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Chapter 23

There was something like a hotel on Cyber Island.  It was like a hotel, but it was more like some sort of a referral agency.  Scattered around the island were buildings and houses and caves and tanks full of various combinations of liquids and gases which were available, in return for appropriate gifts to the management of the hotel, for temporary habitation by different races with different creature needs.  The hotel consisted of a single office inhabited by individuals of various races in various miniature environments.

A recent customer of the hotel was referred to a small three-room suite at the southern tip of Cyber overlooking the water and ammonia sea.  The suite was specially equipped with a twenty percent oxygen atmosphere and a deodorizer which substituted a scent of the humanoid occupant's choice—a smell something like that of a wine cellar whose kegs and bottles had overflowed years ago, drowning several hundred rats, but there wasn't a lot to choose from, and it was better than the alternatives—for the normal external environment.  The humanoid was registered at the hotel under the name Abraham Lincoln.

"I would like to examine the register for the past day," the rich voice filtered through the intentional translator that hung around the neck of the attendant at one console of the hotel.

"I'll take care of you in a moment," Superman heard the attendant say.  The little six-armed, four-legged creature faced the wall pressing buttons and turning dials and scratching notations and punching holes at certain places in a plasticine tape running by his waist to his heart's content.  Superman checked and found that the creature did indeed have a heart.

The attendant was a native of Rigel-9, as were about a third of the hotel's employees.  The Rigellian had almost no reasoning capacity beyond that which was necessary to repeat something he had heard or copy down something he had seen.  The size of the Rigellian's brain, however, was comparable with that of a human and until he approached senility, which was usually around 120 or so, he could remember the events immediately following his birth with the clarity of the present.  Even the Guardians did not bother to keep an updated record of the race's history.  The Rigellians used the surface area of the thirty-six largely worthless planets and satellites other than Rigel-9, which circled their star, for the purpose of storing the records of everything that happened to every Rigellian for the past seven million years.  They were born to be clerical workers.

Superman did not particularly impress the Rigellian clerk, although it would probably be important for the Rigellian to record the celebrity's actions in his personal record.  "I am ready now, Superman.  What is it you want to know?"

"I am looking for a human who may have registered here recently.  Would you remember if you saw him?"

"Of course I would remember.  During what period of time do you estimate that this being appeared here?"

Superman indicated the Orician equivalent of twenty-four hours and gave the creature a physical description of Luthor.  Nothing of that nature, according to the clerk, had been to the hotel recently.  But Earthmen, with their filtrums, were fairly conspicuous here.  Was it possible he was disguised? Perhaps, the Kryptonian asked, he could see the record of who had been in and out in the past day?

"Of course," the Rigellian obliged.  "Name: Cephula-332.  Point of origin: Sirius-4.  Name: Zoorpng.  Point of origin: Delphinius-1.  Name—"

"Excuse me.  Hold on.  Wait a minute."

"Did you get the information you wanted?"

"No, not actually.  Maybe if I looked over your records myself."

"We are quite efficient.  We do what we do better than anyone else in the Galaxy," the Rigellian insisted.  "Perhaps you want only the names.  Cephula-332; Zoorpng; The Draxyl Mount; Malthusan—"

"I'm sure you are very good at what you do." Superman smiled instinctively, although its meaning probably did not come across.  "But what you do is not what I'm after right now."

"Do you want information?"

"Yes, I do."

"We are the most efficient repositories of information in the known Galaxy, I assure you." Superman did not care to devise a trick of logic to get at what passed in the Rigellian for a mind.  "I am sure you will find what you want here.  Cephula-332; Zoorpng; The Draxyl Mount; Malthusan; Seventh Horg . . . "

The wall console that the clerk manipulated was a little like a computer terminal, a little like a golf course.  As Superman scanned its memory nodes with x-ray vision he was thankful that be did not have the opportunity to tamper with it physically.  It had all sorts of sand traps into which an unwary alien might fall.  For example, if he had been given access to the records, he now found as he scanned it and ignored the Rigellian's discourse, the first thing he would have done was apply body heat to certain sensors on the console and speak a command into a speaker of some sort behind the Rigellian.  If he had done that—a perfectly logical action from the point of view of an Earthman after a cursory examination of the mechanism—the machine would have sent an impulse to the other consoles in the room and they would all have immediately begun spewing ammonia bubbles from their feed-out orifices.  The mechanisms were simple recording devices and were not dangerous per se.  They were dangerous only the way a telephone might be dangerous if there were an alien around whose natural response to the ringing of such a device might be to throw it into a filled bathtub and unwittingly electrocute the tub's occupant.

"Olin-Sang 2." The idiot savant clerk droned the colorfully bizarre names of the heterogeneous group of beings who had availed themselves of the hotel's services that day.  "Gerstenzang Gryzmish; Squire Onorato Sgan; Cholmondeley . . . "

But now the Kryptonian had it licked.  There was what appeared to be a chronological list of the hotel's recent patrons, scattered across the machine's memory in a pattern that at first looked random, then made sense only if one started to understand it by dismissing all Earth-born concepts of sequences and if-then relationships and the things that are taught in logic courses.

"Full Hand Band," the Rigellian continued.  "Scorpio Bearing 32 Degrees Sirius (That was somebody's name, based on the position in space of the cargo ship where he was born); Ptang-Ptang Click . . . "

There it was.  Superman didn't stop to figure out the odds for some extraterrestrial creature's being named Abraham Lincoln.  Luthor was a clever fellow; Superman was glad to have him on his side this time around.  The scientist was playing on his own well-established weaknesses.  He was playing the role of a person on the run who needed to assume an alias and who could not resist the joke on a world where no one could possibly recognize the name, of taking a very famous name from Earth.  But in doing that, Luthor gave his new-found ally a signal of his whereabouts that did not have to be prearranged.

Superman would go to this suite at the southern end of Cyber Island where this Abraham Lincoln was registered and he would find Luthor there.  Luthor would make a convincing show of hostility, Superman would pretend to be caught short by whatever gadget Luthor used on him, and together the hero and the scientist would be taken into the Master's complex as captive and captor.  Superman stopped the Rigellian clerk's catechism and thanked him with the gift of a lump of coal the Kryptonian pulled from the pouch in his cape where he kept his Clark Kent clothes compressed into little wafers.  He squeezed the coal in his hand and put it under enough pressure to turn it into carbon's purest state, that of a raw diamond.

The costumed humanoid strode smiling back to the entrance of the big referral office.  At the entrance he leaped up at the sky, through a ring of red light that surrounded the doorway like a globe.  The light caught him like a bug in a spiderweb.

He should have noticed it.  He would have seen it on Earth, but his perceptions were off.  Colors and shapes under the blue star Vega were not quite what they were on Earth, and Superman's visual perceptions were weakened, anyway.  Somehow, from somewhere, a mesh of filtered light was beamed across his path and he was caught in light of the frequency generated by a red star—the kind Krypton orbited—the kind that left him without super powers.  They were slipping away.

The last thing Superman saw was the ground, where Luthor stood surrounded by a group of four creatures of different races.  Each raised a gun-like device of Luthor's design and squeezed back on the trigger.

And the last thing Superman heard himself saying was, "Stupid!  Stupid!  STUPID!"



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