Assassin, p.1Jesse F. Bone
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This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction February 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
BY J. F. BONE
_Illustrated by Ed Emsh_
_The aliens wooed Earth with gifts, love, patience and peace._ _Who could resist them? After all, no one shoots Santa Claus!_
* * * * *
The rifle lay comfortably in his hands, a gleaming precision instrument that exuded a faint odor of gun oil and powder solvent. It was a perfect specimen of the gunsmith's art, a semi-automatic rifle with a telescopic sight--a precisely engineered tool that could hurl death with pinpoint accuracy for better than half a mile.
Daniel Matson eyed the weapon with bleak gray eyes, the eyes of ahunter framed in the passionless face of an executioner. His blunthands were steady as they lifted the gun and tried a dry shot at animaginary target. He nodded to himself. He was ready. Carefully helaid the rifle down on the mattress which covered the floor of hisfiring point, and looked out through the hole in the brickwork to thenarrow canyon of the street below.
The crowd had thickened. It had been gathering since early morning,and the growing press of spectators had now become solid walls ofpeople lining the street, packed tightly together on the sidewalks.Yet despite the fact that there were virtually no police, the crowddid not overflow into the streets, nor was there any of the pushingcrowding impatience that once attended an assemblage of this sort.Instead there was a placid tolerance, a spirit of friendly good will,an ingenuous complaisance that grated on Matson's nerves like thescreeching rasp of a file drawn across the edge of thin metal. Heshivered uncontrollably. It was hard to be a free man in a world ofslaves.
It was a measure of the Aztlan's triumph that only a bare half-dozenpolice 'copters patrolled the empty skies above the parade route. Thealiens had done this--had conquered the world without firing a shot orspeaking a word in anger. They had wooed Earth with understandingpatience and superlative guile--and Earth had fallen into their handslike a lovesick virgin! There never had been any real opposition, andwhat there was had been completely ineffective. Most of those who hadopposed the aliens were out of circulation, imprisoned in correctionalinstitutions, undergoing rehabilitation. Rehabilitation! a six bitword for dehumanizing. When those poor devils finished their treatmentwith Aztlan brain-washing techniques, they would be just like thesesheep below, with the difference that they would never be able to beanything else. But these other stupid fools crowding the sidewalks,waiting to hail their destruction--these were the ones who must besaved. They--not the martyrs of the underground, were the importantpart of humanity.
A police 'copter windmilled slowly down the avenue toward his hidingplace, the rotating vanes and insect body of the craft starklyoutlined against the jagged backdrop of the city's skyline. He laughedsoundlessly as the susurrating flutter of the rotor blades beatoverhead and died whispering in the distance down the long canyon ofthe street. His position had been chosen with care, and was invisiblefrom air and ground alike. He had selected it months ago, and hadtaken considerable pains to conceal its true purpose. But after todayconcealment wouldn't matter. If things went as he hoped, the placemight someday become a shrine. The idea amused him.
Strange, he mused, how events conspire to change a man's career. Sevenyears ago he had been a respected and important member of that fardifferent sort of crowd which had welcomed the visitors from space.That was a human crowd--half afraid, wholly curious, jostling, noisy,pushing--a teeming swarm that clustered in a thick disorderly ringaround the silver disc that lay in the center of the InternationalAirport overlooking Puget Sound. Then--he could have predicted hiscareer. And none of the predictions would have been true--for noneincluded a man with a rifle waiting in a blind for the game toapproach within range....
The Aztlan ship had landed early that July morning, dropping silentlythrough the overcast covering International Airport. It settled gentlyto rest precisely in the center of the junction of the three mainrunways of the field, effectively tying up the transcontinental andtransoceanic traffic. Fully five hundred feet in diameter, the giantship squatted massively on the runway junction, cracking and bucklingthe thick concrete runways under its enormous weight.
By noon, after the first skepticism had died, and the unbelievable TVpictures had been flashed to their waiting audience, the crowd beganto gather. All through that hot July morning they came, increasing bythe minute as farther outlying districts poured their curious into theAirport. By early afternoon, literally hundreds of millions of eyeswere watching the great ship over a world-wide network of televisionstations which cancelled their regular programs to give their viewersan uninterrupted view of the enigmatic craft.
By mid-morning the sun had burned off the overcast and was shiningwith brassy brilliance upon the squads of sweating soldiers from FortLewis, and more sweating squads of blue-clad police from themetropolitan area of Seattle-Tacoma. The police and soldiery quicklyformed a ring around the ship and cleared a narrow lane around theperiphery, and this they maintained despite the increasing pressure ofthe crowd.
The hours passed and nothing happened. The faint creaking and snappingsounds as the seamless hull of the vessel warmed its space-chilledmetal in the warmth of the summer sun were lost in the growingimpatience of the crowd. They wanted something to happen. Shouts andcatcalls filled the air as more nervous individuals clamored torelieve the tension. Off to one side a small group began to clap theirhands rhythmically. The little claque gained recruits, and withinmoments the air was riven by the thunder of thousands of palms meetingin unison. Frightened the crowd might be, but greater than fear wasthe desire to see what sort of creatures were inside.
Matson stood in the cleared area surrounding the ship, a position ofprivilege he shared with a few city and state officials and the highbrass from McChord Field, Fort Lewis, and Bremerton Navy Yard. He wasone of the bright young men who had chosen Government Service as acareer, and who, in these days of science-consciousness had risenrapidly through ability and merit promotions to become the Director ofthe Office of Scientific Research while still in his early thirties. Adedicated man, trained in the bitter school of ideological survival,he understood what the alien science could mean to this world. Theirknowledge would secure peace in whatever terms the possessors cared toname, and Matson intended to make sure that his nation was the onewhich possessed that knowledge.
He stood beside a tall scholarly looking man named Roger Thornton, whowas his friend and incidentally the Commissioner of Police for theTwin City metropolitan area. To a casual eye, their positions shouldbe reversed, for the lean ascetic Thornton looked far more like theaccepted idea of a scientist than burly, thick shouldered, squarefaced Matson, whose every movement shouted Cop.
Matson glanced quizzically at the taller man. "Well, Roger, I wonderhow long those birds inside are going to keep us waiting before we geta look at them?"
"You'd be surprised if they really were birds, wouldn't you?" Thorntonasked with a faint smile. "But seriously, I hope it isn't too muchlonger. This mob is giving the boys a bad time." He looked anxiouslyat the strained line of police and soldiery. "I guess I should haveordered out the night shift and reserves instead of just the riotsquad. From the looks of things they'll be needed if this crowd getsany more unruly."
Matson chuckled. "You're an alarmist," he said mildly. "As far as Ican see they're doing all right. I'm
"Mine too," Thornton sighed. "Tell you what I'll do. When this is allover I'll split a bucket of hot water and a pint of arnica with you."
"It's a deal," Matson said.
As he spoke a deep musical hum came from inside the ship, and asection of the rim beside him separated along invisible lines ofjuncture, swinging downward to form a broad ramp leading upward to asquare orifice in the rim of the ship. A bright shadowless light thatseemed to come from the metal walls of the opening framed the shape ofthe star traveller who stood there, rigidly erect, looking over theheads of the section of the crowd before him.
A concerted gasp of awe and admiration rose from the crowd--a gaspthat was echoed throughout the entire ring that surrounded the
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