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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Anthony Piers
 

«Chaining the Lady», Piers Anthony

Prologue

The security guard was young, fresh from the most rigorous academy, and human. That, virtually by definition, meant trouble. As the acolytes of the Cluster Tarot Temple put it, the Suit of Gas equated with both the Sphere of Sol and the condition of Trouble for excellent reason. No wonder that suit’s symbol was the sword of war, despite the efforts of euphemists to redefine it as the scalpel of science.

Yet in defense of this necessarily nameless Solarian guard, it must be stated that he acted in strict accordance with the nature and training of his kind. All the pertinent regulations were imprinted on his awareness, and his decision was guided reflex. By the book, he was correct.

He saw the intruder in the private office of the Minister of Population, poking a tentacle into the computer file cabinet. It was after hours, the illumination had been set low, and no pass had been authorized. So the Solarian fired his laser stunner without challenge.

The intruder fell as the beam touched. It was a good shot; the Academy might not turn out many original thinkers, but it never loosed a sloppy shooter. The guard alerted his immediate superior by bodyphone, for of course he honored the chain-of-command requirements, and approached the suspect.

“A Dino!” the man remarked, employing a grossly vernacular term whose origin had been lost in Planet Outworld’s antiquity.

Indeed, it was a Polarian, now heaped in a boneless mass about its spherical wheel, its tentacle as limp as a dead snake. Not dead, of course; spies were never killed, because of their interrogation value and because they often employed local hosts. It would not be right to kill the host for the actions of the transferee who possessed it. This creature of Sphere Polaris would recover in a few hours.

“Funny,” the guard remarked aloud. Despite the vulgarity he had used a moment before, he was not a Polaphobe; some of his best friends were alien creatures. This was, after all, the Imperial Planet, nexus of Segment Etamin, one of the ten major Empires of Galaxy Milky Way. In fact, without the constant flux of galactics in human or alien guise, he would have no job, “Poles don’t usually snoop. They call it uncircular.”

And this was true. Polarians, in the convenient informal analogy of the Cluster Tarot, equated with the Suit of Solid, symbolized by the Disk of Commerce and Culture. Circularity was the foundation of Polarian nature, and though to ignorant entities it sometimes resembled a runaround, it was also manifest that direct spying was foreign to Polarian concept. Something was very strange, here.

The guard lifted the flaccid tentacle and played his recording beam over the little ball set in its end. “Suspect in Minister’s office,” he said tersely into his phone. “Identity on record?”

Identification procedures were efficient on the Imperial Planet. Soon his superior’s horrified voice came back. “You bet it’s on record, soldier! That’s the Minister of Research.”

For an instant the Solarian guard saw his future laid out: unskilled manual labor, trimming the thornsuckers off the great vinetrees of the wilderness reservation, barehanded. Or maybe solitary duty aboard a farflung outpost planetoid, complete with pillmeals and femmecubes to satisfy his physical and emotional needs while his mind went slowly as berserk as the sanity shot permitted.

He had shot a Minister in his own office, a monumentally colossal blunder worthy of redlining in the annals of punishment. The Regulations Book would not protect him from the ravages of an inter-Spherical inquiry.

But then something clicked in the gray matter behind his frontlobe shock, a notion of almost whimsical desperation that abruptly fell into place. “But he’s in the Population office, not the Research office—without a pass, outside hours.”

There was a pause. “It is not for Security personnel to question the affairs of segment Ministers,” the officer said via the phone. “He could readily have obtained clearance. He must be in that office ten times a day, consulting with his associates. He just forgot, this time.”


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