Keith Laumer

A Plague of Demons

A Plague Stories, A Plague Stories by Keith Laumer

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2003 by Baen Books.

A Plague of Demons was first serialized as The Hounds of Hell in If magazine (Nov-Dec., 1964) and reissued as a novel in 1965 by Berkley. 'Thunderhead' was first published in Galaxy in April, 1967. 'End as a Hero' was first published in Galaxy in June, 1963. 'Doorstep' was first published in Galaxy in February, 1961. 'Test to Destruction' was first published in Dangerous Visions (Harlan Ellison, editor), Doubleday 1967. 'The Star-Sent Knaves' (aka: 'Time Thieves') was first published in Worlds of Tomorrow in June, 1963. 'Greylorn' was first published in Amazing in April, 1959. 'Of Death What Dreams' was first published in Worlds of Tomorrow #24 (1970) and then reissued in Five Fates, published by Doubleday, 1970. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. A Baen Books Original Baen Publishing Enterprises P.O. Box 1403 Riverdale, NY 10471

ISBN: 0-7434-3588-5

Cover art by Richard Martin First printing, February 2003 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Laumer, Keith, 1925-1993

A plague of demons and other stories / by Keith Laumer. p. cm. ISBN 0-7434-3588-5 (pbk.) 1. Human-alien encounters-Fiction. 2. Science fiction, American. I. Title: Plague of demons and other stories. II. Title.

PS3562.A84 P56 2003



Distributed by Simon Schuster 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH Printed in the United States of America




'Spare, clean prose style and muscular storytelling technique… I consider him to be one of the three or four authors who had the greatest influence on me throughout my life, as both a reader and a writer.' -David Weber 'For those who are confronting Laumer for the first time… I envy you: you are about to discover a prose stylist whose single aim is to pleasure you.' -Harlan Ellison 'One of the most productive and popular writers of science fiction.' -Ben Bova [Laumer's Retief stories are] 'Some of the funniest, cleverest, and most (unfortunately) realistic stories ever written about life at the sharp end of international relations. You're about to have fun.' -David Drake '[Laumer's Dinosaur Beach is] unrivalled not only in its class, but in a class by itself.' -Gordon R. Dickson '[Laumer's Retief is] a James Bond figure among helpless bureaucrats… adventure tales that are brisk, light and sardonic…' - Publishers Weekly 'Laumer is a master of both science fiction and mystery.' - Seattle Times '[Laumer's Retief stories offer] satirically wild SF adventures… improbable plot-twists and slapstick action.' - Kirkus Reviews 'Keith Laumer is one of science fiction's most adept creators… suspenseful action makes this story a first-rate thriller.' - Savannah News-Press 'Hilarious! Swinging! Brilliant!' - Galaxy

Baen Books by Keith Laumer,

edited by Eric Flint:



Keith Laumer: The Lighter Side

A Plague of Demons Other Stories

The Bolo Series:

The Compleat Bolo

Created by Keith Laumer:

The Honor of the Regiment

The Unconquerable

The Triumphant by David Weber Linda Evans

Last Stand

Old Guard

Cold Steel

Bolo Brigade by William H. Keith, Jr.

Bolo Rising by William H. Keith, Jr.

Bolo Strike by William H. Keith, Jr.

A Plague of Demons

Chapter One

It was ten minutes past high noon when I paid off my helicab, ducked under the air blast from the caged high-speed rotors as they whined back to speed, and looked around at the sun-scalded, dust-white, mob-noisy bazaar of the trucial camp-city of Tamboula, Republic of Free Algeria. Merchants' stalls were a clash of garish fabrics, the pastels of heaped fruit, the glitter of oriental gold thread and beadwork, the glint of polished Japanese lenses and finely-machined Swedish chromalloy, the subtle gleam of hand-rubbed wood, the brittle complexity of Hong Kong plastic-islands in the tide of humanity that elbowed, sauntered, bargained with shrill voices and waving hands or stood idly in patches of black shadow under rigged awnings all across the wide square. I made my way through the press, shouted at by hucksters, solicited by whining beggars and tattooed drabs, jostled by UN Security Police escorting officials of a dozen nations.

I emerged on a badly-paved street of starved royal palms, across from a row of fast-decaying buildings as cosmopolitan in style as the costumes around me. Above the cacophony of the mob, keening Arab music shrilled from cave-like openings redolent of goat and curry, vying with the PA-borne blare of Jump and Jitter, reflecting hectic lunch-hours behind the sweat-dewed glass fronts of the Cafй Parisien, Die Valkyrie, the Samovar, and the Chicago Snackery.

I crossed the street, dodging the iron-shod wheels of oxcarts, the scorching exhaust of jet-peds, the stinging dust-barrage of cushion cars-snorting one almost palpable stench from my nostrils just in time to catch a new and even riper one. Under a ten-foot glare-sign lettered ALHAMBRA ROOM in phony Arabic script, a revolving door thumped monotonously; I caught it and went through into a sudden gloom and silence. I crossed an unswept mosaic floor, went down three steps into an even darker room with a scatter of gaudy cushions and a gleam of gold filigree. I waved away a yard-square red and gold menu proffered by a nicely-rounded harem slave in a brief vest and transparent trousers. I took a stool at the long bar. A bare-chested, three-hundred-pound eunuch with a cutlass, sash, and turban took my order, slid a frosty glass across the polished black marble. Behind a screen of gilded palm fronds, a small combo made reedy music.

I took a long draught; from the corner of my eye I saw a man slide onto the next stool. Casually, I angled the ring on my left forefinger; its specular surface reflected a narrow, tanned face with a bald forehead, peaked white eyebrows, a Kaiser Wilhelm mustache, and a satanic Vandyck. A pair of frosty blue eyes met mine for an instant in the tiny mirror.

'What's the get-up for, Felix?' I asked softly. 'You traveling in hair-goods now?'

His eyelids flickered. For Felix Severance, that was equivalent to a yelp of astonishment. Then he gave me the trick wink that was service code of 'The Enemy May Be Listening.'

'Well, well, John Bravais, as I live and breathe,' he said in his high-pitched voice. 'Fancy meeting you here…'

We went through a ritual of hand pumping and when-did-I-see-you-last's, ordered second drinks, then moved over to a low table. He slipped a small gadget from a pocket, glanced around to see who was watching, then ran it over the light fixture, the salt and pepper shakers, the ashtray, babbling on:

'Martha's fine. Little Herbie had a touch of Chinese virus, and Charlotte broke a clavicle…' He went on point like a hunting dog, picked up a small tabukuk in the form of a frog-goddess, dropped it inconspicuously into his heavy briefcase.

'I heard you were going into mink farming,' I said, carrying on the charade.

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