"So he did register," Alan said. "But now what? How do we find him?"
Hawkes reached for the photostat. "Here. Let me look at that." He squinted to make out the small print, then nodded and wrote down something. "His televector number's a local one. So far, so good." He turned the form over and glanced at the reproduced photo of Steve on the back. He looked up, comparing it with Alan.
"Dead ringers, these two. But I'll bet this one doesn't look much like this any more—not after nine years of Free Status!"
"It only pays off for the lucky few, eh, Max?" MacIntosh asked slyly.
Hawkes grinned. "Some of us make out all right. You have to have the knack, though. You can get awful hungry otherwise. Come on, kid—let's go up a little higher, now. Up to the televector files. Thanks for the help, Hinesy. You're a pal."
"Just doin' my job," MacIntosh said. "See you tonight as usual?"
"I doubt it," Hawkes replied. "I'm going to take the night off. I have it coming to me."
"That leaves the coast clear for us amateurs, doesn't it? Maybe I'll come out ahead tonight."
Hawkes smiled coldly. "Maybe you will. Let's go, kid."
They took the lift tube outside and rode it as high as it went. It opened out into the biggest room Alan had ever seen, bigger even than the main registry downstairs—a vast affair perhaps a hundred feet high and four hundred feet on the side.
And every inch of those feet was lined with computer elements.
"This is the nerve-center of the world," Hawkes said as they went in. "By asking the right questions you can find out where anybody in the world happens to be at this very moment."
"How can they do that?"
Hawkes nudged a tiny sliver of metal embedded in a ring on his finger. "Here's my televector transmitter. Everyone who has a work card or Free Status carries one, either on a ring or in a locket round his neck or somewhere else. Some people have them surgically embedded in their bodies. They give off resonance waves, each one absolutely unique; there's about one chance in a quadrillion of a duplicate pattern. The instruments here can pick up a given pattern and tell you exactly where the person you're looking for is."
"So we can find Steve without much trouble!"
"Probably." Hawkes' face darkened. "I've known it to happen that the televector pattern picks up a man who's been at the bottom of the sea for five years. But don't let me scare you; Steve's probably in good shape."
He took out the slip of paper on which he had jotted down Steve's televector code number and transferred the information to an application blank.
"This system," Alan said. "It means no one can possibly hide anywhere on Earth unless he removes his televector transmitter."
"You can't do that, though. Strictly illegal. An alarm goes out whenever someone gets more than six inches from his transmitter, and he's picked up on suspicion. It's an automatic cancellation of your work card if you try to fool with your transmitter—or if you're Free Status a fine of ten thousand credits."
"And if you can't pay the fine?"
"Then you work it off in Government indenture, at a thousand credits a year—chopping up rocks in the Antarctica Penitentiary. The system's flawless. It has to be. With Earth as overpopulated as it is, you need some system of tracking down people—otherwise crime would be ten times as prevalent as it is now."
"There still is crime?"
"Oh, sure. There's always somebody who needs food bad enough to rob for it, even though it means a sure arrest. Murder's a little less common." Hawkes fed the requisition slip into the slot. "You'd be surprised what a deterrent the televector registry system is. It's not so easy to run off to South America and hide when anybody at all can come in here and find out exactly where you are."
A moment went by. Then the slot clicked and a glossy pink slip came rolling out.
Alan looked at it. It said:
TELEVECTOR REGISTRY 21 May 3876 Location of Donnell Steve, YC83-10j6490k37618 Time: 1643:21
There followed a street map covering some fifteen square blocks, and a bright red dot was imprinted in the center of the map.
Hawkes glanced at the map and smiled. "I thought that was where he would be!"
"68th Avenue and 423rd Street."
"Is that where he lives?" Alan asked.
"Oh, no. The televector tells you where he is right now. I'd venture to say that was his—ah—place of business."
Alan frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"That happens to be the address of the Atlas Games Parlor. Your brother Steve probably spends most of his working day there, when he has enough cash to get in. I know the place. It's a cheap joint where the payoffs are low but easy. It's the kind of place a low-budget man would frequent."
"You mean Steve's a gambler?"
Hawkes smiled. "Most Free Status men are. It's one of the few ways we can earn a living without getting a work card. There isn't any gamblers' guild. There are a few other ways, too, but they're a lot less savory, and the televector surveillance makes it hard for a man to stay in business for long."
Alan moistened his lips. "What do you do?"
"Gamble. I'm in the upper brackets, though. As I say: some of us have the knack. I doubt if your brother does, though. After nine years he wouldn't still be working the Atlas if he had any dough."
Alan shrugged that off. "How do we get there? I'd like to go right away. I——"
"Patience, lad," Hawkes murmured. "There's plenty of time for that. When does your ship leave?"
"Couple of days."
"Then we don't need to rush right over to the Atlas now. Let's get some food in ourselves first. Then a good night's rest. We can go over there tomorrow."
"But my brother——"
"Your brother," Hawkes said, "has been in York City for nine years, and I'll bet he's spent every night for the last eight of them sitting in the Atlas. He'll keep till tomorrow. Let's get something to eat."
They ate in a dark and unappealing restaurant three blocks from the Central Directory Matrix Building. The place was crowded, as all Earth places seemed to be. They stood on line for nearly half an hour before being shown to a grease-stained table in the back.
The wall clock said 1732.
A robowaiter approached them, holding a menu board in its metal hands. Hawkes leaned forward and punched out his order; Alan took slightly longer about it, finally selecting protein steak, synthocoffee, and mixed vegetables. The robot clicked its acknowledgement and moved on to the next table.
"So my brother's a gambler," Alan began.
Hawkes nodded. "You say it as if you were saying, so my brother's a pickpocket, or so my brother's a cutpurse. It's a perfectly legitimate way of making a living." Hawkes' eyes hardened suddenly, and in a flat quiet voice added, "The way to stay out of trouble on Earth is to avoid being preachy, son. This isn't a pretty world. There are too many people on it, and not many can afford the passage out to Gamma Leonis IV or Algol VII or some of the nice uncluttered colony-worlds. So while you're in York City keep your eyes wide and your mouth zippered, and don't turn your nose up at the sordid ways people make their livings."
Alan felt his face go red, and he was happy to have the trays of food arrive at that moment, causing some sort of distraction. "Sorry, Max. I didn't mean to sound preachy."
"I know, kid. You lead a pretty sheltered life on those starships. And nobody can adjust to Earthside life in a day. How about a drink?"
Alan started to say that he didn't drink, but kept the words back. He was on Earth, now, not aboard the Valhalla; he wasn't required to keep ship's regs. And he didn't want to be trying to look superior. "Okay. How about Scotch—is that the stuff MacIntosh was drinking?"
"Fair enough," Hawkes said.
He signalled for a robot waiter, and after a moment the robot slithered up to them. Hawkes punched a lever on the robot's stomach and the metal creature began to click and glow. An instant later a panel in its stomach slid open and two glasses appeared within. The robot's wiry tentacles reached in, took out the drinks, and set them on the table. Hawkes dropped a coin in a slot in the robot's side, and the machine bustled away, its service completed.
"There you are," Hawkes said, pointing to the glass of amber-colored liquid. "Drink up." As if to set an example he lifted his own drink and tossed it down in one gulp, with obvious pleasure.
Alan picked up the little glass and held it before his eyes, staring at the man opposite him through its translucent depths. Hawkes appeared oddly distorted when viewed through the glass.
He grinned. He tried to propose a toast, but couldn't think of any appropriate words, so he simply upended the glass and drained its contents. The stuff seemed to burn its way down his throat and explode in his stomach; the explosion rose through his gullet and into his brain. For a moment he felt as if the top of his head had been blown off. His eyes watered.
"Pretty potent stuff!"
"It's the best there is," Hawkes said. "Those boys really know the formulas."
Alan felt a wave of dizziness, but it passed quickly; all that was left was a pleasant inner warmth, now. He pulled his tray toward him and attacked the synthetic meat and vegetables.
He ate quietly, making no attempt at conversation. Soft music bubbled up around them. He thought about his brother. So Steve was a gambler! And doing poorly at it, Hawkes said. He wondered if Steve would want to go back on the ship. He wondered also how it would be if Steve did agree to go back.
The old comradeship would be gone, he realized sadly. They had shared everything for seventeen years, grown up together, played together, worked together. Up till six weeks ago they had been so close that Alan could almost read Steve's mind, and Steve Alan's. They made a good team.
But that was finished, now. Steve would be a stranger to him aboard the Valhalla—an older, perhaps wiser man, with nine solid years of tough Earther life behind him. He would not be able to help but regard Alan as a kid, a greenhorn; it was natural. They would never be comfortable in each other's presence, with the old easy familiarity that was so close to telepathy. That nine-year gulf would see to that.
"Thinking about your brother, aren't you?"
Alan blinked. "How did you know?"
Grinning, Hawkes said, "A gambler has to know how to figure things. And it's written in permoscript all over your forehead anyway. You're wondering what the first face-to-face meeting's going to be like. I'll bet on it."
"I won't cover the bet. You'd win."
"You want to know how it'll be? I can tell you, Alan: you'll feel sick. Sick and bewildered and ashamed of the guy who used to be your brother. But that'll pass. You'll look behind the things the nine years did to him, and you'll see your brother back there. He'll see you, too. It won't be as bad as you're expecting."
Somehow Alan felt relieved. "You're sure of that?"
Hawkes nodded. "You know, I'm taking such a personal interest in this business because I've got a brother too. Had a brother."
"Kid about your age. Same problem I had, too: no guild. We were born into the street sweepers' guild, but neither of us could go for that, so we checked out and took Free Status. I went into gambling. He hung around the Enclave. He always wanted to be a spacer."
"What happened to him?"
"He pulled a fast one. Starship was in town and looking for a new galley-boy. Dave did some glib talking and got aboard. It was a fluke thing, but he made it."
"Which ship?" Alan asked.
"Startreader. Bound out on a hop to Beta Crucis XVIII. 465 light-years." Hawkes smiled faintly. "He left a year, year and a half ago. The ship won't be back on Earth again for nine hundred thirty years or so. I don't figure to be around that long." He shook his head. "Let's get out of here. People waiting for tables."
Out in the street again, Alan noticed that the sun was low in the sky; it was past 1800, and getting along toward evening. But the streets were not getting dark. From everywhere a soft glow was beginning to radiate—from the pavement, the buildings, everywhere. It was a gentle gleaming brightness that fell from the air; there was no perceptible change from day-illumination to night-illumination.
But it was getting late. And they would miss him back at the Enclave—unless Captain Donnell had discovered that Alan had gone into the Earther city, in which case he wouldn't be missed at all. Alan remembered sharply the way the Captain had calmly blotted the name of his son Steve from the Valhalla's roster as if Steve had never existed.
"Are we going to go over to the Atlas now?"
Hawkes shook his head. "Not unless you want to go in there alone?"
"I can't go in there with you. I've got an A card, and that's a Class C joint."
"You mean even gambling places are classified and regulated and everything?"
Hawkes nodded. "It has to be that way. This is a very complicated society you've stumbled into, Alan. Look: I'm a first-rate gamesman. That's not boasting; it's empirical truth proven over and over again during the course of a fifteen-year career. I could make a fortune competing against beginners and dubs and has-beens, so they legislate against me. You make a certain annual income from gambling and you go into Class A, and then you can't enter any of the lower-class joints like the Atlas. You slip under the Class A minimum three years in a row and you lose your card. I stay over the minimum."
"So I'll have to go after Steve myself. Well, in that case, thanks for all the help, and if you'll show me which Shoot I take to get to the Atlas——"
"Not so fast, son." Hawkes grasped Alan's wrist. "Even in a Class C dump you can lose plenty. And you can't just stand around hunting for your brother. Unless you're there as a learner you'll have to play."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"I'll take you to a Class A place tonight. You can come in as a learner; they all know me. I'll try to show you enough about the game so you don't get rooked. Then you can stay over at my place and tomorrow we'll go up to the Atlas and look around for your brother. I'll have to wait outside, of course."
Alan shrugged. He was beginning to realize he was a little nervous about the coming meeting with Steve—and perhaps, he thought, a little extra delay would be useful. And he still had plenty of time to get back to the Valhalla after he saw Steve, even if he stayed in the city overnight.
"Well?" Hawkes said.
"Okay. I'll go with you."
This time they took the Undertube, which they reached by following a glowing sign and then an underground passageway. Alan rode down behind Hawkes on the moving ramp and found himself in a warm, brightly-lit underground world with stores, restaurants, newsboys hawking telefax sheets, milling swarms of homebound commuters.
They reached the entrance to a tube and Hawkes handed him a small oval object with figures engraved on it. "That's your tube-token. It goes in the slot."
They passed through the turnstile and followed signs indicating the West Side Tube. The tube was a long sleek affair, windowless, shaped like a bullet. The tube was already packed with commuters when they got aboard; there were no empty seats, of course, and everyone seemed to be jostling everyone else for the right to stand upright. The sign at the end of the tube said, Tube X#3174-WS.
The trip took only a few minutes of seemingly effortless gliding, and then they emerged far on the other side of the giant city. The neighborhood they were in was considerably less crowded; it had little of the mad hubbub of the downtown district.
A neon sign struck his eyes at once: SUPERIOR GAMES PARLOR. Under that in smaller letters was: CLASS A ESTABLISHMENT. A robot stood outside, a gleaming replica of the one he had tussled with earlier in the day.
"Class A only," the robot said as they came near. "This Games Parlor is for Class A only."
Hawkes stepped around him and broke the photo-contact on the door. Alan followed him in.
The place was dimly lit, as all Earther pleasure-places seemed to be. Alan saw a double row of tables spreading to the back of the parlor. At each table was an earnest-looking citizen hunched over a board, watching the pattern of lights in front of him come and go, change and shift.
Another robot glided up to them. "May I see your card, please?" It purred.
Hawkes passed his card before the robot's photonic scanners and the robot clicked acknowledgement, stepping to one side and letting Hawkes pass. It turned to Alan and said, "May I see your card, please?"
"He's with me," Hawkes said. "A learner."
A man in a dirty gray smock came up to them. "Evening, Max. Hinesy was here already and told me you weren't coming in tonight."
"I wasn't, but I changed my mind. I brought a learner along with me—friend of mine name of Alan Donnell. This is Joe Luckman, Alan. He runs this place."
Luckman nodded absently to Alan, who mumbled a greeting in return.
"Guess you want your usual table?" Luckman asked.
"If it's open," Hawkes said.
"Been open all evening."
Luckman led them down the long aisle to the back of the big hall, where there was a vacant table with one seat before it. Hawkes slid smoothly into the seat and told Alan to stand behind him and watch carefully.
"We'll start at the beginning of the next round," he said.
Alan looked around. Everywhere men were bent over the patterns of lights on the boards before them, with expressions of fierce concentration on their faces. Far in the corner Alan saw the pudgy figure of MacIntosh, the Keeper of the Records; MacIntosh was bathed in his own sweat, and sat rigid as if hypnotized.
Hawkes nudged him. "Keep your eyes on me. The others don't matter. I'm ready to get started."
Hawkes took a coin from his pocket and dropped it in a slot at the side of the board. It lit up. A crazy, shifting pattern of colored lights passed over it, restless, never pausing.
"What happens now?"
"You set up a mathematical pattern with these keys," Hawkes said, pointing to a row of enamelled studs along the side of the machine. "Then the lights start flashing, and as soon as they flash—at random, of course—into the pattern you've previously set up, you're the winner. The skill of the game comes in predicting the kind of pattern that will be the winning one. You've got to keep listening to the numbers that the croupier calls off, and fit them into your sequence."
Suddenly a bell rang loudly, and the board went dead. Alan looked around and saw that all the other boards in the hall were dark as well.
The man on the rostrum in the center of the hall cleared his throat and sang out, "Table 403 hits us for a hundred! 403! One hundred!"
A pasty-faced bald man at a table near theirs rose with a broad grin on his face and went forward to collect. Hawkes rapped sharply on the side of the table to get Alan's attention.
"Look here, now. You have to get a head start. As soon as the boards light up again, I have to begin setting up my pattern. I'm competing against everyone else here, you see. And the quickest man wins, usually. Of course, blind luck sometimes brings you a winner—but not very often."
Alan nodded and watched carefully as Hawkes' fingers flew nimbly over the controlling studs the instant the tables lit for the next round. The others nearby were busy doing the same thing, but few of them set about it with the air of cocky jauntiness that Hawkes wore.
Finally he stared at the board in satisfaction and sat back. The croupier pounded three times with a little gavel and said, "103 sub-prime 5."
Hastily Hawkes made a correction in his equation. The lights on the board flickered and faded, moving faster than Alan could see.
"377 third-quadrant 7."
Again a correction. Hawkes sat transfixed, staring intently at the board. The other players were similarly entranced, Alan saw. He realized it was possible for someone to become virtually hypnotized by the game, to spend days on end sitting before the board.
He forced himself to follow Hawkes' computations as number after number was called off. He began to see the logical pattern of the game.
It was a little like astrogation, in which he had had the required preliminary instruction. When you worked out a ship's course, you had to keep altering it to allow for course deflection, effects of planetary magnetic fields, meteor swarms, and such obstacles—and you had to be one jump ahead of the obstacles all the time.
It was the same here. The pilot board at the croupier's rostrum had a prearranged mathematical pattern on it. The idea of the game was to set up your own board in the identical pattern. As each succeeding coordinate on the graph was called out, you recomputed in terms of the new probabilities, rubbing out old equations and substituting new ones.
There was always the mathematical chance that a pattern set up at random would be identical to the master control pattern—but that was a pretty slim chance. It took brains to win at this game. The man whose board was first to match the pilot pattern won.
Hawkes worked quietly, efficiently, and lost the first four rounds. Alan commiserated. But the gambler snapped, "Don't waste your pity. I'm still experimenting. As soon as I've figured out the way the numbers are running tonight, I'll start raking it in."
It sounded boastful to the starman, but Hawkes won on the fifth round, matching the hidden pattern in only six minutes. The previous four rounds had taken from nine to twelve minutes before a winner appeared. The croupier, a small, sallow-faced chap, shoved a stack of coins and a few bills at Hawkes when he went to the rostrum to claim his winnings. A low murmur rippled through the hall; Hawkes had evidently been recognized.
His take was a hundred credits. In less than an hour, he was already seventy-five credits to the good. Hawkes' sharp eyes glinted brightly; he was in his element now, and enjoying it.
The sixth round went to a bespectacled round-faced man three tables to the left, but Hawkes won a hundred credits each on the seventh and eighth rounds, then lost three in a row, then plunged for a heavy stake in his ninth round and came out ahead by five hundred credits.
So Hawkes had won four times in nine rounds, Alan thought. And there were at least a hundred people in the hall. Even assuming the gambler did not always have the sort of luck he was having now, that meant most people did not win very often, and some did not win at all.
As the evening went along, Hawkes made it look simple. At one point he won four rounds in a row; then he dropped off for a while, but came back for another big pot half an hour later. Alan estimated Hawkes' night's work had been worth more than a thousand credits so far.
The gambler pushed his winnings to fourteen hundred credits, while Alan watched; the fine points of the game became more comprehensible to him with each passing moment, and he longed to sit down at the table himself. That was impossible, he knew; this was a Class A parlor, and a rank beginner such as himself could not play.
But then Hawkes began to lose. Three, four, five rounds in a row slipped by without a win. At one point Hawkes committed an elementary mistake in arithmetic that made Alan cry out; Hawkes turned and silenced him with a fierce bleak scowl, and Alan went red.
Six rounds. Seven. Eight. Hawkes had lost nearly a hundred of his fourteen hundred credits. Luck and skill seemed to have deserted him simultaneously. After the eleventh consecutive losing round, Hawkes rose from the table, shaking his head bitterly.
"I've had enough. Let's get out of here."
He pocketed his winnings—still a healthy twelve hundred credits, despite his late-evening slump—and Alan followed him out of the parlor into the night. It was late now, past midnight. The streets, fresh and clean, were damp. It had rained while they were in the parlor, and Alan realized wryly he had been so absorbed by the game that he had not even noticed.
Crowds of home-going Yorkers moved rapidly through the streets. As they made their way to the nearest Undertube terminal, Alan broke the silence. "You did all right tonight, didn't you?"
"It's too bad you had that slump right at the end. If you'd quit half an hour earlier you'd be two hundred credits richer."
Hawkes smiled. "If you'd been born a couple of hundred years later, you'd be a lot smarter."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Alan felt annoyed by Hawkes' remark.
"Simply that I lost deliberately toward the end." They turned into the Undertube station and headed for the ticket windows. "It's part of a smart gambler's knowhow to drop a few credits deliberately now and then."
"So the jerks who provide my living keep on coming back," Hawkes said bluntly. "I'm good at that game. Maybe I'm the best there is. I can feel the numbers with my hands. If I wanted to, I could win four out of five times, even at a Class A place."
Alan frowned. "Then why don't you? You could get rich!"
"I am rich," Hawkes said in a tone that made Alan feel tremendously foolish. "If I got much richer too fast I'd wind up with a soft burn in the belly from a disgruntled customer. Look here, boy: how long would you go back to that casino if one player took 80% of the pots, and a hundred people competed with you for the 20% he left over? You'd win maybe once a month, if you played full time every day. In a short time you'd be broke, unless you quit playing first. So I ease up. I let the others win about half the time. I don't want all the money the mint turns out—just some of it. It's part of the economics of the game to let the other guys take a few pots."
Alan nodded. He understood. "And you don't want to make them too jealous of you. So you made sure you lost consistently for the final half hour or so, and that took the edge off your earlier winning in their minds."
"That's the ticket!"
The Undertube pulled out of the station and shot bullet-like through its dark tunnel. Silently, Alan thought about his night's experience. He saw he still had much, very much to learn about life on Earth.
Hawkes had a gift—the gift of winning. But he didn't abuse that gift. He concealed it a little, so the people who lacked his talent did not get too jealous of him. Jealousy ran high on Earth; people here led short ugly lives, and there was none of the serenity and friendliness of life aboard a starship.
He felt very tired, but it was just physical fatigue; he felt wide awake mentally. Earth life, for all its squalor and brutality, was tremendously exciting compared with shipboard existence. It was with a momentary pang of something close to disappointment that he remembered he would have to report back to the Valhalla in several days; there were so many fascinating aspects of Earth life he still wanted to explore.
The Undertube stopped at a station labelled Hasbrouck. "This is where we get off," Hawkes told him.
They took a slidewalk to street level. The street was like a canyon, with towering walls looming up all around. And some of the gigantic buildings seemed quite shabby-looking by the street-light. Obviously they were in a less respectable part of the city.
"This is Hasbrouck," Hawkes said. "It's a residential section. And there's where I live."
He pointed to the tarnished chrome entrance of one of the biggest and shabbiest of the buildings on the street. "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like North Hasbrouck Arms. It's the sleaziest, cheapest, most run-down tenement in one hemisphere, but I love it. It's a real palace."
Alan followed him through a gate that had once been imposing; now it swung open rather rustily as they broke the photobeam in front of it. The lobby was dark and dimly lit, and smelled faintly musty.
Alan was unprepared for the shabbiness of the house where the gambler lived. A moment after he spoke, he realized the question was highly impertinent, but by then it was too late: "I don't understand, Max. If you make so much money gambling, why do you live in a place like this? Aren't there any better—I mean——"
An unreadable expression flitted briefly across the gambler's lean face. "I know what you mean. Let's just say that the laws of this planet discriminate slightly against Free Status people like yours truly. They require us to live in approved residences."
"But this is practically a slum."
"Forget the practically. This is the raw end of town, and no denying it. But I have to live here." They entered a creaky old elevator decorated with too much chrome, most of it chipped, and Hawkes pressed 106. "When I first moved in here, I made up my mind I'd bribe my way into a fancier neighborhood as soon as I had the cash. But by the time I had enough to spare I didn't feel like moving, you see. I'm sort of lazy."
The elevator stopped with a jarring jolt at the hundred-sixth floor. They passed down a narrow, poorly-lit corridor. Hawkes paused suddenly in front of a door, pressed his thumb against the doorplate, and waited as it swung open in response to the imprint of his fingerprints against the sensitive electronic grid.
"Here we are," he said.
It was a three-room apartment that looked almost as old and as disreputable as the rooms in the Enclave. But the furniture was new and attractive; these were not the rooms of a poor man. An elaborate audio system took up one entire wall; elsewhere, Alan saw books of all kinds, tapes, a tiny mounted globe of light-sculpture within whose crystal interior abstract colors flowed kaleidoscopically, a handsome robot bar.
Hawkes gestured Alan to a seat; Alan chose a green lounge-chair with quivering springs and stretched out. He did not want to go to sleep; he wanted to stay up half the night and talk.
The gambler busied himself at the bar a moment and returned with two drinks. Alan looked at the glass a moment: the drink was bright yellow in color, sparkling. He sipped it. The flavor was gentle but striking, a mixture of two or three tastes and textures that chased each other round Alan's tongue.
"I like it. What is it?"
"Wine from Antares XIII. I bought it for a hundred credits a bottle last year. Still have three bottles left, too. I go easy on it; the next ship from Antares XIII won't be in for fourteen more years."
The drink made Alan mellow and relaxed. They talked a while, and he hardly noticed the fact that the time was getting along toward 0300 now, long past his shiptime bunk-hour. He didn't care. He listened to every word Hawkes had to say, drinking it in with the same delight he felt when drinking the Antarean wine. Hawkes was a complex, many-faceted character; he seemed to have been everywhere on Earth, done everything the planet had to offer. And yet there was no boastfulness in his tone as he spoke of his exploits; he was simply stating facts.
Apparently his income from gambling was staggering; he averaged nearly a thousand credits a night, night in and night out. But a note of plaintiveness crept into his voice: success was boring him, he had no further goals to shoot for. He stood at the top of his profession, and there were no new worlds for him to conquer. He had seen and done everything, and lamented it.
"I'd like to go to space someday," he remarked. "But of course that's out. I wouldn't want to rip myself away from the year 3876 forever. You don't know what I'd give to see the suns come up over Albireo V, or to watch the thousand moons of Capella XVI. But I can't do it." He shook his head gravely. "Well, I better not dream. I like Earth and I like the sort of life I lead. And I'm glad I ran into you, too—we'll make a good team, you and me, Donnell."
Alan had been lulled by the sound of Hawkes' voice—but he snapped to attention now, surprised. "Team? What are you talking about?"
"I'll take you on as my protege. Make a decent gambler out of you. Set you up. We can go travelling together, see the world again. You've been to space; you can tell me what it's like out there. And——"
"Hold on," Alan said sharply. "You've got things mixed up a little bit. I'm going to Procyon on the Valhalla at the end of this week. I appreciate everything you've done for me, but if you think I'm going to jump ship permanently and spend the rest of my life——"
"You'll stay on Earth, all right," Hawkes said confidently. "You're in love with the place. You know yourself you don't want to spend the next seven decades of your life shuttling around in your old man's starship. You'll check out and stay here. I know you will."
"I'll bet you I don't!"
"That bet is herewith covered," Hawkes drawled. "I never pass up a sure thing. Is ten to one okay—your hundred against my thousand that you'll stay?"
Alan scowled angrily. "I don't want to bet with you, Max. I'm going back on the Valhalla. I——"
"Go ahead. Take my money, if you're so sure."
"All right, I will! A thousand credits won't hurt me!" Suddenly he had no further desire to listen to Hawkes talk; he rose abruptly and gulped down the remainder of his drink.
"I'm tired. Let's get some sleep."
"Fair enough," Hawkes said. He got up, touched a button in the wall, and a panel slid back, exposing a bed. "You sack out here. I'll wake you in the morning and we'll go looking for your brother Steve."
Alan woke early the next morning, but it was Rat, not Hawkes, who pulled him out of sleep. The little extra-terrestrial was nibbling on his ear.
Bleary-eyed, Alan sat up and blinked. "Oh—it's you. I thought you were on a silence strike."
"There wasn't anything I wanted to say, so I kept quiet. But I want to say some things now, before your new friend wakes up."
The Bellatrician had been silent all the past evening, tagging along behind Alan and Hawkes like a faithful pet, but keeping his mouth closed. "Go ahead and say them, then," Alan told him.
"I don't like this fellow Hawkes. I think you're in for trouble if you stick with him."
"He's going to take me to the Atlas to get Steve."
"You can get to the Atlas yourself. He's given you all the help you'll need."
Alan shook his head. "I'm no baby. I can take care of myself, without your help."
The little alien creature shrugged. "Suit yourself. But I'll tell you one thing, Alan: I'm going back to the Valhalla, whether you are or not. I don't like Earth, or Hawkes either. Remember that."
"Who said I was staying here? Didn't you hear me bet Max that I'd go back?"
"I heard you. I say you're going to lose that bet. I say this Hawkes is going to fast-talk you into staying here—and if I had any need for money I'd put down a side-bet on Hawkes' side."
Alan laughed. "You think you know me better than I know myself. I never for a minute thought of jumping ship."
"Has my advice ever steered you wrong? I'm older than you are, Alan, and ten or twenty times smarter. I can see where you're heading. And——"
Alan grew suddenly angry. "Nag, nag, nag! You're worse than an old woman! Why don't you keep quiet the way you did last night, and leave me alone? I know what I'm doing, and when I want your advice I'll ask for it."
"Have it your own way," Rat said. His tone was mildly reproachful. Alan felt abashed at having scolded the little alien that way, but he did not know how to make proper amends; besides, he was annoyed at Rat's preachiness. He and Rat had been together too long. The Bellatrician probably thought he was still only ten years old and in need of constant advice.
He rolled over and went back to sleep. About an hour later, he was awakened again, this time by Hawkes. He dressed and they ate—good real food, no synthetics, served by Hawkes' autochef—and then set out for the Atlas Games Parlor, 68th Avenue and 423rd Street, in Upper York City. The time was 1327 when they emerged on the street. Hawkes assured him that Steve would already be at "work"; most unsuccessful gamblers started making the rounds of the parlors in early afternoon.
They took the Undertube back to the heart of the city and kept going, into the suburb of Upper York. Getting out at the 423rd Street terminal, they walked briskly through the narrow crowded streets toward 68th Avenue.
When they were a block away Alan spotted the sign, blinking on and off in watery red letters: ATLAS GAMES PARLOR. A smaller sign proclaimed the parlor's Class C status, which allowed any mediocre player to make use of its facilities.
As they drew near Alan felt a tingle of excitement. This was what he had come to the Earther city for in the first place—to find Steve. For weeks he had been picturing the circumstances of this meeting; now it was about to take place.
The Atlas was similar to the other games parlor where Alan had had the set-to with the robohuckster; it was dark-windowed and a shining blue robot stood outside, urging passersby to step inside and try their luck. Alan moistened his dry lips; he felt cold and numb inside. He won't be there, he thought; he won't be there.
Hawkes took a wad of bills from his wallet. "Here's two hundred credits for you to use at the tables while you're looking around. I'll have to wait outside. There'd be a royal uproar if a Class A man ever set foot inside a place like the Atlas."
Alan smiled nervously. He was pleased that Hawkes was unable to come with him; he wanted to handle the problem by himself, for a change. And he was not anxious for the gambler to witness the scene between him and Steve.
If Steve were inside, that is.
He nodded tightly and walked toward the door. The robohuckster outside chattered at him, "Come right on, sir, step inside. Five credits can get you a hundred here. Right this way."
"I'm going," Alan said. He passed through the photobeam and into the games parlor. Another robot came sliding up to him and scanned his features.
"This is a Class C establishment, sir. If your card is any higher than Class C you cannot compete here. Would you mind showing me your card, sir?"
"I don't have any. I'm an unrated beginner." That was what Hawkes had told him to say. "I'd like a single table, please."
He was shown to a table to the left of the croupier's booth. The Atlas was a good bit dingier than the Class A parlor he had been in the night before; its electroluminescent light-panels fizzed and sputtered, casting uncertain shadows here and there. A round was in progress; figures were bent busily over their boards, altering their computations and changing their light-patterns.
Alan slid a five-credit piece into the slot and, while waiting for the round to finish and the next to begin, looked around at his fellow patrons. In the semi-dark that prevailed it was difficult to make out faces. He would have trouble recognizing Steve.
A musky odor hung low over the hall, sweet, pungent, yet somehow unpleasant. He realized he had experienced that odor before, and tried to remember—yes. Last night in the other games parlor he had smelled a wisp of the fragrance, and Hawkes had told him it was a narcotic cigarette. It lay heavy in the stale air of the Class C parlor.
Patrons stared with fanatic intensity at the racing pattern of lights before them. Alan glanced from one to the next. A baldhead whose dome glinted bright gold in the dusk knotted his hands together in an anguish of indecision. A slim, dreamy-eyed young man gripped the sides of the table frenziedly as the numbers spiralled upward. A fat woman in her late forties, hopelessly dazed by the intricate game, slumped wearily in her seat.
Beyond that he could not see. There were other patrons on the far side of the rostrum; perhaps Steve was over there. But it was forbidden for anyone to wander through the rows of tables searching for a particular player.
The gong rang, ending the round. "Number 322 wins a hundred credits," barked the croupier.
The man at Table 322 shambled forward for his money. He walked with a twisted shuffle; his body shook palsiedly. Hawkes had warned him of these, too—the dreamdust addicts, who in the late stages of their addiction became hollow shells of men, barely able to walk. He took his hundred credits and returned to his table without smiling. Alan shuddered and looked away. Earth was not a pretty world. Life was good if you had the stream running with you, as Hawkes did—but for each successful one like Hawkes, how many fought unsuccessfully against the current and were swept away into dreamdust or worse?
Steve. He looked down the row for Steve.
And then the board lit up again, and for the first time he was playing.
He set up a tentative pattern; golden streaks flitted across the board, mingling with red and blue blinkers. Then the first number came. Alan integrated it hastily and realized he had constructed a totally worthless pattern; he wiped his board clean and set up new figures, based on the one number he had. Already, he knew, he was hopelessly far behind the others.
But he kept with it as the minutes crawled past. Sweat dribbled down his face and neck. He had none of Hawkes' easy confidence with the board's controls; this game was hard work for a beginner. Later, perhaps, some of the steps would become automatic, but now——
"Seventy-eight sub twelve over thirteen," came the droning instructions, and Alan pulled levers and twisted ratchets to keep his pattern true. He saw the attraction the game held for the people of Earth: it required such deep concentration, such careful attention, that one had no time to ponder other problems. It was impossible to think and compete at the same time. The game offered perfect escape from the harsh realities of Earther existence.
"Six hundred twelve sigma five."
Again Alan recompensated. His nerves tingled; he felt he must be close to victory. All thought of what he had come here for slipped away; Steve was forgotten. Only the flashing board counted, only the game.
Five more numbers went by. Suddenly the gong rang, indicating that someone had achieved a winning pattern, and it was like the fall of a headsman's axe to Alan. He had lost. That was all he could think of. He had lost.
The winner was the dreamy-eyed youth at Table 166, who accepted his winnings without a word and took his seat. As Alan drew out another five-credit piece for the next round, he realized what he was doing.
He was being caught up in the nerve-stretching excitement of the game. He was forgetting Steve, forgetting the waiting Hawkes outside.
He stretched back in his seat and peered as far down the row as he could see. No sign of Steve there; he had to be on the other side of the croupier. Alan decided to do his best to win; that way he could advance to the rostrum and scan the other half of the hall.
But the game fled by too quickly; he made a false computation on the eleventh number and watched in dismay as his pattern drew further and further away from the numbers being called off. He drove himself furiously, trying to make amends, but it was impossible. The winner was the man at Table 217, on the other side. He was a lantern-jawed giant with the powerful frame of a longshoreman, and he laughed in pleasure as he collected his money.
Three more rounds went by; Alan picked up increasing skill at the game, but failed to win. He saw his shortcoming, but could not do anything to help it: he was unable to extrapolate ahead. Hawkes was gifted with the knack of being able to extend probable patterns two or three moves into the future; Alan could only work with the given, and so he never made the swift series of guesses which led to victory. He had spent nearly an hour in the parlor now, fruitlessly.
The next round came and went. "Table 111 takes us for a hundred fifty credits," came the croupier's cry. Alan relaxed, waiting for the lucky winner to collect and for the next round to begin.
The winner reached the centrally located rostrum. Alan looked at him. He was tall, fairly young—in his thirties, perhaps—with stooped shoulders and a dull glazedness about his eyes. He looked familiar.
Feeling no excitement now that the quest had reached success, Alan slipped from his seat and made his way around the croupier's rostrum and down the far aisle. Steve had already taken his seat at Table 111. Alan came up behind him, just as the gong sounded to signal the new round.
Steve was hunched over the board, calculating with almost desperate fury. Alan touched his shoulder.
Without looking up Steve snapped, "Get out of here, whoever you are! Can't you see I'm busy?"
A robot sidled up to Alan and grasped him firmly by the arm. "It is forbidden to disturb the players while they are engaged in the game. We will have to eject you from this parlor."
Angrily Alan broke loose from the robot's grasp and leaned over Steve. He shook him by the shoulder, roughly, trying to shake loose his mind from the flickering games board.
"Steve, look up! It's me—Alan—your brother!"
Steve slapped at Alan's hand as he would at a fly. Alan saw other robots converging on him from various points in the room. In a minute they'd hurl him out into the street.
Recklessly he grabbed Steve by the shoulders and spun him around in his seat. A curse tumbled from Steve's lips; then he fell strangely silent.
"You remember me, Steve? Your brother Alan. Your twin brother, once."
Steve had changed, certainly. His hair was no longer thick and curly; it seemed to have straightened out, and darkened a little. Wrinkles seamed his forehead; his eyes were deep-set and surrounded by lines. He was slightly overweight, and it showed. He looked terribly tired. Looking at him was like looking at a comic mirror that distorted and altered your features. But there was nothing comic about Steve's appearance.
In a hoarse whisper he said, "Alan?"
Alan felt robot arms grasping him firmly. He struggled to break loose, and saw Steve trying to say something, only no words were coming. Steve was very pale.
"Let go of him!" Steve said finally, "He—he wasn't disturbing me."
"He must be ejected. It is the rule."
Conflict traced deep lines on Steve's face. "All right, then. We'll both leave."
The robots released Alan, who rubbed his arms ruefully. Together they walked up the aisle and out into the street.
Hawkes stood waiting there.
"I see you've found him. It took long enough."
"M-Max, this is my brother, Steven Donnell." Alan's voice was shaky with tension. "Steve, this is a friend of mine. Max Hawkes."
"You don't need to tell me who he is," Steve said. His voice was deeper and harsher than Alan remembered it. "Every gamesman knows Hawkes. He's the best there is." In the warm daylight, Steve looked even older than the twenty-six years that was his chronological age. To Alan's eyes he seemed to be a man who had been kicked around by life, a man who had not yet given up but who knew he didn't stand much of a chance for the future.
And he looked ashamed. The old sparkle was gone from his brother's eyes. Quietly Steve said, "Okay, Alan. You tracked me down. Call me whatever names you want to call me and let me get about my business. I don't do quite as well as your friend Hawkes, and I happen to be in need of a lot of cash in a hurry."
"I didn't come to call you names. Let's go someplace where we can talk," Alan said. "There's a lot for us to talk about."
They adjourned to a small tavern three doors down 68th Avenue from the games parlor, an old-fashioned tavern with manually operated doors and stuffed moose heads over the bar. Alan and Hawkes took seats next to each other in a booth in back; Steve sat facing them.
The barkeep came scuttling out—no robot in here, just a tired-faced old man—and took their orders. Hawkes called for beer, Steve for whiskey; Alan did not order.
He sat staring at his brother's oddly changed face. Steve was twenty-six. From Alan's seventeen-year-old vantage-point, that seemed tremendously old, well past the prime of life.
He said, "The Valhalla landed on Earth a few days ago. We're bound out for Procyon in a few days."
"The Captain would like to see you again, Steve."
Steve stared moodily at his drink without speaking, for a long moment. Alan studied him. Less than two months had passed for Alan since Steve had jumped ship; he still remembered how his twin had looked. There had been something smouldering in Steve's eyes then, a kind of rebellious fire, a smoky passion. That was gone now. It had burned out long ago. In its place Alan saw only tiny red veins—the bloodshot eyes of a man who had been through a lot, little of it very pleasant.
"Is that the truth?" Steve asked. "Would he like to see me? Or wouldn't he just prefer to think I never was born at all?"
"I know the Captain—Dad—pretty well. Even though I haven't seen him in nine years. He'd never forgive me for jumping ship. I don't want to pay any visits to the Valhalla, Alan."
"Who said anything about visiting?"
"Then what were you talking about?"
"I was talking about going back into the Crew," Alan said quietly.
The words seemed to strike Steve like physical blows. He shuddered a little and gulped down the drink he held clutched in tobacco-stained fingers. He looked up at Alan, finally.
"I can't. It's impossible. Flatly impossible."
Alan felt Hawkes' foot kick him sharply under the table. He caught the hint, and changed the subject. There was time to return to it later.
"Okay, let's skip it for now. Why don't you tell me about your life on Earth these last nine years?"
Steve smiled sardonically. "There's not much to tell, and what there is is a pretty dull story. I came across the bridge from the Enclave last time the Valhalla was in town, and came over into York City all set to conquer the world, become rich and famous, and live happily ever after. Five minutes after I set foot on the Earther side of the river I was beaten up and robbed by a gang of roving kids. It was a real fine start."
He signalled the waiter for another drink. "I guess I must have drifted around the city for two weeks or more before the police found me and picked me up for vagrancy. By that time the Valhalla had long since hoisted for Alpha C—and didn't I wish I was on it! Every night I used to dream I had gone back on the ship. But when I woke up I always found out I hadn't.
"The police gave me an education in the ways of Earther life, complete with rubber hoses and stingrays, and when they were through with me I knew all about the system of work cards and free status. I didn't have a credit to my name. So I drifted some more. Then I got sick of drifting and tried to find a job, but of course I couldn't buy my way in to any of the hereditary guilds. Earth has enough people of her own; she's not interested in finding jobs for kid spacemen who jump ship.
"So I starved a little. Then I got tired of starving. So about a year after I first jumped ship I borrowed a thousand credits from somebody foolish enough to lend them, and set myself up as a professional gambler on Free Status. It was the only trade I could find that didn't have any entrance requirements."
"Did you do well?"
"Yeah. Very well. At the end of my first six months I was fifteen hundred credits in debt. Then my luck changed; I won three thousand credits in a single month and got shifted up to Class B." Steve laughed bitterly. "That was beautiful, up there. Inside of two more months I'd not only lost my three thousand, I was two thousand more in hock. And that's the way it's been going ever since. I borrow here, win a little to pay him back, or lose a little and borrow from someone else, win a little, lose a little—round and round and round. A swell life, Alan. And I still dream about the Valhalla once or twice a week."
Steve's voice was leaden, dreary. Alan felt a surge of pity. The swashbuckling, energetic Steve he had known might still be there, inside this man somewhere, but surrounding him were the scars of nine bitter years on Earth.
Nine years. It was a tremendous gulf.
Alan caught his breath a moment. "If you had the chance to go back into the Crew, no strings attached, no recriminations—would you take it?"
For an instant the old brightness returned to Steve's eyes. "Of course I would! But——"
"I owe seven thousand credits," Steve said. "And it keeps getting worse. That pot I won today, just before you came over to me, that was the first take I'd had in three days. Nine years and I'm still a Class C gambler. We can't all be as good as Hawkes here. I'm lousy—but what other profession could I go into, on an overcrowded and hostile world like this one?"
Seven thousand credits, Alan thought. It was a week's earnings for Hawkes—but Steve would probably be in debt the rest of his life.
"Who do you owe this money to?" Hawkes asked suddenly.
Steve looked at him. "The Bryson syndicate, mostly. And Lorne Hollis. The Bryson people keep a good eye on me, too. There's a Bryson man three booths up who follows me around. If they ever saw me going near the spacefield they'd be pretty sure to cut me off and ask for their money. You can't welsh on Bryson."
"Suppose it was arranged that your debts be cancelled," Hawkes said speculatively.
Steve shook his head. "No. I don't want charity. I know you're a Class A and seven thousand credits comes easy to you, but I couldn't take it. Skip it. I'm stuck here on Earth for keeps, and I'm resigned to it. I made my choice, and this is what I got."
"Listen to reason," Alan urged. "Hawkes will take care of the money you owe. And Dad will be so happy to see you come back to the ship again——"
"Like Mars he'll be happy! See me come back, beaten up and ragged, a washed-out old man at twenty-six? No, sir. The Captain blotted me out of his mind a long time ago, and he and I don't have any further business together."
"You're wrong, Steve. He sent me into the Earther city deliberately to find you. He said to me, 'Find Steve and urge him to come back to the ship.' He's forgiven you completely," Alan lied. "Everyone's anxious to have you come back on board."
For a moment Steve sat silent, indecisive, frowning deeply. Then he made up his mind. He shook his head. "No—both of you. Thanks, but I don't want any. Keep your seven thousand, Hawkes. And you, Alan—go back to the ship and forget all about me. I don't even deserve a second chance."
"You're wrong!" Alan started to protest, but a second time Hawkes kicked him hard, and he shut up. He stared curiously at the gambler.
"I guess that about settles it," Hawkes observed. "If the man wants to stay, we can't force him."
Steve nodded. "I have to stay on Earth. And now I'd better get back to the games parlor—I can't waste any time, you know. Not with a seven thousand credit backlog to make up."
"Naturally. But there's time for one more drink, isn't there? On me. Maybe you don't want my money, but let me buy you a drink."
Steve grinned. "Fair enough."
He started to wave to the bartender, but Hawkes shot out an arm quickly and blocked off the gesture. "He's an old man and he's tired. I'll go to the bar and order." And before Steve could protest, Hawkes had slipped smoothly out of the booth and was on his way forward to the bar.
Alan sat facing his brother. He felt pity. Steve had been through a lot; the freedom he had longed for aboard ship had had a heavy price. And was it freedom, to sit in a crowded games parlor on a dirty little planet and struggle to get out of debt?
There was nothing further he could say to Steve. He had tried, and he had failed, and Steve would remain on Earth. But it seemed wrong. Steve did deserve a second chance. He had jumped ship and it had been a mistake, but there was no reason why he could not return to his old life, wiser for the experience. Still, if he refused——
Hawkes came back bearing two drinks—another beer for himself and a whiskey for Steve. He set them out on the table and said, "Well, drink up. Here's hoping you make Class A and stay there."
"Thanks," Steve said, and drained his drink in a single loud gulp. His eyes widened; he started to say something, but never got the words out. He slumped down in his seat and his chin thumped ringingly against the table.
Alan looked at Hawkes in alarm. "What happened to him? Why'd he pass out?"
Hawkes smiled knowingly. "An ancient Earth beverage known as the Mickey Finn. Two drops of a synthetic enzyme in his drink; tasteless, but extremely effective. He'll be asleep for ten hours or more."
"How'd you arrange it?"
"I told the bartender it was in a good cause, and he believed me. You wait here, now. I want to talk to that Bryson man about your brother's debts, and then we'll spirit him out to the spaceport and dump him aboard the Valhalla before he wakes up."
Alan grinned. He was going to have to do some explaining to Steve later, but by that time it would be too late; the starship would be well on its way to Procyon. It was a dirty trick to play, he thought, but it was justifiable. In Hawkes' words, it was in a good cause.
Alan put his arms around his brother's shoulders and gently lifted him out of the chair; Steve was surprisingly light, for all his lack of condition. Evidently muscle weighed more than fat, and Steve had gone to fat. Supporting his brother's bulk without much trouble, Alan made his way toward the entrance to the bar. As he went past the bartender, the old man smiled at him. Alan wondered what Hawkes had said to him.
Right now Hawkes was three booths up, leaning over and taking part in an urgent whispered conference with a thin dark-faced man in a sharply tailored suit. They reached some sort of agreement; there was a handshake. Then Hawkes left the booth and slung one of Steve's dangling arms around his own shoulder, easing the weight.
"There's an Undertube that takes us as far as Carhill Boulevard and the bridge," Hawkes said. "We can get a ground vehicle there that'll go on through the Enclave and out to the spacefield."
The trip took nearly an hour. Steve sat propped up between Alan and Hawkes, and every now and then his head would loll to one side or another, and he would seem to be stirring; but he never woke. The sight of two men dragging a third along between them attracted not the slightest attention as they left the Undertube and climbed aboard the spacefield bus. Apparently in York City no one cared much about what went on; it made no difference to the busy Earthers whether Steve were unconscious or dead.
The ground bus took them over the majestic arch of the bridge, rapidly through the sleepy Enclave—Alan saw nobody he recognized in the streets—and through the restricted area that led to the spacefield.
The spaceport was a jungle of ships, each standing on its tail waiting to blast off. Most of them were small two-man cargo vessels, used in travel between Earth and the colonies on the Moon, Mars, and Pluto, but here and there a giant starship loomed high above the others. Alan stood on tiptoes to search for the golden hull of the Valhalla, but he was unable to see it. Since the starship would be blasting off at the end of the week, he knew the crew was probably already at work on it, shaping it up for the trip. He belonged on it too.
He saw a dark green starship standing nearby; the Encounter, Kevin Quantrell's ship. Men were moving about busily near the big ship, and Alan remembered that it had become obsolete during its last long voyage, and was being rebuilt.
A robot came sliding up to the three of them as they stood there at the edge of the landing field.
"Can I help you, please?"
"I'm from the starship Valhalla," Alan said. "I'm returning to the ship. Would you take me to the ship, please?"
Alan turned to Hawkes. The moment had come, much too suddenly. Alan felt Rat twitching at his cuff, as if reminding him of something.
Grinning awkwardly, Alan said, "I guess this is the end of the line, Max. You'd better not go out on the spacefield with us. I—I sort of want to thank you for all the help you've given me. I never would have found Steve without you. And about the bet we made—well, it looks like I'm going back on my ship after all, so I've won a thousand credits from you. But I can't ask for it, of course. Not after what you did for Steve."
He extended his hand. Hawkes took it, but he was smiling strangely.
"If I owed you the money, I'd pay it to you," the gambler said. "That's the way I work. The seven thousand I paid for Steve is extra and above everything else. But you haven't won that bet yet. You haven't won it until the Valhalla's in space with you aboard it."
The robot made signs of impatience. Hawkes said, "You'd better convoy your brother across the field and dump him on his ship. Save the goodbyes for later. I'll wait right here for you. Right here."
Alan shook his head. "Sorry, Max, but you're wasting your time by waiting. The Valhalla has to be readied for blastoff, and once I check in aboard ship I can't come back to visit. So this is goodbye, right here."
"We'll see about that," Hawkes said. "Ten to one odds."
"Ten to one," Alan said. "And you've lost your bet." But his voice did not sound very convincing, and as he started off across the field with Steve dragging along beside him he frowned, and did some very intense thinking indeed in the few minutes' time it took him to arrive at the shining Valhalla. He was beginning to suspect that Hawkes might be going to win the bet after all.
He felt a little emotional pang, something like nostalgia, as the Valhalla came into sight, standing by itself tall and proud at the far end of the field. A cluster of trucks buzzed around it, transferring fuel, bringing cargo. He spotted the wiry figure of Dan Kelleher, the cargo chief, supervising and shouting salty instructions to the perspiring men.
Alan tightened his grip on Steve's arm and moved forward. Kelleher shouted, "You men back there, tighten up on that winch and give 'er a hoist! Tighten up, I say! Put some muscle into——" He broke off. "Alan," he said, in a quiet voice.
"Hello, Dan. Is my father around?"
Kelleher was staring with frank curiosity at the slumped figure of Steve Donnell. "The Captain's off watch now. Art Kandin's in charge."
"Thanks," Alan said. "I'd better go see him."
Alan nodded. "Yes. That's Steve."
He passed between the cargo hoists and clambered onto the escalator rampway that led to the main body of the ship. It rose, conveying him seventy feet upward and through the open passenger hatch to the inner section of the towering starship.
He was weary from having carried Steve so long. He put the sleeping form down against a window-seat facing one of the viewscreens, and said to Rat, "You stay here and keep watch. If anyone wants to know who he is, tell them the truth."
Alan found Art Kandin where he expected to find him—in the Central Control Room, posting work assignments for the blastoff tomorrow. The lanky, pudgy-faced First Officer hardly noticed as Alan stepped up beside him.
Kandin turned—and went pale. "Oh—Alan. Where in blazes have you been the last two days?"
"Out in the Earther city. Did my father make much of a fuss?"
The First Officer shook his head. "He kept saying you just went out to see the sights, that you hadn't really jumped ship. But he kept saying it over and over again, as if he didn't really believe it, as if he wanted to convince himself you were coming back."
"Where is he now?"
"In his cabin. He's off-watch for the next hour or two. I'll ring him up and have him come down here, I guess."
Alan shook his head. "No—don't do that. Tell him to meet me on B Deck." He gave the location of the picture-viewscreen where he had parked Steve, and Kandin shrugged and agreed.
Alan made his way back to the viewscreen. Rat looked up at him; he was sitting perched on Steve's shoulder.
"Anyone bother you?" Alan asked.
"No one's come by this way since you left," Rat said.
"Alan?" a quiet voice said.
Alan turned. "Hello, Dad."
The Captain's lean, tough face had some new lines on it; his eyes were darkly shadowed, and he looked as if he hadn't slept much the night before. But he took Alan's hand and squeezed it warmly—in a fatherly way, not a Captainly one. Then he glanced at the sleeping form behind Alan.
"I—went into the city, Dad. And found Steve."
Something that looked like pain came into Captain Donnell's eyes, but only for an instant. He smiled. "It's strange, seeing the two of you like this. So you brought back Steve, eh? We'll have to put him back on the roster. Why is he asleep? He looks like he's out cold."
"He is. It's a long story, Dad."
"You'll have to explain it to me later, then—after blastoff."
Alan shook his head. "No, Dad. Steve can explain it when he wakes up, tonight. Steve can tell you lots of things. I'm going back to the city."
It was easy to say, now—the decision that had been taking vague form for several hours, and which had crystallized as he trudged across the spacefield toward the Valhalla. "I brought you back Steve, Dad. You still have one son aboard ship. I want off. I'm resigning. I want to stay behind on Earth. By our charter you can't deny such a request."
Captain Donnell moistened his lips slowly. "Agreed, I can't deny. But why, Alan?"
"I think I can do more good Earthside. I want to look for Cavour's old notebooks; I think he developed the hyperdrive, and if I stay behind on Earth maybe I can find it. Or else I can build my own. So long, Dad. And tell Steve that I wish him luck—and that he'd better do the same for me." He glanced at Rat. "Rat, I'm deeding you to Steve. Maybe if he had had you instead of me, he never would have jumped ship in the first place."
He looked around, at his father, at Steve, at Rat. There was not much else he could say. And he knew that if he prolonged the farewell scene too long, he'd only be burdening his father and himself with the weight of sentimental memory.
"We won't be back from Procyon for almost twenty years, Alan. You'll be thirty-seven before we return to Earth again."
Alan grinned. "I have a hunch I'll be seeing you all before then, Dad. I hope. Give everyone my best. So long, Dad."
"So long, Alan."
He turned away and rapidly descended the ramp. Avoiding Kelleher and the cargo crew, for goodbyes would take too long, he trotted smoothly over the spacefield, feeling curiously lighthearted now. Part of the quest was over; Steve was back on board the Valhalla. But Alan knew the real work was just beginning. He would search for the hyperdrive; perhaps Hawkes would help him. Maybe he would succeed in his quest this time, too. He had some further plans, in that event, but it was not time to think of them now.
Hawkes was still standing at the edge of the field, and there was a thoughtful smile on his face as Alan came running up to him.
"I guess you won your bet," Alan said, when he had his breath back.
"I almost always do. You owe me a hundred credits—but I'll defer collection."
They made the trip back to York City in virtual silence. Either Hawkes was being too tactful to ask the reasons for Alan's decision or else—this seemed more likely, Alan decided—the gambler had already made some shrewd surmises, and was waiting for time to bear him out. Hawkes had known long before Alan himself realized it that he would not leave with the Valhalla.
The Cavour Hyperdrive, that was the rainbow's end Alan would chase now. He would accept Hawkes' offer, become the gambler's protege, learn a few thing about life. The experience would not hurt him. And always in the front of his mind he would keep the ultimate goal, of finding a spacedrive that would propel a ship faster than the speed of light.
At the apartment in Hasbrouck, Hawkes offered him a drink. "To celebrate our partnership," he explained.
Alan accepted the drink and tossed it down. It stung, momentarily; he saw sadly he was never going to make much of a drinking man. He drew something from his pocket, and Hawkes frowned.
"My Tally. Every spaceman has one. It's the only way we can keep track of our chronological ages when we're on board ship." He showed it to Hawkes; it read Year 17 Day 3. "Every twenty-four hours of subjective time that goes by, we click off another day. Every three hundred sixty-five days another year is ticked off. But I guess I won't be needing this any more."
He tossed it in the disposal unit. "I'm an Earther now. Every day that goes by is just one day; objective time and subjective time are equal."
Hawkes grinned cheerfully. "A little plastic doodad to tell you how old you are, eh? Well, that's all behind you now." He pointed to a button in the wall. "There's the operating control for your bed; I'll sleep in back, where I did last night. First thing tomorrow we'll get you a decent set of clothes, so you can walk down the street without having people yell 'Spacer!' at you. Then I want you to meet a few people—friends of mine. And then we start breaking you in at the Class C tables."
* * * * *
The first few days of life with Hawkes were exciting ones. The gambler bought Alan new clothing, modern stuff with self-sealing zippers and pressure buttons, made of filmy clinging materials that were incredibly more comfortable than the rough cloth of his Valhalla uniform. York City seemed less strange to him with each passing hour; he studied Undertube routes and Overshoot maps until he knew his way around the city fairly well.
Each night about 1800 they would eat, and then it was time to go to work. Hawkes' routine brought him to three different Class A gambling parlors, twice each week; on the seventh day he always rested. For the first week Alan followed Hawkes around, standing behind him and observing his technique. When the second week began, Alan was on his own, and he began to frequent Class C places near the A parlors Hawkes used.
But when he asked Hawkes whether he should take out a Free Status registration, the gambler replied with a quick, snappish, "Not yet."
"But why? I'm a professional gambler, since last week. Why shouldn't I register?"
"Because you don't need to. It's not required."
"But I want to. Gosh, Max, I—well, I sort of want to put my name down on something. Just to show I belong here on Earth. I want to register."
Hawkes looked at him strangely, and it seemed to Alan there was menace in the calm blue eyes. In suddenly ominous tones he said, "I don't want you signing your name to anything, Alan. Or registering for Free Status. Got that?"
"No buts! Got it?"
Repressing his anger, Alan nodded. He was used to taking orders from his shipboard superiors and obeying them. Hawkes probably knew best. In any case, he was dependent on the older man right now, and did not want to anger him unnecessarily. Hawkes was wealthy; it might take money to build a hyperdrive ship, when the time came. Alan was flatly cold-blooded about it, and the concept surprised and amused him when he realized just how single-minded he had become since resigning from the Valhalla.
He turned the single-mindedness to good use at the gaming tables first. During his initial ten days as a professional, he succeeded in losing seven hundred credits of Hawkes' money, even though he did manage to win a three-hundred-credit stake one evening.
But Hawkes was not worried. "You'll make the grade, Alan. A few more weeks, days maybe, while you learn the combinations, limber up your fingers, pick up the knack of thinking fast—you'll get there."
"I'm glad you're so optimistic." Alan felt downcast. He had dropped three hundred credits that evening, and it seemed to him that his fumbling fingers would never learn to set up the combinations fast enough. He was just like Steve, a born loser, without the knack the game required. "Oh, well, it's your money."
"And I expect you to double it for me some day. I've got a five-to-one bet out now that you'll make Class B before fall."
Alan snorted doubtfully. In order to make Class B, he would have to make average winnings of two hundred credits a night for ten days running, or else win three thousand credits within a month. It seemed a hopeless task.
But, as usual, Hawkes won the bet. Alan's luck improved as May passed and June dwindled; at the beginning of July he hit a hot streak when he seemed to be marching up to the winner's rostrum every other round, and the other Class C patrons began to grumble. The night he came home with six hundred newly-won credits, Hawkes opened a drawer and took out a slim, sleek neutrino gun.
"You'd better carry this with you from now on," the gambler said.
"They're starting to notice you now. I hear people talking. They know you're carrying cash out of the game parlors every night."
Alan held the cool gray weapon, whose muzzle could spit a deadly stream of energized neutrinos, undetectable, massless, and fatal. "If I'm held up I'm supposed to use this?"
"Just the first time," Hawkes said. "If you do the job right, you won't need to use it any more. There won't be any second time."
As it turned out, Alan had no need for the gun, but he carried it within easy reach whenever he left the apartment. His skill at the game continued to increase; it was, he saw, just like astrogation, and with growing confidence he learned to project his moves three and sometimes four numbers ahead.
On a warm night in mid-July the proprietor of the games hall Alan frequented most regularly stopped him as he entered.
"You're Donnell, aren't you?"
"That's right. Anything wrong?"
"Nothing much, except that I've been tallying up your take the past two weeks. Comes to close to three thousand credits, altogether. Which means you're not welcome around this parlor any more. Nothing personal, son. You'd better carry this with you next time out."
Alan took the little card the proprietor offered him. It was made of gray plastic, and imprinted on it in yellow were the letters, CLASS B. He had been promoted.
Things were not quite so easy in the Class B games parlors. Competition was rough. Some of the players were, like Alan, sharp newcomers just up from the bottom of the heap; others were former Class A men who were sliding down again, but still did well enough to hang on in Class B. Every day, some of the familiar faces were gone, as one man after another failed to meet the continuing qualifications for the intermediary class.
Alan won fairly steadily—and Hawkes, of course, was a consistent winner on the Class A level. Alan turned his winnings over to the older man, who then allowed him to draw any cash he might need without question.
The summer rolled on through August—hot and sticky, despite the best efforts of the local weather-adjustment bureau. The cloud-seeders provided a cooling rain-shower at about 0100 every night to wash away the day's grime. Alan was usually coming home at that time, and he would stand in the empty streets letting the rain pelt down on him, and enjoying it. Rain was a novelty for him; he had spent so much of his life aboard the starship that he had had little experience with it. He was looking forward to the coming of winter, and with it snow.
He hardly ever thought of the Valhalla. He disciplined himself to keep thoughts of the starship out of his mind, for he knew that once he began regretting his decision there would be no stopping. Life on Earth was endlessly fascinating; and he was confident that someday soon he would get a chance to begin tracking down the Cavour hyperdrive.
Hawkes taught him many things—how to wrestle, how to cheat at cards, how to throw knives. None of the things Alan learned from Hawkes were proper parts of the education of a virtuous young man—but on Earth, virtue was a negative accomplishment. You were either quick or dead. And until he had an opportunity to start work on the hyperdrive, Alan knew he had better learn how to survive on Earth. Hawkes was a master of survival techniques; Alan was a good student.
He had his first test on a muggy night early in September. He had spent his evening at the Lido, a flossy games parlor in the suburb of Ridgewood, and had come away with better than seven hundred credits—the second best single night he had ever had. He felt good about things. Hawkes was working at a parlor far across the city, and so they did not arrange to meet when the evening was over; instead, they planned to come home separately. Usually they talked for an hour or two each night before turning in, Alan reviewing his evening's work and having Hawkes pick out the weak points in his technique and show him the mistakes he had made.
Alan reached Hasbrouck about 0030 that evening. There was no moon; and in Hasbrouck the street-lighting was not as efficient as it was in more respectable areas of York City. The streets were dark. Alan was perspiring heavily from the humidity. But the faint hum of the cloud-seeders' helicopters could be heard; the evening rain was on the way. He decided to wait outside a while.
The first drops splashed down at 0045. Alan grinned gleefully as the cool rain washed away the sweat that clung to him; while pedestrians scurried for cover, he gloried in the downpour.
Darkness lay all around. Alan heard sudden footsteps; a moment later he felt sharp pressure in the small of his back and a hand gripping his shoulder.
A quiet voice said, "Hand over your cash and you won't get hurt."
Alan froze just an instant. Then the months of Hawkes' training came into play. He wiggled his back tentatively to see whether the knife was penetrating his clothing. Good; it wasn't.
In one quick motion he whirled and spun away, dancing off to the left and clubbing down sharply on his opponent's knife-hand. A grunted exclamation of pain rewarded him. He stepped back two steps; as his attacker advanced, Alan drove a fist into his stomach and leaped lithely away again. This time his hand emerged holding the neutrino gun.
"Stand where you are or I'll burn you," he said quietly. The shadow-shrouded attacker made no move. Cautiously Alan kicked the fallen knife out of his reach without lowering his gun.
"Okay," Alan said. "Come on over here in the light where I can see who you are. I want to remember you."
But to his astonishment he felt strong arms slipping around his and pinioning him; a quick twist and his neutrino gun dropped from his numbed hands. The arms locked behind his back in an unbreakable full nelson.
Alan writhed, but it was no use. The hidden accomplice held him tightly. And now the other man came forward and efficiently went through his pockets. Alan felt more angry than afraid, but he wished Hawkes or someone else would come along before this thing went too far.
Suddenly Alan felt the pressure behind his neck easing up. His captor was releasing him. He poised, debating whether or not to whirl and attack, when a familiar voice said, "Rule Number One: never leave your back unguarded for more than half a second when you're being held up. You see what happens."
Alan was too stunned to reply for several moments. In a whisper he said finally, "Max?"
"Of course. And lucky for you I'm who I am, too. John, step out here in the light where he can see you. Alan, meet John Byng. Free Status, Class B."
The man who had originally attacked him came forward now, into the light of the street-glow. He was shorter than Alan, with a lean, almost fleshless face and a scraggly reddish-brown beard. He looked cadaverous. His eyeballs were stained a peculiar yellowish tinge.
Alan recognized him—a Class B man he had seen several times at various parlors. It was not a face one forgot easily.
Byng handed over the thick stack of bills he had taken from Alan. As he pocketed them, Alan said in some annoyance, "A very funny prank, Max. But suppose I had burned your friend's belly, or he had stabbed me?"
Hawkes chuckled. "One of the risks of the game, I guess. But I know you too well to think that you'd burn down an unarmed man, and John didn't intend to stab you. Besides, I was right here."
"And what was the point of this little demonstration?"
"Part of your education, m'boy. I was hoping you'd be held up by one of the local gangs, but they didn't oblige, so I had to do it myself. With John's help, of course. Next time remember that there may be an accomplice hiding in the shadows, and that you're not safe just because you've caught one man."
Alan grinned. "Good point. And I guess this is the best way to learn it."
The three of them went upstairs. Byng excused himself and vanished into the extra room almost immediately; Hawkes whispered to Alan, "Johnny's a dreamduster—a narcosephrine addict. In the early stages; you can spot it by the yellowing of the eyeballs. Later on it'll cripple him, but he doesn't worry about later on."
Alan studied the small, lean man when he returned. Byng was smiling—a strange unworldly smile. He held a small plastic capsule in his right hand.
"Here's another facet of your education," he said. He looked at Hawkes. "Is it okay?"
Byng said, "Take a squint at this capsule, boy. It's dreamdust—narcosephrine. That's my kick."
He tossed the capsule nonchalantly to Alan, who caught it and held it at arm's distance as if it were a live viper. It contained a yellow powder.
"You twist the cap and sniff a little," Hawkes said. "But don't try it unless you hate yourself real bad. Johnny can testify to that."
Alan frowned. "What does the stuff do?"
"It's a stimulant—a nerve-stimulant. Enhances perception. It's made from a weed that grows only in dry, arid places—comes from Epsilon Eridani IV originally, but the galaxy's biggest plantation is in the Sahara. It's habit-forming—and expensive."
"How much of it do you have to take to—to get the habit?"
Byng's thin lips curled in a cynical scowl. "One sniff. And the drug takes all your worries away. You're nine feet tall and the world's your plaything, when you're up on dream dust. Everything you look at has six different colors." Bitterly Byng said, "Just one catch—after about a year you stop feeling the effect. But not the craving. That stays with you forever. Every night, one good sniff—at a hundred credits a sniff. And there's no cure."
Alan shuddered. He had seen dreamdust addicts in the advanced state—withered palsied old men of forty, unable to eat, crippled, drying up and nearing death. All that for a year's pleasure!
"Johnny used to be a starman," Hawkes said suddenly. "That's why I picked him for our little stunt tonight. I thought it was about time I introduced you two."
Alan's eyes widened. "What ship?"
"Galactic Queen. A dreamdust peddler came wandering through the Enclave one night and let me have a free sniff. Generous of him."
"And you—became an addict?"
"Five minutes later. So my ship left without me. That was eleven years ago, Earthtime. Figure it out—a hundred credits a night for eleven years."
Alan felt cold inside. It could have happened to him, he thought—that free sniff. Byng's thin shoulders were quivering. The advanced stage of addiction was starting to set in.
Byng was only the first of Hawkes' many friends that Alan met in the next two weeks. Hawkes was the center of a large group of men in Free Status, not all of whom knew each other but who all knew Hawkes. Alan felt a sort of pride in being the protege of such an important and widely-known man as Max Hawkes, until he started discovering what sort of people Hawkes' friends were.
There was Lorne Hollis, the loansman—one of the men Steve had borrowed from. Hollis was a chubby, almost greasy individual with flat milky gray eyes and a cold, chilling smile. Alan shook hands with him, and then felt like wiping off his hand. Hollis came to see them often.
Another frequent visitor was Mike Kovak of the Bryson Syndicate—a sharp-looking businessman type in ultra-modern suits, who spoke clearly and well and whose specialty was forgery. There was Al Webber, an amiable, soft-spoken little man who owned a fleet of small ion-drive cargo ships that plied the spacelines between Earth and Mars, and who also exported dreamdust to the colony on Pluto, where the weed could not be grown.
Seven or eight others showed up occasionally at Hawkes' apartment. Alan was introduced to them all, and then generally dropped out of the conversation, which usually consisted of reminiscences and gossip about people he did not know.
But as the days passed, one thing became evident: Hawkes might not be a criminal himself, but certainly most of his friends operated on the far side of the law. Hawkes had seen to it that they stayed away from the apartment during the first few months of Alan's Earther education; but now that the ex-starman was an accomplished gambler and fairly well skilled in self-defense, all of Hawkes' old friends were returning once again.
Day by day Alan increasingly realized how innocent and childlike a starman's life was. The Valhalla was a placid little world of 176 people, bound together by so many ties that there was rarely any conflict. Here on Earth, though, life was tough and hard.
He was lucky. He had stumbled into Hawkes early in his wanderings. With a little less luck he might have had the same sort of life Steve had had ... or John Byng. It was not fun to think about that.
Usually when Hawkes had friends visiting him late at night, Alan would sit up for a while listening, and then excuse himself and get some sleep. As he lay in bed he could hear low whispering, and once he woke toward morning and heard the conversation still going on. He strained his ears, but did not pick up anything.
One night early in October he had come home from the games parlor and, finding nobody home, had gone immediately to sleep. Some time later he heard Hawkes and his friends come in, but he was too tired to get out of bed and greet them. He rolled over and went back to sleep.
But later that night he felt hands touching him, and he opened an eye to see Hawkes bending over him.
"It's me—Max. Are you awake?"
"No," Alan muttered indistinctly.
Hawkes shook him several times. "Come on—get up and put some clothes on. Some people here who want to talk to you."
Only half comprehending, Alan clambered unwillingly from bed, dressed, and splashed cold water in his face. He followed Hawkes back inside.
The living room was crowded. Seven or eight men were there—the ones Alan thought of as the inner circle of Hawkes' cronies. Johnny Byng, Mike Kovak, Al Webber, Lorne Hollis, and some others. Sleepily Alan nodded at them and took a seat, wondering why Hawkes had dragged him out of bed for this.
Hawkes looked at him sharply. "Alan, you know all these people, don't you?"
Alan nodded. He was still irritated at Hawkes; he had been sound asleep.
"You're now facing ninety per cent of what we've come to call the Hawkes Syndicate," Hawkes went on. "These eight gentlemen and myself have formed the organization recently for a certain specific purpose. More of that in a few minutes. What I got you out here to tell you was that there's room in our organization for one more man, and that you fit the necessary qualifications."
Hawkes smiled. "You. We've all been watching you since you came to live with me, testing you, studying you. You're adaptable, strong, intelligent. You learn fast. We had a little vote tonight, and decided to invite you in."
Alan wondered if he were still asleep or not. What was all this talk of syndicates? He looked round the circle, and realized that this bunch could be up to no good.
Hawkes said, "Tell him about it, Johnny."
Byng leaned forward and blinked his drug-stained eyes. In a quiet voice, almost a purr, he said, "It's really very simple. We're going to stage a good old-fashioned hold-up. It's a proposition that'll net us each about a million credits, even with the ten-way split. It ought to go off pretty easy but we need you in on it. As a matter of fact, I'd say you were indispensable to the project, Alan."
Hawkes took over, explaining the proposition to a now very much awake Alan.
"There's going to be a currency transfer at the World Reserve Bank downtown next Friday. At least ten million credits are going to be picked up by an armored truck and taken to branch banks for distribution.
"Hollis, here, happens to have found out the wave-patterns of the roboguards who'll be protecting the currency shipment. And Al Webber has some equipment that can paralyze roboguards if we know their operational wavelength. So it's a simple matter to leave the car unprotected; we wait till it's loaded, then blank out the robots, seize the human guards, and drive away with the truck."
Alan frowned thoughtfully. "Why am I so indispensable to this business?" He had no desire to rob banks or anything else.
"Because you're the only one of us who isn't registered on the central directory. You don't have any televector number. You can't be traced."
Suddenly Alan understood. "So that's why you didn't let me register! You've been grooming me for this all along!"
Hawkes nodded. "As far as Earth is concerned, you don't exist. If any of us drove off with that truck, all they need to do is plot the truck's coordinates and follow the televector patterns of the man who's driving it. Capture is inevitable that way. But if you're aboard the truck, there's no possible way of tracing your route. Get it?"
"I get it," Alan said slowly. But I don't like it, he added silently. "I want to think about the deal a little longer, though. Let me sleep on it. I'll tell you tomorrow whether I'll go through with it."
Puzzled expressions appeared on the faces of Hawkes' eight guests, and Webber started to say something, but Hawkes hastily cut him off. "The boy's a little sleepy, that's all. He needs time to get used to the idea of being a millionaire. I'll call each of you in the morning, okay?"
The eight were shepherded out of the apartment rapidly, and when they were gone Hawkes turned to face Alan. Gone now was the bland friendliness, gone the warm-hearted brotherliness of the older man. His lean face was cold and businesslike now, and his voice was harsh as he said, "What's this talk of thinking it over? Who said you had any choice about this thing?"
"Don't I have any say in my own life?" Alan asked hotly. "Suppose I don't want to be a bank robber? You didn't tell me——"
"I didn't need to. Listen, boy—I didn't bring you in here for my health. I brought you in because I saw you had the potential for this job. I've coddled you along for more than three months, now. Given you a valuable education in how to get along on this planet. Now I'm asking you to pay me back, a little. Byng told the truth: you're indispensable to this project. Your personal feelings are irrelevant just now."
Alan stared coldly at Hawkes' transformed face. "Max, I didn't bargain for a share in your bank-robbing syndicate. I don't want any part of it. Let's call it quits right now. I've turned over quite a few thousand credits of my winnings to you. Give me five hundred and keep the rest. It's your pay for my room and board and instruction the last three months. You go your way, I'll go mine."
Hawkes laughed sharply. "Just as simple as that? I pocket your winnings and you walk out of here? How dumb do you think I am? You know the names of the syndicate, you know the plans, you know everything. A lot of people would pay big money for an advance tip on this bit." He shook his head. "I'll go my way and you'll go it too, Alan. Or else. You know what that or else means."
Angrily Alan said, "You'd kill me, too, if I backed down now. Friendship doesn't mean a thing to you. 'Help us rob this bank, or else.'"
Hawkes' expression changed again; he smiled warmly, and when he spoke his voice was almost wheedling. "Listen, Alan, we've been planning this thing for months. I put down seven thousand to clear your brother, just so I'd be sure of getting your cooperation. I tell you there's no danger. I didn't mean to threaten you—but try to see my side of it. You have to help out!"
Alan looked at him curiously. "How come you're so hot to rob the bank, Max? You earn a fortune every night. You don't need a million more credits."
"No. I don't. But some of them do. Johnny Byng does; and Kovak, too—he owes Bryson thirty thousand. But I organized the scheme." Hawkes was pleading now. "Alan, I'm bored. Deadly bored. Gambling isn't gambling for me; I'm too good. I never lose except when I want to. So I need to get my kicks someplace else. This is it. But it won't come off without you."
They were silent for a moment. Alan realized that Hawkes and his group were desperate men; they would never let him live if he refused to cooperate. He had no choice at all. It was disillusioning to discover that Hawkes had taken him in mostly because he would be useful in a robbery.
He tried to tell himself that this was a jungle world where morality didn't matter, and that the million credits he'd gain would help finance hyperdrive research. But those were thin arguments that held no conviction. There was no justification for what he was going to do. None whatsoever.
But Hawkes held him in a cleft stick. There was no way out. He had fallen among thieves—and, willy-nilly, he would be forced to become one himself.
"All right," he said bitterly. "I'll drive the getaway truck for you. But after it's over, I'll take my share and get out. I won't want to see you again."
Hawkes seemed to look hurt, but he masked the emotion quickly enough. "That's up to you, Alan. But I'm glad you gave in. It would have been rough on both of us otherwise. Suppose we get some sleep."
Alan slept poorly during what was left of the night. He kept mulling the same thoughts round and round endlessly in his head, until he wished he could unhinge the front of his skull and let the thoughts somehow escape.
It irritated him to know that Hawkes had taken him in primarily because he fit the qualifications for a plan concocted long before, and not for his own sake. All the intensive training the gambler had given him had been directed not merely toward toughening Alan but toward preparing him for the role he would play in the projected robbery.
He felt unhappy about the robbery too. The fact that he was being coerced into taking part made him no less a criminal, and that went against all his long-ingrained codes of ethics. He would be just as guilty as Hawkes or Webber, and there was no way out.