Authors: Mike Resnick
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Space Opera
There was a moment of tense total silence.
"Got her!" said the Indian suddenly. He began pulling her up, and suddenly stopped. "Give me a hand. I can't pull her any higher."
"Just don't let her go!" said Dante sharply, as he and Barnes stood over Virgil and slowly pulled his torso up until September Morn's hand was visible. Than Dante grabbed it and pulled her the rest of the way out, and a moment later she was standing next to them, a little weak and wobbly on her feet.
"I didn't think I'd ever see a human again," she said. Suddenly she smiled. "I'm too relieved even to cry."
"Are you strong enough to run?" asked Dante. "We haven't got much time."
"I don't know."
"Then I'll have to carry you." He picked her up. "Barnes, lead the way! Virgil, protect my back in case anything comes after us!"
"Where's the Tweedle?" she asked as Dante began running toward the ship.
"Let's hope he's hundreds of miles away," said Dante, as they raced out of the fortress.
When all four were inside the ship, he ordered the hatch to close, and then took off. He counted to 30 and pressed the yellow button that would lift Deuteronomy Priest's ship off the surface if it still existed.
"How did you manage it?" asked September Morn, still trying to focus her eyes.
"Mostly luck," answered the poet.
"Won't they be coming after us?" she asked.
"Not if things go according to plan," said Dante. "Computer, show us Kabal III on the viewscreen." He turned to her. "Can you see it?"
"Yes. My pupils are finally adjusting. I'd been down there a long time."
"Then keep an eye on the planet," said Dante.
And no sooner had he spoken than the Navy bombarded it with all the terrifying power at its disposal, and suddenly Kabal III was nothing but a spectacular light show. When the Navy left a few minutes later, nothing remained but a cloud of swirling dust.
"Is the Tweedle dead?" she asked.
"He's got to be."
"I wish I could believe that, but I don't know . . ." she said, shuddering at the thought of the creature. "It could be invulnerable to all that. For all we know, it's floating in space, already planning its revenge."
"He's dead," said Dante.
"How can you be so sure?"
"He had nostrils," said Dante. "I don't think any living being could stand up to that pounding, but even if he could, his nostrils means he has to breathe. There's no planet, which means there's no atmosphere. He's dead, all right."
"I never thought of that!" said Virgil.
"Of course not," said September Morn, staring at the poet with open admiration. "You're not Dante Alighieri."
His mother was a cosmic wind,
His sire an ion storm.
His army charges straight from hell,
A filthy obscene swarm.
His shout can level mountains,
His glance can kill a tree,
His step can cause an earthquake,
His breath can boil the sea.
September Morn wrote this verse, because Dante Alighieri was much too busy to work on the poem. She imitated his style and rhymes, which were much more austere than her own lush, rich, metaphor-filled poetry, but she wrote an 8-line stanza to differentiate it from his work.
They had been back on Hadrian II for less than a day when word reached them that Wilson Tchanga, the Rough Rider, had been robbed and killed on his farm on Gingergreen II. Dante immediately sent for Virgil, who showed up in the poet's room a few minutes later.
"What's up?" asked the Indian.
"The Rough Rider's dead—murdered."
"Big deal," said Virgil. "From what I hear, he was over the hill anyway."
"As sensitive as ever," said Dante sardonically.
"I never met him," was Virgil's explanation.
"I don't care," said Dante. "I want you to get your ass out to Gingergreen II."
"What's on Gingergreen II?"
"That's where he lived."
"It's a waste of time," said Virgil. "Whoever killed him is long gone."
"Shut up and listen," said Dante. "I want you to go to Gingergreen and spread the word that Santiago robbed and killed the Rough Rider. I'm going to have Wilbur send you a hundred thousand credits, and I want you to bribe or buy three or four men who will swear they saw Santiago making his getaway from Tchanga's farm."
"What did Santiago look like?" asked Virgil. "Artificial arm or silver hair?"
"One of your men will swear he was tall, thin, and bearded. The second will say he was short, fat, and clean-shaven. And the third will claim he was an alien, eleven feet tall, with orange hair." Dante paused while Virgil assimilated his instructions. "If the locals won't put up a reward, put up one yourself. Make as much noise as you can, and when you're done on Gingergreen, hit every neighboring world with the story and the offer of the reward."
"How much should I offer?"
"It doesn't matter. Nobody's going to claim it."
"I don't understand any of this," complained Virgil.
"You don't have to understand it," sand Dante. "You just have to do it."
"How soon do I leave?"
"As soon as you can get to the spaceport."
"Well," said the Indian, "you usually know what you're doing. I suppose this will make sense to
He turned and left.
Dante had a cup of coffee, then went down to the lobby and had the desk clerk summon a robotic rickshaw, which he took out to September Morn's house.
"Hi," he said, when she ordered the door to dilate and let him pass through. "How are you feeling today?"
"Much better, thank you," she replied. "I had to buy a new door, but otherwise the house seems intact." She paused. "My sister seems to have packed up and left. Would you know anything about that?"
"I seem to remember her expressing some interest in seeing the galaxy."
September Morn smiled. "You're a lousy liar."
"Let's hope you're a good one," said Dante.
"What are you talking about?"
"I notice that Trajan has a police department. Do they have a Neverlie Machine?"
"I suppose so. Most police departments do," said September Morn. "Why?"
"I want you to submit to it, turn it up to lethal, and make a holodisc of yourself swearing that Dimitrios was killed by Santiago."
"You're crazy!" she said. "It'll fry me in an instant!"
"No it won't," he corrected her. "You'll be telling the truth. The Bandit
Santiago when he killed Dimitrios."
A look of comprehension crossed her face. "He was, wasn't he?"
"Right. Can you do it?"
"I'll do it twice. Once at minimum voltage, so it just gives me a little jolt if it thinks I'm lying. Once I'm convinced that it's safe, I'll do what you want."
"Good. I'll send Accidental Barnes with you, to make sure none of the police play any games with the machine while you're in it."
"I assume there's a reason for this?"
"Just bring me the holodisc when you're done."
He left and went back into town. Before the day was out, a huge man, taller than Silvermane and almost as broad as Moby Dick, wandered into the Fat Chance, looked around, spotted Dante sitting at a table with the albino, and approached them.
"You've come a long way and accomplished a hell of a lot, Rhymer," he said in his booming voice. "I've been hearing about you all the way back on Delvania."
Dante jumped to his feet. "Tyrannosaur Bailey!" he said. "I never thought I'd see you again."
"I never thought I'd leave Delvania—but when I heard that you killed Tweedledee and Tweedledum, I decided that you actually did what you set out to do and found Santiago, and the time had come to take a stand. You point him out to me, and I'll sign up to follow him."
"I can't," said Dante. "We've had a couple of unsuccessful candidates. But the organization is intact, and we could sure use you on our side."
"There's no Santiago?"
"At the moment."
Bailey shrugged. "What the hell—I'm here."
"Then you'll join us?"
"Yeah, I'll join you. Truth to tell, I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic back on Delvania." He paused. "So what do I do now?"
Dante stared at him for a long moment, then spoke.
"Do you really want to help?"
"I said I did."
"Then I want you to do back to Delvania—"
"I just left!" interrupted Bailey.
"Just for a short time," continued Dante.
"And what do I do once I get there?"
"Burn your tavern down."
Bailey stared at him as if he was crazy. "Do
"You heard me. Burn it down."
"Just go home, burn it down, and leave?"
"And tell everyone who will listen that Santiago did it, and you want his head." Dante paused. "I especially want you to tell that to any member of the Democracy, or anyone who might soon be traveling to the Democracy. Can you do it?"
"Of course I can do it!"
"Good. Can you leave tonight?"
"I just got here. I plan to eat, shower with real water, and sleep in a real bed. I'll go back in the morning."
"What about you?" asked Moby Dick after Tyrannosaur Bailey had gone off in search of a meal. "You're sending everyone else off on missions. What do
"Go back to Valhalla, I suppose, and see what needs taking care of," said Dante. "Matilda and the Plymouth Rocker are still there, and they probably need some help." He paused. "You might as well come along."
"Me? I've got a business to run right here."
"It'll get by without you, and we may need you to use your alien contacts on our behalf."
"For how long?"
"I don't knew. A few days. Maybe a week."
"All right," agreed the albino. "I don't suppose there's any sense backing out now that we've already beaten the Tweedle."
"We'll leave in the morning."
"How about tonight?" said Moby Dick. "I've got nothing better to do. We might as well get started."
Dante shook his head. "I want to stick around to make sure Bailey leaves for Delvania. Then we'll go."
Moby Dick shrugged. "You're the boss."
"In the meantime, get hold of Deuteronomy Priest and convince him that Santiago is the anti-Christ."
"And then what?"
Dante smiled. "Then turn him loose."
They took off in mid-morning. During the flight, Dante contacted Wilbur Connaught and had him transfer half the money he'd raised to a numbered account on Far London. Then he climbed into a Deepsleep pod—Moby Dick was already ensconced in one—and didn't wake up until they'd broken out of orbit around Valhalla and were about to touch down.
Matilda was waiting for him, as were the Plymouth Rocker, Accidental Barnes, Blue Peter, Virgil Soaring Hawk, and dozens of other members of the organization. Even Tyrannosaur Bailey, possessed of a faster ship, was there.
"I hear you've been a busy man," said Matilda. "You look like you've lost a little weight."
"I'm lucky that's all I lost," he replied.
"The Rhymer's done pretty well to hang onto his life when so many men and aliens were trying to relieve him of it," agreed Moby Dick.