Ahja walked back to his apartment as quickly as he dared without actually breaking into a run. The last thing that he wanted to do was to attract attention to himself. In his mind, he rehearsed the various ways that he might relay his information to Minje. Fortunately for him, he was not as lost in thought as he might have appeared to the casual observer.
About three quarters of the way back to the apartment, a quick flash of gray metal, just barely within his peripheral vision, caught his attention. In the reflection of dusty store windows, Ahja saw the distorted image of the dark gray van. He felt his body stiffen with the shock of recognition. Panic took hold of him, but he resisted the impulse to run.
Ahja proceeded slowly down the street, he kept his eyes on the van’s reflection as it appeared ominously in succeeding store front windows. When at last he was within a few steps of the corner, he started to tremble. There was no place to hide if he were to step out into the open street. Instinctively, Ahja jumped back into the nearest store front opening and stumbled into a newspaper stand that had been pulled back from its usual spot on the street corner. The Master Translator pressed his body between the stand and store front window as the gray van rolled past him casually. Ahja pretended to search for a newspaper as he watched the van cruise down the street. Through the tinted glass, Ahja thought that he had seen two male figures, but he wasn’t sure. He watched it glide away from him and turn at the corner.
“It moves just as purposefully and as silently as a Selenian slither,” he thought, “and probably just as deadly.”
No one could ever predict the slither’s moves, but of one thing you could always be certain; no slither would ever stop the hunt until it had devoured its selected prey. Other likely offerings might come its way, but once the slither had set its sights on its next meal, nothing but its own death could deter it from completing its kill. Everytime that Ahja thought of Selenian slithers, he felt a terrible crawling sensation prickle his skin. He felt that way now. The Tragian diplomat breathed deeply, and swallowed hard as he fought to control his fears. In spite of his heroic efforts, his entire digestive tract seemed to sink slowly and sickeningly to the very pit of his bowels, and once there, turn to rush upwards at dizzying speed, as if it would explode out of his clenched jaw. He had to control himself; panic could get him killed!
The more that he thought about the van, the more it took on the aspect of a Selenian slither. What, or who was its quarry? Was he its selected kill? Ahja had never been something’s prey before, and he didn’t like this turn of events at all.
It didn’t make sense for the Terrans to try to kill him in secret; there was no political advantage to that. Their most logical move would be his capture, that at least would provide living proof of the Quarantine’s violation by the Federation. The news that the sacred Quarantine had been broken by the Master Translator himself would shake the Federation member planets to the point of certain civil war. Ahja was certain that the Terrans would want to squeeze out as much as they could in that situation. In fact, they might never want to execute him. At first he would be their living proof, and later a valuable source of information. Of course, there was nothing in any rule book that said that the Terrans would do the most logical thing. After all, consider their origins.
As Ahja analyzed the situation, it seemed to him that if it were Rizorians in the van, it would make more sense. Ahja pushed that thought out of his mind quickly. It was ridiculous, he reasoned, after all, he was working for the Rizorians even if indirectly. Selenian agents? No, Ahja also dismissed that possibility almost immediately. No human would ever work for them, and the Selenians themselves were too different in appearance to be able to infiltrate Terra as he had done. The Rizorians could do it though.
It had to be the Rizorians! But why? What advantage did they seek with his death? Ahja shook his head; nothing that he could think of was logical, but worst of all he still had not resolved the problem of staying alive.
Ahja leaned against the side of the small clothing store for support. A Purification Squad on Earth could have far reaching implications. They had violated their agreement with Minje, and they had shattered the sanctions on this planet, but most important of all, it was clear to him that he was one of their targets. He had to get back to his apartment to relay his information to Minje; it might be his only chance to stay alive. It really wouldn’t make much sense to kill him after he had relayed what he knew, or would it? Perhaps his life was forfeit no matter what he did. A great number of nasty thoughts slipped into his mind, but he pushed them out. He didn’t like what this mission had done to him; it had made him suspicious of Minje’s motives. Ahja had to speak to his friend; the Lord Chairman would clear up his questions and offer him protection from the ravages of the Purification Squad.
In any case, his duty was to relay his information to Minje, and in order to do that he had to stay alive. Once he had conveyed the fugitives’ exact location, and had informed the Lord Chairman that a Purification Squad actively functioned on Terra, the burden of action would be lifted from his shoulders. As per their agreement, it would then be up to Minje and his espionage and security forces to complete the operation. Ahja would be out of it then, and more than anything else, he wanted to be out of it.
For the moment, however, his number one priority was to get back to the apartment without being captured, or killed. He was only a few blocks away. Ahja knew that he could make it back, but he didn’t want to lead them there. With all of his senses of perception heightened, Ahja watched as the van made a turn back onto the street and started to inch its way in his direction one more time. All of the muscles along his legs and back were tensed as he waited.
As soon as the van had rolled past him, he jumped from behind his shelter. Ahja ran in the opposite direction for two store lengths and turned into the alley that led to the parking lot in the back of the paint store. His nervous haste had made him careless, and he slipped on a small patch of ice that had not melted in the bright March sunshine. He tore his pants’ leg and he scraped his knee badly, but Ahja barely noticed the pain as he stumbled and scrambled to his feet again.
He ran, jumped over, and pushed aside various refuse containers. Finally, he reached the end of the alley, and he stopped as he gasped for air. It seemed to him that he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs, and for one frightening moment he thought he would suffocate in Terra’s rich atmosphere.
As he tried to steady his nerves, he studied the near empty parking lot. There was always the chance that they had seen him, and that they were waiting for him to leave the relative safety of the alley. He steeled himself against the thought that they might swoop down on him in the open space of the lot, but for the moment they were no where to be seen; he had to go now.
Still gasping for air, Ahja sprinted across the parking lot. He ran as fast as he could, but it seemed to him that he ran in slow motion. Faster, he pushed himself to move faster. Sweat poured down and across his glasses, his hurt leg screamed to be allowed to rest, and the harder he tried, the slower he seemed to move. When at last he had crossed the lot with one final burst of energy, he dove for cover into a small and leafless clump of trees that stood at edge of the area. He fell into the semi frozen dirt with his mouth open. Any other time he would have spat out the debris that flew into his mouth, but not this time; it tasted great. He moved his fingers slowly across his lips; he was still alive.
Ahja was certain that they had not seen him, and that for the moment, he was safe. He would allow himself a few minutes to rest and catch his breath.
With his handkerchief, Ahja wiped the sweat and dirt from his face, when suddenly he felt a hand grasp him firmly by the shoulder. Ahja groaned, it was all over now. Frantically he tried to remember all that he had been taught about self‑defense, but his mind had gone totally blank. Well, no matter, his self‑defense might be completely ineffectual, but the damned Rizorians would know that they had been in a fight. The Tragian scholar whirled about ready to face his attackers.
“Oh! My goodness, Mr. Day, do be careful! Are you alright?”
It took Ahja a few seconds to reorientate himself from leaping into battle, to answering questions about his health. He recognized Mr. Webster by his heavy, square body, his thick horned‑rimmed glasses and the odd shape of his head covered by thin, lackluster, white hair. He was the elderly custodian of the garden apartment complex where Ahja had set up his Terran base.
“Are you sick, Mr. Day? Shall I call a doctor?”
“No, Mr. Webster. I’m fine, please don’t call anyone,” he gasped. It was almost impossible for Ahja to get enough air into his lungs.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You sure don’t look none too good. How about a ride home? I’m on my way back to the apartments myself,” Mr. Webster said as he squinted at Ahja from above the frames of his glasses. “Why don’t you get into the van, and I’ll take you home?”
“Van?” Ahja’s voice squeaked as he scrambled to his feet.
“Sure, you know, the apartments’ van. The one that I get to drive all of the time,” the old man answered as he pointed in the direction of a sad looking, green van with bright yellow lettering that read: Ocean Ave. Apartments‑‑2 and 3 rooms.
Ahja thanked the old custodian for his offer to drive him home and started to walk in the direction of the green van, but Mr. Webster stopped him. For long seconds the elderly Terran stared fixedly into the Tragian’s face. Ahja wondered if perhaps he had made some mistake that had just given him away, and yet he held his ground. Ahja smiled back at the custodian as brightly, and as unconcernedly as he knew how. All the while he wondered if he had come to the end of his road. The seconds moved slowly, and Ahja decided that he didn’t like the strange expression on the old man’s face. The slight breeze picked up speed, the afternoon grew chillier, nevertheless, beads of sweat formed on Ahja’s brow and upper lip. At long last the old man turned around, crossed the field and headed for his van. For a moment, it appeared that he had forgotten his passenger.
Ahja looked around him in all directions. The parking lot seemed to be clear, and he followed Mr. Webster.
The ride to the apartment complex was uneventful, for which Ahja was very grateful, but he still couldn’t relax. During the entire ride back, he strained his vision as he tried to watch the road in all directions at once. It wouldn’t have surprised him to see the dark gray van swoop out of some side road, or a hidden driveway. Once, or twice he could almost feel the long, double talons of the slither tear at his throat.
As soon as they reached the garden apartments, Ahja ran from the van without a word of thanks to Mr. Webster for his trouble.
Mr. Webster shook his head in disgust. Almost anybody else would have given him a nice tip for that service. Some people just didn’t know how to appreciate anything.
Ahja ignored the neat, little cement walks as he sped across the lawn to reach his building. Twice he skid on the muddy ice, and once he bounded into an icy puddle, but he didn’t reduce his break neck speed. When he had finally reached the main door to his building, he couldn’t get the door open fast enough to suit him. Trembling with cold and with fear, he dropped his keys. As he bent down to retrieve them, the door flew open. Ahja jumped up and almost knocked down the young couple on the way out. He ignored their protests and angry stares as he pushed by them, and ran up the steps to the second floor. By the time that he had reached his own door, sweat poured down his face with abandon; it dripped into his eyes and blurred his vision. After what seemed to be an eternity of fumbling with the many keys and locks, Ahja managed to push open his door, and very nearly stumbled head first into the sparsely furnished apartment. With the weight of his entire body, he slammed the door shut, and with great ceremony, he locked the three heavy duty locks. He grunted with satisfaction when he heard the solid sounds of the bolts as they slid into place. The last thing that he wanted at that moment was to be interrupted.
Ahja hurried to the tall, dark pine armoir that was the hiding place of his communicator. He spread his fingers as far apart as he could on the front panel, and he applied pressure in a measured rhythmic code. Without a sound, the door slid open to reveal the gaily dancing lights of the activated communicator. Ahja held the worn manual of the machine in his cut, bruised and shaky hands, and he took great care to follow the instructions exactly as written. This time, he thought, there would be no error, and he was positive that he would make contact with Minje easily. But that is not the way that it was to be.
Once again the communicator had failed to respond to his instructions. The Master Translator wanted to dismantle the damned thing and heave it into the incinerator. He knew that such an action wouldn’t resolve his immediate problems, but it certainly would make him feel better. The communicator’s inactivity was more than just an inconvenience, it was going to cost him his life! Ahja wished that he could yield to temptation, and cry.
It seemed obvious to him that as long as the Rizorians thought that he was the only one aware of their presence on Earth, they would keep trying to eliminate him. Ahja checked and rechecked. According to all indications, he transmitted perfectly, but he repeatedly failed to establish contact with the Lodestar. It was a waste of time, he decided, to continue in those fruitless attempts, and he threw himself into the preparation of a program for the ship’s computers. It contained all of the information that he would have transmitted orally.
As always, he took great pains with the programming of the tapes. He described everything that had occured since his last transmission in minute detail. Nothing, no matter how insignificant, or obscure, was omitted, and at the end he listed his lengthy conclusions. When the program was ready, Ahja placed it into the transmitter, and he did not forget to adjust the scrambler and the automatic transmission device. He waited nervously for some indication that the program was being received. Nothing. The communicator would transmit continuously the message that Ahja had prepared. He hoped that it would be received by Minje; he had bet his life on it.
The hours passed. Pale sunlight reached in through the half closed drapes, and stunned Ahja into the realization that he had spent an entire night trying to make contact. He groaned as he sank into one of the upholstered chairs in the living room; his entire body hurt, especially his knee. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his knee as he thought about his situation. Without confirmation from the Lodestar, he had to assume that the information had not been received. Ahja had accomplished nothing, and his knee still hurt. He leaned over to look at it and realized that he was still in his torn and dirty clothes. He decided to clean up.
Bathed and in fresh clothing, Ahja returned to the communicator with the intention of making another attempt at oral communication, but he was too fatigued to remain on his feet. He would rest on the sofa, he thought, for just a short while, and dozed off almost immediately. Once or twice he woke up guiltily to check the communicator, but he just couldn’t stay awake.
The next few days were spent pacing the apartment. He ate whatever he found in the kitchen, and he spent almost all of his time fighting off the tension that grew steadily stronger. At least he felt safe in his apartment from the prowling Rizorians he knew were outside. Here too he was safe from the frequent and frightening darkness with which this planet was cursed.
Although he had spent so much time on Earth, Ahja still had not gotten accustomed to the total absence of sunlight‑the night. Such a phenomena was extremely rare on Trag, which was blessed with a pair of the most beautiful twin suns in the galaxy. His native world was always bright with life‑giving light, and its so‑called night was a gentle twilight.
By the end of the fourth or fifth day of waiting, Ahja felt that he was going to go insane. He had spent all of his time pacing the floors in the tiny apartment, stopping only to check and re‑check the locks on the door. Eventually, he knew, he would have to do something, because if the Rizorians didn’t get to him, his own tension would most certainly do him in. The thought that he might never reach the flagship Lodestar was never too far from his thoughts. Then one morning, just before sunrise, the apartment ablaze with lights, and Ahja asleep in front of the inactive communicator, it happened. The receiver blinked and squeaked into I ife; suddenly it hummed with the musical tones that accompanied the pattern of brightly colored lights that were the private signals for Ahja.
He awakened from the slump of despair into which he had allowed himself to fall. Without wasting a second, he punched out the code for de‑scramble while at the same time he flicked the switch that allowed him to transmit. Before Ahja could speak, however, Minje’s face, minus his ever present smile, appeared on the screen. The Chairman’s face looked strange and almost distorted without that smile. Ahja didn’t like the looks of this one bit, and seconds later, his worst fears were confirmed. What he had received was a recorded message; Ahja had not established communication with the flagship after all!
“Ahja, my good and trusted friend,” the transmission was poor. Ahja had to strain to hear Minje’s words that were distorted with static crackle. “I had hoped that on the morrow I should be able to speak directly with you, and that this message would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, as you now are aware, that hope was not to be fulfilled.
“Since our last communication, the Selenians have mobilized their warships with such urgency and speed that our spies in the Selenian system were able to give us only a belated warning.”
Ahja groaned out loud. What else could go wrong?
“Somehow they have found out about your mission. I fear that they are on their way to Terra to expose us. One way or another, we have got to stop them!
“This is the one cause for which they have waited. This is the rallying cry, which they will use to tear apart the Federation! I am sure that to this despicable end, the Selenians aim all of their available forces. With speed their priority, I am certain that they hope to catch us off guard.”
Ahja turned his head away; he did not want to hear any more, but as Minje continued to speak, he forced himself to listen.
“In the chaos of civil war, only they can gain in strength, and in the end only they will emerge as the victors. I cannot imagine our Federation under Selenian rule, can you, dear Ahja?”
The Master Translator shook his head miserably. He knew that it was true. Life as they enjoyed it could not exist under Selenian rule. He could easily visualize the Selenians, always certain that their destiny was to rule the galaxy, rub their hands with sheer joy and satisfaction, with the discovery that the Quarantine had been broken, and by whom.
The only thing that the Selenians shared with the other members of the Federation was a human appearance. Except for the hair, and the marnmelary glands, which they lacked, Selenians looked like the warm‑blooded members of the Federation. Their scales were so tiny and fine that even close up it looked as if they had skin. The deadly Selenian claws, when properly trimmed and filed, could almost pass for the ornamental finger nails that some humans were fond of decorating, and which in some cultures were a symbol of status. Selenian eyes were round and set far apart on their elongated faces, which gave them a deceptively innocent appearance. Their only give‑away was the vestige of their tails, which many of the high born Selenians wore neatly hidden in their clothing. A few of the more sophisticated members of their society had begun to crop off the tail in simple and inexpensive surgery.
Minje continued to speak after a short pause. He seemed to be having difficulty in finding the words that he wished to use, and the static had become stronger, but deep down inside Ahja knew what it was that the Lord Chairman struggled to say. It was something that Ahja was never supposed to hear, and something that had formed part of his nightmares since the start of the Terran mission.
“Ahja, forgive me for abandoning you. All of our available ships, those which I feel are totally loyal to us, are massing at the edge of this solar system. I am needed there. The fate of our Federation depends on it, my friend.
“I pray that we shall be able to accomplish the difficult and reason with the Selenians. It would be the only way to avoid violence. If I am successful, I shall return for you. Until that time, Ahja, please survive for the sake of our Mission, and for our friendship as well. The future of our Federation to you we entrust!” The Chairman’s face grew even more grave; he dropped his voice to a whisper as if afraid of being overheard, and he opened his mouth to speak several times before the words bubbled from his lips.
“Now, Ahja, listen carefully. The code is SADV’
The communicator screen faded slowly, the colors and lines that were Minie’s face blurred and blended into unrecognizable patterns. In his mind, Ahja could hear the dreaded SAD echo maddeningly, and he remembered bitterly the first time he had heard it.
It had been at their last meeting together on Trag when Minje had explained its meaning. They had argued about it, or rather Ahja argued, while Minje had waved aside all of the Master Translator’s objections with a majestic sweep of his bejeweled hand.
“Don’t worry, Ahja, this is only a contingency plan. I can promise you that the situation, which would require its implementation, will never arise.”
“Then why do we plan for it?”
“Because, as you know full well, we must be ready for any contingency that might arise. Plans and alternate plans must be drawn up and ready. We leave nothing to the whims of chance.”
“Chairman Minje, you must know how I feel about violence. I just couldn’t possibly carry out plan SAD. I don’t even know if I can kill to save my own life!”
“Friend Ahja, I do not know if you are able to kill to save your own life either. I do know, however, the depths of your loyalty to the Federation, and to Trag. What you could never do for your own sake, you will accomplish for the sake of the Federation.”
“And are you that sure of me, Minje?”
“Yes, I am!”
In the tiny apartment, at the other end of the galaxy, Ahja sat in front of the blank screen. He sat very still, and he clenched his knees so tightly that the veins in his hands seemed to be stretched to the limits of their endurance. Every muscle in his body was pulled taut as if wound up for action, but the only part of him that actually moved was his jaw. He ground his teeth in a nervous habit that he thought he had outgrown years ago in adolescence.
Ahja felt that he should spring into action, like all of the heros that he had ever read about, but all that he secretly wanted to do was to lie down on the bed and pull the covers over his head. It was a childish whim, yet perhaps it was just what he needed. He knew that he was too tired and wound up to think straight, and he was aware of the fact that he needed total rest, not so much for his body, but for his mind.
Only after carefully checking all of the locks on the windows and on the door, did Ahja allow himself to sink into the yielding softness of his bed. He forced himself to set aside the tension and the stress in order to fall into a deep sleep. One of the Master Translator’s greatest assets was complete self‑discipline and the discretion to use it wisely. Ahja knew that a restful sleep now, while it was safe, he felt, would help in his struggle for survival later.
But it wasn’t much of a restful sleep. Dozens of shadows flickered through his dreams, formless and mindless ghosts that slipped through doors and windows accompanied by the recurring refrain of plan SAD: “If removal from the planet surface is unfeasible, elimination by the primary agent is mandated!”
After a while, the repetitive, everyday apartment house noises and appliance hums lulled him into a more restful sleep. The shadows that haunted his mind yielded to his overriding need for rest.
An unusual sound cut through Ahja’s blanket of sleep! It was a muffled, scraping sound that was scarcely audible, yet it set off an alarm deep in Ahja’s mind. His eyes flew open, his mind was alert and sharp, and his body rested and ready to respond. The gathering ashen twilight outside his window warned him that it soon would be darkness again. How could these Terrans have ever adapted themselves to so much darkness?
Ahja listened for the sound to repeat; he held his breath so that the soft sounds of his breathing would not interfere as he strained to pick up the sound that had awakened him. Silently, he slid out of bed, and he crept to the door to listen. The only thing that he heard was the furious pounding of his heart, and the rushing sound of his blood as it was pumped through his veins. Long minutes passed as tension built up inside him and roared in his mind. His body trembled with the need to act, but Ahja held himself motionless as he listened. Slowly the tension dissipated; Ahja reasoned that the sounds that he had heard must have been routine apartment noise, something not worth bothering about.
Just as he had convinced himself not to worry, he heard the sounds again. This time he could not blame his overactive imagination, or his tension. This was real! His instinct for self preservation set into action. The communicator, which was the key to his rescue from this night filled world, had to be concealed and protected. His second priority was to retrieve the weapon supplied to him by one of Minje’s top intelligence agents.
The laser rod felt strange in his hand; he just couldn’t seem to get a comfortable grasp on the weapon. Ahja had only fired a laser rod on two separate occasions. Both times had been under the expert supervision of Minje’s instructors, who were unable to hide their amusement at Ahja’s inability to handle the weapon properly. It was supposed to be so easy, just aim and shoot, and one did not have to be too accurate in order to be effective. But Ahja couldn’t handle it, and his failure was embarrassing to him. How was it possible that men, whose mental abilities were definitely inferior to his, had no trouble in mastering the weapon. He remembered the range officers’ amused grins as Ahja failed repeatedly, and how suddenly those grins disappeared when the Master Translator had made his displeasure apparent. Strange how important his pride had seemed to him at the time. How ridiculous it must have seemed to everyone when he stalked out of the practice range wrapped in the protective dignity of his rank. Because of his false pride, Ahja now held the laser rod clumsily in his hand. He cursed himself and the range officers for not insisting that he return to practice with the weapon. Ahja smiled wryly; they could never have forced him, the responsibility had been solely his, and he had failed. He was determined not to allow his past failings, nor his lack of expertise stand in the way of his survival. And yet it had been so difficult to aim at and shoot at a target, how would he fare when the target was a human being? Never, not even in his wildest nightmare, had he ever considered the possibility of having to defend himself with a laser rod against another person. Now he would, he would have to.
The first lock clicked open! Ahja struggled with the laser rod’s control; he turned them to the kill setting, then on second thought, to heavy stun. In spite of everything, he wasn’t ready to kill, at least not yet. He held the weapon in both hands as he had been taught, and tried to control his nervousness. The second lock’s bolt slid open with a sharp snap. Ahja’s heart suddenly stopped beating as furiously as it had been. It was as if his heart had shifted into another gear, and now each beat was slow, powerful and deliberate.
The third and last bolt clicked open. Ahja aimed his weapon at the door. He gasped for air, and he seemed to hear a terrible ringing in his ears. He held his breath to control himself, and feeling dangerously weak, he leaned against the far wall for support.
Suddenly the door swung open. Ahja’s eyes opened wide in amazement when he saw the disheveled, gray head of Mr. Webster as it inched its way around the door. The old man’s pale blue eyes stared at him expressionlessly.
“Hello, Mr. Day,” the custodian’s voice was as limp as his yellowish‑gray hair. “Feeling better?”
Ahja felt his body relax suddenly; he wanted to laugh and to sob at the same time. He allowed the laser rod to hang from the tips of his fingers. Then he remembered that the man had actually broken into his apartment. Ahja grew angry.
“Mr. Webster,” he said sharply, “what do you think you’re doing by breaking into my apartment like this? And how did you get the keys to the locks?”
“It’s not hard to pick a lock, when you know how,” the old man’s moist lips twisted into a peculiar smile. “You have some company, Mr. Day. I thought that it would be nice to let them in to surprise you!”
The two Rizorians pushed past the elderly custodian, whose body suddenly grew limp, and sagged slowly to the floor. The intruders might have been identical twins; they shared the same coppery complexion, the same copper‑colored hair and identical determined, hard expressions on their faces. There was no doubt in Ahja’s mind that they were indeed the Purification Squad elite. They moved mechanically, no move, or effort was wasted.
The cornered Master Translator watched the two Rizorians as they dragged the old man’s limp body away from the door. One of the men shut and locked the door carefully while the other spoke to the custodian on the floor. Ahja’s mouth opened in astonishment; the Rizorian spoke English as he ordered Webster to forget all that had happened. That was Ahja’s proof, the post hypnotic command was in perfect English with only a touch of an accent. At that moment, Ahja knew that the Rizorians must have indeed spent a great deal of time on Terra. They must have been at least ten steps ahead of the Federation all along!
The Rizorian men were so busy with the last of the hypnotic suggestions that they had not stopped to search Ahja, nor had they noticed the small laser rod that still dangled from his fingers. Ahja pushed his weapon against his body so that the Rizorians would not notice it when they were through with the old man, and he readied himself to fight off Rizorian hypnotic control. The few seconds that he waited for the Rizorians to turn their attention to him, Ahja felt a sense of humiliation. He knew that they felt safe in ignoring him. Ahja’s reputation of non‑violence had preceeded him, and it was probably also true that they knew of his ineptness with the laser rod. The Master Translator clenched his jaw and vowed to himself that they would regret their carelessness.
Finished with Mr. Webster, the two Rizorians turned to face Ahja. The Rizorians and the Tragian diplomat studied each other without speaking; it was as if none of them wished to break past the silence that separated them. When one of them finally spoke, Ahja was very surprised that the man preceeded his words with the Rizorian salute of honor, which was granted to Rizorians only of the highest rank. The killers were, at the very least, polite.