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The Sensitive Man   By: (1926-2001)

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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe January 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

[ Conspiracy seems to be as much a part of our times as it was in the times of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. Hence it finds frequent reflection in all branches of fiction, including science fiction. Yet, as in life, something new has been added, the most gigantic conspiracy of all, the human conspiracy against conspirators. Which makes for a fine stirring story in this short novel of the future by Mr. Anderson, one of our best young authors. ]




by ... Poul Anderson

One man stood between a power hungry cabal and world mastery but a man of unusual talents.

The Mermaid Tavern had been elaborately decorated. Great blocks of hewn coral for pillars and booths, tarpon and barracuda on the walls, murals of Neptune and his court including an outsize animated picture of a mermaid ballet, quite an eye catcher. But the broad quartz windows showed merely a shifting greenish blue of seawater, and the only live fish visible were in an aquarium across from the bar. Pacific Colony lacked the grotesque loveliness of the Florida and Cuba settlements. Here they were somehow a working city, even in their recreations.

The sensitive man paused for a moment in the foyer, sweeping the big circular room with a hurried glance. Less than half the tables were filled. This was an hour of interregnum, while the twelve to eighteen hundred shift was still at work and the others had long finished their more expensive amusements. There would always be a few around, of course Dalgetty typed them as he watched.

A party of engineers, probably arguing about the compression strength of the latest submarine tank to judge from the bored expressions of the three or four rec girls who had joined them. A biochemist, who seemed to have forgotten his plankton and seaweed for the time being and to have focussed his mind on the pretty young clerk with him. A couple of hard handed caissoniers, settling down to some serious drinking.

A maintenance man, a computerman, a tank pilot, a diver, a sea rancher, a bevy of stenographers, a bunch of very obvious tourists, more chemists and metallurgists the sensitive man dismissed them all. There were others he couldn't classify with any decent probability but after a second's hesitation he decided to ignore them too. That left only the group with Thomas Bancroft.

They were sitting in one of the coral grottos, a cave of darkness to ordinary vision. Dalgetty had to squint to see in and the muted light of the tavern was a harsh glare when his pupils were so distended. But, yes it was Bancroft all right and there was an empty booth adjoining his.

Dalgetty relaxed his eyes to normal perception. Even in the short moment of dilation the fluoros had given him a headache. He blocked it off from consciousness and started across the floor.

A hostess stopped him with a touch on the arm as he was about to enter the vacant cavern. She was young, an iridescent mantrap in her brief uniform. With all the money flowing into Pacific Colony they could afford decorative help here.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said. "Those are kept for parties. Would you like a table?"

"I'm a party," he answered, "or can soon become one." He moved aside a trifle so that none of the Bancroft group should happen to look out and see him. "If you could arrange some company for me...." He fumbled out a C note, wondering just how such things could be done gracefully.

"Why, of course, sir." She took it with a smoothness he envied and handed him a stunning smile in return... Continue reading book >>

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