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"Sir," she said a little stronger. "E McGinnis won't talk to you. He says the foggy, rambling way that review was conducted was a disgrace.
He says why don't you get on with what you have to do instead of bothering people. He says not to waste any more of his time unless you can come up with something he doesn't already know. He says he doubts you'd know what that was even if it hit you in the face. He said to tell you the exact words, so I took it down in shorthand, so I could.
Because--he said to."
She was all but wailing, as she finished.
"All right," Hayes sighed tiredly. Senile old devil! No wonder things were going to pot, if this was a sample of E training. "Send me your notes so I can follow them carefully," he told the operator.
"So you can tear them up before they get spread all over the joint," she mumbled, but she had already thrown the key so he couldn't hear her.
Resignedly, because he knew he was going to catch it from the scientists just as bad, because he was feeling very sorry for himself that he must always be in the middle of things, he began to arouse the scientists.
He felt so sorry for himself that he dropped his tentative plan to have the midgit-idgit check the personal attributes of the individual colonists out there--to see if some of them might be young, pretty, female--34-24-34.
As if the idea were now red hot, he dropped the plan of telling General Administration that, since Eden was in his sector, perhaps he should go out there, personally.
The observer s.h.i.+p, with an a.s.sistant attorney general aboard was, indeed, reporting directly to the attorney general's office--to Gunderson in person. On their own secret channel, of course. Had to be secret. All right for them to know, because they were very special persons, but the people should not be told.
"Gray is coming out of the s.h.i.+p," the a.s.sistant was saying. "He is starting down the ramp. He is alone. He has no apparent weapons. Making a grandstand play of it. Far as we can tell, the crew isn't covering him. Now he is at the foot of the ramp. The three unclothed men are moving toward him, spread out a little, crouching, obviously going to attack. The stupid fool doesn't seem to realize it. He's ...
"Wait a minute. I don't believe it...."
"Well, what?" Gunderson exploded from his end.
"Sir," the a.s.sistant gulped, "the s.h.i.+p disappeared, just like that."
"No, sir. It did. The three crewmen are sprawled on the ground. Now two of them are getting up. There isn't a sign of the s.h.i.+p, the ramp, or anything."
"Can't be. Has to be around somewhere."
"No, sir. Isn't. Sorry to contradict you, sir. It isn't anywhere."
"They probably set controls to send the s.h.i.+p back into s.p.a.ce, and jumped out before it took off. Search s.p.a.ce. You'll find it. s.h.i.+ps don't just disappear."
"I'll search, of course. But this s.h.i.+p just disappeared."
"All right, what's going on? What else?"
"They're naked. Naked as the day they were born. All four of them. Same as the colonists."
"Keep track of where they put their clothes. Photograph it. Get the evidence."
"Sir, their clothes disappeared right off their bodies. First they were fully dressed, Gray was, anyhow. Maybe the crew could have undressed inside the s.h.i.+p, but Gray was fully dressed--and then he wasn't. Just like that."
"Shall I land, sir? Place them under arrest?"
"Wait a minute. Let's think of a good charge. Something to stand up in court. Have to make this airtight right from the beginning in case some stupid judge decides to make a show of independence."
"Indecent exposure, sir? Lewd public behavior?"
"Pretty weak, in view of what's involved."
"A suggestion, sir. Maybe a morals charge is the most effective weapon we could have. Attack the E structure on the grounds of bad scientific judgment, and every egghead on Earth will feel compelled to rise up in their defense--except, of course, those employed by the government. But on a morals charge there wouldn't be one voice raised--fear of being tarred with the same brush. Except maybe a few radicals that are already discredited. Any other charge might get public sentiment aroused against us, but a morals charge--think of the backing we'd get from the women's clubs, P.T.A., all the pressure groups determined to dictate to the rest of the world how it should behave. It's worked for hundreds of years, sir. Never fails."
"Hm-m," Gunderson mused. "You may be right."
"Shall I land, sir, make the arrest?"
"You've got plenty of photographic evidence?"
"All we'd need, sir, at least for the lewd, public indecent exposure charge."
"Wait a minute. How about the colonists? Got pictures of them?"
"The three men, sir. No others."
"Let's don't rush into this," Gunderson said slowly. "Without a s.h.i.+p they're not going to get far. Hold off, and keep taking pictures. Maybe we can get something stronger on Gray than just an indecent exposure, or at least get some pictures that could be interpreted as more than just that. Get pictures of as many colonists as possible, too, in case they've gone nudist."
"You'd want to prosecute the colonists, too?"
"Might be a smart idea. That way, n.o.body could claim we'd been gunning for the Junior E. Make it impartial, play no favorites. Hm-m, even if we decided not to prosecute, we'd have the pictures in their dossiers, so that anytime in the future, for the rest of their lives, if any of them gave us any trouble, we could quietly let them know what we've got, and they'll just fold up and quit. That's worked for hundreds of years, too."
"Yes, sir. Smart thinking, sir." The a.s.sistant knew that already Gunderson had adopted the idea as his own, and to hold his job he'd better let Gunderson go on thinking so. Of course, if the idea should backfire, then Gunderson would remember quickly enough where it had originated.
"Hm-m, you know," Gunderson was saying. "This could work out all right.
If their s.h.i.+p's gone they're not communicating with E.H.Q. And if they're not communicating, E.H.Q. will send out another s.h.i.+p to see why.
Maybe there'll be an E on it. I hear the only one available is McGinnis--that guy who's planning to fight us on that injunction.
"Now suppose he landed. Suppose he went nudist, or we could make pictures look like he did. The guy would have to undress sometime, take a bath. Slap a morals charge on him. n.o.body with a public reputation ever fights a charge like that, guilty or innocent. They pay up or knuckle under to keep it quiet. Have, for hundreds of years; always will, as long as a bunch of fat, old, ugly biddies, male and female, who n.o.body wants that way are viciously resentful that they can't have what somebody else is enjoying. Young ones, too, so twisted and warped with frustrations they don't dare try what they daydream about. They're even worse. Yeah, a morals charge is the way to get at him."
"But I understood there was a law, that we couldn't charge an E for any offense."
"We can try him in the newspapers, can't we? On the televiewers. That's the whole point. We can't charge an E now, but wait until we get things stirred up on a morals basis. That law'll be changed in a hurry, because any legislator that tried to hold out against changing it would be drawn and quartered by his const.i.tuents--and has enough sense to know it.
"Hm-m," he breathed in satisfaction. "That's the way to go about it.
Don't know why I haven't thought of it before. If you guys would read your history of how police enforcement officers got things back under control each time some idealist started squawking about human rights, you'd think of these things, too.
"Now don't go off half-c.o.c.ked. Just stand by. Keep me posted on every move. If I've got to do the thinking on how to get those E's back under police control, the way scientists were before, I've got to have information.