Otromi: The Tapper

6 Feb

It was a torrid, explicit romance set in the Gronian rain forests, far to the south of Bakaz and Mnin. Lovers could be seen boiling over with unrestrained appetite. Instantaneous passion unfolded in the holodrama projected onto the encircling wall of the theater.

Gorda was too preoccupied to pay attention to the what was being presented the audience sitting in relative darkness. It was a typical product of the entertainment industry of Bakaz, crude and unsubtle in nature.

The Garrison Street theater appeared barely half filled this evening.

Sensing no one dangerous around her, Gorda rose and headed for the women’s restroom at the rear of the viewing chamber.

No male will be following me in there, she told herself as she neared the door of the relief station. Entering the short alcove that led into it, she stopped and looked about. Just as she had supposed, there was a small, narrow metal hatch on the side wall. The sign on it read “Fire Exit”.

Gorda stopped and listened. From the inside hall, the voices of “Lurid Nights in Tropical Gonia” echoed into the small alcove. She had to move quickly, Gorda decided.

Her hand reached to the handle and tugged downward and out. The touch of cool evening air made her feel a momentary tingle. Haste was now crucial, a part of her warned. She nearly leaped into a lightless alley. An energetic push closed the hatch again. Now she had to get away as fast as possible. She hurried toward the bright, garish lighting of Garrison Street.

It was at that moment that a voice came to her from out of the darkness.

“Please do not resist or show any panic, young woman.”

She halted in her tracks, realizing that the tailer had never been lost.

“All we want to do is ask some questions of you and your friend.”

Perhaps, she thought, Venco has gotten away undetected. This stalker may have taken the father for the son, as intended.

As her eyes became accustomed to the shadowy alley, she made out two brawny figures, one in front of her and the other behind.

“What do you want from me?” gasped Gorda. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

The large figure in front of her spoke. “We are not the ordinary police. It is State Security that wishes to you and your companion.” He signaled to a third shape behind the second one. “Go in and pick up the one still there in the theater.” His iridescent eyes focused on her. “We have a landcar waiting to take you downtown.”

Gorda walked shaking toward Garrison Street with her menacing escorts.

Although the sidewalk was packed with pedestrians, the Campside Bar appeared to have only one visible customer, Captain Cablo Moskum. He stood at the entrance of a rear cubicle, motioning to Venco to join him there.

The bartender, reading a cellulose sheet, seemed unaware of the tall young man in magenta svila who had just walked into the place with a suitcase. Was the man behind the bar a lookout monitoring strangers for Moskum? wondered the novice tapper as he moved past the long, empty bar.

The giant in black uniform extended a hand, which Venco shook, than put down his suitcase inside the cubicle.

“Where is your friend?” inquired the intelligence officer.

“I expect her to be here very soon. We took separate routes for the sake of security and I thought she would arrive first.”

Venco sensed for a moment that something may have happened to his tapping instructor. No, he admonished himself. She was only late, and would be strolling in soon. Perhaps there had been some difficulty in getting away from the holotheater that she and his father had chosen to use.

He sat down opposite the uniformed captain.

“Have you heard of General Espro Lokum?” began the latter, his hazel eyes unmovingly fixed on those of Venco.

“No, I have never heard that name.”

“You should have. He is the chief of the Military Intelligence Service. And he plans to make the M.I.S. the stepping stone to a personal dictatorship over all of Bakaz. The entire conspiracy is his brainchild. He conceived it, then convinced and recruited all the other participants. General Lokum is the linchpin, the cornerstone and mastermind behind the plan.”

“And he craves another General War?”

“Indeed,” moaned the other. “He has an elevated self-image, that of a genius in military strategy. Only war can prove his worth. So, he is willing to overthrow the civilian government in order to gain his page in history.”

Venco lowered his voice. “You plan to tap his secret fiberline?”

“Yes,” nodded the officer. “He will not be in his office tonight. I have checked and made sure. Espro Lokum is taking his wife out of town. There will be no one about on the fifth floor of the M.I.S. building, his headquarters.”

“You are sure?”

“Of course,” affirmed Captain Moskum.

The two then waited for the tapper who was not to come there that evening.

Gorda learned more from her interrogator than he did from her.

The man was an ordinary officer with nothing special about him. He wore an orange svila business suit. An assistant in dark brown manned a small fiber recorder.

“Your name is Gorda Maltum and you work for the Ruxum News Agency?”

“That information is on my passport board, so how can I deny it?” she sarcastically retorted, sitting at a small table opposite the standing questioner.

“Are you going to cooperate with us, Miss Maltum?” sharply demanded the Security Service official.

“Of course, I am,” she lied. “That is my duty, isn’t it?”

“You admit that you arrived this morning in Bakaz City on the magnetronic train from Mnin, together with a relative of yours named Karei Maltum?”

“How can I deny what is true?” she pouted. “Let’s get to an explanation of why my uncle and I were brought here by those thugs of yours.”

“We know that you and your cousin visited Garrison Street earlier today. Then, you went to the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Nito Maltum, where you happen to be staying.”

“I am there while here in Bakaz City, but will soon be on my way to Ruxum, along with my cousin.” Who will be traveling on the passport of Karei Maltum, she told herself in silence.

“Why did you and your uncle go to that skin show on Garrison Street?”

“It was he who chose it,” she sneered. “But tell me this: why were your people following us there?”

The interrogator blanched. “You are a stubborn person, Miss Maltum. But we have ways of making even the toughest of suspects talk.”

“Are you trying to frighten me? What am I suspected of having done? As you know, I am a Ruxumian journalist with Ruxumian citizenship. If anyone puts a hand on me, it will become an incident with international implications.”

“None of that matters, young lady, when there is suspicion of espionage.”

“You take me for a spy?” she challenged him. “Prove it, if you can.”

“Where is your cousin, Karei Maltum?”

“I don’t know, because he didn’t tell me his plans for tonight.”

“What were you and he doing in Garrison Street earlier? We know that the two of you were there together. What was your business in that district?”

“We were being watched?” Gorda concealed her fear over what they knew as best she could. “I had never seen that wild district and my cousin wanted to take me on a tour of it.”

“Our agents know that you were somewhere on the street a considerable time. I would like you to tell me where you were.”

“So, we were followed down to Garrison Street, but then they lost us in the sidewalk throng. Is that it?”

“State Security has a perfect right to keep an eye on anyone in Bakaz,” insisted the angry agent. “And it is your duty to answer my questions completely.”

“I am not a Bakazian,” she asserted. “You must allow me to contact the Ruxumian embassy at once.”

He glowered at her with flaming eyes ringed with darkness.

“We will hold you and your uncle for interrogation till dawn,” threatened the man in orange. “Only if you tell us what I going on with your cousin will you be allowed to have any outside contact. Think that over, for now.”

He turned around and left the room in a huff, as if he needed a rest more than the prisoner he had tried to grill.

Captain Moskum proposed they leave for the third time to the increasingly worried Venco before the new tapper consented.

“Whatever has delayed her cannot be changed by us from where we are,” he reasoned aloud. “We have to get moving if the tap is to be set tonight.”

The officer motioned to him to follow as the two rose to their feet. “My landcar is parked in the alley behind this bar,” he told the young man he was about to take into the center of Military Intelligence.

Venco picked up his suitcase and joined the officer in exiting from the building. The two passed through a short hallway, to a strong metal door. Moskum held it open as his companion passed through, into a darkness barely lit by a single light sac over the exit. The vehicle was a long, sleek landcar as black as the soldier’s uniform.

Moskum took a remote keyboard from his pocket and unlocked the door on the passenger side, then open it with his hand for Venco. “You can put your suitcase under the seat,” he instructed him.

In seconds, the driver circled around, unlocked his own door, and slid into his seat. He turned his face to Venco.

“I’m ready,” solemnly said the tapper.

“Let’s get started, then,” proposed the positioner.

The landcar started rolling slowly to the far end of the alley, then turned out into a secondary artery that paralleled Garrison Street. It proceeded a short distance before the driver pulled it into a second alley.

“What’s wrong?” asked Venco in alarm.

“Nothing. It’s necessary to hide you as we go through the gate to our installation. That’s all,” explained Cablo Moskum. “If you will get into the back seat of this landcar, you can hide under a blanket that I threw on the floor there. That can cover you when we go into the fortress.”

Without a word, Venco opened the door on his side, exited, then opened the rear door and climbed in. Within a few seconds, he was lying on the floor, under a thick shepherd’s blanket of raw volna.

“I’m ready,” he announced from his concealed position on the rear floor.

The landcar began rolling forward once more. At one intersection, Moskum made a right turn. “We are right in front of the main gate,” he whispered. “In a moment, I will have to stop to identify myself.”

As the vehicle came to a halt, the driver pushed a tab on the control panel directly in front of him. The one-way window on his left became transparent, so that the armed guard could see who was inside. With a smile and a nod, he waved the captain through the checkpoint. Moskum made the side window opaque again from the outside and continued into the fortress, toward the compound of the Military Intelligence Service. “We made it in,” murmured the driver. “Now, to the headquarters building where the tap will be set.”

The new interrogator was larger and more impressive than the first one. Gorda realized that he was a high-ranking Security Service official. She tried to conceal the concern this caused her. What suspicions would bring such great attention upon her?

“Are you ready to begin, Miss Maltum?” he said with an obviously false smile.

She pouted her lips mockingly. “What difference would it make? I’m not the one in charge here. My own wish is to get out of this place as soon as possible. And while you’re at it, you should also release my uncle, Mr. Nito Maltum.

“He has been questioned and we are satisfied that he knows little about what he was mixed up in this evening. But we cannot let him go home until we are finished with you.”

“Then get this over with. There is no reason for any of us to be wasting out time with this stupid attempt to coerce me into telling lied that you wish to hear.”

“No one is going to force you to say anything, trust me,” he purred gently.

“I don’t trust you or any of the goons who work for this benighted State Security Service. A horrible mistake has been made in arresting us, and we intend to take those who are responsible for this injustice to court as soon as an attorney can be located.” She sent him a withering, poisonous look.

The interrogator decided to take another tack.

“I warn you, we can hold you as long as necessary under the emergency security laws. You will stay here incognito until we learn what is going on. Tell me about your cousin, Karei Maltum. Where has he disappeared to?”

Gorda stared irately at the official. How can I know whether you are connected with the conspiracy to overthrow the government? Only the top leaders of the regime might be beyond its range of influence, she told herself. All of a sudden, a novel idea struck her. We wish to prevent a military coup, yet keep what we aleady know from the civilian head of the government.

She bolted upright from her chair, forcing her questioner to give a start of surprise.

“What is it?” he asked, taken aback.

“I must see the Prime Minister,” she announced. “Only he will hear what I have to say.”

“That is impossible,” angrily replied the other.

Gorda abruptly sat down again. “Then I won’t say a word.”

She sealed her lips tightly and glared at the official.

Yellow light, diffused and bright, streamed out of the ribbon of top floor windows of the gray silicon building.

Only this highest level of the Military Intelligence Service showed any sign of human presence. The rest of the structure appeared dark and empty to Venco as he lifted himself out of the back of the lander. The captain had parked in his reserved spot in back of the M.S.I. headquarters.

As soon as the tapper had his suitcase out of the vehicle, he followed Moskum toward a rear door which the latter opened with a keyboard. “My office is down the corridor on the left,” he guardedly whispered. “I have a copy of the floor plan of the fifth floor there.”

The two made their way warily down the semi-lighted hallway. Long shadows fell along the near-darkness. All at once, the officer in uniform stopped and took a second keyboard out of his pocket. “This is where I work,” he murmured. “If anyone should come along and ask, I will say that there is work that must be finished before tomorrow morning.”

“What should I do,” asked Venco, “if someone appears?”

“Try to hide yourself,” sardonically replied the other. He pushed open the door and motioned to his companion to go in first. The office was solidly black till the captain flipped a wall tab that brought soft, cool light from a ceiling sac.

“Sit down and rest a while,” said the giant in black uniform, going to his desk and unlocking the middle drawer, opening it and taking out a large piece of green cellulose.

Venco set down his suitcase and took a chair by the side of the black polymer desk.

“You are sure you know how to set this new device?” softly asked Moskum, handing the floor plan to the man he had brought into the building.

“I have carried out many practice runs in the course of my training,” mumbled Venco as he started to study the diagram.

It took him several minutes to memorize the layout of the top floor.

Finally, Venco looked up at his positioner.

“This seems to be the target fiberline.” He held up the plan and pointed with his finger to the location. “It’s the one in yellow, leading right up to the desk-speaker in the office of General Espro Lokum.”

Moskum made a face. “He’s the brains of the conspiracy. Without him, the war party would not dare act. Lokum sees himself as the savior of Bakaz. He is in contact with officers all over the country through his secret fiberlines.”

“But aren’t there people working upstairs all night long?” worriedly frowned Venco.

“Yes, we will have to be careful as we pass along the upper corridor, but there should be no one in or near the office of General Lokum. As you can see, it is at the extreme south end of the building. That area is unused at this hour, of that I am certain. If we go up the stairway on that side, no one will hear, see, or detect us.”

Venco bit his lower lip. “Let’s get started, then.” He rose to his feet, as did the intelligence officer.

Gorda studied the short stranger who had slipped into the interrogation room. He was slight and thin, with a nondescript dark blue volna suit on. Not an executive, she sensed, but rather a bureaucratic flunky. Some sort of aide to an important person, perhaps. But to whom? she wondered.

“I have something to say, but it must be to the Prime Minister,” she provocatively asserted. “No one else, no one below the highest level of government power.”

The little man peered at her with evident curiosity.

“Why is that so, Miss Maltum?”

She decided to take the chance of telling him what the situation was.

“Should the wrong individual learn what I have to reveal, it could cause grave harm to the national interest of this country.” Her eyes enlarged significantly.

The strange figure turned his head at an angle and looked at her indirectly.

“Are you trying to play a game with us?” he demanded, his voice growing stronger and sharper.

“Not at all,” she replied. “I am dead serious. There is no one who can be trusted with the information that I have except the Prime Minister himself.”

The bureaucrat gave her a critical look, then stepped around the edge of the table between them, coming to within a foot of the prisoner.

His voice became barely audible. “Whatever you say to me will be given at once to the Prime Minister,” whispered the little man. “I am his personal secretary and assistant.”

Gorda stared at the wispy face. Should she believe what he was saying to her?

There was no way of knowing for sure unless she took the risk.

She motioned with her hand for him to bend his head close to hers.

“If you bring the Prime Minister here, I will tell him who it is that is planning to take over the government by force.”

Quickly, she looked away from him.

The footsteps of the small questioner reached her ears as he circled the table and then went out of the room.

The General’s office was at the opposite end of the fifth floor from where someone was still busy at their night work.

Two figures, one of them carrying a suitcase, climbed soundlessly up the stairwell, onto the south landing of the top story. The long corridor, dark and empty, stretched before the intruders. No noise disturbed the post-midnight deadness. Moskum motioned to the tapper to follow him forward, to the last office of the hallway.

Each step forward was slow, cautious, and tentative. As he trailed his positioner, Venco listened for any sign of danger. All at once, the captain halted in front of a wide metal door. “General Lokum” read an iron plaque in deeply chiseled letters.

Moskum turned to his partner and muttered voicelessly to him. “I obtained a duplicate keyboard.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the small silicon wafer, then slid it into the tiny door slot. Almost instantly, the heavy security door swung open before them. The room was a jumble of dim colored minisal lighting and strange shadowy shapes.

“Let’s go in quickly,” prompted Cablo Moskum.

As soon as both were in the office, the captain carefully closed the door. On tiptoes, he made his way the commander’s gigantic chromium desk. Finding the right tabs, he soon had the room flooded with direct ceiling light.

Venco moved close to his colleague. “Won’t someone notice?” he asked with a frown, putting down his suitcase on the fiberglass carpet.

“We have to take a small chance if you are to see what you are doing,” said the officer in uniform. “Usually, no one working on this floor ever comes down to this end. There is no reason for doing so. And from outside, it will look like someone is working late on some important assignment. Most who pass by would not recognize whose office this is.”

“I’m ready to start,” sighed Venco with resignation. Whatever was going to happen would come. The future was going to be out of his hands, the tapper realized.

He bent down to pick up his suitcase and placed it on the General’s desk. Opening it, he began to take out the apparatus for invading the fiberline, along with his microtools.

Gorda and her uncle had their first opportunity to speak to each other when they were placed in the same interrogation room. The two moved their chairs together on the same side of the table and started whispering.

“Have they questioned you?” the niece asked Nito Maltum.

“Yes,” he nodded. “But I have revealed nothing whatever. Do you think they are listening to us at the moment?”

She responded with a nod of her own. “We must say nothing until the head of the government appears to receive the entire story.”

“The Prime Minister?” said Nito with a start.

“There is no one else we can trust with the truth, is there?”

The two of them stared at each other. “Till that happens, we will stay mum,” murmured Gorda. Her mind was on the unforeseeable dangers facing the starting tapper, Venco Maltum.

It was a slow, difficult task to adjust the one-dimensional ferromagnetic nanowires of the magnetronic transceiver. Venco had to locate the tubes of half-solitons close enough to the fiberline to transform the tapped fiber into a polaritonic monopole, granting all of its transmitted signals to the adjacent transceiver.

Once the gauges showed that the magnetronic tap was in place, Venco gathered up his microtools and place them in his suitcase.

“Let’s go,” whispered Moskum. “There is nothing left to do but get out of here.”

Carrying the suitcase, Venco followed him out into the empty hallway. It took only seconds for the officer to relock the metal door with his keyboard. They ambled softly toward the stairway they had used to climb to the fifth floor. Both were careful not to make the slightest noise as they moved away from the General’s office.

Suddenly, a shrill voice rang out behind them.

“Stop!” it called out. “Don’t make a move!”

For a split second, Venco and Cablo Moskum glanced at each other.

“Run for it,” shouted the Captain to the tapper.

The pair sprinted toward the stairwell. Venco dropped his suitcase to the floor.

“Stop or we’ll shoot,” yelled one of the guards who had discovered them.

Moskum had reached the top of the stairs when a deadly electrical bolt struck him in the upper spine. A second blast hit the back of his neck, dropping him to the floor in a second or so. He fell forward, crashing his forehead.

Venco halted in his tracks and looked down at the motionless form, watching helplessly as his partner’s lungs collapsed and his heart stopped beating.

By the time Venco looked around, two guards and a third figure had arrived on the spot and taken charge of the situation. The latter had an enormous protruding stomach and wore the ensignia of a general.

It took no introduction to inform Venco that this was General Espro Lokum, the head of the Military Intelligence Service.

“Take that body down to the dispensary and keep it there,” ordered the uniformed commander.

“What about the civilian, sir?” asked one of the guards. The General pointed his bolter at their prisoner. “I want to question him in my office. But first search him for any sign of identification.”

Venco swallowed hard. He remembered that he still carried the passport with Karei Maltum’s name on it.

Faro Maltum was tinkering with a transceiver in the attic of the house in Gopa when he heard the warning click. He knew at once what it was. A message was being received by the new magnetronic receiver being given its first application in the field of espionage. At last, something was being hacked into in Bakaz. The signal was coming in over electromagnetic waves generated by magnetic monopoles within the nanotech device that he had constructed.

Faro rose to his feet and rushed over to the printer from which a sheet of cellulose with printing on it was emerging.

The inventor leaned over the machine and read what someone far away was typing into a fiberline.

“To all Military Intelligence commanders and officers, from General Espro Lokum.

“There has been a major breech of security at our Bakaz City headquarters. A half hour ago, I was informed at my residence that there was an intrusion into my office. I came at once with a squad of security guards as two persons were leaving the premises. One of them, an officer on my staff, was shot trying to flee. The other is a correspondent for the Ruxum News Agency. It must be concluded that both of them were engaged in spying.

“As a result of this, I have concluded that our schedule must at once be changed. The authority to reset the timing for our plan was granted to me. Because of this security breach at the center, I have decided that our actions shall commence at dawn this coming morning.

“We will proceed according to our plan, except for minor changes demanded by the new circumstances. With the dawn of Solnti this coming day, the units of the Military Intelligence Service shall proceed to occupy all fiber communication centers and military command posts within the boundaries of Bakaz.

“In Bakaz City, our units will advance on all government buildings and take possession of them. Forces allied with us in the Security Ministry must be informed of this change in schedule immediately, so that all actions can be coordinated. Garrisons in the capital should be ours in seconds, those across the country in minutes.

“I am ready to address the nation on fiberscreen as soon as the coup is completed. Over mass media, I shall explain the necessity for the new military government and warn against any resistance to its authority. The present cabinet must be taken into custody and held for the sake of state security.

“The full operation should be short. The government change will be quick and as bloodless as possible. Our greatest advantage will be the factor of surprise. Remember, the future glory of Bakaz depends on our taking command of power at dawn. Our people will support us against the peacemongers and appeasers. We shall prove ourselves worthy guardians of the nation.”

The transmission came to an end with that.

Faro stared at the intercepted message. What was his next step to be?

He decided to go downstairs to awaken his father so that he could ask him how to proceed.

I must show no sign of fear, Venco advised himself, sitting in a corner chair of the General’s office, a black-uniformed guard standing in front of him with a bolt-gun in his hand.

As soon as Lokum had finished typing the fiberline circular to his co-conspirators, he rose and came over to take a better look at the prisoner.

Venco gazed ahead, unaffected by the General’s furious stare.

“We know that you are a journalist from Ruxum,” said Lokum. “Is anyone besides Captain Moskum involved with your entry into M.I.S. headquarters?”

No reply came from the stony-faced captured one.

“Do not try to prove your bravery, young man,” fumed the leader of the coup. “The Captain is dead and can be of no help at all. I hope you understand that the way for you to survive is through cooperation. Tell me who is behind this adventure that you took with him.”

Venco decided he had to say something, if only to prevent a sudden end to his life.

“I am a foreign national,” he stated. “It is my right to demand that someone from the Ruxum embassy be summoned to represent me before the courts of this land. I demand to be taken at once before a civilian judge.”

The face of the General reddened with rage as he moved closer.

“You insolent swine!” he shouted. “I could have you killed without a trial. This is a military emergency and you could be bolted by a single summary order from me.”

Venco dared say nothing more, realizing what the consequences might be. He was saved, for the moment, by a clicking sound at the fiberline console.

It was a message from somewhere in the field for the General.

The latter spun about and hurried to see what it was about.

Gorda felt impatience rising in both Nito and herself. She placed a hand over his and whispered “We must not give in.”

The two looked candidly into each other’s eyes.

“There is no way of knowing what these Security Service agents are going to do to us,” muttered the uncle. “But we have to wait them out, because there’s no alternative.”

“Patience is everything,” strongly asserted the niece.

A noise outside the interrogation room drew the attention of both. All of a sudden, the door swung open. The man who had last spoken to Gorda, the aide of the Prime Minister, barreled in. Behind him came two red-uniformed bruins with big bolters in their hands.

The civilian moved to the table, his eyes taking in both of the prisoners.

“Fast, get up and come with me,” he ordered in a cold tone.

Gorda did as told, Nito following her example.

As the Maltums reached the door, they saw a team of men in crimson waiting in the corridor, electrical weapons on the ready.

Where are we being taken? worried both Gorda and her uncle.

General Lokum was busy typing orders to his scattered co-plotters. One black-uniformed sergeant was in the office, watching the chair where Venco sat, waiting for events to develop.

What had happened to Gorda ahd his father? the prisoner worried. Horrible scenarios passed through his mind. This was a waking nightmare, he groaned.

His gaze fixed on the chief of the coup across the room from him.

Was this war-lover about to succeed, taking power and plunging Bakaz and its neighbors into armed conflict?

Outside, the streets of the capital seemed deserted. Police landers and sanitary vehicles ruled the streets and avenues. Vertical carriers were still in their berths, waiting for the coming of their hectic day, not too far ahead.

The population of Bakaz City was, for the most part, fast asleep. Even Garrison Street had long since gone to bed. Overhead, a sea of stars covered the greenish blue of the night sky. The terraces had reached their nadir of inactivity.

A glimpse of Solnti struck in the eastern mountains, then seemed to disappear. Cool breezes blew down Terazi Mountain, harbingers of morning .

Bakazians believed these quiet hours were for rest and sleep, and had never changed that custom from the far past. But this night was an unusual one.

As rays of green appeared overhead, a fleet of armored landcars streamed through the ground level of the capital, converging at the garrison that held M.I.S. headquarters.

In seconds, all the gates and checkpoints were overcome. Armed men and women in bright crimson uniforms with powerful bolters in their hands occupied all the entry posts. The sleek, gray landers sped toward a particular building, five stories high.

The red-coated squads were not opposed, but joined by the troops with black uniforms. A few words of explanation and the M.I.S. guards joined forces with the invaders. Gradually, the new group took command of the fortress and the headquarters.

A specially assigned contingent rushed up the stairways to the top floor. The door of the General’s office was opened in an instant with an electrical blast from a weapon. A half dozen attackers rushed in.

“General Espro Lokum,” yelled the officer in charge, “you are under arrest for sedition and insurrection. Please, surrender to us with no resistance.”

Venco watched, dumbstruck, as the personal guard of the General was placed under arrest and taken away.

Lokum, his hands raised in the air, was taken into custody and marched out of the office.

The officer in red turned to Venco as a technician took the General’s seat behind the desk and began to type orders countermanding and canceling the coup plans.

“Who are you?” he asked Venco.

“I could ask the same question,” replied the tapper. “You are here to halt the conspiracy, I take it. That has been my purpose, till I was captured by the chief of military intelligence.”

“We are the executive guards,” explained the other. “Only the Prime Minister can give us commands. Our forces protect and serve him. He sent us here to arrest the leader of the conspiracy.”

“I would like to see the Prime Minister, if I could,” smiled Maltum with a feeling of victory. “There is a lot he will wish to know about these extraordinary events.”

A gray landcar sped Venco and his escort of red-uniformed officers to the governmental center. Solnti had risen above the horizon, into a bright green sky.

The Prime Minister had been busy suppressing now defunct coup and could not see the rescued journalist at once.

I’d better continue being Korei Maltum, the tapper decided as he waited in an anteroom. Busy aides rushed in and out of the P.M.’s office.

All of a sudden, Venco caught sight of Gorda and his father exiting from the sanctum of the head of Bakaz.

Gorda saw him and rushed forward to kiss and embrace her student in tapping.

She whispered in her cousin’s ear. “My father heard the transceiver transmission and sent it here over fiberline. It went directly to the Prime Minister. Gopa is paid for such services.”

Venco took this in, then related what he had experienced to hid cousin and his father.

“Captain Moskum is dead. I was captured and held by the head of the conspirators.” He lowered his voice. “I am known to my rescuers as Karei Maltum.”

Gorda, tear of joy in her eyes, kissed him once more. Then, Venco and his father gave each other a hearty embrace.

A red-coated colonel came up to the trio.

“Mr. Karei Maltum, the Prime Minister will see you for a few minutes. Please follow me.”

His cousin murmured into Venco’s ear. “Don’t reveal how the tap works.”

Smiling, he gave her a single wink of his eye.


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