No Shield from the DeadGordon R. Dickson
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This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
NO SHIELD FROM THE DEAD
By Gordon R. Dickson
_No conceivable force could penetrate Terri's shield. Yet he was defenseless._
* * * * *
It was a nice little party, but a bit obvious. Terri Mac saw throughit before he had taken half a dozen steps into the apartment. A lightflush staining his high cheek-bones. "This is ridiculous," he said.
The light chatter ceased. Cocktail glasses were set down on varioushandy tables and ledges; and all faces in the room turned toward a manin his late fifties who sat propped up invalid-wise on pillows in achair in a corner of the room.
"The Comptroller is perspicacious," said the old man, agreeably,waving one hand in a casual manner. "On your way, children."
And the people present smiled and nodded. Quite as if it were anordinary leave-taking, they pushed past Terri Mac and filed out thedoor. Even the blonde, Terri had picked up at the embassy ball and whohad brought him here, strolled off casually, but in a decidedly lessdrunken fashion than she had exhibited earlier in the evening.
"Sit down," said the old man. Terri Mac did so, gazing searchingly atthe skinny frame and white eyebrows in an unsuccessful effort toconnect him with something in memory. "This is ridiculous," herepeated.
"Really?" The old man smiled benignly. "And why so?"
"Why--" the situation was so obvious that Terri fumbled--a little at aloss for words. "Obviously you intend some form of coercion, or elseyou would have come to me along recognized channels. And any thoughtof coercion is obviously--well, ridiculous."
"Why? You senile old fool, don't you know that I'm shielded? Don't youknow all government officials from the fifth class up wear completepersonal shields that are not only crack-proof but contain all thenecessary elements to support life independently within the shieldfor more than twenty hours? Don't you know that I'll be missed in twohours at the most and tracked down in less than sixty minutes more?Are you crazy?"
The old man chuckled, rubbing dry hands together. He said, "I'mshielded too. You can't get at me. And now the room's shielded. Youcan't get out of it."
Terri stared at him. The initial shock was passing. His own statementsanent the completeness of his protection had brought back confidence,and his natural coolness was returning. "What do you want?" he asked,eyeing the other narrowly.
"Pleasure of your company," said the old man. "There are some verystrong connections between us. Yes, very strong. We must get to knoweach other personally."
* * * * *
It occurred to Terri that he had misinterpreted the situation. Reliefcame, mixed with a certain amount of chagrin at the way in which heallowed himself to show alarm. He had looked ridiculous. He leanedback in the chair and allowed a note of official hauteur and annoyanceto creep into his voice. "I see," he said. "You want something?"
The old man nodded energetically.
"I do. Indeed I do."
"And you think you have some kind of a bargaining tool that is usefulbut might not be so if it became known to official channels."
"Well--" said the old man cautiously.
"Don't waste my time," interrupted Terri, harshly. "I'm not anordinary politician. No man who works his way up to the fifth level ofthe government is. I didn't get to where I am today by pussy-footingaround and I haven't the leisure to spend on people who do. Now _what_do you want?"
The other cackled. "Now, what do you think?" he said, putting onefinger to his nose cunningly.
"You are old," Terri said. "And therefore cautious. Consequently youwould not risk trying to force something from me, but are almostcertainly trying to sell me something. Now what do I want? Not theusual things, certainly. Within my position I have all the materialthings a man could want; and within my shield I enjoy completeimmunity. No one but the Central Bureau, itself, can crack thisshield. And no one but they can prevent the conditioned reflex thatstops my heart if for some reason the shield should be broached. Ihave a hold on every man beneath me that prevents him from knifing mein the back. There could be only one thing that I want that you couldgive me--" he leaned forward, staring into the deep-pouched eyes--"andthat is a means of getting at the man above me. Am I right?"
"No," said the old man.
"No?" he echoed in angry incredulity.
Their eyes locked. For a long time they held, and at last Terri lookedaway.
The old man sighed--sipped noisily from a drink on the table besidehis chair.
"Wait!" said Terri. To his own surprise, his voice was eager, even alittle timorous in its hopefulness. "Wait. I've got it. There will bea test. There always is a test every time a man moves up. Hissuperiors watch him when he doesn't suspect it. It will be that wayfor me when I am ready for the fourth level. And you have some kind ofadvance information. You know what the test will be. Maybe you knowthe man who will administer it. You want to sell me this information."
The other said nothing.
"Well," Terri spread his hands openly. "I am interested. I'll buy.What do you want. Money? A favor? Protection?"
"No?" Terri shouted, starting up from his chair. "What do you mean byno? Can't you say anything but 'no'?" A rage possessed him. He flunghimself forward two furious steps to stand threateningly over the agedfigure. "You doddering idiot! Say what you want, and quickly! My twohours are nearly up. I'll be missed. They'll be here in a fewminutes--the Bureau Guards. They'll crack the room shield. They'llrescue me. And they'll take you into custody. To be questioned. To beexecuted. At my order. Do you understand? Your life depends on me."
After a little, the old man chuckled again. "Yes," he muttered, in ahigh-pitched old voice. "That's the way it'll be."
Terri stared at him. "You don't seem to understand. You're going todie."
"Oh yes," said the old man, nodding his head indulgently. "I'll die.But I'm an old man. I'd die anyway in a year or so--maybe in a day orso. But for you--for a young man like you--the up and coming younggovernmental with everything to lose--" he leered slyly at Terri."Your death won't be so easy for you to take."
"I die?" echoed Terri, stupefied. "But I'm not going to die. They'recoming to _rescue_ me."
"Oh, are they?" said the old man, ironically.
"Of course!" said Terri. "Of course, why shouldn't they?"
The old man winked one faded eye portentously.
"Fine young man," he said. "Up and coming young man. Brilliant. Nevera thought for the people he trampled on the way up the ladder. Dearme, no."
"What do you mean?" said Terri.
The old eyes, looking up suddenly, pierced him.
"Do you remember Kilaren?"
"Kilaren," recited the old man as if quoting from a newspaper. "Thebeautiful young secretary of a provincial governor whose lecherous andunnatural pursuit drove her to suicide. So that one day to escape thegovernor, she jumped or fell from a high window. And the people of theprovince, who had for a long time heard ugly stories and rumors,finally mobbed the office and lynched the governor, hanging him fromthe same window from which the girl had jumped. They said that eventhe fall had not spoiled her beauty, but that was probably false." Theold man's words dwindled away into silence.
"If so w
hat of it?" said Terri. "What's that to do with me?"
"Why, you were there. You were the governor's aide, and when the mobhad gone home and feeling had slackened off, you stepped into the gapand seized up the reins of government, handling matters so skillfullythat you were immediately promoted to an under-post at GovernmentCity."
"What of it?"
"Why it was all your doing," replied the other, in a mildly reprovingvoice, "the rumors, the stories, the mob, even the suicide. PoorKilaren--a pitiful pawn in your