Can Ranger Will and the Robotmen head off a war in the Jovan system?
Marshall Ezra Wojciechowski ran a hand through his graying hair. "I know Will. I was there with your folks. But the Mimasans have changed. The Solar Council is ready to send in the Space Marines."
"Things are that bad?"
"Councillor Treemas wanted me to tell you at once."
"Treemas isn't the kind to panic. I'd better get moving. Thanks, Ezra."
"I'll see you, Will. Give the Tin Men my regards."
The viewscreen cleared.
"Excuse me, Ranger Will."
"Yes, Webster," Will said as he turned. He saw a slightly taller steel plated robot standing beside the black and silver robot.
"AL76 ready for duty, Master."
"Grag and Speedy and I finally got AL76 repaired after what the claim jumpers in the asteroid belt did to him. We had to make some of the parts for him and guess at a few others."
Webster put a silvery hand on the other robot's shoulder. "He was your mother's finest creation before she created the three of us."
"I'm glad to see you're back with us, AL76."
"Thank you, Master."
"But right now, we hav to get to Mimas fast. AL76 return to your cubicle."
Will hit the alarm. He and his black cat, Dark Nebula, were in their acceleration couches and the three robots in their control chairs in less than a minute.
The Comet shot off for Mimas at top speed.
Chapter Two: "What Do You Hear?"
Will usually enjoyed being on Mimas. He'd spent his early childhood here and the gravity maintained at three-fourths of Earth's by the Forerunner generator at the moon's core lent a bounce to his step.
Mimasport seemed the same. But Will was troubled by what he saw of the Mimisans. They seemed jumpy and nearly all were frowning.
As he, Grag, Speedy, and Webster headed across the spaceport, two young spacers fresh off a cargo ship watched them.
"That's Ranger Will. Made Unattached almost as soon as he joined the Patrol."
"Only 5'5" and doesn't look very muscular. But he's a direct descendant of Whistling Dan Barry on his father's side and Dusty Fogg on his mother's side."
"They say there ain't a man in Known Space faster on the draw."
"Isn't the Comet the quickest and fastest ship in Known Space?"
"Sure is. Ranger Will really knows how to apply scientific discoveries. Takes after his Dad. The Comet has improvements that no other ship in the fleet has."
"Didn't the robots raise him?"
"Yep. After the Milford Mafia killed his parents, genius robotist Susan Calvin Vanderbilt and skilled engineer Thomas J. Vanderbilt, the three Robotmen bought him up. He and the Robotmen broke up the Milford Mafia before he turned 16.
"They broke through the Milford asteroid's fortifications that even the Patrol couldn't crack. Ranger Will beat their leader, the feared Demon Knight in hand to hand combat."
"Will is supposed to be a lot stronger than he looks."
"He took out a grizzly bear once with only his bare hands. Just like his ancestor Whistling Dan did."
"I thought it was Clark Savage Jr. that did that."
"Do you believe everything people tell you?"
Webster's supersensitive hearing effortlessly picked up the conversation. He was always interested in what people were saying about them.
Will and the Robotmen went down a narrow alley between two warehouses. A nudge by Webster and Will turned to see a slight figure in the dim light under an overhang.
The little man had a huge head with large faded blue eyes. A few strands of white hair struggled to cover the dome of his head.
"Findar. What's wrong?"
"I do not know, Will. We seem to have lost our serenity. Even I have trouble remaining calm and balanced."
"I feel a bit jumpy myself," Will admitted.
"Humans are sensitive to ultrasonics," Webster said. "I can just detect a faint sound high on the ultrasonic band."
"Yes, I hear it too," Grag said.
"Weird modulation pattern," Speedy added.
"Similar to some human brain patterns," Grag said.
"None of you have heard it before when we were here," Will said.
The three Robotmen looked at each other. Webster said, "We have not."
They looked at each other again. "We have never sensed anything quite like this before," Webster said.
"That could be quite significant," Will said. "That and the trouble here are both since our last visit."
He briefly gripped the shoulder of the small humanoid. "We'll do what we can, Findar."
"I am heartened, Will. I shall do what I can to smooth your way. But be careful. Many of my people are becoming irrational."
Findar faded into the shadows.
Will turned to his three companions. "Let's find this sound. Something must be generating it." He gestured. "Grag you start out going north. Speedy, you go south. Webster and I will keep going east. We'll try triangulating this sound."
"Sure thing, Chief."
Chapter Three: "No Need to Go Looking for Trouble. It Always Finds Us."
Webster stiffened as though listening. Will knew that he was in touch with the other two Robotmen.
"One seems to have stopped." Webster turned his head a bit and began running. Will was right behind him.
Even with the daily exercises Will did under high gravity and with the low gravity of Mimas, Will couldn't keep up with Webster. Keeping the silver and black robot in sight was enough, though.
Soon they approached a traffic snarl. Outraged Mimasans were actually fighting each other in the streets. Shrill voices filled the air. Small fists tried to dent large heads. Webster slowed down. Will could see Speedy's silvery form above the crowd forcing his way from a cross street.
Then Speedy disappeared. There was the sound of metal on metal.
Will's ray guns set on stun flashed into his hands. Webster followed suit.
The crowd melted away in front of them.
There was a bellow of rage that momentarily silenced the crowd. Grag stood on the top of a truck in the other cross street. He had a stun rifle in each massive red hand and was hosing down the crowd.
Soon all was quiet. Speedy got up as Will, Webster, and Grag hurried up to him.
"Are you hurt, Speedy?" Will asked.
"Just a few dents, Chief. Nothing serious. Grag will enjoy telling me how careless I was as he fixes them."
"It's quit," Grag said disgustedly. "Was probably one of those." He pointed to a cluster of 3 small cars, a flatbed with something wrapped in a tarpaulin on it, a cream-colored van, and a robot pulled wagon, apparently full of pineapples.
Will started for the vehicles, carefully stepping over sleeping Mimasans.
Before he could get there, three motorcycles rode by little men in Mimasport Police uniforms pulled up behind them.
"Come here," one commanded.
"Will grimaced and went over. The Robotmen followed him.
"What has happened here?"
"There was a riot. We put everyone to sleep with stunners so that no one would get hurt," Will explained.
"You do not have authority to do that."
"This is Unattached Space Ranger Will," Grag growled. "The Space Patrol has given him the authority to keep order anywhere in the Solar System."
"But Chane Din..." one of the Mimasan policemen started to say.
Another held up a small hand. "We must sort this out. Please return to your ship and wait for us."
Will nodded. He gestured and he and the Robotmen headed back to the Comet.
Grag grumbled all the way back to the ship.
When they arrived at the Comet, there were two more policemen waiting. After Will and the Robotmen entered the ship, the policemen moved to the foot of the ramp.
Chapter Four: "Now What?"
The four met in the Control Room of the Comet.
"Another fine mess you've gotten us into," Grag said to Speedy.
"I wasn't the one that left dents in the roof of that truck," Speedy said.
"That's done, men," Will said. "What do we do now? We can slip out of here without them noticing. But we need to know where to go."
There was a meow and Dark Nebula hopped up onto his acceleration couch. His unusually large head was the only sign that he was not a normal cat.
Webster reached for Nebula's collar and unfastened the ornamental boss. "Shall we see what Nebula has noticed."
Speedy nodded. "That cat seems to have a nose for what we need."
"Remember when you got him on Proxima Centauri, Will?" Grag said. "That place was spooky. The Adepts looked like ghosts on all wavelengths."
"Supposed to be one of the Forerunner races," Speedy added.
"Crystalline pillars upholding a crystalline roof over each world in the system. What a work of engineering!" Grag was momentarily lost in admiration of such a feat.
Webster put the collar boss into a specially designed recorder.
In less than a minute, a green light came on. Webster took out the boss and replaced it on Dark Nebula's collar as the recorder screen lit up.
A cat's eye view of things usually takes in a lot of feet and legs. But Nebula had obviously put his front paws up on something for all the shots.
Most of the short film sequences showed cream colored vehicles marked Simon's Bakery. Some showed Mimasans with rings on their left index fingers. Two shots showed a close up of two different rings.
"Chief, let's go back and look at one of those bakery drivers."
Speedy reached over to the recorder. The picture froze and zoomed on the driver's hands on the steering wheel. He was wearing a now familar ring.
"Good work, Speedy. Probably some form of identification."
"I fear we have a problem then, Ranger Will," Webster said.
"Both of the policemen at the foot of the ramp had such rings."
"As did the policeman that mentioned Chane Din," Grag said.
"There is something a little odd about their faces, "Webster said. "Their features are almost too regular."
Will knew that all three robots were blessed with photographic memory. He nodded. "I think that we've got a problem."
"There's only two of them, Chief," Speedy said as his spidery silver arms moved restlessly.
"And a lot more if we stun those," Will said.
"We can't just stand here, Chief."
"We won't. Grag, you get AL76 and work on building something to jam those ultrasonic generators."
"Won't work near the generators, Will."
\"Also turn out a few small flying robots to look like moon doves equipped for surveillance and able to disable a heavy duty generator without injuring nearby Mimasans."
"Right, Will. Twenty should be enough. I'll get AL76 on it right away."
"Speedy, use the Comet's computer. Link up to the local Net and find out all you can about Chane Din. And anything else that looks fishy to you."
"Right, Chief. I'm on it." Speedy darted over to his control chair and his hands blurred over the built-in computer keys.
"Webster, button the Comet up tight. Keep a look-out all around the ship. I think trouble's on the way."
"Another name for fun, Chief," Speedy said, without looking away from his computer screens.
"As for me, I think our junior partner could use some tuna. He's had a busy day."
Dark Nebula looked smug as he jumped down and followed Will from the Control Room.
Chapter Five: "Chane Din is Up to Something."
Ranger Will frowned as he looked over Speedy's shoulder at the computer screen. "Chane Din seems well on his way to running this world."
"What puzzles me, Chief, is that the fool can't see that he'll bring in the Space Marines if he keeps up this war talk."
"You know, Speedy, I'm beginning to think that's just what he wants."
"Ranger Will," Webster broke in. "There are several more policemen and two vehicles here. I think they want admittance."
"Guess we better go see what they want. Get Grag with us. And take the usual precautions."
Ranger Will and the three Robotmen met the small large-headed policemen part way down the ramp. One policeman went past them.
But Speedy had flipped the airlock door shut.
The policeman struggled to open it, but couldn't.
"The Comet is not part of Mimas and you have no reason to enter it," Will said quietly.
"But we were ordered..." the policeman at the airlock said.
"We have all four of them here. Just keep watch around the ship for now," the policeman in charge said.
He turned to Ranger Will. "I'm afraid you will have to go to headquarters with us and make your statements on today's incident."
Chapter Six: "I Look Bad in Stripes."
Police headquarters was a squat, massive building build of dark volcanic rock.
It didn't look much better inside.
Especially when twenty little policemen with drawn guns surrounded them. Quick hands disarmed them.
Then they were hustled into another room. Three little men sat on a dias. Even Will was close enough to recognize the rings on their left index fingers.
"Ranger Will, you and the Robotmen, are being held on the suspicion of murdering ten citizens of Mimas. It will not pay to try anything while here as there will be two armed men watching each of you at all times and men outside watching on telescreens."
He gestured toward the cell block. "And each cell is airtight with its separate air circulation system. So you cannot gas us while we can gas you."
"The Robotmen do not kill unarmed civilians" Speedy said indignantly. "When is our trial? Or do we get one?"
The spokesman smirked, "I'm sure we will get to you quite soon."
He gestured. Will and the Robotmen were marched away.
Chapter Seven: "Dance to the Jailhouse Rock."
Ranger Will sat on a too-small bunk in his cell with his arms cuffed behind him. In three neighboring cells, the Robotmen were wrapped in chains too heavy for even Grag to budge.
In addition, eight policemen with drawn guns were watching them. None looked too happy with the job.
"Even Grag with his big feet wouldn't have stomped three Mimasans," Speedy said.
"Nor would you have knocked over seven more," Grag added.
The policemen's eyes were on their captives. They didn't see something small and dark slip in.
Dark Nebula paused to scratch his neck.
Eight policemen yawned, almost in unison. Then they all sagged to the floor.
Dark Nebula trotted over to Will's cell and rubbed against the transparent blast proof door. Around Dark Nebula's collar were small plastic containers. Each had been clawed open. There were small plugs in his delicate nostrils.
Speedy's spidery arms seemed to have several more joints as he twisted until his fingers touched a lock. It opened. Then he reached a second and a third.
One of Grag's hands had left its wrist and was going from lock to lock. As had one of Webster's hands.
Soon the three Robotmen were free and had opened the locks on their cell doors. Will had slipped out of his cuffs and had his cell door open about the time that Speedy reached it.
Dark Nebula rubbed against Will's legs and purred. Will reached down and stroked the cat's head. The plugs in Will's nose, put in before he left the Comet, had filtered out the sleeping gas.
A quick search in the next room found all the weapons that had been taken from them.
Then they left through a police station full of sleeping Mimasans. Will stopped and leaned over one wearing a familar ring on his left index finger.
Will undid the Mimasan's collar and studied his neck. The three Robotmen joined him. Dark Nebula sat down and looked bored.
Speedy looked at his companions. "That explains a lot."
"It does indeed," Will said. "But we've got to get moving. That rally of Chane Din's is in West Stadium in less than an hour."
A man, three robots, and a cat headed out into the gathering dusk. They had a world to save.
Chapter Eight: "Just an Evening in the Park"
Chane Din was tall for a Mimasan, nearly four and a half feet tall. He waved his hands to silence the crowd. "My friends. A new day dawns on Mimas. A day when we will be free of our oppressors."
"Give the order to AL76," Will said to Webster.
AL76 stood beside a bank of controls in the Comet's engineering and maintenance section patiently waiting. When he received Webster's order, he quickly pushed one control button.
Twenty flying robots that looked like moon doves went into power dives. Eight ultrasonic generators ceased to operate.
Webster, Grag, and Speedy all looked toward the area back of the stage. "One left back there. Too heavily shielded for the flying robots to destroy." Webster gestured.
"Grag, take out that generator. Webster and Speedy, come with me."
The crowd was again going wild when three figures hurtled across the stage. Several Mimasans tried to stop them, but failed.
Dark Nebula came out of nowhere and tripped two.
"People of Mimas. You are being tricked. Chane Din is a liar and a fake." Will's voice projected out and momentarily silenced the crowd.
Chane Din started to answer.
With an abrupt gesture, Will ripped Chane Din's head off.
The crowd gasped. Will held Chane Din's head in his hands. But underneath was a smaller head. The head of an Enceladusan.
The small man who had posed as Chane Din tried to draw a concealed raygun. Will bounced his fake head off his real one.
The fake Chane Din dropped his raygun and went over backwards.
Webster picked up the head. "A great job of robotics. Perhaps Tal Cabot of Mars. Or Malik Rosemead of Mercury."
"Perhaps their equal who is on the wrong side of the law," Will said.
There was a crash as Grag charged into the last generator that had held the people of Mimas enthralled. The massive red robot turned out to much sturdier than the generator.
The people of Mimas looked at each other. Then at the being who had posed as Chane Din.
A low growling sound arose from the masses that had so recently hailed their glorious leader.
Grag joined Will, Speedy, and Webster.
It took all four of them to get Chane Din off the moon safely.
The Patrol moved in and sorted out the fake Mimasans from the dazed natives.
To Will's relief, the Mimasans were their normal selves in less than an Earth week.
"There's No Place Like Home."
A little over two months later, Ranger Will and the Robotmen were sitting on a platform at the edge of Mimasport's busy spaceport.
The Chief Administrator of Mimas was delivering a speech to the throngs of cheering Mimasans.
Will did his best to mimic the poise of the Robotmen. He guessed that Speedy was listening to his computers working on some complex problem while holding his body immobilized.
Marshall Ezra Wojciechowski, as the senior Patrol officer present, ceremoniously took over Mimas Base on behalf of the Patrol.
Then the stocky, greying officer turned it over to Ranger Will and the Robotmen as the senior Patrol officers of Mimas. The crowd became even noisier.
The crowd of cheering Mimisans escorted Ranger Will and his companions to the gates of Mimas Base.
Ezra grinned as they were left by themselves. "I reckon that getting this base shaped up will keep all of you busy awhile."
Will nodded. "Grag and I will set up a complete maintenance bay for the Comet."
Grag added, "I've got some ideas to improve our defenses. As well as the maintenance robots."
Speedy gestured. "I'm going to built the best base computer in Known Space. I'll call it Isaac."
"Isaac?" Ezra queried.
"The genius who designed the first robot over twenty years before there was the technology to built it."
Ezra turned to Webster. "I suppose you'll find something to do."
"First, I'll check everything brought here to verify that it's what it should be. Then I'll help AL76 set up a security system. He will run the base when we're away."
"With the help of Isaac," Speedy said.
"Well, looks like you fellows can get along without me. But somehow I've got a feeling that you'll be out of here before too long."
Ranger Will nodded. "Things do seem to turn up."
Ezra turned with a wave and headed for the Patrol cruiser waiting for him nearby in the Mimas spaceport. Shortly after he boarded, it lifted off.
But by then, Ranger Will and the Robotmen were busy fitting up their new home.