lyde Akins' instruments showed three ships departing from his home asteroid. "Dad!" Clyde thought with urgent fear. He opened the closed channel to his father's office. . .and horror and indignation fueled his intense anger.
Everything was wrecked.
Machines, instruments, books -- everything in his father's lab was scattered and smashed or burned. An automatic fire spray was just dousing the final smoulder. It was also blurring the blood on his father's crushed head. Eyes that would never see again were open and unblinking.
Bile searing his stomach and throat, Clyde turned the gravship and headed for Gale Bonner's place.
"Damn!" he cursed, smashing his fist against the arm of his command chair. "I told him the Empire police would come! I told him to be careful! I told him --" He bit the words short. He couldn't change the past.
enjamin Franklin had been his father's idol. Franklin had, among so many other things, freely given his inventions away. Fifteen years ago, after mining the Belt had made his father wealthy, the genius had begun inventing things -- and giving them away. He developed the oxyplant and freely handed out seeds until all Belters had them in their homes and, often, in their spaceships as well. He had designed improvements in bodysuits so that Belters could freely move about in their mining, muscles improved by nanowebs Clyde had spent many enjoyable hours playing in the asteroids wearing the improved 'suits that fit the body like a second skin. Clyde enjoyed the power the suit gave him, the thrust from the palm rockets when he needed to correct his course as he jumped from one asteroid to another. Then his father developed an easily-reproduced broadband transmitter designed for emergency transmissions. It had a range of more than a thousand miles. He gave them all away.
Two years ago, he invented the gravdrive.
Up to that point, Clyde had no objections to his father's altruism. All could -- and did -- benefit from his father's generosity, and it improved life on the Belt. But one aspect of the gravity drive that Clyde explored revealed a very risky danger: It had the ability not only to destroy an asteroid, but even a planet or the sun itself!
"Others might not discover that," his father had objected, when Clyde said the gravdrive should remain their secret.
"Dad, it's like giving a box of matches to a kid in a dynamite shed!" Clyde responded. "Particularly if the Empire figures it out!"
His father sighed. "The Empire. A perfect example of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Started out with 'Let us help you! The wealthy should share with the less fortunate,' and when the public bought it, developed to that old saying, 'My way or the highway!'" He shook his head in dismay. "Clyde, I guess you're right."
So they had the only gravship. Clyde knew that, eventually, the Empire would find out about it and tried to convince his father to protect himself. "I can't stay locked up," his father objected.
Man had never made it out of the solar system. Automated rockets were, even then, heading for other systems -- but no drive had been developed that would get its crew to another system in their lifetime. There had been talk about sending a gigantic ship containing a selected crew that would live out their lives, raise children, teach them procedures, and hope that their children's children would see the next system. Talk, however, was all there was; no one was interested in taking part in such a trip.
So man was left with only his own solar system to develop. The moon had produced little of value and Mars had proven to be habitable if domes were created, and it yielded enough to make it worth the trouble, but the Asteroid Belt had held the most valuable metals and minerals.
It wasn't just mining that brought people to the Belt. The Empire's oppressive rule had left the Belt the only place where there was any chance of any kind of freedom -- although that was limited; the fuel asteroids were completely under the control of the Empire -- and the Empire Police paid regular visits.
And now. . . .
There was nothing in his father's lab that would betray the secret. His immediate assumption was that Gale Bonners would be in trouble, since she was well-known as being his father's secretary/assistant. He hoped he would get there in time.
Purposefully, he landed with a thump that would resonate throughout the asteroid and announce his presence. He didn't want to call Gale; instruments could detect that, and he wanted to leave no trail.
Like all Belters, he wore his bodysuit constantly. He went to the airlock. 'Lock', in this case, was inaccurate -- at least on the outside. He spun the wheel and entered quickly, flipped open his face plate when the pump filled the small room with air. As it filled, Gale's face appeared behind the window to the room.
"What's going on?" Gale demanded, when she opened the door from her side.
"Grab some necessities and hurry," Clyde told her. "I think I'm just ahead of the Empire Police."
"What are you talking about?" Gale asked, her face blended between sternness and concern.
They killed dad," Clyde explained. "You'll be next on their list."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Gale snapped. "Your dad probably --"
"We don't have much time!" Clyde insisted, angry that Gale didn't realize the danger. Then he took a breath. "Look, if I'm wrong, I'll bring you back. But if I'm not, we've gotta get moving!"
"What if they offered so much money that your dad sold them the gravdrive?"
"Now who's being ridiculous?" Clyde retorted. "You know damned well Dad would never sell the drive to the Empire! Let's get going!" He stepped into the room. "Where's your bag?"
Gale paused and then, quickly reaching a decision, said, "I'll need to get Garfield, too."
"Of course," Clyde Akins agreed. Cats, with their instinctive sense of balance, were popular pets on the Belt, and the ones there quickly adapted to their own bodysuit. Another invention Clyde's father had come up with was an air bubble for the animals' bodysuits. It deflected radiation, provided oxygen in space, and gave the cats' whiskers full rein. Gale's cat was her only companion.
"My ship. . .?" Gale asked.
Clyde shook his head. "With the gravdrive, my ship can outmaneuver anything around; you couldn't keep up with me. Besides," he added, "remember that my ship has plenty of room, since it doesn't need lotsa space for fuel and propulsion."
"Garfield will love the Tube," Gale said, picking up the cat.
"Hey, he'll mess up the oxyplants!"
Gale laughed sarcastically. "Those oxyplants are tough, Clyde; your dad genetically engineered them not only to produce oxygen, but to be durable. Also, Garfield leaves the vegetables alone." She grinned. "Actually, he loathes vegetables!"
When his father had developed them, he said that everybody should have access to the vines, a cross between ivy and the extremely fertile and long-lasting kudzu vines that pestered the southern United States.
In eight minutes, Clyde, Gale and Garfield were speeding away from her asteroid home and Garfield was playing in the Tube, which ran the length of the gravship. That is, he played for a few minutes while they watched, but then he settled in midair, tucked in his feet, wrapped his tail around them and sat with his head in a regal position. Something about his attitude said, "What? Play? Me? Such indignity!"
Slowly, the death of Clyde's father sank into Gale's unbelieving mind. "What will we do?" Gale asked.
+ + +
hen the problem of fuel arrived, Gale suggested: "Acme, Inc keeps a good fuel supply on their asteroid. Since they stole the claim from the Rayburn's, I don't see anything wrong with -- ah -- relieving them of some of it." Since the Empire controlled all fuel stations, they couldn't fill up there.
Not only did they get fuel there, but Gale also 'relieved' them of all available cash. "This should go to the Rayburns," she told Clyde, who didn't argue.
The first raid went smoothly, but Clyde designed a penetrating ray with a depth of five hundred feet to lock the nanowebs ahead of it for followup raids. Since bodysuits were even worn for sleeping, it was effective. The lock only lasted for fifteen minutes, but that gave them plenty of time to strike claim-jumpers and relieve them of fuel and anything readily convertible to cash.
At first they avoided the protected fuel stations, but soon it became a challenge. Clyde solved it with something he had already been working on -- a gravbomb. Or it could even be called a timebomb. Since gravity affected space/time, as the gravity caused its target to shrink, time within the target slowed at the same rate. The first gravbomb was designed for ten days, so the target reduced in size by ten, and those within it only thought one day had passed when they returned to normal.
Clyde placed several gravbombs around the fuel station he had chosen. The bombs were designed to detect an Empire Police ship and activate when it was within range. To be sure Empire Police came, Clyde (after beaming the inhabitants of the station) went on broadband and declared, "Free fuel available at Station 113 while it lasts!"
One Empire Police came before any Belters, and immediately shrank. Then Belters started arriving. To keep things simple, Clyde would beam the station inhabitants again every fourteen minutes.
Three Empire Police ships showed up, but then the others stayed away. "Since the other Police ships aren't getting any communication from the first three, they probably decided I managed to destroy them," Clyde told Gale.
Gale nodded and added, with both pleasure and worry, "They don't know what you've done -- but they won't let up that easy!"
It was after that when the 'Bonnie and Clyde' idea took hold.
The Empire offered a great reward for Clyde's capture, but no Belter paid attention. Cap Hanson, who had been in the Belt for over twenty years, expressed the general sentiment of the Belters when he said. "Don't matter what they promise -- they'll kill us all if they get Bonnie and Clyde!"
Then a wrecked ship was reported.
No messages came from the wreckage, and messages sent went unanswered, so Clyde was notified and the ship was left for his arrival. "It's a mess," Clyde said, as the gravship approached the smashed vessel. He activated a heat-seeker. "That's interesting; there is one heat source that could be a person! But it's weak. Gale, keep an eye out for Empire Police; I'm going to look into this."
The control room was caved in on one side. Three bodies lay on the floor, a man, a woman, and one other who was a member of the Empire Police. All bodies bore signs of blaster weapons. They were all clearly dead, so Clyde looked around and found a storage panel whose door was closed. He opened it, and a small body tumbled out. It was a young girl, perhaps ten or eleven, still in her bodysuit -- but the face panel was misted over, indicating its oxygen supply was exhausted. Picking her up, Clyde jumped quickly back to the gravship's handy airlock and entered. Once the air rushed in, Gale came in and Clyde opened the girl's face-plate.
reathe!" he demanded, feeling helpless. When there was no response, he pressed down on her chest, released, pressed and released. Was that a tremble? Bending down, he pressed his lips against hers, breathed in, then pressed her chest again.
There was definite movement!
When he breathed into her again, her green eyes fluttered open and she murmured, "Hi, good-lookin'. . . ." Then, as full consciousness flooded into her, she sat upright and cried, "My parents!"
Clyde shook his head.
Her first words were, "I want to kill those bastards!"
Clyde Akins' eyebrows rose. The girl was young. While the Asteroid Belt tended to mature people early, he didn't expect her to talk like that, with such intensity in her blazing eyes.
Gale Bonner's face expressed the same consternation. "Honey," she said, trying to be reassuring, "I know you've undergone a lot of distress, but --"
"Distress, hell!" the girl exploded. "They killed my folks! The bastards blew our ship up! I want to kill 'em! . . .And," she added, in a calmer tone, "my name ain't 'Honey', it's Jammie."
"Jammie, I'm Clyde Akins and this is Gale Bonner. Tell us what happened."
Jammie's eye widened and she ignored Clyde's request. "Bonnie and Clyde!" she said, eagerness lighting her young face. "This is perfect! Now they'll get it! Now they'll be sorry!"
"There was one body that belonged to an Empire Policeman," Clyde pointed out.
"Look: I'm an enhanced genius and the daughter of two who were also genius-rated -- but it don't take no genius to figger out that one-for-two ain't good odds! I want 'em all!"
Afterwards, Clyde noticed Jammie following him. "What's up?" he asked.
"You're my Prince Charming," Jammie grinned.
"I was asleep, like Sleeping Beauty, and you kissed me, waking me up."
Clyde supposed the mouth-to-mouth could appear that way, to an impressionable child. Before he could think of anything to say, she added, "Besides, you're real handsome."
The flattery didn't hurt -- but didn't help, either. "Look," he said, "there aren't any kingdoms on the Belt, so I couldn't be a prince."
"Don't be such a spoil-sport!" Jammie scolded, then they went inside to the control room. When Jammie sat, Garfield appeared and leapt to her lap. Jammie looked at him, smiling, and stroked his head.
"Don't move for ten minutes," Gale cautioned her. When Jammie lifted an enquiring brow, Gale continued, "It's Garfield's way. If he accepts you, he sits there for ten minutes, then leaves."
In ten minutes, Garfield sat upright and jumped away, his paws pushing into Jammie's flesh. "You're initiated," Gale said, smiling.
"Ain't that something?" Jammie said, in a mixture of wonder and dismay. "Here I've been checked out by a durned cat!"
Clyde was about to comment on the grammar of someone so intelligent, but then there came a broadband call.
"Empire Police! This is Cap Hanson. There are women and children on board, so we will surrender without a fight."
"Cap could have communicated directly with the police; instead, he sent it broadband so we all would know," Clyde said.
"Let's get the bastards!" Jammie spat.
Clyde worked some instruments. "I traced Cap's signal," he said.
"I thought broadband couldn't be traced," Jammie said.
"My father invented it, remember. He left a way we could trace it."
"Makes sense," Jammie nodded. "After all, he was a genius. So let's go get 'em!"
"That is my intention," Clyde said, making control adjustments. When he looked up from the board, he added, "Speaking of genius: You said you are an enhanced genius?"
"Yup. Both my parents were genius-status and they decided to do what they could do to enhance me while I was in the womb. I score off the scale. No insult intended," she added, smiling. "Just stating facts."
"Well, your grammar doesn't reflect so well on our elocution scale," Clyde mentioned drily.
Jammie shrugged. "My folks were against me showing off," she said. "Besides," she went on, "the category of genius doesn't include social skills. Not that it's beneath us, just that it ain't part of our mental patterns."
"Dad was strong on social skills," Clyde said. "But it had nothing to do with him being a genius; I think that was just because, well, because that's who he was."
"How much longer till we get there?" Jammie asked, impatiently.
"Soon," Clyde said. "I've got to do a few things before we get there."
"Get some blasters ready so we can destroy 'em!" Jammie said with eager viciousness.
"Not as long as Cap and his people are on their ship," Clyde pointed out. "Gale, you and Jammie keep an eye on things while I'm down below."
Watching his departing back, Jammie said, resentfully, "What he means is for you to keep an eye on me! But what could I do?"
Gale smiled. "With a super-genius, who knows?"
+ + +
hen they neared the departing Empire Police, yet still out of range of their weapons, Clyde called them. "You don't want Cap and his crew," he said. "I'm the one you want. Release them, and I will come to you."
His response was mocking laughter. "Oh, sure, Clyde," the speaker said. "Just send them your way -- and all of you will run! Why should we be so stupid as to risk that?"
"Because I'm a man of my word," Clyde said, waving Jammie back. "I'll come out in a scoutship and wait, just out of your range, until all have been released. Once I have been assured by each of them that they are safely away, I'll come to you. I swear it."
Muffled arguing could be heard, then a new voice came on. "Clyde Akins, this is Warren Linburger, captain of this ship. You solemnly swear to this?"
"Once Cap Hanson tells me all his crew are well, Captain, I do so swear."
Moments passed, then Cap Hanson's voice came across. "Don't do this, Clyde!" he begged. "We need you!"
"It's the only way, Jake," Clyde said. "Trust me, old friend." Clyde hoped that Hanson got his message. Hanson's first name was not Jake, but he had an expression he often used, "Everything's Jake!" to indicate that everything was okay. "Are you all unharmed?" he asked.
"Best as can be expected, Clyde. But your father --"
"Never mind, Jake," Clyde interrupted. "Get everyone together."
"Their ship is inoperable, Clyde Akins," the captain said. "Their scout ship is available, but will only hold five -- six, if they squeeze in. However, we have a supply of space sleds that can hold one each. Give us five minutes to have everyone ready."
"That will give me time to get into my scout ship and come to meet you," Clyde told him. "Very well." He turned off the communicator, and headed below to the scout ship.
When Clyde launched the scout, it seemed a bit sluggish. He made some adjustments, and his progress smoothed out. He was only a few hundred feet away from the gravship when he saw a rocket blast ahead of him and received a message from Cap's wife, acknowledging that their scout ship was on its way, and listing those aboard. "Good," Clyde said. "How are the others coming?"
He was told, "Any minute now." That was verified when smaller rockets flared, and Clyde continued taking toll.
"That's all of them, Clyde Akins," Captain Linburger told him. "Come aboard."
"As soon as all are safely out of your range, Captain," Clyde said, then added, "Don't worry; I'll be there." Then the time came, and Clyde headed for the huge Empire Police ship, the ship that was the headquarters for all the police ships of the Belt. It blotted out most of the stars ahead of him, and only Clyde's instruments could reveal details ahead of him.
A landing space yawned open, three Empire Police ships already in place there, The grey maw didn't attract Clyde; he wanted something less open. Then he noticed an airlock that seemed to match the exit on the scout ship. Moving closer, he saw that he was right and, using magnetism, attached the scout ship's lock to that one. Checking his ship one last time, Clyde headed for the airlock.
When he entered the giant ship, several men were waiting for him. "Why didn't you use the launch pad?" one asked, angrily.
Clyde shrugged. "My ship's control panel has been acting up a bit," he said, truthfully. "Didn't want to do any damage landing it among others."
"You had no problem with our airlock," the grumbler muttered.
Clyde nodded. "But there was no risk there," he explained.
The angry man turned to one of his associated. "Move that ship to the launch pad," he ordered.
Clyde held up a delaying hand. "Take it easy, please. Feel out the controls first."
The man looked at his commanding officer, who snorted, "No harm being careful," he was told. That pleased Clyde, who had wanted delay.
"Well," he said, straightening beside the airlock door after the man exited, "As they say: Take me to your leader."
The man in control snorted. "We're taking you straight to Earth, Clyde Akins. Follow me."
Clyde shrugged, and -- in what he hoped appeared as a casual move -- he slid his hand down and released the catch that prevented the airlock from being opened from inside.
No one noticed.
In two minutes, Clyde was pushed inside a small room, after the fuel had been removed from his palm rockets. "There's an acceleration couch against the wall," he was told. "Better wait in it. We'll be taking off in fifteen minutes."
Fifteen minutes? Clyde had expected it, but that was before the recent occurrence of the scout ship's control problem.
She'd better hurry!
She did; barely a minute had passed before his cell door swung open, revealing Jammie.
"It had to be you," Clyde said, angrily. "I knew Gale had better sense -- and trusted me to know what I'm doing!"
Surprise and indignation battled on Jammie's face, then understanding. "You detected my weight on the scout ship," she said.
Clyde nodded. "Of course. You attached yourself to the outside of the hull, and it affected the ship's balance."
"Well anyway," Jammie said, "we've gotta get going. I'm rescuing you."
"I came prepared," Clyde told her. "There's a gravbomb in the scout ship, but my 'suit is programmed to resist it. They'll shrink, but I'll stay in normal time. You're the one needs rescuing."
Jammie lifted an eyebrow. "You can't've had time to test your 'suit's programming."
Shrugging, Clyde said, "It was the best I could do."
Jammie shook her head in disgust. "Some hero you are! Even if it works, the Empire ship could crush you as it shrinks or, at best, it would be stuck to your foot until it pops back."
"I designed it to resist the gravbomb," Clyde said. "The bomb should repulse it, pushing me aside."
"'Should' and 'would' are problematical. It's a good thing I decided to rescue you. Let's get going," she said, turning and leaving the cell.
Uncertain, Clyde followed her. Then he said, "Where?"
"Since the gravbomb is in the scout ship, we'll hafta find a coupla sleds," Jammie told him.
"Just like that?" Clyde asked, voice tinged with sarcasm.
Jammie removed a small instrument from her 'suit belt, flicked it on and examined the dial. "I whipped this gadget up to find a sled," she said.
"Did you test it?" Clyde asked, the sarcasm emphasized.
"Yep!" was Jammie's terse reply. Then she added, "They must be getting ready to take off; ain't nobody wandering around."
"Shortly," Clyde told her. "The gravbomb will go off first. We've got about three minutes," he added.
They had just entered the launch pad. "Here's one!" Jammie said. Then she looked at her instrument again and shook her head. "But it's the only one! They musta used most of 'em sending people back."
"Then we'll hafta hold tight, and soon," Clyde said, lying down on the sled. Jammie crowded in beside him, and they shot out of the giant ship.
Looking back, Clyde saw stars suddenly appear as the Empire Police main ship abruptly shrunk. Turning on his 'suit's broadband he said, "Gale! Is everyone all right?"
"Indeed," Gale said lightly. "Especially Garfield. He's never had so much company before. He's having a ball."
"Well, we're heading back; keep the ship where it is."
"'We'?" Gale asked. "--Oh! Jammie is with you. That's why I haven't seen her. How --?"
"I'll explain when we get back," Clyde said, turning off the broadband.
Somehow managing to squeeze even closer to him, Jammie said, "You can forget about her."
"What. . . ?"
"Gale," Jammie explained. "I saved your life. You're mine."
"What?" It seemed the extent of his vocabulary.
"We grow up quick in the Belt," Jammie reminded him. "I already have breasts. We can legally marry when I'm thirteen."
"But. . . ." he began, discovering another word he could use.
As they rocketed to the gravship, it occurred to Clyde that figuring out Jammie was going to be a lot more difficult than figuring out a gravbomb.