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Operation Terror - Chapter 10 Post by :Bizmakers Category :Long Stories Author :Murray Leinster Date :May 2012 Read :1519

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Operation Terror - Chapter 10

There was a three-day-old moon in the sky when the last colors faded in the west. When darkness fell it was already low. It gave little light; not much more than the stars alone. It did help Lockley while it lasted however. He knew the terrain about Boulder Lake but not in detail. And it would not be wise for him to move openly to wreak destruction on the enemies of his nation.

He used the moonlight for his approach by the least practical route to the lake. When it dimmed and went behind the mountains, he continued to climb, sliding dangerously, then descend and climb again as the rough going demanded. His mind was absorbed with reflections upon what he meant to do. The wrecks on the highway would have given notice to the invaders that he could do damage. They would take every possible precaution against him.

It was typical of Lockley that he painstakingly imagined every obstacle that might be put in his way. During the last half hour of his scrambling travel, for example, he was tormented by a measure his enemies might have used to make him advertise his presence. If they simply laid rifle cartridges on the ground at intervals of twenty-five or fifty yards, he could not cross that line with his device in operation without blowing up those shells. It was a possible countermeasure that caused him to sweat with worry.

But it wasn't thought of by anyone else. To contrive it, a man would have to know how the detonation field worked and how far it extended. Nobody but Lockley knew. Therefore no one could contrive this defense against him.

He worked his way to Boulder Lake's back door through brushwood and over boulders. Presently he looked down upon his destination. To his right and left rocky masses were silhouetted against the starry sky. He gazed down on the lake and the shoreline where the hotel would be built, and the places where roads came out of the wilderness.

There were changes since the time he'd looked down from Vale's survey post and before the terror beam captured him. He catalogued them mentally, but the sight before him was intolerable. Everything he saw, here where space monsters were believed to hold sway, was in reality the work of men. Rage filled him at the sight. Hatred. Fury....

In the rest of the world an entirely different sort of emotion was felt about the subject of the invaders. The United States had announced to all the world that American and other scientists, working together, had solved the mystery of the alien weapon. They had produced a duplicate of the terror beam. It was no less effective and no less an absolute weapon than the invaders'. And a defense had been found which was complete. It was being rushed into production. The experimental counter beam generators would be moved into position to frustrate and defeat the monsters who had landed upon earth. Military detachments, protected by the counter generators, would move upon Boulder Lake at dawn. By sunset tomorrow the aliens would be dead or captive, and their ship would undoubtedly be in the hands of scientists for study.

Moreover, the United States would provide counter weapons for other nations. In no more than months every continent and nation on earth would be equipped to defy any alien landing that might take place. The world would be able to defend itself. It would be equipped to do so. And this was the resolve of the United States because the world could not exist half free and half enslaved by creatures from a distant planet. The news poured out from all sources. The alien weapon was understood and now could be defied. Soon all the world would be provided with counter weapons. It was necessary for all the world to be prepared and prepared it would be.

This was the information which made all the world rejoice, though not yet at ease because aliens still occupied a tiny part of the earth. But all the world was eager for confirmation of the news it had just received.

Lockley had no such soothing anticipations. He shook with fury because what he saw before him was so appalling as to be almost unbelievable.

It was not dark in the space he looked down upon. There were bright floodlights placed here and there to drench a large area with light. There were few figures in sight. But what the floodlights showed made Lockley quiver with hatred.

The floodlights were of typically human type. There were vehicles parked on a level grassy space. They were of human manufacture. There was no space ship in the lake, but there was a three-stage rocket set up, ready for firing. It was of the kind used by humans to put artificial satellites into orbit. Lockley even knew its designation, and that it used the new solid fuels for propulsion.

In the lair of the creatures from outer space there was nothing from outer space. There was nothing in view which was alien or unearthly or extra-terrestrial. And Lockley made inarticulate growling sounds because he saw with absolute clarity and certainty that there never had been anything from outer space at this spot.

There were no monsters. There never had been. And the truth was more horribly enraging than the deception had been.

Because this could mean the death of the world. This was an attempt to fight the last war on earth in disguise. Humans had posed as non-human beings so that America would fight against phantoms while its great military rival pretended to help and actually stabbed from behind.

It was completely logical, of course. An admitted attack by terror beams in the form of death rays would involve retaliation by America. Against a human enemy great, roaring missiles could circle earth to plunge down upon that enemy's cities to turn them and their inhabitants into incandescent gas. An attack known to be by humans and upon humans must touch off the world's last war in which every living thing might die. No conceivable success at the beginning could prevent full retaliation. But if the attack were believed to be from space, then American weapons and valor would be spent against creatures which were no more than ghosts.

Lockley moved forward. Only he could know the situation as it presented itself here. Even vengeance for Jill should be put aside, if it called for action irrelevant to this state of things. But it did not. A full and terrible revenge for her required exactly the action the coolest of cold-blooded resolutions would suggest be taken now. And Lockley moved on and downward to take it.

He began to crawl downhill toward the lights, unaware that there were some gaps in his picture of the total scene. For example, these lights could be detected by aircraft overhead. The fact did not occur to Lockley. He was not given pause by the relaxation of the enemy's disguise so far as air observation was concerned. He didn't think of it. He moved on.

He drew near the lighted area. He did not walk, he crawled. He began to listen with fury-sharpened ears. If he could get close to that huge rocket, close enough to detonate its solid fuel stores....

That would be at once revenge and expedience. If the rocket's fuel blew up instead of burning as intended, it would annihilate the camp. It would wipe out every living creature present. But there would be fragments left by the explosion. There would be corpses. There would be wreckage. And that wreckage and those corpses would be unmistakably human. The last war on earth might not be avoided, but at the worst it would be fought against America's actual enemy and not against imaginary monsters.

It was worth dying to accomplish even that. But Jill....

Lockley's progress was infinitely slow, but he needed to take the greatest pains. He listened carefully.

He heard the faint high roaring of the planes overhead. They were far away. There were sounds of insects, and the cries of night birds, and the rustling of leaves and foliage.

There was another sound. A new sound. It was inexplicable. It was a strange and intermittent muttering. There was a certain irregular rhythm to it, a familiar rhythm.

He crawled on.

There was movement suddenly, off to his left. Then it stopped. It could be a man on watch against him simply shifting his position. Lockley froze, and then went on with even greater caution. He felt the ground before him for small twigs that might crack under his weight.

The muttering continued. Presently Lockley realized that it was a human voice. It was resonant and with many overtones, but still too faint for him to distinguish words.

He crossed a slight rise that had much brushwood. The brushwood grew in clumps and he circled them with a patient caution foreign to his feelings.

The muttering changed and went on. Lockley pressed himself to the ground. Men went past him a hundred feet away. He saw them in outline against the illuminated parked cars and trucks and in the space around the huge rocket. They carried no rifles, probably no firearms at all. Lockley's march up the highway had warned them of the uselessness of guns, at least at short range. They were watching for him now. Perhaps these men were relieving other watchers on the hillside.

He saw other men. They seemed to move restlessly around the lighted area.

The muttering was louder now. He could almost catch the words. He made another hundred yards toward the rocket and the voice changed again. Then he was dazed. The voice was speaking to him! Calling him by name!

_"Lockley! Lockley! Don't do anything crazy! Everything can be explained! You'll recognize my voice. You talked to me on the telephone from Serena!_"

Lockley did recognize the voice. It was that of the general who'd sounded pompous and indignant as he refused to listen to Lockley's statements. Now, coming out of many loudspeakers and echoing hollowly from cliffs, it was the same voice but with an intonation that was persuasive and forthright.

"_You startled me_," said the voice crisply. "_You'd found out there were humans involved in this business. It was important that the fact be suppressed. I tried to browbeat you, which was a mistake. While I was talking to you your suspicion was reported on short wave by the Wild Life driver. I tried to overawe you. You're the wrong kind of man for that. But everything can be explained. Everything! Here's Vale to prove it!_"

There was only an instant's pause. Then Vale's voice came out of the loudspeakers spread all about.

"_Lockley, this is Vale. The whole thing's faked. There's a good reason for it, but you stumbled on the facts. They had to be kept secret. I didn't even tell Jill. This isn't treason, Lockley. We aren't traitors! Come out and I'll explain everything. Here's Sattell._"

And Sattell's voice boomed against the hills.

"_Vale's right, Lockley! I didn't know what was up. I was fooled as much as anybody. But it's all right! It's perfectly all right! When you understand you'll realize that you had to be deceived just as I was. Come on out and everything will be explained to your satisfaction. I promise!_"

Lockley grimaced. How did Sattell get up here? And the general in command of the cordon? More than that, why did they call his name instead of simply trying to kill him? Why post watchers on the hillsides if they were anxious to explain and not to murder? How could they hope to deceive him after Jill....

There was a pause, and then what was evidently considered a decisive message came. It was Jill's voice, weary and desperate. It said, "_Please come out and listen! Please come and let them explain everything. They can do it. I understand and I believe them. It's true. It's not treason. I--I beg you to come out and let them tell you why all this has happened...._"

Her voice trailed off. It had trembled. It was tense. It was strained. And Lockley cursed softly, shaking with rage. Then the first voice returned, "_Lockley! Lockley! Don't do anything crazy! Everything can be explained. You'll recognize my voice. You talked to me on the telephone from Serena._"

This voice repeated, word for word and intonation for intonation, exactly what it had said before. The other voices followed in the same order. They were taped.

In Lockley's state of mind, the taping took away all authority from the voices. Jill, in particular, sounded as she might have if torture had been used to break her will and force her to say what her captors wished. She could not put any warning into it, because she could have been forced to repeat and repeat the message until her captors were satisfied.

That would all be avenged now. All of it. And Jill would be grateful to Lockley even if they never saw each other again; grateful for the monstrous blast that would wipe this place clean of living creatures.

Lockley suddenly saw a way by which his vengeance could be increased by just a little. It could be made even more satisfying and just. Hiding under brushwood while the voices tirelessly repeated their recorded persuasion, he made a very simple device. It switched onto the instrument he carried. If his hand clenched, it would go on. If his hand relaxed, it would go on. So if he could get within a hundred and twenty-five yards of the rocket he could show himself and let them know what waited for them, and why.

With infinite patience he got to a place almost near the circle of unarmed guards about the rocket. He waited. The guards were tense. They did not like trying to protect something with no weapons. They were jumpy. The endlessly repeated messages booming into the night frayed their nerves. They were plainly on edge.

Their tenseness made the oldest trick in the world serve Lockley's purpose. He threw a stone from an especially dark shadow. It struck and bounced upon another stone, and it created a rustling of brushwood at a place distant from Lockley. And the unarmed guards plunged for that place to seize whatever or whoever had made the disturbance.

They were too eager. They stumbled upon each other.

And Lockley ran, and a voice cried out in terror. And then Lockley stood with his back to the rocket's lower parts, and he waved the cheese grater derisively and shouted.

Then there was stillness. Only the booming voice from the speakers went on. It happened to be Sattell's voice.

" ... all right. It's perfectly all right. When you understand you'll realize that you had to be deceived as I was. It was necessary. Come out and everything--_"

Somebody cut off the recorder. There was a moment of blank indecision, and then a man in uniform with two general's stars on his shoulders came out of somewhere and walked to face Lockley.

"Ah, Lockley!" he said briskly. "That's the thing you smash cars and explode ammunition with, eh? Do you think it will blow the rocket?"

"I'm going to try it!" said Lockley. "Listen." He showed how anything that could be done to him would close the switch one way or the other. "I wanted you to know before I blow it!" he said fiercely. "Where's Jill? Jill Holmes? One of your cars picked her up and brought her here. Where is she?"

"We sent her," said the general, "over to the construction camp, in case you managed to get in the exact situation you're in. In other words, she's safe. She'll be coming shortly, though. She was to be notified the instant you appeared--if the rocket didn't blast as your greeting."

Lockley ground his teeth.

"We'll have this settled before she gets here!"

Vale appeared. He walked forward and stood beside the general.

"We did a job that was several times too good, Lockley," he said ruefully. "I'd rehearsed my song-and-dance until we thought it was perfect. What made you suspicious, Lockley? Did you notice we kept the communicator aimed right so you'd hear through to the end? A fine point, that. We worried about it."

The headlights of a car moved against a mountainside.

"You see," said Vale, "the thing had to be done this way! Sattell swore a blue streak when it was explained to him. He felt he'd been made a fool of. But there are some things that can't be handled forthrightly!"

Lockley felt physically ill. Jill had been--still was--engaged to Vale. She'd been anxious about him. She'd been loyal to him. And he was helping the invaders! He opened his mouth to speak bitterly, when Sattell appeared. He lined up beside the general and Vale.

"They fooled me too, Lockley," he said wryly. "But it's all right. They had to. They thought you were fooled. Those three men in the box with you the other day, they said you were fooled, too. And they're sharp secret service men!"

"You're very convincing, aren't you?" he raged. "But--"

"You believe," said Sattell, "I've joined up with spies and traitors. You believe...."

He outlined, with precision, exactly what Lockley did believe; that phantom monsters were to be credited with waging war against America while another nation actually murdered Americans. It was a remarkably accurate picture of Lockley's state of mind.

"But that's all wrong!" insisted Sattell. "This is a quick trick by our own people for our own safety. For the benefit of all the world. It's a trick to forestall just what I described!"

The far away headlights drew nearer. But no car could have come from the construction camp as quickly as this.

"The fact is," said the general, "that our spies tell us that another very great nation has developed this beam we've been demonstrating to all the world. So did we. And we couldn't use it, but they would! If they didn't use it against us, they'd use it for any sort of emergency dirty trick. So we made up this invasion to persuade every country on earth to arm itself against this particular weapon. Nothing less than monsters in space would justify arming, in the eyes of some politicians! Of course, they'll arm against us as well as--anybody else."

He spoke matter-of-factly. A glance at Lockley's face would have told him that persuasiveness would not work.

"This trick, with the defense we intended to reveal," the general added, "should mean that a very nasty weapon won't ever be used, either to start or end a war. Maybe the war won't occur because we've said there are monsters who fly around in space ships."

Lockley had a confused impression that he was dreaming this. It was not the way things should happen! This was not true! When he squeezed or released the improvised switch in his hand, the rocket behind him would disappear in a monstrous flame, and he and the three men who faced him would, vanish, and there would be an explosion crater here and a shattered mass of wrecked cars--

"It was an interesting job," said Vale. "The Army dumped a hundred tons of high explosive into the lake. The two radars that reported a ship in space were arranged to be operated by two special men, who got their orders directly from the President. We picked a day with full cloud cover; the radar operators inserted their faked tapes and made their reports; and the Army set off the hundred-ton explosion in the lake. From there on, it was just a matter of using the terror beam."

"I mention," said the general mildly, "that not one human being has been killed by anything we've done. Would you expect traitors to be so careful? Or spies?"

Lockley said thickly, "You stand there arguing. You're trying to make me believe you. But there's Jill! What's happened to her? How did you make her record that tape? Where's Jill? She won't tell me it's all right!"

Headlights swept up to the floodlit space. The car stopped.

Jill came into view. She saw Lockley, standing against the rocket's base. She ran.

She stood beside the general and Vale and Sattell. She looked worn and desperately anxious.

"What have they done to you?" demanded Lockley fiercely.

She shook her head.

"N-nothing. I couldn't stay at the camp when I was so sure you'd come to try to help me. So I came here. I don't know what they've told you yet, but it's all right. We were fooled as the world has to be. Believe it! Please believe it!"

"What have they done to you?" he repeated terribly.

"What have they done to the world?" demanded Jill. "They've made every nation look to us as the defender of their freedom. And we are! They've made everybody ready to fight against more monsters if they come, and to fight against men if they try to enslave them with the terror beam or anything else! Would traitors have done that?"

Lockley knew that he had to decide. It was an unbearable responsibility. He was not convinced, even by Jill. But he was no longer certain that he'd been right.

"Why didn't you kill me?" he demanded. "I could have been shot down from a distance. You didn't have to come close to talk to me. If the rocket blew, what would it matter?"

"You've got a protection against the terror beam," said the general matter-of-factly. "So have we. But ours weighs two tons. Yours can be carried without being a burden. And--" his eyes went to the unlikely cheese grater over Lockley's shoulder--"and yours detonates explosives. If we can equip the world with those, Lockley, we'll have peace!"

Lockley thought of a decisive test. He grimaced.

"You want me to risk being a traitor! All right, what's in it for me? What am I offered?"

The general shrugged, his eyes hardening. Vale spread out his hands. Sattell snorted. Jill moistened her lips. Lockley turned upon her.

"You want me to believe," he said harshly. "What do you offer if I turn over the thing to these men you say are honest men and neither spies or traitors. What do you offer?"

She stared at him. Then she said quietly, "Nothing."

Lockley hesitated once more, for a long instant. But that was the right answer. Nobody who'd been bought or bribed or frightened into being a traitor would have thought of it.

"That," said Lockley, "by a strange coincidence happens to be my price."

He ripped away a wire. He flung the queer combination of pocket radio and cheese and nutmeg graters to the general.

"I'll explain later how it works," he said wearily, "--if I haven't made a mistake."

* * * * *

After a suitable time the general came to him. Lockley was convinced, now. The reaction of the men who'd been guards and truck drivers and the like was conclusive. They regarded him with a certain cordial respect which was not the reaction of either traitors or invaders.

"We've been checking that little device, Lockley," said the general happily. "It's perfect for our purposes! So much better than a two-ton generator to interfere with and cancel the terror beams! Marvelous! And do you know what it means? With all the world believing we've been attacked from space, and with our great show of taking back Boulder Lake--"

"How will you manage that?" asked Lockley, without too much interest.

"The rocket," said the general, beaming. "When troops start into the Park, the rocket takes off. It heads for empty space. And we explain that the aliens went away when they found their weapon useless and we started to get rough with them!"

"Oh," said Lockley listlessly.

"But the really beautiful thing," the general told him, "is your gadget! They can be made by millions. Ridiculously cheap, they tell me. Everybody in the world will want one, and we'll pass them out. No government could stop that! Not even Russia! But--d'you see, Lockley?"

Lockley shook his head. He always had a tendency to look on the dark side of future events. The future did not look bright to him.

"Don't you see?" demanded the general, chuckling. "They detonate explosives, those little gadgets! There's no harm in that! Where explosives are used in industry you've only to make sure that nobody turns one on too close. In nine-tenths of the world, anyhow, civilians aren't allowed to have guns. But think of the consequences there!"

Lockley was weary. He was dejected. The general grinned from ear to ear.

"Why, when these are distributed, even the secret police can't go armed! What price dictators then? For that matter, what price soldiers? The cold war ends, Lockley, because there couldn't be a conquering army in the modern sense. The tanks wouldn't run. The cars would stall. And the guns--An invasion would have to be made with horse-drawn transport and the troops armed with bows and spears. That amounts to disarmament, Lockley! A consummation devoutly to be wished! I'm going to look forward to a ripe old age now. I never could before!"

* * * * *

Presently Lockley talked to Jill. She was constrained. She seemed uneasy. Lockley felt that there wasn't much to say, now that Vale was alive and well and there was no more danger for her. He offered his hand to say good-bye.

"I think," she said with a little difficulty, "I think I should tell you I'm not--engaged any longer. I--told him I--wouldn't want to be married to someone whose work made him keep secrets from me."

Lockley tensed. He said incredulously, "You're not going to marry Vale?"

She said nervously.

"No-o-o. I've told him."

Lockley swallowed.

"What did he say?"

"He--didn't like it," said Jill. "But he understood. I explained things. He said--he said to congratulate you."

Lockley made an appropriate movement. She wept quietly, held close in his arms.

"I was so afraid you didn't--you wouldn't--"

Lockley took appropriate measures to comfort her and to assure her that he did and he would, forever and ever. A very long time later he asked interestedly, "What did you say to Vale when he asked you to congratulate me?"

"I said," said Jill comfortably, "that I would if things worked out all right. And they have. I congratulate you, darling. Now how about congratulating me?"

* * * * *

The rocket took off and went away into emptiness. This was near dawn, when military announcements of the reoccupation of Boulder Lake were being passed out to the news media. As much of the public as was awake was informed that the monstrous aliens had fled from earth, their intentions frustrated by the work of scientists. It wasn't necessary for a large force to march in. A special detail took over at the lake itself. Curiously enough, it seemed to be already there when the question arose. It would report a regrettable absence of alien artifacts by which the monsters might be kept in mind.

But there would be reminders. Later bulletins would report that the United States was putting into quantity production the small, individual protective devices which defied the terror beam and would supply them to all the world. There could not be greater friendship than that! The United States also proposed a world wide alliance for defense against future attacks by space monsters, with pooled armament and completely cooperative governments.

The world, obviously, would unite against monsters. And people in a posture of defense against enemies from the stars obviously wouldn't fight each other.

And there were some people who were pleased. They knew about the possibilities of the small gadgets, brought down in production to the size of a pack of cigarettes. Knowing what they could do, they waited very interestedly to see what would happen in certain nations when secret police couldn't carry firearms and soldiers could only be armed with spears.

They expected it to be very interesting indeed.

Murray Leinster's Novel: Operation Terror

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