n the flight deck of the Caledonian Spacelines flagship Duchess of Skye, Captain Angus MacGregor punched the big red ENGINE CUTOFF button and nodded curtly to his First Officer, Ewan "Stig" Stuart. The co-pilot returned the nod and made his radio call. "Ceres Control, this is Duchess of Skye. Trans-Mars injection burn complete. Could we have a rrradar rrread-out, please?"

After a few seconds, a voice crackled in his headphones. "Ceres Control here. We have three goose-eggs for trajectory deviation, Skye. Nice burn."

The flight crew exchanged another professionally-satisfied nod. "That'll do, Stig. Accomplish 'secure rrreactor' checklist -- "MacGregor began.

He was interrupted by a howl of feedback, then a basso-profundo voice boomed from a speaker. "HEAVE TO!"

Ceres Control had heard it, too. "What was that, Skye?"

The mysterious voice spoke again, "Heave to or be blown to neutrinos!"

Wide-eyed, Stuart pointed over his captain's shoulder, out the portside windscreen. MacGregor turned to see what his co-pilot could not describe. A patch of the starfield rippled, squirmed and then resolved itself into another rocketship.

Captain MacGregor grabbed at the microphone switch on his control wheel. "Ceres Control! Another ship just -- materialized -- off our nose."

"Say again?"

"I said another rrrocketship! Type unknown. About two hundred feet long. Black. The thing must have a dozen blaster-cannon turrets on it -- "

"And they're all pointed at us!" Stuart finished.

The Voice spoke again. "Enough chitter-chatter, Skye."

The static underlying the intruder's transmissions redoubled. The co-pilot examined his comm panel. "I've lost Ceres Control's carrier," he said. "The signal's completely jammed."

"Cut your jets, Duchess of Skye, and stand by to be boarded!"

"Boarded? What's he talking about?" Stuart's answering shrug was interrupted by an explosive Chuff! aft. A half-dozen red lights winked on his status boards.

"Captain! We just lost prrressure in number one cargo hold! Something blew the hatch off!"

"Get me video down there."

The First Officer frantically paged through surveillance-camera views, until he found a feed he could project onto a spare screen. "Here it is. What in the -- Are those men?" In the dim light, humanoid figures swiftly lashed crates and shipping containers to pallets.

Something about the way the figures moved struck the captain. "No. Rrrobots," MacGregor said. "They're all rrrobots. What are -- What were we carrying in number one hold?"

This time, Stuart scrabbled through the pages of an old-fashioned paper cargo manifest. "Here it is. Platinum bars, industrial purity. Magnetic monopoles." The co-pilot looked up in dismay. "And a two-meter disk of synthetic diamond for the Phobos Observatory's new telescope."

"Not any more." MacGregor tapped the video screen. "Look at this."

After strapping an enormous lozenge-shaped crate atop a last pallet, the robotic invaders propelled themselves through the wrecked cargo hatchway using reaction pistols and were lost to the camera's sight.

The terrifying voice spoke again. "Captain Cosmos thanks you for the 'donation,' gentlemen. Have a nice day!" Words gave way to a malicious giant's laughter that gradually died away -- along with the buzz of the radio jamming.

Looking back over his shoulder, Captain MacGregor saw the stars waver once again and the black rocket vanish as if it had never been there.

"Captain, the jamming has stopped. I have contact with Ceres again."

"Give me that microphone. Ceres Control, this is the Duchess of Skye. We've just been boarded and plundered by space pirrrates."

There was along pause before Ceres replied. "Would you repeat that, Skye?"

"I repeat: Space pirrrates."

"That's what I thought you said." And then the controller laughed.

Captain MacGregor reflected that, however clear the events of the past ten minutes were in his mind, he might have phrased his description a bit more carefully.

Ceres Control had left the switch down on his microphone and could be heard calling to someone else in the Center. "Hey, Harry! This guy says he just got 'plundered.' By 'spa-a-ace pi-rates'!

Someone else began to laugh. Then another. And another.

"Bugger!" McGregor muttered.

#

all due respect, ma'm," Space Marshal Rory Rammer said, "there are no such things as space pirates."

The office he sat in was one of the plushest in Washington, situated on the top floor of the Department of Justice tower, midway along the National Mall and overlooking the World War III Monument. Rammer would have signed a quitclaim on the whole suite for a ten percent reduction in local gravity or an extra inch of gel-pad under his aching rear. I need to get down from orbit more often, he thought. But not for ponk like this.

The Deputy Attorney General of the United States (Extraterrestrial Division) regarded Rammer over the tops of her (obsolete but highly fashionable) rimless eyeglasses. "Really, marshal? Then how do you busy yourselves -- up there?" The wave of a Federal Executive Service Grade-15 hand took in everything between the Heaviside Layer and Ceres.

"Well, we have smugglers, both inbound and outbound. We have people who plant bombs on spaceliners to collect their grandmothers' insurance. We have real estate agents who will sell you both sides of an asteroid. But no space pirates. There's no way to make it pay."

"No way? At all?" The DAGUS(XD) pursed her lips. "How can you be so sure of that?"

"Bottom line, it's because of transportation costs. It's nearly impossible to make a profit moving things by rocket under the best of circumstances. Only extremely high-value cargo is worth it and that's easily identifiable. Almost impossible to dispose of. Space piracy would be like stealing the Mona Lisa. It's been done, but who would fence it for you?" Her staff must have told here all this half a dozen times, he thought. Not everyone at DOJ-XD is a political appointee. So why drag me down into full gravity and this lovely Washington weather?

"Platinum bars?"

"Isotope ratios are unique to each deposit."

"Magnetic monopoles?"

'Variations in spin orientation. 'Higgs Wobble,' it's called."

"Synthetic diamond disks?"

"I.G. Farbenindustrie-deBeers hasn't cast more than a dozen in the last decade. And it's tough to file a serial number off diamond. Trust me."

The DAG picked up a security-sealed video spool from her desk and held it up for Rammer to see. "Nonetheless, Marshal, a black spaceship with enough armaments to scare a Space Force dreadnought appeared out of nowhere off Ceres ten days ago, sent over a crew of robots to steal a spaceliner's cargo, and vanished back into deep space. If that wasn't space piracy, what was it?"

"A drug-induced hallucination?"

She shook her head. "The Ceres authorities considered that. No, the crew tested clean."

"Cover for an inside job?"

"Considered that, too. No, Marshal, if this wasn't an act of space piracy, it'll do until one comes along."

"Whatever you say, ma'm."

The DAG lowered her head to fix Rammer with a high-level disapproving glare. "Whether you agree with me or not, Marshal, I suggest you take this subject seriously. Because your Director has agreed to my request to assign you to investigate this crime full-time."

"Ma'm!? Me, ma'm?"

"You can have whatever resources you need, but I suggest you capture this space pirate and throw him behind bars before we have to take more drastic measures. Think fast, marshal." She tossed the video spool to Rammer, who managed to catch it despite the abnormally normal gravity. "And I mean that literally."

#

he captain of the BRRF (Bateau de Reaction de la Republique Francaise) Richelieu drew himself to his full height (162 centimetres) and did his best to look down his nose at the black-armored figure towering over him. "Nevair will ze French Astronautical Service bow before ze likes of you, you zhackboot-ed, Anglo-Saxon fasciste!"

Captain Cosmos and the Frenchman stood within an outward-facing ring of robot pirates, a dozen carbon-scored cybernetic desperadoes whose menacing postures shouted that there was not an Asimovian scruple to be found in their positronic souls. The remainder of Richelieu's bridge crew cringed against their consoles as Cosmos grilled their commander.

"Captain, I asked you for the combination to the ship's safe, not for a tirade of snotty-headwaiter insults. Now either give it to me or feel my electronic lash." A twitch of Cosmos's wrist snapped the tip of the lektrowhip's conductive thong against the bridge's deck plating, resulting in a fat spark and a burning smell.

"Ah defy you, in ze name of liberte, egalite and -- "

" -- and the right to take the whole month of August off?" Cosmos rasped. His hand moved again.

The lektrowhip's thong curved lazily in zero gee and caught the Frenchman on his right cheek, fusing a centime-sized spot of rayon with underlying buttock-flesh. The captain's eyes widened and his jaw dropped open, but the expected yelp seemed to have gotten stuck somewhere around his epiglottis.

"The combination, mon capitaine?" Cosmos repeated.

Said yelp was tucked behind a tonsil and words poured from the captain's mouth instead. "Huit! Neuf! Trois -- !"

Cosmos struck another spark off the deck. "In English, if you please, captain. So my digital assistants here do not mistake your pronunciation. And a little right-left help at the start, too."

The captain's eyes fixed on the lektrowhip's tip and he began again. "Right. Eight. Nine. Three. Seventeen -- "

The robot nearest the safe broke from the ring and began turning the traditional dial. The captain continued babbling numbers even after the safe door had swung open.

"Oh, now you're just making them up, captain!" Cosmos teased. Snap-bang! The lektrowhip marked the deck again. "But pray continue. I kind of like it!" Behind the mask, the man calling himself "Cosmos" ventured a small smile. The contents of the safe would come in very handy and, despite his expectations, this caper had turned out to be -- exciting!

#

t's Captain Cosmos versus Capitaine Caution tonight, as tout le monde's favorite space buccaneer high-jacks the French space liner Richelieu!" The female news-reader pointed at the viewscreen behind her, then dissolved in (silent) laughter as the studio camera zoomed in on the surveillance video playing there.

"...Eight! Nine! Three! Seventeen -- " The footage continued until Cosmos and his robots had emptied the safe and departed, the pirate's black cape swirling behind him like great wings. At that point, Capitaine Caution fainted from shock and stood, twitching, held to the deck only by the magnets in his boot soles. This reduced both the news-readers to helpless hilarity. After a few seconds, the male theatrically wiped tears from his eyes, sobered and spoke in solemn, Cronkite-esque tones.

"It's the Captain's fifth raid in six weeks and surprisingly far from his last caper: The daring Eleanor Roosevelt take-down. Certainly no one expected him to strike off Pallas. The question before us tonight: Where were the Space Marshals? Where are the Space Marshals!"

"Not off Pallas!" the female shrieked. She and her companion pounded on their anchor-desks and howled with laughter, until the woman regained sufficient composure to address the camera. "Next up: Footage of that killer monsoon in the Bay of Bengal! But first, a word from our sponsors."

"That's next on America's Funniest News Videos!" an unseen announcer said, as the AFNV theme music swelled.

Rory Rammer reached up and switched off the screen. Wearily, he leaned forward and held his head in his hands.

"This isn't working, Skip," he said. "We stake out the inbound trajectories at Mars and Cosmos high-jacks the Morning Star off Venus. We redeploy to Venus and he hits the Percival Lowell at Port Phobos."

At the other desk in Rammer's office aboard Space Station J. Edgar Hoover, Cadet 'Skip' Sagan cleared his throat and started to speak.

"I divide our forces to cover Mars and Venus, and he raids the Eleanor Roosevelt on final approach to Space Station Hartsfield," Rammer continued. "In Earth orbit! Passing over Washington! The Deputy Attorney General could have watched it all through a cheap telescope!"

The cadet tried again. "Well, y'know, it's possible that -- "

"I've run out of ideas! I'm at my wits' end. I don't know what to try next!"

"I think that -- "

"And on top of it all, the D-A-G-U-S-X-D sent me an electronomail. Not even a phone call! Just an electronomail. It says: 'Think faster.'"

Sagan waited to see if his superior officer had indeed run down or if there was more middle-managerial angst coming. After a few seconds he said, "Tell you what, Rory, why don't I run this notion I had by you?"

"Yeah, sure. What harm can it do?" The marshal's voice was muffled, his hands over his face now.

Sagan pulled an industrial binder from the bottom drawer of his desk and added the papers he had been working on to its five-inch thickness. Rising, he carried it to Rammer's desk. And dropped it. The *Bang!* got the marshal's face out of his hands, anyway.

"I've made a printout of all sightings of Captain Cosmos' pirate ship and all his high-jackings, correlated with time between incidents, relative planetary positions and position within the Sun's gravity well."

"Uh -- yeah?"

"And the bottom line is that his total velocity-change since he attacked the Duchess of Skye is nearly half-a-million feet per second!"

Sagan was a tad disappointed at the blank incomprehension in his officer's eyes. "That means that he must have nearly drained the energy in his ship's reactor. He needs a new reactor core -- bad!"

"Huh. Think he'll take out a want ad?" Rammer slumped forward again, dispirited.

"Rory, we already know he has inside info about the freight lines' shipping manifests, since he only attacks spaceliners with valuable cargos. So if we insert a manifest into the system indicating someone is shipping a brand-new reactor core --

Now he had Rammer's attention. "-- and pilot that ship ourselves!"

"We won't have to go looking for Captain Cosmos! He'll come looking for us!"

Rammer looked at his hands again, thrust them into his pockets and slumped back into his chair -- but not quite as far as before. "Well, it's worth a try."

#

ubber Duck's auto-pilot shut down the ship's rocket motors just before Marshal Rammer could punch the cut-off button. Feeling slightly outdone by the machinery, Rammer nodded to Cadet Sagan in the co-pilot's seat.

"Ceres Control, Ceres Control," the cadet called. "This is Consolidated SpaceFreight Ten-Eleven. Trans-Venus injection complete. Radar report, please."

Ceres started out loud and clear. "Roger, Consy Ten-Eleven. Radar shows you are slightly -- " The signal dissolved into static as a jammer cut in, somewhere close. Very close.

"Consolidated freighter, this is Captain Cosmos. Stand and deliver!"

"Right on time," Rammer said, then pressed his mike button. "Veer off! This is an unarmed freighter."

"I should hope so!" the pirate's voice boomed. "Stand by to be boarded. You know the rest of the spiel. Yada-yada-yada. Cosmos out." Jamming "hash" roared back in on the speaker.

"I wouldn't have thought anyone could get complacent about space piracy," Sagan said. "Guess I was wrong."

"Complacent. Arrogant. Off his guard. This is playing right into our hands," the marshal replied. "Get on the intercom to Sergeant Shriver and the Space Marines down in Cargo Hold 1. They'll be getting visitors soon. Tell Shriver to 'com us as soon as they've picked off the last robot, and we'll -- " The marshal was interrupted by a resounding *Clang!*. An unexpectedly up-close-and-personal *Clang!*. Rammer frowned. "Was that the cargo hatch being blown off?"

Sagan twisted in his acceleration harness to look over his shoulder. "That was right over our heads! I think somebody just slapped a magnetic airlock to the hull!"

Behind their couches, a line of searing white light outlined an oval in the metal of the hull. With a reverberating clatter, the metal plug sprang free and caromed around the flight deck, until it buried one hot, jagged corner in a circuit breaker panel. As soon as the danger of decapitation was past, both lawmen snapped the quick releases on their harnesses, pivoted in midair, and drew their sidearms. Too slow. As Rammer brought his pistol's sights to bear, he found one of Cosmos's robot pirates already standing on the deck plates. In the machine's hands was a cylindrical object, light gray in color and with lettering on its side.

Dear God, thought Rammer. It's a bomb. How did this go wrong so fast?

The robot twisted a handle at one end of the cylinder. Instead of explosive oblivion, though, the result was a hissing sound.

The emitter bell of the marshal's pistol drifted away from its target. Darkness closed in from the edges of his vision. The last result his brain achieved before losing consciousness was to grasp the words written on the cylinder: DMHP SLEEPING GAS.

#

re you awake, Marshal Rammer?"

A jet-black gargoyle's face filled Rammer's vision. Blank, bulging eyes. A metallic muzzle instead of mouth and nose. The smooth curve of a helmet above. The very face of evil. Rammer tried to head-butt it.

Captain Cosmos stepped smoothly back from the marshal's futile lunge. "Please don't do that, Marshal, you might hurt yourself. You're quite securely tied to your chair."

"Blast!" Rammer's head hurt like a stubbed toe.

Cadet Sagan stirred next to him and groaned. "Ohhh! My head!"

"All right, Cosmos," Rammer growled, "we're your prisoners. But that's all you'll get from this caper. There's no replacement reactor core on the freighter!"

The pirate dismissed this revelation with a wave of his hand. "I never thought there was. Such a perfect opportunity had to be a trap."

"Niffelheim!"

"Watch your language, marshal. There's a young person present."

"All right, then, Cosmos, what do you expect to get out of this? Ransom?"

That might have been a chuckle muffled within the buccaneer's space armor. "On your salary? Hardly."

"Hostages?"

"The thought had crossed my mind, but -- no. I can't afford the overhead."

"Classified information? You fiend, you can lektrowhip me all you want, but I'll never crack! Even if I scream and writhe in pain, even if you reduce me to a mindless, drooling hulk, I won't give you the -- "

Cosmos raised both hands to silence the lawman. "Marshal, you're being disgusting! No, what I'm hoping for is -- well, a plea bargain."

Rammer's brain, still muzzy with sleeping gas, had a hard time tracking this development. "A what?"

"To throw myself on the mercy of the authorities." Cosmos sighed gustily enough to rattle the filters in his breathing-mask. "I guess there's no going back now. Let me take this off."

Cosmos grasped the sides of the gleaming black stahlhelm that covered his head and twisted it until a catch clicked. The angular breathing apparatus and dark goggles that covered his face pulled away with the helmet as he lifted it high. The pirate's head, now revealed, was egg-bald and soft-featured, with large, protruding ears and a weak mouth. A graying goatee did little to deflect the overall "Elmer Fudd" impression.

Beside Rammer, Sagan thrashed against his bonds and shouted, "Uncle Murray!"

Rammer looked away from the nerdy spectacle of Cosmos Revealed and at his cadet.

"Your uncle?"

Sagan took no notice. "I am so ashamed of you!"

Without the mask's filters, Cosmos's voice was half an octave higher and nasal. "Not half as ashamed as I am." His expression was that of a collie that has just been kicked by Cesar Millan.

Rammer tried again. "Your uncle?"

"What am I going to tell Mom? Remember her? Your sister Esther?"

The big man looked to be on the edge of tears. "I don't know. I just don't know!"

"Your uncle?"

The pirate's distress just angered Sagan even more. "What will the neighbors say?"

Rammer could see zero-gee tears pooling around Cosmos's eyes. Black-gauntleted hands fluttered in front of his armored chest. "Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!'

Sagan gave his uncle a final dagger-shooting glare and turned to his superior. "Rory, this is my uncle: Dr. Murray Gellman. The big-deal physicist! The Eisenhower Science Prize Winner!"

The shameful introduction done, Skip turned back on his uncle. "What did you do with the million monetaries from the Ike-Sci Prize, anyway, Unc? Not that I care. Though Mom could have used a little help with the house payments."

Gellman dabbed at his eyes with a black hankie that he had pulled from some crevice in his costume. "I spent it to continue my experiments on the effects of high-intensity gravity fields on light. In fact, I spent considerably more than the million by the time I'd been successful."

"Successful how?" Rammer asked.

The big man blew his nose before answering. Talking about physics apparently calmed him. "In building a device to selectively bend light rays around an object. In effect, an invisibility device -- my phantasmotron."

"'Phantasmotron'?"

"Well, what would you call it?"

Talking physics evidently calmed Gellman's nephew, too. "A cloaking device?" the cadet suggested.

The rogue physicist wrinkled his nose at the neologism. "Sounds like a machine to put your coat on for you."

"Now, that could be useful! Not like space piracy!"

Rammer interrupted before this line of thought could take off. "OK, phantasmotron it is. How badly were you in debt?"

"A million Standard Monetary Units. Give or take one. Or two."

"Wow! That's some big-time science!" Sagan said.

"I was sure the patent rights to the phantasmotron would sell for enough to let me pay everyone off. But no one wanted it!"

Rammer shook his head -- and instantly regretted it. Zero-gee nausea rules out certain gestures in space. "I can't believe that. Surely the Space Force would want the phantasmotron!"

Gellman pulled a disgusted expression. "Marshal, the phantasmotron allows one to sneak up on things. Have you ever known the Space Force to 'sneak up' on anything?"

"Well -- no." In Rammer's opinion, Space Force combat doctrine, stripped to its essentials, consisted of identifying a target (not necessarily precisely), vaporizing it, then flying home to have a beer at the O-club.

"But Uncle Murray -- piracy?"

"It was the only way I could think of to come up with the money. And I was desperate! I had borrowed from some pretty ruthless people."

"Like?"

"Citigroup. Bank of America. Credit Suisse. People like that."

"Oh, unc!"

Something didn't add up here for Rammer. Literally. "Wait a minute. To turn pirate, you'd need a ship. Where did you get the money for a warship?"

"I discovered that once you owe a lot of money, bankers are quite willing to lend you even more."

The marshal considered this. It was, after all, the principle that had kept the treasury of the United States afloat for the last thirty years.

"And it's not a warship," Cosmos continued. "It's a Lockheed-Peterbilt 'Sky King' freighter, with the landing jacks stripped off and a coat of black paint."

"The weapons? All those blaster cannons?"

"They're fiberglass mock-ups. They look so terrifying I've never had to fire on anyone." Gellman rolled his eyes. "Thank goodness!"

"The robots?"

"I built them from kits I bought at Electron Shack. The armor is chrome-plated plastic."

"So it was all a fake," Rammer said.

His cadet was round-eyed at the audacity of his uncle's scheme. "But you pulled it off! You actually made space piracy work!"

The big man was tearing up again. "No, I didn't! It's been a complete fiasco! My ship's reactor is nearly dead, I'm dead broke, and I have nowhere left to run!"

"But -- All your ill-gotten booty!"

Cosmos waved his arms in frustration at the younger man's obtuseness. "I'm about to starve to death! I can't eat platinum ingots! What am I going to do with a two-meter synthetic diamond disk? Chip off wedding rings and sell 'em on street corners? I never thought beyond stealing all this stuff."

"That explains one puzzle, Skip. We kept waiting for the stolen goods to show up on the market. But they never did."

The pirate continued. "It turns out that to make money stealing things on a major scale, you need to be able to dispose of them on a major scale. You need to be a large, organized criminal cartel. Or a government."

Sagan shrugged. "Same difference. So now you want to return all the loot and call it quits? Give me a break!"

Rammer cleared his throat. "Actually, Skip, the authorities might go for it. If we couldn't bring in Captain Cosmos, they were prepared to pull the Space Force off Peace Patrol duties and institute a convoy system for space freighters. The cost would have been enormous, though. A quiet resolution would be good for both sides." Rammer gave one more experimental tug at his bonds. "You may also have noticed that we're still tied up."

"But what about the captain of the Richelieu? Uncle Murray lektrowhipped him pretty badly."

Gellman's look of contrition would have melted a middle-school teaching nun's heart. "I'm sorry about that, but he really got on my nerves."

"He was being pretty obnoxious," Sagan allowed.

"And he is French," Rammer pointed out.

"Same difference," said the cadet.

And the cabin of the pirate rocketship rang with culturally-insensitive laughter.

#

Postscript -- Six Months Later

urray Gellman -- now "Helmut Oppenheim" -- scratched his head, then the tip of his nose. The hair plugs the government had given him were welcome to a man who had begun to go bald during his junior year at CalTech, but he considered that the nose job had been a bit much. He could actually see the tip of his nose, if he crossed his eyes.

Along with a new identity, he had received a house in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of the town of Agana Heights. The walls of the house contained a dense array of sensing devices, all of which Murray had catalogued during his first week in residence. Over the next month, he had disabled some of the sensors (mostly in the bedroom and bathroom) and thoroughly compromised the rest.

His household also included a live-in housekeeper, a native Chamorro woman answering to "Gladys," who spent her Tuesday mornings off at the local U.S. federal building filling out reports. On Murray. Who would not have been surprised.

The government also provided him with a stipend, automatically deposited into his bank account on the fifteenth of every month. Since Murray found the Guamanian climate balmy after a career spent mostly at the University of Chicago, and because Gladys was dropping hints that she might be amenable to other "housekeeping duties" in addition to cooking and light cleaning, the smallness of the stipend was the major shortfall in Murray's life, as Murray saw it. The prosecutors had not forbidden him to pursue his interests in physics, and he had a number of novel experiments a-building in a shed in the back yard. Progress was sporadic because of a shortage of funds for materials and equipment. Which is how Murray came to be sitting in his living room on Tuesday morning, dressed in shorts and an Aloha shirt, idly watching "America's Funniest News Videos" re-runs when the doorbell rang.

When Murray opened the front door (but not the screen door) he found a man there who said, "Good morning. I am Hideo Takahashi. Is Murray -- I'm sorry, is Helmut Oppenheim home?"

The visitor could not have been plausibly mistaken for a "Hideo Takahashi" unless the Empire of Japan had conquered, occupied and bred with the Kingdom of Muscovy. During the Hyborean Age. He stood at least six feet four, wore a spade beard, and had far more of the Slav than the Oriental about his eyes. To use "Takahashi" as a cover name bespoke either a Clouseauvian incompetence, or a supreme confidence that Murray's keepers would never get the chance to spot the oddity.

Murray decided to bet on the latter. "I'm Murray-Helmut Oppenheim, Mr. Takahashi. What can I do for you?"

"Takahashi" smiled broadly enough to show stainless steel in his bridgework.

"Tovarisch Murray, I am acting as agent for a consortium of wealthy European businessmen -- venture capitalists, in fact."

"Really?"

"Who would like to discuss with you lucrative technology licensing agreement for a certain experimental device with which you may be acquainted."

"How interesting." Murray unlatched the screen door (thereby killing the not-quite-lethal voltage that had been coursing through the wire mesh) and waved "Takahashi" inside.

"Won't you come inside and sit down? I need to switch off some -- things. And then we'll have a few minutes to talk."

END
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