dijous, 4 d’agost de 2016

Equation of Doom By GERALD VANCE “YOUR name ith Jathon Ramthey?” the Port Security Officer lisped politely. Jason Ramsey, who wore the uniform of Interstellar Transfer Service and was the only Earthman in the Service here on Irwadi, smiled and said: “Take three guesses. You know darn well I’m Ramsey.” He was a big man even by Earth standards, which meant he towered over the Irwadian’s green, scaly head. He was fair of skin and had hair the color of copper. It was rumored on Irwadi and elsewhere that he couldn’t return to Earth because of some crime he had committed. “Alwayth the chip on the shoulder,” the Port Security Officer said. “Won’t you Earthmen ever learn?” The splay-tongued reptile-humanoids of Irwadi always spoke Interstellar Coine with a pronounced lisp which Ramsey found annoying, especially since it went so well with the officious and underhanded behavior for which the Irwadians were famous the galaxy over. “Get to the point,” Ramsey said harshly. “I have a ship to take through hyper-space.” “No. You have no ship.” “No? Then what’s this?” His irritation mounting, Ramsey pulled out the Interstellar Transfer Service authorization form and showed it to the Security Officer. “A tip-sheet for the weightless races at Fomalhaut VI?” The Security Officer said: “Ha, ha, ha.” He could not laugh; he merely uttered the phonetic equivalent of 9laughter. On harsh Irwadi, laughter would have been a cultural anomaly. “You make joketh. Well, nevertheleth, you have no ship.” He expanded his scaly green barrel chest and declaimed: “At 0400 hours thith morning, the government of Irwadi hath planetarithed the Irwadi Tranthfer Thervith.” “Planetarized the Transfer Service!” gasped Ramsey in surprise. He knew the Irwadians had been contemplating the move in theory for many years, but he also knew that transferring a starship from normal space through hyper-space back to normal space again was a tremendously difficult and technical task. He doubted if half a dozen Irwadians had mastered it, yet the Irwadi branch of Interstellar Transfer Service was made up of seventy-five hyper-space pilots of divers planetalities. “Ecthactly,” said the Security Officer, as amused as an Irwadian could be by the amazement in Ramsey’s frank green eyes. “Tho if you will kindly thurrender your permit?” “Let’s see it in writing, huh?” The Security Officer complied. Ramsey read the official document, scowled, and handed over his Irwadi pilot license. “What about the Polaris?” he wanted to know. The Polaris was a Centaurian ship he’d been scheduled to take through hyper-space on the run from Irwadi to Centauri III. “Temporarily grounded, captain. Or should I thay, ecth-captain?” “Temporarily my foot,” said Ramsey. “It’ll be months before you Irwadians can get even a fraction of the ships into hyper. You must be out of your minds.” “Our problem, captain. Not yourth.” That was true enough. Ramsey shrugged. “Your problem,” the Security Officer went on blandly, “will be to find a meanth of thelf-thupport until you and all other ecthra-planetarieth can be removed from Irwadi. We owe you ecthra-planetarieth nothing. Ethpect no charity from uth.” Ramsey shrugged. Like all extra-planetaries on a bleak, friendless world like Irwadi, he’d regularly gambled away and drank away his monthly paycheck in the interstellar settlement which the Irwadians had established in the Old Quarter of Irwadi City. But last month he’d managed 10to come out even at the gaming tables, so he had a few hundred credits to his name. That would be enough, he told himself, to tide him over until Interstellar Transfer Service came to the rescue of its stranded pilots. Ramsey went up the gangway and got his gear from the Polaris. When he returned down the gangway, the late afternoon wind was blowing across the spacefield tarmac, a wet, bone-chilling wind which only the reptile-humanoid Irwadians didn’t seem to mind. Ramsey fastened the toggles of his cold-weather cape, put his head down and hunched his shoulders, and walked into the teeth of the wind. He did not look back at the Polaris, marooned indefinitely on Irwadi despite anything the Centaurian owners or anyone else for that matter could do about it. The Irwadi Security Officer, whose name was Chind Ramar, walked up the gangway and ordered the ship’s Centaurian first officer to assemble his crew and passengers. Chind Ramar allowed himself the rare luxury of a fleeting smile. He could imagine this scene being duplicated on fifty ships here on his native planet today, fifty outworld ships which had no business at all on Irwadi. Of course, Irwadi was an important planet-of-call in the Galactic Federation because the vital metal titanium was found as abundantly in Irwadian soil as aluminum is found in the soil of an Earth-style planet. Titanium, in alloy with steel and manganese, was the only element which could withstand the tremendous heat generated in the drive-chambers of interstellar ships during transfer. In the future, Chind Ramar told himself with a kind of cold pride, only Irwadian pilots, piloting Irwadian ships through hyper-space, would bring titanium to the waiting galaxy. At Irwadi prices. With great relish, Chind Ramar announced the facts of planetarization and told the Centaurians and their passengers that they would be stranded for an indefinite period on Irwadi. Amazement, anger, bluster, debate, and finally resignation—the reactions were the expected ones, in the expected order. It was easy, Chind Ramar thought, with all but the interstellar soldiers of fortune like Jason Ramsey

Which was another thing, Ramsey thought. Hitting the sack. Ah yes, you filthy outworlder capitalist, hitting the sack. You owe that fish-eyed, scale-skinned Irwadian landlady the rent money, so you’d better wait until later, until much later, before sneaking back to your room.
He watched the gambling for another hour or so without risking his few remaining credits. After a while a well-dressed Irwadian, drunk and obviously slumming here in the Old Quarter, made his way over to the table. His body scales were a glossy dark green and he wore glittering, be-jeweled straps across his chest and an equally glittering, be-jeweled weapons belt. Aside from these, in the approved Irwadian fashion, he was quite naked. An anthropologist friend had once told Ramsey that once the Irwadians had worn clothing, but since the coming in great number of the outworlders they had stripped down, as though to prove how tough they were in being able to withstand the freezing climate of their native world. Actually, the Irwadian body-scales were superb insulation, whether from heat or from cold.
“… Earthman watching me,” the Irwadian in the be-jeweled straps said arrogantly, placing a fat roll of credits on the table.
“I’m sorry,” Ramsey said. “Were you talking to me?”
“I thertainly wath,” lisped the Irwadian, his eyes blazing with drunken hatred. “I thaid I won’t have any Earthman thnooping over my thoulder while I gamble, not unleth he’th gambling too.”
“Better tell that to your Security Police,” Ramsey said coldly but not angrily. “I’m out of a job, so I don’t have money to throw around. Go ahead and tell me—” with a little smile—“you think it was my idea.”
The Irwadian looked up haughtily. Evidently he was looking for trouble, or could not hold his liquor, or both. The frenzy of planetarization, Ramsey knew from bitter experience on other worlds, made irrational behavior like this typical. He studied the drunken Irwadian carefully. In all the time he’d spent on Irwadi, he’d never been able to tell a native’s age by his green, scale-skinned, fish-eyed poker-face. But the glossy green scales covering face and body told Ramsey, along with the sturdy muscles revealed by the lack of clothing, that the Irwadian was in his prime, shorter than Ramsey by far, but wider across the shoulders and thicker through the barrel chest.
“You outworlderth have been deprething the thandard of living on Irwadi ever thince you came here,” the Irwadian said. “All you ever brought wath poverty and your ditheath germth and more trouble than you could handle. I don’t want your thtink near me. I’m trying to enjoy mythelf. Get out of here.”
It was abruptly silent in the little gambling hall. Since the establishment catered to outworlders and was full of them, the silence, Ramsey thought, should have been both ominous and in his favor. He looked around. Outworlders, yes. But not another Earthman present. He wondered if he was in for a fight. He shrugged, hardly caring. Maybe a fight was just what he needed, the way he felt.
“Get out of here,” the Irwadian repeated. “You thtink.”
Just then a Vegan girl, blue-skinned and fantastically wasp-waisted like all her kind, drifted over to Ramsey. He’d seen her around. He thought he recognized her. Maybe he’d even danced with her in the unit-a-dance halls reserved for humanoid outworlders.
“Are you nuts?” she said, hissing the words through her teeth and grabbing Ramsey’s elbow. “Don’t you know who that guy is?”
“No. Who?”
“He’s Garr Symm, that’s who.”
Ramsey smiled at her without mirth. “Do I bow down in awe or run from here screaming? I never heard of Garr Symm.”
“Oh you fool!” she whispered furiously. “Garr Symm is the brand new number one man of the Irwadi Security Police. Don’t you read the ’casts?”
Before Ramsey could answer or adjust to his surprise, the Irwadian repeated:
“I’m telling you for the third time. Get out.”
Ostentatiously, Ramsey reached into his cloak-pocket for a single credit bill and tossed it on the table.
“The denomination is not sufficient, sir,” the albino Sirian croupier said indifferently. Ramsey had known it was not.
Garr Symm’s face turned a darker green. The Vegan girl retreated from Ramsey’s side in fright. Symm raised his hand and an Irwadian waiter brought over a drink in a purple stem glass with a filigree pattern of titanium, bowing obsequiously. Symm lurched with the glass toward Ramsey. “I’m telling you to go,” he said in a loud voice.
Ramsey picked up his credit note but stood there. With a little sigh of drunken contentment, Garr Symm sloshed the contents of his stem glass in Ramsey’s face.
The liquor stung Ramsey’s eyes. Many of the other outworlders, neither Irwadian nor Earthmen, laughed nervously.
Ramsey wiped his eyes but otherwise did not move. He was in a rough spot and he knew it. The fact that their new Security Chief went out drunk at night with a chip on his shoulder was the Irwadian government’s affair, not Ramsey’s. He’d been insulted before. An Earthman in the outworlds, particularly an Earthman fugitive who knew he dared not get into the kind of trouble that could bring the Earth consul to investigate, was used to insults. For Earth was the leading economic and military power of the galaxy, and the fact that Earth really tried to deal fairly with its galactic neighbors meant nothing. Earth, being top dog, was resented.
The thing which got Ramsey, though, was this Garr Symm. He had never heard of Garr Symm, and he thought he knew most of the big shots in the Irwadian Security Police by name. But there must have been a reason for his appointment. A government throwing off outworld influence had a reason for everything. So, why Garr Symm?
“You, Mith Vegan!” Garr Symm called suddenly. “You whithpered to the Earthman. What did you tell him?”
“Not to look for trouble,” the Vegan girl said in a frightened voice.
“But what elth?”
“Honest, that’s all.”
“Come here, pleath.”
Her blue skin all at once very pale, the Vegan girl walked back toward Garr Symm. He leered at her quite drunkenly and took hold of her slender arm. “What did you tell him? For the latht time.”
The girl whimpered: “You are hurting my arm.”
Thoughts raced through Ramsey’s mind. As an administrator, as an Irwadian public servant in a touchy job, Garr Symm, a drunkard, was obviously grossly incompetent. What other qualifications did he have which gave him the top Irwadian Security job? Ramsey didn’t know. He sighed. The Vegan girl’s mouth formed a rictus of pain. Ramsey had a hunch he was going to find out.
He said curtly: “Let go of her, Symm. She told me nothing that would interest you.”
Garr Symm ignored him. The blue-skinned girl cried.
Ramsey grimaced and hit Garr Symm in the belly as hard as he could.
Symm thudded back against the table. It overturned with a crash and the Security Chief crashed down on top of it. There wasn’t a sound in the gambling hall except Ramsey’s sudden hard breathing, the Vegan girl’s sniffling, and Garr Symm’s noisy attempts to get air into his lungs. Then Garr Symm gagged and was sick. He writhed in pain, still unable to breathe. His hands fluttered near his weapons belt.
“Come on,” Ramsey told the Vegan girl. “We’d better get out of here.” He took her arm. Dumbly she went with him. None of the outworlders there tried to stop them. Ramsey looked back at Garr Symm. The Irwadian was shaking his fist. He had finally managed to draw his m.g. gun, but the crowd of outworlders closed between them and there was no chance he could hit Ramsey or the girl. Retching, he had dirtied the glossy green scales of his chest.
“I’ll get you,” he vowed. “I’ll get you.”
Ramsey took the girl outside. It was very cold. “I’m so afraid,” she said. “What will I do? What can I do?”

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