Med Ship Man
Chapter 5

Public Domain

Calhoun considered coldly. They were beyond what had been the farthest small city on the multiple highway. They would go on past now-starlit fields of plants native to Maya, passing many places where trucks loaded with the plants climbed up to the roadway and headed for the factories which made use of them. The fields ran for scores of miles along the highway’s length. They reached out beyond the horizon, --perhaps scores of miles in that direction, too. There were thousands upon thousands of square miles devoted to the growing of the dark-green vegetation which supplied the raw materials for Maya’s space exports. Some hundred-odd miles ahead, the small town of Tenochitlan lay huddled in the light of the distant star-cluster. Beyond that, more highway and Maya City. Beyond that--

Calhoun reasoned that the projector to make the induction cattle fence would be beyond Maya City, somewhere in the mountains the photograph in the spaceport building showed. A large highway went into those mountains for a limited distance only.

A ground-inductor projector field always formed at a right angle to the projector which was its source. It could be adjusted--the process was analogous to focusing--to come into actual being at any distance desired, and the distance could be changed. To drive the people of Maya City eastward, the projector of a cattle fence--about which they would know nothing; it would be totally strange and completely mysterious--the projector of the cattle fence would need to be west of the people to be driven. Logically, it would belong in the mountains. Practically, it would be concealed. Drawing on broadcast power to do its work, there would be no large power source needed to give it the six million kilowatts it required. It should be quite easy to hide beyond any quick or easy discovery. Hunting it out might require weeks of searching.

But the people beyond the end of the highway couldn’t wait. They had no food, and holes scrabbled down to ground-water by men digging with their bare hands simply would not be adequate. The cattle fence had to be cut off immediately--while the broadcast of power had to be continued.

Calhoun made an abrupt grunting noise. Phrasing the thing that needed to be done was practically a blueprint of how to do it. Simple! He’d need the two electronics engineers, of course. But that would be the trick...

He drove on at a hundred thirty miles an hour with his lips set wrily. The three other cars came behind him. Murgatroyd watched the way ahead. Mile after mile, half-minute after half-minute, the headlights cast brilliantly blinding beams before the cars. Murgatroyd grew bored. He said, “Chee!“ in a discontented fashion and tried to curl up between Allison and Calhoun. There wasn’t room. He crawled over the seat-back. He moved about, back there. There were rustling sounds. He settled down. Presently there was silence. Undoubtedly he had draped his furry tail across his nose and gone soundly off to sleep.

Allison spoke suddenly. He’d had time to think, but he had no practice in various ways of thinking.

“How much money have you got?” he asked.

“Not much,” said Calhoun. “Why?”

“I--haven’t done anything illegal,” said Allison, with an unconvincing air of confidence, “but I could be put to some inconvenience if you were to accuse me before others of what you’ve accused me personally. You seem to think that I planned a criminal act. That the action I know of--the research project I’d heard of--that it became--that it got out of hand is likely. But I am entirely in the clear. I did nothing in which I did not have the advice of counsel. I am legally unassailable. My lawyers--”

“That’s none of my business,” Calhoun told him. “I’m a medical man. I landed here in the middle of what seemed to be a serious public health situation. I went to see what had happened. I’ve found out. I still haven’t the answer, --not the whole answer anyway. But the human population of Maya is in a state of some privation, not to say danger. I hope to end it. But I’ve nothing to do with anybody’s guilt or innocence of crime or criminal intent or anything else.”

Allison swallowed. Then he said with smooth confidence:

“But you could cause me inconvenience. I would appreciate it if you would--would--”

“Cover up what you’ve done?” asked Calhoun.

“No! I’ve done nothing wrong. But you could simply use discretion. I landed by parachute to complete some business deals I’d arranged months ago. I will go through with them. I will leave on the next ship. That’s perfectly open and above board. Strictly business. But you could make a--an unpleasing public image of me. Yet I have done nothing any other business man wouldn’t do! I did happen to know of a research project--”

“I think,” said Calhoun without heat, “that you sent men here with a cattle-fence device from Texia to frighten the people on Maya. They wouldn’t know what was going on. They’d be scared; they’d want to get away. So you’d be able to buy up practically all the colony for the equivalent of peanuts. I can’t prove that,” he conceded, “but that’s my opinion. But you want me not to state it. Is that right?”

“Exactly!” said Allison. He’d been shaken to the core, but he managed the tone and the air of a dignified man of business discussing an unpleasant subject with fine candor. “I assure you you are mistaken. You agree that you can’t prove your suspicions. If you can’t prove them, you shouldn’t state them. That is simple ethics. You agree to that!”

Calhoun looked at him curiously.

“Are you waiting for me to tell you my price?”

“I’m waiting,” said Allison reprovingly, “for you to agree not to cause me embarrassment. I won’t be ungrateful. After all, I’m a person of some influence. I could do a great deal to your benefit. I’d be glad--”

“Are you working around to guess at a price I’ll take?” asked Calhoun with the same air of curiosity.

He seemed much more curious than indignant, and much more amused than curious. Allison sweated suddenly. Calhoun didn’t appear to be bribable. But Allison knew desperation.

“If you want to put it that way--yes,” he said harshly. “You can name your own figure. I mean it!”

“I won’t say a word about you,” said Calhoun. “I won’t need to. The characters who’re operating your cattle fence will do all the talking that’s necessary. Things all fit together, --except for one item. They’ve been dropping into place all the while we’ve been driving down this road.”

“I said you can name your own figure!” Allison’s voice was shrill. “I mean it! Any figure! Any!”

Calhoun shrugged.

“What would a Med Ship man do with money? Forget it!”

He drove on. The highway turnoff to Tenochitlan appeared. Calhoun went steadily past it. The other connection with the road through the town appeared. He left it behind.

Allison’s teeth chattered again.

The buildings of Maya City began to appear, some twenty minutes later. Calhoun slowed and the other cars closed up. He opened a window and called:

“We want to go to the landing-grid first. Somebody lead the way!”

A car went past and guided the rest assuredly to a ramp down from the now-elevated road, and through utterly dark streets, of which some were narrow and winding, and came out abruptly where the landing-grid rose skyward. At the bottom its massive girders looked huge and cyclopean in the starlight, but the higher courses looked like silver lace against the stars.

They went to the control building. Calhoun got out. Murgatroyd hopped out after him, dust clinging to his fur. He shook himself, and a ten-thousand-credit interstellar credit certificate fell to the ground. Murgatroyd had made a soft place for sleeping out of the contents of Allison’s attache case. It was assuredly the most expensive if not the most comfortable sleeping cushion a tormal ever had. Allison sat still as if numbed. He did not even pick up the certificate.

“I need you two electronics men,” said Calhoun. Then he said apologetically to the others, “I only figured out something on the way here. I’d believed we might have to take some drastic action, come daybreak. But now I doubt it. I do suggest, though, that you turn off the car headlights and get set to do some shooting if anybody turns up. I don’t know whether they will or not.”

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