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the Sutter. What with condoning smuggling, shyster tactics and pure vicious gambling, I'm
forced to the unsavory conclusion, Captain, that you're running a crime ship. Come, Ao, let
us seek purer air."
Ao licked her thumb and thought of something very nice, perhaps the taste of her thumb.
No one would ever know.
Time passed, both Bergsonian and Newtonian. On either scale it seemed probable that
Macduff's time was running rapidly out.
"Who sups wi' Auld Clootie should hae a long spoon," Captain Barn-say said to the acting
first, on the day of the Sutter's scheduled arrival at Xeria. "The wonder is that Macduff has
evaded Ess Pu's claws this long, the way he's been trying to get at those sphyghi plants.
'What baffles me is what he hopes to accomplish by sneaking around the Alga-han's cabin
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with sodium iodide counters and microwave spectroscopes. Whatever he wrote doon in
the lottery box canna be changed. The box is in my safe."
"Suppose he finds a way to open the safe?" the acting first suggested. "In addition to the
time lock it is keyed to the alpha radiations of my own brain," Captain Ramsay pointed
out. "He canna possibly-ah, talk of the devil, Mr. French, look who's coming."
The rotund yet agile form of Macduff came scuttling rapidly along the corridor, one jump
ahead of the Algolian. Macduff was breathing hard. At sight of the two officers he dived
behind them like a quail going to cover. Ess Pu, blind with fury, snapped his claws in the
Captain's very face.
"Control yerself, mon!" Ramsay said sharply. The Algolian made a mindless gobbling
sound and waved a paper wildly in the air.
"Man, indeed," Macduff said with some bitterness, from his position of precarious safety.
"He's nothing but an acromegalic lobster. It's getting so any object can be classified as
humanoid these days, the way they keep broadening the requirements. Letting in all the
riff-raff of the Galaxy. Martians were the opening wedge. Now - the deluge. I can see the
need for a certain amount of latitude, but we peril the dignity of true humanoids when we
apply the proud name of Man to a lobster. Why, the creature isn't even a biped. In fact,
there's a certain air of indecent exposure about where he wears his bones."
"Tush, mon, ye ken the word's a mere figure of speech. What is it, Ess Pu? What's this
paper ye keep thrusting at me?"
The Algolian was understood to gibber that Macduff had dropped it while fleeing. He
recommended that the Captain read it carefully.
"Later," Bamsay said, thrusting it in his pocket. 'We're due to land
on Xeria vurra soon, and I must be in the control room. Go for-rard, Macduff."
Macduff obeyed with surprising alacrity, at least until he was out of sight. Ess Pu,
muttering thickly, followed. Only then did Ramsay pull the paper from his pocket. He
studied it, snorted and handed it to the acting first. Macduff's neat handwriting covered
one side of the page, as follows:
Problem: Find out how many seeds in the first ripe sphyghi fruit. How look inside a sealed
fruit in which all seeds may not be formed yet? Ordinary vision useless.
First day: Attempted to introduce radio-tracer in sphyghi so I could count radioactivity day
by day and work out useful graphs. Failed. Ess Pu installed booby trap, sign of low
criminal mentality. No harm done.
Second day: Attempt to bribe Ess Pu with Immortality Elixir. Ess Pu outraged. Forgot
Algolians regard adolescence as despicable. Small minds value size inordinately.
Third day: Tried to focus infrared on sphyghi, to pick up secondary radiations with
acoustical interferometer. Failed. Experimented in long-distance color staining of sphyghi
cells with light waves. Failed.
Fourth day: Attempts to introduce chloroform into Ess Pu's quarters failed also.
Impossible to get near enough fruit to try analysis through positive ion emissions. Am
beginning to suspect Ess Pu was responsible for Captain Masterson's hospitalization back
on Aldebaran Tau. Probably crept up from behind in dark alley. All bullies are cowards.
Note: try to turn Xerians against Ess Pu on arrival. How?
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There the quasi-diary ended. Mr. French looked up quizzically.
"I had na realized Macduff was applying science so thoroughly," Ramsay remarked. "But
this merely confirms what Ess Pu told me weeks ago. He said Macduff was constantly
trying to get at the sphyghi. But he couldna and he canna and noo we must prepare for
landing, Mr. French."
He hurried away, trailed by the acting first. The corridor lay empty and silent for a little
while. Then an intercom high in the wall spoke.
"General announcement," it said. "Passengers and crew of the Sutter, your attention,
please. Prepare for landing. Immediately afterwards, passengers will assemble in the
grand lounge for the Xerian customs search. The results of the ship's pool will also be
announced. Your attendance is compulsory. Thank you."
There was silence, a sound of heavy breathing and finally a new voice sounded. "That
means you, Macduff," it said grimly. "Ye ken? Aye, ye'd better."
Four minutes later, the Sutter landed on Xeria.
Yanked protesting from his cabin, Macduff was dragged to the grand lounge, where
everyone else had already assembled. A group of Xerian officials, repressing their joy with
some difficulty, was also in evidence, making a rather perfunctory search of the
passengers, while other Xerians went through the ship rapidly, testing for contraband.
But it was obvious that the contraband that excited them was the sphyghi. A table had
been set up in the middle of the big room and upon it, each plant in its own little
earthenware pot, the sphyghi stood. Plump golden fruit dangled from the branches, the
pink glow of ripeness flushing their downy surfaces. An odor of pure delight exhaled from
the plants. Ess Pu stood guardian, occasionally exchanging words with a Xerian official,
who had already affixed a medal* on the Algahan's carapace.
"Outrageous!" Macduff cried, struggling. "I merely needed another few minutes' work with
a vitally important experiment I was-"
"Close your blabber-mouth," Captain Ramsay told him. "I shall take great pleasure in [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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