Chapter IX.

4 Jun

Cam finished his silver hake matelote stew in a sauce of onions and mushrooms with an Avian muscat wine. He rose from the small table, gave his codex number to the cashier, and headed for the gambling casino. Entering the crowded corridor, he caught sight of a familiar face. The paragnostic, in a crimson shirt the color of whale blood, surged forward toward his new psychiatrist.

“Naze, I haven’t seen you all day. How are you doing?”

The short young man with the pallid skin and achromatic eyes walked up to him, leaned forward and murmured softly. “I have been keeping up with our enemies, Doctor Bingen.”

“What enemies are you talking about?” demanded the latter, his face reddening with exasperation at the patient’s abnormal fears.

A crooked smile twisted the thin face of the sociopath.

“My fundamental foe has long been my former therapist,” he said into the doctor’s left ear. “But now she is in close cahoots with the owner of this establishment, aiding him in his conspiracy to get hold of the new optical beamer.”

“How have you learned that, Naze?”

The latter furrowed his broad brow. “I follow and observe all that happens here at the Hiberna. Nothing important escapes my keen eyes, sir.”

Cam experienced an instant inspiration.

“Tell me where the singer, Sunda Vipur, has disappeared to. Do you know why she has left Bifrost City, or her destination?”

Thun was mum for several seconds before revealing what he knew, which proved to be considerable.

“Mr. Aar Kvaloz has relented to a request from his son that a special entertainment troupe be dispatched to the algae stations. There is a rumor among the casino employees that it was a way to get the spoiled rascal out of the hotel for a short while. His father was becoming exasperated with his wild pranks and wanted him absent for a short time. This was the method he decided to use.

“The woman who sings will be included among the performers traveling out on the icecap.”

Bingen leaned closer to his informant. “You mean to say that Fyn Kvaloz is the one behind the trip?” he asked, nearly gnashing his teeth.

“That is the truth. The heir to the family fortune hopes to have the singer all to himself. I have heard that numerous times around the gambling tables. Everyone learned of the episode last night here. What do you think of that, Dr. Bingen?”

“Do you happen to know the route of the tour being made?” asked Cam in desperation.

“The clerks at the front desk say they are headed for Monera, then Protista Station. From there, they travel further south to the newer algae plantations.”

“Thank you for telling me all that, Naze. I shall be leaving for the icecap myself in the morning.” He pondered for a moment. “Are there any ships that carry passengers sooner than that?”

“There is little darkness at this time of year, sir. Yes, several public ferries travel southward over the night hours. Are you planning to take one of them, perhaps?”

Cam gave a silent nod.

“I should like to accompany you, Doctor,” said Thun unexpectedly. “Do you have any objections to my traveling with you? I am quite familiar with that region of the country. I can be a great help to you, trust me.”

The psychiatrist thought for a moment, deciding it would be best to keep a close watch on his paragnostic patient.

“Alright,” he replied. “You can come with me to the icecap, Naze.”

The latter suddenly began to glow with glee. “Thank you, sir,” he responded.

“Come along with me to my room, then.”

It took little time for the two to go up on the vertical. As soon as Cam opened the door of his room, he heard his holophone chiming that a message had been received while he was out. Rushing to the receiver, he turned on the recording disc.

“Dr. Bingen,” said the image of Jyl Skager on the green screen. “I need your help at once. Please come to the Clinic as soon as possible. You will find me in my office at the workshop. I will stay here until your arrival.

“Again, it is an extremely urgent matter.”

Cam turned around and spoke to the man with him.

“We will have to make a stop to see what this call is about,” he said in a heavy voice. “It came from the Photonic Clinic.”

The two men hurried out again, heading back to the vertical.

Through the envelope of clear silicon encasing the top deck came an eerie turquoise glow, the color of twilight. For a short while, the daystar would hide below the northern horizon, before returning in full later brilliance low in the sky. This was the polar summer season when the sky remained dark many hours.

Razo hid himself in a dark corner underneath a stairwell. He avoided all movement or noise. His attention centered on the door to Sunda’s compartment.

Was he under an illusion as to a potential threat to her safety?

An inner intuition told him that she had reason to fear some sort of intrusion that night. He himself had witnessed Fyn Kvaloz’s rage and assault in the casino. There was clear danger to her should the wild playboy be present here aboard the packet. He thought himself justified in standing watch over her.

Reflection of some light along the corridor drew him out of reverie.

Had he heard a dull, almost inaudible sound? Or only imagined that he had?

Razo seemed to freeze into an ice statue. He concentrated upon a lanky shadow on the surface of the deck’s hall. He watched it as if mesmerized.

The advancing dark shape moved quickly toward the door of Sunda the singer.

There could be no question who it was. The intruder had to be the madcap son of the rich Kvaloz, once again stalking his favorite prey here on an iceship.

I have to take some action at once, the accompanist told himself. The moment calls for action on my part.

Dashing toward the hidden figure, Razo expected to be overpowered by his younger, stronger opponent. The single advantage of the short, round attacker would be the factor of surprise. The musician depended upon overwhelming the other man before he was fully aware that he was under attack.

Fyn Kvaloz spun around to see who was making footsteps, in time to receive a powerful punch into his concave stomach. He gave out a loud grunt as his breathing was abruptly interrupted. A second, then a third blow struck the middle of his body, forcing the stalker back into the door of the compartment with a noisy crash.

Razo sensed rising exhaustion within himself. His energy would soon be entirely spent, he realized. Another tact had to be taken before he fainted or collapsed.

“Get away from her room, you cad,” shouted the smaller fighter.

Both men stared at each other, making out the eyes of his enemy.

“I’ll have you thrown off of this iceboat,” threatened Razo, his voice sharp and harsh. “Stay away from all of us. You know what I mean. Don’t come near this cabin or its occupant. Do not draw anywhere near her, or I’ll call the boat’s captain to take care of the problem you are causing!”

The moment he finished his warning, the compartment door began to open. Sunda could not help but have heard all this shouting outside on the deck. She was drawn out to find what was causing such a ruckus.

Fyn was about to make a retort when he heard a voice from behind him.

“What’s going on here?” said the songtress, gazing past Kvaloz at the orchestrion player.

By now, other doors were opening along the long corridor.

Faces turned toward the trio making the noise that was awakening them.

“What is going on?”

“What happened out there?”

“Is anyone hurt?”

Several passengers came out of their rooms. One fearless older woman approached the three figures in Sunda’s doorway. What has happened? was the question in the mind of everyone. The situation appeared to be a threatening one.

All at once, the troublemaker who had started the turmoil rushed off toward the nearest stairwell. Everyone else watched him flee away.

Razo looked searchingly at the face of the young woman he was protecting.

“Are you alright?” he gently inquired.

She mumbled to him that she was.

“You know who threatened you?”

Sunda indicated that she did by giving a nod.

“Get some sleep. He will not bother you again tonight.”

“Thank you so much, Razo,” she whispered as she closed the cabin door.

The monster is defeated for now, Razo told himself. For the present, until tomorrow arrives.

Sunda rolled about in her bed, unable to fall back to sleep after what had happened outside her cabin door.

The wild maniac had followed her south toward the icecap. There appeared to be no way of escaping from his grasp. Her rescue that evening could only be termed a temporary one. She did not feel secure after what had occurred that evening.

How far did the spoiled playboy plan to go in pursuit of her?

Why me? she asked herself over and over. Why not someone else?

What is there that causes this obsession with me in his fiendish mind?

Sunda knew almost instinctively that neither she nor anyone else could plumb the depths of his abnormal emotions. The young man pursuing her was beyond the ability of even the best minds in psychiatry to explain or understand. He was an absolute enigma that even professional psychiatrist had difficulty understanding.

How do I contend with an elemental force beyond anyone’s comprehension? she asked. What can I or anyone else do?

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