by Ivar Jorgensen
Thornwald had done his tour of duty for the Solar Service; now it was time for him to retire. But a life of relaxation would not be simple
Looking around cautiously, Mac Thornwald eased himself down from the window ledge where he had been crouching. It was less than a ten-foot drop, but because of the pain in his left ankle he didn't dare to drop too heavily. His right leg would have to take the brunt of the shock.
As he struck the plastosteel pavement, he clamped his lips together to cut short the moan of pain that welled up as his left foot twisted under him.
He staggered a little and then straightened to look around. No one had heard anything. The city around him was still silent. He still had a chance. Only the ghostly whispers of the air-reptiles drifting through the sky could be heard.
Taking a deep breath, he reholstered the pistol he was clutching and began limping up the dark street toward the Governor's Mansion.
Eventually, the numbing pain began to leave his foot. The stun beam had hit the nerves near the ankle, but the effect wore off after several minutes of walking. Okay, he thought. I'm back in business again. The Governor of Bleekman's Planet had reckoned wrong when he tried to take personal property away from an ex-Patrolman.
MacKenzie Thornwald had landed on Bleekman's Planet less than eight hours before. He was a young man, tall and dark and hard-looking, with the deep tan of the veteran spaceman. Ten years with the Interstellar Police had strengthened him and taught him to take care of himself.
He'd still be in the service except for the loss of his left arm, which had been burned off by a Mark X rifle during a skirmish. It had earned Thornwald a medal and a fat retirement pension. So he had decided to take it easy for the rest of his life.
He had picked Bleekman's Planet. It was well out of the more civilized areas of the Galaxy, a frontier planet out on the Rim. Bleekman's Planet had, as yet, only one city—Velliston.
The setup had looked good. There was money to be made on a frontier planet, away from the main stream of Galactic civilization. Mac Thornwald had wanted to settle down in a small, sparsely-populated area and just take it easy the rest of his life. And Bleekman's Planet had looked like just the place.
He couldn't have been wronger. Trouble started the moment he got off the space shuttle from the liner.
"Here you are, pal," the shuttle pilot said. "All set?"
"Sure," Thornwald said. He scooped up his baggage with his one good arm and walked down the ramp. Behind him, the shuttle blasted off, heading back to the mother ship above. Thornwald paused at the landing, with his suitcase dangling from his arm and his trunk at his side, looking at the Bleekman's Planet Spaceport.
"Over here, you," said a cold voice.
Thornwald glanced over and saw two men approaching him in uniform. "We're the customs inspectors," the taller of the two said. "We'll have to look at your baggage."
"Fair enough," Thornwald said. "You'll find I'm not carrying anything prohibited. I'm coming here to settle."
"We'll decide whether your stuff's okay," the smaller inspector said. The two men hoisted Thornwald's baggage and carried it to the depot. Thornwald followed.
"Let's have the keys," the tall one ordered. Mac handed over the keys and they opened the trunk. The first thing they discovered was Thornwald's prosthetic arm.
"What's this?" The inspector's voice registered shock.
"Haven't you ever seen a prosthetic arm? I lost mine in combat, and this is my spare."
The inspector's eyes narrowed. "How come you're not wearing it, then?"
"It's thought-attuned. It's controlled directly from my neural centers, and the linkage isn't completely smooth yet. It takes time to learn how to use one of those things, and it's a strain learning. I don't wear the arm all the time."
The inspector nodded. He turned back and continued to check through Thornwald's luggage. Finally, the two inspectors held a whispered conference and looked up.
"What are you doing on this planet, Mr. Thornwald?"
"I'm—I've come here to live. I'm a retired Interstellar Policeman."
"We noticed that. But this stuff looks suspicious. I think we'll have to hold you for questioning."
Thornwald backed away. "What's that? What kind of questioning? Is this a shakedown of some kind?"
"Orders of the Governor," the inspector said. "Come on, now—we'll put you away until the Governor can talk to you himself."
"Hold it, fellow," Thornwald warned. "I'm a policeman, and I know the law. You can't lock me away without a writ."
The other chuckled. "Oh no? Want to see how?"
Thornwald stepped forward and cracked his fist into the man's face without waiting for further conversation. The man went toppling backward, but the second one moved in and quickly caught Mac's arm. He lifted his blaster and whipped it across Thornwald's face.
Helpless, Thornwald tried to duck. The butt cut into his flesh just above the cheekbone, and he sagged limply.
"You'll come now, I think."
"In here, Thornwald."
The door of a cell opened, and rough hands hurled Thornwald inside. The metal door clanked closed. Thornwald sat down on the hard cot in the corner of the cell and tried to rub the pain away.
Nice welcome, he thought. Half an hour on Bleekman's Planet and I've had my baggage confiscated, gotten a pistol-whipping, and got tossed into the jug. Pleasant planet. He rubbed his head and groaned.
"They give it to you bad?" a voice said.
"Don't jump," the voice said. "I'm your cellmate. The name is Miller. I've been here a week."
Thornwald squinted in the darkness and made out the dimly-visible form of a man huddled up against the wall in the far corner of the cell.
"Just arrive?" Miller said.
"Yes. And I'm pretty puzzled about this damned rough stuff. What kind of a world is this, anyway?"
Miller chuckled hollowly. "A lousy one. You're new here; you haven't felt the worst of it yet."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you're now the private property of Governor Lloyd Henderson and his paid thugs. I mean that Henderson runs this world, and there's nothing you or I or anybody else can do but knuckle under."
Thornwald sprang to his feet. "How is it the outside world doesn't know about this? How'd it happen? Who is this Henderson, anyway?"
"One question at a time," Miller said. "Why doesn't the outside world know? Simple. No one leaves Bleekman's Planet, and so nobody finds out. Not even a space liner lands here; it's too unimportant for that."
"As for how it happened—well, do you know anything about thylomine?"
"The cancer-curing drug?"
"That's the one. It's made from the narkos tree, which is found on Bleekman's Planet and a couple of other places. The leaves of the plant are rich in it. All you have to do is gather them and process them, and the drug can be made in quantity. Henderson's got the monopoly on narkos-growing here. He was a big farmer originally, who just bought everyone else out. Now he's the governor, and the thylomine trade is in his back pocket, along with the rest of the planet."
Thornwald kicked his foot against the wall angrily. "Of all the lousy worlds I had to pick to come to live on—" He turned to his cellmate. "Why are you here?"
Miller shrugged. "Why are you here? Why is anyone here? Anyone who crosses Henderson gets dumped in here."
"But I didn't cross him," Thornwald protested. "I wasn't on the damn planet more than a minute before they grabbed me."
"There must be a reason. Maybe they think you're a spy from the Galactic Federation. That's what they fear worst of all—someone getting in here and spilling the beans to the rest of the universe."
"That must be it," Thornwald agreed. "I'm a retired Police officer. They must think I'm here as a spy." He shook his head. "I've got to get out of here!"
"How are you going to do that?"
"Just wait and see." He cupped his hand. "Guard! Guard!"
He yelled a second time and a third. The sound of his shouting echoed down the prison corridor, reverberated from the walls hollowly. "Guard! Guard!"
"Okay," a bored voice said. "Quit yelling. What's the trouble in there?"
"It's my arm," Thornwald gasped. "It's haemorrhaging—I'm bleeding to death!"
"You that one-armed fellow they just brought in?"
"Yes, yes! Come on! Get me a doctor before I bleed to death!"
There was a note of desperate urgency in Thornwald's voice that was so convincing he could almost feel his stump throbbing.
"All right, I'll take a look," the guard said finally. He fumbled with his keys and inserted one, while Thornwald threw himself to the floor and lay there, writhing in apparently hideous pain.
"Where are you?"
"Down here," Thornwald said weakly. "I can't stand up. I—"
The guard bent to see what was wrong, and Thornwald kicked upward at him. His boot took the jailer on the side of his jaw and knocked him backward against the wall. As he staggered there, stunned, Thornwald sprinted past him and out the cell door into the corridor.
"Get him, Miller!" he yelled as he broke away.
A bright stunbeam light spurted out as Thornwald left. He winced as it nicked him in one ankle, almost hamstringing him, but he kept going. Behind him, he heard the sound of Miller fighting with the bewildered guard.
Thornwald dashed down the corridor as well he could with one foot nearly crippled, reached the window, hoisted himself up with his arm, and crawled up to the ledge.
He smashed open the window and shimmied through.
He was out of jail now—or would be when he dropped the ten feet to the ground. But he wasn't out of trouble yet—not by a long shot.
The building up ahead was the Governor's Mansion—and that was the first stop, and, he hoped, the last.
The customs inspectors had said something about taking his trunk to the Governor. Good. Thornwald had to get to his trunk before much more time elapsed.
His arm was in the trunk—the prosthetic arm. He was almost helpless one-armed, except where he could capitalize on the weapon of surprise. Once he got the prosthetic from his trunk—
He faded into the shadows as a uniformed figure passed by. One of Henderson's policeman, no doubt, making the night rounds. Thornwald let the man go by, then continued to glide among the shrubbery toward the impressive mansion that was Henderson's home.
Thornwald's mind revolved the situation over and over as he moved along. This world was Henderson's private property, and anyone who said different was jugged instantly. It was a world of terror in which a harmless stranger could become a hunted fugitive in a matter of minutes.
He reached Henderson's place. It was a walled mansion, as he expected. There were ways to get over walls, though, Thornwald reflected. He glanced around, found a strange-looking red-leaved tree whose angular limbs had the consistency of rubber, and dragged himself upward.
He reached the bough he wanted, grasped it firmly, and swung out over the wall. He landed—
A foot away from a snarling, blazing-eyed ball of fury. Even in the darkness, he could see the animal clearly—a Vegan ghoslik, all teeth and ferocity and mindless hatred. It snapped at the intruder.
Thornwald launched a vicious kick at the animal, and there was the sound of needle-sharp teeth splintering against his boot. The creature howled and bounded away into the darkness.
So much for your watchdog, Henderson. Now for the real job.
He tiptoed to a window and peered in. A uniformed man was in there, pacing up and down in a corridor. Thornwald smiled, picked up a rock, and hurled it through the window.
The guard whirled instantly, presenting his blaster. "Who goes there?"
Thornwald made no reply. The guard continued to peer out into the night. "Who's there?" he repeated.
As if in answer, Thornwald hurled another rock through the window. This time the guard dashed out of the corridor, up the stairs, and out into the courtyard—where Thornwald was waiting for him with a third rock.
"It's a good thing it wasn't my pitching arm I lost," he muttered gratefully as the guard crumpled. Swiftly Thornwald extracted the guard's blaster and stepped inside the building.
He edged down the corridor, blaster ready, and turned the corner. There was the sound of laughter coming from a room at the end of the hallway.
After a moment's thought, he crashed the butt of the blaster against a window in the corridor, then flattened himself against the wall and waited.
A few seconds later, a man appeared from the room beyond. "What was that noise?" he asked loudly.
Thornwald glanced down the hall. The man who approached was one of the customs inspectors who had beaten him up that afternoon. He fingered the blaster stud and stepped out to block the hallway.
"Put your hands up," Thornwald ordered quietly. "And if you say a word, I'll roast your brains in your skull."
He glared at the man. "All right, where's my luggage?"
The customs man met his stare grimly. "I don't know."
Thornwald's one arm whipped out and the blaster's barrel slapped the inspector across the face. A trickle of blood dribbled down. "Where's my stuff?" Thornwald repeated.
"Henderson's got it," the customs inspector said sullenly.
"And where's Henderson?"
"I'm not telling."
Crack! with the gun barrel. "That's for this afternoon," Thornwald said. "Where's Henderson?"
"Fourth floor," the man gasped. Thornwald hit him again. "You sure?"
"I'm telling the truth! Fourth floor!"
The gun descended once again. Satisfied, Thornwald left the other crumpled on the floor, and started up the stairs to the fourth floor.
He wanted Henderson, now.
More than anything, he wanted his missing left arm back. Half a dozen times in the last thirty minutes he had cursed the frustrating necessity of fighting with only one hand. Even the prosthetic would do, the steel-thewed robot hand that he controlled with his mind. But for the present he'd have to manage with one hand.
He mounted the stairs and emerged on the fourth floor. An array of rooms confronted him. Which was Henderson's? He didn't know.
He started to enter one, picking it at random. Then he felt a cold pressure in the small of his back.
"You can stop right now," a deadly-sounding voice said. "There's a blaster in your back. Close that door."
Without turning, Thornwald backed up and closed the door.
"Now come with me," the voice said. "I'm taking you to Henderson."
The blaster prodded and he headed down the hall to another door.
"Yeah?" said a voice from within.
"It's me. Leswick. I caught a prowler wandering around up here."
"Right out," Henderson said.
The guard named Leswick prodded the blaster harder into Thornwald's back. "Mr. Henderson'll take care of you," he said ominously.
The door opened and Henderson stood there. He was a short, pudgy man with thick jowls and a soft, fleshy pink throat. He was wearing a black dressing-gown, flaked whitely with dandruff.
"Who are you?" Henderson asked coldly.
"I think he's the cop who landed today," Leswick said. "Didn't they say he had only one arm?"
"That's the one, all right," Henderson said. He reached out, grabbed Thornwald by the collar, and yanked him into the room. Covering him with a blaster, he said, "Go downstairs and get a couple more of the boys, Leswick. We'll see what we can get out of this fellow."
Thornwald glanced up at the trio of uniformed men facing him. "I'm not saying anything."
"Hit him again," Henderson commanded boredly.
A guard's fist flashed down and smashed into Thornwald's jaw. Thornwald spat blood and glared defiantly at Henderson.
"What do you expect to get out of me, Henderson?"
The Governor whirled and sneered at him. "You're a cop, aren't you?"
"You still are! And you're down here to spy on us! Where's your transmitter?"
"I don't have any transmitter," Thornwald said. "I was fool enough to think I'd want to live here. I'm no more a spy than that bookcase is."
"Hit him again," Henderson said. "Give it to him until he tells us where the transmitter is."
A cascade of blows descended on Thornwald from all three of them. His head rocked dizzily beneath the assault. He stood it as long as he could.
Finally, he yelled, "Okay! I'll tell you!"
"Step back and let him talk," Henderson ordered. "All right, Thornwald. Where's the transmitter?"
"It's ... in ... my ... trunk," he said weakly. "The trunk."
"Go get the trunk," Henderson said to one of the men. "Bring it here."
A few minutes later, the man returned with Thornwald's trunk. "Force it open," said Henderson. "See if there's a transmitter in there."
The guards cracked the trunk's lock, threw open the lid, and searched the interior. Thornwald watched impassively as his shirts, tunics, ties, cloaks came flying out to land in an untidy heap on the floor.
"There's nothing in here but clothes and things," the guard reported. "And"—he gulped—"there's some kind of arm in there?"
"Arm?" Henderson repeated in surprise.
"It's a man's arm, boss."
"My prosthetic," Thornwald said. "I lost my arm in a space battle."
"And where's the transmitter, then?"
"It's concealed in the arm," Thornwald said.
Henderson frowned. "In the arm? How?"
"Surgically implanted," said Thornwald. "Take a look, if you don't believe me."
"Give me that arm," said Henderson.
The guard fished the prosthetic reluctantly from the trunk, and, handling it with the utmost delicacy, carried it over to Henderson. The Governor took the arm, examined it curiously, flexed the curled fingers.
"Where's the transmitter?" he asked.
Beads of perspiration sprang out on Thornwald's forehead. His neural network leaped out, made contact with the nerve-mesh of the arm. He was just five feet away from Henderson. That was close enough to activate the prosthetic.
Now! he thought.
The arm suddenly came alive in Henderson's hands. Before he could do anything, the fingers spread, grasped, reached upward, and wrapped themselves around Henderson's fleshy neck in an iron grip.
"That thing's got the chief!"
Thornwald held up his hand. "Tell your men to drop their blasters, Henderson. I assure you they can't kill me quick enough for me not to crush your throat with that arm."
Henderson emitted choking, strangling sounds that might almost have been, "Drop the guns!" The Governor's florid face was bright red, and where the fingers dug into his throat the skin was a bloodless white.
The three guards looked around in dismay.
"Don't shoot him!" Henderson ordered. "Drop the guns!"
The blasters clattered to the floor. Thornwald picked one up, kicked the others away into the corner. Henderson remained transfixed in the center of the room, the bodyless arm clinging to his throat bizarrely.
"Where's your ultrawave radio?" Thornwald asked.
Henderson glared angrily and made no reply. Thornwald smiled apologetically and tightened his mental grip on the Governor's throat ever so slightly.
"Where's the ultrawave?" he repeated.
Henderson gestured to a niche in the wall. Warily, Thornwald stepped over to it. It was an ultrawave, all right. "Back to the wall," he said. "Okay, you three. If any of you makes a false move while I'm calling, Henderson dies—and you'll get the arm around your throat next."
He dialed the radio into operation with the muzzle of the blaster. There was a crackling sound, and then an operator's voice said, "Yes?"
"I want the Interstellar Police," Thornwald said.
"IP," said a metallic voice a few moments later.
"This is Mac Thornwald, retired captain. You know me?"
"Sure, Mac! What's up?"
"Listen carefully," Thornwald said. "Get a patrol-ship right down here now—Bleekman's Planet. There's trouble here. It's under control now, but the planet will need a complete mopup."
"That's the place you were supposed to live, isn't it? The quiet little secluded planet out in a corner of the galaxy?"
Thornwald smiled grimly. "It'll be that way soon," he said. "Just as soon as you clean up a bunch of cheap crooks who can't beat a one-armed man."
End of Bleekman's Planet by Ivar Jorgensen