Authors: Harry Harrison
The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge
For Hans Stefan Santesson
The Stainless Steel Rat COPYRIGHT© 1961 BY HARRY HARRISON.
Portions of this book appeared, in somewhat different form, in Astounding Science Fiction for August 1957 and Analog Science Fact & Fiction for April 1960.
The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge
COPYRIGHT© 1970 BY HARRY HARRISON
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World
COPYRIGHT © 1972 BY HARRY HARRISON
A portion of this book was published in
in two parts, entitled
The Cast Iron Rat
, Copyright© 1971 by UPD Publishing Corporation and
The Stainless Steel Rat's Return
, Copyright © 1972 by UPD Publishing Corporation.
The Stainless Steel Rat
The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge
are published by arrangement with Walker and Company, A Division of Walker Publishing Co., Inc.
720 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10019.
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World
is published by arrangement with The Berkley Publishing Group.
Distributed by G. P. Putnam's Sons,
200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016.
THE ADVENTURES OF THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley edition / August 1978
Ninth printing / November 1983
Tenth printing / April 1984
Eleventh printing / November 1984
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.
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A BERKLEY BOOK ® TM 757,375
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
“YOU ARE A CROOK, James Bolivar diGriz,” Inskipp said, making animal noises deep in his throat while shaking the sheaf of papers viciously in my direction. I leaned back against the sideboard in his office, a picture of shocked sincerity.
“I am innocent,” I sobbed. “A victim of a campaign of cold, calculating lies.” I had his humidor behind my back and by touch alone—I really am good at this sort of thing—I felt for the lock.
“Embezzlement, swindling and worse—the reports are still coming in. You have been cheating your own organization, our Special Corps, your own buddies—”
“Never!” I cried, lockpick busy in my fingers.
“They don’t call you Slippery Jim for nothing!”
“A mistake, a childish nickname. As a baby my mother found me slippery when she soaped me in the bath.” The humidor sprang open, and my nose twitched at the aroma of fragrant leaf.
“Do you know how much you have stolen?” His face was bright red now, and his eyes were beginning to bulge in a highly unattractive manner.
“Me? Steal? I would rather die first!” I declaimed movingly as I slipped out a handful of the incredibly expensive cigars destined for visiting VIP’s. I could put them to a far more important use by smoking them myself. I am forced to admit that my attention was more on the purloined tobacco than on Inskipp’s tedious complaints so I did not at first notice the change in his voice. Then I suddenly realized that I could barely hear his words—not that I really wanted to in any case. It wasn’t that he was whispering; it was more as though there were a volume control in his throat that had suddenly been turned down.
“Speak up, Inskipp,” I told him firmly. “Or are you suddenly beset with guilt over these false accusations?”
I stepped away from the sideboard, half turning as I moved in order to mask the fact that I was slipping about 100 credits’ worth of exotic tobacco into my pocket. He rattled on weakly, ignoring me, shaking the papers soundlessly now.
“Aren’t you feeling well?”
I asked this with a certain amount of real concern because he was beginning to sound rather distant. He did not turn his head to look at me when I moved but instead kept staring at the place where I had been, nattering away in an inaudible voice. And he was looking pale. I blinked and looked again.
Not pale, transparent.
The back of his chair was very definitely becoming visible through his head.
“Stop it!” I shouted, but he did not appear to hear. “What games are you playing? Is this some sort of three-D projection to fool me? Why bother? Slippery Jim’s not the kind who can be fooled, ha-ha!”
Walking quickly across the room, I put out my hand and poked my index finger into his forehead. It went in—there was slight resistance—and he did not seem to mind in the least. But when I withdrew it, there was a slight popping sound and he vanished completely while the sheaf of papers, now unsupported, fell to the desktop.
” I grunted, or something equally incomprehensible. I bent to look for hidden devices under the chair when, with a very nasty crunching sound, the office door was broken down.
Now this was something I could understand. I whirled about, still in the crouch, and was ready for the first man when he came through the door. The hard edge of my hand got him in the throat, right under the gas mask, and he gurgled and dropped. But there were plenty more behind him, all with masks and white coats, wearing little black packs on their backs, either barefisted or carrying improvised clubs. It was all very unusual. Weight of numbers forced me back, but I caught one of them under the chin with my toe while a hard jab to the solar plexus polished off another. Then I had my shoulders to the wall, and they began to swarm over me. I smashed one of them across the back of the neck, and he fell. And vanished halfway to the floor.
This was very interesting. The number of people in the room began to change rapidly now as some of the men I hit snuffed out of sight. This was a good thing that helped even the odds except for the fact that others kept appearing out of thin air at about the same rate. I struggled to get to the door, could not make it, then the club got me in the side of the head and scrambled my brains nicely.
After that it was like trying to fight slow motion under water. I hit a few more of them, but my heart wasn’t really in it. They had my arms and legs and began to drag me from the room. I writhed about a certain amount and cursed them fluently in a half dozen languages, but all of this had just about the results you would expect. They rushed me from the room and down the corridor and into the waiting elevator. One of them held up a canister, and I tried to turn my head away, but the blast of gas caught me full in the face.
It did nothing for me that I could feel, though I did get angrier. Kicking and snapping my teeth and shouting insults. The masked men mumbled back in what might have been irritated mumbles, which only goaded me to greater fury. By the time we reached our destination I was ready to kill, which I normally do not find easy to do, and certainly would have if I hadn’t been strapped into a gadgety electric chair and had electrodes fastened to my wrists and ankles.
“Tell them that Jim diGriz died like a man, you dogs!” I shouted, not without a certain amount of slavering and foaming. A metal helmet was lowered over my head, and just before it covered my face I managed to call out, “Up the Special Corps! And up your—”
Darkness descended, and I was aware that death or electrocution or brain destruction or worse was imminent.
Nothing happened, and the helmet was raised again, and one of the attackers gave me another shot in the face from a canister, and I felt the overwhelming anger draining away as fast as it had arrived. I blinked a bit at this and saw that they were freeing my arms and legs. I also saw that most of them had their masks off now and were recognizable as the Corps technicians and scientists who usually puttered about this lab.
“Someone wouldn’t like to tell me just what the hell is going on, would they?”
“Let me fix this first,” one of them said, a gray-haired man with buckteeth like old yellowed gravestones caught between his lips. He hung one of the black boxes from my shoulder and pulled a length of wire from it that had a metal button on the end. He touched the button to the back of my neck where it stuck.
“You’re Professor Coypu, aren’t you?”
“I am.” The teeth moved up and down like piano keys.
“Would you think me rude if I asked for an explanation?”
“Not at all. Only natural under the circumstances. Terribly sorry we had to rough you up. Only way. Get you off-balance, keep you angry. The angry mind exists only for itself and can survive by itself. If we had tried to reason, to tell you the problem, we would have defeated our own purpose. So we attacked. Gave you the anger gas as well as breathed it ourselves. Only thing to do. Oh blast, there goes Magistero. It’s getting stronger even in here.”
One of the white-coated men shimmered and grew transparent, then vanished.
“Inskipp went that way,” I said.
“He would. First to go, you know.”
“Why?” I asked, smiling warmly, thinking that this was the most idiotic conversation I had ever had.
“They are after the Corps. Pick off the top people first.”
I heard my teeth grating together but managed to keep my temper. “Would you kindly explain in greater detail or find someone who can make more sense of this affair than you have been doing.”
“Sorry. My fault entirely.” He dabbed at a beading of sweat on his forehead, and a whisk of red tongue dampened the dry ends of his teeth. “It all came about so fast, you know. Emergency measures, everything. Time war, I imagine one might call it. Someone, somewhere, somewhen, is tampering with time. Naturally they had to pick the Special Corps as their first target, no matter what other ambitions they might have. Since the Corps is the most effective, most widespread supranational and supraplanetal law enforcement organization in the history of the galaxy, we automatically become the main obstacle in their path. Sooner or later in any ambitious time-changing plan they run against the Corps. They have therefore elected to do it soonest. If they can eliminate Inskipp and the other top people, the probability of the Corps’ existence will be lowered and we’ll all snuff out, as poor Magistero did just then.”
I blinked rapidly. “Do you think we could have a drink that might act as a bit of lubricant to my thoughts?”
“Splendid idea, join you myself.”
The dispenser produced a sickly sort of green liquid that he favored, but I dialed for a large Syrian Panther Sweat, most of which I drained with the first swallow. This frightening beverage—whose hideous aftereffects forbade its sale on most civilized worlds—did me nothing but good at this moment. I finished the glass, and a sudden memory popped up out of the tangled jumble of my subconscious.
“Stop me if I’m wrong, but didn’t I hear you lecture once about the impossibility of time travel?”
“Of course. My specialty. Smoke screen that talk, I think you might call it. We’ve had time travel for years here. Afraid to use it, though. Alter time tracks and all that sort of trouble. Just the kind of thing that is happening now. But we have had a continuing project of research and time investigation. Which is why we knew what was happening when it began to happen. The alarms were going off, and we had no time to warn anyone—not that warnings would do any good. We were aware of our duty. Plus the fact that we were the only ones who could do anything at all. We jury-rigged a time-fixator around this laboratory, then made the smaller portable models such as the one you are wearing now.”
“What does it do?” I asked, touching with great respect the metal disk on the nape of my neck.
“Has a recording of your memory that it keeps feeding back to your brain every three milliseconds. Telling you you are you, you see, rebuilding any personality changes that time line alterations in the past may have shifted. Purely a defensive mechanism, but it is all we have.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw another man wink out of sight, and the professor’s voice grew grim. “We must attack if we are to save the Corps.”
“Send someone back in time to uncover the forces waging this time war and destroy them before they destroy us. We have a machine.”
“I volunteer. Sounds like my kind of job.”
“There is no way to return. It is a one-way mission.”
“I withdraw the last statement. I like it here.” Sudden memory—restored no doubt three milliseconds earlier—grabbed me and a prod of fear pumped a number of interesting chemical substances into my blood.
Angelina! I must speak to her. . . .”
“She is not the only one!”
“The only one for me, Prof. Now stand aside or I’ll go through you.”
He stepped back, frowning and mumbling and tapping his teeth with his fingernails, and I jabbed the code into the phone. The screen beeped twice, and the few seconds crawled by like lead snails before she answered the call.
“You’re there!” I gasped.
“Where did you expect me to be?" A frown crossed her perfect features, and she sniffed as though to get the aroma of booze from the screen. “You’ve been drinking, and so early too.”
“Just a drop, but that’s not why I called. How are you? You look good, great, not transparent at all.”
“A drop? Sounds more like a whole bottle.” Her voice chilled, and there was more than a trace left of the old, unreformed Angelina, the most ruthless and deadly crook in the galaxy before the Corps medics straightened out the knots in her brain. “I suggest you hang up. Get a drive-right pill, then call me back as soon as you are sober.” She reached out for the disconnect button.
I am cold sober and wish I weren’t. This is an emergency, red. A top priority. Get over here now as absolutely fast as you can and bring the twins.”
“Of course.” She was on her feet instantly, ready to go. “Where are you?”
“The location of this lab, quick!” I said, turning to Professor Coypu.
“Level one-hundred and twelve. Room thirty.”
“Did you get that,” I said, turning back to the screen.
Which was blank.
. . . .”
I jabbed the disconnect, tapped her code on the keys. The screen lit up. With the message “This is an unconnected number.” Then I ran for the door. Someone clutched at my shoulder, but I brushed him aside, grabbed the door and flung it open.
There was nothing outside. A formless, colorless nothing that did strange things to my brain when I looked at it. Then the door was pulled from my hand and slammed shut, and Coypu stood with his back to it, breathing heavily, his features twisted by the same unnamable sensations I had felt.
“Gone,” he said hoarsely. “The corridor, the entire station, all the buildings, everything. Gone. Just this laboratory left, locked here by the time-fixator. The Special Corps no longer exists; no one in the galaxy has even a memory of us. When the time-fixator goes we go as well.”
“Angelina, where is she, where are they all?”
“They were never born, never existed.”
“But I can remember her, all of them.”
“That is what we count upon. As long as there is one person alive with memories of us, of the Corps, we stand a microscopic chance of eventual survival. Someone must stop the time attack. If not for the Corps, for the sake of civilization. History is now being rewritten. But not forever if we can counterattack.”
A one-way trip backward to a lifetime on an alien world, in an alien time. Whoever went would be the loneliest man alive, living thousands of years before his people, his friends, would even be born.
“Get ready,” I said. “I’ll go.”