"What," Rydra asked, "exactly is it?"
"What does it look like?"
"A - . . piece of rock."
"A chunk of metal," corrected the Baron.
"Is it explosive, or particularly hard?"
"It won't go bang," he assured her. "Its tensile
strength is a bit over titanium steel, but we have much
Rydra started to extend her hand, then thought to
ask, "May I pick it up and examine it?"
"I doubt it," the Baron said. "Try."
"What will happen?"
"See for yourself."
She reached out to take the dull chunk. Her hand
closed on air two inches above the surface. She moved
her fingers down to touch it, but they came together
inches to the side - Rydra frowned.
She moved her hand to the left, but it was on the other
side of the strange shard.
"Just a moment." The Baron smiled, picked up the
fragment, "Now if you saw this just lying on the
ground, you wouldn't look twice, would you?"
"Poisonous?" Rydra suggested. "Is it a component
of something else?"
"No." The Baron turned the shape about thoughtfully. “Just highly selective. And obliging." He raised
his hand. "Suppose you needed a gun"—in the Barons's hand now was a sleek vibra-gun of a model later
than she had ever seen—'' or a crescent wrench.'' Now
he held a foot long wrench. He adjusted the opening.
"Or a machete." The blade glistened as he waved his
arm back. "Or a small crossbow." It had a pistol grip
and a bow length of not quite ten inches. The spring,
however, was doubled back on itself and held with
quarter inch bolts. The Baron pulled the trigger—there was no arrow—and the thump of the release, followed by the continuous pinnnnnng of the vibrating
tensile bar, set her teeth against one another.
"It's some sort of illusion," Rydra said. "That's
why I couldn't touch it."
"A metal punch," said the Baron. It appeared in his
hand, a hammer with a particularly thick head. He
swung it against the floor of the case that had held the
'weapon' with a strident clang. "There."
Rydra saw the circular indentation left by the hammerhead, Raised in the middle was the faint shape of
the Ver Dorco shield. She moved the tips of her
fingers over the bossed metal, still warm from impact.
"No illusion," said the Baron. "That crossbow will
put a six inch shaft completely through three inches of
oak at forty yards. And the vibra-gun—I'm sure you
know what it can do."
He held it—it was a chunk of metal again—above
its stand in the case. "Put it back for me."
She stretched her hand beneath his, and he dropped
the chunk. Her fingers closed to grab it. But it was on
the standard again.
"No hocus-pocus. Merely selective and . . . obliging."
He touched the edge of the case and the plastic sides
closed over the display. "A clever plaything. Let's
look at something else."
"But how does it work?"
Ver Dorco smiled. "We've managed to polarize
alloys of the heavier elements so that they exist only on
certain perceptual matrices. Otherwise, they deflect-
That means that, besides visually—and we can blank
that out as well—it's undetectable. No weight, no volume; all it has is inertia. Which means simply by carrying it aboard any hyperstasis craft, you'll put its
drive controls out of commission. Two or three grams
of this anywhere near the inertia-stasis system will
create all sorts of unaccounted-for strain. That's its
major function right there. Smuggle that on board the
Invaders' ships and we can stop worrying about them.
The rest—that's child's play. An unexpected property
of polarized matter is tensile-memory." They moved
toward an archway Into the next room. "Annealed in
any shape for a time, and codified, the structure of that
shape is retained down to the molecules. At any angle
to the direction that the matter has been polarized in,
each molecule has completely free movement. Just jar
it, and it falls into that structure like a rubber figure
returning to shape." The Baron glanced back at the
case. "Simple, really. There"—he motioned toward
the filing cabinets along the wall—"is the real weapon: approximately three thousand individual plans incorporating that little polarized chunk. The 'weapon' is the
knowledge of what to do with what you have. In hand-
to-hand combat, a six-inch length of vanadium wire can
be deadly. Inserted directly into the inner corner of the
eye, piercing diagonally across the frontal lobes, then
brought quickly down, it punctures the cerebellum.