Innocent at Large
INNOCENT AT LARGE
By POUL AND KAREN ANDERSON
Illustrated by WOOD
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction July 1958.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
A hayseed Martian among big-planet slickers ... of course
he would get into trouble. But that was nothing compared
to the trouble he would be in if he did not get into trouble!
The visiphone chimed when Peri had just gotten into her dinner gown.She peeled it off again and slipped on a casual bathrobe: a wisp oftranslucence which had set the president of Antarctic Enterprise—orhad it been the chairman of the board?—back several thousand dollars.Then she pulled a lock of lion-colored hair down over one eye, checkedwith a mirror, rumpled it a tiny bit more and wrapped the robe looselyon top and tight around the hips.
After all, some of the men who knew her private number were important.
She undulated to the phone and pressed its Accept. "Hello-o, there,"she said automatically. "So sorry to keep you waiting. I was justtaking a bath and—Oh. It's you."
Gus Doran's prawnlike eyes popped at her. "Holy Success," he whisperedin awe. "You sure the wires can carry that much voltage?"
"Well, hurry up with whatever it is," snapped Peri. "I got a datetonight."
"I'll say you do! With a Martian!"
Peri narrowed her silver-blue gaze and looked icily at him. "You musthave heard wrong, Gus. He's the heir apparent of Indonesia, Inc.,that's who, and if you called up to ask for a piece of him, you canjust blank right out again. I saw him first!"
Doran's thin sharp face grinned. "You break that date, Peri. Put it offor something. I got this Martian for you, see?"
"So? Since when has all Mars had as much spending money as one big-timemarijuana rancher? Not to mention the heir ap—"
"Sure, sure. But how much are those boys going to spend on any girl,even a high-level type like you? Listen, I need you just for tonight,see? This Martian is strictly from gone. He is here on officialbusiness, but he is a yokel and I do mean hayseed. Like he asked mewhat the Christmas decorations in all the stores were! And here is thesolar nexus of it, Peri, kid."
Doran leaned forward as if to climb out of the screen. "He has got ahundred million dollars expense money, and they are not going to audithis accounts at home. One hundred million good green certificates,legal tender anywhere in the United Protectorates. And he has aboutas much backbone as a piece of steak alga. Kid, if I did not happen tohave experience otherwise with a small nephew, I would say this will belike taking candy from a baby."
Peri's peaches-and-cream countenance began to resemble peaches andcream left overnight on Pluto. "Badger?" she asked.
"Sure. You and Sam Wendt handle the routine. I will take the go-betweenangle, so he will think of me as still his friend, because I have otherplans for him too. But if we can't shake a million out of him for thisone night's work, there is something akilter. And your share of amillion is three hundred thirty-three—"
"Is five hundred thousand flat," said Peri. "Too bad I just got anawful headache and can't see Mr. Sastro tonight. Where you at, Gus?"
The gravity was not as hard to take as Peter Matheny had expected.Three generations on Mars might lengthen the legs and expand the chesta trifle, but the genes had come from Earth and the organism readjusts.What set him gasping was the air. It weighed like a ton of wool and hadapparently sopped up half the Atlantic Ocean. Ears trained to listenthrough the Martian atmosphere shuddered from the racket conducted byEarth's. The passport official seemed to bellow at him.
"Pardon me for asking this. The United Protectorates welcome allvisitors to Earth and I assure you, sir, an ordinary five-year visaprovokes no questions. But since you came on an official courier boatof your planet, Mr. Matheny, regulations force me to ask your business."
The official patted his comfortable stomach, iridescent in neolon, andchuckled patronizingly. "I am afraid, sir, you won't find many peoplewho wish to leave. They wouldn't be able to see the Teamsters Hour onMars, would they?"
"Oh, we don't expect immigration," said Matheny shyly. He was a fairlyyoung man, but small, with a dark-thatched, snub-nosed, gray-eyedhead that seemed too large for his slender body. "We learned long agothat no one is interested any more in giving up even second-classcitizenship on Earth to live in the Republic. But we only wanted tohire——uh, I mean engage—an, an advisor. We're not businessmen. Weknow our export trade hasn't a chance among all your corporationsunless we get some—a five-year contract...?"
He heard his words trailing off idiotically, and swore at himself.
"Well, good luck." The official's tone was skeptical. He stamped thepassport and handed it back. "There, now, you are free to travelanywhere in the Protectorates. But I would advise you to leave thecapital and get into the sticks—um, I mean the provinces. I am surethere must be tolerably competent sales executives in Russia orCongolese Belgium or such regions. Frankly, sir, I do not believe youcan attract anyone out of Newer York."
"Thanks," said Matheny, "but, you see, I—we need—that is.... Oh,well. Thanks. Good-by."
He backed out of the office.
A dropshaft deposited him on a walkway. The crowd, a rainbow of men inpajamas and robes, women in Neo-Sino dresses and goldleaf hats, swepthim against the rail. For a moment, squashed to the wire, he stared ahundred feet down at the river of automobiles. Phobos! he thoughtwildly. If the barrier gives, I'll be sliced in two by a dorsal finbefore I hit the pavement!
The August twilight wrapped him in heat and stickiness. He could seeneither stars nor even moon through the city's blaze. The forest ofmulti-colored towers, cataracting half a mile skyward across moreacreage than his eyes reached, was impressive and all that, but—heused to stroll out in the rock garden behind his cottage and smoke apipe in company with Orion. On summer evenings, that is, when thetemperature wasn't too far below zero.
Why did they tap me for this job? he asked himself in a surge ofhomesickness. What the hell is the Martian Embassy here for?
He, Peter Matheny, was no more than a peaceful professor ofsociodynamics at Devil's Kettle University. Of course, he had advisedhis government before now—in fact, the Red Ankh Society had been hisidea—but still he was at ease only with his books and his chess andhis mineral collection, a faculty poker party on Tenthday night and anoccasional trip to Swindletown—
My God, thought Matheny, here I am, one solitary outlander in thegreatest commercial empire the human race has ever seen, and I'msupposed to find my planet a con man!
He began walking, disconsolately, at random. His lizardskin shirt andblack culottes drew glances, but derisive ones: their cut was fortyyears out of date. He should find himself a hotel, he thought drearily,but he wasn't tired; the spaceport would pneumo his baggage to himwhenever he did check in. The few Martians who had been to Earth hadgone into ecstasies over the automation which put any service you couldname on a twenty-four-hour basis. But it would be a long time beforeMars had such machines. If ever.
The city roared at him.
He fumbled after his pipe. Of course, he told himself, that's whythe Embassy can't act. I may find it advisable to go outside the law.Please, sir, where can I contact the underworld?
He wished gambling were legal on Earth. The Constitution of the MartianRepublic forbade sumptuary and moral legislation; quite apart from therambunctious individualism which that document formulated, the articlewas a practical necessity. Life was bleak enough on the deserts,without being denied the pleasure of trying to bottom-deal some friendwho was happily trying to mark the cards. Matheny would have found afew spins of roulette soothing: it was always an intellectual challengeto work out the system by which the management operated a wheel. Butmore, he would have been among people he understood.
The frightful thing about the Earthman was the way he seemed toexist only in organized masses. A gypsy snake oil peddler, ploddinghis syrtosaur wagon across Martian sands, just didn't have a prayeragainst, say, the Grant, Harding & Adams Public Relations Agency.
Matheny puffed smoke and looked around. His feet ached from the weighton them. Where could a man sit down? It was hard to make out anyindividual sign through all that flimmering neon. His eye fell on onethat was distinguished by relative austerity.
THE CHURCH OF CHOICE
Enter, Play, Pray
That would do. He took an upward slideramp through several hundred feetof altitude, stepped past an aurora curtain, and found himself in amarble lobby next to an inspirational newsstand.
"Ah, brother, welcome," said a red-haired usherette in demure blackleotards. "The peace that passeth all understanding be with you. Therestaurant is right up those stairs."
"I—I'm not hungry," stammered Matheny. "I just wanted to sit in—"
"To your left, sir."
The Martian crossed the lobby. His pipe went out in the breeze from ananimated angel. Organ music sighed through an open doorway. The seriesof rooms beyond was dim, Gothic, interminable.
"Get your chips right here, sir," said the girl in the booth.
"Hm?" said Matheny.
She explained. He bought a few hundred-dollar tokens, dropped afifty-buck coin down a slot marked CONTRIBUTIONS, and sipped themartini he got back while he strolled around studying the games.He stopped, frowned. Bingo? No, he didn't want to bother learningsomething new. He decided that the roulette wheels were either honestor too deep for him. He'd have to relax with a crap game instead.
He had been standing at the table for some time before the rest of thecongregation really noticed him. Then it was with awe. The first fewpasses he had made were unsuccessful. Earth gravity threw him off.But when he got the rhythm of it, he tossed a row of sevens. It was acustomary form of challenge on Mars. Here, though, they simply pushedchips toward him. He missed a throw, as anyone would at home: simplecourtesy. The next time around, he threw for a seven just to get thefeel. He got a seven. The dice had not been substituted on him.
"I say!" he exclaimed. He looked up into eyes and eyes, all around thegreen table. "I'm sorry. I guess I don't know your rules."
"You did all right, brother," said a middle-aged lady with an obviouslysurgical bodice.
"But—I mean—when do we start actually playing? What happened to thecocked dice?"
The lady drew herself up and jutted an indignant brow at him. "Sir!This is a church!"
"Oh—I see—excuse me, I, I, I—" Matheny backed out of the crowd,shuddering. He looked around for some place to hide his burning ears.
"You forgot your chips, pal," said a voice.
"Oh. Thanks. Thanks ever so much. I, I, that is—" Matheny cursedhis knotting tongue. Damn it, just because they're so much moresophisticated than I, do I have to talk like a leaky boiler?
The helpful Earthman was not tall. He was dark and chisel-faced andsleekly pomaded, dapper in blue pajamas with a red zigzag, a sleighbellcloak and curly-toed slippers.
"You're from Mars, aren't you?" he asked in the friendliest toneMatheny had yet heard.
"Yes. Yes, I am. M-my name's Peter Matheny. I, I—" He stuck out hishand to shake and chips rolled over the floor. "Damn! Oh, excuse me, Iforgot this was a church. Never mind the chips. No, please. I just wantto g-g-get the hell out of here."
"Good idea. How about a drink? I know a bar downshaft."
Matheny sighed. "A drink is what I need the very most."
"My name's Doran. Gus Doran. Call me Gus."
They walked back to the deaconette's booth and Matheny cashed whatremained of his winnings.
"I don't want to—I mean if you're busy tonight, Mr. Doran—"
"Nah. I am not doing one thing in particular. Besides, I have never meta Martian. I am very interested."
"There aren't many of us on Earth," agreed Matheny. "Just a smallembassy staff and an occasional like me."
"I should think you would do a lot of traveling