Chapter XV.

9 Jun

Having a few idle hours between the afternoon and evening performances, Sunda and Razo visited a music store two streets away from the theater. Their plan was to look at the inventory in the shop, have dinner, then return to the Lyceum in time to prepare for the final show of the day.

Both musicians were thrilled to be shown an expensive antique clavichord. The storekeeper allowed Razo to play on it when the musician asked him for permission.

“This is an instrument from the era before the application of optics and holography to our field,” noted the accompanist, going through a classical musical prelude from two hundred years before.

He then strummed a tune on a harpsichord. Next came an old-fashioned manual grand piano. “In those days, people called it a pianoforte,” said Razo as he played a chord exercise. “Not as versatile as what we have today. But it has a distinctive, fascinating sound when played properly. That is its attraction and charm. It brings pleasure to both the player and all the happy listeners.”

The owner, a fat little man with flaming orange hair, led them into an area where he kept more popular, contemporary instruments.

Razo tried out a small optical melodeon, then a clarabella with a soft, sweet sound of emotional warmth. Both of them produced inner satisfaction for him.

Last of all, the three entered a chamber where the dealer kept his most advanced examples of photonic music systems. A portable harmonium, then a large one containing a synthesizing reckoner. The merchant of music asked Razo to try his most expensive orchestrion, which both the player and Sunda found to possess astoundingly beautiful tonal quality.

Since it was now time to go to dinner, Razo asked the shopkeeper to recommend a good restaurant in the vicinity.

“The Vaucheria,” said the merchant. “It specializes in southern plankton and kelp. I guarantee you will like their fare there.”

The two thanked him and left after learning how to get to the place.

They walked along the silicon-protected walkway to the end of the street, then began to cross over to the other side, entering the open air of the ice-covered avenue. But they did not reach the opposite corner, for a small sled the size of a toboggan suddenly appeared, screeching to a halt and blocking their way.

Sunda turned her head toward Razo, who seemed stupefied and frozen in place.

A tall, thin figure in full ice suit, with a parka mask over the face, jumped out of the light vehicle, holding something in his hand.

Neither onlooker moved as the strange shape approached Razo. Holding up its arm, a fine mist sprinkled the nose and mouth of the tubby musical accompanist.

Sunda watched passively as he coughed, then started to vomit onto the icy street.

Before she knew what had happened, the disguised form stepped over to her, taking hold of her arm at the elbow.

“Do not be afraid, I shall not hurt you.”

She realized who it was at the moment that Razo fell unconscious to the impacted plate of ice.

“Get into the sled,” said the young man who she believed had undergone photonic treatment and cure. Sunda realized that things had gone wrong in a terrible way. Her problem with the playboy had not come to an end. It continued to threaten her peace and safety.

“There will be no danger to you, but I have to let you see how I intend to rectify my many mistakes, Sunda.”

The hand on her arm led her toward an ice car, with which she was then taken away by the attacker who was now in charge.

A passing sleehack discovered the unconscious, stupefied Razo in the street and sent a telereport to police headquarters. By the time a trauma sledge arrived on the scene, the musician had begun to revive from vigorous rubbing by the cabman.

“Kidnapped!” hysterically bellowed Razo. “That madman followed us here and forced her to go with him. He isn’t sane at all. Sunda is in critical danger with him. That man has gone mad. I can hardly imagine how much harm he can possibly do to her.”

A police officer tried to make sense out of what seemed to be fevered raving. Gradually, the story began to become coherent.

“This man is recovered enough not to need hospital care,” pronounced one of the medicos who had come on the emergency sledge.

“Take me to the Lyceum Theater,” insisted Razo. “Everything can be explained there. That is where I have to go at once. There must be no delay. Otherwise, a disaster is going to occur.”

Indeed, that was what had happened at the theatrical center.

A team of special police investigators rounded up everyone still in the building. Each person there underwent thorough questioning.

The troupe manager was able to provide holophotes of the kidnapped singer. Images were sent out on magnetic waves in all directions with an all-points bulletin to find and recover the victim of the abduction.

“Is the criminal a relative of Mr. Aar Kvaloz?” inquired one wide-awake plainclothesman.

“His son,” muttered Razo, resting in a soft sofa chair.

“There will be no show this evening,” announced the theater director.

A policeman appeared suddenly at the door. “We have a Dr. Bingen here who says that he is connected to this case.”

Razo sprang to his feet instantly.

“He is the only one who can find and save Sunda,” he cried out with force.

Cam came to the door opening, looked in, then hurried to where Razo then stood.

“Where is Sunda?” asked Bingen. “What’s happened to her? How can this be? I have given his brain deep optical treatment of the most advanced variety.”

The musician repeated the story of what Fyn Kvaloz had done to him and the soprano on the icy street.

“Something unforeseen resulted from my treatment of him,” softly groaned the psychiatrist. “It is too early to know what the error was, or why things happened this way. But right now the only matter of importance is to recover Sunda as quickly as possible. She is in mortal peril from this playboy.”

Razo nodded his head in absolute agreement.

The speeding sled hurled along a narrow icestream between beds of cinnabar algae. Shadowy darkness continued to grow thick as the daystar fell toward the horizon behind the toboggan-like ice vehicle.

The driver, his hands clutching the control wheel tightly, said nothing to the questions of the passenger huddled on his right side.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Can’t you understand that you are committing a serious crime?”

“Don’t you foresee how much pain will result from your actions?”

“What is our destination?”

“Am I going to be killed when we get there?”

“What can I do to change your mind?”

“Is there no mercy or compassion within you?”

On and on, she persisted, but did not receive a word in reply.

At a certain moment, the driver began to lower the speed of the sled with his left hand, squeezing the far side of the control polygon made of a soft colloidal film. In a few seconds, the abductee realized what was happening.

“Why are we slowing?” she demanded, turning her head toward him. “Are you about to stop somewhere?” she demanded, turning her head toward him. “Are you about to make a halt someplace?” Her brown eyes flashed contempt at her captor.

Without a word, Fyn brought them to a halt in front of a fence gate blocking further progress.

Sunda, peering through the windshield silicon, read the letters on the large sign over the grating of the barrier. “Kvaloz Corporation. No Trespassing.”

Aar Kvaloz was a man almost impossible to shock or disconcert. But here was one of the handful of occasions in his life when he was at a loss as to what to say or do next.

He stared at the face of the Chief of Police who was calling him over a photoscreen line from Protista Station. His voice and throat felt paralyzed. It took him a considerable time to formulate the question troubling his mind.

“Could all of this be some kind of terrible error?” he murmured awkwardly. “Some confused sort of misinformation?”

The round, wrinkled face of the police executive grew nervous and livid.

“I doubt that there is any mistake in the matter,” countered the Chief. “We found the woman’s associate unconscious on the street ice. She was forced into a sled and taken away against her will. A number of laws were broken by the suspect, who appears to have been following Miss Vipur from place to place on her tour.

“No, we are certain of the identity of the abductor in this case. I can understand your reluctance to believe what I have just related. A father, any father, would deny such a report as I am giving you at present, sir. I would include myself.

“But the truth cannot be abandoned by us. It is your son who grabbed and took away the singer from your establishment.”

Both of them were silent for a short time.

“Thank you very much for informing me so quickly,” said the wealthy magnate. “I plan to be there in Protista by tonight. That has become necessary.”

“We will report all that we know to you upon your arrival, sir.”

The photoscreen suddenly turned blank.

Aar Kvaloz sat motionless, deep in calculation for a long time.

I must have help in this risky business, he finally decided.

He turned on his holophone and spoke to his secretary.

“Get me the Director of the Photonic Clinic, Dr. Gand Halsing,” he commanded with a metallic ring in his voice. The rich father now had a definite plan in mind that he intended to carry out.

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