Authors: Gordon R. Dickson
Tags: #Science Fiction
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
copyright (c) 1961 by Ace Books, Inc.,
copyright (c) 1969 by Gordon Dickson, "The Law-Twister Shorty" copyright (c) 1971 by Ben Bova. First unitary edition.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Book
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Richard Martin
First Baen printing, December 2000
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
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Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
The Dilbian called The Hill Bluffer opened his large mouth again, and put a further aspect of the matter out for John's consideration.
"You know," said the Bluffer, "you can't get Greasy Face back from the Terror without fighting him?"
Greasy Face, John remembered, was the Dilbian's nickname for the human woman the Streamside Terror had kidnapped. "
him??" he echoed.
"Yep," said the Bluffer. "Man-to-man. No weapons. No holds barred."
John blinked. He looked past the Dilbian postman's head at the puffs of white clouds. They had not moved. They were still there. So were the mountains. It must be something wrong with his ears.
"Fighting him?" said John again, feeling like a man in a fast elevator which has just begun to descend.
"A man's got his pride," said the Bluffer. "If you take Greasy Face back, his mug's spilt all over again." He leaned a little toward John. "That is, unless you whip him in a fair fight. Then there's no blood feud to it. You're just a better man than he is, that's all. But that's what I haven't been able to figure in this. You aren't bad for a Shorty. You pulled a good trick with that beer on those drunks last night. You got guts."
He looked searchingly at John. "But I mean— Hell, you can't fight the Terror. Anybody'd know that. I mean—
!" said the Bluffer.
John was wishing he could express to the postman how much he agreed with him.
"So what," inquired the bluffer, "are you going to do when I deliver you to Streamside?"
John thought about it. . . .
The Magnificent Wilf
Hoka! Hoka! Hoka!
(with Poul Anderson)
(with Poul Anderson)
The Right Honorable Joshua Guy, Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Dilbia, was smoking tobacco in a pipe, an old-fashioned, villainous habit for such a conservative and respected gentleman. The fumes from the pipe made John Tardy cough and strangle. Or perhaps it was the fumes combined with what the Rt. Hon. Josh Guy had just said.
"Sir?" wheezed John Tardy.
"Sorry," said the dapper little diplomat. "Thought you heard me the first time." He knocked his devil of a pipe out in a hand-carved bowl of some native Dilbian wood, where the coal continued to smoulder and stink only slightly less objectionably than it had before. "What I said was that, naturally, as soon as we knew you were safely drafted for the job, we let out word to the Dilbians that you were deeply attached to the girl. In love with her, in fact."
John gulped air. Both men were talking Dilbian to exercise the command of the language John had had hypnoed into him on his way here from the Belt stars, and the Dilbian nickname for the missing Earthian girl sociologist came from his lips automatically,
"With this Greasy Face?"
"Miss Ty Lamorc," corrected Joshua, smoothly slipping into Basic and then out again. "Greasy Face to Dilbians, of course. But you mustn't pay too much attention to the apparent value of these Dilbian nicknames. The two old Dilbian gentlemen you're about to meet—Daddy Shaking Knees, Mayor of Humrog, here, by the way, and Two Answers—aren't at all the sort they might sound like from name alone. Daddy Shaking Knees got his name from holding up one end of a timber one day in an emergency. After about forty-five minutes someone noticed his knees starting to tremble a bit. And Two Answers is not a liar, as you might expect, but a wily sort who can come up with more than one solution to a problem."
"I see," said John.
"Miss Lamorc is quite a fine young woman. I would not at all be ashamed to have her for a daughter, myself. Lots of character."
"Oh, I'm sure she has," said John, hastily. "I'm not objecting to the situation here. I don't want you to think that. After all, the draft is necessary in emergency situations, particularly in areas where we're in close competition with the Hemnoids. But I don't understand what this has to do with my decathlon record? I thought I'd put all that sports business behind me after the last Olympics. As you know, I'm actually a fully qualified biochemist, and . . ."
"Names," said Joshua, "have their chief value around here as an index to what the Dilbians think of you. I, myself, now, am referred to as Little Bite; and you will undoubtedly be christened yourself with a Dilbian nickname, shortly."
"Me!" said John, startled. He thought of his own red hair which surmounted an athletically stocky body. He had always hated to be called Red.
"It should not be too humiliating, provided you are careful not to make yourself ridiculous. Heinie, now—"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I beg yours," said Josh, starting to refill his pipe. "I should have used his full name of Heiner Schlaff." He puffed fresh clouds of smoke into the air of the small, neat office with the log walls. "He lost his head first time he stepped out alone on the street. A Dilbian from one of the back-mountain clans who'd never seen a human before, picked him up. Heinie lost his head completely. After all, he was never able to poke his nose outdoors without some Dilbian picking him up to hear him yell for help. The Squeaking Squirt, they named him; very bad public relations for us humans. Particularly when Gulark-
, the Hemnoid in charge of
embassy locally here, gets an advantageous handle hung on him like the Beer-Guts Bouncer. There he goes now, by the way."
Joshua pointed out the office window that fronted on the main street of Humrog. Coming down its cobblestones, John saw, a sort of enormous robed, Buddha-like parody of a human being. The Hemnoid was a good eight feet in height, enormously boned, and while not as tall as the Dilbians themselves, fantastically padded with heavy-gravity muscles. The Hemnoids, John remembered, came from an original world with one-fourth again the gravity of Earth. Since Dilbia's gravity was about a sixth less than Earth's, that gave humanity's chief and closest competitors quite an advantage in this particular instance.
"He may stop—no, he's going past," said Joshua. "What was I saying? Oh, yes. Keep your head in all situations. I assume someone who's won the decathlon in the All-Systems Olympics can do that."
"Well, yes," said John. "Of course, in biochemistry, now—"
"You will find the Dilbians primitive, touchy, and insular."
"Oh, yes. Definitely. Primitive. Touchy. And very much indifferent to anything outside their own mountains and forests; although we've been in touch with them for thirty years and the Hemnoids have for nearly twenty."
"I see. Well, I'll watch out for that," said John. "It struck me they wouldn't know much about chemistry, to say nothing of biochemistry—"
"On the other hand," Joshua brushed the neat ends of his small grey mustache with a thoughtful forefinger, "you mustn't fall into the error of thinking that just because they look like a passel of Kodiak bears who've decided to stand on their hind legs at all times and slim down a bit, that they're bearlike completely in nature."
"I'll watch that, too," said John.
"There are intelligent individuals among them. Highly intelligent. There's one," said Joshua, indicating a three-dimensional on his desk, the transparent cube of which showed the scaled-down frozen images of three Dilbians, the middle one of the trio—at whom Joshua was pointing—being a good head taller than either of his companions. Since John's hypno training had informed him that the average male adult Dilbian would scale upwards of nine feet, this made the one Joshua was pointing at a monster indeed. "He's shrewd. Independent and open-minded. Experienced and wise, to say nothing of being influential with his fellow-Dilbians. Is this pipe bothering you, my boy?"
"No. No," said John, coughing discreetly. "Not at all."
"Have to put it out shortly when we meet Daddy Shaking Knees and Two Answers. Dilbians are quite sensitive about human odors, even mild ones like tobacco. To get back to what I was saying: We
influence Dilbians like that chap or the Hemnoids are going to get the inside track on this planet. And the Dilbian system, as I'm sure your hypno training didn't omit to inform you, is absolutely necessary as a supply and reequipment stage for further expansion on any large scale beyond the Belt Stars. If the Hemnoids beat us out here, they've got the thin end of a wedge started that could eventually chop our heads off. Which they would be only too glad to do, you know."
John sighed. It was the sigh of a very human, young, recent graduate in biochemistry who would have liked nothing better than to live and let live.
"You'd think there'd be room enough in the universe for both of us."
"Apparently not, in the Hemnoid lexicon. You must read up on their psychology sometime. Fascinating. They're actually less like us than the Dilbians are, in spite of their greater physical resemblance."
"I understand they can be pretty dangerous."
"They've an instinctive streak of cruelty. Do you know what they used to do to the elderly among their own people until just the last hundred years or so of their history—"
, signaled the annuciator on Joshua's desk.
"Ah, that'll be Shaking Knees and Two Answers, in the outer office now," said the diplomat. "We'll go on in." He knocked out his pipe and laid it, regretfully, in the carved wooden bowl among the ashes.
"But what's it all about?" said John desperately. "I just got off the spaceship four hours ago. You've been feeding me lunch, and talking about background; but you haven't told me what it's all about!"
all about?" asked Joshua, pausing halfway to the door to the outer office.
"Well—everything!" burst out John. "Why was I drafted? I was all set to trans-ship to McBanen's Planet to join my government exploration outfit, and this girl from the local embassy on Vega Seven where I was, came up and pulled my passport and said I was drafted to here. Nobody explained anything."
"Dear me! They didn't? And you just came along to Dilbia here by courier ship, without asking—"
"Well, I'm as good a citizen as anyone else," said John, defensively. "I mean I may not like the draft, but I realize the necessity for it. They said you needed me. I came. But I'd just like to know what it's all about before I start getting into the job."
"Of course, of course!" said Joshua. "Well, it's really nothing. Miss Lamorc, this young sociologist girl, the one I was talking about, got kidnapped, that's all. By a Dilbian. We want you to go bring her back. Old Shaking Knees in the next room is the father of Boy Is She Built. And it was the fact that the Streamside Terror wanted Boy Is She Built that caused all this ruckus which ended up with the Terror kidnapping Miss Lamorc. You'll see," said Joshua, starting off toward the door again, "it's all very simple. It'll all straighten out for you once you get into it."
"But I don't see—" insisted John, doggedly, following him.
"What?" Joshua hesitated with his hand on the door latch.
"What all this has to do with my work. Why do you want a biochemist to bring back some woman who'd been kidnapped?"
"But we don't particularly want a biochemist," said Joshua. "What we want is a rough, tough laddie with excellent physical reflexes of the kind that would take top honors in a decathlon competition. It isn't your brains we want, Mr. Tardy, it's your brawn." He opened the door. "You'll find it's all very simple once you get the hang of it. Come along, my dear boy. After you."
Politely but firmly herded forward by the little diplomat, John found himself pushed into the large outer office of the Human Embassy on Dilbia, at Humrog, his head still spinning from Joshua's last words and the odd Dilbian names. Who, he wondered confusedly and in particular, was Boy Is She Built? The obvious conclusion, in terms of a seven foot-plus Dilbian female accoutered in little more than her natural furry pelt, was a little mind-shaking to imagine.
The moment, however, was not the proper one for imaginings, no matter how mind-shaking. Reality was being too overpowering to leave room for anything else. The first thing to strike John as the door closed behind him, was the scale of the room he was entering. The inner office had been a reassuringly human cell tucked away in a corner of gargantuan Dilbian architecture. Desk and chairs had been to John's own fit.