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Unwise Child - Chapter 14 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :3331

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Unwise Child - Chapter 14

Mike the Angel spent the next three days in a pale blue funk which he struggled valiantly against, at least to prevent it from becoming a deep blue.

There was something wrong aboard the _Brainchild_, and Mike simply couldn't quite figure what it was. He found that he wasn't the only one who had been asked peculiar questions by Snookums. The little robot seemed to have developed a sudden penchant for asking seemingly inane questions.

Lieutenant Keku reported with a grin that Snookums had asked him if he knew who Commander Gabriel _really was.

"What'd you say?" Mike had asked.

Keku had spread his hands and said: "I gave him the usual formula about not being positive of my data, then I told him that you were known as Mike the Angel and were well known in the power field."

Multhaus reported that Snookums had wanted to know what their destination was. The chief's only possible answer, of course, had been: "I don't have that data, Snookums."

Dr. Morris Fitzhugh had become more worried-looking than usual and had confided to Mike that he, too, wondered why Snookums was asking such peculiar questions.

"All he'll tell me," the roboticist had reported, wrinkling up his face, "was that he was collecting data. But he flatly refused, even when ordered, to tell me what he needed the data for."

Mike stayed away from Leda Crannon as much as possible; shipboard was no place to try to conduct a romance. Not that he deliberately avoided her in such a manner as to give offense, but he tried to appear busy at all times.

She was busy, too. Keeping herd on Snookums was becoming something of a problem. She had never attempted to watch him all the time. In the first place, it was physically impossible; in the second place, she didn't think Snookums would develop properly if he were to be kept under constant supervision. But now, for the first time, she didn't have the foggiest notion of what was going on inside the robot's mind, and she couldn't find out. It puzzled and worried her, and between herself and Dr. Fitzhugh there were several long conferences on Snookums' peculiar behavior.

Mike the Angel found himself waiting for something to happen. He hadn't the slightest notion what it was that he was waiting for, but he was as certain of its coming as he was of the fact that the Earth was an oblate spheroid.

But he certainly didn't expect it to begin the way it did.

A quiet evening bridge game is hardly the place for a riot to start.

Pete Jeffers was pounding the pillow in his stateroom; Captain Quill was on the bridge, checking through the log.

In the officers' wardroom Mike the Angel was looking down at two hands of cards, wondering whether he'd make his contract. His own hand held the ace, nine, seven of spades; the ten, six, two of hearts; the jack, ten, nine, four, three, and deuce of diamonds; and the eight of clubs.

Vaneski, his partner, had bid a club. Keku had answered with a take-out double. Mike had looked at his hand, figured that since he and Vaneski were vulnerable, while Keku and von Liegnitz were not, he bid a weakness pre-empt of three diamonds. Von Liegnitz passed, and Vaneski had answered back with five diamonds. Keku and Mike had both passed, and von Liegnitz had doubled.

Now Mike was looking at Vaneski's dummy hand. No spades; the ace, queen, five, and four of hearts; the queen, eight, seven, and six of diamonds; and the ace, king, seven, four, and three of clubs.

And von Liegnitz had led the three of hearts.

It didn't look good. His opponents had the ace and king of trumps, and with von Liegnitz' heart lead, it looked as though he might have to try a finesse on the king of hearts. Still, there _might be another way out.

Mike threw in the ace from dummy. Keku tossed in his seven, and Mike threw in his own deuce. He took the next trick with the ace of clubs from dummy, and the singleton eight in his own hand. The one after that came from dummy, too; it was the king of clubs, and Mike threw in the heart six from his own hand. From dummy, he led the three of clubs. Keku went over it with a jack, but Mike took it with his deuce of diamonds.

He led the seven of spades to get back in dummy so he could use up those clubs. Dummy took the trick with the six of diamonds, and led out with the four of clubs.

Mike figured that Keku must--absolutely _must_--have the king of hearts. Both his take-out double and von Liegnitz' heart lead pointed toward the king in his hand. Now if....

Vaneski had moved around behind Mike to watch the play. Not one of them noticed Lieutenant Lew Mellon, the Medical Officer, come into the room.

That is, they knew he had come in, but they had ignored him thereafter. He was such a colorless nonentity that he simply seemed to fade into the background of the walls once he had made his entrance.

Mike had taken seven tricks, and, as he had expected, lost the eighth to von Liegnitz' five of diamonds. When the German led the nine of hearts, Mike knew he had the game. He put in the queen from dummy, Keku tossed in his king triumphantly, and Mike topped it with his lowly four of diamonds.

If, as he suspected, his opponents' ace and king of diamonds were split, he would get them both by losing the next trick and then make a clean sweep of the board.

He threw in his nine of diamonds.

He just happened to glance at von Liegnitz as the navigator dropped his king.

Then he lashed out with one foot, kicking at the leg of von Liegnitz' chair. At the same time, he yelled, "Jake! Duck!"

He was almost too late. Mellon, his face contorted with a mixture of anger and hatred, was standing just behind Jakob von Liegnitz. In one hand was a heavy spanner, which he was bringing down with deadly force on the navigator's skull.

Von Liegnitz' chair started to topple, and von Liegnitz himself spun away from the blow. The spanner caught him on the shoulder, and he grunted in pain, but he kept on moving away from Mellon.

The medic screamed something and lifted the spanner again.

By this time, Keku, too, was on his feet, moving toward Mellon. Mike the Angel got behind Mellon, trying to grab at the heavy metal tool in Mellon's hand.

Mellon seemed to sense him, for he jumped sideways, out of Mike's way, and kicked backward at the same time, catching Mike on the shin with his heel.

Von Liegnitz had made it to his feet by this time and was blocking the downward swing of Mellon's arm with his own forearm. His other fist pistoned out toward Mellon's face. It connected, sending Mellon staggering backward into Mike the Angel's arms.

Von Liegnitz grabbed the spanner out of Mellon's hand and swung it toward the medic's jaw. It was only inches away when Keku's hand grasped the navigator's wrist.

And when the big Hawaiian's hand clamped on, von Liegnitz' hand stopped almost dead.

Mellon was screaming. "You ----!" He ran out a string of unprintable and almost un-understandable words. "I'll kill you! I'll do it yet! _You stay away from Leda Crannon!_"

"Calm down, Doc!" snapped Mike the Angel. "What the hell's the matter with you, anyway?"

Von Liegnitz was still straining, trying to get away from Keku to take another swipe at the medic, but the huge Hawaiian held him easily. The navigator had lapsed into his native German, and most of it was unintelligible, except for an occasional reference to various improbable combinations of animal life.

But Mellon was paying no attention. "You! I'll kill you! Lecher! Dirty-minded, filthy...."

He went on.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, he smashed his heel down on Mike's toe. At least, he tried to; he'd have done it if the toe had been there when his heel came down. But Mike moved it just two inches and avoided the blow.

At the same time, though, Mellon twisted, and Mike's forced shift of position lessened his leverage on the man's shoulders and arms. Mellon almost got away. One hand grabbed the wrench from von Liegnitz, whose grip had been weakened by the paralyzing pressure of Keku's fingers.

Mike had no choice but to slam a hard left into the man's solar plexus. Mellon collapsed like an unoccupied overcoat.

By this time, von Liegnitz had quieted down. "Let go, Keku," he said. "I'm all right." He looked down at the motionless figure on the deck. "What the hell do you suppose was eating him?" he asked quietly.

"How's your shoulder?" Mike asked.

"Hurts like the devil, but I don't think it's busted. But why did he do it?" he repeated.

"Sounds to me," said Keku dryly, "that he was nutty jealous of you. He didn't like the times you took Leda Crannon to the base movies while we were at Chilblains."

Jakob von Liegnitz continued to look down at the smaller man in wonder. "_Lieber Gott_" he said finally. "I only took her out a couple of times. I knew he liked her, but--" He stopped. "The guy must be off his bearings."

"I smelled liquor on his breath," said Mike. "Let's get him down to his stateroom and lock him in until he sobers up. I'll have to report this to the captain. Can you carry him, Keku?"

Keku nodded and reached down. He put his hands under Mellon's armpits, lifted him to his feet, and threw him over his shoulder.

"Good," said Mike the Angel. "I'll walk behind you and clop him one if he wakes up and gets wise."

Vaneski was standing to one side, his face pale, his expression blank.

Mike said: "Jake, you and Vaneski go up and make the report to the captain. Tell him we'll be up as soon as we've taken care of Mellon."

"Right," said von Liegnitz, massaging his bruised shoulder.

"Okay, Keku," said Mike, "forward march."

* * * * *

Lieutenant Keku thumbed the opener to Mellon's stateroom, shoved the door aside, stepped in, and slapped at the switch plaque. The plates lighted up, bathing the room in sunshiny brightness.

"Dump him on his sack," said Mike.

While Keku put the unconscious Mellon on his bed, Mike let his gaze wander around the room. It was neat--almost too neat, implying overfussiness. The medical reference books were on one shelf, all in alphabetical order. Another shelf contained a copy of the _International Encyclopedia_, English edition, plus several dictionaries, including one on medical terms and another on theological ones.

On the desk lay a copy of the Bible, York translation, opened to the Book of Tobit. Next to it were several sheets of blank paper and a small traveling clock sat on them as a paperweight.

His clothing was hung neatly, in the approved regulation manner, with his shoes in their proper places and his caps all lined up in a row.

Mike walked around the room, looking at everything.

"What's the matter? What're you looking for?" asked Keku.

"His liquor," said Mike the Angel.

"In his desk, lower left-hand drawer. You won't find anything but a bottle of ruby port; Mellon was never a drinker."

Mike opened the drawer. "I probably won't find that, drunk as he is."

Surprisingly enough, the bottle of wine was almost half full. "Did he have more than one bottle?" Mike asked.

"Not so far as I know. Like I said, he didn't drink much. One slug of port before bedtime was about his limit."

Mike frowned. "How does his breath smell to you?"

"Not bad. Two or three drinks, maybe."

"Mmmm." Mike put the bottle on top of the desk, then walked over to the small case that was standing near one wall. He lifted it and flipped it open. It was the standard medical kit for Space Service physicians.

The intercom speaker squeaked once before Captain Quill's voice came over it. "Mister Gabriel?"

"Yes, sir?" said Mike without turning around. There were no eyes in the private quarters of the officers and crew.

"How is Mister Mellon?" A Space Service physician's doctorate is never used as a form of address; three out of four Space Service officers have a doctor's degree of some kind, and there's no point in calling 75 per cent of the officers "doctor."

Mike glanced across the room. Keku had finished stripping the little physician to his underclothes and had put a cover over him.

"He's still unconscious, sir, but his breathing sounds all right."

"How's his pulse?"

Keku picked up Mellon's left wrist and applied his fingers to the artery while he looked at his wrist watch.

Mike said: "We'll check it, sir. Wait a few seconds."

Fifteen seconds later, Keku multiplied by four and said: "One-oh-four and rather weak."

"You'd better get hold of the Physician's Mate," Mike told Quill. "He's not in good condition, either mentally or physically."

"Very well. As soon as the mate takes over, you and Mister Keku get up here. I want to know what the devil has been going on aboard my ship."

"You are bloody well not the only one," said Mike the Angel.

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Leda Crannon sat down on the edge of the bunk in Mike the Angel's stateroom, accepted the cigarette and light that Mike had proffered, and waited while Mike poured a couple of cups of coffee from the insul-jug on his desk. "I wish I could offer you something stronger, but I'm not much of a drinker myself, so I don't usually take advantage of the officer's prerogative to smuggle liquor aboard," he said as he handed her the cup. She smiled up at him. "That's all right; I rarely drink, and when I do, it's either wine or a _very diluted