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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 4
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Unwise Child - Chapter 4 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :2547

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Unwise Child - Chapter 4

Mike the Angel did not believe in commuting. Being a bachelor, he could afford to indulge in that belief. In his suite of offices on 112th Street, there was one door marked "M. R. Gabriel." Behind that door was his private secretary's office, which acted as an effective barrier between himself and the various employees of the firm. Behind the secretary's office was his own office.

There was still another door in his inner office, a plain, unmarked door that looked as though it might conceal a closet.

It didn't. It was the door to a veddy, veddy expensive apartment with equally expensive appointments. One wall, thirty feet long and ten feet high, was a nearly invisible, dustproof slab of polished, optically flat glass that gave the observer the feeling that there was nothing between him and the city street, five hundred feet below.

The lights of the city, coming through the wall, gave the room plenty of illumination after sunset, but the simple flick of a switch could polarize it black, allowing perfect privacy.

The furniture was massive, heavily braced, and well upholstered. It had to be; Mike the Angel liked to flop into chairs, and his two hundred and sixty pounds gave chairs a lot of punishment.

On one of the opaque walls was Dali's original "Eucharist," with its muffled, robed figures looking oddly luminous in the queer combination of city lights and interior illumination. Farther back, a Valois gleamed metallically above the shadowed bas-reliefs of its depths.

It was the kind of apartment Mike the Angel liked. He could sleep, if necessary, on a park bench or in a trench, but he didn't see any reason for doing so if he could sleep on a five-hundred-dollar floater.

As he had passed through each door, he had checked them carefully. His electrokey had a special circuit that lighted up a tiny glow lamp in the key handle if the lock had been tampered with. None of them had.

He opened the final door, went into his apartment, and locked the door behind him, as he had locked the others. Then he turned on the lights, peeled off his raincoat, and plopped himself into a chair to unwrap the microcryotron stack he had picked up at Harry's.

Theoretically, Harry wasn't supposed to sell the things. They were still difficult to make, and they were supposed to be used only by persons who were authorized to build robot brains, since that's what the stack was--a part of a robot brain. Mike could have put his hands on one legally, provided he'd wanted to wait for six or eight months to clear up the red tape. Actually, the big robotics companies didn't want amateurs fooling around with robots; they'd much rather build the robots themselves and rent them out. They couldn't make do-it-yourself projects impossible, but they could make them difficult.

In a way, there was some good done. So far, the JD's hadn't gone into big-scale robotics. Self-controlled bombs could be rather nasty.

Adult criminals, of course, already had them. But an adult criminal who had the money to invest in robotic components, or went to the trouble to steal them, had something more lucrative in mind than street fights or robbing barrooms. To crack a bank, for instance, took a cleverly constructed, well-designed robot and plenty of ingenuity on the part of the operator.

Mike the Angel didn't want to make bombs or automatic bankrobbers; he just wanted to fiddle with the stack, see what it would do. He turned it over in his hands a couple of times, then shrugged, got up, went over to his closet, and put the thing away. There wasn't anything he could do with it until he'd bought a cryostat--a liquid helium refrigerator. A cryotron functions only at temperatures near absolute zero.

The phone chimed.

Mike went over to it, punched the switch, and said: "Gabriel speaking."

No image formed on the screen. A voice said: "Sorry, wrong number." There was a slight click, and the phone went dead. Mike shrugged and punched the cutoff. Sounded like a woman. He vaguely wished he could have seen her face.

Mike got up and walked back to his easy chair. He had no sooner sat down than the phone chimed again. Damn!

Up again. Back to the phone.

"Gabriel speaking."

Again, no image formed.

"Look, lady," Mike said, "why don't you look up the number you want instead of bothering me?"

Suddenly there was an image. It was the face of an elderly man with a mild, reddish face, white hair, and a cold look in his pale blue eyes. It was Basil Wallingford, the Minister for Spatial Affairs.

He said: "Mike, I wasn't aware that your position was such that you could afford to be rude to a Portfolio of the Earth Government." His voice was flat, without either anger or humor.

"I'm not sure it is, myself," admitted Mike the Angel, "but I do the best I can with the tools I have to work with. I didn't know it was you, Wally. I just had some wrong-number trouble. Sorry."

"Mf.... Well.... I called to tell you that the _Branchell is ready for your final inspection. Or will be, that is, in a week."

"My final inspection?" Mike the Angel arched his heavy golden-blond eyebrows. "Hell, Wally, Serge Paulvitch is on the job down there, isn't he? You don't need _my okay. If Serge says it's ready to go, it's ready to go. Or is there some kind of trouble you haven't mentioned yet?"

"No; no trouble," said Wallingford. "But the power plant on that ship was built according to your designs--not Mr. Paulvitch's. The Bureau of Space feels that you should give them the final check."

Mike knew when to argue and when not to, and he knew that this was one time when it wouldn't do him the slightest good. "All right," he said resignedly. "I don't like Antarctica and never will, but I guess I can stand it for a few days."

"Fine. One more thing. Do you have a copy of the thrust specifications for Cargo Hold One? Our copy got garbled in transmission, and there seems to be a discrepancy in the figures."

Mike nodded. "Sure. They're in my office. Want me to get them now?"

"Please. I'll hold on."

Mike the Angel barely made it in time. He went to the door that led to his office, opened it, stepped through, and closed it behind him just as the blast went off.

The door shuddered behind Mike, but it didn't give. Mike's apartment was reasonably soundproof, but it wasn't built to take the kind of explosion that would shake the door that Mike the Angel had just closed. It was a two-inch-thick slab of armor steel on heavy, precision-bearing hinges. So was every other door in the suite. It wasn't quite a bank-vault door, but it would do. Any explosion that could shake it was a real doozy.

Mike the Angel spun around and looked at the door. It was just a trifle warped, and faint tendrils of vapor were curling around the edge where the seal had been broken. Mike sniffed, then turned and ran. He opened a drawer in his desk and took out a big roll of electrostatic tape. Then he took a deep breath, went back to the door, and slapped on a strip of the one-inch tape, running it all around the edge of the door. Then he went into the outer office while the air conditioners cleaned out his private office.

He went over to one of the phones near the autofile and punched for the operator. "I had a long-distance call coming in here from the Right Excellent Basil Wallingford, Minister for Spatial Affairs, Capitol City. We were cut off."

"One moment please." A slight pause. "His Excellency is here, Mr. Gabriel."

Wallingford's face came back on the screen. It had lost some of its ruddiness. "What happened?" he asked.

"You tell me, Wally," Mike snapped. "Did you see anything at all?"

"All I saw was that big pane of glass break. It fell into a thousand pieces, and then something exploded and the phone went dead."

"The glass broke first?"

"That's right."

Mike sighed. "Good. I was afraid that maybe someone had planted that bomb, rather than fired it in. I'd hate to think anyone could get into my place without my knowing it."

"Who's gunning for you?"

"I wish I knew. Look, Wally, can you wait until tomorrow for those specs? I want to get hold of the police."

"Certainly. Nothing urgent. It can wait. I'll call you again tomorrow evening." The screen blanked.

Mike glanced at the wall clock and then punched a number on the phone. A pretty girl in a blue uniform came on the screen.

"Police Central," she said. "May I help you?"

"I'd like to speak to Detective Sergeant William Cowder, please," Mike said. "Just tell him that Mr. Gabriel has more problems."

She looked puzzled, but she nodded, and pretty soon her image blanked out. The screen stayed blank, but Sergeant Cowder's voice came over the speaker. "What is it, Mr. Gabriel?"

He was evidently speaking from a pocket phone.

"Attempted murder," said Mike the Angel. "A few minutes ago a bomb was set off in my apartment. I think it was a rocket, and I know it was heavily laced with hydrogen cyanide. That's Suite 5000, Timmins Building, up on 112th Street. I called you because I have a hunch it's connected with the incident at Harry's earlier this evening."

"Timmins Building, eh? I'll be right up."

Cowder cut off with a sharp click, and Mike the Angel looked quizzically at the dead screen. Was he imagining things, or was there a peculiar note in Cowder's voice?

Two minutes later he got his answer.

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Mike the Angel was sitting behind his desk in his private office when the announcer chimed. Mike narrowed his eyes and turned on his door screen, which connected with an eye in the outer door of the suite. Who could it be this time? It was Sergeant Cowder. "You got here fast," said Mike, thumbing the unlocker. "Come on back to my office." The sergeant came through the outer office while Mike watched him on the screen. Not until the officer finally pushed open the door to Mike's own office did Mike the Angel look up from the screen. "I repeat,"
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Sergeant Cowder looked the room over and took a drag from his cigarette. "Well, that's that. Now--what happened?" He looked from Mike the Angel to Harry MacDougal and back again. Both of them appeared to be thinking. "All right," he said quietly, "let me guess, then." Old Harry waved a hand. "Oh no, Sergeant; 'twon't be necessary. I think Mr. Gabriel was just waiting for me to start, because he wasn't here when the two rapscallions came in, and I was just tryin' to figure out where to begin. We're not bein' unco-operative. Let's see now--" He gazed at the ceiling
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