作者：Brown, Rosel George
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From An Unseen Censor试读：
版权信息书名：From An Unseen Censor作者：Brown, Rosel George排版：HMM出版时间：2018-01-30本书由当当数字商店（公版书）授权北京当当科文电子商务有限公司制作与发行— · 版权所有 侵权必究 · —You can't beat my Uncle Isadore—he'sdead but he's quick—yet that is justwhat he was daring me to try and do!
Uncle Isadore's ship wasn't in bad shape, at first glance. But a second look showed the combustion chamber was crumpled to pieces and the jets were fused into the rocks, making a smooth depression.
The ship had tilted into a horizontal position, nestling in the hollow its last blasts had made. Dust had sifted in around it, piling over the almost invisible seam of the port and filming the whole ship.
We circled around the ship. It was all closed and sealed, blind as a bullet.
"Okay," Rene said. "He's dead. My regrets." He coughed the word out as though it were something he had swallowed by accident.
"But how do you know?" I asked. "He might be in there."
"That port hasn't been opened for months. Maybe years. I told you the converter wouldn't last more than a month in dock. He couldn't live locked up in there without air and water. Let's go." My guide had no further interest in the ship. He hadn't even looked to see what the planet was like.
I stood shivering in my warm clothes. The ship seemed to radiate a chill. I looked around at the lumpy, unimaginative landscape of Alvarla. There was nothing in sight but a scraggly, dun heather sprouting here and there in the rocks and dust, and making hirsute patches on the low hills.
I had some wild idea, I think, that Uncle Izzy might come sauntering nonchalantly over the hills, one hand in the pocket of a grilch-down jacket and the other holding a Martian cigarene. And he would have on his face that look which makes everything he says seem cynical and slightly clever even if it isn't.
"The scenery is dull," he might say, "but it makes a nice back-drop for you." Something like that, leaving the impression he'd illuminated a side of your character for you to figure out later on.
Nothing of the kind happened, of course. I just got colder standing there.
"All right," Rene said. "We've had a moment of silence. Now let's go."
"I—there's something wrong," I told him. "Let's go in and see the—the body."
"We can't go in. That ship's sealed from the inside. You think they make those things so any painted alien can open the door and shoot in poisoned arrows? Believe me, he has to be inside if those outside ports are sealed. And he has to be dead because that port hasn't been opened in months. Look at the dust! It's a fourth of the way up the port."
Rene lumbered over to it and blew away some of the lighter dust higher up.
"See that?" he asked.
He groaned. "Well, you'll have to take my word for it. It's a raindrop. Almost four months old. A very light rain. You could see the faint, crusted outline of the drop if you knew how to look."
"I believe you," I said. "I hired you because you know which side of the trees the moss grows on and things like that. Still...."
Rene was beginning to stomp around impatiently. "Still what?"
"It just isn't like Uncle Isadore." I was trying to search out, myself, what it was that struck me as incongruous. "It's out of character."
"It's out of character for anybody to die," Rene said. "But I've seen a lot of them dead."
"I mean at least he would have died outside."
"Oh, for Pete's sake! Why outside? You think he took rat poison?"
I went around to the other side of the spaceship, mostly to get away from Rene for a moment. I'm only a studs and neck clasp man and Rene had twenty years' experience on alien planets. So he was right, of course, about the evidence. There was no getting around it. Still....
I circled back around to where Rene was smoking his first cigarette since we left Earth. His face was a mask of sunbaked wrinkles pointing down to the cigarette smack in the middle of his mouth.
"Uncle Izzy wouldn't die like an ordinary mortal," I said. "He'd have a brass band. Or we'd find his body lying in a bed of roses with a big lily in his hand. Or he might even disappear into thin air. But not this." I waved a hand toward the dead ship.
"Look," Rene said. "My job was to find your Uncle Isadore. I've found him. We can't get inside that ship with anything short of a matter reducer, which I don't happen to have along since they weigh several tons. You'll have to take my word for it that his body's in there. Now let's go home." He managed to talk without moving the cigarette at all.
"You said a week," I reminded Rene.
"I said if I didn't find him in a week, then he wasn't there. I've found him. I'm sorry if he was your favorite uncle or something."
"As a matter of fact, I never liked him. He was—frivolous. He never had a job. He thought life was a big game."
"Then how come he got so rich?"
"He always won."
"Not this time, brother! But if he's not your favorite uncle, why all this concern? You can take my word for it he's dead and you've done your duty."
"There are two things that bother me. One is curiosity. I just don't believe Uncle Izzy died in an ordinary fashion locked up in a spaceship. You don't know him, so you wouldn't understand. The other thing I'm concerned about is—well, his will."
Rene barked a couple of times. I had learned this indicated laughter. "I figured what you were really after was his money."
Under my yellow overskin, I could feel myself coloring. That wasn't at all the point. I'd mortgaged Mother's bonds to finance this trip, confident that Uncle Izzy would make it good when we found him. If I couldn't get Mother's bonds out of hock, she'd have to live out her life in a Comfort Park. I shuddered at the thought. Uncle Isadore must have known that when he radared for help. He must have provided some way....
"You said a week and we're staying a week," I told Rene as authoritatively as I could manage. "You haven't actually showed me Uncle Izzy's—er—corpus delicti, so I have you on a legal technicality." I didn't know whether or not this was true, but it sounded good.
"All right, we'll stay." Rene spat the sentence out onto the ground. "But if you think I'm going to do any more looking, take another guess."
He tramped back into his own ship, leaving the outside port and the pressure chamber open.
If only Uncle Izzy had done that!
I went over his ship inch by inch, feeling with my hands, to be sure there was no extra door that might be opened. Rene would have laughed, but I was beginning to build up antibodies against Rene's laughter.
I got the bottom part of the ship dusted off and found nothing.
I pushed open the door of Rene's ship and asked him for a ladder.
"You'll have to pay for it," he warned. "Once it's open, I can't carry it in my ship and I'll have to get another."
"Okay, okay! I'll pay for it."
He handed me a synthetic affair that looked like a meshed rope, wound tight, about the size of a Venusian cigar.
"This is a ladder?" I asked incredulously, but he had shut the door in my face.
I slipped the cellophane off and unrolled it. It seemed to unroll endlessly. When it was ten feet long and four feet wide, I stopped unrolling. Sure enough, it hardened into a ladder in about ten minutes. It was so strong I couldn't begin to bend it over my knee.
I set it against the side of the ship and began to investigate the view ports. The first two were sealed tight as a drum.
The third slipped off in my hands and clattered over the side of the ship onto the rocks.
I was almost afraid to look through the "glass" beneath. I needn't have been. I could see absolutely nothing. It was space-black inside.
I went back to Rene's ship for a flashlight. He was unimpressed by my discovery.
"Even if you could break the glass, which you can't," he said, "you still couldn't get through that little porthole. Here's the flash. You won't be able to see anything."
He came with me this time. Not because he was interested, but because he wanted another cigarette and never smoked in the ship.
He was right. I couldn't see a darned thing in the ship with the flashlight. But I found something—a little lead object that looked like a coin. It had rolled into a corner of the port.
Now I don't like adventure. I don't like strange planets. All I've ever asked of life was my little four-by-six cubby in the Brooklyn Bloc and my job. A job I know inside out. It's a comfortable, happy, harmless way to live and I test 10:9 on job adjustment.
All the same, it was a thrill to discover a clue that Rene would have thrown away if he'd been the one looking.
I tossed it casually in the air and showed it to Rene.
"Know what that is?" I asked.
"Slug for a halfdec slot machine?"
"Nope. Know what I can do with it?"
He didn't say.
"I'm going to open Uncle Izzy's ship from the inside."
Rene lighted a fresh cigarette from the old one and let the smoke out of his nose. It gave rather the impression of a bull resting between picadors.
"Can you show me, on the outside, approximately where the button is that you push on the inside to unseal the ship?" I inquired casually.
"I can show you exactly."
He pointed to a spot next to the entrance port. I wet my finger and made a mark in the dust so I could get it just right. Then I found a sharp stone and cut around the edges of the lead. As I slipped off the back half of the coinlike affair, I clapped it over the finger mark.
The entrance port swung open.
If I'd had a feather, I would have taken great pleasure in knocking Rene over with it.
"It'd be worth a million dollars," he breathed, "to know how you did that."
"Oh, a lot less than that," I said airily.
"Uncle Isadore had it set up," I told him, using the same patiently impatient tone he used on me. "He knew I'd recognize that lead coin. There was a cuff link in it."
"A cuff link!"
"A studs and neck clasp man has to know about cuff links, too. This happens to be an expensive cuff link, but worth only about a year's salary, not a million dollars. They're held together by a jazzed-up electromagnetic force rather than by a clasp. This force is so strong it would take a derrick to pull them apart. The idea is to keep you from losing one. If you drop it to the floor, you just wave the mate around a little and it pops up through the air."
"How do you get them apart?"
"Just slip them sideways, like a magnet. You can sheathe them in lead, like the one I found, to cut down the attraction. This is how they're packaged. You don't know about them because they're not advertised—that keeps them a luxury item, you know."
"So your Uncle Isadore pasted one of them on the port button."
"He didn't have to paste. All he had to do was stick it on. All I had to do was line up the mate to it and the attractive force pushed the button."
"That's very neat," Rene said. "But why the hell didn't he just leave the port open? He'd hardly do this sort of thing with his dying gasp."
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "As a matter of fact, I wonder why he radared me if he really wanted to be rescued. He had plenty of friends who could rescue him more reliably."
I had an inkling of what had been on Uncle Isadore's mind. Although Uncle Izzy had had three—or was it four?—wives, he'd very carefully had no children. And it had occurred to him at an advanced age to take an interest in me.
He'd sent me through two years of general studies and reluctantly let me specialize in studs and neck clasps.
"You were a grilch hop expert in Middle School," he had told me. "How come you're getting so stuffy?"
"Because I can't be an adolescent all my life, Uncle Isadore," I had replied stiffly. "I would like to get into some solid line of work and be a good citizen."
"Phooey!" he'd said. But he had let me do what I'd wanted. It was because of this that I had felt duty bound to answer his call for help.
I'd not felt duty bound to take all the opportunities he'd tried to force on me when I got out of school. Mining the semi-solid seas of Alphard kappa. Fur trading on Procyon beta. And a hundred others, all obviously doomed to failure unless there was one lucky chance.
"But I'm happy here with my little room and my little job," I kept telling Uncle Isadore.
"You only think you're happy because you don't know any better," he kept telling me.
Only, now that he was dead, he seemed to have me where he wanted me. Now that nothing could matter to him any longer.
"Maybe he was getting senile," Rene suggested.
"Uncle Izzy always said he'd rather die than—he did die," I replied, suddenly recalling myself to the present and the open outside port of the ship. I realized how reluctant I was to go in. It was one thing to admit Uncle Izzy was dead—I cherished no great affection for him—but it was something else to have to face his dead body.
"Would you mind going in first?" I asked Rene.
He shrugged and shouldered the inside door open.
He came out, his face a study in perplexity. "Not here!" he said. "This is the first time I've been wrong in fifteen years!"
"That's because it's the first time you've been up against Uncle Izzy. He must have closed the port behind him the same way I opened it."
I climbed through the door, feeling immensely relieved. I realized then what had really been worrying me. If the gods had abandoned Isadore at the last, what did they have in mind for the rest of us mere mortals?
I kicked at my mind irritably, knowing these were young thoughts. But then I am young, I explained to myself.
The inside of the ship was neat and empty. Stuck on the instrument panel with a vaccup was a note, in Uncle Izzy's flowery script.My boy. I have died of boredom. Do not look for the remains. I have hidden my body to avoid the banality of a decent burial. I bequeath you my entire fortune. Find it.
Rene groaned. "I suppose now you want to look for the body."
"No. If he says it's hidden, it's hidden. But it would be a little silly to go off without finding his fortune, wouldn't it?"
"Looking for buried treasure wasn't in the contract," Rene pointed