Slave Planet - Cover

Slave Planet

Public Domain

Chapter 6

The party had meant nothing, nothing at all, and Albin told himself he could forget all about it.

If Haenlingen wanted to take any action, he insisted, she’d take it against her own division. The Psych people would get most of it. Why, she probably didn’t even know who Albin Cendar was...

But the Psych division knew a lot they weren’t supposed to know. Maybe she would even...

Forget about it, Albin told himself. He closed his eyes for a second and concentrated on his work. That, at least, was something to keep him from worrying: the whole process of training was something he could use in forgetting all about the party, and Haenlingen, and possible consequences ... He took a few breaths and forced his mind away from all of that, back to the training.

Training was a dreary waste of time, as a matter of fact—except that it happened to be necessary. There was no doubt of that: without sufficient manual labor, the metal would not be dug, the smelters would not run, the purifying stages and the cooling stages and even the shipping itself would simply stop. Automation would have solved everything, but automation was expensive. The Alberts were cheap—so Fruyling’s World used Alberts instead of transistors and cryogenic relays.

And if you were going to use Alberts at all, Albin thought, you sure as hell had to train them. God alone knew what harm they could do, left alone in a wilderness of delicate machinery without any instructions.

All the same, “dreary” was the word for it. (An image of Dr. Haenlingen’s frozen face floated into his mind. He pushed it away. It was morning. It was time for work.)

He met Derban at the turn in the corridor, perhaps fifty feet before the Alberts’ door. That wasn’t strictly according to the rules, and Albin knew it: he had learned the code as early as anyone else. But the rules were for emergencies—and emergencies didn’t happen any more. The Alberts weren’t about to revolt.

He was carrying his Belbis beam, of course. The little metal tube didn’t look like much, but it was guaranteed to stop anything short of a spaceship in its tracks, and by the very simple method of making holes. The Belbis beam would make holes in nearly anything: Alberts, people or most materials. It projected a quarter-inch beam of force in as near a straight line as Einsteinian physics would allow, and it was extremely efficient. Albin had been practicing with it for three years, twice a week.

Everybody did. Not that there’s ever been a chance to use it.

And there wasn’t going to be a chance, Albin decided. He exchanged a word or two absently with Derban and they went to the door together. Albin reached for the door but Derban’s big brown hand was already on it. He grinned and swung the door open.

Air conditioning had done something to minimize the reek inside, but not much. Albin devoted most of his attention to keeping his face a complete mask. The last thing he wanted was to retch—not in front of the Alberts, who didn’t really exist for him, but in front of Derban. And the party (which he wasn’t going to think about) hadn’t left his stomach in perfect shape.

The Alberts, seeing these masters enter stirred and rose. Albin barked at them in a voice that was only very slightly choked: “Form a line. Form a line.”

The Alberts milled around, quite obviously uncertain what a line was. Albin gripped his beam tighter, not because it was a weapon but just because he needed something handy to take out his anger on.

“Damn it,” he said tightly, “a line. Form a straight line.”

“It’s only their second day,” Derban said in a low voice. “Give them time.” Albin could barely hear him over the confused babble of the Alberts. He shook his head and felt a new stab of anger.

“One behind the other,” he told the milling crowd. “A line, a straight line.”

After a little more confusion, Albin was satisfied. He sighed heavily and beckoned with his beam: the Alberts started forward, through the door and out into the corridor.

Albin went before, Derban behind, falling naturally into step. They came to the great elevator and Albin pushed a stud. The door slid open.

The Alberts, though, didn’t want to go in. They huddled, looking at the elevator with big round eyes, muttering to themselves and to each other. Derban spoke up calmly: “This is the same room you were in yesterday. It won’t hurt you. Just go through the door. It’s all right.” But the words had very little effect. A few of the Alberts moved closer and then, discovering that they were alone, hurriedly moved back again. The elevator door remained open, waiting.

Albin, ready to shriek with rage by now, felt a touch at his arm. One of the Alberts was standing near him, looking up. Its eye blinked: it spoke. “Why does the room move?” The voice was not actually unpleasant, but its single eye stared at Albin, making him uncomfortable. He told himself not to blow up. Calm. Calm.

“The room moves because it moves,” he said, a little too quickly. “Because the masters tell it to move. What do you want to know for?”

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