Chapter XI.

5 Jun

The express packet from Bifrost City entered a docking space immediately beside the one holding the overnight iceship that had carried Sunda and Razo. Among the first passengers to disembark were the Landian psychologist and his paragnostic traveling companion. They stood for a moment in the enclosed walkway of the wharf. Cam put down the case he was carrying and gave final orders to Naze.

“I will be tied up all morning with consultations at the Monera Clinic. You shall have to act as my personal agent, my friend. You will be a kind of detective, an investigatory spy. Are you up to it?”

“Certainly,” insisted the psychoneurotic. “What is it that you wish me to carry out? Just tell me what my assignment is and I will get to work on it at once.”

“First, locate the theater where Sunda and her troupe are to appear. You are to talk with her in private, informing her that I am here at the station and have to see her. You carry a horologe?”

“Of course, Doctor.”

“Be back here on the dock at the noon hour and report back to me then. I want to know how things went for you.”

A thought struck Naze Thun. “Shall I ask the singer to return with me?”

Cam was compelled to smile. “I hadn’t thought of having you do that, but it seems a useful idea that I see Miss Vipur as quickly as possible.

“Yes, if she will agree to it, let her accompany you back to this sheltered dock. Tell her that I have something important to relate to her. That might facilitate the plans I have in mind for both her protection and her treatment.”

“I shall convince her to come,” promised the psychiatrist’s agent, turning about and heading for the exit door with energetic steps.

Cam picked up his case and started for the sleehack stand.

Intimately small, the Odeum Theater allowed unusual proximity between the audience and stage. Were it not for the ominous threat hanging over her, Sunda would have found the nearness to her listeners exciting and inspiring. But that particular morning it presented her with unwelcome hazards to herself. She felt that she might be taking enormous risks.

On one side of the stage sat Razo at his harmonium, playing a prelude on the photonic instrument by manipulating the fingers of his two hands within the sphere of tonal light rising from an actinic grid. Rich, sonorous patterns of sound penetrated the sparsely filled hall. By the rear left exit from the stage was Naze Thun all by himself. His eyes periodically scanned the small audience waiting for the featured singer to begin her first song. An almost twilight dimness made it hard for him to identify the shadowy forms sitting in front of him.

He was searching for one person who posed a threat that was always imminent. Was Fyn Kvaloz present in the Odeon Theater for this first show? Naze wondered with dread.

As soon as Sunda moved on stage and reached the front center, she began an old traditional Urthian wedding song.

“Let me be your angekok, healing you with my lichens,

And you shall be my anoraq, warming me against

The frigid blasts of the icy Southron.

Let me be your night heater roll,

Keeping out the numbing fingers of frost,

Wrapping about your arms and legs,

Protecting and sheltering my Andvari treasure.”

The listeners, transported to another life and time, had visions of the early struggle of pioneering settlers in ancient Bifrost. Only one performer, the accompanyist, stayed alert to sounds and motions off of the stage. But even Razo was not impervious to the spell being cast by the artist singing the old verses. He was unaware of a second defensive presence. Sitting in the rear, in an end seat next to the side wall, was Naze. His alert, colorless eyes continuously scanned about the auditorium. At any moment, there might surface a sign of the vile enemy.

What might happen at that point? I can’t be sure, thought the paragnostic, but whatever action the moment calls for, I will carry out with speed. There will be no reluctance to take action on my part. I will risk my all in defense of the woman singing on stage.

The song from Sunda continued on.

“Though the cold buran storms and stirs,

And frigorific grows my very breath…”

All at once, the self-appointed detective called Naze spotted a recognizable gangling figure he knew from the Hiberna Hotel’s gambling casino.

What was Fyn up to, lurking at the entrance to the backstage passage? What offensive action did he have in mind to commit?

The playboy could not be seen in his present location by the singer or her accompanist, both of them on stage. Neither performer knew how close stood danger.

“Ice needles glide gently over our wedding sledge,

The horizon glows whiter from reflected iceblink.”

Naze realized for the first time that the emotion drawing the stalker to Sunda Vipur was far more than physical lust. This was a mad fascination exceeding the boundaries of the rational. The singer had cast an unbreakable spell over her pursuer. He was under an almost magical enchantment. The fiend was unable to exercise any kind of self-control.

The first song ended. As an elegiac lament over the loss of youth started, Fyn Kvaloz withdrew into the dark corridor that led to the rear section of the theater.

What to do now? Naze the watcher asked himself. Did he have to wait till the attacker took some irreversible action? Could he drive off the evil-minded demoniac immediately, before he could make an attack? How could he get near Fyn while the performance was still going on?

Naze decided he had to make such an attempt, whatever the cost might be.

As his mind searched for an option, the sad lament ended. A woman sitting half way down the rows of seats suddenly got up and made her way without a sound toward the back of the theater, apparently on her way to the restrooms.

Naze sprang to his feet, following a few steps behind her as she walked closer to the area of physical relief.

By the time the third folk song started, a Bifrostian children’s fable about a pack of silver wolves in the forests of Urth, he had made it to the outer corridor on the left side of the auditorium.

The music was faint and distant as he hurried along toward where he had last seen Kvaloz peering out. Speed had become supremely important now. It would be decisive if he was too late in reaching his goal.

Naze moved his right hand into the side pocket of his indoor jacket. Yes, the little squeeze bottle he had brought with him to Monera Station was where he had last felt it in the morning. If need be, it was available to turn the odds around in his favor.

He quietly opened a door at the end of the corridor, entering through it into the backstage area of shadows.

As soon as he was through the opening, his colorless eyes caught sight of the person he was after. Almost unnoticed, he was able to approach the lanky beanpole who was searching through a time schedule that had “Iceboat Runs” printed on its cellulose cover.

The tall young man looked up with surprise as Naze walked up to a few span away from him.

How was it best for him to begin? wondered Thun.

“I see that you do not want to leave the poor singer alone, you snowdevil.”

Fyn looked up in surprise. Lowering his hand, he put the notebook into his suit pocket.

“Who are you? What is your business with me and Sunda?”

Naze stepped forward until he stood immediately in front of his opponent, blocking him from anything except retreat.

The pair exchanged fiery looks of hostility. Neither one of them said a word.

He understands now that I cannot be intimidated, said the fearless Naze to himself.

A step to the side was the playboy’s way of challenging him to take the initiative. It was evident that an attack from that direction was what Fyn had in his mind to carry out at the first opportune moment.

Naze, swiveling around in order to keep himself facing the taller man, reached into his jacket pocket and gripped the little spraying bottle. In a fraction of a second, it was out in the open, its nozzle pointed at the face of Fyn Kvaloz.

“Stop where you are or else get a dose of something you won’t like in your face,” threatened the shorter man. “Just one more move and this goes off in your direction. It will not be at all pleasant for you.”

Fyn crumbled his face into a menacing sneer. As he lunged forward toward his challenger, Naze moved to fulfill the warning he had just given.

The tiny sprayer contained a highly concentrated stupefier. As the anesthetic liquid mist struck its target’s nose and eyes, he began to cough as if in hysteria.

His back bowed forward. He gasped for breath, losing equilibrium and control. He continued his uncontrollable coughing.

Legs collapsing, Fyn managed to cry out in panic. “Conker spray!”

The sociopath with the sprayer watched impassively as Kvaloz’s body folded onto the hard bearwood floor, hitting it with hardly an audible noise.

Quickly, Naze looked up and down the rear hallway. It remained completely empty, thank goodness. But what should he do with the inert form lying at his feet?

Naze faced an actual, unavoidable dilemma now.

All of a sudden, a burst of thundering applause sounded from the front of the theater. It grew ever louder.

The performance of Sunda Vipur was finished.

Naze swiftly returned the sprayer to his pocket and bent over the unconscious body, pulling it into a dark alcove close to the steps going up to the stage.

Another act would be going on soon, in only a couple seconds or so.

A dressing room door opened. Two jugglers who were next on the program came out, along with the group’s manager, a fat figure in a shaggy cervine coat.

The three men passed by the spot where Naze had dragged his defeated foe. They were in a hurry and noticed nothing unusual.

At the very same time, two persons exited off the stage itself.

“Ready to go on?” said Razo to one of the members of the juggling act due to perform next on the show’s bill.

“How was the audience?” a juggler asked the musical duo.

“Quite receptive and warm,” replied Sunda, stopping for a second to answer him.

From the dark alcove, Naze watched as the singer proceeded to her own room while the harmonium player stood outside it, vigilantly guarding her safety.

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