Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
A MATTER OF IMPORTANCE
Copyright © 2018 by Murray Leinster.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For information contact :
Sheba Blake Publishing
Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing
First Edition: April 2018
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A MATTER OF IMPORTANCE5
The importance of a matter is almost entirely a matter of your attitude. And whether you call something "a riot" or "a war" ... well, there is a difference, but what is it?
Nobody ever saw the message-torp. It wasn't to be expected. It came in on a course that extended backward to somewhere near the Rift--where there used to be Huks--and for a very, very long way it had traveled as only message-torps do travel. It hopped half a light-year in overdrive, and came back to normality long enough for its photocells to inspect the star-filled universe all about. Then it hopped another half light-year, and so on. For a long, long time it traveled in this jerky fashion.
Eventually, moving as it did in the straightest of straight lines, its photocells reported that it neared a star which had achieved first-magnitude brightness. It paused a little longer than usual while its action-circuits shifted. Then it swung to aim for the bright star, which was the sol-type sun Varenga. The torp sped toward it on a new schedule. Its overdrive hops dropped to light-month length. Its pauses in normality were longer. They lasted almost the fiftieth of a second.
When Varenga had reached a suitably greater brightness in the message-torp's estimation, it paused long enough to blast out its recorded message. It had been designed for this purpose and no other. Its overdrive hops shortened to one light-hour of distance covered. Regularly, its transmitter flung out a repetition of what it had been sent so far to say. In time it arrived within the limits of the Varenga system. Its hops diminished to light-minutes of distance only. It ceased to correct its course. It hurtled through the orbits of all the planets, uttering silently screamed duplicates of the broadcasts now left behind, to arrive later.
It did not fall into the sun, of course. The odds were infinitely against such a happening. It pounded past the sun, shrieking its news, and hurtled on out to the illimitable emptiness beyond. It was still squealing when it went out of human knowledge forever.
* * * * *
The state of things was routine. Sergeant Madden had the traffic desk that morning. He would reach retirement age in two more years, and it was a nagging reminder that he grew old. He didn't like it. There was another matter. His son Timmy had a girl, and she was on the way to Varenga IV on the Cerberus, and when she arrived Timmy would become a married man. Sergeant Madden contemplated this prospect. By the time his retirement came up, in the ordinary course of events he could very well be a grandfather. He was unable to imagine it. He rumbled to himself.
The telefax hummed and ejected a sheet of paper on top of other sheets in the desk's "In" cubicle. Sergeant Madden glanced absently at it. It was an operations-report sheet, to be referred to if necessary, but otherwise simply to be filed at the end of the day.
A voice crackled overhead.
"Attention Traffic," said the voice. "The following report has been received and verified as off-planet. Message follows." That voice ceased and was replaced by another, which wavered and wabbled from the electron-spurts normal to solar systems and which make for auroras on planets. "Mayday mayday mayday," said the second voice. "Call for help. Call for help. Ship Cerberus major breakdown overdrive heading Procyron III for refuge. Help urgently needed." There was a pause. "Mayday mayday mayday. Call for help--"
Sergeant Madden's face went blank. Timmy's girl was on the Cerberus. Then he growled and riffled swiftly through the operations-report sheets that had come in since his tour of duty began. He found the one he looked for. Yes. Patrolman Timothy Madden was now in overdrive in squad ship 740, delivering the monthly precinct report to Headquarters. He would be back in eight days. Maybe a trifle less, with his girl due to arrive on the Cerberus in nine and him to be married in ten. But--
Sergeant Madden swore. As a prospective bridegroom, Timmy's place was on this call for help to the Cerberus. But he wasn't available. It was in his line, because it was specifically a traffic job. The cops handled traffic, naturally, as they handled sanitary-code enforcement and delinks and mercantile offenses and murderers and swindlers and missing persons. Everything was dumped on the cops. They'd even handled the Huks in time gone by--which in still earlier times would have been called a space war and put down in all the history books. It was routine for the cops to handle the disabled or partly disabled Cerberus.
* * * * *
Sergeant Madden pushed a button marked "Traffic Emergency" and held it down until it lighted.
"You got that Cerberus report?" he demanded of the air about him.
"Just," said a voice overhead.
"What've you got on hand?" demanded Sergeant Madden.
"The Aldeb's here," said the voice. "There's a minor overhaul going on, but we can get her going in six hours. She's slow, but you know her."
"Hm-m-m. Yeah," said Sergeant Madden. He added vexedly: "My son Timmy's girl is on board the Cerberus. He'll be wild he wasn't here. I'm going to take the ready squad ship and go on out. Passengers always fret when there's trouble and no cop around. Too bad Timmy's off on assignment."
"Yeah," said the Traffic Emergency voice. "Too bad. But we'll get the Aldeb off in six hours."
Sergeant Madden pushed another button. It lighted.
"Madden," he rumbled. "Desk. The Cerberus' had a breakdown. She's limpin' over to Procyron III for refuge to wait for help. The Aldeb'll do the job on her, but I'm going to ride the squad ship out and make up the report. Who's next on call-duty?"
"Willis," said a crisp voice. "Squad ship 390. He's up for next call. Playing squint-eye in the squad room now."
"Pull him loose," Sergeant Madden ordered, "and send somebody to take the desk. Tell Willis I'll be on the tarmac in five minutes."
"Check," said the crisp voice.
Sergeant Madden lifted his thumb. All this was standard operational procedure. A man had the desk. An emergency call came in. That man took it and somebody else took the desk. Eminently fair. No favoritism; no throwing weight around; no glory-grabbing. Not that there was much glory in being a cop. But as long as a man was a cop, he was good. Sergeant Madden reflected with satisfaction that even if he was getting on to retirement age, he was still a cop.
He made two more calls. One was to Records for the customary full information on the Cerberus and on the Procyron system. The other was to the flat where Timmy lived with him. It was going to be lonely when Timmy got married and had a home of his own. Sergeant Madden dialed for message-recording and gruffly left word for Timmy. He, Timmy's father, was going on ahead to make the report on the Cerberus. Timmy wasn't to worry. The ship might be a few days late, but Timmy'd better make the most of them. He'd be married a long time!
Sergeant Madden got up, grunting, from his chair. Somebody came in to take over the desk. Sergeant Madden nodded and waved his hand. He went out and took the slide-stair down to the tarmac where squad ship 390 waited in standard police readiness. Patrolman Willis arrived at the stubby little craft seconds after the sergeant.
"Procyron III," said Sergeant Madden, rumbling. "I figure three days. You told your wife?"