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Industrial Revolution

6th October 2017

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“The hell we can come back!” Avis cried.

“I beg your pardon?” Hulse said.

“You imbecile! Don’t you know Central Control here is cryotronic?”

Hulse did not flicker an eyelid. “So it is,” he said expressionlessly. “I had forgotten.”

Blades mastered his own shock enough to grate: “Well, we sure haven’t. If that thing goes off, the gamma burst will kick up so many minority carriers in the transistors that the p-type crystals will act n-type, and the n-type act p-type, for a whole couple of microseconds. Every one of ’em will flip simultaneously! The computers’ memory and program data systems will be scrambled beyond hope of reorganization.”

“Magnetic pulse, too,” Chung said. “The fireball plasma will be full of inhomogeneities moving at several per cent of light speed. Their electromagnetic output, hitting our magnetic core units, will turn them from super to ordinary conduction. Same effect, total computer amnesia. We haven’t got enough shielding against it. Your TIMM systems can take that kind of a beating. Ours can’t!”

“Very regrettable,” Hulse said. “You’d have to reprogram everything—”

“Reprogram what?” Avis retorted. Tears started forth in her eyes. “We’ve told you what sort of stuff our chemical plant is handling. We can’t shut it down on that short notice. It’ll run wild. There’ll be sodium explosions, hydrogen and organic combustion, n-n-nothing left here but wreckage!”

Hulse didn’t unbend a centimeter. “I offer my most sincere apologies. If actual harm does occur, I’m sure the government will indemnify you. And, of course, my command will furnish what supplies may be needed for the Pallas Castle to transport you to the nearest Commission base. At the moment, though, you can do nothing but evacuate and hope we will be able to intercept the missile.”

Blades knotted his fists. A sudden comprehension rushed up in him and he bellowed, “There isn’t going to be an interception! This wasn’t an accident!”

Hulse backed a step and drew himself even straighter. “Don’t get overwrought,” he advised.

“You louse-bitten, egg-sucking, bloated faggot-porter! How stupid do you think we are? As stupid as your Essjay bosses? By heaven, we’re staying! Then see if you have the nerve to murder a hundred people!”

“Mike … Mike—” Avis caught his arm.

Hulse turned to Chung. “I’ll overlook that unseemly outburst,” he said. “But in light of my responsibilities and under the provisions of the Constitution, I am hereby putting this asteroid under martial law. You will have all personnel aboard the Pallas Castle and at a minimum distance of a thousand kilometers within four hours of this moment, or be subject to arrest and trial. Now I have to get back and commence operations. The Altair will maintain radio contact with you. Good day.” He bowed curtly, spun on his heel, and clacked from the room.

Blades started to charge after him. Chung caught his free arm. Together he and Avis dragged him to a stop. He stood cursing the air ultraviolet until Ellen entered.

“I couldn’t keep up with you,” she panted. “What’s happened, Mike?”

The strength drained from Blades. He slumped into a chair and covered his face.

Chung explained in a few harsh words. “Oh-h-h,” Ellen gasped. She went to Blades and laid her hands on his shoulders. “My poor Mike!”

After a moment she looked at the others. “I should report back, of course,” she said, “but I won’t be able to before the ship accelerates. So I’ll have to stay with you till afterward. Miss Page, we left about half a bottle of wine on the verandah. I think it would be a good idea if you went and got it.”

Avis bridled. “And why not you?”

“This is no time for personalities,” Chung said. “Go on, Avis. You can be thinking what records and other paper we should take, while you’re on your way. I’ve got to organize the evacuation. As for Miss Ziska, well, Mike needs somebody to pull him out of his dive.”

“Her?” Avis wailed, and fled.

Chung sat down and flipped his intercom to Phone Central. “Get me Captain Janichevski aboard the Pallas,” he ordered. “Hello, Adam? About that general alarm—”

Blades raised a haggard countenance toward Ellen’s. “You better clear out, along with the women and any men who don’t want to stay,” he said. “But I think most of them will take the chance. They’re on a profit-sharing scheme, they stand to lose too much if the place is ruined.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a gamble, but I don’t believe Hulse’s sealed orders extend to murder. If enough of us stay put, he’ll have to catch that thing. He jolly well knows its exact trajectory.”

“You forget we’re under martial law,” Chung said, aside to him. “If we don’t go freely, he’ll land some PP’s and march us off at gunpoint. There isn’t any choice. We’ve had the course.”

“I don’t understand,” Ellen said shakily.

Chung went back to his intercom. Blades fumbled out his pipe and rolled it empty between his hands. “That missile was shot off on purpose,” he said.

“What? No, you must be sick, that’s impossible!”

“I realize you didn’t know about it. Only three or four officers have been told. The job had to be done very, very secretly, or there’d be a scandal, maybe an impeachment. But it’s still sabotage.”

She shrank from him. “You’re not making sense.”

“Their own story doesn’t make sense. It’s ridiculous. A new missile system wouldn’t be sent on a field trial clear to the Belt before it’d had enough tests closer to home to get the worst bugs out. A war-head missile wouldn’t be stashed anywhere near something so unreliable, let alone be put under its control. The testing ship wouldn’t hang around a civilian Station while her gunnery chief tinkered. And Hulse, Warburton, Liebknecht, they were asking in such detail about how radiation-proof we are.”

“I can’t believe it. Nobody will.”

“Not back home. Communication with Earth is so sparse and garbled. The public will only know there was an accident; who’ll give a hoot about the details? We couldn’t even prove anything in an asteroid court. The Navy would say, ‘Classified information!’ and that’d stop the proceedings cold. Sure, there’ll be a board of inquiry—composed of naval officers. Probably honorable men, too. But what are they going to believe, the sworn word of their Goddard House colleague, or the rantings of an asterite bum?”

“Mike, I know this is terrible for you, but you’ve let it go to your head.” Ellen laid a hand over his. “Suppose the worst happens. You’ll be compensated for your loss.”

“Yeah. To the extent of our personal investment. The Bank of Ceres still has nearly all the money that was put in. We didn’t figure to have them paid off for another ten years. They, or their insurance carrier, will get the indemnity. And after our fiasco, they won’t make us a new loan. They were just barely talked into it, the first time around. I daresay Systemic Developments will make them a nice juicy offer to take this job over.”

Ellen colored. She stamped her foot. “You’re talking like a paranoiac. Do you really believe the government of North America would send a battleship clear out here to do you dirt?”

“Not the whole government. A few men in the right positions is all that’s necessary. I don’t know if Hulse was bribed or talked into this. But probably he agreed as a duty. He’s the prim type.”

“A duty—to destroy a North American business?”

Chung finished at the intercom in time to answer: “Not permanent physical destruction, Miss Ziska. As Mike suggested, some corporation will doubtless inherit the Sword and repair the damage. But a private, purely asterite business … yes, I’m afraid Mike’s right. We are the target.”

“In mercy’s name, why?”

“From the highest motives, of course,” Chung sneered bitterly. “You know what the Social Justice Party thinks of private capitalism. What’s more important, though, is that the Sword is the first Belt undertaking not tied to Mother Earth’s apron strings. We have no commitments to anybody back there. We can sell our output wherever we like. It’s notorious that the asterites are itching to build up their own self-sufficient industries. Quite apart from sentiment, we can make bigger profits in the Belt than back home, especially when you figure the cost of sending stuff in and out of Earth’s gravitational well. So certainly we’d be doing most of our business out here.

“Our charter can’t simply be revoked. First a good many laws would have to be revised, and that’s politically impossible. There is still a lot of individualist sentiment in North America, as witness the fact that businesses do get launched and that the Essjays did have a hard campaign to get elected. What the new government wants is something like the Eighteenth Century English policy toward America. Keep the colonies as a source of raw materials and as a market for manufactured goods, but don’t let them develop a domestic industry. You can’t come right out and say that, but you can let the situation develop naturally.

“Only … here the Sword is, obviously bound to grow rich and expand in every direction. If we’re allowed to develop, to reinvest our profits, we’ll become the nucleus of independent asterite enterprise. If, on the other hand, we’re wiped out by an unfortunate accident, there’s no nucleus; and a small change in the banking laws is all that’s needed to prevent others from getting started. Q.E.D.”

“I daresay Hulse does think he’s doing his patriotic duty,” said Blades. “He wants to guarantee North America our natural resources—in the long run, maybe, our allegiance. If he has to commit sabotage, too bad, but it won’t cost him any sleep.”

“No!” Ellen almost screamed.

Chung sagged in his chair. “We’re very neatly trapped,” he said like an old man. “I don’t see any way out. Think you can get to work now, Mike? You can assign group leaders for the evacuation—”

Blades jumped erect. “I can fight!” he growled.

“With what? Can openers?”

“You mean you’re going to lie down and let them break us?”

Avis came back. She thrust the bottle into Blades’ hands as he paced the room. “Here you are,” she said in a distant voice.

He held it out toward Ellen. “Have some,” he invited.

“Not with you … you subversive!”

Avis brightened noticeably, took the bottle and raised it. “Then here’s to victory,” she said, drank, and passed it to Blades.

He started to gulp; but the wine was too noble, and he found himself savoring its course down his throat. Why, he thought vaguely, do people always speak with scorn about Dutch courage? The Dutch have real guts. They fought themselves free of Spain and free of the ocean itself; when the French or Germans came, they made the enemy sea their ally

The bottle fell from his grasp. In the weak acceleration, it hadn’t hit the floor when Avis rescued it. “Gimme that, you big butterfingers,” she exclaimed. Her free hand clasped his arm. “Whatever happens, Mike,” she said to him, “we’re not quitting.”

Still Blades stared beyond her. His fists clenched and unclenched. The noise of his breathing filled the room. Chung looked around in bewilderment; Ellen watched with waxing horror; Avis’ eyes kindled.

“Holy smoking seegars,” Blades whispered at last. “I really think we can swing it.”

Captain Janichevski recoiled. “You’re out of your skull!”

“Probably,” said Blades. “Fun, huh?”

“You can’t do this.”

“We can try.”

“Do you know what you’re talking about? Insurrection, that’s what. Quite likely piracy. Even if your scheme worked, you’d spend the next ten years in Rehab—at least.”

“Maybe, provided the matter ever came to trial. But it won’t.”

“That’s what you think. You’re asking me to compound the felony, and misappropriate the property of my owners to boot.” Janichevski shook his head. “Sorry, Mike. I’m sorry as hell about this mess. But I won’t be party to making it worse.”

“In other words,” Blades replied, “you’d rather be party to sabotage. I’m proposing an act of legitimate self-defense.”

If there actually is a conspiracy to destroy the Station.”

“Adam, you’re a spaceman. You know how the Navy operates. Can you swallow that story about a missile getting loose by accident?”

Janichevski bit his lip. The sounds from outside filled the captain’s cabin, voices, footfalls, whirr of machines and clash of doors, as the Pallas Castle readied for departure. Blades waited.

“You may be right,” said Janichevski at length, wretchedly. “Though why Hulse should jeopardize his career—”

“He’s not. There’s a scapegoat groomed back home, you can be sure. Like some company that’ll be debarred from military contracts for a while … and get nice fat orders in other fields. I’ve kicked around the System enough to know how that works.”

“If you’re wrong, though … if this is an honest blunder … then you risk committing treason.”

“Yeah. I’ll take the chance.”

“Not I. No. I’ve got a family to support,” Janichevski said.

Blades regarded him bleakly. “If the Essjays get away with this stunt, what kind of life will your family be leading, ten years from now? It’s not simply that we’ll be high-class peons in the Belt. But tied hand and foot to a shortsighted government, how much progress will we be able to make? Other countries have colonies out here too, remember, and some of them are already giving their people a freer hand than we’ve got. Do you want the Asians, or the Russians, or even the Europeans, to take over the asteroids?”

“I can’t make policy.”

“In other words, mama knows best. Believe, obey, anything put out by some bureaucrat who never set foot beyond Luna. Is that your idea of citizenship?”

“You’re putting a mighty fine gloss on bailing yourself out!” Janichevski flared.

“Sure, I’m no idealist. But neither am I a slave,” Blades hesitated. “We’ve been friends too long, Adam, for me to try bribing you. But if worst comes to worst, we’ll cover for you … somehow … and if contrariwise we win, then we’ll soon be hiring captains for our own ships and you’ll get the best offer any spaceman ever got.”

“No. Scram. I’ve work to do.”

Blades braced himself. “I didn’t want to say this. But I’ve already informed a number of my men. They’re as mad as I am. They’re waiting in the terminal. A monkey wrench or a laser torch makes a pretty fair weapon. We can take over by force. That’ll leave you legally in the clear. But with so many witnesses around, you’ll have to prefer charges against us later on.”

Janichevski began to sweat.

“We’ll be sent up,” said Blades. “But it will still have been worth it.”

“Is it really that important to you?”

“Yes. I admit I’m no crusader. But this is a matter of principle.”

Janichevski stared at the big red-haired man for a long while. Suddenly he stiffened. “O.K. On that account, and no other, I’ll go along with you.”

Blades wobbled on his feet, near collapse with relief. “Good man!” he croaked.

“But I will not have any of my officers or crew involved.”

Blades rallied and answered briskly, “You needn’t. Just issue orders that my boys are to have access to the scoopships. They can install the equipment, jockey the boats over to the full balloons, and even couple them on.”

Janichevski’s fears had vanished once he made his decision, but now a certain doubt registered. “That’s a pretty skilled job.”

“These are pretty skilled men. It isn’t much of a maneuver, not like making a Jovian sky dive.”

“Well, O.K., I’ll take your word for their ability. But suppose the Altair spots those boats moving around?”

“She’s already several hundred kilometers off, and getting farther away, running a search curve which I’m betting my liberty—and my honor; I certainly don’t want to hurt my own country’s Navy—I’m betting that search curve is guaranteed not to find the missile in time. They’ll spot the Pallas as you depart—oh, yes, our people will be aboard as per orders—but no finer detail will show in so casual an observation.”

“Again, I’ll take your word. What else can I do to help?”

“Nothing you weren’t doing before. Leave the piratics to us. I’d better get back.” Blades extended his hand. “I haven’t got the words to thank you, Adam.”

Janichevski accepted the shake. “No reason for thanks. You dragooned me.” A grin crossed his face. “I must confess though, I’m not sorry you did.”

Blades left. He found his gang in the terminal, two dozen engineers and rockjacks clumped tautly together.

“What’s the word?” Carlos Odonaju shouted.

“Clear track,” Blades said. “Go right aboard.”

“Good. Fine. I always wanted to do something vicious and destructive,” Odonaju laughed.

“The idea is to prevent destruction,” Blades reminded him, and proceeded toward the office.

Avis met him in Corridor Four. Her freckled countenance was distorted by a scowl. “Hey, Mike, wait a minute,” she said, low and hurriedly. “Have you seen La Ziska?”

“The leftenant? Why, no. I left her with you, remember, hoping you could calm her down.”

“Uh-huh. She was incandescent mad. Called us a pack of bandits and—But then she started crying. Seemed to break down completely. I took her to your cabin and went back to help Jimmy. Only, when I checked there a minute ago, she was gone.”

“What? Where?”

“How should I know? But that she-devil’s capable of anything to wreck our chances.”

“You’re not being fair to her. She’s got an oath to keep.”

“All right,” said Avis sweetly. “Far be it from me to prevent her fulfilling her obligations. Afterward she may even write you an occasional letter. I’m sure that’ll brighten your Rehab cell no end.”

“What can she do?” Blades argued, with an uneasy sense of whistling in the dark. “She can’t get off the asteroid without a scooter, and I’ve already got Sam’s gang working on all the scooters.”

“Is there no other possibility? The radio shack?”

“With a man on duty there. That’s out.” Blades patted the girl’s arm.

“O.K., I’ll get back to work. But … I’ll be so glad when this is over, Mike!”

Looking into the desperate brown eyes, Blades felt a sudden impulse to kiss their owner. But no, there was too much else to do. Later, perhaps. He cocked a thumb upward. “Carry on.”

Too bad about Ellen, he thought as he continued toward his office. What an awful waste, to make a permanent enemy of someone with her kind of looks. And personality—Come off that stick, you clabberhead! She’s probably the marryin’ type anyway.

In her shoes, though, what would I do? Not much; they’d pinch my feet. But—damnation, Avis is right. She’s not safe to have running around loose. The radio shack? Sparks is not one of the few who’ve been told the whole story and co-opted into the plan. She could

Blades cursed, whirled, and ran.

His way was clear. Most of the men were still in their dorms, preparing to leave. He traveled in huge low-gravity leaps.

The radio shack rose out of the surface near the verandah. Blades tried the door. It didn’t budge. A chill went through him. He backed across the corridor and charged. The door was only plastiboard—

He hit with a thud and a grunt, and rebounded with a numbed shoulder. But it looked so easy for the cops on 3V!

No time to figure out the delicate art of forcible entry. He hurled himself against the panel, again and again, heedless of the pain that struck in flesh and bone. When the door finally, splinteringly gave way, he stumbled clear across the room beyond, fetched up against an instrument console, recovered his balance, and gaped.

The operator lay on the floor, swearing in a steady monotone. He had been efficiently bound with his own blouse and trousers, which revealed his predilection for maroon shorts with zebra stripes. There was a lump on the back of his head, and a hammer lay close by. Ellen must have stolen the tool and come in here with the thing behind her back. The operator would have had no reason to suspect her.

She had not left the sender’s chair, not even while the door was under attack. Only a carrier beam connected the Sword with the Altair. She continued doggedly to fumble with dials and switches, trying to modulate it and raise the ship.

“Praises be … you haven’t had advanced training … in radio,” Blades choked. “That’s … a long-range set … pretty special system—” He weaved toward her. “Come along, now.”

She spat an unladylike refusal.

Theoretically, Blades should have enjoyed the tussle that followed. But he was in poor shape at the outset. And he was a good deal worse off by the time he got her pinioned.

“O.K.,” he wheezed. “Will you come quietly?”

She didn’t deign to answer, unless you counted her butting him in the nose. He had to yell for help to frog-march her aboard ship.

Pallas Castle calling NASS Altair. Come in, Altair.”

The great ovoid swung clear in space, among a million cold stars. The asteroid had dwindled out of sight. A radio beam flickered across emptiness. Within the hull, the crew and a hundred refugees sat jammed together. The air was thick with their breath and sweat and waiting.

Blades and Chung, seated by the transmitter, felt another kind of thickness, the pull of the internal field. Earth-normal weight dragged down every movement; the enclosed cabin began to feel suffocatingly small. We’d get used to it again pretty quickly, Blades thought. Our bodies would, that is. But our own selves, tied down to Earth forever—no.

The vision screen jumped to life. “NASS Altair acknowledging Pallas Castle,” said the uniformed figure within.

“O.K., Charlie, go outside and don’t let anybody else enter,” Chung told his own operator.

The spaceman gave him a quizzical glance, but obeyed. “I wish to report that evacuation of the Sword is now complete,” Chung said formally.

“Very good, sir,” the Navy face replied. “I’ll inform my superiors.”

“Wait, don’t break off yet. We have to talk with your captain.”

“Sir? I’ll switch you over to—”

“None of your damned chains of command,” Blades interrupted. “Get me Rear Admiral Hulse direct, toot sweet, or I’ll eat out whatever fraction of you he leaves unchewed. This is an emergency. I’ve got to warn him of an immediate danger only he can deal with.”

The other stared, first at Chung’s obvious exhaustion, then at the black eye and assorted bruises, scratches, and bites that adorned Blades’ visage. “I’ll put the message through Channel Red at once, sir.” The screen blanked.

“Well, here we go,” Chung said. “I wonder how the food in Rehab is these days.”

“Want me to do the talking?” Blades asked. Chung wasn’t built for times as hectic as the last few hours, and was worn to a nubbin. He himself felt immensely keyed up. He’d always liked a good fight.

“Sure.” Chung pulled a crumpled cigarette from his pocket and began to fill the cabin with smoke. “You have a larger stock of rudeness than I.”

Presently the screen showed Hulse, rigid at his post on the bridge. “Good day, gentlemen,” he said. “What’s the trouble?”

“Plenty,” Blades answered. “Clear everybody else out of there; let your ship orbit free a while. And seal your circuit.”

Hulse reddened. “Who do you think you are?”

“Well, my birth certificate says Michael Joseph Blades. I’ve got some news for you concerning that top-secret gadget you told us about. You wouldn’t want unauthorized personnel listening in.”

Hulse leaned forward till he seemed about to fall through the screen. “What’s this about a hazard?”

“Fact. The Altair is in distinct danger of getting blown to bits.”

“Have you gone crazy? Get me the captain of the Pallas.”

“Very small bits.”

Hulse compressed his lips. “All right, I’ll listen to you for a short time. You had better make it worth my while.”

He spoke orders. Blades scratched his back while he waited for the bridge to be emptied and wondered if there was any chance of a hot shower in the near future.

“Done,” said Hulse. “Give me your report.”

Blades glanced at the telltale. “You haven’t sealed your circuit, admiral.”

Hulse said angry words, but complied. “Now will you talk?”

“Sure. This secrecy is for your own protection. You risk court-martial otherwise.”

Hulse suppressed a retort.

“O.K., here’s the word.” Blades met the transmitted glare with an almost palpable crash of eyeballs. “We decided, Mr. Chung and I, that any missile rig as haywire as yours represents a menace to navigation and public safety. If you can’t control your own nuclear weapons, you shouldn’t be at large. Our charter gives us local authority as peace officers. By virtue thereof and so on and so forth, we ordered certain precautionary steps taken. As a result, if that war head goes off, I’m sorry to say that NASS Altair will be destroyed.”

“Are you … have you—” Hulse congealed. In spite of everything, he was a competent officer, Blades decided. “Please explain yourself,” he said without tone.

“Sure,” Blades obliged. “The Station hasn’t got any armament, but trust the human race to juryrig that. We commandeered the scoopships belonging to this vessel and loaded them with Jovian gas at maximum pressure. If your missile detonates, they’ll dive on you.”

Something like amusement tinged Hulse’s shocked expression. “Do you seriously consider that a weapon?”

“I seriously do. Let me explain. The ships are orbiting free right now, scattered through quite a large volume of space. Nobody’s aboard them. What is aboard each one, though, is an autopilot taken from a scooter, hooked into the drive controls. Each ‘pilot has its sensors locked onto your ship. You can’t maneuver fast enough to shake off radar beams and mass detectors. You’re the target object, and there’s nothing to tell those idiot computers to decelerate as they approach you.

“Of course, no approach is being made yet. A switch has been put in every scooter circuit, and left open. Only the meteorite evasion units are operative right now. That is, if anyone tried to lay alongside one of those scoopships, he’d be detected and the ship would skitter away. Remember, a scoopship hasn’t much mass, and she does have engines designed for diving in and out of Jupe’s gravitational well. She can out-accelerate either of our vessels, or any boat of yours, and out-dodge any of your missiles. You can’t catch her.”

Hulse snorted. “What’s the significance of this farce?”

“I said the autopilots were switched off at the moment, as far as heading for the target is concerned. But each of those switches is coupled to two other units. One is simply the sensor box. If you withdraw beyond a certain distance, the switches will close. That is, the ‘pilots will be turned on if you try to go beyond range of the beams now locked onto you. The other unit we’ve installed in every boat is an ordinary two-for-a-dollar radiation meter. If a nuclear weapon goes off, anywhere within a couple of thousand kilometers, the switches will also close. In either of those cases, the scoopships will dive on you.

“You might knock out a few with missiles, before they strike. Undoubtedly you can punch holes in them with laser guns. But that won’t do any good, except when you’re lucky enough to hit a vital part. Nobody’s aboard to be killed. Not even much gas will be lost, in so short a time.

“So to summarize, chum, if that rogue missile explodes, your ship will be struck by ten to twenty scoopships, each crammed full of concentrated Jovian air. They’ll pierce that thin hull of yours, but since they’re already pumped full beyond the margin of safety, the impact will split them open and the gas will whoosh out. Do you know what Jovian air does to substances like magnesium?

“You can probably save your crew, take to the boats and reach a Commission base. But your nice battleship will be ganz kaput. Is your game worth that candle?”

“You’re totally insane! Releasing such a thing—”

“Oh, not permanently. There’s one more switch on each boat, connected to the meteorite evasion unit and controlled by a small battery. When those batteries run down, in about twenty hours, the ‘pilots will be turned off completely. Then we can spot the scoopships by radar and pick ’em up. And you’ll be free to leave.”

“Do you think for one instant that your fantastic claim of acting legally will stand up in court?”

“No, probably not. But it won’t have to. Obviously you can’t make anybody swallow your yarn if a second missile gets loose. And as for the first one, since it’s failed in its purpose, your bosses aren’t going to want the matter publicized. It’d embarrass them to no end, and serve no purpose except revenge on Jimmy and me—which there’s no point in taking, since the Sword would still be privately owned. You check with Earth, admiral, before shooting off your mouth. They’ll tell you that both parties to this quarrel had better forget about legal action. Both would lose.

“So I’m afraid your only choice is to find that missile before it goes off.”

“And yours? What are your alternatives?” Hulse had gone gray in the face, but he still spoke stoutly.

Blades grinned at him. “None whatsoever. We’ve burned our bridges. We can’t do anything about those scoopships now, so it’s no use trying to scare us or arrest us or whatever else may occur to you. What we’ve done is establish an automatic deterrent.”

“Against an, an attempt … at sabotage … that only exists in your imagination!”

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