'Kill her or maim her. Or weed out half her mental processes, turn her into a debrained vegetable; they've got a spectrum of techniques they can make use of. You didn't know our dealings with the ally were so rough at the top, did you?' Teagarden smiled. 'It's a rough war. That's how Lilistar acts toward us, our superior ally beside which we're a flea. So imagine how the enemy, the reegs, would treat us if our defense line cracked and they managed to pour in.'
For a time they rode in silence; no one cared to speak.
'What do you think would happen,' Eric said finally, 'if Molinari passed out of the pic?'
'Well, it would go one of two ways. Either we'd get someone more pro-Lilistar or we wouldn't. What other choices are there, and why do you ask? Do you believe we're going to lose our patient? If we do, doctor, we also lose our jobs and possibly our lives. Your one justification for existence – and mine – is the continual viable presence of one overweight, middle-aged Italian who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with his enormous family and his eighteen-year-old mistress, who has stomach pains and enjoys eating a late-evening snack of batter-fried giant prawns with mustard and horse-radish. I don't care what they told you or what you signed; you're not going to be inserting any more artiforgs into Virgil Ackerman for a long time; there won't be the opportunity because keeping Gino Molinari alive is a full-time task.' Teagarden seemed irritable and upset now; his voice, in the darkness of the 'copter cab, was jerky. 'It's too much for me, Sweetscent. You won't have any other life but Molinari; he'll talk your ear off, deliver practice speeches to you on every topic on Earth – ask your opinion about everything from contraception to mushrooms – how to cook them – to God to what would you do if, and so forth. For a dictator – and you realize that's what he is, only we don't like to use the name – he's an anomaly. First of all he's probably the greatest political strategist alive; how else do you suppose he rose to be UN Secretary General? It took him twenty years, and fighting all the way; he dislodged every political opponent he met, from every country on Terra. Then he got mixed up with Lilistar. That's called foreign policy. On foreign policy the master strategist failed, because at that point a strange occlusion entered his mind. You know what it's called? Ignorance. Molinari spent all his time learning how to knee people in the groin, and with Freneksy that isn't called for. He would no more deal with Freneksy than you or I could – possibly worse.'
'I see,' Eric said.
'But Molinari went ahead anyhow. He bluffed. He signed the Pact of Peace which got us into the war. And here's where Molinari differs from all the fat, overblown, strutting dictators in the past. He took the blame on his shoulders; he didn't fire a foreign minister here or shoot a policy adviser from the State here. He did it and he knows it. And it's killing him, by quarter inches, day in, day out. Starting from the gut. He loves Terra. He loves people, all of them, washed and unwashed; he loves his wretched pack of sponging relatives. He shoots people, arrests people, but he doesn't like it. Molinari is a complex man, doctor. So complex that—'
Dorf interrupted drily, 'A mixture of Lincoln and Mussolini.'
'He's a different person with everyone he meets,' Teagarden continued. 'Christ, he's done things so rotten, so goddam wicked that they'd make your hair stand on end. He's had to. Some of them will never be made public, even by his political foes. And he's suffered because of doing them. Did you ever know anyone who really accepted responsibility, guilt and blame, before? Do you? Does your wife?'
'Probably not,' Eric admitted.
'If you or I ever really accepted the moral responsibility for what we've done in our lifetime – we'd drop dead or go mad. Living creatures weren't made to understand what they do. Take the animals we've run over on the road, or the animals we eat. When I was a kid it was my monthly job to go out and Poison rats. Did you ever watch a poisoned animal die? And not just one but scores of them, month after month. I don't feel it. The blame. The load. Fortunately it doesn't register – it can't, because if it did there'd be no way I could go on. And that's how the entire human race gets by. All but the Mole. As they call him.' Teagarden added, '"Lincoln and Mussolini." I was thinking more of One Other, back about two thousand years.'
'This is the first time,' Eric said, 'I ever heard anyone compare Gino Molinari to Christ. Even in his captive press.'
'Perhaps,' Teagarden said, 'it's because I'm the first person you've ever talked to who's been around the Mole twenty-four hours a day.'
'Don't tell Mary Reineke about your comparison,' Dorf said. 'She'll tell you he's a bastard. A pig in bed and at the table, a lewd middle-aged man with rape in his eye, who ought to be in jail. She tolerates him... because she's charitable.' Dorf laughed sharply.
'No,' Teagarden said, 'that's not what Mary would say ... except when she's sore, which is about a fourth of the time. I don't really know what Mary Reineke would say; maybe she wouldn't even try. She just accepts him as he is; she tries to improve him, but even if he doesn't improve – and he won't – she loves him anyhow. Have you ever known that other kind of woman? Who saw possibilities in you? And with the right kind of help from her—'
'Yes,' Eric said. He wished to see the subject changed; it made him think about Kathy. And he did not care to.
The 'copter droned on toward Cheyenne.* * *
In bed alone Kathy lay half sleeping as morning sunlight ignited the variegated textures of her bedroom. All the colors so familiar to her in her married life with Eric now became distinguished one from another as the light advanced. Here, where she lived, Kathy had established potent spirits of the past, trapped within the concoctions of other periods: a lamp from early New England, a chest of drawers that was authentic bird's-eye maple, a Hepplewhite cabinet... She lay with her eyes half open, aware of each object and all the connecting strands involved in her acquisition of them. Each was a triumph over a rival; some competing collector had failed, and it did not seem farfetched to regard this collection as a graveyard, with the ghosts of the defeated persisting in the vicinity. She did not mind their activity in her home life; after all she was tougher than they.
'Eric,' she said sleepily, 'for chrissake get up and put on the coffee. And help me out of bed. Push or speak.' She turned toward him, but no one was there. Instantly she sat up. Then she got from the bed, walked barefoot to the closet for her robe, shivering.
She was putting on a light gray sweater, tugging it with difficulty over her head, when she realized that a man stood watching her. As she had dressed he had lounged in the doorway, making no move to announce his presence; he was enjoying the sight of her dressing, but now he shifted, stood upright and said, 'Mrs Sweetscent?' He was perhaps thirty, with a dark, rough muzzle and eyes which did not encourage her sense of well-being. In addition he wore a drab-gray uniform and she knew what he was: a member of Lilistar's secret police operating on Terra. It was the first time in her life that she had ever run into one of them.
'Yes,' she said, almost soundlessly. She continued dressing, sitting on the bed to slip on her shoes, not taking her eyes from him. 'I'm Kathy Sweetscent, Dr Eric Sweetscent's wife, and if you don't—'
'Your husband is in Cheyenne.'
'Is he?' She rose to her feet. 'I have to fix breakfast; please let me by. And let me see your warrant for coming in here.' She held out her hand, waiting.
'My warrant,' the Lilistar grayman said, 'calls for me to search this conapt for an illegal drug, JJ-180. Frohedadrine. If you have any, hand it over and we'll go directly to the police barracks at Santa Monica.' He consulted his notebook. 'Last night in Tijuana at 45 Avila Street you used the drug orally in the company of—'
'May I call my attorney?'
'You mean I have no legal rights at all?'
'This is wartime.'
She felt afraid. Nevertheless she managed to speak with reasonable calm. 'May I call my employer and tell him I won't be in?'
The gray policeman nodded. So she went to the vidphone and dialed Virgil Ackerman at his home in San Fernando. Presently his birdlike, weathered face appeared, owlishly waking in a fuss of confusion. 'Oh, Kathy. Where's the clock?' Virgil peered about.
Kathy said, 'Help me, Mr Ackerman. The Lilistar—' She ceased, because the grayman had broken the connection with a swift movement of his hand. Shrugging, she hung up.
'Mrs Sweetscent,' the grayman said, 'I'd like to introduce Mr Roger Corning to you.' He made a motion and into the apartment, from the hall, came a 'Starman dressed in an ordinary business suit, a briefcase under his arm. 'Mr Corning, this is Kathy Sweetscent, Dr Sweetscent's wife.'
'Who are you?' Kathy said.
'Someone who can get you off the hook, dear,' Corning said pleasantly. 'May we sit down in your living room and discuss this?'
Going into the kitchen, she twisted the knobs for soft-boiled eggs, toast, and coffee without cream. There's no JJ-180 in this apt. Unless you put it here yourself during the night.' The food was ready; she carried it to the table on its throwaway tray and seated herself. The smell of the coffee vanquished the remnants of fear and bewilderment in her; she felt capable again and not so intimidated.
Corning said, 'We have a permanent photographic sequence of your evening at 45 Avila Street. From the moment you followed Bruce Himmel up the stairs and inside. Your initial words were, "Hello, Bruce. It looks as if this is an all-TF&D—"'
'Not quite,' Kathy said. 'I called him Brucie. I always call him Brucie because he's so hebephrenic and dumb.' She drank her coffee, her hand steady as it held the throwaway cup. 'Does your photographic sequence prove what was in the capsules we took, Mr Gorning?'
'Corning,' he corrected good-naturedly. 'No, Katherine, it doesn't. But the testimony of two of the other participants Hoes Or will when it's entered under oath before a military tribunal.' He explained. This falls outside the jurisdiction of vour civilian courts. We ourselves will handle all details of the prosecution.'
'Why is that?' she inquired.
'JJ-180 can only be acquired from the enemy. Therefore your use of it – and we can establish this before our tribunal – constitutes intercourse with the enemy. In time of war the tribunal's demand naturally would be death.' To the gray-uniformed policeman Corning said, 'Do you have Mr Plout's deposition with you?'
'It's in the 'copter.' The grayman started toward the door.
'I thought there was something subhuman about Chris Plout,' Kathy said. 'Now I'm meditating about the others ... who else last night had a subhuman quality? Hastings? No. Simon Ild? No, he—'
'All this can be avoided,' Corning said.
'But I don't want to avoid it,' Kathy said. 'Mr Ackerman heard me on the vidphone; TF&D will send an attorney. Mr Ackerman is a friend of Secretary Molinari; I don't think—'
'We can kill you, Kathy,' Corning said. 'By nightfall. The tribunal can meet this morning; it's all arranged.'
After a time – she had ceased eating – Kathy said, 'Why? I'm that important? What is there in JJ-180? I—' She hesitated. 'What I tried last night didn't do so very much.' All at once she wished like hell that Eric had not left. This wouldn't have happened with him here, she realized. They would have been afraid.
Soundlessly, she began to cry; she sat hunched over at her Plate, tears sliding down her cheeks and dropping to disappear. She did not even try to cover her face; she put her hand to her orehead, rested leaning against her arm, saying nothing.—it, she thought.
Your position,' Corning said, 'is serious but not hopeless; there's a difference. We can work out something... that's why I'm here. Stop crying and sit up straight and listen to me and I'll try to explain.' He unzipped his briefcase.
'I know,' Kathy said. 'You want me to spy on Marm Hastings. You're after him because he advocated signing a separate peace with the reegs that time on TV. Jesus, you've infiltrated this whole planet. Nobody's safe.' She got up, groaned with despair, went to the bedroom for a handkerchief, still sniffling.
'Would you watch Hastings for us?' Corning said, when she returned.
'No.' She shook her head. Better to be dead, she thought.
'It's not Hastings,' the uniformed Lilistar policeman said.
Corning said, 'We want your husband. We'd like you to follow him to Cheyenne and take up where you left off. Bed and board, I think the Terran phrase is. As soon as it possibly can be arranged.'
She stared at him. 'I can't.'
'Why can't you?'
'We broke up. He left me.' She could not understand why, if they knew everything else, they didn't know that.
'Resolutions of that type in a marriage,' Corning said, as if speaking with the weary wisdom of an infinity of ages, 'can always be reduced to the status of a temporary misunderstand-ing. We'll take you to one of our psychologists – we have several excellent ones in residence here on this planet – and he'll brief you on the techniques to use in healing this rift with Eric. Don't worry, Kathy; we know what went on here last night. Actually it works out to our advantage; it gives us an opportunity to talk with you alone.'
'No.' She shook her head. 'We'll never be back together. I don't want to be with Eric. No psychologist, even one of yours, can change that. I hate Eric and I hate all this crap you're mixed up in. I hate you 'Starmen, and everyone on Terra feels the same way – I wish you'd get off the planet, I wish we'd never gotten into the war.' Impotently, with frenzy, she glared at him.
'Cool off, Kathy.' Corning remained unruffled.
'God, I wish Virgil were here; he's not afraid of you – he's one of the few people on Terra—'
'No one on Terra,' Corning said absently, 'has that status. It's time you faced reality; we could, you know, take you to Lilistar, instead of killing you ... had you thought about that, Kathy?'