For a moment Bart stared, frozen,
unable to move, his very ears refusing the words he
heard. Had this all been another cruel trick,
then, a trap, a betrayal? He rose and looked
wildly around the room, as if the glass walls were
a cage closing in on him.
“Murderer!” he flung at
Raynor, and took a step toward him, his clenched fists
coming up. He’d been shoved around too long,
but here he had one of them right in front of him,
and for once he’d hit back! He’d start
by taking Raynor Three apart in small pieces!
“You you rotten murderer!”
Raynor Three made no move to defend
himself. “Bart,” he said compassionately,
“sit down and listen to me. No, I’m
no murderer. I I shouldn’t have
put it that way.”
Bart’s hands dropped to his
sides, but he heard his voice crack with pain and
grief: “I suppose you’ll tell me he
was a spy or a traitor and you had to kill
“Not even that. I tried
to save your father, I did everything I could.
I’m no murderer, Bart. I killed him, yes God
forgive me, because I’ll never forgive myself!”
Bart’s fists unclenched and
he stared down at Raynor Three, shaking his head in
bewilderment and pain. “I knew he was dead!
I knew it all along! I was trying not to believe
it, but I knew!”
“I liked your father. I
admired him. He took a long chance, and it killed
him. I could have stopped him, I should have stopped
him, but how could I? Where did I have the right
to stop him, after what I did to ”
he stopped, almost in mid-word, as if a switch had
But Bart was not listening. He
swung away, striding to the wall as if he would kick
it in, striking it with his two clenched fists, his
whole being in revolt. Dad, oh, Dad! I kept
going, I thought at the end of it you’d be here
and it would all be over. But here I am at the
end of it all, and you’re not here, you won’t
ever be here again.
Dimly, he knew when Raynor Three rose
and left him alone. He leaned his head on his
clenched fists, and cried.
After a long time he raised his head
and blew his nose, his face setting itself in new,
hard, unaccustomed lines, slowly coming to terms with
the hard, painful reality. His father was dead.
His dangerous, dead-in-earnest game of escape had
no happy ending of reunion with his father. They
couldn’t sit together and laugh about how scared
he had been. His father was dead, and
he, Bart, was alone and in danger. His face looked
very grim indeed, and years older than he was.
After a long time Raynor Three opened
the door quietly. “Come and have something
to eat, Bart.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well, I am,” Raynor Three
said, “and you ought to be. You’ll
need it.” He pulled knobs and the appropriate
tables and chairs extruded themselves from the walls.
Raynor unsealed hot cartons and spread them on the
table, saying lightly, “Looks good not
that I can claim any credit, I subscribe to a food
service that delivers them hot by pneumatic tube.”
Bart felt sickened by the thought
of eating, but when he put a polite fork in the food,
he discovered that he was famished and ate up everything
in sight. When they had finished, Raynor dumped
the cartons into a disposal chute, went to a small
portable bar and put a glass into his hand.
Bart touched his lips to the glass,
made a face and put it away. “Thanks, but
I don’t drink.”
“Call it medicine, you’ll
need something,” Raynor Three said crossly.
“I’ve got a lot to tell you, and I don’t
want you going off half-primed in the middle of a
sentence. If you’d rather have a shot of
tranquilizer, all right; otherwise, I prescribe that
you drink what I gave you.” He gave Bart
a quick, wry grin. “I really am a medic,
Feeling like a scolded child, Bart
drank. It burned his mouth, but after it was
down, he felt a sort of warm burning in his insides
that gradually spread a sense of well-being all through
him. It wasn’t alcohol, but whatever it
was, it had quite a kick.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“Why are you taking this trouble, Raynor?
There must be danger
“Don’t you know ”
Raynor broke off. “Obviously, you don’t.
Your mother never said much about your Mentorian family
tree, I suppose? She was a Raynor.”
He smiled at Bart, a little ruefully. “I
won’t claim a kinsman’s privileges until
you decide how much to trust me.”
Raynor Three settled back.
“It’s a long story and
I only know part of it,” he began. “Our
family, the Raynors, have traded with the Lhari for
more generations than I can count. When I was
a young man, I qualified as a medic on the Lhari ships,
and I’ve been star-hopping ever since. People
call us the slaves of the Lhari maybe we
are,” he added wryly. “But I began
it just because space is where I belong, and there’s
nowhere else that I’ve ever wanted to be.
And I’ll take it at any price.
“I never questioned what I was
doing until a few years ago. It was your father
who made me wonder if we Mentorians were blind and
selfish this privilege ought to belong
to everyone, not just the Lhari. More and more,
the Lhari monopoly seemed wrong to me. But I was
just a medic. And if I involved myself in any
conspiracy against the Lhari, they’d find it
out in the routine psych-checking.
“And then we worked out how
it could be done. Before every trip, with self-hypnosis
and self-suggestion, I erase my own memories a
sort of artificial amnesia so that the
Lhari can’t find out any more than I want them
to find out. Of course, it also means that I have
no memory, while I’m on the Lhari ships, of
what I’ve agreed to while I’m ”
His face suddenly worked, and his mouth moved without
words, as if he had run into some powerful barrier
It was a full minute, while Bart stared
in dismay, before he found his voice again, saying,
“So far, it was just a sort of loose network,
trying to put together stray bits of information that
the Lhari didn’t think important enough to censor.
“And then came the big breakthrough.
There was a young Apprentice astrogator named David
Briscoe. He’d taken some runs in special
test ships, and read some extremely obscure research
data from the early days of the contact between men
and Lhari, and he had a wild idea. He did the
bravest thing anyone has ever done. He stripped
himself of all identifying data so that
if he died, no one would be in trouble with the Lhari and
stowed away on a Lhari ship.”
“But ” Bart’s
lips were dry “didn’t he die
in the warp-drive?”
Slowly, Raynor Three shook his head.
“No, he didn’t. No
drugs, no cold-sleep but he didn’t
die. Don’t you see, Bart?” He leaned
“It’s all a fake!
The Lhari have just been saying that to justify their
refusal to give us the secret of the catalyst that
generates the warp-drive frequencies! Such a
simple lie, and it’s worked for all these years!”
“A Mentorian found him and didn’t
have the heart to turn him over to the Lhari.
So he was smuggled clear again. But when that
Mentorian underwent the routine brain-checks at the
end of the voyage, the Lhari found out what had happened.
They didn’t know Briscoe’s name, but they
wrung that Mentorian out like a wet dishcloth and
got a description that was as good as fingerprints.
They tracked down young Briscoe and killed him.
They killed the first man he’d talked to.
They killed the second. The third was your father.”
“The murdering devils!”
Raynor sighed. “Your father
and Briscoe’s father were old friends.
Briscoe’s father was dying with incurable heart
disease; his son was dead, and old Briscoe
had only one thought in his mind to make
sure he didn’t die for nothing. So he took
your father’s papers, knowing they were as good
as a death warrant, slipped away and boarded a Lhari
ship that led roundabout to stars where the message
hadn’t reached yet. He led them a good
chase. Did he die or did they track him down and
kill him?” Bart bowed his head and told the
“Meanwhile,” Raynor Three
continued, “your father came to me, knowing I
was sympathetic, knowing I was a Lhari-trained surgeon.
He had just one thought in his mind: to do, again,
what David Briscoe had done, and make sure the news
got out this time. He cooked up a plan that was
even braver and more desperate. He decided to
sign on a Lhari ship as a member of the crew.”
“As a Mentorian?” Bart
asked, but something cold, like ice water trickling
down his back, told him this was not what Raynor meant.
“No,” said Raynor, “not
as a Mentorian; he couldn’t have escaped the
psych-checking. As a Lhari.”
Bart gasped. “How
“Men and Lhari are very much
alike,” Raynor Three said. “A few
small things skin color, the shape of the
ears, the hands and claws keep humans from
seeing that the Lhari are men.”
“Don’t say that,”
Bart almost yelled. “Those filthy, murdering
devils! You call those monsters men?”
“I’ve lived among the
Lhari all my life. They’re not devils, Bart,
they have their reasons. Physiologically, the
Lhari are well, humanoid, if you
like that better. They’re a lot more like
a man than a man is like, for instance, a gorilla.
Your father convinced me that with minor plastic and
facial surgery, he could pass as a Lhari. And
finally I gave in, and did the surgery
“And it killed him!”
“Not really. It was a completely
unforeseeable thing a blood clot broke
loose in a vein, and lodged in his brain. He was
dead in seconds. It could have happened at any
time,” he said, “yet I feel responsible,
even though I keep telling myself I’m not.
And I’ll help you as much as I can for
his sake, and for your mother’s. The Lhari
don’t watch me too closely they figure
that anything I do they’ll catch in the brainwashing.
But I’m still one step ahead of them, as long
as I can erase my own memories.”
Bart was sifting it all, slowly, in his mind.
“Why was Dad doing this? What could he
“You know we can build ships
as good as the Lhari ships, but we don’t know
anything about the rare catalyst they use for warp-drive
fuel. Captain Steele had hopes of being able
to discover where they got it.”
“But couldn’t they find out where the
Lhari ships go for fueling?”
“No. There’s no way
to trail a Lhari ship,” he reminded Bart.
“We can follow them inside a star-system, but
then they pop into warp-drive, and we don’t
know where they go when they aren’t running between
“We’ve gathered together
what information we do have, and we know that
after a certain number of runs in our part of the galaxy,
ships take off in the direction of Antares. There’s
a ship, due to come in here in about ten days, called
the Swiftwing, which is just about due to make
the Antares run. Captain Steele had managed to
arrange I don’t know how, and I don’t
want to know how for a vacancy on that ship,
and somehow he got credentials. You see, it’s
a very good spy system, a network between the stars,
but the weak link is this: everything, every
message, every man, has to travel back and forth by
the Lhari ships themselves.”
He rose, shaking it all off impatiently.
“Well, it’s finished now. Your father
is dead. What are you going to do? If you
want to go back to Vega, you can probably convince
the Lhari you’re just an innocent bystander.
They don’t hurt bystanders or children,
Bart. They aren’t bad people. They’re
just protecting their business monopoly.
“The safest way to handle it
would be this: let me erase your memories of
what I’ve told you tonight. Then just let
the Lhari capture you. They won’t kill
you. They’ll just give you a light psych-check.
When they find out you don’t know anything,
they’ll send you back to Vega, and you can spend
the rest of your life in peace, running Vega Interplanet
and Eight Colors.”
Bart turned on him furiously.
“You mean, go home like a good little boy, and
pretend none of this ever happened? What do you
think I am, anyhow?” Bart’s chin set in
the new, hard line. “What I want is a chance
to go on where Dad left off!”
“It won’t be easy, and
it could be dangerous,” Raynor Three said, “but
there’s nothing else to be done. We had
the arrangements all made; and now somebody’s
got to take the dangerous risk of calling them off.
Are you game for a little plastic surgery just
enough to change your looks again, with new forged
papers? You can’t go by the Swiftwing it
doesn’t carry passengers but there’s
another route you can take.”
Bart sprang up. “No,”
he said, “I know a better way. Let me go
on the Swiftwing in Dads place as a Lhari!”
“Bart, no,” Raynor Three
said. “You’d never get away with it.
It’s too dangerous.” But his gold
“Why not? I speak Lhari
better than Dad ever did. And my eyes can stand
Lhari lights. You said yourself, it’s going
to be a dangerous job just calling off all the arrangements.
So let’s not call them off. Just
let me take Dad’s place!”
“Bart, you’re only a boy
“What was Dave Briscoe?
No, Raynor. Dad left me a lot more than Vega
Interplanet, and you know it. I’ll finish
what he started, and then maybe I’ll begin to
deserve what he left me.”
Raynor Three gripped Bart’s
hand. He said, in a voice that shook, “All
right, Bart. You’re your father’s
son. I can’t say more than that. I
haven’t any right to stop you.”