Read Chapter IX of Twelve Times Zero , free online book, by Howard Carleton Browne, on ReadCentral.com.

The soft silvery radiance which this planet seemed to feature, bathed the metal hallway as Kirk marched stolidly toward the slim arcing stairway that led toward Naia’s floor. This was certainly a strange building, he thought. The architects of Mythox knew how to use curves. They utilized them for utility and beauty to a point where a straight line was something to be surprised at. Pretty smart people, the Mythoxians in more ways than one.

And Kirk, for no apparent reason, thought of a phrase common among children during his own childhood, “Who died and left you boss?”

He counted the markings over one door. He had seen those markings before. Naia North lived here.

And Naia North was in. Kirk walked softly across the large foyer room and quietly pushed open a door to the left. Naia, clad as always, in beauty, lay sleeping on a bed that stood out from the wall on two narrow rods of metal and needed no other support.

As Kirk opened his mouth, Naia awakened, so she was looking calmly at him as he spoke. “Up, baby. You’ve got a date with a hot electrode a lot of light years from here. It’s a hike, so rise and shine.”

Naia sat up very slowly, very gracefully. She was what men dream of finding in bed beside them. What they marry to keep in bed beside them.

“You must be mad.”

“As a hatter, baby. Into your duds.” He saw her glance at the door jamb of the bedroom entrance, saw the shadow of disappointment in her lovely eyes. “You didn’t put those Joe Louis light rays in your bedroom, did you?”

Naia set her feet on the floor and drew herself to her full height. She wore light blue, a gown that hung as had that of Guinevere, as that of the Maid of Shalot.

But Naia was contempt. She was contempt clothed in cold blue, then contempt naked as she allowed the gown to fall to the floor. A few minutes later, she was contempt clothed for the street in tight britches and a loose blouse.

“You go first,” Kirk said. “And do as you’re told. You may be a Mythoxian, but this .45 doesn’t know that. It puts big holes in anybody.”

As Mala walked serenely toward the hall door, there was only a touch of sullenness at the corners of her mouth. She turned her head to speak over her shoulder. “Hiding behind a woman, brave Earthman?”

“Yes and no. I’m hiding behind a woman from those damn straight-left rays; and I’m not a brave Earthman. I spend most of my time scared to death. That’s why all of us are getting back to Earth quick, so I can draw an easy breath.”

“All of us?”

“Oh yes. Didn’t I tell you? You’re taking me to the places I can find Alma Dakin and Orin. We’re going to have witnesses and testimony. And the party who gets burned isn’t going to be Paul Cordell.”

“I won’t

“Hold it, honey.”

Kirk had picked up two items upon leaving Naia’s apartment. A pair of filmy silk stockings and a white scarf. He jerked Naia’s hands behind her back in somewhat of a surprise move. Before she recovered, her wrists were tightly bound. She gasped, “You madman,” just before he deftly pulled the scarf across her mouth and twisted it into an effective gag. He stepped back to admire his handywork.

“Now we’re all ready. Orin and Alma.”

Naia shook her head in a slow negative, Kirk pushed her gently into the hall and rounded to face her. “Yes, baby,” he said. “You ought to know now I won’t be stopped. I need Orin to fly that space buggy. If I don’t get him we can’t go. Then there’d be nothing left for me to do but even the score for Paul Cordell. He’ll have to go but you’ll keep him company.”

Naia stood like a statue, apparently considering. Then she moved slowly down the corridor in the opposite direction from which Kirk had come. Down three curving flights and stopping finally in front of a door identical to her own. Kirk stepped forward and leaned firmly on the knob. The door opened. He knew where the bedroom was in these apartments now. He pushed Naia ahead of him, into the bedroom and saw Alma lying with her eyes closed.

Kirk whirled, just in time to level his gun and bring Orin to a dead stop. “Over by the bed, high-born.” As Orin complied, Kirk leered at Naia. “That was clever, but I had it doped. I spotted them for husband and wife or the Mythox equivalent quite some time back. A good chance shot to hell.”

“What do you want here?” Orin demanded.

“A chauffeur. We’re heading Earthward on the first ship. That’s the one out in the jungle.”

“But you talked to Tamu. I thought

“I’d been suckered? No, no my friend! On the force they called me the boy with the one-track mind.”

“I can see what they meant,” Orin sighed.

“I thought you would. Tell your wife to get dressed. We’re getting an air-sled.”

“You might have the decency to

“I won’t turn my back. You can stand between us. That’s the best I can do.”

Alma dressed swiftly in a costume similar to Naia’s. When they were ready to leave, Kirk said, “Now let’s get it straight once and for all. I’ll stand for no fast moves. It’s Earth, or some quick slugs. Do you follow me?”

They did not speak but they evidently believed Kirk because, fifteen minutes later, the party of four stood beside the ugly ship while thick trees and grasses whispered around them.

“Inside.”

In the corridor, Orin stopped and turned as though having thought of a convincing argument he was bent upon trying. Kirk poked him sharply in the ribs with the barrel of the .45 and he moved on after the women toward the ladder and thence to the motor room.

Once inside, Orin turned and spoke sharply. “Won’t you reconsider?”

“Push the levers, Jack. The right ones.”

“Tamu is a reasonable man. We could talk to him again. He would make even a more generous offer.”

“I’m waiting.”

“Certainly you did not refute the logic of his argument? We are in the right. Our case is just. The galaxies must be protected from

“The right levers, Jack.”

“ from those who through ignorance, stupidity, or ferocity would destroy it.”

“One more minute of this and there’ll be dead people aboard this ship.”

“You’re helpless, really. You can’t fly this ship without me. Therefore my life is safe. I merely refuse to launch it.”

“Would you like a dead wife?”

Orin whitened perceptibly.

“She may be a wife to you, but to me she’s just a doll who helped lie a man into the chair.”

“You wouldn’t do it! You haven’t got the nerve to shoot down a man or a woman in cold blood.”

Kirk looked steadily into Orin’s eyes. “You don’t believe that do you, bud?”

Orin held the gaze for a long time. Then he dropped his eyes. “No. I don’t believe it.”

“Then get to work.”

“One last offer. Won’t you reconsider. Join us?”

“No!”

“Very well.”

And Orin, a fixed, taut look on his face, reached forth his hand and touched a button on the panel board. It was a very special button.

A button for use only when all hope was gone.

The exploding space-time ship lighted the countryside to blinding brilliance.