The Pirates of Ersatz-Twelve-The truth
Hoddan was then some blocks away. He suffered painful doubt about the note ostensibly from Nedda. The guards about the Embassy would have tried to catch him in any case, but it did seem very plausible that the note had been sent him to get him to try to get down the wall. On the other hand, a false descent of a palpably dummylike dummy had been plausible, too. He’d drawn all the guards to one spot by his seeming doubt and by testing out their vigilance with a dummy. The only thing improbable in his behavior had been that after testing their vigilance with a dummy, he’d made use of it.
A fair distance away, he turned sedately into a narrow lane between buildings. This paralleled another lane serving the home of a girl friend of Nedda’s. The note had named the garden behind that other girl’s home as a rendezvous. But Hoddan was not going to that garden. He wanted to make sure. If the cops had forged the note–
He judged his position carefully. If he climbed this tree,–hm-m-m…. Kind of the city-planners of Walden to use trees so lavishly–if he climbed this tree he could look into the garden where Nedda in theory waited in tears. He climbed it. He sat astride a thick limb in scented darkness and considered further. Presently he brought out his five-watt projector. There was deepest darkness hereabouts. Trees and shrubbery were merely blacker than their surroundings. But there was reason for suspicion.Neither in the house of Nedda’s girl friend, nor in the nearer house between, was there a single lighted window.
Hoddan adjusted the wave-guide and pressed the stud of his instrument. He pointed it carefully into the nearer garden.
A man grunted in a surprised tone. There was a stirring. A man swore startledly. The words seemed inappropriate to a citizen merely breathing the evening air.
Hoddan frowned. The note from Nedda seemed to have been a forgery. To make sure, he readjusted the wave-guide to project a thin but fan-shaped beam. He aimed again. Painstakingly, he traversed the area in which men would have been posted to jump him, in the event that the note was forged. If Nedda were there, she would feel no effect. If police lay in wait, they would notice. At once.
They did. A man howled. Two men yelled together. Somebody bellowed. Somebody squealed. Someone, in charge of the flares made ready to give light for the police, was so startled by a strange sensation that he jerked the cord. An immense, cold-white brilliance appeared. The garden where Nedda definitely was not present became bathed in incandescence. Light spilled over the wall of one garden into the next and disclosed a squirming mass of police in the nearer garden also. Some of them leaped wildly and ungracefully while clawing behind them. Some stood still and struggled desperately to accomplish something to their rear, while others gazed blankly at them until Hoddan swung his instrument their way, also.
A man tore off his pants and swarmed over the wall to get away from something intolerable. Others imitated him, save in the direction of their flight. Some removed their trousers before they fled, but others tried to get them off while fleeing. Those last did not fare too well. Mostly they stumbled and other men fell over them, when both fallen and fallen-upon uttered hoarse and profane lamentations–they howled to the high heavens. Hoddan let the confusion mount past any unscrambling, and then slid down the tree and joined in the rush. With the glare in the air behind him, he only feigned to stumble over one figure after another. Once he grunted as he scorched his own fingers. But he came out of the lane with a dozen stun-pistols, mostly uncomfortably warm, as trophies of the ambush.
As they cooled off he stowed them away in his belt and pockets, strolling away down the tree-lined street. Behind him, cops realized their trouserless condition and appealed plaintively to householders to notify headquarters of their state.
Hoddan did not feel particularly disillusioned, somehow. It occurred to him, even, that this particular event was likely to help him get off of Walden. If he was to leave against the cops’ will, he needed to have them at less than top efficiency. And men who have had their pants scorched off them are not apt to think too clearly. Hoddan felt a certain confidence increase in his mind. He’d worked the thing out very nicely. If ionization made air a high-resistance conductor, then an ionizing beam would make a high-resistance short between the power terminals of a stun-pistol. With the power a stun-pistol carried, that short would get hot. So would the pistol. It would get hot enough, in fact, to scorch cloth in contact with it. Which had happened.
If the effect had been produced in the soles of policemen’s feet, Hoddan would have given every cop a hotfoot. But since they carried their stun-pistols in their hip-pockets–The thought of Nedda diminished his satisfaction. The note could be pure forgery, or the police could have learned about it through the treachery of the servant she sent to the Embassy with it. It would be worthwhile to know. He headed toward the home of her father. If she were loyal to him–why it would complicate things considerably. But he felt it necessary to find out.
He neared the spot where Nedda lived. This was an especially desirable residential area. The houses were large and gracefully designed, and the gardens were especially lush. Presently he heard music ahead–live music. He went on. He came to a place where strolling citizens had paused under the trees of the street to listen to the melody and the sound of voices that accompanied it. And the music and the festivity was in the house in which Nedda dwelt. She was having a party, on the very night of the day in which he’d been framed for life imprisonment.
It was a shock. Then there was a rush of vehicles, and police trucks were disgorging cops before the door. They formed a cordon about the house, and some knocked and were admitted in haste. Then Hoddan nodded dourly to himself.
His escape from the Embassy was now known. No less certainly, the failure of the trap Nedda’s note had baited had been reported. The police were now turning the whole city into a trap for one Bron Hoddan, and they were looking first at the most probable places, then they’d search the possible places for him to be, and by the time that had been accomplished they’d have cops from other cities pouring into the city and they’d search every square inch of it for him. And certainly and positively they’d take the most urgent and infallible precautions to make sure he didn’t get back into the Embassy.It was a situation that would have appalled Hoddan only that morning. Now, though, he only shook his head sadly. He moved on. He’d gotten into trouble by trying to make an industrial civilization accept something it didn’t want–a technical improvement in a standard electronic device. He’d gotten partly out of trouble by giving his jailers what they definitely desired–the sight of him apparently a suicide in the cell in the Detention Building. He’d come out of the Embassy, again, by giving the watchers outside a view they urgently desired–a figure secretly descending the Embassy wall. He’d indulged himself at the ambuscade, but the way to get back into the Embassy….