Monday, July 6, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth and final installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, has eloped to Mercury with his one true love, Una Sinclair. Travel there is forbidden, but Conover and Sinclair have reached Mercury with the help of their friend Chick Davis, captain of the interplanetary cruise liner Rocket III. Unfortunately, they have learned that Mercury has just signed an extradition treaty with Earth, and Hjalmar Nordstrum, the new Terran ambassador, has ordered their arrest . . .

* * *

"A moment please," asked the Dairo. "Do I understand that these two are to be arrested and returned to Terra to stand trial?"

"It is our law, your excellency," replied Nordstrum.

"A strange law it is that separates lovers so obviously suited to one another. But I presume that your solons know best. I do not profess to understand, but would know more regarding the circumstances. Shall we retire to the Dairofa and discuss the case in detail?"

"As you wish, excellency." The ambassador was chagrined, but could do naught but acquiesce. Mills figited and fumed.

Larry pricked up his ears over the Dairo's speech. The sympathy of this president of the Mercurian council gave him renewed hope. He would present his own case. There still might be some way in which that cursed treaty could be abrogated. But that forlorn hope was quickly blasted when the Dairo addressed them from his place at the head of the council table.

"The treaty stands," he said. "It has been officially signed and sealed. But I feel that we are entitled to the facts of this unfortunate case. Our people will question the justice of such a procedure as is proposed and apparently necessary. We must be prepared to satisfy them as to the wisdom of our judgment in carrying on this and future negotiations with the outer planets."

"We understand, honored Dairo," smiled the ambassador. His precious agreement was safe. "But I must ask Mr. Mills to give you the complete history of the affair. I am unfamiliar with the details."

John X. Mills cleared his throat. This would be somewhat difficult, as he spoke no Termarven and would have to tell his story to the interpreter. The members of the Mercurian council cast solemn yet kindly glances on Una and Larry when Mills pointed an accusing forefinger at them.

"These two -- " he began. But there came an interruption.

A page advanced hurriedly to the council table and the Dairo motioned Mills into silence.

"Captain Davis," announced the page, "demands admittance."

The Dairo brightened. "Send him in," he ordered.

The conversation was in the Mercurian tongue and Mills stood perplexedly silent. But Larry had caught the name of his friend and guessed at the meaning of the interruption. He squeezed Una's hand joyfully. Good old Chick! He hadn't left them after all. And somehow he felt that things would happen quickly now.

Chick Davis advanced to the council table with a broad grin on his face. He was accompanied by two terrestrials, a man and a woman.

Larry craned his neck to see who they were. Art Hovey! Why, the big stiff! He had been on the Rocket III -- and never looked up his friend. What did it mean? And the girl! Alta Farrish! He blinked his eyes in amazement.

"Alta!" gasped John X. Mills, "what are you doing here?"

"That is what I intended asking you." She smiled sweetly, but it seemed that she drew a bit closer to the side of Arthur Hovey.

Larry was completely mystified. But he felt an almost uncontrollable impulse to laugh aloud in this great domed chamber. One more shock like this and Mills would surely die of apoplexy. His purpled features and bulging eyes would have made a horse laugh.

The irate financier forgot himself. He forgot that he was in the presence of the nobility and the highest authority of a strange planet.

"What do you mean?" he roared. "Am I not your legal guardian? Who gave you permission to leave home? Answer me!"

The Dairo frowned in annoyance, but he did not interfere.

Art Hovey stepped forward, keeping Alta in the background. "You are speaking to my wife, Mr. Mills," he said quietly.

There was a momentary silence. Then John X. Mills far outdid his previous efforts. He shook his fist in the face of the young man who had so calmly announced the preposterous affront to his authority. He ranted and stormed.

The Dairo pounded vigorously for silence. This terrestrial was insufferable.

Ambassador Nordstrom spoke sharply to his compatriot and Mills subsided, mopping his perspiring brow with a large silk handkerchief. He wished he had these two youngsters at home.

* * *

"Ambassador," asked the Dairo, "will you be so kind as to request the young people to present their side of the story? It seems to be much involved."

Nordstrum translated rapidly and Art Hovey stepped to the table. Larry regarded him in astonishment. Guess he hadn't known his friend as well as he thought. Such a transformation he had never considered possible. The usually phlegmatic Art was supremely confident; dominant; compelling. He directed his remarks at the ambassador.

"Mr. Nordstrum," he said, "you have been hoodwinked by Mills. He has used this mission as a means to a personal end. His sole object in appealing to Congress at this time was to prevent the marriage of my friend to the girl he loves and force him to marry the woman who is now my wife. John X. Mills is a scheming and unscrupulous rascal."

"I am beginning to believe that is true," interjected Nordstrum. This thing was a sorry mess. He felt suddenly ashamed.

"I know it is true," continued Art, "for I have investigated and have learned many things. For years I have loved Alta Farrish, his ward, but I never courted her, for Mills had planned her marriage to my dear friend, Laurence Conover. I thought she cared for him and that eventually he would submit to Mills' wishes. But my friend had other plans and I wished to help him, so I set about to learn the true state of affairs. First off, I found that my fondest dreams were possible of realization. I -- " He hesitated and glanced at his bride for approval. She nodded happily.

"Anyhow we were married -- perfectly in order -- A2 classification and everything. But my friend, to be happy, must escape the laws of the three outer planets. He planned to settle here on Mercury and found a way to reach this planet. But I learned that Mills had been watching him by means of the detectoscope -- had followed his every movement. So I watched Mills. I discovered the machinations he used in engineering this official mission to the inner planet. So I followed on the Rocket III, though my friend did not know I was on board. I wanted to surprise him -- here -- to be of some assistance should it be necessary."

"Art, you're a brick!" exclaimed Larry. He could scarcely credit his senses. To think of Art doping this out -- fooling him!

"But I haven't told you the worst." Art paused dramatically. "Mills not only deceived my friends; he deceived his ward. The stock he votes in United Synthetic Food is but half his own. The other portion is Alta's. He voted it by proxy and has forged papers which convinced her that he could thus control it until her marriage. This has been the club he held over Larry Conover and over his ward to force the union he planned -- a union that interested him only because he thought it would permit him to retain control of the vast business he has dominated for so many years."

"Liar!" grated Mills. But his tone was far from convincing.

"It's the truth. Here's the proof." Art handed a sheaf of papers to the ambassador, who scanned them carefully.

Larry could have kicked himself. Fool that he had been not to investigate the matter himself.

"Mills," said Nordstrum sternly, "he's got the goods on you. I'd keep my mouth shut now, if I were you. I'm through."

He turned to the Dairo. "Your excellency," he said, "I offer humble apology. I find that this young man speaks truth and that I have been deceived into becoming an unwitting party to the selfish schemes of my countryman. On behalf of my government I now propose to cancel the treaty we have signed, if it be your desire that this be done."

John X. Mills slumped low in his chair and stared at the floor. He seethed with rage. Yet he dared not retort.

"Ambassador," announced the Dairo, "you have acted in good faith and we blame you not for the deeds of this -- this member of your party. It is thought best, under the circumstances, that the papers be destroyed and the incident forgotten. The young couple who are not permitted to wed by your laws may remain with us if they wish. There is no bar to their union here."

The interpreter repeated his words in English and the five terrestrials from the Rocket III gathered in an excited huddle losing all interest in the ceremony of destroying the agreement.

Chick Davis could not restrain a joyous "Hooray!"

* * *

"You old fox!" exclaimed Larry, gripping Art's hand tightly. "You sure did put it over on me. And boy, you saved the day."

Una clung to her lover, an unaccountable lump in her throat. She was happy to be with him, happy in the knowledge that nothing now prevented them from joining their lives. But somehow she was frightened; homesick. She saw the disapproval of her own kind in the eyes of the Mercurians and she feared they would not be as welcome as the Dairo implied. But she would stick to Larry through anything. He was all that mattered, after all.

"But Art," objected Alta, "we can't leave them here. We must have Larry in New York. United Synthetic Food depends on him, and so do we. The reorganization -- we must vote our stock with his to keep control and to save the business from my guardian. Besides, I don't think Una likes it here as well. I know I didn't."

"You forgot," said Art, "the classification -- Una's rating."

Here was a facer. Larry looked into Una's eyes and saw that what Alta said was true. She didn't like it in Luzan! Matter of fact he wasn't so hot for it himself. It had sounded better when Chick told about it. Lord, what a mess! But he'd stay in Hades to have Una.

Art's usually placid brow was furrowed in thought. Good old Art! He had come through in a blaze of glory. Didn't think he had it in him. Guess Alta'd pepped him up. He had something to work for now. Imagine -- holding secret his feelings for her -- all these years.

"Psst! Una -- quick!" Art was whispering in her ear, "Your Board of Eugenics tag -- give it to me. Got an idea."

Wonderingly she took the tiny silver chain from her wrist and handed it to Larry's friend. Carefully he examined the markings on the surface of the little tag. Then he strode to the council table.

"Your excellency," he said, when the Dairo greeted him, "may I ask one question of John X. Mills?"

The request was quickly repeated by the interpreter and the Dairo signified his assent.

Art advanced to the now cowering financier. Ambassador Nordstrum groaned. What revelation was coming now? Wasn't it bad enough without further fuss? The mission was already a failure. But this young Hovey seemed to know his business.

"Mr. Mills," said Art in a steely voice, "you know Raymond Phelps, do you not?"

Mills dropped his eyes. His high color faded to a sickly mottled pallor. He stammered unintelligibly but did not reply.

"Answer him, Mills," warned the ambassador.

"Yes -- I know him," breathed the thoroughly frightened man.

"You bet you know him!" Art's voice rose in anger. "Know him too dam' well. And you bribed him to derate Una Sinclair -- an official of the incorruptable Board of Eugenics! But you'd corrupt a saint. You did it. Now -- didn't you?"

The pudgy hands of the financier twitched nervously where they gripped the arms of the chair. he half rose from his seat, then fell weakly back.

"Did you, Mills, did you?" The ambassador's voice was chill. "You miserable skunk -- answer!"

But John X. Mills was unequal to speech. He stared in terror at the livid face of the ambassador and nodded his head in agreement.

"Good Lord!" Nordstrum was aghast. To think that he had assisted this dirty hound! "You'll pay for this, John Mills. And, right now, your first act is going to be a full and complete confession to the Manager of the terrestrial government -- over the optophone. Get me? March now! By George, you'll not only confess, but you'll go back with me -- under arrest. Subsidize our officials, will you? Furthermore, we'll have Miss Sinclair reinstated in A2 at once. This vile scheming of yours can no longer affect them. These two young people can be married immediately -- on the Rocket III if they wish -- Captain Davis has authority."

He propelled Mills from the room ungently, the Mercurians looking on with open approval. Chick Davis indulged in an undignified jig.

"Boy, you're a marvel!" Larry hugged Art gleefully. "And, I know who our new Vice President in charge of sales is going to be. You could sell ice to the Eskimos."

Alta gurgled her approval. She knew that Art had it in him. Poor boy! He'd always kept himself in the background -- and on her account. Things would be different now.

Una didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. It was all too good to be true.

* * *

Ambassador Nordstrum was as good as his word, for within the space of a very few minutes he returned fro the government vessel with news that Una's reinstatement was already approved. He personally voided her tag and wrote a temporary certificate of classification.

Alta pleaded for her guardian, and, eventually, Nordstrum agreed to free him from the cell in which he had been placed and to suspend action on the serious charges he faced.

The tiny government ship took off from the plaza, the Mercurians watching stolidly as it was lost in the mists above. But the Rocket III, due to its tremendous exhaust, would have to be towed to an isolated spot outside the city for its take-off. The Dairo appointed a committee to make the necessary arrangements.

"Now," said Chick Davis, when the tow ropes were attached to four huge tractors and his party made ready to enter the vessel, "I have to make my peace with the passengers. Some of 'em were sore as the devil because I wouldn't let 'em off the ship. But I guess the excitement of a shipboard wedding'll keep 'em quiet. Let's go."

When they entered the main air lock he whispered to Larry and Art, "Say! Maybe you think there hasn't been hell to pay back home. The world went crazy when the news broadcasts reported us lost. But they're happy again now, and, thanks to Nordstrum in great part, I'm sitting swell with the Board. So everything is O.K."

"That's great, Chick," said Larry, "I was afraid you'd get in a peck of trouble over this. And I don't know how to thank you, as it is."

"Aw, forget it. Art's the baby you have to thank."

"He knows how I feel about him."

Larry grew thoughtful. The girls had hurried to their staterooms to remove the traces of their trying experience. It seemed they were to spend the double honeymoon in the trip to Venus and Mars which must now be continued by the Rocket III. What a difference from the original plans! Then back to the restriction and regulations -- the Boards of this, that and the other thing. But, after all, these could affect them but little now. And they were so used to life on earth. For all its many annoyances, it wasn't so bad. Not so bad. Then there was Art. He'd get somewhere now. He was finally awake -- and how!

"Say, Art," he said, struck by a sudden thought, "how in the name of time did you find out that old man Mills had bribed that Board of Eugenics bird?"

Arthur Hovey grinned. "Didn't," he admitted. "Saw the name Phelps on the tag and took a flier on the hunch I had.

"It worked, too."

"I'll say it did!" chuckled the captain.

Larry shook his head in growing amazement. "Why, you son-of-a-gun!" he breathed admiringly. "You're good!"


(continue on to Putting Up With "Too Many Boards")

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