"No, that won't work either," Kiri muttered. "They have the green lasers. Our ships would be helpless against even a small force."
We had been going over our available options again, for what seemed like the thousandth time. For the past two days we had sat motionless in space, somewhere near the orbit of Neptune, endlessly rehashing every possible idea, including sending the Deshtiran battle fleet. During this time we had been in continual contact with Deshtiris, including the military command and the nascent Watchdog organization. It all boiled down to the fact that from the rebels' viewpoint, as Hilaire Beloc once phrased it,
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.
It wasn't that we couldn't detect the field that they emitted. The problem was that to our instruments the field seemed to blanket the entire North American continent, making pinpointing the location of the source impossible.
"This is new," muttered Kiri. "The stations on Deshtiris didn't do this. Whoever is behind this knows the technology almost as well as Tenako did. Which means we have more than just Teyn to deal with." We were interrupted yet again by Rann advising us of yet another telecom message. Wearily we dragged ourselves once more to the front of the Futaba.
A palace communications officer appeared on the viewscreen. "Empress, we received a very strange message addressed to you at the Palace. We don't understand it, but it looked important enough to forward to you." Kiri nodded impatiently as I wondered what kind of intergalactic junk mail would be coming in at a time like this.
A moment later the message appeared onscreen. Unlike most Deshtiran communications, it was plain text, rather than a voice or video communication. I read over the Deshtiran characters several times, trying to fathom their meaning.
"A ghost," she responded, her voice shaking. She sat staring at the screen for several long minutes. I finally heard her whisper to herself, "How many times will I have to--?"
Suddenly she shook off her lethargy, as her fingers began flying over the console before her. Turning away from the display for a moment, she half commanded, half implored me, "Will, I want you and the others to leave me alone for a bit. I've got to do some calculating and I don't dare make any blunders." I took the hint, as did Brinkman and Rann, and we retreated to the living quarters to follow the news.
For another hour we watched the less and less meaningful reports coming over the airwaves. There was no longer any hard news at all coming from the United States, and the remaining foreign correspondents stationed there had apparently had their communications cut off. At this point it was all rumor and speculation.
We were about to switch the telecom off in disgust when Kiri's voice sounded around us over the intercom. "If you guys want to see a show, come on forward." Something about the way she said it touched a chord of memory, and I remembered our very first flight from Earth so long ago. It was the same gleeful tone of voice she had used just before setting off a fusion bomb and blowing a gang of Brizal assassins (and one of her houses) to kingdom come. I suddenly felt a great wave of sympathy for whoever stood in her way this time.
We stepped through the gateway into the Futaba, the transparent walls around us virtually invisible, and I found myself almost instantly overcome by dizziness. Kiri was navigating the craft in great loops, apparently in pursuit of something, the stars whirling crazily around us. I wanted to hold on to a railing, anything, to slow the vertiginous spinning; unfortunately there were only the smooth transparent walls. Oddly, there was no actual sensation of movement in the Futaba, only the visual cues around us, but I was far too interested in what she was doing to simply close my eyes.
Her target soon became apparent as we closed in on what appeared to be a large irregularly shaped rock floating in space. As we came closer, I realized that it was a good thirty feet or more in extent in its shortest dimension. "Futaba: claws," she commanded (I assumed that was a newly programmed instruction; I certainly hadn't heard her use it before), and three remarkable objects extruded themselves from the ship's front and moved to grapple with the surface of the rock. They looked for all the world like giant versions of the remote-control claws used to pick up prizes in the classic carnival game.
The rock secured (actually a tiny asteroid, I now realized), Kiri rotated the ship around, slowly turning the object with it, until we were nearly pointing at the distant sun, from this distance only a pearl-like imitation of its Earthly splendor. "This is where we find out if my calculations are accurate," Kiri announced with utter self-confidence, as I heard the normally almost inaudible hum of the Futaba's engines rise in pitch and grow noticeably louder.
"Where are we taking this--rock?" Brinkman asked, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
"Special delivery to Cletus, Virginia," she answered buoyantly.
"You little hooligan," I murmured under my breath in admiration. Brinkman choked.
"Do you know what the impact of an object this size will do?" he finally gasped. Kiri grinned.
"An estimated mass of four thousand metric tons, traveling sixteen miles per second, should release the equivalent of several Hiroshima bombs. With no contamination." Her voice changed to a perfect imitation of a popular CNN newscaster. " 'Today a large meteorite landed in a remote locality in western Virginia, well away from any inhabited areas. Although the fireball was visible from thirty miles away, no civilian casualties were reported.' Ought to make the ten-o'clock news." Although her voice was cheerful, there was a glint of razor-edged steel in it. "I sent them a warning twenty minutes ago. Whether they choose to evacuate or not is their own funeral. Here comes Earth," she added, as the planet began rapidly expanding in front of us.
She checked some readouts on her console, and grinned. "Futaba will automatically release the rock at just the right time, at the right speed. If I didn't goof somewhere. Let's hope it doesn't land on Washington, D.C." A moment later the rock was suddenly pulling away from us as the clamps released and vanished back into the smooth substance of the ship's hull, and we watched mesmerized as the huge object plummeted down towards the Eastern Seaboard. Soon we saw a glowing red dot, which quickly brightened to a brilliant white as atmospheric friction heated it to incandescence, followed successively by a bright pinpoint flash and what from here looked like a tiny round yellow ball.
Brinkman nudged me and pointed off towards the western U.S. Another small fireball had made its appearance somewhere in the southwest deserts. I wondered how many others there were. I felt suddenly cold as I remembered our terrifying flight from Tar Deshta. At least this time the circumstances were a little less desperate.
Kiri had been manipulating her console again, and a familiar face appeared on the screen before us. With a shock I recognized the chief executive of the United States. "This is the President. Who is this?" he demanded, gaping at the green-eyed, crimson-haired creature addressing him. Exhaustion was apparent in his features and his eyes were noticeably bloodshot, yet he managed nevertheless to sound defiant.
"Mr. President," said Kiri in the most respectful tone she could muster, "you'll find that communications with your forces have been restored. The insurrection can now easily be put down. Their advanced weaponry is no longer functioning. Please reinitialize your communications systems."
We saw the President look to one side, and heard another voice excitedly babbling something as his expression changed to one of surprise and relief. He turned back to us. "Communications are confirmed. But what're you saying about their weaponry? Our people can't stand up to it." He broke off again as another report was fed to him. This time when he turned back to the screen his expression was one of astonishment. "We're starting to get reports that confirm what you're saying. But what do you have to do with this? Just who the hell are you?" I couldn't blame him; he'd obviously had a bad day.
"Friends," she said softly, than broke into a grin. "You don't want to know more than that, Mr. President. It's in your hands now. Good luck," and she laughed in delight as she broke the connection.
"You just love being inscrutable, don't you?" I chided her, but I was feeling pretty giddy as well. Even Brinkman was chuckling.
"What did you do?" asked a mystified Rann. Kiri did her best to explain.
"I found that Lucie had encrypted access to the key government routers handling military data communications, so that not only was the President cut off from his military command, but the command itself was cut off from all of the officers in the field. It was child's play to restore it while re-encrypting access so that Lucie can't undo it. He may be a good strategist, but he's an amateur when it comes to computers," she added with a snort.
"And without the transformer stations their laser weapons don't work either," I added.
"The best is yet to come," she chortled. "I've cut off Lucie's own access to the Net and moved all his files to a new location, so he can't even find them."
"What files are you talking about?" Brinkman asked, puzzled.
"The ones showing how the entire operation was funded out of U.S. taxpayer money. They've been diverting funds from hundreds of legitimate military accounts, using dummy budget lines to pay for this whole operation. In twenty-four hours copies of those files will be automatically mailed out by a MILNET computer to the White House, the Inspector General's office, and several appropriate senators. I also extracted some key parts dealing with the funding of certain prominent 'hate radio' personalities, detailing how they've been receiving money under the table from Lucie for the past eight years, and had them mailed to a select batch of newspapers, newsmagazines, and investigative television programs. Within a few days there should be quite a media circus in progress."
Brinkman shook his head in awe. " 'Hooligan' doesn't begin to express it."
"Will, we need to talk," Kiri said a little later as we sat in the Futaba's living room sipping hot tea. Brinkman and Rann were absent, perched in the front of the Futaba admiring the view.
"I know," I said, "the smuggled guns." I hadn't forgotten about the potential disaster facing the Twin Planets. In fact, if the revolt was indeed led by remnants of the Brizali, it was entirely possible that the defeated forces might end up being evacuated to Deshtiris, where their combat training and Earth firearms would make them an extremely dangerous threat.
"So," I said. "Any ideas?"
"I don't want to fight fire with fire," she said slowly. "But it may be the only way. We can't just let Teyn and his people undo everything we've done in the last few months." She stopped and drew a deep breath. "I'm thinking of using the Watchdogs to act as arms buyers for us. At least that way we could meet them with their own weapons."
"You know what a disaster that would be for the Twin Planets," I said dubiously. "Once firearms are plentiful and people are used to having them, our worlds would turn into the same ugly battlefields Earth has become. Is it worth it? Are there really no alternatives?"
"There may be not be," she answered sadly. "We can't fight rifles with swords. I wish I knew of another way."
"I may know of one," I said. She looked at me skeptically. "You once said that the Liquidator technology was still stored and accessible," I began. A shocked expression flooded over her features.
"Will! You can't possibly be thinking of--"
"No, of course not," I cut her off. "Besides, we don't have the facilities to create Liquidators even if we wanted to." I paused for a moment. "One of the best minds of three planets is on this ship with us."
"Alan?" she said in surprise.
I nodded. "I think he should hear the rest of this."
A few minutes later Brinkman had joined us. He listened with interest to the basic theory of the Liquidators' deadly power, which was a combination of certain frequencies of light combined with near-ultrasonic sound waves, together capable of liquefying organic matter. "Alan," I said, "assuming that you had the data on this technology, could it possibly be adapted to affect only one inorganic compound?"
"Obviously without seeing the data it's hard to say," he mused, "but there's no real inherent difference between organic and inorganic compounds. It used to be believed that organic ones could only be created by living tissue, but Wöhler disproved that when he synthesized urea from standard laboratory reagents. Nowadays we normally only call things organic if they include carbon atoms, which is a pretty arbitrary distinction. So, to answer your question, yes, I should think so."
"Such as," I persisted, "a compound like lead styphnate?"
He thought about that for a moment, and then burst out laughing. "Not bad! You're not as dumb as I thought you were, Will," and having lived with his utter lack of tact for several weeks now I took it in the spirit in which it was intended and accepted the compliment. "It just might work."
"Alan," I said, "I know Deshtiris is a painful place for you right now. But we need you. Would you be willing to come back with us and work on this?" To my surprise he didn't hesitate, and there was a resolute look on his face, not at all like the sardonic Brinkman I'd seen until now.
"Yes," he said. "Yes, I'll do it. It's the least I can do. When do I start?"
"Godammit, what the hell is lead styphnate?!" roared Kiri, who during this exchange had worn an expression of increasing mystification. She was unquestionably one of the computer geniuses of the century. Chemistry, on the other hand, was not one of her strong points.
I told her. For several seconds she was literally speechless, something that didn't happen often.
"Will," she finally said, and there was sincere admiration in her voice, "you may have just rescued Deshtiris from the jaws of Hell itself."
"Let's see if Alan can make it work," I retorted. "But it's worth a try."
* Because of the curvature of the Earth. - Ed.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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