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II: Donderbeck

Like everyone else, she'd learned in school that it had been centuries since humans were uncivilized enough to commit murder.

When she joined the ARM she learned different.

The information wasn't all that useful at first.


"That's him?" said Lancaster.

"That's him, ma'am," Dr. Fisher told the ARM agent. "Please be cautious. We were ordered not to sedate him . . . not that he responds that well to drugs anyway—"

"Yes, I need him alert," she said absently, still a little incredulous. "All right, let me in. I'll be jamming the pickups, so don't come rushing in in a panic."

"We could just shut them off," he said, startled.

"Only the ones you know about."

"You think someone may have bugged us?" he exclaimed.

"I have no idea. I don't care. As I say, I'll be jamming the pickups. Doors, please."


In an era when anything was fixable, Ralston Muldoon was extraordinarily ugly: crooked and protruding teeth, popeyes, a nose that looked smashed to one side, an asymmetrical skull. He was sitting with his hands carefully folded, looking at the table before him.

When Lancaster came into the room, Muldoon turned his eyes toward her, looked her down and up, and glanced at several different areas, then settled on her face. Lancaster was in the habit of looking people over in just that way herself, and she developed the sudden conviction that Muldoon now knew exactly how she was armed, what she could do unarmed, and where she depilated. "Hello, Ralston," she said, and showed her ident. "Agent Lancaster, ARM."

"Strange," he said. (Later in her career she was to reflect often on the fact that this was the first thing she ever heard him say.) "I'm brought in without explanation, then kept waiting for several hours with nothing to occupy my mind, and I'm greeted by my given name by someone who gives only her surname. It's as if someone in the loop thinks dominance needs to be established, which would only make sense if I had something remotely resembling a negotiating posture. How do you do, Agent Lancaster?"

Was he humoring her? Humor him back. "My name's Karen, if you prefer," she said.

"Thanks. Though I doubt we'll be seeing one another socially."

She thought over the secondary implications of that remark while she was spraying fogger on the observation mirror, then sat in the chair on the other side of the table and said, "Muldoon—" he nodded appreciatively—"one of the colony worlds has encountered a carnivorous animal, very strong and fast, that doesn't go into shock when injured. All the lethal weapons in ARM records are designed for killing Terran animals, and the situation is getting worse. You're the only weapon design expert we know. What do you want that we can give you?"

He looked into her eyes for several seconds, but wasn't focused on them. Then he said, "Two errors of fact. First, every lethal weapon more complex than a fist ax was designed primarily for killing humans, not animals. Second—well, A, you said 'encountered,' not 'discovered'; B, the only way any animal can't be dealt with by present weapons is if the survivors come looking for revenge; and C—appropriately—the time lag between here and the nearest colony makes the cover story you were assigned absurd. Someone has met intelligent aliens, in space, and they're warlike. The lack of shock is not good news. It suggests hundreds of generations of practice at mechanized warfare. You need a donderbeck. I'd like pencil and paper."

He must have been hard to take, for the staff here: He reasoned very like an ARM. "Certainly. Anything else?"

"I meant now."

He'd surprised her again. She got both out of her carryall, and he began drafting, smoothly and swiftly.

"What's a donderbeck?" she asked, after a minute or so of watching precision diagrams appear.

"Something I thought of but never needed. Easy to make. Here." He turned the drawing with hands that had become shaky once more. "The breech mechanism is from the Thompson, an early twentieth-century light machine gun. The round casings are cast nitrocellulose, no debris, nothing to eject. Solid propellant continues accelerating the rounds after they leave the barrel. The slugs are clusters of glass needles in a teflon matrix, each needle tipped with a heavy metal. I recommend tungsten."

"Uranium's cheaper."

"You'll be needing uranium for other things. The needles strike a target, the metal punches through armor, the needles slide out of the matrix and diverge, and the glass shatters as they tumble. That'll tear things up. Huge holes. If these folks don't have physical shock, they must have circulatory cutoffs, so this should trap a lot of their blood where it's no use to their brains. Knock 'em down and keep 'em there. What do the aliens look like?"

"Uh, large feline bipeds, eight feet and up. Here." She got out a display flat and passed it over.

He looked at it. "Ears like dragons."


"Mythical creatures. They were in the library the cops confiscated, if you're curious. I'll need to see autopsy data for further designs."

"We've made anatomical diagrams."

"Those will help, but I mean the autopsy films."

"Can you handle that? Never mind," she said, remembering who she was talking to.

"I'll manage," he said, not unkindly. "I'll need to be undrugged for a few days while I work on this, and I could do with a fabricating shop and a remote operating system for it."

"Why remote?"

"To save time. Otherwise someone will argue about whether I should be handling weapons. This way, I won't be."

"Good point. Anything you want for yourself?"

He thought. "One thing they might not take back, after I'm done, is a manual shutoff for my chair. I really hate being whisked off somewhere by remote control, and it's not as if the staff here has too many inmates to look after to send someone to get me."

"The ARM could get you out of that chair," she said. "That's actually something I'm authorized to offer."

"I won't take transplants," he replied. "Organ banks are morally wrong."

Her mouth fell open. "This from someone who by the age of nineteen had methodically assassinated a hundred and sixty-two people?"

Muldoon shrugged. "As far as you know."

"You mean there were more?" she said, aghast.

"No," he said, and made an odd soft sound that turned out to be laughter. (There was something wrong with his larynx, too.) "Sorry. I killed a hundred and thirty-one people for being needlessly cruel. I wasn't myself. The rest were sloppy kills, where people died in great pain or took more than a few minutes to die. Those weren't mine." He spoke with quiet, regal pride.

"Didn't you ever tell anyone?"

"Such as who? The police and prosecutor certainly knew already; they were using me to clear their files. Besides, I thought a couple looked like they'd been done by police officers, and I had no particular desire to be found hanged in my cell."

Lancaster absorbed this, narrowing her eyes. There were going to be some fresh investigations. Then she said, "There are nontransplant procedures—regenerative—available in limited cases."

"They won't be limited for long, I think. You'll need them for soldiers."

He was right. "I guess you'll be the first. Do you need anything else right now?" she said.

"Dinner. High thyroid, I'm always hungry."

"I'll see to it," she said, and left.


They could fix him up. Without transplants.

Ralston reached up and felt the dents in his skull through his thinning gray hair. He hummed through his nose, a children's song from a more realistic time:

Now dogs and cats
And even rats
Will nevermore be seen—
They've all been ground to sausage-meat
By Donderbeck's machine.

It felt good to be needed.

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