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—And Devious the Line of Duty   By: (1915-1980)

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And Devious the Line of Duty

Sometimes the most diligent and loyal thing an old man can do is fumble, drink beer, and let a young man get into trouble....

by Tom Godwin

Illustrated by Schelling

"We're almost there, my boy." The big, gray haired man who would be Lieutenant Dale Hunter's superior Strategic Service's Special Agent, George Rockford opened another can of beer, his fifth. "There will be intrigue already under way when this helicopter sets down with us. Attempted homicide will soon follow. The former will be meat for me. You will be meat for the latter."

Rockford was smiling as he spoke; the genial, engaging smile of a fond old father. But the eyes, surrounded by laughter crinkles, were as unreadable as two disks of gray slate. They were the eyes of a poker player or master con man.

"I don't understand, sir," Hunter said.

"Of course not," Rockford agreed. "It's a hundred light years back to Earth. Here on Vesta, to make sure there is an Earth in the future, you're going to do things never dreamed of by your Terran Space Patrol instructors there. You'll be amazed, my boy."

[Illustration]

Hunter said nothing but he felt a growing dislike for the condescending Rockford. Only a few weeks ago President Diskar, himself, had said: For more than a century these truly valiant men of the Space Patrol have been our unwavering outer guard; have fought and died by legions, that Earth and the other worlds of the Terran Republic might remain free

"I suppose you know," Rockford said, "that there will be no more than four days in which to stop the Verdam oligarchy from achieving its long time ambition of becoming big enough to swallow the Terran Republic."

"I know," Hunter answered.

Jardeen, Vesta's companion world, was the key. Jardeen was large and powerful, with a space navy unsurpassed by that of any other single world. A large group of now neutral worlds would follow Jardeen's lead and Jardeen's alliance with the Verdam People's Worlds would mean the quick end for the Terran Republic. But, if Jardeen could be persuaded to ally with the Terran Republic, the spreading, grasping arms of the Verdam octopus would begin to wither away

Rockford spoke again:

"Val Boran, Jardeen's Secretary of Foreign Relations, is the man who will really make Jardeen's decision. I know him slightly. Since my public role is that of Acting Ambassador, he agreed reluctantly to come to Vesta so that the talks could be on a neutral world. With him will be Verdam's Special Envoy Sonig; a wily little man who has been working on Boran for several weeks. He seems to be succeeding quite well here's a message I received from Earth early this morning."

Rockford handed him a sheet of the green Hyperspace Communications paper. The message was in code, with Rockford's scribbled translation beneath:

Intelligence reports Verdam forces already massed for attack in Sector A 13, in full expectation of Jardeen's alliance. Anti Terran propaganda, stressing the New Jardeen Incident, being used in preparation for what will be their claim of "defensive action to protect innocent worlds from Terran aggression." Terran forces will be outnumbered five to one. The urgent necessity of immediate and conclusive counter measures by you on Vesta is obvious.

Hunter handed the paper back, thinking, It's worse than any of us thought , and wondering how Supreme Command could ever have entrusted such an important task to a beer guzzling old man from Strategic Service a branch so unknown that he had never even heard of it until his briefing the day before he left Earth.

He saw that they had left the desert behind and were going up the long slope of a mountain. "The meeting will be on this mountain?" he asked.

Rockford nodded... Continue reading book >>




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