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The Captive Djinn

Guard Captain Skeerig Klith looked up as Senior Guard Lieutenant Ladigan Grul came in looking smug.

"Sir," said Grul, holding out a sheaf of papers, "the combat crews just dragged in an outworlder." Grul smiled, baring canine teeth an inch-and-a-half long.

Klith reached out for the report, and in his excitement ran his claws completely through the papers.

"It seems too good to be true," he said, flattening the report on his desk. "The cowardly vermin always use their magic powers to get away."

"This one slipped up somewhere. And with due respect, sir, it isn't 'magic'. The best opinion is that all they've got is a more advanced science than ours."

"When it gets that advanced what's the difference?"

"Sir," protested Grul, "no matter how advanced it gets, Science is not sorcery."

Klith snorted. "These outlanders came down out of the sky. They go through the air at 16,500 laps to the sneeze. If they want something, they aim a rod at it and it comes. To get rid of it, they point a rod at it and it goes. We've seen them control their machines by voice. That's not sorcery?"

"By a perfectly natural process of scientific development, one step at a time—"

"Maybe wizards get their powers by a natural process of development, one step at a time. Anyway, what's the difference to me? If you don't understand something, it's magic, right?"

"Sir, in that case, basically everything is magic."

"Exactly," said Klith, "and in that case, as I said, what they use is magic. Now where's the prisoner?"

Grul opened his mouth, then shut it. In a choked voice, he said, "The prisoner is in the Central Cell Block, New Tier, sir."

"Hm-m-m." Klith glanced through the report. "The vermin was captured at the foot of Mount Daggeredge. His vehicle had apparently malfunctioned, and was taken to the District Technological Laboratory for study." Klith looked up. "I suppose you know, Grul, that our offensive to smash the main nest of these clawless cowardly outworlders has run into a little embarrassment?"

Grul's ears swiveled around. "No, sir. All I know is that our bombardment is so intense it can be heard a hundred and twenty laps away."

"Unfortunately, it makes just as much noise when you miss as when you hit."

"But their base is in clear sight."

"And there's something like thick, elastic, invisible armor-glass between our artillery and their base."

Grul shook his head in disgust. "There's always something."

"This prisoner may be very useful to us."

"You mean, we can question him about the barrier?"

"Exactly. In fact, we can question him about all their arrangements. Possibly we can find out why they're really here. That business about the goroniuk mine is obviously a cover-up."

Grul nodded. "Who would want such worthless stuff? Merely to be around that goroniuk makes a man sick, and his fur falls out in patches. Shall I bring the outworlder up now?"

"Play zango with him for a while. It will put him in a co-operative frame of mind, and if Higher Headquarters should send for him, he's unhurt."

Grul grinned and displayed his canines. Zango was played with a dozen pieces on each side. All the men moved by jumping, and all the jumps were long.

* * *

Hedding was sitting in the cell sourly eyeing the furnishings. The cot was so short and wide he could only rest on it curled up. Beside the cot was a scratched-up post, obviously convenient for sharpening one's claws. In the corner was a box of sand. In the back wall of the cell was a neat round hole six inches across, covered by a small iron door. The function of this was a mystery to Hedding. For food, he'd received a small piece of some kind of ground-up fish and cheese, called sznivtig, with a powerful odor. He'd also been handed a bowl of water. Hedding drank the water, looked the food over closely, and buried it in the sand. He lay back on the cot with his feet hanging over the edge, and noticed the small dull bulb in the ceiling. The metallic deposit on the inside of the bulb suggested the stage of the planet's science. It occurred to Hedding that there ought to be some kind of opportunity there. But what?

Just then, there was a rattle at the door.

A creature with large round pupils twitched its whiskers and pointed a gun at him. The gun had a bayonet that curved down at the end, like a claw.

Hedding, despite his conditioning, could barely understand the grating voice:

"Did you eat?"

"Not yet. I wasn't hungry."

"You had good luck, then?"

Hedding squinted around the cell. "Good luck? Not that I know of."

The jailer looked blank, then shrugged. "Bring your sznivtig and follow me."

"Where to?"

"Cell block 'C'. Get your claws out of the mat, and let's go."

Hedding followed the jailer through half-a-mile of dim corridors, and wound up inside an identical cell with exactly the same fittings. Fifteen minutes later, there was a rattle at the door and a new voice:

"You in there! Follow me!"

Grumbling to himself, Hedding followed the guard down a winding staircase for ten minutes, and found himself inside an identical cell fitted in exactly the same way. Twenty minutes later, there was a rattle at the door.

"Prisoner! Attention! Follow me!"

"What's wrong with this cell, for Pete's sake?"

"Silence! You will not question! You will obey!"

Cursing to himself, Hedding trailed off after the guard, tramped for twenty minutes along corridors lit with dim bulbs, then went around and around and around and around up a circular staircase, along another corridor and into a new cell, where the door clanged shut behind him, and fifteen minutes later a fresh voice spoke jovially:

"Prisoner. Ears up! We are taking you to a new cell. Get your sznivtig and follow me!"

* * *

Guard Captain Skeerig Klith shoved the message across the desk to Senior Lieutenant Grul, who read aloud, "Imperative prisoner be interrogated by scientific methods. Dismemberment, red-hot irons, hauling over the walls, and similar methods that impair clarity of mind are contraindicated. Only preliminary questioning is permissible pending my imminent arrival. Queel Snnorriz, Staff Psychologist."

"That boob," said Klith. "Obviously, he's going to baby the outworlder. You remember when they put the cretin in charge of that gang of hardcase prisoners? He was going to 'unlatch the bound memories that caused their amoral and antisocial behavior.'"

"Who could forget it?" said Grul. "The prisoners made Central into a fortress, had this grass-eater Snnorriz hung up by his tail, and threatened to slice the guards up an inch at a time if they didn't get their way."

Klith nodded gloomily, "And then, when the Iron Division went in and straightened the mess out, the boob complained that his therapy had been interrupted."

"They should have accidentally finished him off in the fight."

Klith shrugged. "There's no getting around the fact that he's the Emperor's cousin, and also way up in the Scholastic Hierarchate."

"Regarding which," said Grul, "I say, get them all together in one place, and set off a good strong—"

"Sh-h," said Klith, glancing around nervously. "None of that." He cleared his throat, dropped off the bench, and exercised his claws on the nearby sharpening post. "Our immediate problem is this prisoner. How's he coming along?"

Grul's lips stretched in a grin. "He was patient the first four or five ... ah ... moves in the game. But then he disarmed a guard, got laid out by the guard's mate, and is now trailing around in a bad frame of mind."

Klith nodded. "Except for that fight—which he started himself—none of it will leave any marks. Run him on down to the bottom floor of the Old Tier. Let him get a look at where we can put him if we feel like it. I'm going to take a nap. After I wake up, I'll want to have him up here."

* * *

Hedding, feeling of the bump on his head, followed the dim figure down the faintly-echoing corridor past the rows of silent cells. He cleared his throat, and tried to remember if this guard was friendly. There had been so many guards, and so many cells, that they were starting to run together in his mind.

"Say," he said, "are these cells occupied?" An echo bounced back from somewhere, then another, fainter, echo.

"Arnh?" said the guard.

Hedding waited till the echoes died down, and repeated the question.

The guard grunted. "Oh, most cells in this block are empty. Watch your head. We're going down lower."

They started down a spiral staircase, going around and around and around and around, and they went down so far into the gloom that Hedding began to suffer from the illusion that the staircase was circling upward under his feet and all he was doing was to move his legs and stay in the same place.

The guard coughed apologetically. "No need to put your sznivtig out down here. They'll come right out after you."

Hedding, traveling around and around in a daze, said stupidly, "They will?"

"Sure as death and demerits," said the guard. "See you don't go to sleep. Pick off a few now and then, snap their necks, and toss them into the pack. Keep them busy. If it gets too thick in there, climb up the clawpost and take a breather. Be sure you get your tail up. These things can jump."

A little of this seeped through into Hedding's consciousness. He came awake, aware of the gritty rust underfoot, and the change in the occasional lighting fixtures. Down here, they had gas lamps, with wavering luminous flames.

Suddenly, there was a scuttling noise, the guard bent over, there was a squeak, a snap, a thud, and a multitudinous scurrying sound.

"Just a few levels more," said the guard.

By now, cold dew was dripping from the steps overhead, the air was dank, and lights showed dark walls trickling moisture.

"Careful," said the guard, "watch this next step."

Hedding edged down warily. From up above came a thump. Behind them, the guard's mate was following, just in case Hedding should try anything.

The guard in front said, "Inside this tier of cells—what we call the Old Tier—the lights are gaslights. Watch your footing."

They stepped off the staircase with a splash. Directly in their path, a black hairy thing the size of a man's hand slid up on a thread.

The guard ducked aside, and led the way to a cell with water on the floor, a dead thing covered with orange mold in the water, a bare squarish cot with toadstools growing out of the wood, and the post leaning against the rear wall. Here and there in the dimness, eyes glowed. A cold dank draft smelling like garlic blew in the direction from which they'd come, and made the overhead gas flames waver, so that long shadows flickered over walls and floor.

Hedding looked around incredulously.

The guard scratched at a metal plate affixed to the bars, and glanced at a slip of paper. "It's the right cell, all right. But that's the worst mess I've seen since Snnorriz took over Central Prison."

The second guard was now standing just inside the corridor. "Stick him in, and let's get out of here."

"Look at those stobclers with their eyes glittering in the light."

"What do you think I am looking at."

"If we leave him here, what'll be left when we get back?"

"That's his lookout, not ours. We got our orders: Put him in Cell 6t42e, Old Tier. There's Cell 6t42e, Old Tier. Orders are orders."

The first guard frowned, and reluctantly shoved a large key in the lock. He turned it, to the squeal of rusty metal.

Hedding was now fully awake. A quick glance at the guards showed that he could only hope to overcome one, and would have to fight the other at a disadvantage, since their weapons were long knives and he was unfamiliar with them. Victory would leave him inside a labyrinthine prison, where he could be recognized on sight. Escape didn't seem in the cards, but maybe talk would help.

"Sure as death and demerits," he said reasonably, "they're going to want to question me later."

The second guard had a knife out, and was looking around nervously.

"That's not our worry."

"No?" said Hedding. "If they want to question me and can't, who will they pin the blame on?"

There was a thoughtful quiet, in which could be heard the scratchings of many small claws.

Guard number one looked at number two. "What then?"

"We got our orders."

"To lock him up, not execute him."

"If we don't we're disobeying orders to lock him up."

Hedding said, "One of you stay here. The other go up and tell them."

"Regulations say we stick together. Otherwise, you might overpower one of us, get the short-sword and uniform, and get out."

"I'm an outworlder. I could never get past the guards."

"It wouldn't matter if you were a sixteen-legged crab with eyestalks. It's what regulations say, and you don't argue with regulations."

"Regulations must say something about putting prisoners in cells unfit for occupancy, and killing prisoners wanted for interrogation."

The first guard swore. He shoved Hedding into the cell, clicked the lock, and turned to the second guard. "Go out and start up the steps."

As soon as the second guard was out, the first grunted. "Ah, these stobclers are all over the place! I better kill a few to keep the rest busy." He whipped out his long knife, slashed here and there, then shouted, "There it goes! Run for it! Here come millions of them!"

As a matter of fact, the glowing eyes were at almost the same distance as before, though in continually increasing numbers. The knife, however, now lay inside Hedding's cell.

The guard shot out the door. The clatter on the staircase told Hedding the other guard needed no urging.

Gratefully, he picked up the knife and looked around.

Slithering wetly over each other, the things began to move in on him.

* * *

Guard Captain Skeerig Klith kept his hands flat on the desk, and sought to keep his claws from biting into the wood.

"Yes," he growled. "The prisoner is roughly our size, and has the same general build."

Senior Guard Lieutenant Grul added, "His fingers are longer and thinner, Learned Sir, and without retractile claws. But he seems to handle things well just the same."

"I see." Their guest sprawled on the bench, hind paws thrust over the edge, holding in one forepaw a fume-generator stuck on the end of a large silver pin. This fume-generator was a black, waxy-coated cylinder, about as long and thick as a man's first finger. Wound around the outside were spiral strips of decorative silver and gold fabric, which burnt up slowly as the generator was consumed, and added their own peculiar fragrance to the general smudge.

Guard Captain Klith edged his bench back from the desk, and glanced around at the windows. They were open, but there wasn't the slightest suggestion of a breeze.

Klith cleared his throat.

"If you'd prefer to enjoy your generator outside by the parapet, Psychologist Snnorriz, we'd be glad to continue this later on."

Snnorriz didn't answer at once. Instead, he applied his pursed lips to the near end of the fume generator. A look of exquisite refinement appeared on his face as the far end glowed red, and silver and gold strips burned away in clouds of gray smoke.

Klith glanced around desperately. The room had a ventilator chimney, left over from the days when it, like the cells, was lit by acetylene, and the fumes had to be drawn up and out. But the ventilator got most of its draft from a jet of flame burning in the chimney. And this flame had to be lit. Klith groped under the desk till one extended foot found the dusty push-pedal that, assuming it was in working order, would ignite the ventilator flame.

The psychologist, meanwhile, with a look of ineffable wisdom, slowly exhaled a boiling gray-green cloud at the guard captain.

Klith shoved down hard on the pedal. There should be a little pop followed by a faint roar. Nothing happened. The valve might be stuck, or, worse yet, the valve could have opened, but the worn flint might have failed to strike the scratch-plate. He shoved again harder.

There was a flash.


The room jumped. A cloud of dust particles intermingled with chips of stone and bits of mortar showered down, followed by a flaming nest the size of a man's two fists, and filled with odd bits of tin, old rings, and shiny coins, from which a small purple bird flew screaming out the nearest window. By a stroke of supreme good fortune, the burning nest and its load of trash landed on the psychologist's head.

In the chaos of the next few minutes, with Snnorriz bounding around the room like a madman, it was a simple job for Klith to get rid of the fume-generator, pin and all.

As he was congratulating himself, a guard corporal appeared in the doorway, regarded the screaming Snnorriz with amazement, then faced Klith and saluted.

"Sir, we've got a couple of guards out in the anteroom. According to them, that outworld sorcerer is down in the Old Tier getting eat up by hordes of stobclers. You want I should give 'em what-for for bothering you about it?"

Snnorriz hit the floor and screamed, "You barbarians! You prehistoric reptiles! You'll get that prisoner up here unhurt, or my cousin the Emperor will hear of it!"

* * *

Hedding by now was up sidewise on the bars, resting on the cross-piece of the heavy doorframe, his left arm and both legs hooked through the vertical bars, his right arm reaching down with the long knife as he picked off enough of the vermin to keep the rest happy.

Somewhere outside, he knew, the expedition would have automatic monitoring devices hunting for him. A tiny transmitter inside his body-cavity was giving off a faint signal that should be detected sooner or later. The trouble was that even after they found him, they had to reach him. If he could get outside, his chances of being spotted and picked up would be much better.

Just then, out in the stairwell, the shouted warnings and clank of metal told of the cautious descent of a sizable body of guards.

"Back there!" shouted a familiar voice. "You four in the rear, hold the entrance. In the lead, there! Shove past the sixth cell in the tenth row, kill as many of these vermin as you can reach, and pitch them down the corridor. Keep moving!"

The clank, splash, and jangle drew closer. Then, peering down the corridor, Hedding saw the feline guards in the wavering glare of the gaslights. His urge to escape took on urgency as he saw one of the guards pause to eat a large stobcler. Those holes in the cell walls were beginning to add up for Hedding.

"All right," shouted the familiar voice, "step out down that corridor!"

There was a rattle of keys, and the creak of the cell door.

"Now, where in—"

Hedding dropped to the floor. His cramped muscles nearly gave way, as he whispered, "Thanks for your knife," and handed it back.

The guard gave a quick glance around. "What a place," he muttered, and stepped forward to clang a small rusty door shut over a hole where several pairs of beady eyes were gleaming. "Agh! It's enough to spoil a man's appetite. So many at once make one's hide quiver. In the corridor there! Back toward the stairs. Move!" He guided Hedding out of the cell by the arm, and locked the door. "All right, mates, we've got the prisoner, and we may get out of this without a demerit. But nobody better panic on those steps, or I'll turn him in myself! Let's go!"

Hedding looked overhead curiously.

"What do you use in those gas lamps. What kind of gas is that?"

"Glow-gas," said the guard. "They ship in drums of gasrock, and the engineers sink the stuff in big water tanks. When water hits the gasrock, it boils off glow-gas. They used to light the whole prison that way. You there, up ahead! Are you stuck to the steps? Move!"

The procession wound up toward the top floor.

There, in the guard captain's office, Queel Snnorriz flared up again.

"The Empress, herself, gave me that platinum pin. She's going to be distressed if I show up without it. Of course, I can tell her the circum—"

Guard Lieutenant Grul said earnestly, "When you jumped up, Learned Sir, it seems to me the generator and pin went out the window together."

Guard Captain Klith was relievedly breathing fresh air again, but Snnorriz's hints and threats about the Imperial Court were starting to get on his nerves.

The psychologist cleared his throat. "I was in the Throne Room the other day, when His Imperial Majesty was accepting the Semi-Annual Efficiency Lists from the Heads of Service. The Emperor put his thumb by one of the names and said, 'What do you think of this fellow?' I turned to him, and—"

A guard corporal stepped in, cast a fishy look at the psychologist, and saluted Klith. "Sir, they've got that outworlder out here."

"The Crown Prince," Snnorriz was saying, "admired that pin—"

Klith, normally a patriotic man, had never felt more like an anarchist. Angrily, he jumped to his feet, looked out the window, and pointed.

"Lying on the parapet there, one floor down, is your precious pin. I'll just send a guard down to—" Klith blinked.

The pin, its faceted silvery head glittering, was obscured by a small purplish blur. A triumphant squawk sounded and the parapet was bare.

"Where is it?" shouted Snnorriz, at Klith's elbow. "You said—"

"A pack-bird just flew away with it. Can I help that?"

"Do you expect me to believe—"

In the background, Senior Lieutenant Grul could be heard speaking urgently to the corporal. "Get him in here, quick!"

Klith and Snnorriz were now shouting at each other.

"Sirs!" said the corporal, in a voice suited to an outdoor amphitheater, "here is the ALIEN SORCERER, under guard!"

Snnorriz and Klith turned as if on pivots.

Hedding was trying to deduce what was going on when the guards suddenly shoved him forward.

"The ALIEN SORCERER," roared a voice, "under guard!"

Hedding stared at a tough-looking feline in leather tunic, accompanied by an overbred dandy in scorched black velvet and white ruff, a slender dagger with jeweled hilt at his side, his whiskers upcurled at the ends, and a faint wisp of smoke drifting up from the fur just over his right ear.

Hedding glanced around the many-windowed room, looked up at a faint roar emanating from the ceiling, and was about to speak when a droning noise passed overhead. Hedding would have given a good deal to get to the window, but a guard had him by either arm.

The tough-looking feline glanced at the window. "What's that noise?"

A guard presented himself at the door. "The skywatch lookout just yelled down the voice-tube, sir. There's one of the outworlders' flying machines making slow circles high overhead."

Hedding congratulated himself that he'd been located so quickly. But the device couldn't come in and get him. He had to show himself.

The feline in leather tunic said, "Tell the lookout to let us know if it comes lower. You see, gentlemen, the outworlders are searching for this one here. The fact that they're just circling overhear shows they don't know exactly where he is. We want to keep it that way."

"That should be easy, sir," said a second feline in leather, with different insignia. "The fellow has no tools equipment, or weapons. He doesn't even have claws, sir."

"Remember. He is a sorcerer."

This time, it was the feline in velvet who spoke, after delivering himself of a condescending laugh. "You of the military may, of course, use such inaccurate terminology if it suits your natures. We of the Priestly Hierarchate of Scientific Wisdom speak more accurately." The thickening of the atmosphere following this little speech seemed to be lost on the speaker, who went on, "All that these outworlders have is merely our own knowledge, carried a bit further. They've just refined it some more. 'Sorcerer.' There is no such thing as a 'sorcerer'! Why I wager you that this fellow here, common as he looks, would fit right into one of our own Lesser Guilds. Come, fellow, to which Great Branch of the Mother Tree do you cling—Matter, Energy, Body or Mind? Speak up, now."

* * *

Hedding decided a mining engineer was closer to matter than to the other three, and said obediently, "Matter, sir."

"And what might be your specialty?"

"Goroniuk mining."

The feline in velvet looked indulgent. "So you say. But what would anyone want goroniuk for?"

High overhead, there was a rumble. If Hedding could attract attention, the controller at his distant board would bring that spotter down. Each spotter had a roomy passenger compartment, and carried food, water, and weapons.

But first he had to get its attention.

The tough-looking feline in leather tunic pulled out a length of strap with steel studs on one end.

"You are being questioned, Prisoner. The question was, 'What would anyone want goroniuk for?'"

"Tush," said the feline in velvet. "Spare me this crudity. I have come prepared to handle this my way."

"You don't get anywhere by coddling prisoners. Raise a few welts, and they'll listen closer the next time you speak."

"Nonsense. That way you consolidate their opposition, or drive it underground. My method raises the submerged resistances to the surface where we can deal with them psychologically." He glanced at Hedding. "Which method seems more scientific to you?"

"Yours, unquestionably."

The feline in leather snorted contemptuously.

The feline in velvet turned to Hedding, a brotherly smile displaying his teeth to great advantage.

"Come with me, fellow. Regard me as your friend."

Guard Captain Skeerig Klith spent the next hour in a state of profound boredom. As he worked at his desk, he could hear Snnorriz carrying out his interrogation in an adjoining room. It was unlike any interrogation Klith had ever carried out. Instead of snappy questions and answers, with occasional screams from the prisoner, there was comradely laughter, and endless conversation. In short, Snnorriz was a good deal more friendly with the prisoner than he was with Klith. At one point, when Lieutenant Grul was with him, Klith commented on a peal of laughter from the other room:

"Listen to that. The fop is happier with an outworld alien than he is with us."

Grul grunted agreement, and glanced back through the doorway. "Now they're taking turns smoking through a chomizar."

Klith took a look. Sure enough. there was the bubbling glass pot, with its forty feet of flexible tubing lying in coils all over the place. The psychologist smoked through one mouthpiece as the outworlder admired the workmanship of another.

Klith growled, "It's enough to make a man sick. I will admit, though, that he's getting some information."

The outworlder's voice was saying, "Yes, the air on this planet is close to that on our home planet. There the composition is roughly twenty per cent oxygen, seventy per cent nitrogen, two per cent ammonia, and the rest carbon dioxide, water vapor, and inert gases."

"Interesting," said a strange voice, "we don't have any free ammonia. I wonder why—"

Grul squinted, "Who's that?"

Klith peered in, and saw a slender individual with discolored fur, and a badly singed ear, wearing a black robe covered with white planets, stars, and comets, with a silver chain around his neck from which dangled a gold distilling flask.

Klith growled. "It's some chemist. He looks high up in the Hierarchate."

The outworlder was saying, "It rises from volcanic fissures. I don't know why. I'm only a practical mining engineer, myself."

"Nevertheless," came the chemist's voice, "your testimony can be interesting to us. We, for instance, suffer tissue injury from a trace of ammonia."

"Strange." said the outworlder. "On this planet, we carry bottles of it around with us to sniff every now and then. The absence of it makes our mucous membranes dry up. Unfortunately, I got separated from mine when I was captured."

A droning noise passed overhead.

"That damned thing," said Klith.

"Sir," said a voice from the outer door, "the sky-watch reports the flying-machine circling overhead again."

"I hear it," said Klith shortly.

The chemist's voice drifted in. "...glad to get you a bottle to carry around with you. I'll send for it now."

Klith shot off his bench, cursing.

"Listen, you," he snapped. "No bottles of ammonia are to be carried around by that outworlder. He could blind the lot of us with it, jump outside, and before we knew what was going on work some wizardry that would call down that flying machine!"

Snnorriz stood up angrily. "I'm sure such a thing would never occur to a scientist. Now you've mentioned it, of course—"

"But," cried the outworlder pathetically, "I'll dry up! We can't exist without ammonia!"

"Too bad," snarled Klith.

"This," said Snnorriz, his tail lashing, "is inhuman, an example of the military psychology that—"

"Oh," said Klith, sliding out his claws, "is that so?"

A colossal uproar took place, in the course of which it somehow came to be agreed that the alien could have a bottle of ammonia by his bed at night, but must surrender it each morning to the guard.

Klith returned, fur on end, to his bench, then got up and tore a section of the clawpost to splinters. Grul discreetly eased out the door. From the other room came the alien's voice:

"...can understand just what you're up against, dealing with a military mind like that. They're all so suspicious. But I must say, you've shown great foresight in combining the priesthood and the scientific community into one solid hierarchate—"

Klith leaned forward, gripping the desk with his claws.

The conversation, however, now drifted off down an obscure technical sidetrack, and Klith, bored, went back to work. Then Grul came in, looking serious.

"Sir, word just came from the District Technological Laboratory. They started to disassemble the outlander's flying machine—"

"Started? What happened?"

"The whole thing disintegrated into a pile of black dust."

Klith could feel his fur bristle.

"Oh," he growled sarcastically, "they're not sorcerers! All they've got is science, only a little bit more advanced! Double the guard outside the doors here. Bring up A Section of the Riot Platoon, and see that they're always in reach when that outlander is here. And when he's down below, keep them on the floor above him. Between him and us."

"Yes, sir. But he's completely disarmed, sir."

"How do you disarm a sorcerer? He's still got his knowledge, hasn't he? Do as I say!"

"Yes, sir."

From the other room came Snnorriz's proud voice "... That was devised in the early days of the Hierarchate. The runs are built-in, so the stobclers have easy access past each cell. The runs intercommunicate, so the prey soon catch the scent of the sznivtig. But of course, it's highly problematical just when a stobcler will pop out of any particular hole. This keeps the prisoners on edge, constantly crouched at the holes, waiting. That way, they don't have time to make trouble."

"An ingenious system," said the outworlder admiringly. "The... er... stobclers in our prisons are let in on a highly unsystematic basis."

"You see, in some things we are ahead of you! How do you like our stobclers? Are they congenial to your palate?"

The outworlders hesitated, possibly reluctant to give offense. "At first, the flavor seemed a trifle... 'off' to us, but by adding plenty of 'lunar caustic' as seasoning—"

"'Lunar caustic'?" Snnorriz sounded puzzled. "We may know it under some other name."

The chemist said, "How is it composed?"

"Three atoms of oxygen to one of nitrogen, and this combined with one atom of silver. I hope I've got your name for the elements right."

"Oh, yes. Let's see—Angh! What you are talking about is what we call 'burning chellery.' Now are you quite sure—"

"I'm almost certain—"

"We will get you some—"

As Klith erupted into the doorway, Snnorriz burst out, "All right! Only in his cell. You don't want him to starve, do you?"

After a violent exchange with Snnorriz, Klith got the prisoner to promise on his word of honor not to throw ammonia or burning chellery in anyone's face, and to put the containers outside his cell in the morning. The prisoner then embarrassedly said that he had a favor to ask.

"Now what?" snarled Klith.

"My... er... claws... aren't very efficient for catching these stobclers—"

"You catch them at home, don't you? I mean, them or something similar?"

"But the thing is, these are so fast! Generally, we use some artificial means—"

"You want a knife? Nothing doing! We'll put you in the Old Tier where they're thicker—" Klith waved a hand to silence Snnorriz. "Not on the bottom floor. Higher up."

This satisfied everybody, and, cursing to himself, Klith went out to meet Grul coming into the office.

"The extra guards are outside, sir. A section of the Riot Platoon is on its way."

"Good." Klith spat out an angry epithet. "Listen to them in there! They're practically crawling into each other's pockets."

The friendly voices drifted out from the other room.

"Since you like the chomizar so much," said Snnorriz, "you can take it to your cell with you. It's soothing to smoke while you crouch at the stobcler hole. We Hierchates, of course, aren't restricted to any such time-consuming method of feeding. But a little primitivism is healthy now and then."

The outworlder's voice rose in gratitude. "You are so considerate! Is there anything I can do for you?"

Snnorriz purred, "We would be interested, for purely... ah... industrial reasons... to have a few questions answered about that... ah... flexible force-screen you have outside your main base. If you could—"

"I'd be glad to tell you what I—" the outlander made a choking noise. "Excuse me. My tissues are suffering from lack of ammonia. Perhaps if you could prepare a list of questions... After I"—he choked again—"after a good rest, and a tasty stobcler seasoned with plenty of burning chellery—"

"Certainly," purred Snnorriz. "We understand exactly. We'll have the list ready for you in the morning."

The prisoner was led, proclaiming his gratitude, out into the corridor. Snnorriz appeared at Klith's door, tweaking his whiskers and looking superior. "Psychology, my boy. Just make them grateful to you."

"Listen," said Klith, ignoring Snnorriz, and taking the chemist by his robe. "Is there anything this outworlder can make out of a chomizar, a bottle of ammonia, and this burning chellery, or whatever it is?"

"Nothing whatever," snapped the scientist, glaring at Klith's hand on his arm.

Klith and Grul suddenly found themselves alone.

"Well," said Grul, "it seems to be working out all right."

Klith jabbed a pedal under the desk to shut off the ventilator. "If only it doesn't turn out like that time Snnorriz took over Central Prison."

* * *

Hedding was delighted to see that Snnorriz himself caught up with the guards and accompanied him to the cell in the echoing Old Tier.

"How's this one, Hedding, my boy?"

"Could I have one closer to a lamp? My night vision—"

"Certainly. How's this?" The gas lamp sent out twin plumes directly outside the cell door.

"Fine. Thank you, very much."

Snnorriz beamed, then waited solicitously till a water bowl, the chomizar, a good supply of burning chellery, and a large tightly-stoppered bottle of ammonia arrived. He opened the iron cover over the stobcler hole, and superintended the placing of the sznivtig, to give Hedding a good spring at the stobcler. Snnorriz and Hedding then clasped forepaws emotionally. Hedding coughed a few times as the cell door clanged shut, drew a deep breath, and removed the stopper from the ammonia bottle.

"Ah-h" he murmured.

Snnorriz and the guards gagged and shot down the corridor.

Hedding hastily restoppered the bottle, looked around, and eyed the chomizar with its length of flexible hose. He picked up the amber bottle of "burning chellery" and thoughtfully unscrewed the lid.

* * *

Klith awoke after a fitful night's sleep, exercised, washed, brushed himself, ate breakfast, and walked down the hall to his office. He was scarcely inside when Grul showed up.

"What's wrong?" said Klith.

"Snnorriz's pet," said Grul, "was found replacing a fitting to the right-hand lamp-jet near his cell. He had a little rubber plug made from the chomizar head in place while he screwed on the first reducer to the jet."

"Plug? You mean he cut it from the chomizar stopper? What did he cut it with?"

"He broke off the end of one of the glass bar-handles and used that."

Klith could feel his fur tingle. "Why?"

"He claims the light bothered him ..."

"Get him up here. Fast."

"He's on the way."

Klith took out his length of strap.

Hedding was marched in with a pair of curved bayonets hastening his steps.

Overhead, a droning sound traveled around patiently.

"Now," growled Klith, "you did what?"

"Cast a spell," said the outworlder, beaming. "And if the feet of sznivtig-seeking rats chance to cross the dried white powder made in the dark of the night by the light of a carbide lamp with a hose from a chomizar brewing glow-gas in spirits of ammoniacal moon silver then—"

A sudden jar shook the building.

There was a sound like a chomizar mouthpiece crushed underfoot and abruptly the room filled with ammoniacal vapors.

Hedding was out the window while they were still choking. He stood by the parapet and waved frantically.

The spotter dove, to hover nearby. Hedding jumped inside.

"How," said a voice from a small speaker, "did you work that? This place is built like a fortress."

"Don't talk. Climb. I got hold of the stuff to make a batch of silver acetylide—from ammoniacal silver nitrate with acetylene bubbled through it. You know how sensitive the dry stuff is. I piped some acetylene gas into closed runs, put the acetylide inside, and stuck in a kind of bait that brings rats in a hurry. Happily, I was away from there before a rat hit the acetylide."

"You made a big crack in their wall. They won't like you for it."

"Keep climbing. I don't think you appreciate this. Acetylene is great for lots of purposes. But here, they've got it piped into a big section of that building."


"That explosion will crack some of the pipes."

"I still don't get it."

"A few of those lights should stay lit. And acetylene has an unusual property. Mixtures of anywhere from three to eighty per cent with air are explosive."

The spotter abruptly speeded up its climb.

Guard Captain Skeerig Klith crawled painfully out from the tangle of timbers, rocks and hunks of plaster, and glared at the dazed Senior Lieutenant Ladigan Grul.

The emergency-aid workers were putting Grul's splinted left forearm into a sling. Here and there were others, plentifully covered with patches of shaved fur and bandages.

Klith eyed Grul balefully.

Grul sensed the stare.

"Sir?" croaked Grul.

Klith snarled. "Take a look at this mess and say it again."

"Say what, sir?"

"'No matter how advanced, science isn't sorcery.'"

Grul opened his mouth.

But he couldn't get the words out.

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