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Vaughan Nathan Roberts, at the patrol ship's viewscreen, studied the rotating close-up image that looked exactly like a patched-up Stellar Scout ship. He glanced at Hammell, who was watching from the aisle beside him.

Hammell nodded.

"If we have to fool them, that should do it. But they may not have noticed us."

Morrissey, coming up the aisle, ducked to avoid knocking himself out on the highly polished, practically invisible mirror-like cylinder that ran along the ship's axis at head height. He leaned over to take a look at the screen.

"Ouch, a Stellar Scout ship. Is that what we look like now?"

"Correct," said Roberts. "What's wrong with it?"

Hammell said, "It's accurate."

"Oh," said Morrissey, "I know that. But the Stellar Scouts are fanatics for new equipment. Won't it scare off these bloodsuckers if they see that ship?"

"The idea is to confuse them—and to provide ourselves with justification for whatever we choose to use. We want, if possible, to hit them without their knowing what happened. If they did detect us, then we want them to think they're up against pure amateurs, but dangerous amateurs. Amateurs with teeth." 

"H'm. I think I see it."

Hammell explained. "If they see an Interstellar Patrol ship, then they'll clear out. A thief that starts into a house at night and spots a lion waiting in there is going back out the window as fast as he can get through it. He'll rob some other place. But if—instead of a lion—he sees a friendly wolfhound lying there banging his tail on the floor . . . Well, the thief just might decide to stay there and clean out the place."

Morrissey considered it, and nodded.

"The lion would be sure to eat him up. The wolfhound has plenty of teeth, but maybe he can be fooled."

"Right," said Hammell.

Roberts added, "And we don't want to trail this crew around from place to place while they polish up their technique. We want to end them now."

Up the aisle toward the bow of the camouflaged Interstellar Patrol ship, Dan Bergen, at the spy screen, cleared his throat.

"Boy, this gang is tricky." 

"What now?"

"Let me switch it to your screen."

"Go ahead."

The viewscreen at once showed, standing, a dazed-looking rough-hewn figure; and, seated behind a small table, hands spread in glowing good nature, a pink-cheeked clean-cut individual radiating honesty and friendly sincerity.

The big rough-hewn man was saying, "You don't know what this means to us, Dr. Fellows. This is a rich planet, but we've run into one thing after another. First the local life-forms. Then the winters. And now this. We've heard of the pox, of course. But we didn't think there was any cure. Your coming like this is like—like manna from heaven!"

"Dr. Fellows" smiled modestly. "My boy, the pleasure is mine."

"You've saved our lives!"

"What better reward could I ask than that?"

"Some day we'll be able to pay you back!"

"Don't think of it."

"We will. I mean it! This planet is rich. All we have to do is to get the ore out, and for that we only need our health and more time to work. We're used to work here. And you've saved our health."

"I know. But I don't ask any reward. Your good fortune is my reward."

The rough-hewn figure looked away a moment, overcome with emotion.

At the desk, "Dr. Fellows" sneaked a quick glance at his watch. A look of irritation flitted across his face, to vanish in smiling good nature.

The big man passed a corner of his leather sleeve across his eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "Nevertheless, we will repay you. And if there is ever anything you need, just call on us."

"My boy, doing good is all the reward I ask. I only hope that the work I've been privileged to do here will turn out well. You see, there was so little time to diagnose, and so very little time to synthesize the curative agent, that scientific objectivity compels me to ask you again: Are you certain that there have been no unpleasant reactions?"

"None. No, sir. And after a day or two in bed, our people get up cured." 

"Then I feel free to trust the cure, and shall stand ready in case the infection should reappear."

"You're going to stay around the planet, just in case it should break out somewhere else?"

"My boy, I consider it my duty."

The big man wrung the hand of the modestly beaming individual behind the desk, stood momentarily speechless with emotion, then went out.

The instant the door closed, the man at the desk let out his breath, slid out a panel above the desk drawers, and punched two of the panel's many buttons.

A few moments later, another door across the room opened up, and a small neat individual wearing a gray laboratory coat walked in, his expression solemn and serious. Piously, he glanced around.

Behind the desk, "Dr. Fellows" sat back.

"I'm alone, Vank."

The look of pious solemnity vanished from Vank's face. A look of rapacity that seemed more at home there settled on his features.

"Where's the dummy?"

"Just went out, swearing to repay us."

Vank laughed.

"You know, Fox, we ought to—"

The pink-cheeked individual sat up.

"Until we're out of here, I'm Dr. Fellows!" 

Vank winced. "Sorry. I was going to say, we ought to work this play on Tiamaz. They could repay us. Quick."

"I have a little something in mind for Tiamaz—some day. This wouldn't work."

"Package it a little different—"

"No. There aren't enough dummies on Tiamaz. They'd see through the whole thing like a plate of glass. There's something about the fresh air on these colony planets that restores the suckers' faith in human nature. You could only hit Tiamaz. This place, you can milk."

There was a rap on the same door Vank had come through, and "Dr. Fellows" called, "Come in!"

The door opened, to let in a tall worried-looking individual with a slip of paper in his hand.

Fellows leaned back, his face expressionless.

"Let's have it."

"The massometer reading checks. But strange to say, we have nothing on the detectors."

"What's that mean?"


"In what size?"

"The ship itself is small. On that basis alone, it could be anything, and the odds favor some local spacefreight rig, a retired spacer sightseeing in one of these toothless yachts, a prospector nosing around, or something on that level."

"Then what are we worrying about?"

"The detectors didn't pick it out."


"Only the massometer found it."

"I'm waiting. What of it?"

"The thing was invisible."

Fellows sat up. "The detectors couldn't see it, or we couldn't see it?"

"If we could see it, the detectors could see it. Better to put that the other way around. If the detectors couldn't see it, we sure couldn't. Unless it was a pure illusion."

"And the massometer wouldn't have picked up an illusion."

"No, it sure wouldn't."

"You're saying there was visually nothing there?"

"Visually, optically, so far as radiation was concerned, the sky was empty. Nevertheless, a detectable mass passed overhead at moderate speed."

"How high?"

"As an estimate, three thousand feet."

"And moved on?"


Fellows sat back, frowning.

"This couldn't be some kind of freak warm-air mass—what do you call it? A—an inversion?"

The tall man smiled.

"It would have to be pretty heavy hot air. This was a material object."

"All right. You're the expert. Why should we worry about it?"

"Let me make a comparison. You open the door to your room. You walk in. You glance around the room. There's nothing to be concerned about. You toss your hat toward the table. Before the hat hits the table, it bounces back from nothing. There's a heavy crash as something—nothing you can see—lands at the base of the table and jars the room." He paused to look quizzically at Fellows. "What's there to be worried about?"

"H'm," said Fellows. "I see." He sat back and swung his chair lightly from side to side. "Not so good. Who could this be?"  

"There's only one outfit I can think of. I just hope I'm wrong."

"What outfit is that?"

"The IP."

Fellows came halfway out of his chair, his hands making abortive grabs at the desk, as if reaching for controls that weren't there. He let fly a string of livid curses.

Beside him, Vank looked confused. "What's the IP?"

As, on the screen, Fellows explained this in words of few syllables, Roberts looked up from the screen, to glance at Morrissey.

"Now we've got to convince them we've got enough teeth so they better leave us alone, but not so many they have to be afraid of us."

Morrissey shook his head.

"If only we'd stayed low. Their massometer probably wouldn't have picked us out, if we'd been against some solid background."

Hammell, who had been piloting the ship at the time, said defensively, "Damn it, the screen didn't show anything!"

A familiar, maddeningly cool voice broke into the conversation.

"Incorrect. Their ship did show on the screen, but was not highlighted to call your attention to it. You overlooked it."

"But," said Hammell, "now we have this mess. The ship should have been highlighted!"

"Not at all. Members of the Interstellar Patrol are supposed to have some powers of observation. For a symbiotic computer, with its vast superiority, it is admittedly much easier to detect such objects; but, for the symbiotic computer to do all the work would lead to a further deterioration of the atrophied power of observation that the patrolmen do possess."

Hammell bared his teeth.

Morrissey murmured irritatedly, "Maybe it didn't see it, either."

Roberts called, "Bergen!"


"You see the problem we've got?"

"Yes, sir."

"Can you fix yourself up to be a happy-go-lucky but tough prospector with a couple of pals, just drifting around watching for whatever turns up?"


"Take over."

Twenty minutes later, the patrol ship, disguised as a Stellar Scout ship, and the whole thing invisible, drifted over a wooded hill, and descended toward a massive cruiser resting in the valley, partly hidden by big trees.

Roberts, at the spy screen, watched with Morrissey as Bergen went out on the hull, and called. "Ho! Hello, Space Force!" An instant later, he shouted in the hatchway, "They can't see us, Rick. Throw the switch!"

On the spy screen, Fellows was in the control room, glancing at the outside viewscreen. Bent over it beside him was the tall man who had warned him about the massometer. Fellows stared at the screen.

"Now we can see it. But who's the young kid on the ship? That's the IP?" He glanced around. "What kind of ship is it, Mape?"

The tall man straightened, scowling.

"The lines aren't right for the IP. But they're tricky . . . I don't place this rig."

"Whoever it is wants to talk to us. Does that fit the Patrol?"

"You can't tell. That's the trouble."

"Well, this isn't my line. You handle it."

Mape hit the outside speaker control. His voice boomed out.

"Hello, Spacer."

Bergen, in ragged jeans and torn shirt, looking greasy and unshaven, grinned and called out, "Hello, Space Force!"

"We aren't Space Force—this is a surplus cruiser, private-owned. What are you?"

The ragged figure glanced over the big ship, and looked impressed.

"Private? Sorry, I thought you were living off the tax on my finder's fees."



"What's here to interest you?"

"Oh, we're just free-lancing around. Never know when you might run into something somebody might want."

"This planet has the pox. We're a private medical research ship. We think we've got it licked, but it's too soon to be sure. How many more ships do you have? You could spread this without meaning to, and come down yourself, if you're not immune."

"There's just one of us. We don't want to fool around with the pox. But we'll look around, see what our instruments show. You know how it is. Is the place quarantined?"

"We aren't that official. You been over our way before? Recently?"

"Sure. Not long ago, at that."

"We didn't see you."

"You wouldn't," said the ragged grinning figure at the hatch of the smaller ship. "We're inconspicuous."

"Don't be too inconspicuous. You could get swatted by accident."

The grin moderated into a smile. It wasn't an unfriendly smile, but there was no sign of fear. Mape watched closely, eyes narrowed.

Bergen said, "Don't try to swat us, friend, accidentally or otherwise. We've got teeth at one end, and a sting at the other. You may get us, but you'll pay the price. You're big, but size isn't everything."

"I don't read your lines. What are you?"

"Salvaged Stellar Scout ship."

Mape gave an abortive reach for the controls, much as Fellows had done earlier. He gave a low mutter that the outside speaker duly transmitted. Then he had himself under control.

"Stellar Scout. Are you Stellar Scouts?"

"Not us. Just the ship. And you aren't Space Force, right?"


"Okay. I just wanted to be polite. We'll be around. I don't know how long. We don't know what there is on this planet."

"It's settled and claimed."

"Not every inch of it isn't."

Mape grunted, then said pleasantly. "Well, nice of you to let us know who it was went over. Set down here beside us, and we'll give you some first-class refreshments."

Bergen grinned. "Thanks, but we've got a schedule. See you."

Mape looked disappointed. "Good luck."

On the screen, Bergen waved, and the small ship moved off. Mape snapped off the outside speaker, and turned to Fellows.

Fellows said, "Well?"

"Well, what? There it is."

"What do you think?"

"As far as I can tell, they're all right. But that doesn't prove anything."

"Are they what they say they are?"

Mape shook his head. "Don't ask me that. Maybe so, maybe not. It sounded all right to me. Better yet, it felt all right. But that doesn't prove a thing."

"What's this Stellar Scout outfit? Are they as bad as the IP? I don't think I ever heard of the Stellar Scouts."

Mape watched the little ship move away on the screen.

"You've heard of PDA?"

"Planetary Development Authority? Sure."

"The Stellar Scouts are the advance men for PDA. They do the first investigations into new parts of space, the first mapping, make the first reports. Sometimes, of course, private outfits beat them to it. But they're the official advance men for PDA."

Fellows looked unconvinced.

"Listen, when he said he had a Stellar Scout ship, you almost threw us into orbit. Let's have the facts."

"I'm giving you the facts. The Stellar Scouts don't bother anyone, but they're fanatics for new equipment. They aren't fighters, but they're always equipped. A buddy of mine ran into a Scout in a bar one time, and I don't know whether to believe half of that stuff. But I tell you this: A Stellar Scout ship is poison. They're always loaded with experimental stuff, and no one knows what will happen when they fire it off at you. Maybe they'll blow themselves up. Or maybe they'll do things to you that you never dreamed could be done. We better just leave this one alone."

"Where does this leave us?"

"Don't ask me. You're the boss."

"Suppose that kid comes back and leans on us? Then what?"

"Then we fight. I'm not saying we have to fold up. I just say, leave him alone."

"But, for all we know, it could be the IP."

"Sure it could."

Fellows hesitated, eyes narrowed. Then he shook his head.

"I don't think so. It doesn't feel right for that. Okay, we'll go ahead. But we better keep our eyes open, and keep that massometer going."

Roberts turned from the screen to Bergen.

"Good work. You fooled them."

Bergen grinned.

"What next?"

"First we have to be sure we know the exact details of what's going on here. Morrissey?"

Morrissey, now working the spy screen, said, "We just got a view into another part of their ship. But it faded out again."

Hammell growled. "That's the trouble with these ultraminiature spy-circuits. They drift in like dust motes, but you have no control over where they drift. An air current, or a static charge, can completely foul up your arrangements."

Roberts said, "We still don't have any view into the aft section of that cruiser?"

"Nothing," said Morrissey. "Except— Here we go again. Mape is walking along the main fore-and-aft corridor, and the view goes along with him . . . Agh. There he goes out. All I can tell you is: The ship is heavily stocked with something; there are only the three men on board as far as I've seen so far; and they aren't medical researchers, believe me."

"Well, we'll hope we get something in there." He turned to Hammell. "It was a good idea to drift those circuits when you realized we were going to pass overhead."

Hammell nodded. "Thanks. But the computer's right. I should have noticed it."

Bergen said, "Still, we know enough. Just from what they say, we know that they're planning to rob the colonists, and we know that they have the colonists fooled as to what's going on. You only need to listen to them for a few minutes, to know what the general idea is."

"Yes," said Roberts. "But we need more than that."

Morrissey called, "We've got a view into the aft end of the ship. Take a look at this."

Roberts glanced at the screen, to see "Dr. Fellows" and Vank looking at what appeared to be a large sleeping bird—perhaps a falcon. The peculiar part of it was that the falcon was not asleep on a perch, but was in a transparent case, roughly the size and shape of an artillery shell.

"M'm," said Fellows, "we want to be sure this destructs properly. We could take things a little easier except for these prospectors nosing around."

Vank said confidently, "It will destruct. Don't worry."

"How about the case?"

"When you fire it out, the seals puncture to start a timed reaction."

"The thing doesn't burst into flame?"

"Nothing like that. Right now that case is a tough but glassy substance. The timed reaction reverts it to the crystalline state. At the slightest touch, it will crumble into fragments, then into a fine dust. There's no evidence—nothing."

Fellows nodded. "And the bird?"

Vank gave a modest laugh.

"The bird is long dead, and seeded with encapsulated spores of a very special decay organism. Don't worry about the bird."

"Ah . . Is this decay organism likely to . . . cause trouble later? That's important to us, you know."

"Nothing that will bother us. The rot will sporulate, and the spores will be destroyed by the radiation from the planet's sun."


"Don't worry about it. This is my specialty."

Fellows let his breath out slowly.

"And the—the special dose?"

"The powder will drift all over this part of the planet. This bird is a predator. It can glide for hours. When the shell passes the top of its trajectory and starts down, the cover will blow off the rear of the shell, the bird will be shoved out, and the flight-control systems will take over. With every tilt of its wings, a little powder will drop out of the hollowed out seeding canisters."

Fellows nodded approvingly.

Vank concluded, "With a little luck, the colonists will be down with the pseudopox inside a week or two. Enough of them should die this time to make us even more popular with the ones we save."

"The important thing," said Fellows, "is to leave no trace."

Vank grinned.

"We want to leave them enough strength to work, too."

Fellows smiled in turn. "Very true."

Roberts glanced up from the screen, punched the button to the left of the glowing lens lettered "Smb Cmp," and asked, "What can you tell us about this harmless spore the dead bird will release on the planet in the process of rotting?"

There was a brief pause, then the symbiotic computer said, "Not to over-burden you with scientific details, the information given is inadequate to pinpoint the precise nature of the organism—"

"In other words, you don't know?"

"But," the symbiotic computer went on, "the most common organism which appears to fit this inadequate description is the diabolus rot. While the spores are unusually sensitive to ultraviolet radiation, other forms of the organism are not. In certain of its forms, diabolus resembles the slime molds, forming exceptionally large swarms known as the diabolus horror. Save for its appearance, it is harmless, and, except for the psychological reaction induced by its appearance, it is even believed to be edible and nutritious."

Roberts could feel his stomach turn over.

"It sounds nice. Now, what about 'pseudopox'?"

"There is less doubt regarding this. There is a bacterium capable of producing all the external manifestations of planetary pox. It, too, is fatal, and, like the true pox inflicts a heavier proportion of fatalities on girls and women. It is, however, comparatively simple to cure, and is a very rare disease."

"Can Dr. Fellows spread pseudopox by sprinkling powder over the planet?"

"Yes. The disease can be spread by inhalation or ingestion of the organisms, and is highly contagious."

Roberts sat back, frowning.

"Okay. Thanks."

The symbiotic computer added, "In case you're wondering, the larger moon will pass slowly above the ex-Space Force cruiser tonight, and will be high in the sky most of the night."

"Exactly what I was thinking about," said Roberts. "Now, I would like to know how good you are at manufacturing mobile imitation biological objects. Objects that can stand close examination."

The symbiotic computer's voice held a note of modest creative pride. "What did you have in mind?"

"This is going to be tricky, and difficult."

The symbiotic computer almost purred. "Let's have the details."

Roberts glanced up.



"When Hammell released the spy-circuits, some were drawn into the cruiser down there, and some went elsewhere. How is our general coverage on this part of the planet?"

"Most went elsewhere. We have a wealth of coverage where we don't want it. We've got an inside view of deserted parts of the forest, we're snooping in all the cabins we don't want to be in, we've even got a close-up view of a pot-hole at the bottom of a waterfall, with rocks and gravel grinding around inside; but we still don't have as much overlapping coverage as I'd like of that cruiser."

"How widespread is our coverage?"

"It takes in a lot of territory. The heaviest concentration of settlers is to the northeast of here, where the mines and separation apparatus are located. We have good coverage there."

"Good enough," said Roberts. "If I'm not mistaken, that is what they'll aim to hit."

Hammell said, "Excuse my curiosity, but what does the position of the moon have to do with this?"


The moon was high in the sky as the spy screen showed the gravitic launcher slowly rising from the blunt tower just aft of the converted cruiser's main forward turret. The launcher's snout swung slowly around to aim toward the settlement, near the mines. The launcher lifted. There was a sudden indistinctness at its mouth.

On Roberts' battle screen, a long wavy blur showed the track of the gravitor beam projected by the launcher. A dot traveled rapidly up this wavy blur. The blur abruptly vanished. The dot continued onward and upward.

Roberts' hands reached out to the control board. A second very faint wavy blur appeared.

The dot gently shifted its course. The new beam eased steadily ahead. Instead of falling, the dot held its speed, moved over the target still gently rising, and then gathered speed within the beam, to climb rapidly upward. As the beam continued to slightly shift its angle, the resulting course for the dot was a long curving gentle rise, followed by a steep climb.

Morrissey, watching the spy screen, said, "They're in the control room. Mape is watching on their screen."

"Good," said Roberts, watching his screen. "What do they have to say?"

"I'll turn this up."

The voice of "Dr. Fellows" carried clearly: "Fine. That's taken care of. Now, the bird will be released, the carrier case will crash and break up, and after spreading the—er—seeding, the bird will become harmlessly dematerialized?"

Vank's voice chuckled.


There was a brief silence, and then Mape's voice gave a low growl.

"Just what in hell is this?" 

Fellows said, "What is it, Mape?"

"Something took off straight up, beyond the settlement."

"No trouble, surely?"

"Maybe. I don't know. But what is it?"

"The prospectors, hopefully? We'd be glad to see them leave."

"It isn't that big. This is a little thing, about the size of the bird, and it's headed straight up, for the moon. Of course, the prospectors could be behind this."

"I don't follow, Mape. What possible connection could there be between this thing and our—ah—affairs?"

"This disappearing Stellar Scout ship of theirs won't show up on the massometer with the moon behind it."

"And you think—"

"They may have grabbed the bird, and be reeling it in on a gravitor beam."

Fellows' voice took on ugly overtones.

"Then, they would be in a position to—to blackmail us. We'd have to give them a cut?" Fellows said angrily, "I despise blackmailers. There's nothing lower. Dirty, rotten, sneaking, underhanded—" 

"Incidentally, if we try to take off, they're in just the spot to knock us flat."

"After all the thought I've put into this, I won't be skimmed by a damned sneaking blackmailer! Is it too dangerous to use the guns? This was a Space Force cruiser!"

"The spot we're in," said Mape, "I'm all for using the guns. What have we got to lose?"

"Hold it!" said Vank. "You're just guessing. You don't know it's the bird!"

"No, I don't know it. But what else is it? I didn't know what was behind that massometer reading, but what could it have been but a ship? Things don't fly from a planet up toward its moon for no reason. If it isn't the bird, what is it?"

"But you said yourself it didn't start up right away. Why the lag?"

"To give them time to ease it on with gentle touches of the gravitor beam, to get it away from where we could follow it direct, so we wouldn't know what had happened."

"Yeah, that fits . . . What's the worst if we're wrong and take a crack at them?"

"If we're completely wrong, we'll make noise and wake the people sleeping around here. If they're up there doing something else, one or the other of us will get finished."

Vank hesitated, but Fellows said coldly, "The danger justifies the risk. Go ahead, Mape."

Mape reached for the controls.

On the spy-screen, the covers slid back in the moonlight from the cruiser's weapons.

A volcanic eruption escorted by squadrons of lightning bolts hurled itself toward the moon, and hurled itself again and again.

Roberts eyed his battle screen alertly.

"So far, so good. It's nice we're down here with a pressor beam instead of up there with a tractor beam. Now, did they do us the favor of finishing off the bird?"

The voice of the symbiotic computer replied, "The second salvo from the main fusion batteries destroyed the container and contents."

"Good. Did we lose any of it on the way up?"

"It was all held in the beam—assuming, of course, that the initial launching was efficient."

"Okay. Morrissey—"

"Right here," said Morrissey. "You want our replacement for the bird on your screen?"


"Here it is."

Roberts found himself looking around the interior of a darkened room on the screen, a room lit only by a little moonlight diffusing through a window high up.

A man's voice spoke in a whisper. "Did you hear that crash?"

There was a woman's murmur.

A little girl cried, "Mommy! Mommy! Something bit me!"

The woman screamed, "Jim! The window!"

At the small window, high up, a batlike form momentarily blotted out the moonlight.

Perhaps a tenth of a second later, flame spurted from the muzzle of an upraised gun, the crash echoed around the cabin, and there was a thin shriek and a rattling bumping noise as something fell down the cabin wall, followed by a thud as it hit ground.

The woman screamed. "Be careful!" 

The door banged shut behind him.

"Mommy! sobbed the girl. "It bit me!" 

"Don't move, Janey. Stay where you are!"

From outside came an oath, then a bellow.

"Look at this! Bill! Sam! Come out here!"

The scene shifted to the outside, where, amidst a bristle of guns, several men crouched in the moonlight, to straighten slowly and glance at one another.

"That thing isn't dead. Pierce its wing and tie a thong to the bone. Put it in a leather sack, and we'll take it with us. I'll get Peters and his crowd, we'll all be dressed in five minutes, and then we'll be right with you. See the women shutter those windows and keep the lamps dim. Leash the hounds on the poles, and we'll take two sticks of them."


Roberts straightened from the screen. "So far, so good. Now let's see how the kindly medical missionaries are making out in their private battleship."

Morrissey said, "I've got it on a split screen. It's very inspiring. Here it is."

Before Roberts, the scene changed, to show the cruiser's control room. Mape was shaking his head.

"No, no, there was nothing there. I don't explain it. Unless—" 

Vank said, "A little more of this dung, buddy, is about all we're going to take. You sure you didn't imagine it in the first place?"

Mape looked at him. His voice became soft, courteous.

"Would you like to say I imagined it?"

Vank snarled, "I'm not in the mood to play games! Quick reflexes, with a pea for a brain! All I'd have to do is give you one squirt from a pressure-hype at breakfast, and you'd be dead with the cultured pus squirting out your ears by lunch. You are going to scare me, eh?"

Fellows said uneasily, "Vank, my boy—ah—we're all a little overstrained—let's not . . ."

Mape turned away, and worked small controls at the side of one of the cruiser's screens. The scene on the screen vanished, to be replaced by a black field marked with pale green outlines of the horizon as seen from the ship. A white dot disappeared over the horizon, and Mape said, "This is the recorded track of the bird. Watch it, and see what you think."

Vank frowned, but looked at the screen.

For a long moment, the screen showed nothing but the green outline of the horizon. Then, to the side, the white dot reappeared, climbed with increasing swiftness, to finally lift nearly straight up as the screen shifted its angle of view, to show the larger of the planet's moons, with a white dot climbing toward it.

Vank glanced swiftly at the controls Mape had just handled.

"Do that again."

Mape worked the controls.

Dr. Fellows came over and watched.

"Mape," he said, "excuse me, but I wonder if you'd replay that for me? And Vank, I wonder if you'd step aft, and just check—"

Mape said politely, his voice soft, "Go right ahead, Dr. Fellows. But as for Vank and me, we have a little something to talk over. Here, I'll set it to replay for you."

Dr. Fellows stood irresolutely at the screen as Mape and Vank went out. Perspiration rolled down Fellows' forehead. He mopped it with his handkerchief, took one or two steps after them, then let out a deep shuddering breath, and came to a stop. He looked around uneasily. "It's going sour," he said. "It was perfect, but it's going sour." 

Roberts looked up from the screen.

"Fellows just might have enough intuition to get out of there. Do we have coverage of Mape and Vank?"

"No," said Morrissey. "Worse luck."

"Okay. If they decide to break for it, we're going to appreciate every hour of sleep we get tonight. It's going to take time for this to work itself out, and there isn't a great deal we can do until it takes shape. Let's set up watches."


Roberts was on watch as things came to a head, a little before dawn.

Inside the converted cruiser, everything was quiet. The action was taking place outside, though there was, in fact, not very much to see except eyes.

Roberts, at the spy screen, had some difficulty spotting the unmoving faces, smeared with resin and leaves, just back from the edge of the clearing, where the trees' many leaves, angled to catch the light, provided cover. By careful use of the spy screen, Roberts had uncovered eighteen of the hidden figures, some well back from the cruiser, some in the very trees that provided it with cover. They all were watching, but as the sun gradually began to light the clearing, they did little else. It was, however, possible to see the pupils of their eyes move, back and forth, the eyes narrowed into hard slits, as they followed the batlike forms that came to, and departed from, the upthrust snout of the gravitic launcher. For a time, in the earliest light of the dawn, the cruiser had the look of some kind of interplanetary hornet's nest, bats scuttling in and out the tilted launcher, flitting around the clearing as if to get their bearings before setting out. In the actual light of dawn, this traffic thinned out, let up entirely, and the cruiser sat there, the beaded dew shining on it, under the hard gaze of numerous watching eyes.

Now there appeared, from the direction of a path through thick forest, a man carrying a little boy in his arms. He approached the ship with a look of touching trust and confidence, paused at the edge of the clearing, and glanced up at the closed hatch at the head of the ramp.

"Ho, Doc!" he called.

He started up the ramp.

"Doc! You folks awake in there? Doc! Open up!"

The cruiser's alarm system, apparently programmed to ignore small animals and signal the arrival of humans, gave a warning buzz.

Suddenly the hatch swung open at the top of the ramp.

"Dr. Fellows" appeared, scrubbed, benevolent, but slightly bloodshot.

"Come in! Come in! Ah, here's a tragedy! Poor little fellow! What's this? Are there more? Has it broken out again, then? I'm certainly glad I'm still here!"

As the distressed parents—strangely all male, this time, thronged up the ramp, and as Dr. Fellows and his somewhat bandaged assistant readied the merciful hypodermic needles, a large bat flitted across the clearing, scuttled over the forward main turret of the cruiser, hopped up into the launcher, and vanished inside.

"Welcome, welcome, children," Dr. Fellows was saying. "We'll have this cleared up in a—ah—What—" 

Half-a-dozen big hunting dogs, with teeth like cougars, shot up the ramp.

Roberts shifted views on the spy screen.

Vank was suddenly tied up, his arms behind his back. "Dr. Fellows," the look of surprise still on his face, was done up in leather thongs. Down in the bowels of the ship, Mape, by prearranged policy staying away from the other two in case there should be trouble, was backing away from a batlike thing that had apparently come in through the open launcher slide. Mape's bafflement and distaste were evident on his face. But he had now, by staying calm, succeeded in maneuvering around it, to open the safety door that led to the corridor.

Outside in the corridor, a big hound on a leash whimpered briefly, and two roughly dressed men stepped forward. One rammed the muzzle of his gun in Mape's side. The other judiciously kept the gun muzzle out of Mape's reach, while his grip eased a little tighter on the trigger. A third held the dog, and eyed the bat.

Mape said sharply, "What's this? While the Doctor heals your pox, you stick up his ship?"

The dog was staring into the room beyond. The bat scuttled across the floor. The man holding the leash said, "Ungrateful, aren't we?"

The bat took off, flitted around in large circles, then shot out through the door, to settle very lightly on Mape's shoulder. Once there, the hideous thing raised a wing, and began to clean itself.

Mape was saying, "It would serve you right if Doc left the lot of you to die after this!"

The dog eyed the bat, and its jaw quivered.

One of the men cautiously reached up. The bat hissed and bared its teeth, then snuggled closer on Mape's shoulder.

Mape heard the hiss, felt the movement, looked around in surprise, and saw what was cuddling close to him.

The colonists snorted.

"Don't act like you never saw it before! Look how it cuddles up to him. Okay, you, start up the corridor. Move!"

Mape, the horror nestled beside him, its scratchy bristles against his neck as it made little happy chittering noises, swallowed hard and did as he was told.

As Roberts shifted scenes, Fellows, thoroughly trussed up, appeared, his expression hurt, his tones earnest.

"But, my dear young man, pox is not spread by the bite of an animal. And, even if it were, what have we to do with it? Ours is a humanitarian mission!"

"How is it," said a tall hard-eyed colonist, "that you've had bats going in and out of that raised chute overhead since before it got light out there?"

"I'm sure I don't know, if it is indeed true, and not an optical illusion. Certainly we are not responsible if local life-forms choose to land on our ship."

"They were going in and out the chute."

"If there were any such things, we know nothing of it. We were asleep. Rather than be disturbed by every mouse or chipmunk that might set foot on the ship, we had adjusted the intruder alarm to register only human or larger intruders. And these, we expected to treat as guests." His tone was injured, it rang with sincerity.

The colonist said, "You don't know anything about these bats?"

"Nothing. If there are any such things, we have had nothing to do with them."

Mape was prodded into the room, the bat nestling on his shoulder, cleaning the underside of its wing.

"Well," said the colonist spokesman, "tell us, how do you explain that?" 

Fellows stared at Mape, who shrugged helplessly.

"Euh—" said Fellows, looking at the bat. "Mape, my boy—surely you're not implicated in this—this—"

The bat spotted Fellows, gave a little chirrup of delight, took off, and landed on Fellows' shoulder. Fellows sat frozen.

The colonists delivered themselves of pithy expletives of disgust.

"Why," said Fellows, "It—ah—it's friendly. Surely, no harm could come from this—this friendly little cuddly creature?"

The thing peered over its shoulder, hissed and rattled its teeth at the colonists, spotted Vank, staring and perspiring, and at once made a chortling noise and deserted Fellows for Vank, who let out a yell and rolled around as the bat hopped lightly over him, making happy chirruping sounds.

"M'm," said the colonist spokesman, "it loves him, but he doesn't want it anywhere near him. Why is he afraid of the friendly little cuddly creature? Jim—if you'd just bring that sack up here—"

A colonist holding a leather sack stepped forward, opened the sack, and a hissing ball of rat-colored fur, clicking its teeth together, rolled out on the end of a cord, flapped across the floor, stopped, hissed all around, then saw the perspiring "Dr. Fellows." The thing gave a pathetic bleat, scuttled over, and huddled close, shivering.

"Fellows" began to shiver, himself.

"Oh," said a burly colonist. "He never saw the thing before."

Fellows glanced at Mape, who looked back ironically. He turned to Vank. Vank was out cold, with the monstrosity perched on his head. For the first time, Fellows noticed the dull glint of steel around its mouth.

"What's this," he said. "Does it have artificial teeth of some kind?"

The spokesman for the colonists put on leather gloves, grabbed the injured bat, and held it up.

"Here, take a good look, Fellows. You see the little hollow needle in the left side of its jaw, and the recurved needle in the right side? Do you think we're such dolts we can't figure this out? The left needle feeds from the left sack in that harness, and it will inject into whatever the bat tries to bite. The right needle feeds from the right sack, and it will flow back into the bat's mouth. The teeth are trimmed blunt and a little short, so they only give the bat the sensation of biting. The thing flies out of here, spots some poor fool worn out after a hard day's work, lying there asleep after telling his wife how lucky we are Doc Fellows is here to take care of the pox, and then this bat sent out by Dr. Fellows sets down lightly beside the poor fool, nips him in the neck with this hypodermic, which I suppose has some kind of anesthetic in it among other things, and as the bat bites, this little plunger on the hypo is shoved back and forth, and the little pump attached pumps air into the bag on the right side as well as the left, and warm blood or whatever is in that bag flows into the bat's mouth. When he's satisfied, the bat lets go, takes off, and comes back and goes to sleep for the night, or gets refilled and roosts in the trees, or however you've got him trained. But never mind. The main thing is, now the colonist has been infected with the pox." 

Fellows was speechless.

The colonist spokesman waited grimly.

Fellows said, "But—you can search the ship—" He paused, and looked worried. "Look—what would be the advantage to us of a thing like that? Why, my dear man, we have cured you! It would be utterly senseless to infect you merely in order to cure you. Although if we did—simply for the sake of argument—what would be the harm? If, through some accident, you had become infected through our agency, and we corrected the situation, could you blame us? Why, our good will is evident on the face of it! Surely this is obvious. You are cured, and it is we who have cured you! Now, untie us. Enough of this nonsense!"

The spokesman for the colonists glanced around.

"Any suggestions?"

A burly colonist with large hands said, "Heat up some irons. If that don't work I know a good stunt with water. None of you boys don't want to watch this, but stick around near, where you can hear what they say, and give me a hand, in case they go out of their heads. Kind of a mess there toward the end sometimes . . . I used to be a guard on one of them prison satellites. Wasn't my job, but I had to help out. I never thought it would come in useful, but you never can tell, can you? Just get me them irons and a blowtorch and a bucket of cold water."

Several of the colonists went out of the room.

Fellows swallowed and looked around. The only friendly thing in sight was the bat.

Mape spoke up. "You tell them, Fellows, or I'll tell them."


The same burly colonist said, "Get them separate. We can check them against each other." He grunted. "Work hard all day, and then these sons put poisoned bats on us at night."

Fellows said desperately, "We didn't."

"Split 'em up. You got to play 'em together sometimes, and sometimes apart. We'll harmonize them."

There was a murmur amongst the colonists, and while it was impossible to say for sure what it might mean, Fellows said urgently, "Mape!"

"Right here," said Mape grimly.

"I'm going to tell them the complete facts, with nothing held back. You understand? I want you to do the same. If we had a chance, it would be different, but I don't want to play this hand to the end. Answer anything and stick to the truth. That's the only way we can get our stories to match. Do you follow?"

"I follow."

"I'll tell Vank the same when he comes around. All right, don't say any more till we're separated."

The burly colonist smiled faintly, but said nothing. Mape was hustled out, then Vank was jarred awake, listened to Fellows, and was lugged off to some other place.

Fellows, perspiring, said, "All right. Anything you want to know."

The spokesman for the colonists, his eyes hard, watched Fellows intently. "What was the purpose?"

Fellows took a deep breath.

"The cure was drugged."

"What do you mean, drugged?"

"The—the disease was pseudopox. The same symptoms and effects as real pox—but we could cure this by a simple injection. Only, in the injection was an impurity." 

"An impurity. It was there on purpose?"

"Yes. On purpose."

"What did the impurity do?"

"The name of it is ecstatin. We used a very small concentration. It's exceptional in that it stays in the blood for about five to six weeks."

"Then what?"

"Then the last of it is excreted."

"What's the effect?"

"It makes a person more—more cheerful. Used in strong concentrations, it's lethal."

"All right. Come to the point. You used it in a light concentration. What harm did it do?"

"In itself, none, yet. But—ah—after it's all excreted, everyone who's had it will feel depressed." 

"How depressed?"

"Almost to the point of suicide. It's a severe depression."

"What's the cure?"

"More ecstatin."

The colonist considered it.

"Let's be sure I get this. First you infected us with pseudopox?"


"Then you cured us of the pseudopox, but injected ecstatin into us."

"That's it."

"Why not hit us with ecstatin to start with."

"We needed the pox first to explain the ecstatin later."


"After we cured you of what apparently was the pox, we would be heroes. Right?"

"Yes. Sure. You were." 

"Then the results of the ecstatin would show up. We would be shocked, stunned. We would check our instruments, find a trace of it, and checking back, we would discover that a supplier of plasma had unwittingly supplied us with a batch contaminated with ecstatin. Such things happen. You couldn't blame us. The supplier could hardly be blamed if the plasma came from a planet where there's been no known trouble with ecstatin. The only thing is—now you'd have to have more ecstatin!"

The colonist smiled with his mouth only.

Fellows hurried on.

"Now, on some planets, ecstatin is legal. On others, possession is punished by death. As it happens, in this region of space, there is no planet where it is legally supplied."

"I still don't get it."

Fellows gave a little laugh.

"The thing is—it's not illegal for us to supply you. You don't have any law one way or the other about it. But now you'd have a need." 

"And you'd supply it?" 

"Yes. And, of course, you'd be willing to pay well, because it would cost us so much to drop everything and go way off to where it is legally supplied, to get a supply for you."

The colonist put his hand to his chin.

"Of course, we wouldn't blame you for this."

"How could you? After all, thanks to the pox ploy first, we'd saved your lives."

"Pox ploy. Yeah. But—wait a minute. How is it we don't notice the effects of this ecstatin?"

"First, it's in so low a concentration. Second, naturally you're relieved to get over the pox. That makes you happy, which masks the effect of the drug. That's one reason we timed it to get here in the spring. If it hit you in the winter, you might wonder."

"So, you'd supply us with this stuff, at great expense, and we'd pay you. Where's the gain?"

Fellows looked blank a moment, then shocked.

"There's no great expense involved. Not for us." 

"You just said you'd have to make a long trip—"

Fellows snorted.

"That's only how it would be if we hadn't planned. But, naturally, we're loaded up with ecstatin. We would go away for a time, after supplying you with enough to get by on out of our emergency chest. Then, later, we'd bring in the load, which you'd pay very steep for. But, you see, we wouldn't have been able to get all you needed on that one trip. Something would have gone wrong. We'd have to go back again. That would cost more."

The colonist squinted across the room. He gave a kind of low growl, and then shook his head.

"Each of these trips would take a long time."


"But, you wouldn't actually make the trips?"

"No. That's just what we'd tell you." 

"Then will you kindly tell me—What did you intend to do, stand around and wait between trips?"

Fellows looked incredulous.

"Don't you get it? We'd hit other planets!"

The colonist stared at him.

Fellows said, "Why stop here? It's a good game. We'd hit every colony planet at your level in the whole region.

"What? With the same thing?" 

"Why not? We figured out a regular circuit. We'd milk maybe a dozen of you, then be right in time back at the first one to tell what a rough trip we had making it in with the last half-load, and how they raised the price on us because they knew we were in a hurry. We'd do the same act on each planet, and it would be just as good on one as another. Meanwhile you'd be killing yourselves working to get enough export to pay for the ecstatin. When you got self-governing, you'd vote the ecstatin legal because you'd have to, and we could sell the circuit at a good price to a regular dealer and he'd maybe crack the whole region open."

The colonist, with an effort, unclenched his fists. He looked away for a moment.

"Fellows," no longer with any detectable trace of his previous lovable grandfatherly air, said, "I'm telling you the truth."

The colonist let his breath out. "That's the only reason I haven't touched you."

"We'd have made a fortune on this."

"All right. Now explain to us about the bats. Where do you keep them? How do you feed them? How does that work?"

Roberts turned, to call Hammell, Morrissey, and Bergen. But they were already right there behind him, watching the screen wide-eyed.

On the screen, Fellows perspired, and gave a little laugh. "The bats—" 

"The bats," said the colonist. "Come on, let's hear about that, too."

Fellows looked around and licked his lips.

Morrissey murmured, "Quite an interesting problem to explain something you can't understand yourself."

"Especially," agreed Roberts, "when there's somebody in the next room who doesn't understand it, and he has to explain it, too."

"So that the stories have to check afterward. Yes, that adds an extra dimension."

On the screen, Fellows was earnestly explaining, and the spokesman for the colonists irritatedly brushed the explanation aside.

"Listen, friend," he snarled, "we're just a collection of plodders. Never in a hundred years would we have thought of a scheme like this one. If you hadn't had a streak of bad luck, we'd never have seen any of your bats at work, and we'd never have caught on. It would have worked just as you say. But—"

"But," screamed Fellows, "we didn't use bats!"

The colonists murmured. Their spokesman pointed to the form curled up against Fellows.

Fellows opened his mouth, stared at the bat, and shut his mouth.

"Now," said the colonists' spokesman, "we are not going to be safe until we get rid of those things. We've already got pox victims and ecstatin addicts among us for no fault of their own. But there's no reason why the bats couldn't hit us with instant poison as well. We want the end of these bats. Now, don't tell us you didn't use them. Tell us the truth!"

Hammell grinned. "Did you notice how this bird was contemptuous of the colonists a little bit ago? He doesn't look contemptuous now."

Roberts nodded. "For someone willing to put twelve colony planets in a trap, he doesn't enjoy being in one himself. —Although, he's lucky to be alive."

Morrissey watched the screen.

"So far."

Hammell bared his teeth, eyes focused on the screen.

Bergen looked serious, and Roberts winced.

The bat flew off, to momentarily provide a distraction.

Some minutes later, the symbiotic computer spoke cheerfully.

"The last of the quasibiological artifacts have been recovered, and our job here is now finished. The damage to this planet has been minimized. 'Dr. Fellows,' Mape, and Vank are now serving the beginning of their sentence as visited on them informally by the colonists, and if they ever get away from this planet, they will think twice before hitting another colony planet. This is a creditable achievement. There are, however, more planets in the vicinity in this same vulnerable stage of development."

Roberts guided the Interstellar Patrol ship rapidly up from the planet.

Bergen said, "I have a question."

"Proceed," said Roberts cheerfully.

"The standard way to handle this would have been to imprison Fellows and the rest, and provide special medical care for the colonists. Our way gave me a lot more satisfaction, but—how come we didn't do it the standard way?"

Roberts smiled.

"I imagine Fellows could get a lawyer who knows his way around in court, don't you?"

"Probably so."

"And suppose this lawyer is smarter than the prosecutor?"

"Well, if the evidence is overwhelming—"

Roberts shook his head.

"Fellows had already defeated, in advance, all the ordinary methods of applying justice. The Space Police, Space Force, P.D.A.—he'd gotten around the lot, and for all you and I know, he'd have gotten around the courts, too. At that, if it hadn't been for the bats, he would have ended up a hero to the colonists themselves. The bats were the unfair blow that did it for him.

"Now," Roberts went on, "there's the 'rule of law' and the there's the 'rule of men,' but both tend to work down to standard procedures, standard views, standard prejudices, and all this can generally be manipulated by a clever crook. But exactly how does the clever crook manipulate what he can't understand himself?"

Bergen rubbed his chin.

"I think I get it. They can't reduce the Interstellar Patrol to rule, so they can't figure a way around it."

Roberts nodded.

"The criminals we have to contend with couldn't care less for law. Men they respect a little more.

"But," he said, "what really gives them pause is the Unknown.

"That's where we make our contribution to Justice."


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