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       Insidekick, p.1

           Jesse F. Bone
 
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Insidekick


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Insidekick

  By J. F. BONE

  Illustrated by WOOD

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionFebruary 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that theU.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  Sidenote: Johnson had two secrets--one he knew and would die rather thanreveal--and one he didn't know that meant to save him over his own deadbody!]

  Shifaz glanced furtively around the room. Satisfied that it was emptyexcept for Fred Kemmer and himself, he sidled up to the Earthman's deskand hissed conspiratorially in his ear, "Sir, this Johnson is a spy! Isit permitted to slay him?"

  "It is permitted," Kemmer said in a tone suitable to the gravity of theoccasion.

  He watched humorlessly as the Antarian slithered out of the office witha flutter of colorful ceremonial robes. Both Kemmer and Shifaz had knownfor weeks that Johnson was a spy, but the native had to go through thisinsane rigmarole before the rules on Antar would allow him to act. Atany rate, the formalities were over at last and the affair should besatisfactorily ended before nightfall. Natives moved quickly enough,once the preliminaries were concluded.

  Kemmer leaned back in his chair and sighed. Being the InterworldCorporation's local manager had more compensations than headaches,despite the rigid ritualism of native society. Since most of the localpopulation was under his thumb, counter-espionage was miraculouslyeffective. This fellow Johnson, for instance, had been in Vaornia lessthan three weeks, and despite the fact that he was an efficient andeffective snoop, he had been fingered less than forty-eight hours afterhis arrival in the city.

  Kemmer closed his eyes and let a smile cross his keen features. Underhis administration, there would be a sharp rise in the mortality curvefor spies detected in the Vaornia-Lagash-Timargh triangle. With thenative judiciary firmly under IC control, the Corporation literally hada free hand, providing it kept its nose superficially clean. And as forspies, they knew the chances they took and what the penalty could be forinterfering with the normal operations of corporate business.

  Kemmer yawned, stretched, turned his attention to more importantmatters.

  * * * * *

  Albert Johnson fumbled hopefully in the empty food container beforetossing it aside. A plump, prosaic man of middle height, with a roundingenuous face, Albert was as undistinguished as his name, a fact thatmade him an excellent investigator. But he was neither undistinguishednor unnoticed in his present position, although he had tried to carry itoff by photographing the actions of the local Sanitary Processional likeany tourist.

  He had been waiting near the Vaornia Arm on the road that led to Lagashsince early afternoon, and now it was nearly evening. He cursed mildlyat the fact that the natives had no conception of time, a trait notexclusively Antarian, but one which was developed to a high degree onthis benighted planet. And the fact that he was hungry didn't add to hisgood temper. Natives might be able to fast for a week without illeffects, but his chunky body demanded quantities of nourishment atregular intervals, and his stomach was protesting audibly at beingempty.

  He looked around him, at the rutted road, and at the darkening VaorniaArm of the Devan Forest that bordered the roadway. The SanitaryProcessional had completed the daily ritual of waste disposal and thecart drivers and censer bearers were goading their patient daks into afaster gait. It wasn't healthy to be too near the forest after the sunwent down. The night beasts weren't particular about what, or whom, theyate.

  The Vaornese used the Vaornia Arm as a dump for the refuse of the city,a purpose admirably apt, for the ever-hungry forest life seldom leftanything uneaten by morning. And since Antarian towns had elaboraterituals concerning the disposal of waste, together with a nonexistentsewage system, the native attitude of fatalistic indifference to anoccasional tourist or Antarian being gobbled up by some nightmaredenizen of the forest was understandable.

  The fact that the Arm was also an excellent place to dispose of aninconvenient body didn't occur to Albert until the three natives withknives detached themselves from the rear of the Sanitary Processionaland advanced upon him. They came from three directions, effectivelyboxing him in, and Albert realized with a sick certainty that he hadbeen double-crossed, that Shifaz, instead of being an informant for him,was working for the IC. Albert turned to face the nearest native,tensing his muscles for battle.

  Then he saw the Zark.

  It stepped out of the gathering darkness of the forest, and with itsappearance everything stopped. For perhaps a micro-second, the threeVaornese stood frozen. Then, with a simultaneous wheep of terror, theyturned and ran for the city.

  They might have stayed and finished their work if they had known it wasa Zark, but at the moment the Zark was energizing a toothy horror thatEarthmen called a Bandersnatch--an insane combination of talons, teethand snakelike neck mounted on a crocodilian body that exuded an odor ofputrefaction from the carrion upon which it normally fed. TheBandersnatch had been dead for several hours, but neither the nativesnor Albert knew that.

  * * * * *

  It was a tribute to the Zark's ability to maintain pseudo-life in aBandersnatch carcass that the knifemen fled and a similar panic seizedthe late travelers on the road. Albert stared with horrified fascinationat the monstrosity for several seconds before he, too, fled. Any numberof natives with knives were preferable to a Bandersnatch. He hadhesitated only because he didn't possess the conditioned reflexesarising from generations of exposure to Antarian wildlife.

  He was some twenty yards behind the rearmost native, and, though notdesigned for speed, was actually gaining upon the fellow, when his footstruck a loose cobblestone in the road. Arms flailing, legs pumpingdesperately to balance his toppling mass, Albert fought manfully againstthe forces of gravity and inertia.

  He lost.

  His head struck another upturned cobble. His body twitched once and thenrelaxed limply and unconscious upon the dusty road.

  The Zark winced a little at the sight, certain that this curiouscreature had damaged itself seriously.

  Filled with compassion, it started forward on the Bandersnatch's fourwalking legs, the grasping talons crossed on the breast in an attitudeof prayer. The Zark wasn't certain what it could do, but perhaps itcould help.

  Albert was mercifully unconscious as it bent over him to inspect hisprone body with a purple-lidded pineal eye that was blue with concern.The Zark noted the bruise upon his forehead and marked his regularbreathing, and came to the correct conclusion that, whatever hadhappened, the biped was relatively undamaged. But the Zark didn't goaway. It had never seen a human in its thousand-odd years of existence,which was not surprising since Earthmen had been on Antar less than adecade and Zarks seldom left the forest.

  Albert began to stir before the Zark remembered its present condition.Not being a carnivore, it saw nothing appetizing about Albert, but itwas energizing a Bandersnatch, and, like all Zarks, it was a purist. Aliving Bandersnatch would undoubtedly drool happily at the sight of sucha tempting tidbit, so the Zark opened the three-foot jaws and drooled.

  Albert chose this precise time to return to consciousness. He turned hishead groggily and looked up into a double row of saw-edged teethsurmounted by a leering triangle of eyes. A drop of viscid droolsplattered moistly on his forehead, and as the awful face above him bentcloser to his own, he fainted.

  The Zark snapped its jaws disapprovingly. This was not the properattitude to take in the presence of a ferocious monster. One simplydidn't go to sleep. One should attempt to run. The biped's act wasutter
ly illogical. It needed investigation.

  * * * * *

  Curiously, the Zark sent out a pseudopod of its substance through theopen mouth of its disguise. The faintly glittering thread oozed downwardand struck Albert's head beside his right eye. Without pausing, thethread sank through skin and connective tissue, circled the eyeball andlocated the optic nerve. It raced inward along the nerve trunk, split atthe optic chiasma, and entered the corpora quadrigemina where itbranched into innumerable microscopic filaments that followed the mainneural paths of the man's brain, probing the major areas of thought andreflex.

  The Zark quivered with pleasure. The creature was beautifully complex,and, more important, untenanted. He would make an interesting host.

  The Zark didn't hesitate. It needed a host; giving its present mass oforganic matter pseudo-life took too much energy. The Bandersnatchcollapsed with a faint slurping sound. A blob of iridescent jelly flowedfrom the mouth and spread itself
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