The End Justifies the Means

By Henry Lion Oldie

Action & adventure, Sci-Fi, Short stories, Comedy & satire

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670
6 mins

The End Justifies the Means

A tribute to Robert Sheckley

“On Clavine, a mining planet of Class 4, the investigators set up their camps close to the landing site. The local authorities didn’t even try to deal with that.”
From the Report of Victor Caudieux, Toxicologist

…Hesitating, Lena halted at the bottom of the stairs. If she didn’t get herself into a mess bringing enrichment – it would mean that something awful happened to her: Lena Pearl became reasonable!
On the other hand, the fake investigator’s diploma, the contract with Interstellar Mines, and the arrival on Clavine as a member of the expedition – all that was an outright venture from the beginning to the end. Good rates, long distance bonuses, and real chance to “open up a vein” allured a lot of people. The contract stipulated a considerable one-time premium or a share in the development of any unique deposits discovered by the investigator.
On her way there, Lena had to study thoroughly a brain-racking course on Applied Geology. She wasn’t going to waste five years of her priceless youth at the university, but she still needed the knowledge required. Otherwise, how she would operate the equipment or understand that she had come across a rhenium plug instead of common magnetite which was as widely spread here as salt water on the Old Earth.
What saved Lena - was a packet compression hypno-adaptor, which she got using five-finger discount at the exhibition of new technology. The model wasn’t in serial production yet, being still tested for the side effects. Yet, Lena took the risk - she did it frequently; and she won - that, unfortunately, happened with her rarely. The hypnotic course classified as “Restricted” - also obtained not quite legally - was crammed thoroughly in her head, giving her the opportunity to get zealously down to business right along her arrival on Clavine.
Could you imagine that for two years she worked her ass honestly?! In the outskirts of the Galaxy! She had to live under a temporary dome for a year, and another year - in a prefabricated house, where hot water breakdowns took place constantly. As for entertainment, the colony had a bar with dancing in an old tin hangar, and a film collection of old junk such as Terminator-65. Each quarter, her account was replenished with the wage including rate, bonuses, and premium…
But damn it! She needed a killing, not those handouts!
A pawn champed to become a queen.
On Clavine, though, she met Victor, a toxicologist - who looked like a romantic macho, if such doormats and deadheads could happen to be machos. Five proposals, and in response three absolute rejections and two promises to think it over… Any idiot would realize that it was high time to rob the Company money collector, become a millionaire, and then your beloved would fall to your feet at once!
Alas, Victor appeared to have lead in pants.
Two years of her life were wasted and went down the drain! The contract expired next week, and if she didn’t undertake drastic measures…
Lena hesitated for a minute. Should she drop it all, get to the surface, and urgently make up a new and astonishing plan that could be executed within the remaining period of time? Or should she get to the end of the drift that was dug out by the boring machine at night, and collect samples?
Maybe she would be lucky finally?
The boring machine was droning diligently in the depths of the dig, as if encouraging the girl. A zealous thing was that metalware! Okay, one last attempt! Having disheveled her splendid platinum fringe with a habitual gesture, Lena put on her hard hat, and strode forward. Lighting a powerful lantern with a quark battery, she examined the walls attentively; alas, the fate gave her the finger once again.
At the end of the drift, there was a crack on the wall polished by ultrasound drills and fused by laser bores. The mine could collapse! They shouldn’t set the camp and lay the mines so close to the landing site. Each time, when a space truck landed, her house jumped up in fear, as if it intended to go into the orbit itself.
Lena gave some light into the crack. A cave? Or just a small cavern in the rock? Pressing her face against the fracture, she was trying to see what was there in the depth. A cloud of golden pollen, disturbed by her breath, flew up into the air. The girl couldn’t hold it, and sneezed deafeningly. In a moment, an idea came to her mind. A simple and obvious one, like all great ideas. How hadn’t she thought of that before?
Irregular samples from faraway places, descriptions and maps! They were not sent to the Company headquarters yet. Interstellar Mines operated on Clavine, but it had no monopoly on the business. Their competitors – Space Ore ltd., for instance – would pay a pretty penny for somebody’s secrets!
Very pretty, indeed!
A theft – that was the name of what Lena Pearl, a dolly-girl and gold-digger of twenty-four years old, intended to commit. She wasn’t scared by the fact that she had never done it before. Fraud, racket, petty larcenies, fake diploma – but the theft, especially the one followed by hijacking a cargo craft…
The thought of hijacking came to her head at the last moment.
And it seemed to be extremely attractive.
***
“Where are you hurrying, Mademoiselle Pearl?”
The girl didn’t answer, striding on towards the warehouses with the purposefulness of a robot. But Michel Duragnac was in a sociable mood that day, and also had a lot of idle time. Recently, Michel restored his interest in the individuals of the opposite sex – since the moment Victor Caudieux, Physician, cured him from the euphorine addiction.
“You’ve had a stroke of luck, eh? May I congratulate you? But your sample bag is empty, if I’m not mistaken…”
Lena kept silence. She had no time for Michel. She could sneeze at him! Eventually, this was exactly what she did; she turned to her importunate cavalier and sneezed right at Duragnac. The cavalier froze in his place as if being shot by a para-freezer, blinked, and in turn sneezed out loud at the back of Mademoiselle Pearl, as she was marching away.
In a second, Michel rushed towards the Medical Centre.
He ran as if his life depended on his speed.

Anyone could enter the warehouse unimpeded; it was unlikely that ore storage would be of interest to thieves. The value of a single lump was not significant, and it was hardly possible to carry away a dozen of tons in hands. However, Block B, where irregular samples were stored, had a security guard. Other than him, Mark Greenberg, Receiving Clerk, a grumbler and misanthrope, sat at a wide metal-plastic counter.
“Have you brought anything?” he inquired with a yawn.
The Receiving Clerk considered greetings to be unnecessary.
“No, I haven’t. I came to take something.”
The peevish expression on Mark’s face began changing into one of perplexity. However, the metamorphosis was not fully completed, when the girl leaned against the counter and sneezed right at the clerk.
As if she shot at him.
Mark smiled broadly, placed a pile of acceptance statements in front of him and started folding them into marvelous cranes and wonderful frogs. For making chrysanthemums, he used miniature scissors which he took out of his briefcase. The security guard was staring at the clerk indulged in origami arts, until he sneezed and moved out of the warehouse singing the spiritual “Go Down Moses”.
The way was cleared.
Without objections, Mark gave Lena the key to the safes that held samples and documentation, so she would not prevent him from folding an exclusively refined pigeon. And even a child was able to use the key.

Victor Caudieux, a swarthy brunet of thirty years old, sat in an armchair with his legs crossed and browsed the latest issue of Medicine Bulletin. From time to time, he took a sip of coffee and frowned. His colleagues on Tangar-II and Clementine did a real work! Vegetable alkaloids, bacterial toxins, hallucinogens with unique properties… Discoveries were made by wholesale; descriptions of properties caused him a quiet rapture and aroused sharp jealousy in the young toxicologist’s soul.
Why did the fortune bring him on Clavine? No dangerous microorganisms, no venomous animals, the flora - neutral… He managed to isolate a pair of weak toxins, but eventually they turned out to be the close analogues to already known compounds. Sure, he was not only a toxicologist but a physician as well. And what of it? His colleague surgeon had some work to do – take, for instance, the knifing of the day before alone! But Victor had nothing to do at all. To bring the miners out of drinking bouts? To treat cooks’ diarrhea with Shredder pills? To cure Michel, who got addicted to euphorine?
Well, he cured Michel.
And now what?
Certainly, there were riddles on Clavine, too. For instance, stampedes of animal herds from the foothill areas situated four miles away from the colony. No visible danger, as it seemed, and yet the herds darted off suddenly, and ran across the plain, raising dust and disappearing beyond the horizon in less than half an hour. What drove them away from the pastures chosen? Predators’ attacks? There were no predators on Clavine, which could force giant elephanteries to run for their lives! Small earthquakes caused by the gravity pull of the Clavine's huge moon? Unlikely…
Victor had tried hard to solve the mystery for a very long time, but he didn’t succeed. It didn’t currently matter: four days remained till the end of the contract, and then he would fly away from here, relax on the Old Earth for a month, and obtain the assignment either to Salferna or Pandemonium – where was the real “paradise” for a toxicologist!
A noise on the street distracted Victor from his thoughts. He drew the blinds apart and saw the crowd gathered near the Chemical Laboratory. A man was reciting poems, having climbed on a fuel barrel. Looking hard, Victor recognized his colleague Igor Senin, Surgeon.
“What got into him? Senin is a balanced man, not inclined to shocking behavior…”
Senin sneezed, interrupting his declamation, and continued performing. The crowd around him began dispersing fast. Sneezing, the people started moving in different directions like ants that suddenly remembered some urgent work waiting for them in their anthill.
The door opened without a knock.
“Euphorine, Doctor!” Michel Duragnac burst into his office. “I know you have it!”
“I did not cure you, Michel, for you to…”
“Euphorine!” Michel grabbed the physician by his shirt and shook him with an unexpected force. “Where is it?”
“What the hell are you doing?!”
“I kill you!”


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