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The Weakling   By: (1918-1977)

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A strong man can, of course, be dangerous, but he doesn't approach the vicious deadliness of a weakling with a weapon!

Illustrated by van Dongen



Naran Makun looked across the table at the caravan master.

"And you couldn't find a trace of him?"

"Nothing. Not even a scrap of his cargo or so much as the bones of a long neck. He just dropped out of sight of his whole train. He went through this big estate, you see. Then he cut back to pick up some of his stops on the northern swing. Well, that was all. He didn't get to the first one." The other waved a hand.

"Weird situation, too. Oh, the null was swirling, we know that, and he could have been caught in an arm. It happens, but it isn't too often that an experienced man like your brother gets in so deep he can't get out somehow or at least leave some trace of what happened." The man picked up his cup, eying it thoughtfully.

"Oh, we've all had close ones, sure. We've all lost a long neck or so, now and then. Whenever the null swirls, it can cover big territory in a big hurry and most of that northern swing is null area at one time or another. One of those arms can overrun a train at night and if a man loses his head, he's in big trouble." He sipped from his cup.

"Young caravan master got caught that way, just a while back. A friend of mine, Dr. Zalbon, was running the swing after the null retracted. He found what was left."

"Told me he ran into a herd of carnivores. Fifteen or twenty real big fellows. Jaws as long as a man. He killed them off and then found they'd been feeding on what was left of Dar Konil's train."

He shook his head. "It's not a nice area."

"Hold everything." Naran leaned forward. "You said my brother went through this big estate. Anyone see him come out?"

Dar Girdek smiled. "Oh, sure. The Master of the Estates, Kio Barra, himself. He saw him to the border and watched him go on his way."

Naran looked doubtful. "And what kind of a character is this Barra?"

"Oh, him!" Dar Girdek waved a hand. "Nothing there. In the first place, he holds one of the biggest estates in the mountain area. So what would he want to rob a freight caravan for?" He laughed.

"In the second place, the guy's practically harmless. Oh, sure, he's got a title. He's Lord of the Mountain Lake. And he wears a lot of psionic crystalware. But he's got about enough punch to knock over some varmint if it's not too tough. Dar Makun might be your weak brother, but he'd have eaten that guy for breakfast if he'd tried to be rough."

"Psionic weakling, you mean? But how does he manage to be a master Protector of an Estate?"

Dar Girdek smiled wryly. "Father died. Brother sneaked off somewhere. That left him. Title's too clear for anyone to try any funny business."

"I see." Naran leaned back. "Now, what about this null?"

"Well, of course you know about the time the pseudomen from the Fifth managed to sneak in and lay a mess of their destructors on Carnol?"

"I might. I was one of the guys that saw to it they didn't get back to celebrate." Naran closed his eyes for an instant.

"Yeah. Way I heard it, you were the guy that wrapped 'em up. Too bad they didn't get you on the job sooner. Maybe we wouldn't have this mess on our hands now." Dar Girdek shrugged.

"Anyway, they vaporized the city and a lot of area around it. That was bad, but the aftereffect is worse. We've got scholars beating their brains cells together, but all they can tell us is that there's a big area up there just as psionically dead as an experimental chamber." He grinned.

"I could tell 'em that much myself. It's a sort of cloud. Goes turbulent, shoots out arms, then folds in again.

"We'd by pass the whole thing, but it's right on the main trade route. Only way around it is plenty of days out of the path, clear down around the middle sea and into the lake region... Continue reading book >>

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