The Project Gutenberg eBook of Centauri Vengeance

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Title: Centauri Vengeance

Author: Stephen Marlowe

Illustrator: W. E. Terry

Release date: June 29, 2021 [eBook #65725]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at



By Darius John Granger

George Haven was the most powerful man in
the galaxy; now he had returned to Centauri and
he was afraid—for his past was staring at him!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
October 1956
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Haven began to realize it was a mistake returning to Centauri with his wife even before they reached their hotel. For Louise Haven said, as soon as the Centaurian porters had taken their baggage at the starport with cold, aloof correctness:

"Why, George! They don't seem to like you. I thought you would be a hero to them, from what you told me."

George Haven said nothing. He was a big, powerful-looking man in his late thirties. He was expensively dressed and he had taken the most expensive suite in Alpha City's best hotel and he had an expensive, young, and beautiful wife.

He thought: Today I'm one of the most powerful men in the stellar confederacy. What does she expect, that I'll win a popularity contest too? Well, I guess she'll learn eventually what makes an important man truly important. Could you sum it up in a word, in a single clearly understood word? he wondered. He decided that you could. The word was ruthless.

They swept into the hotel with their train of attendants and were received with the same aloof correctness. Haven watched with satisfaction while Louise removed her Sirian furs. Louise was something to look at, all right, but so were the furs. They'd cost Haven plenty and there was probably a trail of blood and tears behind them on Sirius III, for the animals whose coats they were, Haven knew, were ferocious.

It was very cold outside, as it always was on Centauri VII. The small, blue-skinned hotel manager said, in crisp, perfect English:

"The others are already here, Mr. Haven. They are waiting."

Of course the others had already arrived, Haven thought. You had to keep people waiting. Let them know their own importance didn't add up to a hill of beans.

"It's a beautiful suite, George," Louise Haven said after they had taken the pneumotube to their floor and entered their suite through the irising door. "At least the Centaurians saved the best for us."

"I'll always get the best for you, baby," Haven said, and took this beautiful young woman who had been his wife for exactly two months—long enough to reach Centauri—into his arms and kissed her.

Was there something unexpectedly stiff and cold about Louise's response? Haven did not know; he wondered if he had imagined it. Was the coldly correct behavior of the Centaurians getting on his nerves?

"You know," Louise said breathlessly, "it's still a little hard to realize I'm married to a legend. Mrs. George Haven. Mrs. Most-Important-Man-in-the-Galaxy. And it's even harder to believe you got your start right here on Centauri VII. Tell me about it, George."

"Man's got to get his start somewhere," Haven said, surprised that it sounded defensive. "Besides, that's why we've come to Centauri."

It was—and it wasn't. Haven's first big success, almost fifteen years ago, had been here on cold, bleak Centauri VII. Haven and a man named Drexell Tolliver—who had died here in Centauri—had discovered a uranium mine which had dwarfed all the remaining lodes on Earth. With that discovery as a stepping-off point, Haven now owned some fifty percent of all the producing uranium mines in the stellar confederacy. And since stellar civilization was an atomic civilization, Haven could buy and sell politicians across the length and breadth of the inhabited galaxy.

But, he thought now as Louise went into the next room to prepare for the reunion party with the Earthmen and Centaurians who had worked under Haven and Drexell Tolliver fifteen years ago, he hadn't been able to buy as much as a porter on Centauri VII. Damn them! he thought for the hundredth time. Damn the fantastically decadent Centaurians, anyway! They never told lies. It was biologically—or psychologically, he didn't know which—impossible for a Centaurian to tell a lie. On the other hand, Haven remembered from bitter experience, a Centaurian could refuse to answer you altogether. That was usually their way out. They were the most close-lipped people in the galaxy. There were no courts of law on Centauri: there could not be, for no one would testify against anyone else. The only retributive system they had was that of vendetta. It almost seemed incredible to Haven that Centauri VII had been admitted into the stellar confederacy at all.

Haven showered and dressed and wondered about the reunion. It had been his own idea. For here on Centauri was the one mistake which could ruin Haven, here where there were no politicians to be bought. The thought of it had weighed on Haven for fifteen years. It seemed safely hid, his secret. Hadn't fifteen years elapsed? But still, there was no predicting the Centaurians. No predicting them at all.

The reunion was a necessity, assuming Haven had to come. For, if you couldn't buy Centaurians, you could at least buy Earthmen. And Haven might need help.

He chuckled. He hadn't seen anything of these men for fifteen years, but he'd been paying them off regularly, like clockwork. Blackmail? It was hardly blackmail. Haven knew what they knew. Haven had offered them money almost from the beginning, and all of them had accepted. Ruthless, Haven thought again. In their own small way, these half dozen men were ruthless, too. Failures in life, of course, except for the money Haven paid them every month. But ruthless.

"Ready, George?" Louise asked.

Haven looked her up and down slowly. She was ravishingly beautiful. She was George Haven's property. He had made her what she was. He didn't even know her background, had purposely not delved into it. Forget about the past, he'd told her on the eve of their marriage. It's the future which counts. The future....

"The future!" toasted Allen Vorhees, lifting his glass of Centaurian liquor. "To all our futures."

The six Earthmen who knew Haven's secret drank with secret smiles. The smiles were for Louise—Louise who apparently knew nothing, Louise who looked up to her husband with the blind faith of a naive young girl.

Haven raised his own glass. "May the future treat all of you as well as the past fifteen years have," he said, and drank. The smiles faded around the table. They'd drink to that, all right, Haven thought. But they didn't like the idea.

A Centaurian waiter shuffled in with the first dinner course. Haven felt a mounting impatience. He wished the banquet was over already. He wished he could start planning what he had to do. He'd come to Centauri with no specific plan. He only knew that Drexell Tolliver's fifteen-years-frozen corpse was still waiting here on Centauri VII, to ruin him someday if he wasn't careful. Yes, Haven thought. I killed him. I murdered Drexell Tolliver. But it was for the good of the whole galaxy, couldn't they see that? Tolliver was an idealist, had wanted to give the huge uranium lode as a gift to the decadent Centaurians, who once had possessed a fine atomic civilization but had lost it a thousand years before Earthmen took to the stars. Then Drexell Tolliver said they could lease the mine back and work it. The galaxy would get its uranium, Centauri VII would get much-needed galactic credits, and the partnership of Tolliver-Haven would still run the mine.

But this way, the way it worked out, thought Haven, the galaxy gets all the uranium from me. The whims of the strange Centaurians didn't matter. It was for the good of the galaxy, wasn't it? Haven smiled, remembering. Galaxy, hell. Why didn't he admit it, at least to himself? It was for the good of George Haven. And in the process, in bringing about that good, Drexell Tolliver had had to die.

"... go out and visit the old mines," Angus MacCready was saying.

The last course was served. Vorhees suggested they could start for the mines in the morning, and they all agreed. Even Louise seemed fascinated by the idea, and this surprised Haven. Louise had never showed much interest in his enterprises—except, now that he thought of it, for the Centaurian mine.

Out there, Haven thought. A hundred miles from nowhere in the high ice mountains north of this city, there is a glacier. The ice is crystal clear, astonishing clear. And there, entrapped in the ice and perfectly preserved by it for all time and perfectly visible too, was Drexell Tolliver's body. Haven had, fifteen years before, melted the ice with a heat blaster and dropped Tolliver's body in. Then the ice had frozen over. For fifteen years, except when it snowed—and it did not snow often, despite the cold, on Centauri VII—the corpse had been perfectly visible for whoever wanted to see it. Fortunately, the viewers had only been Centaurians, and the Centaurians never bore testimony against one another, nor against outworlders, either.

Now he had to reach that body, had to hide it some way, with the help of these six men he'd been paying off for fifteen years because they'd been working for him and Tolliver and knew what he knew....

"I'd just love to go out there," he heard Louise saying.

"No, Louise," he said firmly. "I don't think you'd like it. Cold. Nothing to see, really. Why don't you just stay in the hotel when we get started in the morning?"

"But I insist," Louise said, smiling at him sweetly.

"Let the little lady go," MacCready said, smiling blandly.

Before Haven could answer, the little Centaurian waiter came by. "Glacier move," he mumbled.

"What did you say?" said Haven, startled.

"Nothing," said the Centaurian, and shuffled from the room. Haven got up and started after him, but saw Louise watching. He settled back and waited uncomfortably through the small talk of the reunion. It did not break up until the early hours of the morning and Haven went directly to their suite with Louise.

"No nightcap?" she asked him.

"Need plenty of sleep for the morning. But Lou, honey, I still don't think you ought to go."

"I'm going, George. That's all. It's the beginning of the George Haven legend, and I want to see it. Can you blame me?"

Haven had to admit that he could not. They went up to the suite, where Haven undressed and got into bed and pretended to fall asleep quickly. After what seemed a very long time to him he heard Louise's regular breathing.

"Sleeping honey?" he whispered.

No answer.

Haven got up quietly and dressed in the dark. He tiptoed to the door, looked back once, listened. Louise was still breathing regularly. Even before the reunion celebration was over, Haven had made up his mind. If Louise was going out there with him and the others in the morning—and apparently she was—then Haven had to go out there first, in the darkness, alone if necessary, to see what he could do about the body....

He closed the door softly behind him and stepped into the dim, night-lit hallway. He almost bumped into a small figure crouching there and jerked away from it with a startled exclamation.

It was the little Centaurian waiter.

Haven grabbed the collar of his tunic. "All right," he said. "All right, you're just the man I'm looking for. What did you mean, glacier move?"

"Glacier move. You know. You know!" The Centaurian offered a tentative smile.

"No, damn you, I don't know!" Haven whispered furiously, dragging the Centaurian into the stairwell.

"Glacier on mine then. Glacier not on mine now. All city know."

"Then where is it?"

"Glacier is river of ice. Glacier flow. Glacier one, two miles from city now."

"That glacier?" demanded Haven, horrified at the thought that Drexell Tolliver's body was within a mile or two of five million people, even if they were Centaurians.

"That glacier, yes."

"Take me there," commanded Haven, all but strangling the little Centaurian with his big hands.

"I take you," the blue man managed. His azure skin had gone a pale sky blue with fright. They're all the same, thought Haven. If you can't buy them you can scare the hell out of them.

"Then let's get started," Haven said.

A team of six-legged creatures drew the ice-sled silently through the night. They climbed steadily into the ice hills. Centauri had set, but little Proxima, Centauri VII's tiny second sun, was on the horizon and gave dusky light perhaps twice the brightness of Earth night at full moon. The little waiter, whose name Haven didn't know, drove the team in utter silence. The runners slid across the ice with scrapings and whisperings. The long, surprisingly bright night shadows fled before them. Haven was wrapped to the ears in furs and it was cold here in the ice hills, but he sweated with impatience. Sure, he told himself. You'll find the body. You'll see the body. But what will you do then.

It took hardly more than moments to reach the huge, amazingly transparent glacier. Fifteen years, thought Haven. Fifteen years is nothing to this river of ice. Fifteen hundred years—and it will still hold Drexell Tolliver's body, perfectly preserved. Drexell Tolliver's body, the wound inflicted by Haven's knife, the knife still there, in the dead man's side with Haven's fingerprints on the haft because for the first and only time in his life Haven had been frightened and thus careless....

Haven climbed off the sled and carefully skirted the upper edge of the crevasse he remembered so well. The bottom was in shadow. It was two hundred feet down, certainly, if not more. Haven shuddered. It would have been so easy for a man to slip. Why hadn't he thought of that, fifteen years ago? The crevasse had been here. He could have pushed Tolliver, instead of knifing him.

The waiter led the way at a brisk pace, his animal-pad-soled boots holding on the slick ice, as Haven's did. Finally, the waiter held up his hand:

"Here," he said. "Here Tolliver."

"You know?" Haven gasped. He had never doubted it for a minute, but somehow the two words—here Tolliver—had nevertheless startled him.

"All Alpha City know," said the native, stepping aside as Haven peered down through the utterly clear ice.

The body seemed very small and lonely and far away. It was there as it had been there and as it always would be there and as it had haunted Haven's sleep for fifteen years.

Haven probed his mind for ideas. There had to be something....

A heat blaster, he thought. I can go back to town and get a heat blaster and melt it free again and then—

But the little native had to die. True, he was only one of millions who had apparently seen the body, but he had taken Haven here, and if ever he could be brought to a stellar confederacy court to testify, and if it could be proved that the site of the mine, fifteen years ago, had been galactic and not Centaurian territory, and if he could be made to testify because, after all, he was not on Centauri and not subject to the Centaurian mores, then Haven was finished.

Haven removed the hand-stunner from his furs and pointed it at the native's back.

"Hold it, George! Don't move!"

He dropped the gun in his surprise. It was Louise's voice.

Runners slid whisperingly across the ice. A sled came up. Louise stood in it, a stunner in her own hand. She looked at him as the sled came to a stop. Her face was grim.

"Louise," Haven said accusingly. "You followed me from the hotel. But why—why?"

"Because I had to find out what you had to find out. Because you told me to be ruthless, George, remember? You always told me you had to be ruthless to get anyplace. So I was ruthless too. I married you."

"Ruthless—marrying me? I don't understand."

"You never looked into my past, George. That suited me fine. Well, come on. Get on this sled now! I'm taking you back to Alpha City. We're getting in touch with the Galactic representative to see if you can be indicted for Drexell Tolliver's murder."

"But you—"

Just then the small native came up with Haven's stunner. "You came almost too late, Miss Tolliver," he said.

Tolliver, thought Haven. Tolliver! "Tolliver!" he shouted, and his voice echoed from the ice hills and came back, boomingly, to him. "Tolliver!"

And calmly, Louise told him: "I am Drexell Tolliver's daughter. You fool, George. You fool. The others were here, but they never knew. Not Vorhees, not MacCready, not any of them. Sure, they took your money. They were curious, but why should they say no? You built the whole thing up in your mind. It was your own private nightmare. You never would have been found out if you hadn't come here. If you hadn't dreamed up this reunion, if you hadn't married Drexell Tolliver's daughter."

Haven heard her voice, but hardly heard the words. He began to run. Soon he was running very fast. He did not look back. He heard the bark of her stunner and saw the raw streaks of energy rip by him in the night. Run, he thought. You have to run now. You never had to run before, but you can do anything you have to do, can't you?

He ran faster and faster. The night and the ice swept by. This time he did not see the crevasse. He ran right up to the lip without a sound, into the death-trap he should have prepared for Drexell Tolliver fifteen years before.