Creation By Fire http://www.fortunecity.com/tatooine/cluster/142/main.htm A burned and battered man turned slowly, rolling over on his back as pain shot through his body. He started to lift his right arm, but stabbing agony shot through it, causing him to moan. The sound echoed in the burned, wrecked room. "Help! Can anybody hear me?" He listened breathlessly, then gasped and moaned, close to crying, but not quite allowing himself that luxury. He held his right arm with his left hand and managed to get his feet under him. A small light behind a pile of trash lit his way to what seemed to be a control board. Was he on a ship? If so, was he in space? Was he alone? He looked around himself. He was in a burned, metal room full of trash. The trash appeared to have once been equipment and supplies, but the smoke damage made it all look like black soot. He pulled trash away from the light and found it to be a personal recorder. The memory core was damaged and lifeless, but the screen glowed with a friendly blue light. He turned the recorder to get a better look at the room around him. Nothing was familiar. It was as if he had been beaten, drugged, and dumped in a strange place. He... he? Who was he? Why was his name and personal life shrouded in a hazy mist? He suddenly wished he had a mirror. But considering the burns on his face, maybe he was lucky not to have one. The man stumbled over the wreckage with his broken right arm tucked in his shirt. He needed medicine, he needed help. Setting the personal recorder on the control panel, the man took up a handful of partially burned plastic sheets and dusted off the panel until he could read the words, at least those which had not been burned off. How could so much damage occur and he still be alive? He shook his head in wonder, then groaned at the agony it caused. He read the words slowly, so their significance could sink in. "Astrogation", "Navigation", "Communication", "APU"... wait a minute, APU seemed to be what he wanted. He couldn't imagine what it might mean, but his fingers reached for the red switch and suddenly flicked it up. The lights came on overhead, nearly blinding him. Screens came on in front of him. One seemed to be a damage control report. The list of damage scrolled continuously, but it was meaningless to him. He turned and looked at another screen and his miraculous survival was suddenly explained. "Personal protective field has been deployed. Projected survival is favorable. Personal protective field holding at 78.9% efficiency," those were the last blinking words on the screen, printed before the ship became lifeless and the program stopped. He faintly remembered investing a great deal of credits in a personal protective field. It was new-tech, advertised as being able to sustain life, even if the ship was destroyed around it. Well, it was almost put to that very test, from the look of the ship. But what ship and who was he? His eyes ran around the room and suddenly landed on metal and glass case on the wall that he deemed important. The glass had exploded in the fire, but the aluminum foam case was still intact. He knew the case was significant. It was his main source of pride and had the place of honor above the control panel. But why? He approached the case and gently rummaged through the broken glass until he found a metal object inside. It was a large tin shield. As he turned it his heart leaped in his chest. "Intergalactic Police Force" stood out above all else. Was he a cop? He certainly appeared to be. The badge also held a badge number, stated that his precinct was Earth, and a number to call in case the badge was lost and found. Well he was certainly lost and badly needed to be found. He went back to the console and examined it for some way to call. There was nothing even resembling a communication device. He stared at the room around him and looked at the pile of trash. With some difficulty he set up the fallen console and forced it back against the wall. By some miracle it was still alive. He started to reach for a dial, then quit, not knowing what to touch, twist, or turn. He finally pressed the "send" button and waited. Then he waited some more, but nothing happened. "Billing information?" a voice said behind him. He spun around, feeling nauseated at the sudden movement. There was nobody there. "Hello?" he called tentatively. "Yes? How would you like this call to be billed?" He realized that the voice was coming from overhead, it must be connected with the communicator. "Uh, can you hear me?" "Yes sir." "I've been in an accident, I need help." "And how would you like this call to be billed?" "I don't know, I don't even know who I am," the man said in exasperation. "I'm sorry, sir, but without billing information no call can be completed. Thank you for using TG Intergalactic. Please call again..." "Wait!" "Yes sir?" "I think I'm a cop. I'd like to call 899-fff-igpf-5587." "And how will that call be..." "Just bill it to them!" he screamed. The burned flesh and broken bone were causing him unbelievable agony. His entire face and neck seemed to have been burned away. "Yes sir. One moment. Identification please." "How the hell should I know, I told you I have amnesia. Wait, I have the badge number here, IGPF-E 9376." "One moment." "IGPF, what's the nature of your emergency?" A new voice asked from the ceiling above his head. "I'm a cop, my ship crashed and I'm badly burned with broken bones and amnesia." "I see. Is your ship repairable, or permanently damaged?" "I think it's a total loss, buddy. Who is this?" "Desk Sergeant Suffix Madden. Your identification is listed under the name of Inspector Bradley Weaver. Does that name mean anything to you?" "I'm... uh not sure, maybe. It seems to fit," the man said uncertainly. "Hey, are we going to sit here talking all day. I need help, I'm a mess." "A rescue ship has already been dispatched. They will arrive in a few minutes." "Really? That's fast." "Ah yes --- well not really. The trip will take them weeks, but at light speed they will arrive almost instantaneously." "Oh, that's something I should have known, isn't it?" "Yes sir, it's basic navigation. Are you sure you can complete your mission?" "Sergeant, I don't even know what my mission was." "I see. I will attempt to compile a transferable bio. It may suffice until your natural memory returns." "Is that good?" "It will plug a supplementary memory into your empty brain until it's back in working order. We have mind scans from your psychiatric evaluation, along with the downloads after each mission. In essence, it's you, all of your memories since childhood." "Great, yes, I like that idea." "Under the circumstances, I believe I will reassign you until you can function again. Your primary mission was to track down a smuggler named Clirt Vansweesen. Does that register?" "Yeah, wow. You wouldn't believe the feeling of deja vu that hit me between the eyes. Gave me goose bumps." "It would. You have been trying to track him down for almost a decade." "That long? I must not be a very good cop?" "You are one of the best, sir, but he is the undisputed best in his field. The pairing off of giants, so to speak." "So shouldn't I be going after him now?" "To be honest, you couldn't track down my mother if she was sitting in the middle of Grand Central Station." "So I'm on some sort of limited duty?" "Yes. Let me be frank. An agent doesn't return to Earth more than once every ten years, if he's lucky. Basically, you're on your own out there. We may not hear from you for years at a time. So you need a full set of brains, or you're dead." "Ok, Sergeant, you know best. I'll just be glad to get out of this stinking hole. Is that ship equipped with a medical unit?" "It's a top of the line military cruiser, it has everything. Including a replacement cruiser for you. Can you fly it?" "I'll let you know after the memories are plugged in." "Fair enough. If you can make your way to the airlock they will meet you there. Good luck, sir." "Thanks, Sergeant, you've been a great help." "Well," the doctor finally said after 12 hours of reconstruction. "Your face is almost back the way it was, I think. The bone structure seems to have been altered in the past. Can you remember that?" "I can't even remember yesterday," Brad said hopelessly. "I don't remember anything before the accident." "Well reconstruction is not uncommon. But it was no accident. The report says that the energy discharges on the hull of your ship match those of a Reigelian ship. From the look of the damage a star-class destroyer or a small fleet. You don't remember the fight either?" "Not a thing," Brad said in a defeated tone. "Just as well, it must have been a mistake. Your record with the Reigelians is spotless. How are the supplementary memories holding up?" "Fine. The lack of recent memories bothers me a little, but I'll get over it. That direct input machine is great. I wish I'd had it during the academy." "No you don't, they can be dangerous. A direct input machine tends to erase old memories in order to install new ones. In this case in didn't matter, since you had no old memories." "I feel great," Brad said, standing and looking in the mirror. "You could have removed some of the line around the eyes, couldn't you?" "Not a chance. I'm not making you look like a twenty year old and getting my butt chewed out by Desk Sergeant Madden. He said to put you back together like you were before the fire and sent me the photos to make sure I did it right. He's right, of course, the least amount of change is less traumatic on you." "Well I'm brand new with a brand new cruiser," Brad said enthusiastically. "What more could I ask for?" "Good luck Inspector," the captain of the Belle Of Mississippi waved out of his port window. "Thanks for everything, Don," Inspector Brad Weaver waved out of his forward window. The new police cruiser was smaller, faster, and newer than anything he had ever flown before. He couldn't wait to try her out, but curtesy demanded that he wait until the larger ship got off safely. The Belle Of Mississippi suddenly disappeared. White shockwaves of light spread out from the direction of the now absent ship. Thanks to the memory tapes, Brad now knew this was called the Radison Effect. It was similar to the shockwave created by breaking the sound barrier, but breaking a light barrier created a strobe-light effect with bright white light that could blind anyone who stared directly at it too long. That's why it was illegal to decelerate in a direct line with any inhabited planet. It could blind thousands. Brad turned his own ship and shot forward with a surge of power. The little cruiser was completely different from his old renovated 17 man fighter. This was designed to run down anything in space and destroy it, if necessary. He had enough weapons at his command to destroy several planets. Almost everything on the ship would have been illegal in the hands of a civilian. But that's what gave a cop his edge. It made him better, faster, and stronger than any potential lawbreaker. He felt renewed pride in his profession, now that he remembered who and what he was. Of course all of his memories, and feelings, came directly from the mind scans transferred to his brain, and recorded right after the academy. He had been going through his patriotic period at the time and was reliving it now. The later scans deadened the effect slightly, but he was still full of pride and admiration for the IGPF. He wanted action! Unfortunately, his first assignment was three months away. He would hit the law books again, to help supplement his new memory. "Speed approaching critical mass" the computer said calmly. It took him a moment to remember that any body approaching the speed of light increased in mass, technically until it was too large for the engines to move it. But science, of course, had found a way around that. "Engage folded matrix engines," Brad said, watching his needles, gauges, and readouts. The ship suddenly punched through the light barrier and he was in the erie blackness of the void. "I'm standing down, ship. Notify when we decelerate near Devil's Cupboard." "Aye, Captain." The Devil's Cupboard, also know as DC, was a fifth generation convict planet. Most of the original convict settlers had long passed away, but the planet was still on the docket of routine patrols. Brad's only task was to check in with the local government, give his approval to the capital punishments cases at central prison, then witness their executions. It was not on the top of his favorites list, but duty was duty. And Federated demanded an accounting of everything, even dead bodies. He approached the outer defenses, slipped through the hundreds of glittering satellites ringing the planet, and slowed even more as he approached the atmosphere. "DC main, this is IGPF-E 9376 on final approach." "Who? Brad, is that you?" "Who else Freebie." "Man, you haven't been here since I was four feet tall. What's up? Is something wrong with your voice?" "Limited duty and yes. I managed to blow up my ship and breath half the smoke. Now I cough a lot and I may never sing tenor again." "Wow, sorry. Got time for a drink later? I'll let you buy." "Not this time, Freebie. Tell DC prison that I'm on my way, will you? My docket is full. New Brazil is my next stop, the trip takes 28 days, and they go into hibernation in a month." "You've got it. But you had better have that drink on the way back or I'll land you in the middle of a community riot next time." "Ok, it's a date." "Landing cleared, the prisoners are being mustered. You have no idea how shocked they look when one of you guys show up. Some guys, and girls, have been waiting for almost four years on death row, some were tried and convicted yesterday. They won't know what hit them. It's kind of hard on them, not knowing when the axe will fall. All-in-all, it's a real mess." "I would just as soon abolish the death penalty, but they tried that in the 20th century and almost destroyed the world. Yeah, it's hard Freebie, but it's necessary." "Ease up, Brad, there's a 500 kph limit over capital city, remember?" "Got it. Thanks Freebie, I'll see you on the return run." "Bye, Inspector." Brad sat patiently, trying to look solemn as the prisoners were paraded out into the courtyard and lined up. There were only seventeen of them this time, but more than Brad liked. Life was such a waste for some people. These could have gone on to enjoy rich, fulfilling lives, now they would simply rot. What a waste. What was the attraction? Why did a man, or woman, turn to a life of crime. It was beyond Brad's comprehension. Brad suddenly realized that the death ceremony had begun. "And prisoner 14439, found guilty of multiple rapes, murder, sodomy..." Brad tuned out again. All this was simply a formality. He didn't even know if he had the power to pardon any of the prisoners, even if he had the inclination. "Noted," Brad said loudly as the sentence was finished. A middle-aged man was turned and marched into the execution chamber. In a moment the doors to the little room were reopened and the body was dragged out. Death by radiation was a popular style of execution. It was said to be humane, although Brad had never checked it out personally. A woman was led to the door, turned to face the warden, and Brad, then her sentence was read. "Guilty of murder, child rape, and robbery," the warden said, then looked up and nodded. "Noted," Brad said again. The woman cringed at his words. The fear in her face was obvious. She smiled once nervously, then was turned and forced inside the steal door. A few minutes later her body was dragged away. "Guilty of multiple thefts, assaulting an IGPF official, attempted bank robbery, and kidnapping," the warden said. Brad shaded his eyes against the sun to look at the man's face. Assault against a police officer? He didn't seem to recognize the man. Which officer had he assaulted, Brad wondered. The brute of a man looked up at Brad. He suddenly looked him over again more closely, from head to foot in obvious confusion, then his eyes lit on Brad's glittering badge. "Noted," Brad said as he returned the stare. The man's eyes widened and he pointed at Brad. His mouth worked wordlessly, then he shouted. "Hey that's not..." He was turned and shoved through the door. As the door closed he pounded loudly and shouted, but his words were unintelligible. "Who did he assault?" Brad leaned down and whispered in the warden's ear. "Uh... you, Inspector!" the warden turned and looked surprised. "Don't you remember?" "No, but I wouldn't. I'm on limited duty because of an accident. All my short-term memory was erased." "Oh, sorry. He tried to kill you in Sector 17 three years ago. Apparently you were attacked by him and a man named Clirt Vansweesen. This man escaped, Vansweesen took you to a medical facility and dropped you off, then he disappeared too. We picked this man up while robbing a bank. His ID came back immediately and he's been in prison since then. We've heard nothing about Vansweesen, I don't think he's in this area." Brad nodded and watched the next prisoner being led forth, while the body of the brute was dragged away. Brad was glad to get away from DC. Death ceremonies were always depressing. For some reason this one bothered him more than usual. New Brazil was amazing. It was almost the size of Saturn, it's gravity was twice that of Earth, and it had no seasons since it didn't wobble on it's axis. But it did have a four month long period of cold and darkness while it was eclipsed by it's larger neighbor. The orbits of both planets were so similar, that New Brazil stayed in the larger planet's shadow until it froze over. At some point in it's long history, New Brazil's inhabitants began a hibernation period which coincided with the eclipse. When the galaxy became populated opportunists realized that the entire planet was unmanned and unguarded for an extended period of time. After waking up and finding their planet plundered of everything of value, the New Brazilians asked IGPF for help. In the early days IGPF officer would patrol the planet until the inhabitants awoke. Now one officer simply had to flip a switch and the defense of the planet became automated. Brad sat in orbit, monitoring the hibernation alarms. He knew he only had a short wait until every last one of the residents grew suddenly tired and dragged themselves to whatever shelter could be found. The smart ones stayed home near hibernation. "So you're telling me that Noverendray has no death penalty?" Brad asked as he ate a synthetic apple and watched the blinking alarm light. "Correct," the computer said in it's unemotional, female voice. "Noverendray's only form of punishment is branding. A perpetrator is branded on his or her forehead. Once branded, that person can never buy or own anything, and will not be spoken too or recognized for the rest of their life." "Wait a minute. Are you telling me it's a life sentence?" "Yes." "So what are the other forms of punishment, spanking?" "There is only one punishment for all crimes. That is why Noverendray has so few crimes, and they never call on the IGPF for help." "Wow. Remind me never to take R&R there. I'd get drunk and wake up with a brand on my forehead." "Very well." "Ooops, there it goes," Brad slammed his feet down on the deck. The alarm light had gone to a solid red, meaning every last person on the planet was now asleep. "Activate the outer defenses, ship." "All satellite tracking and missile stations have been activated." "Great. Well that was simple, what's next?" "Investigate a missing satellite on Pugorlia, preside over the coronation of a new king on Deshal, then back to Earth for a medical evaluation." "Ok, take us to Pugorlia." "Aye, Captain." "So why are we investigating a satellite? It seems rather trivial." "This particular satellite was a cryogenic repository for the greatest minds on Pugorlia. And I mean that literally." "What do you mean by that?" "The greatest citizens of Pugorlia's past had their brains removed and deposited in this satellite." "Ow. Where they dead?" "Purportedly, yes." "So who'd want a satellite full of old brains?" "That is what you must find out, Inspector." "Could this be related to that guy I was after, that Clirt Vansweesen guy?" "No, Captain. Mister Vansweesen is a famous con artist. He once sold the residents of Reigel Seven an extra moon, supposedly a huge asteroid full of precious metals. The residents bought the asteroid and prepared to mine it, only to find it was the smallest moon of Reigel Six, dragged into their orbit. Not only was it worthless, but technically it already belonged to them. He received one tenth of their gross national product in that exchange." "He sold them their own moon?" Brad laughed. "Yes sir." "I wonder if they'd like some swamp land to go with it," Brad said, still laughing and pounding on the console. "Reigel Seven is extremely dry," the computer said in all seriousness. Pugorlia was a dark, cold planet with few amenities. The sun was nothing more than a distant bright white point of light in their sky. The three moons were almost as large as the planet itself, keeping most of the surface in near darkness. Brad landed in a farmer's field and stepped down to the middle of gangplank. He shivered as he looked around the cold, rocky surface. The only thing keeping Pugorlia alive was it's red hot core. This explained the tall, purple mountains spouting fire and smoke all across the horizon. "This place looks like hell," Brad mumbled in his collar communicator button. "The reference to each are interchangeable," the ship said through the button. "Meaning?" "If someone says go to Pugorlia, the other person knows what they mean." "I see your point," Brad smiled. "The Governor's car is approaching from the North," the ship said. "Great. And this place has great minds? The satellite must have been pretty empty." "It takes great minds to survive in an environment such as this. It's easy to survive in Hawaii, much harder in Alaska. It's also a very old civilization." Brad watched the orange car approaching. He almost smiled at the color, then realized that any color on Pugorlia was a welcome change. The governor was a very large woman who had trouble getting out of the car door and onto her feet. Brad moved down the gangplank to meet her. He doubted if she could walk up it." She walked is if both legs were broken and splinted. She huffed when she walked like an old steam train. "Are you the cop?" she asked without a welcome. "Yes, governor." "I want my father brought back. Our own ships searched the nearest areas of the solar system, it's as far as they can reach. He's not around. I want that little tramp brought back!" she shouted. "I thought I was searching for a satellite." "You are, his brain is running it," she said, then glared as if daring him to dispute it. "I see," Brad said warily. "Good, then do it," she turned and walked off. "Hey, I need to ask a few questions," he called, startled at the abruptness of the conversation. The governor pointed at a young woman who stood on the other side of the car, then jerked her thumb towards Brad. The fat hand grabbed the top of the car door and the car rocked dangerously close to tipping over when governor climbed into the car. It turned and sped off, shooting dirt and gravel everywhere, leaving the young woman standing alone in the field. Brad sent a questioning glance from her to the car, then motioned her forward. "Hi, I'm Brenda, the Liaison Officer," she said meekly. "A Liaison Officer? I thought your people spoke basic English, why do I need a Liaison?" "It's not for the speech, it's for the customs. Didn't grandmother seem rather abrupt?" "Oh yeah, very... grandmother?" "Yes, she's my grandmother, but I can assure you I'm highly qualified!" her face turned red in anger. She sighed in disgust and waved a delicate hand, then took a deep breath to compose herself. "I'm sorry, after all my training I should be more controlled. You see, we never learned polite conversation or manners. We are very direct and... well impolite, most of the time. Our environment and culture demand direct talk and rapid action. I have studied for years to overcome this, that's why I'm a Liaison Officer." "Are you telling me that the entire population of your planet has the manners of an old eccentric woman with an Irish temper?" Brad asked with a half-smile. "Yes, exactly, well-put. I will use that in the future, if you don't mind." "Feel free. Well come aboard, there's not much room for two people, but we can adapt." "Thank you sir, that is most gracious of you. Your kindness is a shining example for us all." "More practice?" Brad asked sympathetically as he ushered her aboard. "Yes, was it that obvious?" she asked in sudden concern. "A little. Try to be less ingratiating, strike a balance somewhere between your last phrase and your grandmother's abruptness and you should have it right. "Thanks. You are a very big help. It's really hard to learn Earth customs from former citizens who have adapted to my planet." "I can imagine if they have to deal with half a million grandmothers each day. Ship, we have a visitor. Liaison Officer Brenda..." "Phips." "Brenda Phips. Log it." "Yes, Captain." Brad pulled down a jump seat between the control console and the communication center. It wasn't as comfortable as a full seat, but it would due for a short time. "That's quite a title, Liaison Officer Brenda Phips." "It's not my full title. My full title is Counsel General, Governor General, Liaison Officer, Anti-propaganda Officer... well it's long, as are the duties which go with it." "Take us into orbit, ship. Ah Brenda, what type of propulsion did the satellite have?" "A positive/negative ion drive. I'm afraid we haven't attained intergalactic travel yet." "A PNID can be easily modified for intergalactic travel. Haven't you worked with Earth specialists to perfect an interstellar drive?" "I'm afraid we really don't work well with others. We had an Earth Engineer here for a while, but we pissed him off and he left." "You what?" Brad asked in surprised embarrassment. "What? Did I say something wrong?" "Who told you that you pissed him off? Where did you learn that phrase?" "I heard if from him. Is it incorrect?" "It's slang, and usually not repeated in front of a lady." "Oh... you... do you know how many times I've used that phrase at official functions and nobody bothered to tell me that?" her Irish temper was in full swing. She stood and stamped her foot, her face turned beet red. She clenched her fist and was about to bring in down on the communications console, but Brad held up a hand and shook his head. "Oh, I could just twist his little... sorry," she said, shaking as she sat down. "I'm so embarrassed," she said, shaking her hands in the air as if drying them. "So the whole planet has a temper like yours?" he asked skeptically. "Oh much worse," she said with a sigh. "You guys must go through a lot of dishes." "Tons," she said with a very serious expression. "Dishes, furniture, electronic devices, houses, everything," she raised her hands in a sign of helplessness. "Interesting place. Remind me to never take R&R here." "Why, you don't find!... Sorry, sorry. If you'd like to drop me off, I'd understand. I really need more work." "No, I'll hang onto you for a while. You're interesting and really cute, for a Liaison Officer," he teased. "Thanks," she said with a genuine smile. It changed her whole image. She was a very beautiful woman when she smiled. But Brad had the feeling that she didn't smile often. Considering their planet, he didn't blame her. "I am picking up traces of an ion drive, Captain," the ship interrupted them several hours later. "What course?" "336.45. It's a direct heading for the primary." "The primary what?" Brenda asked. "It means the primary star. Your sun." "Oh no," Brenda looked suddenly terrified. "Captain, the indications are that it left under it's own power." "How would you know that?" Brenda asked, suddenly angry. "There is only one ion trail. It's very inefficient and dirty, which means it probably originated in your solar system. It is not an interstellar drive. Since the satellite has it's own means of propulsion and there is only one ion trail, it must be that of the satellite." "The ship means that if your grandfather was trying to escape, there would be two trails, the one taking him away, and his while he tried to escape. There is only his." "Suicide?" Brenda asked breathlessly. "I have picked up course corrections which may indicated a near orbit trajectory. He may be using the primary to accelerate to an interstellar destination." "What's that mean?" Brenda asked in exasperation. "It means he may have used your sun to slingshot out into the galaxy. If he had no need for air or fuel, he could be capable of interstellar travel. It would be slow, but I don't imagine it would matter to a disembodied brain. He has all of eternity." "Yes, grandfather would do that, the little scumsucker," Brenda said angrily. "Don't tell grandmother, she would send out suicide ships to blast him out of space." "You're kidding?" "No, not at all he stole our property." "Well it should only take a few hours to track him down and return him." "Wait, Brad... let me think," she reached out and touched his arm. He felt an electric shock come through her fingers. He glanced at her in surprise, to see if she felt it, but she was thinking. Apparently it was his imagination. "Can you get your ship to lie?" she asked suddenly. "Not even a little bit. This is a police cruiser, remember?" "Yes, sorry. Can it delete the information after finding a trail leading to the sun?" "Ship, can you do that, in the interest of public relations." "If asked I will have to relate all the facts. But if I'm not asked, I will not volunteer the additional information." "How's that?" Brad asked with a smile. "Fine. So I'll tell grandma we followed his trail to the sun and turned back." "Great. Well we have a few hours until we get back, what would you like to do?" "Do you have fresh water showers on these tiny ships?" "Yes, tiny ships come with tiny showers," Brad smiled at his own witticism. "Is it large enough for two people." Brad's face suddenly fell. "I guess, I've never had the opportunity to try it out," he said in embarrassment. "Well we have a few hours," she said, jumping to her feet. "Is this another aspect of Pugorlia's abrupt ways?" "Yes." "I like it!" Brad said, hurrying after her. Although new to Federated, Deshal was so overpopulated that it was bursting with people. Hundreds of suburban satellites circled the main planet, holding one tenth of the Deshal population. This allowed more room for agriculture. Almost every building on Deshal was so tall that it's weight nearly liquified the solid bedrock supporting it. The King's palace was one of the few single-story buildings on the planet. Brad was given a seat on the front entrance of the palace. There were several hundred other seats around him, and the King's throne only twenty feet away. Brad looked out at the millions of faces before him. They stretched off into the distance between the mammoth buildings, miles away. News hovercams buzzed everywhere, not missing a single movement during the ceremony. When Brad coughed, an annoying habit since his accident, and slipped an inhaler out of his pocket, he found a hovercam inches from his face filming the inhaler. "Get out of my face," he said, pushing the camera away. Brad found it very hard to breathe. The air was thin and the damage to his lungs was not completely healed. It seemed that the millions of people around him were breathing his air, so there was none left for him. But he had to sit through the ceremony. Even if he died on the steps, they would not haul his body away until the ceremony was finished. The coronation of the newly-elected King was a long boring ceremony that had Brad completely fatigued. When it was over Brad dragged himself back to the ship and had the ship log the ceremony, then fell in the small bunk. The ceremony had to be observed by a member of Federated, to comply with the strict Federated membership requirements. They were very strict about warlords and dictators. But Deshal had a monarchy/democratic society. Brad's only purpose was to see that it remained that way. The ship set course for Earth. Brad had a hard time falling asleep in a bunk which only a few weeks before seemed much too small for two people, but now seemed much to large to sleep in alone. He missed Liaison Officer Brenda Phips, he could still smell her perfume on the pillow when he first laid down. He had NEVER met a woman like her and new without a doubt that he never would again. She was a study in contradictions, by far the most interesting woman he had ever met. He missed her so badly that he felt a dull ache in the back of his throat, an ache that no pain killer could soothe. "I've finally gone and fallen in love," Brad whispered to himself in surprise. "With the most amazing woman in the universe," he said, listening to the echo of his own voice. "THE IN-LAWS!" Brad shot up in bed, banging his head against the overhead locker. He didn't feel the pain, the vision of Brenda's huge grandmother filled his mind. "Oh why me?" he asked in horror. The pain he now felt had nothing to do with the huge bruise forming on his forehead. "Apache control, this is IGPF-E 9376 on final approach," Brad said as he passed Washington state and zipped over Idaho. "Say again!" a startled voice spoke from the overhead. "I said this is IGPF-E 9376 on final approach. I am one- three-five miles out on an easterly heading." "Are you serious?" "Yes, Apache control, I'm serious and I'm about to pass you. Can I have landing instructions please?" "Sure, sure. Put her down on runway one-niner. Adjust your heading three degrees south at an altitude of fifteen hundred feet. Ah, Desk Sergeant Madden would like to speak to you privately. Put it down near the south concourse." "Thanks Apache, will do." "That's odd," Brad mumbled to himself as he passed the invisible border of Wyoming and turned north for a landing. The ship landed easily and taxied to the south concourse. It was dark and deserted, far from all activity. Apache Wells was the only fully functional IGPF landing field on Earth. They were lucky to have it all to themselves. "Download the logs and stand down," Brad said, climbing to his feet. "Aye Captain." Brad stepped out of the airlock. Bright lights came up from everywhere. Dark figures ran to surround him. He turned to duck back into the ship, but it was too late. He faced an IGPF officer with SWAT written across his helmet. "What's this all about?" he asked in surprise. "Raise your hands and prepare to be restrained," the officer growled. "I asked you..." He was shot with a restraining field. He was paralyzed and immobilized. They frisked him and took all his weapons, then slapped anti-grav lifts on each side of his frozen body and lifted him up and walked off with his body hanging between them. He laid helpless, staring at the sky, then ceiling as he passed. The restraining field was removed in an interrogation room. Before he was able to talk again, he was alone. His trained eyes spotted each hidden camera in the classically empty room. He stood up and moved away from the table. The door clicked and two men walked in. "I'm Desk Sergeant Madden," one elderly man said as he sat at the far side of the table. The other man looked remarkably similar to Brad. He was about 35 or 40, two inches short than Brad, and stood mute, simply glaring. Brad wondered if they were related. "We've talked, although I don't remember ever meeting you in person," Brad said carefully. "Can you tell me what this is all about?" "That's what we are here for, to find out. Give me your full identification, for the record." "Senior Police Inspector Bradley H. Weaver," Brad said guardedly. Both the Desk Sergeant and the other man suddenly bent closer to their collar communicators. The Sergeant gave the unknown man a significant look. The unknown man looked surprised and angry. "I told you," the sergeant said to the strange man, "he's telling the truth." "If I'm being interrogated I have a right to know my accusers and all those present during questioning," Brad said, looking at the strange man. "This," the Sergeant pointed at the strange man, who was just sitting down, "Is Senior Police Inspector Bradley H. Weaver," he suddenly looked at Brad for his reaction. "If this is a joke, I don't find it amusing," Brad said angrily. "My sentiments exactly," the other man said, staring Brad in the eyes. Brad returned the stare until they were interrupted by the Sergeant. "Brad," he pointed at Brad and waved him to a seat, "what do you remember before your accident?" "Nothing, not a darned thing." "We were afraid of that. You see the memory download I gave you made your amnesia permanent. Unfortunately, the memory download I gave you was not yours, it was his," he pointed at the other man claiming to be Bradley Weaver. "So who am I?" Brad asked, rubbing his head. "For all intensive purposes, you are him. You both share the same memories, the same drives, and the same desires. You used to be... Clirt Vansweesen," he finished breathlessly, then watched for a reaction. Brad, or whoever he was, felt no familiarity to that name, other than what he had learned in the memory tapes. "This has to be a joke," Brad said shakily. "It's not," the other Bradley said. "How do you think I feel? I've been tracking you for ten years, and now when I finally catch you, you end up being me." "He did a darned good job as you too," Madden said with a smile. "You didn't catch me," Brad said absently. "But the badge?" Brad said, turning suddenly. "You stole it from me in sector 17!" he said angrily. "You said you would keep it as a trophy!" "He beat you fair and square, then left you alive to talk about it," Madden pointed out. "You decided to shoot it out with him unnecessarily and he beat you, Weaver. Now stop shouting in my building!" "He only left me alive to embarrass me," the other Brad said stubbornly, then desisted upon receiving a withering look from Madden. "I'm sorry, but I don't remember any of this. I'm Bradley Weaver," Brad insisted. "Yes, you are," Madden said uncomfortably, "which is the problem. We can't lock a good police officer up in prison for a crime he can't remember." "Why not?" the other Brad asked angrily. "What if it was you?" Madden asked, pinning him with a stare. "What if I told you right now that this was the real Weaver," he pointed at Brad, "and you were the imposter. How would you feel?" "But... but he's not." "Could you prove it?" "I'm me." "To him he is!" Madden shouted, pounding on the table. "And I'm responsible," he said in a quieter voice. "Those crimes, all non-violent by the way, were committed by a man who doesn't exist any more." "Well I don't suppose I will be allowed to just walk out of here and do my job?" Brad said in defeat, trying hard to remember another life. "No!" the other Brad shouted. "Shut up!" Madden glared at the other Brad. "No son, that wouldn't be advisable. But I don't know what we can do." "What about retirement without pay?" Bradley asked suddenly. "We can't have you popping up all over the galaxy claiming to be a retired police officer," Madden said. "What about retirement without pay on a planet without intergalactic travel and almost no outside visitors?" Brad asked enticingly. "It doesn't exist," the other Brad said sullenly. "When was the last time you visited Pugorlia?" Brad asked. "Never, and I... you're kidding," Brad could see that he liked the idea. Exile on a planet known as hell, the most unpleasant planet in the universe seemed to sooth his shattered pride. "Are you sure?" Madden asked softly. "Very sure. I just left there and I have thought of nothing else since. Can it be arranged?" "I think you've come up with the only acceptable answer," Madden said with a nod. "What do you think, Weaver?" "I like it," Weaver said with a slight smile. "Maybe we can even arrange a little retirement pay and a small runabout," Madden said with a nod. "But we need to retire you under a different name. Any ideas?" "What about C. V. Weaver?" "Done. I suggest you visit as many stores as possible, Pugorlia tends to run short on everything." "I was thinking of reading material," Brad said absently, "If I can't visit the galaxy, at least I can read about it." Madden nodded and ushered him out. His badge was taken away and he was given a visitor's pass in it's place. Brad... or CV bought as much reading material as he could find, and a few more items that a new bride would find exciting. Weaver himself escorted him back to Pugorlia in his old cruiser. CV felt a little possessive and resentful as the real Brad Weaver took over the controls. A small runabout was in tow behind them. "I don't envy you a bit," Inspector Weaver said, glancing at CV as he thumbed through his new library disks. "It won't be that bad. I met a nice girl there, I think I'll settle down and raise a family." "You're going to turn pig farmer? I wish I could tell the guys about that. You realize that the runabout is only capable of inter-system travel," he said, glancing at CV. "I will just have to adapt," CV said with a slight smile as he stopped at the positive/negative ion drive conversion disk, then quickly covered it as he flipped through the others. "Maybe I can use it to do a little prospecting. The extra credits may come in handy." "Don't try to sell them their own moon," Inspector Weaver said with a smile, "they will send a suicide squad after you." "I can't even remember that," CV said with a smile, "but by God I wish I could." Inspector Weaver chuckled, shaking his head. Inspector Weaver landed on the same field CV had visited weeks before. Inspector Weaver dropped the tractor controls for the runabout, then reached out and firmly shook hands. "It's been interesting," he said. "You're not mad, now that you have your badge back?" CV asked, shaking his hand firmly and patting him on the back. "Not as much. I'll get over it," Weaver said with a forced grin. "Good enough. Good luck, Inspector Weaver." "Same to you, CV Weaver." CV was inspecting his runabout when the official orange car pulled up in a cloud of dust. CV braced himself for the Governor, but was overjoyed to see Brenda dash out and run around to meet him. "Brad, you came back," she said, throwing herself in his arms. He managed to hold her up and kiss her at the same time. "Are you really staying?" she asked, looking at the small runabout. "For a while at least. I decided to pick up where the Engineer left off. Your people need an interstellar drive, if only to take vacations in the sunshine." "Wonderful. That's a very prestigious and high-paying position." "Good. After we get married we can buy a farm and you can farm it," he said with an impish smile. "Me! Bradley H. Weaver, I'll..." "Hey, remember your training," he raised a cautioning finger. She took the finger in a strong hand and squeezed it, then bent forward and kissed him again. "We can pay somebody to farm it while we test the new drive," she said with her head leaning against his shoulder. "It's a deal. Well, I guess it's time to meet the in-laws," he said with a gusty sigh. She nodded and stepped up to the runabout. CV opened the hatch and helped her in, then set his canvas bag of treasures carefully in her lap. "What's this?" she asked, touching the bulges in the bag. "Our future," CV smiled and turned the air-car toward the city. "Here, put that in there too, I may need it some day," he tossed a shiny piece of tin on the canvas sack. "Your old badge?" "Yeah," Brad said, laughing.