Eric Darras was relaxing from his labours for a while, when the door
chime sounded. He looked up in surprise. His faced relaxed into a look of
genuine pleasure as he saw a familiar face on the safety screen. He called
"Is it safe to come in?"
The caller peered into the darkness of his host's house, which stood beside the shop, and was cheerfully answered, "Yes, come on in."
Darras had been watching a video screen. On it was a news broadcast, in which the local police corps had arraigned a "suspect" in a bank robbery. The visitor hesitated to interrupt his host. The two of them watched for a moment.
Crime, which was infrequent both because of the smallness of the population and the certainty and severity of retribution, was news. A single tusked member of the Planetary Corps faced a white-faced member of his own race. The man had something in his hand, but seemed to lack the will to raise it.
"Harlick Vobos, you are charged with the robbery of the Varran Postal Office. Do you wish to dispute the charge?"
"Yes," cried the man desperately. "I am innocent!"
"Unfortunately, the evidence declares otherwise," observed the Planetary Corps member. "Fortunately, no one was harmed during your crime. You will serve four years in prison. Unless you wish to resist arrest, in which case you will be killed."
"No. No, I'll surrender," whimpered the offender, letting the weapon drop at his feet.
"Justice triumphs again!" commented the visitor drily.
Darras switched off the set, and turned to greet his visitor more formally. He was a man of medium size, but with a natural confidence that let him assume a sort of command. His visitor was tall, but self-effacing, with an evasive manner.
"How are you, Jezakak?" Darras asked. "Have you a commission?"
"No," replied his visitor. "This is in fact a purely social visit. I heard on the grapevine that you were living here, as I was passing through, and thought I would drop in for old times' sake. I'm staying on the planet for about eight months, in the main city. And how are you?"
"Doing well," Darras smiled. "I have been getting the odd commission, and I charge enough that an occasional commission is enough. Otherwise, it is a life of leisure."
"A life of leisure for you generally means about twenty hours a day work," Jezakak smiled in return. "Have you any new toys you can show me?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," said Darras, getting to his feet. He led his visitor through a hidden door into a well-set-up laboratory. Electronic equipment seemed to lie about at random, but Darras knew where every item was.
"I'm amazed you would choose to live on a world like Argonaut," remarked Jezakak. "It has one of the toughest justice systems I have ever come across."
"Actually, because the law is so tough, they don't expect to encounter much crime," replied Darras. "And in fact I don't commit any on Argonaut. I just build my toys. This is my latest pride and joy."
What he indicated was an amorphous pile of electronics.
"It's very compact," observed Jezakak. "I can't tell what it is going to look like, though."
"You are as near as I have to a friend, Jezakak," replied Darras, "but if you saw this in its final form I would have to kill you. I wouldn't suggest coming uninvited into this house."
"I guessed that might be the case," his guest said, with a grimace. "I would never just walk in on you. You have a small reputation."
"Only among the right people, I hope." Darras laughed humorlessly.
"Is it for a special purpose?"
"I do have a commission. This is my weapon. I think I have surpassed myself. As it happens, I don't have to worry about delivery. My customer, and his clients, are passing through here."
Jezakak poked around a little in the electronics, but disturbed nothing.
"You have always puzzled me," he said after a while. "You are, in my opinion at least, the greatest living bio-computer expert in the sector, if not the galaxy. You could have fame and fortune, but you choose to pursue your wealth through - your hobby."
"That's very sycophantic of you," said Darras with a smile, and Jezakak smiled back, taking it with the good humor intended. "But you don't have to use euphemisms here, old friend," laughed Darras. "I am certain the area is not bugged. I use some of my little-famed expertise to ensure it. I arrange assassinations. Very expensive, but very sure. And untraceable. My weapons are only used once, and terminate themselves after completing their assignments."
"And only you even knows what the weapon looks like!"
"And the purchaser. It is part of what they pay for."
"What if they decide to keep the.. weapon?"
"They can't. The weapon terminates itself. It can't be overridden by the purchaser. It's in the programming. Actually, this is my passion, the shop is my hobby."
"What are these?" asked Jezakak, pointing to a few smaller piles of electronics. "Smaller editions?"
"Not all of my creations have to be for murder," said Darras with a laugh. "In one of my identities I make models for entertainment parks, toys, and so on. But they are just for practice. These are my darlings." He patted the inert pile of electronics.
"So you do this because you love the danger," suggested Jezakak. "It might be fun to work for you one day."
"Never work for me, Jezakak," said Darras. "I do not leave loose ends. But I would suggest that you have cultivated your friendship with me because you also like the frisson of danger."
"Perhaps," he admitted. "Still, you are very good at what you do. I think I like to associate with greatness."
"Thank you. In fact, I think I may have come fairly close to perfection with my latest toy. A pity to lose it afterward, but I can then try to get still closer with the next."
Jezakak noticed that wires of some sort ran from the 'toy' into the wall.
"What is it plugged into? If I may ask," he added quickly.
"It is reading in information. It has a huge memory capacity, but I am mainly providing it what it needs. A perfect understanding of human anatomy, and its vulnerabilities. A knowledge of all the martial arts on record. I'm also feeding it a lot of stuff from encyclopaedias. Who knows what may be useful to it - and it's probably listening to us now, absorbing what we say."
Jezakak looked taken aback.
"Us? Now?" he said.
"Not to worry," laughed Darras. "You're not likely to meet again. It isn't you I have been hired to kill."
"Well, I hope we never meet again," said Jezakak formally to the pile of electronic devices. It did not respond.
"What is it this time?" asked Jezakak. "A premier, a king, an ambassador?"
"No," replied Darras. "I'm being paid more for quantity than quality this time. I don't know how my client raised my fee, but they seem to think it's worth it."
His visitor recognised that this bit of poor grammar was just a habit of giving no clues to the identity of a client. Darras was a very careful man.
Jezakak and Darras drank together and talked over old times, then Jezakak rose to his feet to leave. "I'll see you soon," he said.
"Not too soon," said Darras. "I'm off to town for a while."
"Do you have much more work to do on your new toy?"
"Not much," said Darras thoughtfully, and half to himself. "The main problem now is getting it safely on the Seive."