Raspold was in a tavern in Breakneck, capital city of the Federation planet, Wildenwooly. He was drinking, but only in the line of duty. The bartender had some very interesting information for him, and Raspold was elated. He was finally getting some place; the trail, once so cold, was now warmer.
Then, a messenger (from Saxwell Space Links) walked into the tavern and handed him a sealed envelope. He tore it open and read. The message was in code and was to the point.
JOHN CARMODY TURNED HIMSELF IN AND IS NOW AT JOHN HOPKINS REHABILITATION CENTER. REPORT AT ONCE TO ME.
Four hours later, Raspold was talking to his chief, Richard Ali'i. He had had to wait at the spaceport of Breakneck for two hours for a scheduled ship. The trip between Wildenwooly and Earth--20,000 lightyears--took, in wristwatch time, ten minutes. He spent an hour going through Customs and Sanitation. Another hour was consumed in taking various taxis and tubes to the headquarters of the Chief of Federation Extra-Terrestrial Criminal Apprehension Bureau (FECAB). This was deep within the bowels of Under Copenhagen.
Richard Ali'i was a big, handsome man of middle age, dark-skinned, black-haired but with blue eyes (Samoan and Norwegian immediate ancestry).
"Whatever made Carmody surrender?" asked Raspold. "You sure he hasn't got some nasty scheme up his sleeve?"
"Thought of that. But his turning himself in seems to be genuine. Apparently, he was on Dante's Joy. Strange things happen there. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. Now, we've got something that can't wait."
He paused, lit up a Siberian cigar, and said, "It's about No. 2. Rather, I should say, No. 1, now that Carmody's, uh, abdicated."
"Yes. I've had ten agents on his trail for the past four years, as you know. Five of them have disappeared recently. Two were murdered. One is off somewhere. I can't get hold of him, maybe he's been done away with, too. The tenth ... well ... he was bought."
Raspold was genuinely shocked. "A FECAB?"
"Thoroughly screened. But tests are given by human beings, and human beings are ... fallible. The evidence is undeniable. McGrew took a bribe, sold out to Nge. We'd never have known if he hadn't been badly hurt in a drunken brawl in Diveboard. Under drugs, he babbled like a maniac. Not for long. Something in his body exploded, blew him to bits, killed a doctor and a Metro inspector. The explosive must have been surgically implanted. And set off by remote control. McGrew was in no condition to do it himself, even if he'd wanted to."
"Diveboard?" said Raspold. "Then Nge, or one of his men, must be on that planet. The bomb must have been set off by radio."
"We think so. However, I'm not through yet. McGrew in his babbling told us something we would never have known otherwise. You remember the disappearance of the Federation destroyer George A. Custer two years ago?"
"Between Earth and Aldebaran?"
"Yes. Maiden voyage. Thirty men aboard. Translated from Earth, was supposed to appear above Einstein ten minutes later, ship's time. But she never did, and no one knew what happened. Now, we know Nge highjacked her."
"Highjacked?" Raspold's brows arched in surprise. "If I didn't know you so well, sir, I'd think you were kidding."
"I wish I was. No, Nge did the impossible. Or improbable. With one man. A member of his organization who had contrived, somehow, to become a crew member. He released a deadly gas through the ventilation system of the destroyer, thus killing all the crew except himself. Then, he piloted the bird to a rendezvous at some planet McGrew didn't name, and turned the Custer over to Nge. Must have been a damned good pilot. He did the translation all by himself."
"So, what's he going to do with the Custer?" said Raspold.
"I don't know. Or didn't. We fed this new data into ATHENA. And ATHENA, after checking this against what it knew about Nge, came up with a reasonable, if astonishing, probability. Maybe not so astonishing, considering Nge."
Raspold wanted to urge Ali'i to continue, kill the suspense. Instead, he waited restlessly.
Ali'i said, "Voittamaton."
"Voittamaton?" Raspold repeated aloud. "Wait a minute! I got it! Fifty years ago.... Miika Versinen ... sure ... I saw a dramatic recreation of his life. Ran as a three-part series. And, of course, I read about him when I was a kid."
He looked at Ali'i as if he still thought Ali'i was joking. "You mean Nge's going to use the Custer to storm Voittamaton? Even after Versinen failed so miserably and so bloodily?"
Ali'i nodded grimly.
Raspold raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders. "We won't have to worry about him any longer. Or any of the men with him. Why not let him go?"
"Because, in the first place, we don't know for a certainty that that is what Nge plans to do. It's only a high probability. Second, Voittamaton is taboo, off limits. Third, we have to stop Nge now before he hurts innocent people while preparing for the expedition against Voittamaton. Fourth, I want our department to get him--now. There are about ten Federation agencies of Earth alone trying to catch him, and the Great Light alone knows how many from other Fed or non-Fed planets."
Raspold nodded thoughtfully, I'd like to see the blackguard get his comeuppance, which he will, if he tackles Voittamaton."
"That," said Ali'i, "is what we're aiming for and I think you're best qualified to do it."
Twenty minutes later, Raspold had sketched his plan, received his authorization and a draft for 5,000 C, and was on his way. It took an hour for him to get back to the port. In the meantime, one of Ali'i's secretaries had arranged for a seat on a nonsked jumper. Because Raspold was going to Diveboard, a non-Federation "open" planet, he had to have a passport. Ali'i's secretary had given him a forged one bearing the name of Dick Ricoletti. Ricoletti was, presumably a subcitizen of the Middle North American Department, Lifelong Limited Privileges Resident of Lesser Laramie. Raspold had spent some time in that city and could speak the dialect quite well. Not that he expected to run across anyone acquired with it but he liked to present a perfect character.
His passport carried his portrait, his fingerprints, retina-prints, earlobeprints, blood type, EKG-patterns, and voiceprint. When Customs and Sanitation took these and matched them against the passport's, they would discover nothing wrong. And, when they wired the prints to ATHENA for double checking, they would receive from ATHENA assurance that the prints belonged to Dick Ricoletti. What Customs and Sanitation did not know was that, when the inquiry about Ricoletti was plugged into ATHENA, it went to a data block that had been inserted by the FECAB.
Raspold leaned against a wall and smoked a cigarette while waiting for this procedure to be completed. He was a tall man, about 12 centimeters above average height (1.7 meter), but looked taller because of his thinness. His broad and thickly muscled arms and shoulders and chest contrasted strangely with the girlish thin waist, narrow hips, and slender legs. He was wearing an auburn wig with a high-piled curly coiffure of the latest fashion. His eyes, normally a deep brown, were now a dark purple. The wig and contact lenses had had to come off during customs inspection, but no one had commented. Almost every passenger wore them.
His features were as Nature had given them; no surgeon's knife or plastiflesh for him. His forehead was high; his eyebrows, black and thick and meeting over the nose; his nose, big and thick, like a bloodhound's. The lips were medium sized and had only a smudge of lipstick and that red, not the fashionable green flecked with gold. On his left ear, he wore a huge golden ring with a large golden green pendant.
Presently, he walked out with the other passengers to the Willowisp, a twenty-seater craft belonging to a small line. The pilot, however, was a retired Federation Navy navigator. After the passengers were seated, the pilot gave his usual description of the trip they would make; the translation of 180,000 light-years in exactly nothing flat (objective and subjective time), the shorter translations, and the time it would take to fly to Diveboard's spaceport after the final "jump."
Raspold paid no attention; he had heard similar lectures over a hundred times. The passengers demanded his concentration. After examining each in minutest detail, he decided that they were what they seemed to be. A couple of import agents going to Diveboard to set up business, and the rest, emigrants. These mostly came from the subclasses, men and women who could no longer endure the crowded apartments and jammed streets of the great enclosed cities, the low standard of living, the tribute paid from their meager wages to local politicians and their thugs, their ratings as lower class citizens (which their children might escape but not them) . They had scraped enough money together to buy the expensive tickets to the faroff sparsely settled planet on the rim of the Galaxy (enticed by TV-shows of life on that planet), agricultural equipment, tools, guns, clothes, and whatever else they thought they might need. Now, they were facing a new life, ill-equipped, most of them, for the strange life on the frontier planet. But they all had dreams of some fabulous yonder, some place where there would be no formal classification of social and economic scale, more than enough fresh air to breathe, silence, trees, grass. And where they would be their own men and women.
Raspold felt sorry for them. They would find that what they had regarded as chains on Earth were, in many ways, walls to protect and guide them. Now, chain-naked, helpless, or inadequate, unsure of how to act. And their life would be hard, hard beyond their powers of conception.
He thought of Versinen. Miika Versinen. Transplanted into English from the Neo-Finnish of the colonial planet Toivo, Micah The Bloody. Versinen was the first and the greatest of the space pirates. A yellow-haired bearded giant who looked like an ancient Viking. He carried a broad axe at his belt, a weapon useless in warfare but quite adequate for splitting his prisoners' skulls in half. He was a madman but a successful one. Until he heard of that dark planet beyond the rim of the Galaxy. The sunless body traveling outwards toward Andromeda. An Earth-sized planet bereft of atmosphere, seemingly devoid of life from its beginnings. Yet, there were mysterious structures on its surface. Over a million of them, pillars with globes on their ends. They glowed; they looked like an army of phantoms.