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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE BEST MADE PLANS *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

 

Illustrated by van Dongen

 

THE BEST MADE PLANS By EVERETT B. COLE Astounding Science Fiction

 

 

There
are some people that it is extremely unwise to cross ... and the fireworks start when two such people cross each other!

 

 

Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction, November and December, 1959. Extensive research did not reveal any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

Don Michaels twisted about uneasily for a moment, then looked toward the doors of the darkened auditorium. He shook his head, then returned his attention to the stage. Of course, he'd joined in the applause—a guy felt sort of idiotic, just sitting there while everyone else in the place made loud noises—but that comedy act had been pretty smelly. They should have groaned instead of applauding.

Oh, sure, he thought, the drama students had to have experience on the stage. And they really needed an audience—if they were going to have any realism in their performances. Sure, that part of it was all right, but why did the professionals have to join the party? Why did they have to have 'casts like that last thing—especially at a school Aud Call? It seemed anything but educational, and he'd had to skip a good class for this one. He shrugged. Of course, everyone else had skipped one class or another, he knew. So why should he be an exception? Too, some of the students would welcome and applaud anything that gave them a break from their studies. And the schedule probably took account of this sort of thing anyway. But....

A fanfare interrupted his thoughts. From the backstage speakers came the smooth rhythm of a band playing a march trio. He sat back.

The screen glowed and became a large rectangle of blue, dotted with fleecy clouds. In the distance, the towers of Oreladar poked up from a carpet of green trees.

Swiftly, the camera approached the city, to center for a moment on a large sports stadium. Players dashed across the turf, then the camera swung away. Briefly, it paused to record various city scenes, then it crossed the walls of the Palace and came to ground level on the parade grounds of the Royal Guards.

A review was underway. For a few seconds, the camera held on the massed troops, then it centered on the reviewing stand. The band modulated smoothly into a brilliant quickstep and a column of guards marched to center screen, the colors of their dress uniforms contrasting with the green of the perfectly kept field.

Now, the field of view narrowed, centering the view first on the color guard, then on the colors alone. The camera moved down till the gold and blue of Oredan's royal colors stood out against the blue sky.

The band music faded, to be over-ridden then replaced by a smooth baritone voice.

"This is your news reporter," it said, "Merle Boyce, bringing you the latest happenings of the day."

The colors receded, their background blurring then coming into focus again. Now, they stood before a large window. Again, the camera receded and a man appeared in the foreground. For a moment he sat at his plain desk, gazing directly out of the screen and seeming to look searchingly into Don's face. Then he smiled engagingly and nodded.

"As every citizen of Oredan knows," he said, "this nation has been swept by a wave of terrorism during the few days past. Indeed, the now notorious Waern affair became so serious that our Prime Minister found it necessary to take personal command of the Enforcement Corps and direct the search for the terrorists himself. Now, he is present, to bring to you, the people, his report of the conclusion of this terrible affair." He paused, drawing a breath.

"Citizen of Oredan," he declaimed slowly, "the Prime Minister, Daniel Stern, Prince Regent."

He faced away from the camera and faded from view. Again, the gold and blue of Oredan filled the screen.

There was a brief blare of trumpets. Then drums rolled and the heavy banner swept aside to reveal a tall, slender man, who approached the camera deliberately. He glanced aside for a moment, then pinned his audience with an intense stare.

"This has been a terrible experience for many of our people," he began. "And it has been a harrowing time for your public officials. One of our own—a one-time police commissioner—a man sworn to uphold law and order, has suddenly revealed himself as a prime enemy of the realm and of our people. This in itself is a bad thing. But this was not enough for Harle Waern." He held out a hand, his face growing stern.

"No, Waern was unwilling to abide by the results of a lawful trial, knowing the outcome of any full investigation into his activities, he chose to lash out further at authority and to burn his way out of detention. He killed some of his guards. He released other criminals. He formed them into a gang, enlisting their aid in cutting and burning his way across our land in an obvious effort to reach the hills and possibly stir some of the mountain clans to rebellion. And as he went, he left destruction and death." He nodded his head sadly.

"Yes, it is painful to report, but it must be admitted that no less than twenty innocent people have lost their lives as a result of Waern's actions. And many more have been injured or have suffered property loss. It has been a savage affair—one we'll be long in forgetting. And it is with considerable relief that we can report its final conclusion." He stepped back, then faded from view.

The screen brightened again to show a rambling white house which nestled in a grove of shade trees. Behind it, rose a small hill which acted as a mere step toward the peaks of high mountains beyond. Before it was a broad lawn, dotted with lounging furniture. Reflected in its windows was the glow of the rising sun, which flood-lit the entire scene. From the speakers came muted sounds. An insect chirped. Hurrying footsteps crunched on gravel. There were soft rattles and bangs, and somewhere a motor rumbled briefly, then coughed to silence.

"We are now," said a voice, "a few miles outside of the city of Riandar, where Harle Waern had this summer estate built for him."

As the announcer spoke, the camera moved about to pick out details of the estate. It showed a swimming pool back of the house. It swung briefly about landscaped gardens, scanning across cultivated fields and orchards. It flicked across a winding, tree-lined road, then came back to a rough area before the smooth lawn.

Partially concealed from the house by waving grass and field weeds, men were moving cautiously about the fields. Near a small hummock, a loudspeaker rose from its stand, to face the house. A man lay not too far from the base of the stand. Microphone in hand, he looked intently through the grass, to study the windows of the house. Then he glanced back to note the positions of the others.

The camera's viewpoint raised, to take in the entire scene beyond the field. The sky blurred, then seemed to open, to show Daniel Stern's long, thin face. He cast his eyes down for a moment, seeming to take in the details of the scene, then stared straight at the audience, his deep-set eyes glowing hypnotically.

"Here then," he said slowly, "is one of the properties which Harle Waern bought while acting as Police Commissioner of Riandar. Here is a mere sample of the gains he enjoyed for a time as the price of his defections from his oath of office. And here is the stage he chose for the final act, his last struggle against the nation he had betrayed."

His face faded from view, the deep-set eyes shining from the sky for a time after the rest of the face had faded from view.

Then the camera swung again, to show a low-slung weapons carrier which had pulled up a few dozen meters back of the man with the microphone. About it, the air shimmered a little, as though a filmy screen lay between vehicle and camera. It softened the harsh lines of the carrier and its weapon, lending them an almost mystical appearance.

The crew chief was clearly visible, however. He was making adjustments on one of the instruments on the projector mount. One of the crew members stood by on the charge rack, busying himself with adjustments on the charge activators. None of the crew looked toward the camera.

The loud-speaker clicked and rasped into life.

"Harle Waern, this is the Enforcement Corps. We know you are in there. You were seen to go into that house with your friends. You have one minute to throw out your weapons and come out with your hands in the air. This is your last chance."

There was another click from the loud-speaker. Then the scene was quiet.

Someone cleared his throat. The man with the microphone shifted his position and lay stretched out. He had sought cover behind the hummock near the speaker stand and now he raised his head cautiously, to watch the silent windows of the house. Other men lay in similar positions, their attention on the windows, their weapons ready. The windows stared blankly back.

The camera shifted back to the weapons carrier. A low voice spoke.

"Let's have a look at that scope, Walton."

A man's back moved aside and the light and dark pattern of the range detector showed on the screen. The low voice spoke again.

"Four of them," it said. "Looks as though they've got a small arsenal in there with 'em. See those bright pips?"

"Khroal?" queried another voice.

"A couple of those, yeah," the first voice said. "But that isn't too bad. Those are just antipersonnel. They've got a pair of rippers, too. Good thing we've got screens up. And there's a firebug. They could give those guys on the ground a real hard time." A finger appeared in front of the detector.

"See that haze with the lines in it?"

"Them the charges?"

"That's right. They show up like that on both scopes, see? You can always spot heat-ray charges. They look like nothing else. Only trouble is, they louse up the range scale. You can't tell——"

Don looked critically at the carrier.

There was, he thought, evidence of carelessness. No deflector screens were set up. A Moreku tribesman could put a stone from a sling in there, and really mess them up—if he could sneak in close enough. He grinned inwardly.

"Of course, if he hit the right spot, he'd go up with 'em," he told himself. "Be quite a blast."

He continued to study the weapons carrier arrangements, noting that the chargers were hot, ready for instant activation. Even the gun current was on. He could see the faint iridescence around the beam-forming elements. He shook his head.

"Hit that lens system against something right now," he muttered inaudibly, "or get something in the field, and that would be the end."

The loud-speaker clicked again and the camera swung to center the house in its field of view.

"Your time is running out, Waern." The amplified roar of the voice reverberated from the hills. "You have twenty seconds left."

Abruptly, the speaker became a blaze of almost intolerable light. The man near it rolled away hurriedly, dropping his microphone. Another man quickly picked up a handset and spoke briefly into it.

Again, the camera picked up the weapons carrier. The crew chief had his hand on his microphone switch. He nodded curtly and adjusted a dial. The lens barrel of the projector swung toward the house, stopped, swung back a trifle, and

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