Angelina cut the power, I opened the hatch, and, quivering gently from actio interruptus, we slammed over to interrogate Professor Coypu who was laboring anxiously away at the controls.
“Why did you say not there…?” Angelina asked angrily.
“I said that because it isn’t. Where the hell has Hell gone?”
“It is a little difficult to lose an entire universe?”
“I didn’t exactly lose it. It’s just not where it should be.”
“Sounds the same as losing it,” I said.
He gave me a surly scowl before turning back to his button pushing and switch throwing. Apparently with no good results. “I cannot access Hell with the former setting. I have checked it a number of times. There appears to be no universe at all there.”
“Destroyed?” Angelina asked.
“Since that takes a great number of billions of years I doubt it very much.”
“Is Heaven still there?” I asked.
“Of course.” He made some rapid adjustments and pressed a button. Widened his eyes and gasped. Groped behind him for his chair and dropped into it. “Not possible,” he muttered to himself.
“Are you all right, Professor?” Angelina asked, but he didn’t hear her. His fingers were flashing across the keyboard now and the screen was filled with rapidly flowing mathematical equations.
“Leave him to it,” I said. “If anyone can find out what happened it’s him. We’re just in the way now.”
We went to the lounge area and I snapped my fingers for the barbot. Angelina scowled.
“Little early to hit the booze, isn’t it?”
“No booze, just a simple glass of beer to slake my thirst. Join me?”
“Not at this time of day.”
I sipped and thought. “We have to go back to the very beginning of events. Forget the other universes for the moment. When this entire thing started, when you disappeared from Lussuoso, I had Bolivar and James do a thorough sweep of all the planets, to see if there were any other operations run by a Slakey under a different cover. We didn’t find another Temple of Eternal Truth, but we did uncover the same kind of operation under a different name. We went to Vulkann and located the fake church. Went in there—and you know what happened after that.”
“From Glass to Hell to Heaven and back here. Where we are stuck since the good professor can’t find any of them any more.”
“We don’t have to wait for him.” I grabbed for the phone. “The search we instigated may have uncovered other Slakey operations on other planets. Let’s see what the boys found out.”
I heard the splash of water and shrieks of joy in the background when Bolivar, or James, answered the phone.
“Can I interrupt your jollities?” I asked.
“Just a day at the beach, Dad. What’s up?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here. But first, do you remember if there were any other Slakey operations uncovered by the original search, when we were on Lussuoso?”
“We dropped everything and got out of there so fast—I just don’t know. But I do know that the computer was still running the search program when we left. We’ll get onto it. See you there as soon as we have the records.”
Professor Coypu was still hammering out equations, Angelina had a cup of tea, and I was thinking of another beer when the boys arrived.
“News?” I asked.
“Good!”, they said in unison.
I flipped through the printouts, then passed them to Angelina.
“Very good indeed,” I said. “A few remote possibles, a couple of maybe probables.”
“And one dead certain,” Angelina said. “The Sorority of the Bleating Lamb. A women—only congregation, and rich women at that.”
“Did you note the name of the planet where this operation is now taking place?”
“I certainly did—Cliaand of all places. You boys are too young to remember the planet, in fact you were in your baby carriage at the time. There were certain difficulties on Cliaand, but your father and I sorted them out. We’ll tell you about it when we have the time. The important thing is that now it is a museum world.”
“A museum of what?”
“Warfare, militarism, fascism, jingoism and all that sort of old nonsense. It was a very poor planet when we saw it last, but that must have changed by now. Tourist money, no doubt. Shall we go see?”
A heartfelt groan caught our attention. Professor Coypu was in the pits of despair. “No good,” he groaned again. “No reason to it. Nothing makes sense. Gone. Heaven and Hell. All gone.”
He looked so glum that Angelina went over and patted his arm.
“There, there, it is going to be all right. While you were sweating away at your equations—we have located what we are sure is another Slakey religious operation. We must now plan, very carefully, how this matter should be handled. I don’t think we can afford to make any more mistakes.”
There was a serious nodding of heads on all sides.
“Can we use the TI, temporal inhibitor again?” I asked. “I don’t see why not,” Coypu said, coming up for air, his depression forgotten at the thought of action. “You told me that it did not work in the Glass universe. Did you leave it there?”
“Threw it into the ocean—it was just a worthless lump of metal. And I remember! Slakey said something like whatever my weapon was, it wouldn’t work. So he does not know that we used the TI when we went to that church to grab his machine.” “In that case there is no reason why we cannot use the TI along with the time fixator.”
“We’ll do it! Hit hard without warning, during one of the services when we know that Slakey will be there. Freeze them all in time with the TI, walk in and put the TF on Slakey’s head and make a copy of everything there. Can that be done, Professor?” “Of course. Both machines operate on basically the same principle. They can be connected by an interlock switch. It will turn off the TI just as it turns on the TF, and will reverse the process a millisecond later.” I was rubbing my hands together in happy anticipation. “Freeze them solid, stroll in and pump his memories dry, walk out—and when we are well clear turn off the TI back in church. The Slakey service and operation will then go on as usual since he will have no idea that we have copied his mind. But we will need a bigger machine, something that will stop them and keep them frozen in a time stasis, everyone in the building. With a much bigger neutralization field than last time, which only protected a few operators. We will have to open doors to get inside the building.”
For Professor Coypu all things scientific were like unto child’s play. “I envisage no problems. There will be a large TI that will produce a field exactly the shape and size of the building you wish to enter. Time will stop and no one will be able to move in or out. Except you. Your TII, temporal inhibitor inhibitor, will cover you alone.”
“Not alone,” Angelina said. “Not ever again. It makes good sense to have aid and backup. Shall we do it?”
We were looking forward to a small family—sized operation, but Inskipp, who had spies and electronic snoopers everywhere, complained as soon as he heard about how the operation was planned. I obeyed his royal command and appeared at his office.
“Sincerely, do we really need more than four people?” I asked.
“Sincerely, the number of operators involved in this operation is not the point. It’s your nepotism at work that bothers me. This is a Special Corps operation and it is going to be run by Special Corps rules. Not by familial felicity.”
“How can there be rules for use of a temporal inhibitor to be used to get a time fixator into a church? Show me where it says that in the rules!”
“When I say rules I mean my rules. You are going to take another special agent with you so I will know just what is going on.”
“Sybil. I am sending her ahead to survey the target.”
“Agreed. Then all systems are go?”
“Go,” He pointed at the door and I was gone.
The machines were manufactured and tested, but it was almost a week before our interplanetary travel in a warpdrive cruiser was completed. We left the military at the orbital station and went planetside in a shuttle along with a number of cruise ship passengers. Like them we were holiday makers in holiday clothes, with nothing in our luggage except a few souvenirs; our weapons and equipment were going down in a diplomatic pouch.
“For old times’ sake I have booked us all into the most luxurious hotel in town—the Zlato—Zlato.”
“Why is that name familiar?” Angelina asked. “Isn’t that the same hotel where we stayed, where that horrible gray man tried to kill you?”
“The same—and you saved my life.”
“Memories,” she said, smiling warmly. “Memories….
When we reached the hotel the manager himself was there to greet us. Tall and handsome, a touch of gray at the temples, bowing and smiling.
“Welcome to Cliaand, General and Mrs. James diGriz and sons. Doubly welcome on your return visit.” “Is that you, Ostrov? Still here?”
“Of course, General. I own the hotel now.”
“Any assassins booked in?”
“Not this time. May I show you to your suite?”
There was a fine sitting room, glass—walled on one side with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. But James and Bolivar cried aloud with pleasure at a spectacular view of their own.
“Sybil!” they said while she smiled warm greetings.
“Target survey completed?” I asked, hating to intrude business into all this pleasure.
“All here,” she said, handing me a briefcase. “There will be a solemn assembly of the Sorority of the Bleating Lamb tomorrow morning at eleven.”
“We shall be there—if our equipment arrives on time.”
“Already arrived. The large trunk over there with the skull and crossbones patterns on it.”
Angelina had a lovely time passing out the weapons while I unpacked the time fixator, which very cunningly had a casing constructed to resemble a Cliaand burglar alarm. It would stick to the outside wall of the assembly hail of the Sorority of the Bleating Lamb where it would attract no notice. Nor could it be dislodged once activated since it would be frozen in time along with the building. I popped out the holoscreen and fed in the building’s dimensions and shape from Sybil’s complete and efficient report.
“Done,” I said happily. I clipped the metal case of the TII, the temporal inhibitor inhibitor, to my belt and actuated it. Nothing happened until I pressed the red button on the case that turned on the TI. Silence fell. But nothing else did. My family and Sybil were frozen, immobile in time. I turned it off; sound and movement returned. All the machines were in working order, all systems go.
There was celebration this night, dining and drinking and dancing, but early to bed. Next morning, a few minutes after eleven, my merry band was strolling down Glupost Avenues admiring the scenery—but admiring Angelina even more where she stood on the corner waving to us. The wire from her, earphone led to the musicman that she was wearing, which was really an eavesdropper amplifier
“That stained—glass window up there,” she said, pointing unobtrusively, “is in their assembly hall. Slakey’s vile voice is vibrating the glass and I can hear him far too clearly. He is in the middle of some porcuswine—wash pontificating.”
“Time,” I said, and we joined arms and strolled happily across the Street, dodging the pedcabs and goatmobiles. The rest of us went on while Bolivar stepped into the alleyway beside the building and pressed his beach bag against the wall. The beach bag cover stripped away and a handsome burglar alarm hung in its place. No one on the street had noticed. He rejoined us as we approached the front door.
“This is it, guys,” I said. “Showtime.”
I turned on the TII, then the TI. Nothing happened. Nothing happened that anyone could see that is. But the building and its contents were frozen now in time. Would remain that way—for an hour or a year—until I turned the machine off. The people inside would feel nothing, know nothing. Though they might be puzzled by the fact that their watches all seemed to be reading the same wrong time.
“James, the door if you please.”
The field of my TII interacted with the field of the TI and released the front door from time stasis. James pulled it open, closed it behind us, and we marched into the building. Once the door was closed not even an atom bomb would be able to open it. Such power I possessed!
“The big double doors ahead,” Sybil said.
“The ones with the blue baa—baas on them?” She nodded.
“Despicable taste,” Angelina said and her arm holster whipped her gun out and back in microseconds. She was looking for trouble and I hoped she didn’t find it.
The boys each took a handle and pulled when I nodded. There, directly ahead of us and staring at us was Slakey.
Reflex whipped out six guns. Angelina had one in each hand, which were slowly replaced.
Like his frozen audience, Slakey was pinned into an instant of time. Mouth open in full smarmy flight, fixed beads of perspiration on his brow. Not a pretty sight.
We walked around his audience and up the steps to his pulpit. “Are you ready my love?”, I asked Angeina.
She reached out and placed the contact disk of the temporal inhibitor against the side of his head, just above his ear. She nodded and I touched the button.
Nothing that we could observe happened. But for that brief millisecond the TII field had been turned off and the machine had sucked a copy of Slakey’s memory, his intelligence, his every thought into its electronic recesses. “The readout reads full!” Angelina said.
“Slakey, you devil from Heaven and Hell,” I exulted. “I have you now!”