Jonnie lay in a coffin at the near end of the morgue. The lid was slightly propped open to give him air and an interior view. On the outside roof a button camera brought the exterior scene to a hand viewer resting beside him in the dark confines. He was dressed in Chinko blue but he wore moccasins, the better to speed him today.
For today in the space of just two exact minutes he had to cover certain exact grounds and do very drilled and exact things and do them in an exact time, or the whole project would fail and he would be dead. And Chrissie and Pattie would die as well. And all the Scots and others left on Earth.
He heard the transshipment area control tower warning horn for the incoming phase.
“Motors off. Stand clear!”
The humming came on. The ground vibrated. The coffin lid trembled. The humming built up and up.
Suddenly two hundred new incoming Psychlos appeared on the platform along with their baggage.
The humming dropped. A faint vibration remained.
“Coordinates holding and linked up with second stage.”
The whole area came to life. One hour and thirteen minutes would elapse now until they fired back to Psychlo.
Personnel department members were herding the incoming draft off to the side and getting them in line.
Terl eyed the assemblage. The last time a draft had come in he had had a bad shock, and now he wasn't taking any chances. He was half-expecting to find a new Planet Head in this lot, somebody to replace Ker, and he might have to think fast. He walked down the line, not looking at baggage for contraband. He was just looking at faces through their domed transport helmets, checking off the names. Two hundred. More of old Numph's nonsense to get as many on the swindle payroll as he could. Terl went down the whole line. He breathed a sigh of relief. No replacement here for Ker, just the usual gutter sweepings from the slums of Psychlo plus an oddball junior executive and a couple of graduates from the mine school. Routine. Not one in the lot that could qualify as a Planet Head. All a bit lethargic. No agents from I.B.I. either!
Terl raised a paw to personnel and they divided some off for waiting transport planes destined for other minesites and some to berthing here.
They loaded them on flatbeds with their baggage and they were gone.
That was a relief to Terl. He approached the morgue. That blasted horse of the animal's that was always hanging around the compound was grazing in back of the morgue. “Get away from here!” Terl yelled at the horse and made paw motions to shoo him off. The horse looked at Terl indifferently, and when Terl went to open the door it came even closer.
Terl unlocked the morgue door and threw it wide.
There were ten coffins lying there, ready to be scooped up by lift machines. He checked for the small “X” marks on the covers. Nothing like taking precautions. Every lid had its little “X” mark.
He patted one of them fondly. He took a deep breath. Maybe eight or ten months from now he would be digging these up some dark Psychlo night in the isolated and dreary cemetery on Psychlo. And it would be riches, power! The fruits of his project were hard won. They wouldn't be that hard to spend!
The first lift came, thrust its prongs under a coffin. Terl went back outside. He checked off the name on his records. The second coffin, the third, the fourth...Terl looked at the fourth one, a bit puzzled. How come he had spelled Jayed's false name wrong?
Not "Snit" but "Stni." He checked for the “X.” That was there all right. Well, to crap with it. He'd enter the error on the record. One good false name deserved another. The ex-agent was good and dead. That's all that mattered.
The lifts were dumping the coffins any which way on the platform. Terl watched, a bit apprehensive at the rough handling. But none landed upside-down.
Nine of the coffins were lying out there now. The lift superintendent stopped his machine beside Terl to let him check off number ten, the last one he was carrying.
“These coffins seem awful heavy,” commented the superintendent.
Terl looked up, masking any alarm. They were only about a hundred pounds overweight, not enough to notice and certainly not enough to make much difference to a lift machine. The coffins should weigh about seventeen hundred each, even with those lids.
“Your power cartridge is probably half-discharged," said Terl.
“Maybe,” said the superintendent. The coffins seemed like three thousand pounds. But he rolled the machine and dumped the tenth one on the platform.
The personnel department flatbed for outgoing personnel came up. It s driver was looking a little harassed. There were five Psychlos and their baggage on the truck, two of them returning executives and the other three ordinary miners going home. The driver gave Terl the list.
“You'll have to change that list,” said the driver. “Char is supposed to be on it. He was scheduled to go home today and all of us in personnel have been running around looking for him, and we can't find him. His baggage is here but we can't find Char.”
“Which is his baggage?” asked Terl. The driver pointed to a separate pile and Terl swept it off the truck with one sweep of his arm.
“We looked everywhere,” said the driver. “Shouldn't we hold up the firing?”
“You know you can't do that,” said Terl quickly. “Did you look in the beds of the female admin people?”
The driver let out a guffaw. “I guess we should have done that. That was some party last night.”
“We'll fire him off in six months,” said Terl and wrote, “Fires later,” on the document after Char's name and signed it.
The personnel flatbed went off to dump the passengers on the platform. They stood about in a group, making sure their firing helmets were on tight. They were several feet away from the coffins.
Terl glanced at his watch. One hour and eleven minutes. Two more minutes to go.
“Coordinates holding on second stage!” came from the bullhorn over the operations dome. The white light was flashing.
Terl walked back closer to the morgue. That blasted horse was poking around the door. Terl made shooing motions with his paws. The horse moved off a few steps and began to graze again.
It was a relief to see those coffins out there. Terl stood gazing upon them fondly. About one minute to go.
Then his hair seemed to stand on end. From within the morgue, the empty deserted morgue, came a voice!