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Чтение книги "The End Justifies the Means" (страница 1)

   Henry Lion Oldie
   The End Justifies the Means
   A tribute to Robert Sheckley

   “On Clavine, a mining planet of Class 4, the investigators set up their camps close to the landing site. The local authorities didn’t even try to deal with that.”
From the Report of Victor Caudieux, Toxicologist
   …Hesitating, Lena halted at the bottom of the stairs. If she didn’t get herself into a mess bringing enrichment – it would mean that something awful happened to her: Lena Pearl became reasonable!
   On the other hand, the fake investigator’s diploma, the contract with Interstellar Mines, and the arrival on Clavine as a member of the expedition – all that was an outright venture from the beginning to the end. Good rates, long distance bonuses, and real chance to “open up a vein” allured a lot of people. The contract stipulated a considerable one-time premium or a share in the development of any unique deposits discovered by the investigator.
   On her way there, Lena had to study thoroughly a brain-racking course on Applied Geology. She wasn’t going to waste five years of her priceless youth at the university, but she still needed the knowledge required. Otherwise, how she would operate the equipment or understand that she had come across a rhenium plug instead of common magnetite which was as widely spread here as salt water on the Old Earth.
   What saved Lena – was a packet compression hypno-adaptor, which she got using five-finger discount at the exhibition of new technology. The model wasn’t in serial production yet, being still tested for the side effects. Yet, Lena took the risk – she did it frequently; and she won – that, unfortunately, happened with her rarely. The hypnotic course classified as “Restricted” – also obtained not quite legally – was crammed thoroughly in her head, giving her the opportunity to get zealously down to business right along her arrival on Clavine.
   Could you imagine that for two years she worked her ass honestly?! In the outskirts of the Galaxy! She had to live under a temporary dome for a year, and another year – in a prefabricated house, where hot water breakdowns took place constantly. As for entertainment, the colony had a bar with dancing in an old tin hangar, and a film collection of old junk such as Terminator-65. Each quarter, her account was replenished with the wage including rate, bonuses, and premium…
   But damn it! She needed a killing, not those handouts!
   A pawn champed to become a queen.
   On Clavine, though, she met Victor, a toxicologist – who looked like a romantic macho, if such doormats and deadheads could happen to be machos. Five proposals, and in response three absolute rejections and two promises to think it over… Any idiot would realize that it was high time to rob the Company money collector, become a millionaire, and then your beloved would fall to your feet at once!
   Alas, Victor appeared to have lead in pants.
   Two years of her life were wasted and went down the drain! The contract expired next week, and if she didn’t undertake drastic measures…
   Lena hesitated for a minute. Should she drop it all, get to the surface, and urgently make up a new and astonishing plan that could be executed within the remaining period of time? Or should she get to the end of the drift that was dug out by the boring machine at night, and collect samples?
   Maybe she would be lucky finally?
   The boring machine was droning diligently in the depths of the dig, as if encouraging the girl. A zealous thing was that metalware! Okay, one last attempt! Having disheveled her splendid platinum fringe with a habitual gesture, Lena put on her hard hat, and strode forward. Lighting a powerful lantern with a quark battery, she examined the walls attentively; alas, the fate gave her the finger once again.
   At the end of the drift, there was a crack on the wall polished by ultrasound drills and fused by laser bores. The mine could collapse! They shouldn’t set the camp and lay the mines so close to the landing site. Each time, when a space truck landed, her house jumped up in fear, as if it intended to go into the orbit itself.
   Lena gave some light into the crack. A cave? Or just a small cavern in the rock? Pressing her face against the fracture, she was trying to see what was there in the depth. A cloud of golden pollen, disturbed by her breath, flew up into the air. The girl couldn’t hold it, and sneezed deafeningly. In a moment, an idea came to her mind. A simple and obvious one, like all great ideas. How hadn’t she thought of that before?
   Irregular samples from faraway places, descriptions and maps! They were not sent to the Company headquarters yet. Interstellar Mines operated on Clavine, but it had no monopoly on the business. Their competitors – Space Ore ltd., for instance – would pay a pretty penny for somebody’s secrets!
   Very pretty, indeed!
   A theft – that was the name of what Lena Pearl, a dolly-girl and gold-digger of twenty-four years old, intended to commit. She wasn’t scared by the fact that she had never done it before. Fraud, racket, petty larcenies, fake diploma – but the theft, especially the one followed by hijacking a cargo craft…
   The thought of hijacking came to her head at the last moment.
   And it seemed to be extremely attractive.
* * *
   “Where are you hurrying, Mademoiselle Pearl?”
   The girl didn’t answer, striding on towards the warehouses with the purposefulness of a robot. But Michel Duragnac was in a sociable mood that day, and also had a lot of idle time. Recently, Michel restored his interest in the individuals of the opposite sex – since the moment Victor Caudieux, Physician, cured him from the euphorine addiction.
   “You’ve had a stroke of luck, eh? May I congratulate you? But your sample bag is empty, if I’m not mistaken…”
   Lena kept silence. She had no time for Michel. She could sneeze at him! Eventually, this was exactly what she did; she turned to her importunate cavalier and sneezed right at Duragnac. The cavalier froze in his place as if being shot by a para-freezer, blinked, and in turn sneezed out loud at the back of Mademoiselle Pearl, as she was marching away.
   In a second, Michel rushed towards the Medical Centre.
   He ran as if his life depended on his speed.
* * *
   Anyone could enter the warehouse unimpeded; it was unlikely that ore storage would be of interest to thieves. The value of a single lump was not significant, and it was hardly possible to carry away a dozen of tons in hands. However, Block B, where irregular samples were stored, had a security guard. Other than him, Mark Greenberg, Receiving Clerk, a grumbler and misanthrope, sat at a wide metal-plastic counter.
   “Have you brought anything?” he inquired with a yawn.
   The Receiving Clerk considered greetings to be unnecessary.
   “No, I haven’t. I came to take something.”
   The peevish expression on Mark’s face began changing into one of perplexity. However, the metamorphosis was not fully completed, when the girl leaned against the counter and sneezed right at the clerk.
   As if she shot at him.
   Mark smiled broadly, placed a pile of acceptance statements in front of him and started folding them into marvelous cranes and wonderful frogs. For making chrysanthemums, he used miniature scissors which he took out of his briefcase. The security guard was staring at the clerk indulged in origami arts, until he sneezed and moved out of the warehouse singing the spiritual “Go Down Moses”.
   The way was cleared.
   Without objections, Mark gave Lena the key to the safes that held samples and documentation, so she would not prevent him from folding an exclusively refined pigeon. And even a child was able to use the key.
* * *
   Victor Caudieux, a swarthy brunet of thirty years old, sat in an armchair with his legs crossed and browsed the latest issue of Medicine Bulletin. From time to time, he took a sip of coffee and frowned. His colleagues on Tangar-II and Clementine did a real work! Vegetable alkaloids, bacterial toxins, hallucinogens with unique properties… Discoveries were made by wholesale; descriptions of properties caused him a quiet rapture and aroused sharp jealousy in the young toxicologist’s soul.
   Why did the fortune bring him on Clavine? No dangerous microorganisms, no venomous animals, the flora – neutral… He managed to isolate a pair of weak toxins, but eventually they turned out to be the close analogues to already known compounds. Sure, he was not only a toxicologist but a physician as well. And what of it? His colleague surgeon had some work to do – take, for instance, the knifing of the day before alone! But Victor had nothing to do at all. To bring the miners out of drinking bouts? To treat cooks’ diarrhea with Shredder pills? To cure Michel, who got addicted to euphorine?
   Well, he cured Michel.
   And now what?
   Certainly, there were riddles on Clavine, too. For instance, stampedes of animal herds from the foothill areas situated four miles away from the colony. No visible danger, as it seemed, and yet the herds darted off suddenly, and ran across the plain, raising dust and disappearing beyond the horizon in less than half an hour. What drove them away from the pastures chosen? Predators’ attacks? There were no predators on Clavine, which could force giant elephanteries to run for their lives! Small earthquakes caused by the gravity pull of the Clavine's huge moon? Unlikely…
   Victor had tried hard to solve the mystery for a very long time, but he didn’t succeed. It didn’t currently matter: four days remained till the end of the contract, and then he would fly away from here, relax on the Old Earth for a month, and obtain the assignment either to Salferna or Pandemonium – where was the real “paradise” for a toxicologist!
   A noise on the street distracted Victor from his thoughts. He drew the blinds apart and saw the crowd gathered near the Chemical Laboratory. A man was reciting poems, having climbed on a fuel barrel. Looking hard, Victor recognized his colleague Igor Senin, Surgeon.
   “What got into him? Senin is a balanced man, not inclined to shocking behavior…”
   Senin sneezed, interrupting his declamation, and continued performing. The crowd around him began dispersing fast. Sneezing, the people started moving in different directions like ants that suddenly remembered some urgent work waiting for them in their anthill.
   The door opened without a knock.
   “Euphorine, Doctor!” Michel Duragnac burst into his office. “I know you have it!”
   “I did not cure you, Michel, for you to…”
   “Euphorine!” Michel grabbed the physician by his shirt and shook him with an unexpected force. “Where is it?”
   “What the hell are you doing?!”
   “I kill you!”
   A heavy porcelain pan fell on Michel’s head at the same moment when the drug-addict suddenly made a pitifully wry face and sneezed at Victor’s face. Duragnac unclenched his fingers and fell down on the floor like a sack.
   But the physician didn’t even look at him.
   The Hippocratic Oath – who cares?! To help a wounded man – there is plenty of time! Stepping over the unconscious patient, Victor darted to the laboratory. Eventually, he had some real work to do.
* * *
   The colony was quickly going nuts.
   Shamil Jalilov, Expedition Director, was making love with Matilda – a cook, on the floor of the diner. Judging by her sighs and moans, the woman enjoyed the process. A little farther, near the distribution tray, Beata Hoffer, a beautiful and slender like a model geologist, greedily ate spaghetti, scooping them with both of her hands out of a saucepan. She did not mind the lovers’ behavior even a bit.
   Jan – a loader – sat at the kitchen computer and enthusiastically shot hairy monsters in some game. Chef was about to express his indignation, but the loader sneezed, and Chef immediately left for the space centre to discuss the dissolution of morals among the youth with Astronavigator Nasibulla.
   In the bar, the warehouse security guard, still singing spirituals, snatched a liter bottle of “Remy Martin XO” and started drinking straight out of it. In response to the barman’s shout: “And who’s going to pay for it?!” – the security guard sneezed, spattering half the bar with cognac, and continued his libationing. The barman fell into a reverie and escaped in a small room at the back. He returned carrying an easel, canvas and paints; when he went out to the street, he began feverishly painting the landscape: lilac mountains in the mist, and a valley prior to the storm.
   The painting appeared to be rather good.
   Meanwhile, half a dozen of the bar’s denizens enthusiastically poured in themselves so many shots that it was enough to fuel a space shuttle. The rest dispersed: someone went to whoop ass of the assumed beau of his wife, someone – to demand an immediate pay raise, and someone – to the landing site, desiring to leave this God-forsaken hole immediately.
   After finishing his cognac, the security guard fell asleep under the counter with the happy face of a man who achieved his goal.
   Some people fought, copulated, sang songs, and did the devil knew what else right on the street. Others passed them by in a hurry, not paying attention to what was happening around them. Everyone had some urgent business to attend to without any delay.
* * *
   Lena drove the antigravity-cart into the hold of the cargo craft “Hercules”. The cart was fully loaded with numbered samples. The chips with descriptions and maps were in the bag hanging on the girl’s shoulder.
   To hijack a spaceship, she needed a weapon. Lena easily found a powerful ray-gun in the empty police station. Then, she faced the problem; she was not able to find anyone from the “Hercules” crew. And the ability to drive a cargo craft was not among her numerous talents.
   Finally, she discovered Astronavigator Nasibulla, who slept in the cabin, being weary after his dispute with Chef.
   Shouts and slaps across the face didn’t bother the astronavigator whatsoever. However, when Lena overturned a bucket of cold water on Nasibulla’s head, the astronavigator woke up, took away the ray-gun which Lena forgot to unlock and pinned the arms of the adventuress – who was kicking and screeching desperately; then he pushed her into the nearest closet and locked her inside. He then proceeded to dry his hair hastily with an ionic hairdryer and went back to sleep.
   He dreamed of sleeping himself out nearly for a month.
* * *
   “Victor, darling, what really happened?”
   The liner “Montparnasse” speeded leaving the system. In a twin luxury cabin, the acceleration wasn’t noticeable. Clavine, the sapphire globe with malachite veins, faded astern.
   The planet smiled recalling the fun of the day before.
   By lunch time, people began coming to their senses. They only vaguely remembered what had happened. For instance, Astronavigator Nasibulla, when he awoke, couldn’t figure out how the girl appeared to be locked in the tools’ closet. However, his prisoner explained nothing, and just rushed away.
   To Lena’s luck, the receiving clerk was not in Block B, and the security guard was still asleep under the bar counter. She managed to return the stolen goods without a hitch and sneak off. She left the samples and chips right on the counter. They would sort them out anyhow! How could she venture such a rash action?! And she was yet concerned about becoming reasonable…
   Victor visited her in the evening; he was tired but glowing.
   “Honey, you dreamed of a prince with a white yacht, didn’t you?”
   “And where exactly is your yacht, prince?” Lena snorted.
   Victor grinned victoriously: “It waits in the Tigana spaceyard. Meanwhile, I can offer you two tickets to a liner!”
   He inserted the credit chip into the terminal and ran his fingers over the keyboard. In addition to the picture of the yacht – which was bought an hour earlier for sackful of money – the photo and personal data of its owner, Victor Caudieux, appeared on the screen.
   Lena groaned quietly.
   “Where did you get that from?!”
   “From here!” Victor knocked at his forehead with the finger. “I accept congratulations; I made the discovery! The pharmaceutical company ‘Belladonna’ has already offered me a laboratory. The yacht is a trifle. Eight percent of advance…”
   “Aren’t you kidding?”
   “No. When shall we get married?”
   Lena threw her arms around her groom’s neck with a shriek. She didn’t know why women shrieked; however, men flipped from that. New Victor – energetic and, above all, rich – matched her every inch. It seemed she did manage to hit the jackpot after all…
   Only in the liner cabin, she finally believed in the reality of events.
   “So what actually happened, honey? Don’t give me the baloney about the ‘mass psychoses’!”
   “The psychosis was the management’s idea. Otherwise, the planet would have been closed for quarantine, and we would have become guinea pigs. It would have meant losses for the Company, and frustration for us.”
   “And what if this is really dangerous?”
   “Don’t worry, sweetie. These are the spores of Fungus Caudieux. Endemic cave fungus, that is inclined to spreading.”
   “Through human bodies?!”
   “Calm down.” Victor kissed his young wife. “It doesn’t parasitize on the mammals. We’re only spore carriers. Like bees.”
   “Bees don’t get nuts because of pollen!”
   “None of us has lost our minds, my love. We just started doing what we desired. We started moving to our main goal by the shortest way possible. All our physical and mental powers were set in motion! Could you imagine?” Victor’s eyes were sparkling. “In such a state, a man is able to move mountains! In two hours, I’ve solved the problem that tormented me for two years!”
   “How lucky!” Lena thought. “My goal remained a secret to him…”
   “But why do the fungi need this?”
   “The herds infected with the spores are in a hurry to leave the areas of earthquakes. The fungi spores strengthen the urge, and stampede the herds. Animals, unlike human beings, have the limited set of goals: feeding, reproduction, the instinct of self-preservation… My fungus also wishes to propagate, and the herds spread its spores as far as possible, thus widening its natural habitat. The alkaloid of Fungus Caudieux affects for about two hours, but I don’t know whether all the spores left our bodies. Relapses might be possible. I wonder whether it’s transmitted from generation to generation…”
   Victor shrugged his shoulders. “If it were so, darling, it would be in a considerably weakened form.”
   “Alright, I agree. In this case, our son will have a chance to grow up not being a duffer like his father…”
   Suddenly her countenance changed.
   “Wait, darling! You told me that I’m the only essence and reason of your existence!”
   “I am ready to confirm it right now, honey!” Victor burst into laughter.
   “Then why, getting contaminated, you rushed to the laboratory instead of my embrace? Did you lie to me? Is your work more important for you than my love?! Betrayer, son of a bitch! My Mom has always told me that all men are scum bags…”
   The new wedlock began with a scandal, as it should do.
   And perfidious Clavine was vanishing astern.

   Translated from Russian by Irena and Michael Pevzner
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