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Chapter XXIV

            "One thing sure, Mister," Steve said, never taking his eyes off the strange visitor, "you know a lot about us: where we were, who we were, even our hobbies." He paused, waiting for an unwarranted move. "Tell us, Mister---"
            "My name is not important," Harrison said, "It's not as important as what I've come to you for." He looked from one face to the other, seeming to ensure that he knew who they were. "If you're as reckless, daring, and ingenious as you've proved yourselves to be in your previous---escapades, I need you to do to a job for me." Hostility pervaded the air as the trio of crooks exchanged angry glances. Who is this who presumes he can order them around, they thought. "I know that you dislike my saying I want you to work for me," Harrison hurried on, "I know that you hate authority of any kind, but you will have to listen to my plan, which will give you the opportunity to do away with a great governmental farce." The three looked at each other with a bit more interest, but Vincent Harrison could still feel the reluctance in the room. "Have you heard," he looked at Stephen, "of Dr. Kushman?"
            "The historian?" Steve Vendor took interest.
            Vincent Harrison nodded, a faint smile on his lips. He looked at Ted Mitchell: "---or Dr. Ignacy?"
            "The metallurgist?" asked Ted.
            Warren Sigfield grunted, "Know any stamp collectors?"
            "John Peterson comes to mind." And Vincent Harrison knew that he had them where he wanted them. "And the job I'm giving you will let you---shall we say---earn the collections of those men. All you have to do is destroy the Congressional Hall of Worlds!"
            The three arch-crooks raised their eyebrows as one. "But that's impossible. The Security Service has the fortress better guarded than Fort Knox. You can't get within three miles of it in any direction, including straight upward." Warren Sigfield added, "They have an electrical field surrounding the place that automatically detonates any explosives in a five-mile radius. The outer dome has an energy-converting unit so strong that an atomic bomb can be set off on the roof and it will still stand. The inner dome is held impervious by the same magnetic fields which hold the Sun-globe in place. Destruction of that monstrosity has been tried dozens of times before, and not one was remotely successful."
            Vincent Harrison laughed in Warren's face. "I almost doubt you've heard the saying, 'Fight fire with fire.'" He watched Warren for a sign of understanding. "Oh, come now, if the outer shell's strength lies in electrical forces, and the inner shell relies on magnetism---"
            Warren grabbed for a pencil and a scrap of paper. "If I remember correctly, the fields of force in the Congressional Hall are similar to the magnetic qualities of a cyclotron, with the speaker's rostrum as one pole, and the point of contact of the Sun-globe to the dome as the other pole." He scribbled a few figures on the paper, then stopped." "We can't do it. The strongest portable power unit I have invented will just about cancel the dome's forces, but we wouldn't have anything left to demolish the building with. It would be like kicking a football that you can hardly lift."
            Harrison sighed. "Can't you use two football players?"
            "Negative; the forces set up by one unit almost tears our ship apart. Put two units within ten miles of each other, and there won't even be anything left to sweep up." He checked his figures again, went over the rough sketch he had made of the interior of the Hall of Worlds. He idly drew a vector from the Sun-globe downward; his pencil stopped. "Hey, Steve, did you know they have a bomb right inside the Hall, and no one ever thought of it before?"
            Steve glanced at the sketch. "You mean the Eternal Bulb?"
            "It will be like putting a firecracker inside a tin can," Warren said. "If the can doesn't split, the whole shebang will leave the ground." He leaned back in his Morris chair and puffed on his pipe. "All I have to do is get the power unit in a fifty-mile radius from a magnetic setup that powerful, and the lines of force will either cancel, or get so confused about their source or origin that they will utterly break down. The Eternity Globe will fall to the floor and explode. We won't have to worry about that building anymore." The four stood up.
            Steve Vendor said, "We'll want the---payment before we do the job, of course," as they left the sumptuous interior of "Sally Lou."
            "But I can't come back here again. I'm taking a great risk as it is, and I don't have the time to run back and forth. Anyway, I thought you were going to do it---well---tomorrow?" Vincent Harrison felt uneasy for the first time among his coworkers.
            "Tomorrow. That's a laugh," said Ted. "It will take at least a week to install the unit in the bomb-ship; and anyway, in our transport ship, it will take a bit longer than a day to just get between here and Earth."
            "But the sixth Congress meets in four days, you can't---" and then the thought struck Harrison. "I didn't mean that you were to strike when the building was being used. I thought, some night, you could sneak down and mess up the situation." He began to get panicky. "You don't mean to kill all those---" The thought was too much for him, and he realized that he had been surpassed in matters of sheer cruelty. He tried to cover up the pallor which he knew he showed, and tried to act unconcerned. "It really doesn't matter," he said, laughing weakly. "Just tell me what day it will be---I think I'll be absent." He laughed again, but it rang hollow on the surface of the planetoid.
            Steve laughed, too, but in a very different way. "I really can't say, I'm sorry, what day it will be."
            As Vincent Harrison swam back to his waiting ship, he thought he would have to have his spacesuit checked for leaks; some of the cold of outer space must be creeping in. That's where he thought his cold chills were coming from.