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Restricted tool, p.1
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       Restricted Tool, p.1

           Malcolm B. Morehart
 
Restricted Tool


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

  RESTRICTED TOOL

  By Malcolm B. Morehart, Jr.

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Imagination Stories ofScience and Fantasy January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover anyevidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: Finders, keepers, is an unwritten law. But the gadget Clarkaccidentally found had a special set of rules governing its use bywhom--and when!]

  Richard Clark loaded his shotgun. He glanced up the canyon, gray andmisty under a cold dawn sky. A cotton-tail darted from a nearby bush andbounced away. Clark's gunsights followed in a weaving line after hisbobbing target. Before he could draw a bead, the rabbit vanished behinda distant scrub oak. Clark stalked him quietly. He knew he'd bag thisone without trouble, but any others around him would take cover at hisfirst shot.

  His boots crunched loudly on gravel. At the sound the rabbit sprang intothe open and zigzagged toward a thicket. Furious at his clumsiness,Clark blasted away with both barrels. He charged up the canyon, fumblingin his parka for more shells, and crashed through dank high brush into ashadowy clearing. A soft rustling sound quickly faded.

  "Well, there he goes," Clark grumbled.

  Something metallic glittered in a low, thorny shrub, and he bent down,curious. From a black cord caught in its branches dangled a silverypocket flashlight. He smiled faintly as he pulled it loose. After monthsof testing and inspecting complicated electronic devices, he foundsimple gadgets amusing. He pressed a button on one end and eyed a whiteknob on the other. When it didn't light up, he stuffed it in a pocket,finishing reloading, and sighed, "At least I bagged something."

  "Quite true!" a voice shrilled behind him.

  Clark whirled around and gasped in astonishment. Two squat dwarfish mencrouched at the far side of the clearing. When he swung up his 16 gauge,two lights flashed, and it slid out of his hands. He buckled dizzilywith weakness and nausea, but then an invisible force jolted him uprightand motionless. He felt rigid as stone.

  "Who are you?" Clark called out hoarsely.

  They approached, jabbering in a strange tongue. Bluish dawnlight seemedto tint their scrawny bare arms and legs a deeper, ghastly blue. Fromweazel-shaped heads bulged enormous dark eyes which stared at himunblinkingly. As they waddled closer they puffed under the weight ofheavy belts sagging with rows of odd, translucent instruments. Onecreature wore ear-phones. The other, his bald head sunken between hisshoulders, opened a round, moist, pink-rimmed mouth and bowed stiffly.

  "Forgive us, please," he piped. "My biologist friend has brokenregulations."

  "Who are you?" Clark choked again.

  The bald one's eyes closed and his belly quivered with high, tremulouslaughter. "Tell him, Ursi!"

  "Don't blame me!" the one called Ursi squeaked, then pointed a claw-likefinger at a glowing disc in his belt. "Interference disturbed thescanner scope. I didn't see him until he fired!"

  Baldy chuckled. "He was after food, not your ugly hide. But in yourunseemly haste to escape, you dropped a valuable tool. A very carelessblunder. And now instead of mold specimens, you've collected a human. Iknew this expedition would prove interesting."

  "We have to dispose of him!" Ursi shrieked and waved a black tube atClark menacingly.

  "You'd kill him to recover your tool?" Baldy's nose twitched. "Rememberwe prepare separate reports for the Council. Don't expect me to aid inbreaking the law."

  Ursi was painfully silent.

  * * * * *

  Baldy seemed to relish his companion's distress. "You realize, Ursi,you're responsible for this illegal contact? Also may I remind you thatthe Law reads in part: On pain of death, no human shall be molested,coerced or in any way injured by an expeditionary member's overtaction."

  "Can't we bargain with him?" Ursi asked irritably.

  "Why, of course. Offer him our ship or your life," Baldy said.

  Ursi scowled. "If we take the tool and induce amnesia--"

  "The Law clearly prohibits that."

  "Let him keep it then," Ursi said angrily, rubbing a pointed blue chin."I'll destroy its power principle first."

  Baldy sighed. "I repeat, this isn't a brainless Martian without legalrights. You abandoned it, a human found it. By merely picking up thetool, he establishes a salvage claim."

  "You call that law?" Ursi raged. "Stupid technicalities that settle oneproblem to raise a worse one?"

  "Until the Council ratifies the amendment foreseeing this contingency,"Baldy explained, "you must abide by the original code."

  "But the tool's restricted!"

  "Restricted for thirty solar years according to the Probability Graphs,"mused Baldy. "You should have thought of that."

  Ursi's wide glittering eyes terrified Clark. But after an agonizingsilence, he heard Ursi whine fearfully, "We can't allow this! Can't youread his basic attitudes? He's suffering from the Korb power complex."

  Baldy shrugged. "Your misfortune, my dear Ursi."

  Ursi edged warily toward Clark as if he were a ferocious but chainedbeast. "Your nation is a member of the Western Alliance?"

  Bewildered, Clark cleared his throat. "Yes."

  "You have atomic weapons you intend using against your enemy--againstthe Eastern Empire?"

  "If they attack us," Clark muttered nervously.

  Ursi shot an accusing look at Baldy who frowned. "They're vicious littlechildren!" Ursi ranted. "The decision placing the tool on the restrictedlist is perfectly justified. We made no effort to hinder their atomicresearches. But in the case of this tool.... They have the ingenuity tocombine it with atomic bombs! If he returns with it, he'll wreck athousand years of human culture!"

  Ursi's excited words puzzled Clark who was overcoming his early shock.But the cylinder in his pocket was still more baffling. What was it?What terrible power did it control?

  "Spare your world suffering." Ursi warned. "Surrender it to me."

  Clark considered. Sheltered by their "Law," he knew he could make a freedecision. The thing was powerful. But they claimed it was exceedinglydangerous, and they seemed wiser, far wiser, than men. The mysteriousforce still binding him and their hints of "restrictions" on humanprogress convinced him of that. Still, possession was nine-tenths of anylaw.... He calculated nervously.

  "Well?" Ursi shrilled. "Your hands are now free to move."

  Obediently Clark groped in his pocket. When his fingertips touched thecool metal, the thrill of possessing immense power overwhelmed him. Hesputtered, "It's mine--I won't misuse it!"

  Baldy convulsed with laughter. Ursi jabbered fiercely, but Baldy raiseda thin claw. He spoke softly, and Ursi's eyes brightened. Ursi nodded,but whatever he had agreed to still left him looking doubtful anduncertain.

  Baldy smiled warmly. "Keep it," he said, "and keep your promise. Ursidoesn't trust you, but I do. I know you won't abuse this power."

  * * * * *

  Clark felt his body freeze rigid as a statue again. They pushed theirway out of the clearing and disappeared. Overhead a bird chirped inloneliness, and the sky slowly turned pearly hued as the paralysis lefthim. Flexing his muscles, he shook his head. The creepy little men wereall part of a crazy hallucination. His mad rabbit hunt and the deafeningroar of his gunfire had temporarily unhinged his mind.

  A low humming sound interrupted his moody pondering. Suddenly he reeledas the ground shuddered beneath him and he staggered blindly in pitchdarkness. He opened his eyes to look around, dazed. His shotgun wasmissing, but the shiny cylinder was clutched tightly in his hand.

  Clark trembled as he examined it. Along it
s length were etched a row ofqueer symbols. Probably directions for its operation or servicing, hedecided. He aimed the knob at some rocks a few yards away and pressedthe button. But they didn't explode or disintegrate under a lethal"ray." Then discovering that a narrow center section of the cylinderrevolved by slow, even degrees, he tried again impatiently.

  A loud clatter made him look up, gaping. A cluster of rocks hungmotionless in the air. When his finger lifted, they fell to earth. Themechanism neutralized gravitational pull--objects could float!

  Breathing excitedly, Clark twisted the center section further. Thestones shot up into the sky and disappeared. Quickly he adjusted themechanism's control and brought them flashing back. He stared at thecylinder in unbelieving awe. Power men dreamed of surged inside it likean eager magic genie.

  He experimented carefully, floating the rocks at different angles andthen hurtling them skyward. When he cut off the strange power, theycrashed heavily to the ground. The possibilities were tremendous! Andaside from the natural hazards of collision, how could it imperilmankind? Then as a thin cloud of dust billowed up from the fallen rocks,a vision of its war potential burst upon him. Clumsy, costly rocketswith a single payload were obsolete. Atomic bombs could be showeredalmost instantly on an enemy.

  _I know you won't abuse this power!_

  Clark recalled Baldy's hopeful, trusting words and grinned. No, hewouldn't abuse it. He realized the aliens had not understated itsdeadliness. No matter how the military pressed him, he wouldn't permitits use for mass bombings in the coming war. Not unless the enemy reallythreatened to overrun the world...

  He left the clearing and headed down the canyon.

  * * * * *

  When Clark reached the mouth of the canyon, he frowned. Out on a greenmeadow a farmer drove a tractor, busily plowing deep furrows for a newcrop. A trim ranch house in the distance gleamed in the morningsunlight. Funny. Earlier, when he had crossed the field, he hadn'tnoticed a sign of civilization. But it had been nearly dark then.

  He strolled casually down to a rude stone wall and watched the tractorchurn toward him. The farmer waved. He jolted to a halt, cut the engineand wiped a red bandana over his wrinkled, sweating face. Clark glanceddown at his own shabby clothes and rubbed a rough, bristly chin. If helooked like a bum, his brief demonstration would seem all the moreamazing.

  "Pretty hot work, eh?" Clark greeted him.

  "Yep," the old farmer nodded as he drank from a canteen. Clark grinned.History would record this man as the first person to actually witness adegravitator at work. Clark studied the unplowed side of the meadow,then pointed at a large, half-buried boulder.

  "You have a little work there, mister. I think a Clark Farm Helper willdo the trick."

  The farmer gave him a puzzled look. Clark calmly beamed the rock. Atfirst it strained up and down, but finally wrenched free. He floated itup in a slow arc, then deliberately dropped it with a heavy thud. Clarkchuckled as the farmer tried to hide his astonishment with a poker face.

  "That for sale?" he asked shrewdly.

  Clark laughed heartily. "Not this one. I'll make a fortune manufacturingthese little babies!"

  "How do you figure that?"

  Clark frowned at the farmer's indifference. "Can't you see itspossibilities? I just showed you!"

  "That's no good for farm work," the farmer said, reaching under histractor seat. He raised what resembled a snub-nosed automatic. "Thishere's a real beauty. Had this general purpose degrav for two years andno trouble yet."

  He squeezed the trigger and the boulder skimmed across the field.

  "That looks like an old Harley single-drive you got there," the farmersaid. "What'dya do? Recondition it and pep up the atomic pile?"

  Stunned, Clark swallowed hard. The old farmer leaned over his wheel incuriosity. "Those old timers are pretty scarce. I remember when thefirst model came out about twenty years ago, just after the war ended."

  "After the war?" Clark stammered.

  His mind spun in dizzy, sickening whirls. Degravitators were commonplacefarm tools! Where was he? Then suddenly he knew the meaning of hisstrange black-out and Baldy's sly words. _I know you won't abuse thispower._ How could he? Their superscience had catapulted him past the waryears into the future.

  The old farmer said gently, "Tell you what, son, the wife's been naggingme for a pocket degrav to move furniture around the house. I'll give youa fiver for it and a square meal. You look kinda pale."

 
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