The Pirates of Ersatz-Six-Freedom
Very shortly before nightfall he performed certain cryptic actions. He unraveled threads from his shirt and put them aside. There would be a vision-lens in the ceiling of his cell, and somebody would certainly notice what he did. He made a light. He put the threads in his mouth, set fire to his mattress, and laid down calmly upon it. The mattress was of excellent quality. It would smell very badly as it smoldered.
It did. Lying flat, he kicked convulsively for a few seconds. He looked like somebody who had taken poison. Then he waited.
It was a rather long time before his jailer came down the cell corridor, dragging a fire hose. Hoddan had been correct in assuming that he was watched. His actions had been those of a man who’d anticipated a possible need to commit suicide, and who’d had poison in a part of his shirt for convenience. The jailer did not hurry, because if the inventor of a deathray committed suicide, everybody would feel better. Hoddan had been allowed a reasonable time in which to die.He seemed impressively dead when the jailer opened his cell door, dragged him out, removed the so-far-unscorched other furniture, and set up the fire hose to make an aerosol fog which would put out the fire. He went back to the corridor to wait for the fire to be extinguished.
Hoddan crowned him with a stool, feeling an unexpected satisfaction in the act. The jailer collapsed.
He did not carry keys. The system was for him to be let out of this corridor by a guard outside. Hoddan growled and took the fire hose. He turned its nozzle back to make a stream instead of a mist. Water came out at four hundred pounds pressure. He smashed open the corridor door with it. He strolled through and bowled over a startled guard with the same stream. He took the guard’s stun-pistol. He washed open another door leading to the courtyard. He marched out, washed down two guards who sighted him, and took the trouble to flush them across the pavement until they wedged in a drain opening. Then he thoughtfully reset the hose to fill the courtyard with fog, climbed into the driver’s seat of the truck that had brought him here–it was probably the same one–and smashed through the gateway to the street outside. Behind him, the courtyard filled with dense white mist.
He was free, but only temporarily. Around him lay the capital city of Walden–the highest civilization in this part of the galaxy. Trees lined its ways. Towers rose splendidly toward the skies, with thousands of less ambitious structures in between. There were open squares and parkways and malls, and it did not smell like a city at all. But he wasn’t loose three minutes before the communicator in the truck squawked the all-police alarm for him.It was to be expected. All the city would shortly be one enormous man-trap, set to catch Bron Hoddan. There was only one place on the planet, in fact, where he could be safe–and he wouldn’t be safe there if he’d been officially charged with murder. But since the police had tactfully failed to mention murder, he could get at least breathing-time by taking refuge in the Interstellar Embassy.
He headed for it, bowling along splendidly. The police truck hummed on its way for half a mile; three-quarters. The great open square before the Embassy became visible. The Embassy was not that of a single planet, of course. By pure necessity every human-inhabited world was independent of all others, but the Interstellar Diplomatic Service represented humanity at large upon each individual globe. Its ambassador was the only person Hoddan could even imagine as listening to him, and that because he came from off-planet, as Hoddan did. But he mainly counted upon a breathing-space in the Embassy, during which to make more plans as yet unformed and unformable. He began, though, to see some virtues in the simple, lawless, piratical world in which he had spent his childhood.