AGENT OF T.E.R.R.A. # 1
THE FLYING SAUCER GAMBIT
(Jack Owen Jardine)
Webley, Hannibal Fortune, The Agent of T.E.R.R.A., and the characters featured in the series of novels so named are the creations of and copyright by Jack Owen Jardine 1966, 1967, 1969, and the sole property of his heir and daughter Sabra Jardine,
OTHER T.E.R.R.A. STORIES BU LARRY MADDOCK
The Adventures of Webley, Agent of T.E.R.R.A. (prequel)
#0.1 Creatures, Incorporated
#0.2 Alien for Hire
#0.3 When in Doubt
The Adventures of Hannibal Fortune, Agent of T.E.R.R.A.
#1 The Flyng Saucer Gambit
#2 The Golden Goddess Gambit
#3 The Emerald Elephant Gambit
#4 The Time Trap Gambit
SOROBIN KIMBALL finished his report and rewound the tape. "That ought to bring some action," be said to the small monkey curled up in the armchair across the room. The monkey nodded agreement, blinking owlishly.
"You're not very talkative tonight," Kimball observed.
The monkey shrugged. Kimball cued the tape, set the playback to ten times record speed and turned the transmitter filaments on. Transmission would take two minutes and twenty-three seconds, perilously close to the maximum allowed. But he'd had a lot to report
It was the first time in twenty years that he'd had to fire up the transmitter for more than a six or eight second burst. He knew the dangers. If Empire or, more specifically, Drofox Johrgol's branch of the ruthless organization was onto him, one minute would be enough for them to triangulate his position exactly. It would be far safer to split the report up into six or seven segments and beam one each night to T.E.R.R.A. Control. But there wasn't time for that.
He and Glarrk had talked it over and decided to take their chances. Quite possibly Johrgol's boys would be napping, wouldn't have anyone near enough to strike. It was a calculated risk which both of them were willing to take.
Kimball set the timer. Figuring the rotation of the earth, the tight beam of his transmission and the distance to its destination, Control would be able to pick him up from until , at which time the trailing edge of the beam would sweep across their receptors and fan out across the Milky Way. He looked at the clock. .
Unhurriedly—for Sorobin Kimball was not a man easily given to excitement—he went to the pantry and built a sandwich of peanut butter, bologna, lettuce and catsup. "You might as well eat," he remarked to his companion. "There's nothing much else we can do."
The monkey scampered across the floor and leaped to the edge of the counter, taking a slice of bologna and rolling it into a tight tube, then wrapping a piece of bread around it. Quietly, both ate. There was no need for further conversation.
At they heard the throb of the huge generator, its deep-pitched hum changing rapidly to a whine that soon wafted beyond audible range.
At a solenoid rammed home and the tape reels began to spin. Kimball turned off the lights and stepped outside, leaving the door ajar. The automatic sensors which ringed the small farmhouse would detect Empire activity before he'd be able to see anything, but he looked anyway.
At 04:33:42 a fast-moving light appeared in the southern sky, streaking towards him. It took exactly fourteen seconds to reach him. Although he knew it was futile, Kimball whipped out his gun and fired at the hovering craft.
Almost immediately he felt giddy. Staggering back into the house, he flipped on the lights and aimed at the spinning tapes. Four shots destroyed the recorder, sending up a shower of ruined tape. The monkey leaped at his head and sank sharp teeth into his left ear. Kimball ripped the beast away and shot at it as it scampered to safety behind a large couch. Three more shots tore huge holes in the couch. The generator slowed, whining down to audibility.
Now the door burst open and a man in a tight-fitting black suit aimed a silver tube at Kimball. Snarling, Kimball whirled to meet this new threat, but he was too slow. A beam of brilliant orange light bathed his body and etched his shadow against the smoldering wall behind him in the split second before Sorobin Kimball turned to vapor.
The black-suited Empire agent holstered his weapon and walked outside to the skimmer which hovered twenty feet from the door. A ramp yawned open and the man walked inside.
At the skimmer hurtled away into the Kansas sky.
Inside the farmhouse, the trembling monkey huddled over a tiny crack in the floor, behind the ruined couch. Gradually his body seemed to deflate, as if it were flowing through the crack—which indeed it was. Within minutes, the only trace left of the room's former occupants was the silhouette of a man with a gun etched against one wall.
FANCY MEETING YOU HERE
EARTH LOOKED little different to Hannibal Fortune than it had when he had last seen it almost two hundred years ago. That had been in the time of Napoleon; Fortune had been half of a Resident Team then, their task to prod the Corsican corporal into becoming the Emperor of France. Fortune sighed, those had been the days. Champagne, parties, swordplay, wenches of various talents and temperaments; he wondered if any of their descendants had turned out as insanely wonderful.
It was not part of his assignment to speculate upon the romantic proclivities of Earth's female population, but it would have been entirely out of character for Hannibal Fortune to have done otherwise, even in the most harrowing circumstances. It was partly because of his customary attention to such extraneous detail and partly despite it that he was rated among Temporal Entropy Restructure and Repair Agency's top half-dozen operatives. Somehow it contributed to Fortune's fantastic knack for snatching victory out of the ashes of defeat, which had earned him the coveted License to Tamper—for when one is restructuring a timeline, a seemingly extraneous event can often turn into a crucial pivot point.
Never having been a pawn, the handsome, debonair agent was often referred to by those in the Agency's upper echelons as a Bishop or Rook in the mind-staggering chess game between the Federation and Empire. The mere fact that it was Hannibal Fortune and not some lesser agent who had been assigned to find out what had happened to Sorobin Kimball guaranteed the gambit to be of the highest priority, a mission of great urgency. The fact that his tour of the Seven Planets had been interrupted by the emergency may have had something to do with his current speculations on the amorous inclinations of Earth's present female population. Nevertheless, he did not allow it to intrude upon the immediate task at hand, which was to conceal the temporal transporter which had brought him and his partner Webley through time and space to their present location.
The machine was a streamlined model, equipped with all the gadgetry T.E.R.R.A.'s technicians could build into it, including a remote phase-out control which looked remarkably like a mid-20th Century wristwatch. A time machine no matter how you looked at it, Fortune mused, thumbing the control stem. The bulky transporter winked out of sight, temporally phased ninety degrees ahead of itself. That part of it was easy, like pushing a button; getting it back was the tricky part, Hannibal reminded himself. It was a little like pushing a button that would kill you if you happened to shift your position to the wrong place once you'd pushed it. The techs had been very specific on that point, putting on the airs of superiority that techs often resort to when in the presence of mere operatives.
"Clever, huh?" Fortune said aloud.
"Astonishing," Webley's bored voice hissed three inches from his left ear. "Someday they'll teach 'em to think; and the machines will take over completely."
"Ready to start hunting?"
In answer, Webley flowed into a compact ball, dragging his semi-solid other half delicately across the back of Fortune's neck. Hannibal shifted his stance accordingly, for his partner, although light on his pseudopods, weighed almost fifteen pounds. It took but a few seconds for the symbiote to reassemble himself, warping his pliant protoplasm into a working semblance of a large bird. A moment later, without a word of farewell, Webley flapped off into the night. It was one of his favorite forms, and a good one for reconnaissance.
Fortune, more conventionally constructed, was stuck with the limitations of his man-shape. He could neither flow, fly nor flit, nor was he telepathic like his partner. But his dossier at T.E.R.R.A. Control left no doubt that if anyone could find out what had happened to Sorobin Kimball, Hannibal Fortune was the man to do it. Resourcefully, he found a stump and sat down to wait.
The struggle between Empire and T.E.R.R.A. was an odd chess game, be reflected, with billions of pawns who neither knew nor cared, pawn-fashion, who the real opponents were, and who would have been unable at any rate to comprehend the prize which awaited the winner—a prize more than six hundred years in the future, involving the forty-seven inhabited solar systems in one galaxy. What man on Earth could conceive of a struggle which involved forty-seven solar systems? What mere global strategist could imagine that the subjugation of scores of thickly populated planets would depend upon the outcome of his own puny single-planet battles? What Earthman could seriously contemplate such a holocaust when the potential vaporization of his own insignificant ball of mud was too mind-staggering for him to really take seriously? It was a concept which often eluded Fortune himself, who had grown to manhood on just such a world. It was a concept so elusive that most of T.E.R.R.A.'s agents had to content themselves with arbitrary statements of policy and unquestioning obedience to the tactical decisions plotted by the Galactic Federation's master computer. Only a handful, such as Hannibal Fortune, were Licensed to Tamper.
Sorobin Kimball had not been a member of that select group. His last message to T.E.R.R.A. Control had concerned Empire intervention in Earth's current war and his discovery of a suspected Empire agent in the U.S. Air Force. That, combined with his earlier report of a concentration of Empire skimmers—which the natives quaintly dubbed "Flying Saucers"—had prompted Control to cut short Fortune's vacation. Skimmers, in an observation capacity, had been flitting about Earth's atmosphere for several decades, but never before had there been quite so many of them. Kimball's assignment had included keeping track of them and staying out of sight. Now both he and his symbiote, Glarrk, a counterpart of Fortune's Webley, seemed to have disappeared. As far as Earth-time was concerned, Kimball's last message had been broadcast half an hour ago, although Control had taken two weeks to complete their preparations for Fortune's arrival. The temporal transporter had taken up the time-slack, so that Hannibal and Co. would have fresh tracks to follow—which was what Webley was doing now.
Within ten minutes Webley was back, a flurry of feathers braking near Fortune's head and settling gently on his shoulder, where he immediately flowed back into his customary yoke-like position.
"Half a mile to the east," the symbiote reported. "I felt a presence. I think it's Glarrk, but I'm not sure. There are no traces of Empire in the area, though." Fortune was already on his feet, walking toward the faint glow of false dawn. "What do you mean, you're not sure it's Glarrk? Didn't you make esper contact?"
"He wouldn't mesh. Or couldn't. The presence was very faint."
Hannibal patted his pockets as he walked, checking once more his equipment. The suit was in the style of 1966, two button, medium lapel, which fit his six-foot frame as if tailored by one of Earth's top clothiers. Its one significant difference was that it was indestructible, its component pieces having been individually woven to exact size in order, to get around the impossibility of cutting the finished fabric. Holstered neatly inside the jacket was a small, flat handgun with a charge sufficient for three hundred shots. Its mechanics were a diabolical refinement of the laser principle. With their customary thoroughness, the techs: had taught Fortune to take it apart and put it back together again.
In another pocket, nestled a flat, dull-finished case which contained, among other things, three highly specialized cigarettes. One was merely explosive, the second produced a gas which was guaranteed to provide several minutes of acute discomfort for a roomful of people, and the third contained a tiny transmitting device which would pick up and broadcast anything within an effective thirty-foot radius. In addition, the case contained a device which would shoot paralyzing narco-pellets with reasonable accuracy and with sufficient force to penetrate normal epidermis up to sixty feet away. The tech who had engineered this devious toy had been awarded a special T.E.R.R.A. citation for thinking mean.
Built into Fortune's belt was a flexible steel dagger which could be used, when needed, as a burglary tool. Completing the itinerant arsenal was an expensive looking Florentine gold cigarette lighter with a flame which could kindle cigarettes or, with a minor adjustment, cut through one half inch of tempered steel. Not knowing precisely what sort of troubles he might encounter, T.E.R.R.A. had equipped him to deal with a variety of possible situations. In the past, Fortune had found such gimmickry totally superfluous and agreed to carry only those items whose potential usefulness clearly outweighed the trouble of packing them around.
Hannibal Fortune had been one of the first wave of T.E.R.R.A. recruits. In a sense, Temporal Entropy Restructure and Repair Agency was still a young organization, having been created by secret vote of the Galactic Federation Security Council in 2558. Its base-time now was the year 2572, which made T.E.R.R.A. only fourteen years old. Fortune had been with it for twelve of those fourteen years.
The first wave of cadets, including Fortune, had been skimmed from among the top history students of the forty-seven member planets of the Galactic Federation. T.E.R.R.A. had used the most enticing bait possible to recruit avid history nuts: the opportunity for a man to actually live in his favorite period of history, to see it firsthand. Fortune had known that a time machine had been invented in 2548, and that by '54 the G.F. had declared it illegal. He'd never heard of Gregor Malik and the sinister organization called Empire until after T.E.R.R.A. had recruited him. But now, thanks to the illegal temporal transporter which T.E.R.R.A.'s scientists were continually perfecting, he'd logged some sixty years' experience fighting Empire. The agent grinned. Quite an accomplishment in twelve years of service.
But T.E.R.R.A. had accomplished much in its fourteen years, scattering some ten thousand highly skilled Resident Agents among forty-seven planets and along timelines reaching back as far as forty-two centuries, with another ten thousand administrative, technical and clerical workers within the huge artificial planet in the exact center of the galaxy which housed T.E.R.R.A. Control. It seemed ironic that this sprawling organization had to be formed to protect the universe against the evil ambitions of one man, Gregor Malik, Tyrant of the planet Borius, and his fourteen unscrupulous henchmen.
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