filing cabinet. Ask him for a particular piece of equipment, and he'd squint one eye closed, stare at the end of his nose with the other, and say:

"An M-1993 thermodyne hexode, eh? Ah. Um. Aye, I got one. Picked it up a couple years back. Put it— Let ma see, now...."

And he'd go to his wall ladder, push it along that narrow hallway, moving boxes aside as he went, and stop somewhere along the wall. Then he'd scramble up the ladder, pull out a bin, fumble around in it, and come out with the article in question. He'd blow the dust off it, polish it with a rag, scramble down the ladder, and say: "Here 'tis. Thought I had one. Let's go back in the back and give her a test."

On the other hand, if he didn't have what you wanted, he'd shake his head just a trifle, then squint up at you and say: "What d'ye want it for?" And if you could tell him what you planned to do with the piece you wanted, nine times out of ten he could come up with something else that would do the job as well or better.

In either case, he always insisted that the piece be tested. He refused either to buy or sell something that didn't work. So you'd follow him down that long hallway to the lab in the rear, where all the testing equipment was. The lab, too, was cluttered, but in a different way. Out front, the stuff was dead; back here, there was power coursing through the ionic veins and metallic nerves of the half-living machines. Things were labeled in neat, accurate script—not for Old Harry's benefit, but for the edification of his customers, so they wouldn't put their fingers in the wrong places. He never had to worry about whether his customers knew enough to fend for themselves; a few minutes spent in talking was enough to tell Harry whether a man knew enough about the science and art of electronics and sub-electronics to be trusted in the lab. If you didn't measure up, you didn't get invited to the lab, even to watch a test.

But he had very few people like that; nobody came into Harry MacDougal's place unless he was pretty sure of what he wanted and how he wanted to use it.

On the other hand, there were very few men whom Harry would allow into the lab unescorted. Mike the Angel was one of them.

Meet Mike the Angel. Full name: Michael Raphael Gabriel. (His mother had tagged that on him at the time of his baptism, which had made his father wince in anticipated compassion, but there had been nothing for him to say—not in the middle of the ceremony.)

Naturally, he had been tagged "Mike the Angel." Six feet seven. Two hundred sixty pounds. Thirty-four years of age. Hair: golden yellow. Eyes: deep blue. Cash value of holdings: well into eight figures. Credit: almost unlimited. Marital status: highly eligible, if the right woman could tackle him.

Mike the Angel pushed open the door to Harry MacDougal's shop and took off his hat to brush the raindrops from it. Farther uptown, the streets were covered with clear plastic roofing, but that kind of comfort stopped at Fifty-third Street.

There was no one in sight in the long, narrow store, so Mike the Angel looked up at the ceiling, where he knew the eye was hidden.

"Harry?" he said.

"I see you, lad," said a voice from the air. "You got here just in time. I'm closin' up. Lock the door, would ye?"

"Sure, Harry." Mike turned around, pressed the locking switch, and heard it snap satisfactorily.

"Okay, Mike," said Harry MacDougal's voice. "Come on back. I hope ye brought that bottle of scotch I asked for."

Mike the Angel made his way back between the towering tiers of bins as he answered. "Sure did, Harry. When did I ever forget you?"

And, as he moved toward the rear of the store, Mike the Angel casually reached into his coat pocket and triggered the switch of a small but fantastically powerful mechanism that he always carried when he walked the streets of New York at night.

He was headed straight into trouble, and he knew it. And he hoped he was ready for it.



2

Mike the Angel kept his hand in his pocket, his thumb on a little plate that was set in the side of the small mechanism that was concealed therein. As he neared the door, the little plate began to vibrate, making a buzz which could only be felt, not heard. Mike sighed to himself. Vibroblades were all the rage this season.

He pushed open the rear door rapidly and stepped inside. It was just what he'd expected. His eyes saw and his brain recorded the whole scene in the fraction of a second before he moved. In that fraction of a second, he took in the situation, appraised it, planned his strategy, and launched into his plan of action.

Harry MacDougal was sitting at his workbench, near the controls of the eye that watched the shop when he was in the lab. He was hunched over a little, his small, bright eyes peering steadily at Mike the Angel from beneath shaggy, silvered brows. There was no pleading in those eyes—only confidence.

Next to Old Harry was a kid—sixteen, maybe seventeen. He had the JD stamp on his face: a look of cold, hard arrogance that barely concealed the uncertainty and fear beneath. One hand was at Harry's back, and Mike knew that the kid was holding a vibroblade at the old man's spine.

At the same time, the buzzing against his thumb told Mike the Angel something else. There was a vibroblade much nearer his body than the one in the kid's hand.

That meant that there was another young punk behind him.

All this took Mike the Angel about one quarter of a second to assimilate. Then he jumped.

Had the intruders been adults, Mike would have handled the entire situation in a completely different way. Adults, unless they are mentally or emotionally retarded, do not usually react or behave like children. Adolescents can, do, and must—for the very simple reason that they have not yet had time to learn to react as adults.

Had the intruders been adults, and had Mike the Angel behaved the way he did, he might conceivably have died that night. As it was, the kids never had a chance.

Mike didn't even bother to acknowledge the existence of the punk behind him. He leaped, instead, straight for the kid in the dead-black suede zipsuit who was holding the vibroblade against Harry MacDougal's spine. And the kid reacted exactly as Mike the Angel had hoped, prayed, and predicted he would.

The kid defended himself.

An adult, in a situation where he has one known enemy at his mercy and is being attacked by a second, will quickly put the first out of the way in order to leave himself free to deal with the second. There is no sense in leaving your flank wide open just to oppose a frontal attack.

If the kid had been an adult, Harry MacDougal would have died there and then. An adult would simply have slashed his vibroblade through the old man's spine and brought it to bear on Mike the Angel.

But not the kid. He jumped back, eyes widening, to face his oncoming opponent in an open space. He was no coward, that kid, and he knew how to handle a vibroblade. In his own unwise, suicidal way, he was perfectly capable of proving himself. He held out the point of that shimmering metal shaft, ready to parry any offensive thrust that Mike the Angel might make.

If Mike had had a vibroblade himself, and if there hadn't been another punk at his back, Mike might have taken care of the kid that way. As it was, he had no choice but to use another way.

He threw himself full on the point of the scintillating vibroblade.

A vibroblade is a nasty weapon. Originally designed as a surgeon's tool, its special steel blade moves in and out of the heavy hilt at speeds from two hundred to two thousand vibrations per second, depending on the size and the use to which it is to be put. Make it eight inches long, add serrated, diamond-pointed teeth, and you have the man-killing vibroblade. Its danger is in its power; that shivering blade can cut through flesh, cartilage, and bone with almost no effort. It's a knife with power steering.

But that kind of power can be a weakness as well as a strength.

The little gadget that Mike the Angel carried did more than just detect the nearby operation of a vibroblade. It was also a defense. The gadget focused a high-density magnetic field on any vibroblade that came anywhere within six inches of Mike's body.

In that field, the steel blade simply couldn't move. It was as though it had been caught in a vise. The blade no longer vibrated; it had become nothing more than an overly fancy bread knife.

The trouble was that the power unit in the heavy hilt simply wouldn't accept the fact that the blade was immovable. That power unit was in there to move something, and by heaven, something had to move.

The hilt jerked and bucked in the kid's hand, taking skin with it. Then it began to smoke and burn under the overload. The plastic shell cracked and hot copper and silver splattered out of it. The kid screamed as the molten metal burned his hand.

Mike the Angel put a hand against the kid's chest and shoved. As the boy toppled backward, Mike turned to face the other boy.

Only it wasn't a boy.

She was wearing gold lip paint and had sprayed her hair blue, but she knew how to handle a vibroblade at least as well as her boy friend had. Just as Mike the Angel turned, she lunged forward, aiming for the small of his back.

And she, too, screamed as she lost her blade in a flash of heat.

Then she grabbed for something in her pocket. Regretfully, Mike the Angel brought the edge of his hand down against the side of her neck in a paralyzing, but not deadly, rabbit punch. She dropped, senseless, and a small gun spilled out of the waist pocket of her zipsuit and skittered across the floor. Mike paused only long enough to make sure she was out, then he turned back to his first opponent.

As he had anticipated, Harry MacDougal had taken charge. The kid was sprawled flat on the floor, and Old Harry was holding a shock gun in his hand.

Mike the Angel took a deep breath.

"Yer trousers are on fire," said Harry.

Mike yelped as he felt the heat, and he began slapping at the smoldering spots where the molten metal from the vibroblades had hit his clothing. He wasn't afire; modern clothing doesn't flame up—but it can get pretty hot when you splash liquid copper on it.

"Damn!" said Mike the Angel. "New suit, too."

"You're a fast thinker, laddie," said Old Harry.

"You don't need to flatter me, Harry," said Mike the Angel. "When an old teetotaler like you asks a man if he's brought some scotch, the man's a fool if he doesn't know there's trouble afoot." He gave his leg a final slap and said: "What happened? Are there any more of them?"

"Don't know. Might be." The old man waved at his control panel. "My instruments are workin' again!" He gestured at the floor. "I'm nae sure how they did it, but somehow they managed to blank out ma instruments just long enough to get inside. Their mistake was in not lockin' the front door."

Mike the Angel was busy searching the two unconscious kids. He looked up. "Neither of them is carrying any equipment in their clothing—at least, not anything that's self-powered. If they've got pickup circuits built into the cloth, there must be more of them outside."

"Aye. Likely. We'll see."

Suddenly, there was a soft ping! ping! ping! from an instrument on the bench.

Harry glanced quickly at the receiving screen that was connected with the multitude of eyes that were hidden around the area of his shop. Then a smile came over his small brown face.

"Cops," he said. "Time they got here."



3

Sergeant Cowder looked the room over and took a drag from his cigarette. "Well, that's that. Now—what happened?" He looked from Mike the Angel to Harry MacDougal and back again. Both of them appeared to be thinking.

"All right," he said quietly, "let me guess, then."

Old Harry waved a hand. "Oh no, Sergeant; 'twon't be necessary. I think Mr. Gabriel was just waiting for me to start, because he wasn't here when the two rapscallions came in, and I was just tryin' to figure out where to begin. We're not bein' unco-operative. Let's see now—" He gazed at the ceiling as though trying to collect his thoughts. He knew perfectly well that the police sergeant was recording everything he said.

The sergeant sighed. "Look, Harry, you're not on trial. I know perfectly well that you've got this place bugged to a fare-thee-well. So does every shop operator on Radio Row. If you didn't, the JD gangs would have cleaned you all out long ago."

Harry kept looking at the ceiling, and Mike the Angel smiled quietly at his fingernails.

The detective sergeant sighed again. "Sure, we'd like to have some of the gadgets that you and the other operators on the Row have worked out, Harry. But I'm in no position to take 'em away from you. Besides, we have some stuff that you'd like to have, too, so that makes us pretty much even. If we started confiscating illegal equipment from you, the JD's would swoop in here, take your legitimate equipment, bug it up, and they'd be driving us all nuts within a week. So long as you don't use illegal equipment illegally, the department will leave you alone."

Old Harry grinned. "Well, now, that's very nice of you, Sergeant. But I don't have anything illegal—no robotics stuff or anything like that. Oh, I'll admit I've a couple of eyes here and there to watch my shop, but eyes aren't illegal."

The detective glanced around the room with a practiced eye and then looked blandly back at the little Scotsman. Harry MacDougal was lying, and the sergeant knew it. And Harry knew the sergeant knew it.

Sergeant Cowder sighed for a third time and looked at the Scot. "Okay. So what happened?"

Harry's face became serious. "They came in about six-thirty. First I knew of it, one of the kids—the boy—stepped out of that closet over there and put a vibroblade at my back. I'd come back here to get a small resistor, and all of a sudden there he was."

Mike the Angel frowned, but he didn't say anything.

"None of your equipment registered anything?" asked the detective.

"Not a thing, Sergeant," said Harry. "They've got something new, all right. The kid must ha' come in through the back door, there. And I'd ha' been willin' to bet ma life that no human bein' could ha' walked in here without ma knowin' it before he got within ten feet o' that door. Look."

He got up, walked over to the back door, and opened it. It opened into what looked at first to be a totally dark room. Then the sergeant saw that there was a dead-black wall a few feet from the open door.

"That's a light trap," said Harry. "Same as they have in photographic darkrooms. To get from this door to the outer door that leads into the alley, you got to turn two corners and walk about thirty feet. Even I, masel', couldn't walk through it without settin' off half a dozen alarms. Any kind of light would set off the bugs; so would the heat radiation from the human body."

"How about the front?" Sergeant Cowder asked. "Anyone could get in from the front."

Harry's grin became grim. "Not unless I go with 'em. And not even then if I don't want 'em to."

"It was kind of you to let us in," said the detective mildly.

"A pleasure," said Harry. "But I wish I knew how that kid got in."

"Well, he did—somehow," Cowder said. "What happened after he came out of the closet?"

"He made me let the girl in. They were goin' to open up the rear completely and take my stuff out that way. They'd ha' done it, too, if Mr. Gabriel hadn't come along."

Detective Sergeant Cowder looked at Mike the Angel. "About what time was that, Mr. Gabriel?"

"About six thirty-five," Mike told him. "The kids probably hadn't been here more than a few minutes."

Harry MacDougal nodded in silent corroboration.

"Then what happened?" asked the detective.

Mike told him a carefully edited version of what had occurred, leaving out the existence of the little gadget he was carrying in his pocket. The sergeant listened patiently and unbelievingly through the whole recital. Mike the Angel grinned to himself; he knew what part of the story seemed queer to the cop.

He was right. Cowder said: "Now, wait a minute. What caused those vibroblades to burn up that way?"

"Must have been faulty," Mike the Angel said innocently.

"Both of them?" Sergeant Cowder asked skeptically. "At the same time?"

"Oh no. Thirty seconds apart, I'd guess."

"Very interesting. Very." He started to say something else, but a uniformed officer stuck his head in through the doorway that led to the front of the shop.

"We combed the whole area, Sergeant. Not a soul around. But from the looks of the alley, there must have been a small truck parked in there not too long ago."

Cowder nodded. "Makes sense. Those JD's wouldn't have tried this unless they intended to take everything they could put their hands on, and they certainly couldn't have put all this in their pockets." He rubbed one big finger over the tip of his nose. "Okay, Barton, that's all. Take those two kids to the hospital and book 'em in the detention ward. I want to talk to them when they wake up."

The cop nodded and left.

Sergeant Cowder looked back at Harry. "Your alarm to the precinct station went off at six thirty-six. I figure that whoever was on the outside, in that truck, knew something had gone wrong as soon as the fight started in here. He—or they—shut off whatever they were using to suppress the alarm system and took off before we got here. They sure must have moved fast."

"Must have," agreed Harry. "Is there anything else, Sergeant?"

Cowder shook his head. "Not right now. I'll get in touch with you later, if I need you."

Harry and Mike the Angel followed him through the front of the shop to the front door. At the door, Cowder turned.

"Well, good night. Thanks for your assistance, Mr. Gabriel. I wish some of our cops had had your luck."

"How so?" asked Mike the Angel.

"If more vibroblades would blow up at opportune moments, we'd have fewer butchered policemen."

Mike the Angel shook his head. "Not really. If their vibros started burning out every time they came near a cop, the JD's would just start using something else. You can't win in this game."

Cowder nodded glumly. "It's a losing proposition any way you look at it.... Well, good night again." He stepped out, and Old Harry closed and locked the door behind him.

Mike the Angel said: "Come on, Harry; I want to find something." He began walking back down the long, narrow shop toward the rear again. Harry followed, looking mystified.

Mike the Angel stopped, sniffing. "Smell that?"

Harry sniffed. "Aye. Burnt insulation. So?"

"You know which one of these bins is nearest to your main control cable. Start looking. See if you find anything queer."

Old Harry walked over to a nearby bin, pulled it open, and looked inside. He closed it, pulled open another. He found the gadget on the third try. It was a plastic case, six by six by eight, and it still smelled of hot insulation, although the case itself was barely warm.

"What is it?" Harry asked in wonder.

"It's the gizmo that turned your equipment off. When I passed by it, my own gadget must have blown it. I knew the police couldn't have made it here between the time of the fight and the time they showed up. They must have had at least an extra minute. Besides, I didn't think anyone could build an instrument that would blank out everything at long range. It had to be something near your main cable. I think you'll find a metallic oscillator in there. Analyze it. Might be useful."

Harry turned the box over in his hands. "Probably has a timer in it to start it.... Well.... That helps."

"What do you mean?"

"I've got a pretty good idea who put it here. Older kid. Nineteen—maybe twenty. Seemed like a nice lad, too. Didn't take him for a JD. Can't trust anyone these days. Thanks, Mike. If I find anything new in here, I'll let you know."

"Do that," said Mike the Angel. "And, as a personal favor, I'll show you how to build my own super-duper, extra-special, anti-vibroblade defense unit."

Old Harry grinned, crinkling up his wizened face in a mass of fine wrinkles. "You'd better think up a shorter name than that for it, laddie; I could probably build one in less time than it takes you to say it."

"Want to bet?"

"I'll bet you twenty I can do it in twenty-four hours."

"Twenty it is, Harry. I'll sell you mine this time tomorrow for twenty bucks."

Harry shook his head. "I'll trade you mine for yours, plus twenty." Then his eyes twinkled. "And speaking of money, didn't you come down here to buy something?"

Mike the Angel laughed. "You're not going to like it. I came down to get a dozen plastic-core resistors."

"What size?"

Mike told him, and Old Harry went over to the proper bin, pulled them out, all properly boxed, and handed them to him.

"That'll be four dollars," he said.

Mike the Angel paid up with a smile. "You don't happen to have a hundred-thousand-unit microcryotron stack, do you?"

"Ain't s'posed to," said Harry MacDougal. "If I did, I wouldn't sell it to you. But, as a matter of cold fact, I do happen to have one. Use it for a paperweight. I'll give it to you for nothing, because it don't work, anyhow."

"Maybe I can fix it," said Mike the Angel, "as long as you're giving it to me. How come it doesn't work?"

"Just a second, laddie," said Harry. He scuttled to the rear of the shop and came back with a ready-wrapped package measuring five by five by four. He handed it to Mike the Angel and said: "It's a present. Thanks for helping me out of a tight spot."

Mike said something deprecative of his own efforts and took the package. If it were in working order it would have been worth close to three hundred dollars—more than that on the black market. If it was broken, though, it was no good to Mike. A microcryotron unit is almost impossible to fix if it breaks down. But Mike took it because he didn't want to hurt Old Harry's feelings by refusing a present.

"Thanks, Harry," he said. "Happen to know why it doesn't work?"

Harry's face crinkled again in his all-over smile. "Sure, Mike. It ain't plugged in."



4

Mike the Angel did not believe in commuting. Being a bachelor, he could afford to indulge in that belief. In his suite of offices on 112th Street, there was one door marked "M. R. Gabriel." Behind that door was his private secretary's office, which acted as an effective barrier between himself and the various employees of the firm. Behind the secretary's office was his own office.

There was still another door in his inner office, a plain, unmarked door that looked as though it might conceal a closet.

It didn't. It was the door to a veddy, veddy expensive apartment with equally expensive appointments. One wall, thirty feet long and ten feet high, was a nearly invisible, dustproof slab of polished, optically flat glass that gave the observer the feeling that there was nothing between him and the city street, five hundred feet below.

The lights of the city, coming through the wall, gave the room plenty of illumination after sunset, but the simple flick of a switch could polarize it black, allowing perfect privacy.

The furniture was massive, heavily braced, and well upholstered. It had to be; Mike the Angel liked to flop into chairs, and his two hundred and sixty pounds gave chairs a lot of punishment.

On one of the opaque walls was Dali's original "Eucharist," with its muffled, robed figures looking oddly luminous in the queer combination of city lights and interior illumination. Farther back, a Valois gleamed metallically above the shadowed bas-reliefs of its depths.

It was the kind of apartment Mike the Angel liked. He could sleep, if necessary, on a park bench or in a trench, but he didn't see any reason for doing so if he could sleep on a five-hundred-dollar floater.

As he had passed through each door, he had checked them carefully. His electrokey had a special circuit that lighted up a tiny glow lamp in the key handle if the lock had been tampered with. None of them had.

He opened the final door, went into his apartment, and locked the door behind him, as he had locked the others. Then he turned on the lights, peeled off his raincoat, and plopped himself into a chair to unwrap the microcryotron stack he had picked up at Harry's.

Theoretically, Harry wasn't supposed to sell the things. They were still difficult to make, and they were supposed to be used only by persons who were authorized to build robot brains, since that's what the stack was—a part of a robot brain. Mike could have put his hands on one legally, provided he'd wanted to wait for six or eight months to clear up the red tape. Actually, the big robotics companies didn't want amateurs fooling around with robots; they'd much rather build the robots themselves and rent them out. They couldn't make do-it-yourself projects impossible, but they could make them difficult.

In a way, there was some good done. So far, the JD's hadn't gone into big-scale robotics. Self-controlled bombs could be rather nasty.

Adult criminals, of course, already had them. But an adult criminal who had the money to invest in robotic components, or went to the trouble to steal them, had something more lucrative in mind than street fights or robbing barrooms. To crack a bank, for instance, took a cleverly constructed, well-designed robot and plenty of ingenuity on the part of the operator.

Mike the Angel didn't want to make bombs or automatic bankrobbers; he just wanted to fiddle with the stack, see what it would do. He turned it over in his hands a couple of times, then shrugged, got up, went over to his closet, and put the thing away. There wasn't anything he could do with it until he'd bought a cryostat—a liquid helium refrigerator. A cryotron functions only at temperatures near absolute zero.

The phone chimed.

Mike went over to it, punched the switch, and said: "Gabriel speaking."

No image formed on the screen. A voice said: "Sorry, wrong number." There was a slight click, and the phone went dead. Mike shrugged and punched the cutoff. Sounded like a woman. He vaguely wished he could have seen her face.

Mike got up and walked back to his easy chair. He had no sooner sat down than the phone chimed again. Damn!

Up again. Back to the phone.

"Gabriel speaking."

Again, no image formed.

"Look, lady," Mike said, "why don't you look up the number you want instead of bothering me?"

Suddenly there was an image. It was the face of an elderly man with a mild, reddish face, white hair, and a cold look in his pale blue eyes. It was Basil Wallingford, the Minister for Spatial Affairs.

He said: "Mike, I wasn't aware that your position was such that you could afford to be rude to a Portfolio of the Earth Government." His voice was flat, without either anger or humor.

"I'm not sure it is, myself," admitted Mike the Angel, "but I do the best I can with the tools I have to work with. I didn't know it was you, Wally. I just had some wrong-number trouble. Sorry."

"Mf.... Well.... I called to tell you that the Branchell is ready for your final inspection. Or will be, that is, in a week."

"My final inspection?" Mike the Angel arched his heavy golden-blond eyebrows. "Hell, Wally, Serge Paulvitch is on the job down there, isn't he? You don't need my okay. If Serge says it's ready to go, it's ready to go. Or is there some kind of trouble you haven't mentioned yet?"

"No; no trouble," said Wallingford. "But the power plant on that ship was built according to your designs—not Mr. Paulvitch's. The Bureau of Space feels that you should give them the final check."

Mike knew when to argue and when not to, and he knew that this was one time when it wouldn't do him the slightest good. "All right," he said resignedly. "I don't like Antarctica and never will, but I guess I can stand it for a few days."

"Fine. One more thing. Do you have a copy of the thrust specifications for Cargo Hold One? Our copy got garbled in transmission, and there seems to be a discrepancy in the figures."

Mike nodded. "Sure. They're in my office. Want me to get them now?"

"Please. I'll hold on."

Mike the Angel barely made it in time. He went to the door that led to his office, opened it, stepped through, and closed it behind him just as the blast went off.

The door shuddered behind Mike, but it didn't give. Mike's apartment was reasonably soundproof, but it wasn't built to take the kind of explosion that would shake the door that Mike the Angel had just closed. It was a two-inch-thick slab of armor steel on heavy, precision-bearing hinges. So was every other door in the suite. It wasn't quite a bank-vault door, but it would do. Any explosion that could shake it was a real doozy.

Mike the Angel spun around and looked at the door. It was just a trifle warped, and faint tendrils of vapor were curling around the edge where the seal had been broken. Mike sniffed, then turned and ran. He opened a drawer in his desk and took out a big roll of electrostatic tape. Then he took a deep breath, went back to the door, and slapped on a strip of the one-inch tape, running it all around the edge of the door. Then he went into the outer office while the air conditioners cleaned out his private office.

He went over to one of the phones near the autofile and punched for the operator. "I had a long-distance call coming in here from the Right Excellent Basil Wallingford, Minister for Spatial Affairs, Capitol City. We were cut off."

"One moment please." A slight pause. "His Excellency is here, Mr. Gabriel."

Wallingford's face came back on the screen. It had lost some of its ruddiness. "What happened?" he asked.

"You tell me, Wally," Mike snapped. "Did you see anything at all?"

"All I saw was that big pane of glass break. It fell into a thousand pieces, and then something exploded and the phone went dead."

"The glass broke first?"

"That's right."

Mike sighed. "Good. I was afraid that maybe someone had planted that bomb, rather than fired it in. I'd hate to think anyone could get into my place without my knowing it."

"Who's gunning for you?"

"I wish I knew. Look, Wally, can you wait until tomorrow for those specs? I want to get hold of the police."

"Certainly. Nothing urgent. It can wait. I'll call you again tomorrow evening." The screen blanked.

Mike glanced at the wall clock and then punched a number on the phone. A pretty girl in a blue uniform came on the screen.

"Police Central," she said. "May I help you?"

"I'd like to speak to Detective Sergeant William Cowder, please," Mike said. "Just tell him that Mr. Gabriel has more problems."

She looked puzzled, but she nodded, and pretty soon her image blanked out. The screen stayed blank, but Sergeant Cowder's voice came over the speaker. "What is it, Mr. Gabriel?"

He was evidently speaking from a pocket phone.

"Attempted murder," said Mike the Angel. "A few minutes ago a bomb was set off in my apartment. I think it was a rocket, and I know it was heavily laced with hydrogen cyanide. That's Suite 5000, Timmins Building, up on 112th Street. I called you because I have a hunch it's connected with the incident at Harry's earlier this evening."

"Timmins Building, eh? I'll be right up."

Cowder cut off with a sharp click, and Mike the Angel looked quizzically at the dead screen. Was he imagining things, or was there a peculiar note in Cowder's voice?

Two minutes later he got his answer.



5

Mike the Angel was sitting behind his desk in his private office when the announcer chimed. Mike narrowed his eyes and turned on his door screen, which connected with an eye in the outer door of the suite. Who could it be this time?

It was Sergeant Cowder.

"You got here fast," said Mike, thumbing the unlocker. "Come on back to my office."

The sergeant came through the outer office while Mike watched him on the screen. Not until the officer finally pushed open the door to Mike's own office did Mike the Angel look up from the screen.

"I repeat," said Mike, "you got here fast."

"I wasn't far away," said Cowder. "Where's the damage?"

Mike jerked a thumb toward the door to his apartment, still sealed with tape. "In there."

"Have you been back in there yet?"

"Nope," said Mike. "I didn't want to disturb anything. I figured maybe your lab boys could tell where the rocket came from."

"What happened?" the cop asked.

Mike told him, omitting nothing except the details of his conversation with Wallingford.

"The way I see it," he finished, "whoever it was phoned me to make sure I was in the room and then went out and fired a rocket at my window."

"What makes you think it was a JD?" Cowder asked.

"Well, Sergeant, if I were going to do the job, I'd put my launcher in some place where I could see that my victim was inside, without having to call him. But if I couldn't do that, I'd aim the launcher and set it to fire by remote control. Then I'd go to the phone, call him, and fire the rocket while he was on the phone. I'd be sure of getting him that way. The way it was done smacks of a kid's trick."

Cowder looked at the door. "Think we can go in there now? The HCN ought to have cleared out by now."

Mike stood up from behind his desk. "I imagine it's pretty clear. I checked the air conditioners; they're still working, and the filters are efficient enough to take care of an awful lot of hydrogen cyanide. Besides, the window is open. But—shouldn't we wait for the lab men?"

Cowder shook his head. "Not necessary. They'll be up in a few minutes, but they'll probably just confirm what we already know. Peel that tape off, will you?"

Mike took his ionizer from the top of the desk, walked over to the door, and began running it over the tape. It fell off and slithered to the floor. As he worked, he said:

"You think you know where the rocket was fired from?"

"Almost positive," said Cowder. "We got a call a few minutes back from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine."

The last of the tape fell off, and Mike opened the door. It didn't work easily, but it did open. The odor of bitter almonds was so faint that it might actually have been imagination.

Cowder pointed out the shattered window at the gray spire of the cathedral. "There's your launching site. We don't know how they got up there, but they managed."

"They?"

"Two of them. When they tried to leave, a couple of priests and two officers of the Cathedral Police spotted them. The kids dropped their launcher and two unfired rockets, and then tried to run for it. Result: one dead kid, one getaway. One of the cops got a bad gash on his arm from a vibroblade, and one of the priests got it in the abdomen. He'll live, but he's in bad shape."

Mike said something under his breath that might have been an oath, except that it avoided all mention of the Deity. Then he added that Name, in a different tone of voice.

"I agree," said Cowder. "You think you know why they did it?"

Mike looked around at his apartment. At first glance it appeared to be a total loss, but closer inspection showed that most of the damage had been restricted to glass and ceramics. The furniture had been tumbled around but not badly damaged. The war head of the rocket had evidently been of the concussion-and-gas type, without much fragmentation.

"I think I know why, yes," Mike said, turning back to the sergeant. "I had a funny feeling all the way home from Harry's. Nothing I could lay my finger on, really. I tried to see if I was being followed, but I didn't spot anyone. There were plenty of kids on the subway.

"It's my guess that the kids knew who I was. If they cased Harry's as thoroughly as it seems they did, they must have seen me go in and out several times. They knew that it was my fault that two of their members got picked up, so they decided to teach me a lesson. One of them must have come up here, even before I left Harry's. The other followed me, just to make sure I was really coming home. Since he knew where I was going, he didn't have to stick too close, so I didn't spot him in the crowd. He might even have gone on up to 116th Street so that I wouldn't see him get off at 110th."

"Sounds reasonable," Cowder agreed. "We know who the kids are. The uniformed squads are rounding up the whole bunch for questioning. They call themselves—you'll get a laugh out of this!—they call themselves the Rocketeers."

"I'm fracturing my funny bone," said Mike the Angel. "The thing that gets me is this revenge business, though. Kids don't usually go that far out for fellow gang members."

"Not usually," the sergeant said, "but this is a little different. The girl you caught and the boy who got killed over at the cathedral are brother and sister."

"That explains it," Mike said. "Rough family, eh?"

Sergeant Cowder shook his head. "Not really. The parents are respectable and fairly well off. Larchmont's the name. The kids are Susan and Herbert—Sue and Bert to you. Bert's sixteen, Sue's seventeen. They were pretty thick, I gather: real brother and sister team."

"Good family, bad kids," Mike muttered. He had wandered over to the wall to look at his Dali. It had fallen to the floor, but it wasn't hurt. The Valois was bent, but it could be fixed up easily enough.

"I wonder," Mike said, picking up the head of a smashed figurine and looking at it. "I wonder if the so-called sociologists have any explanation for it?"

"Sure," Cowder said. "Same one they've been giving for more decades than I'd care to think of. The mother was married before. Divorced her husband, married Larchmont. But she had a boy by her first husband."

"Broken home and sibling rivalry? Pfui! And if it wasn't that, the sociologists would find another excuse," Mike said angrily.

"Funny thing is that the older half brother was a perfectly respectable kid. Made good grades in school, joined the Space Service, has a perfectly clean record. And yet he was the product of the broken home, not the two younger kids."

Mike laughed dryly. "That ought to be food for high sociological thought."

The door announcer chimed again, and Cowder said: "That's probably the lab boys. I told them to come over here as soon as they could finish up at the cathedral."

Mike checked his screen and when Cowder identified the men at the door, Mike let them in.

The short, chubby man in the lead, who was introduced as Perkins, spoke to Sergeant Cowder first. "We checked one of those rockets. Almost a professional job. TNT war head, surrounded by a jacket filled with liquid HCN and a phosphate inhibitor to prevent polymerization. Nasty things." He swung round to Mike. "You're lucky you weren't in the room, or you'd just be part of the wreckage, Mr. Gabriel."

"I know," said Mike the Angel. "Well, the room's all yours. It probably won't tell you much."

"Probably not," said Perkins, "but we'll see. Come on, boys."

Mike the Angel tapped Cowder on the shoulder. "I'd like to talk to you for a minute."

Cowder nodded, and Mike led the way back into his private office. He opened his desk drawer and took out the little pack that housed the workings of the vibroblade shield.

"That accident you were talking about, Sergeant—the one that made those vibroblades blow, remember? I got to thinking that maybe this could have caused it. I think that with a little more power, it might even vaporize a high-speed bullet. But I'd advise you to wear asbestos clothing."

Cowder took the thing and looked at it. "Thanks, Mr. Gabriel," he said honestly. "Maybe the kids will go on to using something else if vibroblades don't work, but I think I'd prefer a rocket in the head to being carved by a vibro."

"To be honest," Mike said, "I think the vibro is just a fad among the JD's now, anyway. You know—if you're one of the real biggies, you carry a vibro. A year from now, it might be shock guns, but right now you're chicken if you carry anything but a vibroblade."

Cowder dropped the shield generator into his coat pocket. "Thanks again, Mr. Gabriel. We'll do you a favor sometime."



6

The firm of M. R. GABRIEL, POWER DESIGN was not a giant corporation, but it did pretty well for a one-man show. The outer office was a gantlet that Mike the Angel had to run when he came in the next morning after having spent the night at a hotel. There was a mixed and ragged chorus of "Good morning, Mr. Gabriel" as he passed through. Mike gave the nod to each of them and was stopped four times for small details before he finally made his way to his own office.

His secretary was waiting for him. She was short, bony, and plain of face. She had a figure like an ironing board and the soul of a Ramsden calculator. Mike the Angel liked her that way; it avoided complications.

"Good morning, Mr. Gabriel," she said. "What the hell happened here?" She waved at the warped door and the ribbons of electrostatic tape that still lay in curls on the floor.

Mike told her, and she listened to his recitation without any change of expression. "I'm very glad you weren't hurt," she said when he had finished. "What are you going to do about the apartment?"

Mike opened the heavy door and looked at the wreckage inside. Through the gaping hole of the shattered window, he could see the towering spires of the two-hundred-year-old Cathedral of St. John the Divine. "Get Larry Beasley on the phone, Helen. I've forgotten his number, but you'll find him listed under 'Interior Decorators.' He has the original plans and designs on file. Tell him to get them out; I want this place fixed up just like it was."

"But what if someone else...." She gestured toward the broken window and the cathedral spires beyond.

"When you're through talking to Beasley," Mike went on, "see if you can get Bishop Brennan on the phone and switch him to my desk."

"Yes, sir," she said.

Within two hours workmen were busily cleaning up the wreckage in Mike the Angel's apartment, and the round, plump figure of Larry Beasley was walking around pompously while his artistic but businesslike brain made estimates. Mike had also reached an agreement with the bishop whereby special vaultlike doors would be fitted into the stairwells leading up to the towers at Mike's expense. They were to have facings of bronze so that they could be decorated to blend with the Gothic decor of the church, but the bronze would be backed by heavy steel. Nobody would blow those down in a hurry.

Since the wrecked living room was a flurry of activity and his office had become a thoroughfare, Mike the Angel retired to his bedroom to think. He took with him the microcryotron stack he had picked up at Old Harry's the night before.

"For something that doesn't look like much," he said aloud to the stack, "you have caused me a hell of a lot of trouble."

Old Harry, he knew, wouldn't be caught dead selling the things. In the first place, it was strictly illegal to deal in the components of robotic brains. In the second place, they were so difficult to get, even on the black market, that the few that came into Old Harry's hands went into the defenses of his own shop. Mike the Angel had only wanted to borrow one to take a good look at it. He had read up on all the literature about microcryotrons, but he'd never actually seen one before.

He had reason to be curious about microcryotrons. There was something definitely screwy going on in Antarctica.

Nearly two years before, the UN Government, in the person of Minister Wallingford himself, had asked Mike's firm—which meant Mike the Angel himself—to design the power drive and the thrust converters for a spaceship. On the face of it, there was nothing at all unusual in that. Such jobs were routine for M. R. Gabriel.

But when the specifications arrived, Mike the Angel had begun to wonder what the devil was going on. The spaceship William Branchell was to be built on the surface of Earth—and yet it was to be a much larger ship than any that had ever before been built on the ground. Usually, an interstellar vessel that large was built in orbit around the Earth, where the designers didn't have to worry about gravitational pull. Such a ship never landed, any more than an ocean liner was ever beached—not on purpose, anyway. The passengers and cargo were taken up by smaller vessels and brought down the same way when the liner arrived at her destination.

Aside from the tremendous energy required to lift such a vessel free of a planet's surface, there was also the magnetic field of the planet to consider. The drive tubes tended to wander and become erratic if they were forced to cut through the magnetic field of a planet.

Therefore, Question One: Why wasn't the Branchell being built in space?

Part of the answer, Mike knew, lay in the specifications for the construction of Cargo Hold One. For one thing, it was huge. For another, it was heavily insulated. For a third, it was built like a tank for holding liquids. All very well and good; possibly someone wanted to carry a cargo of cold lemonade or iced tea. That would be pretty stupid, maybe, but it wouldn't be mysterious.

The mystery lay in the fact that Cargo Hold One had already been built. The Branchell was to be built around it! And that didn't exactly jibe with Mike the Angel's ideas of the proper way to build a spaceship. It was not quite the same as building a seagoing vessel around an oil tank in the middle of Texas, but it was close enough to bother Mike the Angel.

Therefore, Question Two: Why was the Branchell being built around Cargo Hold One?

Which led to Question Three: What was in Cargo Hold One?

For the answer to that question, he had one very good hint. The density of the contents of Cargo Hold One was listed in the specs as being one-point-seven-two-six grams per cubic centimeter. And that, Mike happened to know, was the density of a cryotronic brain, which is 90 per cent liquid helium and 10 per cent tantalum and niobium, by volume.

He looked at the microcryotron stack in his hand. It was a one-hundred-kilounit stack. The possible connections within it were factorial one hundred thousand. All it needed was to be immersed in its bath of liquid helium to make the metals superconducting, and it would be ready to go to work.

A friend of his who worked for Computer Corporation of Earth had built a robot once, using just such a stack. The robot was designed to play poker. He had fed in all the rules of play and added all the data from Oesterveldt's On Poker. It took Mike the Angel exactly one hour to figure out how to beat it.

As long as Mike played rationally, the machine had a slight edge, since it had a perfect memory and could compute faster than Mike could. But it would not, could not learn how to bluff. As soon as Mike started bluffing, the robot went into a tizzy.

It wouldn't have been so bad if the robot had known nothing whatever about bluffing. That would have made it easy for Mike. All he'd have had to do was keep on feeding in chips until the robot folded.

But the robot did know about bluffing. The trouble is that bluffing is essentially illogical, and the robot had no rules whatsoever to go by to judge whether Mike was bluffing or not. It finally decided to make its decisions by chance, judging by Mike's past performance at bluffing. When it did, Mike quit bluffing and cleaned it out fast.

That caused such utter confusion in the random circuits that Mike's friend had had to spend a week cleaning up the robot's little mind.

But what would be the purpose of building a brain as gigantic as the one in Cargo Hold One? And why build a spaceship around it?

Like a pig roasting on an automatic spit, the problem kept turning over and over in Mike's mind. And, like the roasting pig, the time eventually came when it was done.

Once it is set in operation, a properly operating robot brain can neither be shut off nor dismantled. Not, that is, unless you want to lose all of the data and processes you've fed into it.

Now, suppose the Computer Corporation of Earth had built a giant-sized brain. (Never mind why—just suppose.) And suppose they wanted to take it off Earth, but didn't want to lose all the data that had been pumped into it. (Again, never mind why—just suppose.)

Very well, then. If such a brain had been built, and if it was necessary to take it off Earth, and if the data in it was so precious that the brain could not be shut off or dismantled, then the thing to do would be to build a ship around it.

Oh yeah?

Mike the Angel stared at the microcryotron stack and asked:

"Now, tell me, pal, just why would anyone want a brain that big? And what is so blasted important about it?"

The stack said not a word.

The phone chimed. Mike the Angel thumbed the switch, and his secretary's face appeared on the screen. "Minister Wallingford is on the line, Mr. Gabriel."

"Put him on," said Mike the Angel.

Basil Wallingford's ruddy face came on. "I see you're still alive," he said. "What in the bloody blazes happened last night?"

Mike sighed and told him. "In other words," he ended up, "just the usual sort of JD stuff we have to put up with these days. Nothing new, and nothing to worry about."

"You almost got killed," Wallingford pointed out.

"A miss is as good as a mile," Mike said with cheerful inanity. "Thanks to your phone call, I was as safe as if I'd been in my own home," he added with utter illogic.

"You can afford to laugh," Wallingford said grimly. "I can't. I've already lost one man."

Mike's grin vanished. "What do you mean? Who?"

"Oh, nobody's killed," Wallingford said quickly. "I didn't mean that. But Jack Wong turned his car over yesterday at a hundred and seventy miles an hour, and he's laid up with a fractured leg and a badly dislocated arm."

"Too bad," said Mike. "One of these days that fool will kill himself racing." He knew Wong and liked him. They had served together in the Space Service when Mike was on active duty.

"I hope not," Wallingford said. "Anyway—the matter I called you on last night. Can you get those specs for me?"

"Sure, Wally. Hold on." He punched the hold button and rang for his secretary as Wallingford's face vanished. When the girl's face came on, he said: "Helen, get me the cargo specs on the William Branchell—Section Twelve, pages 66 to 74."

The discussion, after Helen had brought the papers, lasted less than five minutes. It was merely a matter of straightening out some cost estimates—but since it had to do with the Branchell, and specifically with Hold Number One, Mike decided he'd ask a question.

"Wally, tell me—what in the hell is going on down there at Chilblains Base?"

"They're building a spaceship," said Wallingford in a flat voice.

It was Wallingford's way of saying he wasn't going to answer any questions, but Mike the Angel ignored the hint. "I'd sort of gathered that," he said dryly. "But what I want to know is: Why is it being built around a cryotronic brain, the like of which I have never heard before?"

Basil Wallingford's eyes widened, and he just stared for a full two seconds. "And just how did you come across that information, Golden Wings?" he finally asked.

"It's right here in the specs," said Mike the Angel, tapping the sheaf of papers.

"Ridiculous." Wallingford's voice seemed toneless.

Mike decided he was in too deep now to back out. "It certainly is, Wally. It couldn't be hidden. To compute the thrust stresses, I had to know the density of the contents of Cargo Hold One. And here it is: 1.726 gm/cm cubed. Nothing else that I know of has that exact density."

Wallingford pursed his lips. "Dear me," he said after a moment. "I keep forgetting you're too bright for your own good." Then a slow smile spread over his face. "Would you really like to know?"

"I wouldn't have asked otherwise," Mike said.

"Fine. Because you're just the man we need."

Mike the Angel could almost feel the knife blade sliding between his ribs, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that the person who had stabbed him in the back was himself. "What's that supposed to mean, Wally?"

"You are, I believe, an officer in the Space Service Reserve," said Basil Wallingford in a smooth, too oily voice. "Since the Engineering Officer of the Branchell, Jack Wong, is laid up in a hospital, I'm going to call you to active duty to replace him."

Mike the Angel felt that ghostly knife twist—hard.

"That's silly," he said. "I haven't been a ship's officer for five years."

"You're the man who designed the power plant," Wallingford said sweetly. "If you don't know how to run her, nobody does."

"My time per hour is worth a great deal," Mike pointed out.

"The rate of pay for a Space Service officer," Basil Wallingford said pleasantly, "is fixed by law."

"I can fight being called back to duty—and I'll win," said Mike. He didn't know how long he could play this game, but it was fun.

"True," said Wallingford. "You can. I admit it. But you've been wondering what the hell that ship is being built for. You'd give your left arm to find out. I know you, Golden Wings, and I know how that mind of yours works. And I tell you this: Unless you take this job, you'll never find out why the Branchell was built." He leaned forward, and his face loomed large in the screen. "And I mean absolutely never."

For several seconds Mike the Angel said nothing. His classically handsome face was like that of some Grecian god contemplating the Universe, or an archangel contemplating Eternity. Then he gave Basil Wallingford the benefit of his full, radiant smile.

"I capitulate," he said.

Wallingford refused to look impressed. "Damn right you do," he said—and cut the circuit.



7

Two days later Mike the Angel was sitting at his desk making certain that M. R. GABRIEL, POWER DESIGN would function smoothly while he was gone. Serge Paulvitch, his chief designer, could handle almost everything.

Paulvitch had once said, "Mike, the hell of working for a first-class genius is that a second-class genius doesn't have a chance."

"You could start your own firm," Mike had said levelly. "I'll back you, Serge; you know that."

Serge Paulvitch had looked astonished. "Me? You think I'm crazy? Right now, I'm a second-class genius working for a first-class outfit. You think I want to be a second-class genius working for a second-class outfit? Not on your life!"

Paulvitch could easily handle the firm for a few weeks.

Helen's face came on the phone. "There's a Captain Sir Henry Quill on the phone, Mr. Gabriel. Do you wish to speak to him?"

"Black Bart?" said Mike. "I wonder what he wants."

"Bart?" She looked puzzled. "He said his name was Henry."

Mike grinned. "He always signs his name: Captain Sir Henry Quill, Bart. And since he's the toughest old martinet this side of the Pleiades, the 'Black' part just comes naturally. I served under him seven years ago. Put him on."

In half a second the grim face of Captain Quill was on the screen.

He was as bald as an egg. What little hair he did have left was meticulously shaved off every morning. He more than made up for his lack of cranial growth, however, by his great, shaggy, bristly brows, black as jet and firmly anchored to jutting supraorbital ridges. Any other man would have been proud to wear them as mustaches.

"What can I do for you, Captain?" Mike asked, using the proper tone of voice prescribed for the genial businessman.

"You can go out and buy yourself a new uniform," Quill growled. "Your old one isn't regulation any more."

Well, not exactly growled. If he'd had the voice for it, it would have been a growl, but the closest he could come to a growl was an Irish tenor rumble with undertones of gravel. He stood five-eight, and his red and gold Space Service uniform gleamed with spit-and-polish luster. With his cap off, his bald head looked as though it, too, had been polished.

Mike looked at him thoughtfully. "I see. So you're commanding the mystery tub, eh?" he said at last.

"That's right," said the captain. "And don't go asking me a bunch of blasted questions. I've got no more idea of what the bloody thing's about than you—maybe not as much. I understand you designed her power plant...?"

He let it hang. If not exactly a leading question, it was certainly a hinting statement.

Mike shook his head. "I don't know anything, Captain. Honestly I don't."

If Space Service regulations had allowed it, Captain Sir Henry Quill, Bart., would have worn a walrus mustache. And if he'd had such a mustache, he would have whuffled it then. As it was, he just blew out air, and nothing whuffled.

"You and I are the only ones in the dark, then," he said. "The rest of the crew is being picked from Chilblains Base. Pete Jeffers is First Officer, in case you're wondering."

"Oh, great," Mike the Angel said with a moan. "That means we'll be going in cold on an untried ship."

Like Birnam Wood advancing on Dunsinane, Quill's eyebrows moved upward. "Don't you trust your own designing?"

"As much as you do," said Mike the Angel. "Probably more."

Quill nodded. "We'll have to make the best of it. We'll muddle through somehow. Are you all ready to go?"

"No," Mike admitted, "but I don't see that I can do a damn thing about that."

"Nor do I," said Captain Quill. "Be at Chilblains Base in twenty-four hours. Arrangements will be made at the Long Island Base for your transportation to Antarctica. And"—he paused and his scowl became deeper—"you'd best get used to calling me 'sir' again."

"Yessir, Sir Henry, sir."

"Thank you, Mister Gabriel," snapped Quill, cutting the circuit.

"Selah," said Mike the Angel.

* * * * *

Chilblains Base, Antarctica, was directly over the South Magnetic Pole—at least, as closely as that often elusive spot could be pinpointed for any length of time. It is cheaper in the long run if an interstellar vessel moves parallel with, not perpendicular to, the magnetic "lines of force" of a planet's gravitational field. Taking off "across the grain" can be done, but the power consumption is much greater. Taking off "with the grain" is expensive enough.

An ion rocket doesn't much care where it lifts or sets down, since its method of propulsion isn't trying to work against the fabric of space itself. For that reason, an interstellar vessel is normally built in space and stays there, using ion rockets for loading and unloading its passengers. It's cheaper by far.

The Computer Corporation of Earth had also been thinking of expenses when it built its Number One Research Station near Chilblains Base, although the corporation was not aware at the time just how much money it was eventually going to save them.

The original reason had simply been lower power costs. A cryotron unit has to be immersed at all times in a bath of liquid helium at a temperature of four-point-two degrees absolute. It is obviously much easier—and much cheaper—to keep several thousand gallons of helium at that temperature if the surrounding temperature is at two hundred thirty-three absolute than if it is up around two hundred ninety or three hundred. That may not seem like much percentagewise, but it comes out to a substantial saving in the long run.

But, power consumption or no, when C.C. of E. found that Snookums either had to be moved or destroyed, it was mightily pleased that it had built Prime Station near Chilblains Base. Since a great deal of expense also, of necessity, devolved upon Earth Government, the government was, to say it modestly, equally pleased. There was enough expense as it was.

The scenery at Chilblains Base—so named by a wiseacre American navy man back in the twentieth century—was nothing to brag about. Thousands of square miles of powdered ice that has had nothing to do but blow around for twenty million years is not at all inspiring after the first few minutes unless one is obsessed by the morbid beauty of cold death.

Mike the Angel was not so obsessed. To him, the area surrounding Chilblains Base was just so much white hell, and his analysis was perfectly correct. Mike wished that it had been January, midsummer in the Antarctic, so there would have been at least a little dim sunshine. Mike the Angel did not particularly relish having to visit the South Pole in midwinter.

The rocket that had lifted Mike the Angel from Long Island Base settled itself into the snow-covered landing stage of Chilblains Base, dissipating the crystalline whiteness into steam as it did so. The steam, blown away by the chill winds, moved all of thirty yards before it became ice again.

Mike the Angel was not in the best of moods. Having to dump all of his business into Serge Paulvitch's hands on twenty-four hours' notice was irritating. He knew Paulvitch could handle the job, but it wasn't fair to him to make him take over so suddenly.

In addition, Mike did not like the way the whole Branchell business was being handled. It seemed slipshod and hurried, and, worse, it was entirely too mysterious and melodramatic.

"Of all the times to have to come to Antarctica," he grumped as the door of the rocket opened, "why did I have to get July?"

The pilot, a young man in his early twenties, said smugly: "July is bad, but January isn't good—just not so worse."

Mike the Angel glowered. "Sonny, I was a cadet here when you were learning arithmetic. It hasn't changed since, summer or winter."

"Sorry, sir," said the pilot stiffly.

"So am I," said Mike the Angel cryptically. "Thanks for the ride."

He pushed open the outer door, pulled his electroparka closer around him, and stalked off across the walk, through the lashing of the sleety wind.

He didn't have far to walk—a hundred yards or so—but it was a good thing that the walk was protected and well within the boundary of Chilblains Base instead of being out on the Wastelands. Here there were lights, and the Hotbed equipment of the walk warmed the swirling ice particles into a sleety rain. On the Wastelands, the utter blackness and the wind-driven snow would have swallowed him permanently within ten paces.

He stepped across a curtain of hot air that blew up from a narrow slit in the deck and found himself in the main foyer of Chilblains Base.

The entrance looked like the entrance to a theater—a big metal and plastic opening, like a huge room open on one side, with only that sheet of hot air to protect it from the storm raging outside. The lights and the small doors leading into the building added to the impression that this was a theater, not a military base.

But the man who was standing near one of the doors was not by a long shot dressed as an usher. He wore a sergeant's stripes on his regulation Space Service parka, which muffled him to the nose, and he came over to Mike the Angel and said: "Commander Gabriel?"

Mike the Angel nodded as he shook icy drops from his gloved hands, then fished in his belt pocket for his newly printed ID card.

He handed it to the sergeant, who looked it over, peered at Mike's face, and saluted. As Mike returned the salute the sergeant said: "Okay, sir; you can go on in. The security office is past the double door, first corridor on your right."

Mike the Angel tried his best not to look surprised. "Security office? Is there a war on or something? What does Chilblains need with a security office?"

The sergeant shrugged. "Don't ask me, Commander; I just slave away here. Maybe Lieutenant Nariaki knows something, but I sure don't."

"Thanks, Sergeant."

Mike the Angel went inside, through two insulated and tightly weather-stripped doors, one right after another, like the air lock on a spaceship. Once inside the warmth of the corridor, he unzipped his electroparka, shut off the power, and pushed back the hood with its fogproof faceplate.

Down the hall, Mike could see an office marked security officer in small letters without capitals. He walked toward it. There was another guard at the door who had to see Mike's ID card before Mike was allowed in.

Lieutenant Tokugawa Nariaki was an average-sized, sleepy-looking individual with a balding crew cut and a morose expression.

He looked up from his desk as Mike came in, and a hopeful smile tried to spread itself across his face. "If you are Commander Gabriel," he said softly, "watch yourself. I may suddenly kiss you out of sheer relief."

"Restrain yourself, then," said Mike the Angel, "because I'm Gabriel."

Nariaki's smile became genuine. "So! Good! The phone has been screaming at me every half hour for the past five hours. Captain Sir Henry Quill wants you."

"He would," Mike said. "How do I get to him?"

"You don't just yet," said Nariaki, raising a long, bony, tapering hand. "There are a few formalities which our guests have to go through."

"Such as?"

"Such as fingerprint and retinal patterns," said Lieutenant Nariaki.

Mike cast his eyes to Heaven in silent appeal, then looked back at the lieutenant. "Lieutenant, what is going on here? There hasn't been a security officer in the Space Service for thirty years or more. What am I suspected of? Spying for the corrupt and evil alien beings of Diomega Orionis IX?"

Nariaki's oriental face became morose again. "For all I know, you are. Who knows what's going on around here?" He got up from behind his desk and led Mike the Angel over to the fingerprinting machine. "Put your hands in here, Commander ... that's it."

He pushed a button, and, while the machine hummed, he said: "Mine is an antiquated position, I'll admit. I don't like it any more than you do. Next thing, they'll put me to work polishing chain-mail armor or make me commander of a company of musketeers. Or maybe they'll send me to the 18th Outer Mongolian Yak Artillery."

Mike looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Lieutenant, do you actually mean that you really don't know what's going on here, or are you just dummying up?"

Nariaki looked at Mike, and for the first time, his face took on the traditional blank, emotionless look of the "placid Orient." He paused for long seconds, then said:

"Some of both, Commander. But don't let it worry you. I assure you that within the next hour you'll know more about Project Brainchild than I've been able to find out in two years.... Now put your face in here and keep your eyes open. When you can see the target spot, focus on it and tell me."

Mike the Angel put his face in the rest for the retinal photos. The soft foam rubber adjusted around his face, and he was looking into blackness. He focused his eyes on the dim target circle and waited for his eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness.

The Security Officer's voice continued. "All I do is make sure that no unauthorized person comes into Chilblains Base. Other than that, I have nothing but personal guesses and little trickles of confusing information, neither of which am I at liberty to discuss."

Mike's irises had dilated to the point that he could see the dim dot in the center of the target circle, glowing like a dimly visible star. "Shoot," he said.

There was a dazzling glare of light. Mike pulled his face out of the padded opening and blinked away the colored after-images.

Lieutenant Nariaki was comparing the fresh fingerprints with the set he had had on file. "Well," he said, "you have Commander Gabriel's hands, anyway. If you have his eyes, I'll have to concede that the rest of the body belongs to him, too."

"How about my soul?" Mike asked dryly.

"Not my province, Commander," Nariaki said as he pulled the retinal photos out of the machine. "Maybe one of the chaplains would know."

"If this sort of thing is going on all over Chilblains," said Mike the Angel, "I imagine the Office of Chaplains is doing a booming business in TS cards."

The lieutenant put the retinal photos in the comparator, took a good look, and nodded. "You're you," he said. "Give me your ID card."

Mike handed it over, and Nariaki fed it through a printer which stamped a complex seal in the upper left-hand corner of the card. The lieutenant signed his name across the seal and handed the card back to Mike.

"That's it," he said. "You can—"

He was interrupted by the chiming of the phone.

"Just a second, Commander," he said as he thumbed the phone switch.

Mike was out of range of the TV pickup, and he couldn't see the face on the screen, but the voice was so easy to recognize that he didn't need to see the man.

"Hasn't that triply bedamned rocket landed yet, Lieutenant? Where is Commander Gabriel?"

Mike knew that Black Bart had already checked on the landing of the latest rocket; the question was rhetorical.

Mike grinned. "Tell the old tyrant," he said firmly, "that I'll be along as soon as the Security Officer is through with me."

Nariaki's expression didn't change. "You're through now, Commander, and—"

"Tell that imitation Apollo to hop it over here fast!" said Quill sharply. "I'll give him a lesson in tyranny."

There was a click as the intercom shut off.

Nariaki looked at Mike the Angel and shook his head slowly. "Either you're working your way toward a court-martial or else you know where Black Bart has the body buried."

"I should," said Mike cryptically. "I helped him bury it. How do I get to His Despotic Majesty's realm?"

Nariaki considered. "It'll take you five or six minutes. Take the tubeway to Stage Twelve. Go up the stairway to the surface and take the first corridor to the left. That'll take you to the loading dock for that stage. It's an open foyer like the one at the landing field, so you'll have to put your parka back on. Go down the stairs on the other side, and you'll be in Area K. One of the guards will tell you where to go from there. Of course, you could go by tube, but it would take longer because of the by-pass."

"Good enough. I'll take the short cut. See you. And thanks."



8

The underground tubeway shot Mike the Angel across five miles of track at high speed. Mike left the car at Stage Twelve and headed up the stairway and down the corridor to a heavy double door marked freight loading.

He put on his parka and went through the door. The foyer was empty, and, like the one at the rocket landing, protected from the Antarctic blast only by a curtain of hot air. Outside that curtain, the light seemed to lose itself in the darkness of the bleak, snow-filled Wastelands. Mike ignored the snowscape and headed across the empty foyer to the door marked entrance.

"With a small e," Mike muttered to himself. "I wonder if the sign painter ran out of full caps."

He was five feet from the door when he heard the yell.

"Help!"

That was all. Just the one word.

Mike the Angel came to a dead halt and spun around.

The foyer was a large room, about fifty by fifty feet in area and nearly twenty feet high. And it was quite obviously empty. On the open side, the sheet of hissing hot air was doing its best to shield the room from the sixty-below-zero blizzard outside. Opposite the air curtain was a huge sliding door, closed at the moment, which probably led to a freight elevator. There were only two other doors leading from the foyer, and both of them were closed. And Mike knew that no voice could come through those insulated doors.

"Help!"

Mike the Angel swung toward the air curtain. This time there was no doubt. Someone was out in that howling ice-cloud, screaming for help!

Mike saw the figure—dimly, fleetingly, obscured most of the time by the driving whiteness. Whoever it was looked as if he were buried to the waist in snow.

Mike made a quick estimate. It was dark out there, but he could see the figure; therefore he would be able to see the foyer lights. He wouldn't get lost. Snapping down the faceplate of his parka hood, he ran through the protective updraft of the air curtain and charged into the deadly chill of the Antarctic blizzard.

In spite of the electroparka he was wearing, the going was difficult. The snow tended to plaster itself against his faceplate, and the wind kept trying to take him off his feet. He wiped a gloved hand across the faceplate. Ahead, he could still see the figure waving its arms. Mike slogged on.

At sixty below, frozen H_{2}O isn't slushy, by any means; it isn't even slippery. It's more like fine sand than anything else. Mike the Angel figured he had about thirty feet to go, but after he'd taken eight steps, the arm-waving figure looked as far off as when he'd started.

Mike stopped and flipped up his faceplate. It felt as though someone had thrown a handful of razor blades into his face. He winced and yelled, "What's the trouble?" Then he snapped the plate back into position.

"I'm cold!" came the clear, contralto voice through the howling wind.

A woman! thought Mike. "I'm coming!" he bellowed, pushing on. Ten more steps.

He stopped again. He couldn't see anyone or anything.

He flipped up his faceplate. "Hey!"

No answer.

"Hey!" he called again.

And still there was no answer.

Around Mike the Angel, there was nothing but the swirling, blinding snow, the screaming, tearing wind, and the blackness of the Antarctic night.

There was something damned odd going on here. Carefully putting the toe of his right foot to the rear of the heel of his left, he executed a one-hundred-eighty-degree military about-face.

And breathed a sigh of relief.

He could still see the lights of the foyer. He had half suspected that someone was trying to trap him out here, and they might have turned off the lights.

He swiveled his head around for one last look. He still couldn't see a sign of anyone. There was nothing he could do but head back and report the incident. He started slogging back through the gritty snow.

He stepped through the hot-air curtain and flipped up his faceplate.

"Why did you go out in the blizzard?" said a clear, contralto voice directly behind him.

Mike swung around angrily. "Look, lady, I—"

He stopped.

The lady was no lady.

A few feet away stood a machine. Vaguely humanoid in shape from the waist up, it was built more like a miniature military tank from the waist down. It had a pair of black sockets in its head, which Mike took to be TV cameras of some kind. It had grillwork on either side of its head, which probably covered microphones, and another grillwork where the mouth should be. There was no nose.

"What the hell?" asked Mike the Angel of no one in particular.

"I'm Snookums," said the robot.

"Sure you are," said Mike the Angel, backing uneasily toward the door. "You're Snookums. I couldn't fail not to disagree with you less."

Mike the Angel didn't particularly like being frightened, but he had never found it a disabling emotion, so he could put up with it if he had to. But, given his choice, he would have much preferred to be afraid of something a little less unpredictable, something he knew a little more about. Something comfortable, like, say, a Bengal tiger or a Kodiak bear.

"But I really am Snookums," reiterated the clear voice.

Mike's brain was functioning in high gear with overdrive added and the accelerator floor-boarded. He'd been lured out onto the Wastelands by this machine—it most definitely could be dangerous.

The robot was obviously a remote-control device. The arms and hands were of the waldo type used to handle radioactive materials in a hot lab—four jointed fingers and an opposed thumb, metal duplicates of the human hand.

But who was on the other end? Who was driving the machine? Who was saying those inane things over the speaker that served the robot as a mouth? It was certainly a woman's voice.

Mike was still moving backward, toward the door. The machine that called itself Snookums wasn't moving toward him, which was some consolation, but not much. The thing could obviously move faster on those treads than Mike could on his feet. Especially since Mike was moving backward.

"Would you mind explaining what this is all about, miss?" asked Mike the Angel. He didn't expect an explanation; he was stalling for time.

"I am not a 'miss,'" said the robot. "I am Snookums."

"Whatever you are, then," said Mike, "would you mind explaining?"

"No," said Snookums, "I wouldn't mind."

Mike's fingers, groping behind him, touched the door handle. But before he could grasp it, it turned, and the door opened behind him. It hit him full in the back, and he stumbled forward a couple of steps before regaining his balance.

A clear contralto voice said: "Oh! I'm so sorry!"

It was the same voice as the robot's!

Mike the Angel swung around to face the second robot.

This time it was a lady.

"I'm sorry," she repeated. She was all wrapped up in an electroparka, but there was no mistaking the fact that she was both human and feminine. She came on through the door and looked at the robot. "Snookums! What are you doing here?"

"I was trying an experiment, Leda," said Snookums. "This man was just asking me about it. I just wanted to see if he would come if I called 'help.' He did, and I want to know why he did."

The girl flashed a look at Mike. "Would you please tell Snookums why you went out there? Please—don't be angry or anything—just tell him."

Mike was beginning to get the picture. "I went because I thought I heard a human being calling for help—and it sounded suspiciously like a woman."

"Oh," said Snookums, sounding a little downhearted—if a robot can be said to have a heart. "The reaction was based, then, upon a misconception. That makes the data invalid. I'll have to try again."

"That won't be necessary, Snookums," the girl said firmly. "This man went out there because he thought a human life was in danger. He would not have done it if he had known it was you, because he would have known that you were not in any danger. You can stand much lower temperatures than a human being can, you know." She turned to Mike. "Am I correct in saying that you wouldn't have gone out there if you'd known Snookums was a robot?"

"Absolutely correct," said Mike the Angel fervently.

She looked back at Snookums. "Don't try that experiment again. It is dangerous for a human to go out there, even with an electroparka. You might run the risk of endangering human life."

"Oh dear!" said Snookums. "I'm sorry, Leda!" There was real anxiety in the voice.

"That's all right, honey," the girl said hurriedly. "This man isn't hurt, so don't get upset. Come along now, and we'll go back to the lab. You shouldn't come out like this without permission."

Mike had noticed that the girl had kept one hand on her belt all the time she was talking—and that her thumb was holding down a small button on a case attached to the belt.

He had been wondering why, but he didn't have to wonder long.

The door behind him opened again, and four men came out, obviously in a devil of a hurry. Each one of them was wearing a brassard labeled SECURITY POLICE.

At least, thought Mike the Angel as he turned to look them over, the brassards aren't in all lower-case italics.

One of them jerked a thumb at Mike. "This the guy, Miss Crannon?"

The girl nodded. "That's him. He saw Snookums. Take care of him." She looked again at Mike. "I'm terribly sorry, really I am. But there's no help for it." Then, without another word, she opened the door and went back inside, and the robot rolled in after her.

As the door closed behind her, the SP man nearest Mike, a tough-looking bozo wearing an ensign's insignia, said: "Let's see your identification."

Mike realized that his own parka had no insignia of rank on it, but he didn't like the SP man's tone.

"Come on!" snapped the ensign. "Who are you?"

Mike the Angel pulled out his ID card and handed it to the security cop. "It tells right there who I am," he said. "That is, if you can read."

The man glared and jerked the card out of Mike's hand, but when he saw the emblem that Lieutenant Nariaki had stamped on it, his eyes widened. He looked up at Mike. "I'm sorry, sir; I didn't mean—"

"That tears it," interrupted Mike. "That absolutely tears it. In the past three minutes I have been apologized to by a woman, a robot, and a cop. The next thing, a penguin will walk in here, tip his top hat, and abase himself while he mutters obsequiously in penguinese. Just what the devil is going on around this place?"

The four SP men were trying hard not to fidget.

"Just security precautions, sir," said the ensign uncomfortably. "Nobody but those connected with Project Brainchild are supposed to know about Snookums. If anyone else finds out, we're supposed to take them into protective custody."

"I'll bet you're widely loved for that," said Mike. "I suppose the gadget at Miss What's-her-name's belt was an alarm to warn you of impending disaster?"

"Miss Crannon.... Yes, sir. Everybody on the project carries those around. Also, Miss Crannon carries a detector for following Snookums around. She's sort of his keeper, you know."

"No," said Mike the Angel, "I do not know. But I intend to find out. I'm looking for Captain Quill; where is he?"

The four men looked at each other, then looked back at Mike.

"I don't know, Commander," said the ensign. "I understand that several new men have come in today, but I don't know all of them. You'd better talk to Dr. Fitzhugh."

"Such are the beauties of security," said Mike the Angel. "Where can I find this Dr. Fitzhugh?"

The security man looked at his wrist watch. "He's down in the cafeteria now, sir. It's coffee time, and Doc Fitzhugh is as regular as a satellite orbit."

"I'm glad you didn't say 'clockwork,'" Mike told him. "I've had enough dealings with machines today. Where is this coffee haven?"

The ensign gave directions for reaching the cafeteria, and Mike pushed open the door marked entrance. He had to pass through another inner door guarded by another pair of SP men who checked his ID card again, then he had to ramble through hallways that went off at queer angles to each other, but he finally found the cafeteria.

He nabbed the first passer-by and asked him to point out Dr. Fitzhugh. The passer-by was obliging; he indicated a smallish, elderly man who was sitting by himself at one of the tables.

Mike made his way through the tray-carrying hordes that were milling about, and finally ended up at the table where the smallish man was sitting.

"Dr. Fitzhugh?" Mike offered his hand. "I'm Commander Gabriel. Minister Wallingford appointed me Engineering Officer of the Branchell."

Dr. Fitzhugh shook Mike's hand with apparent pleasure. "Oh yes. Sit down, Commander. What can I do for you?"

Mike had already peeled off his electroparka. He hung it over the back of a chair and said: "Mind if I grab a cup of coffee, Doctor? I've just come from topside, and I think the cold has made its way clean to my bones." He paused. "Would you like another cup?"

Dr. Fitzhugh looked at his watch. "I have time for one more, thanks."

By the time Mike had returned with the cups, he had recalled where he had heard the name Fitzhugh before.

"It just occurred to me," he said as he sat down. "You must be Dr. Morris Fitzhugh."

Fitzhugh nodded. "That's right." He wore a perpetually worried look, which made his face look more wrinkled than his fifty years of age would normally have accounted for. Mike was privately of the opinion that if Fitzhugh ever really tried to look worried, his ears would meet over the bridge of his long nose.

"I've read a couple of your articles in the Journal," Mike explained, "but I didn't connect the name until I saw you. I recognized you from your picture."

Fitzhugh smiled, which merely served to wrinkle his face even more.

Mike the Angel spent the next several minutes feeling the man out, then he went on to explain what had happened with Snookums out in the foyer, which launched Dr. Fitzhugh into an explanation.

"He didn't want help, of course; he was merely conducting an experiment. There are many areas of knowledge in which he is as naive as a child."

Mike nodded. "It figures. At first I thought he was just a remote-control tool, but I finally saw that he was a real, honest-to-goodness robot. Who gave him the idea to make such an experiment as that?"

"No one at all," said Dr. Fitzhugh. "He's built to make up his own experiments."

Mike the Angel's classic face regarded the wrinkled one of Dr. Fitzhugh. "His own experiments? But a robot—"

Fitzhugh held up a bony hand, gesturing for attention and silence. He got it from Mike.

"Snookums," he said, "is no ordinary robot, Commander."

Mike waited for more. When none came, he said: "So I gather." He sipped at his black coffee. "That machine I saw is actually a remote-control tool, isn't it? Snookums' actual brain is in Cargo Hold One of the William Branchell."

"That's right." Dr. Fitzhugh began reaching into various pockets about his person. He extracted a tobacco pouch, a briar pipe, and a jet-flame lighter. Then he began speaking as he went through the pipe smoker's ritual of filling, tamping, and lighting.

"Snookums," he began, "is a self-activating, problem-seeking computer with input and output sensory and action mechanisms analogous to those of a human being." He pushed more tobacco into the bowl of his pipe with a bony forefinger. "He's as close to being a living creature as anything Man has yet devised."

"What about the synthecells they're making at Boston Med?" Mike asked, looking innocent.

Fitzhugh's contour-map face wrinkled up even more. "I should have said 'living intelligence,'" he corrected himself. "He's a true robot, in the old original sense of the word; an artificial entity that displays almost every function of a living, intelligent creature. And, at the same time, he has the accuracy and speed that is normal to a cryotron computer."

Mike the Angel said nothing while Fitzhugh fired up his lighter and directed the jet of flame into the bowl and puffed up great clouds of smoke which obscured his face.

While the roboticist puffed, Mike let his gaze wander idly over the other people in the cafeteria. He was wondering how much longer he could talk to Fitzhugh before Captain Quill began—

And then he saw the redhead.

There is never much point in describing a really beautiful girl. Each man has his own ideas of what it takes for a girl to be "pretty" or "fascinating" or "lovely" or almost any other adjective that can be applied to the noun "girl." But "beautiful" is a cultural concept, at least as far as females are concerned, and there is no point in describing a cultural concept. It's one of those things that everybody knows, and descriptions merely become repetitious and monotonous.

This particular example filled, in every respect, the definition of "beautiful" according to the culture of the white Americo-European subclass of the human race as of anno Domini 2087. The elements and proportions and symmetry fit almost perfectly into the ideal mold. It is only necessary to fill in some of the minor details which are allowed to vary without distorting the ideal.

She had red hair and blue eyes and was wearing a green zipsuit.

And she was coming toward the table where Mike and Dr. Fitzhugh were sitting.

"... such a tremendous number of elements," Dr. Fitzhugh was saying, "that it was possible—and necessary—to introduce a certain randomity within the circuit choices themselves— Ah! Hello, Leda, my dear!"

Mike and Fitzhugh rose from their seats.

"Leda, this is Commander Gabriel, the Engineering Officer of the Brainchild," said Fitzhugh. "Commander, Miss Leda Crannon, our psychologist."

Mike had been allowing his eyes to wander over the girl, inspecting her ankles, her hair, and all vital points of interest between. But when he heard the name "Crannon," his eyes snapped up to meet hers.

He hadn't recognized the girl without her parka and wouldn't have known her name if the SP ensign hadn't mentioned it. Obviously, she didn't recognize Mike at all, but there was a troubled look in her blue eyes.

She gave him a puzzled smile. "Haven't we met, Commander?"

Mike grinned. "Hey! That's supposed to be my line, isn't it?"

She flashed him a warm smile, then her eyes widened ever so slightly. "Your voice! You're the man on the foyer! The one...."

"... the one whom you called copper on," finished Mike agreeably. "But please don't apologize; you've more than made up for it."

Her smile remained. She evidently liked what she saw. "How was I to know who you were?"

"It might have been written on my pocket handkerchief," said Mike the Angel, "but Space Service officers don't carry pocket handkerchiefs."

"What?" The puzzled look had returned.

"Ne' mind," said Mike. "Sit down, won't you?"

"Oh, I can't, thanks. I came to get Fitz; a meeting of the Research Board has been called, and afterward we have to give a lecture or something to the officers of the Brainchild."

"You mean the Branchell?"

Her smile became an impish grin. "You call it what you want. To us, it's the Brainchild."

Dr. Fitzhugh said: "Will you excuse us, Commander? We'll be seeing you at the briefing later."

Mike nodded. "I'd better get on my way, too. I'll see you."

But he stood there as Leda Crannon and Dr. Fitzhugh walked away. The girl looked just as divine retreating as she had advancing.



9

Captain Sir Henry (Black Bart) Quill was seated in an old-fashioned, formyl-covered, overstuffed chair, chewing angrily at the end of an unlighted cigar. His bald head gleamed like a pink billiard ball, almost matching the shining glory of his golden insignia against his scarlet tunic.

Mike the Angel had finally found his way through the maze of underground passageways to the door marked wardroom 9 and had pushed it open gingerly, halfway hoping that he wouldn't be seen coming in late but not really believing it would happen.

He was right. Black Bart was staring directly at the door when it slid open. Mike shrugged inwardly and stepped boldly into the room, flicking a glance over the faces of the other officers present.

"Well, well, well, Mister Gabriel," said Black Bart. The voice was oily, but the oil was oil of vitriol. "You not only come late, but you come incognito. Where is your uniform?"

There was a muffled snicker from one of the junior officers, but it wasn't muffled enough. Before Mike the Angel could answer, Captain Quill's head jerked around.

"That will do, Mister Vaneski!" he barked. "Boot ensigns don't snicker when their superiors—and their betters—are being reprimanded! I only use sarcasm on officers I respect. Until an officer earns my sarcasm, he gets nothing but blasting when he goofs off. Understand?"

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