The doctor closed the door behind him, crossed to the table, silently offered the geologist a cigar, and waited until smoke was issuing from it. Then he said:
"Well," bluntly, "what's come between you and your wife, Van?"
The geologist showed no surprise. Instead, he frowned severely at the end of his cigar, and carefully seated himself on the corner of the table. When he spoke there was a certain rigor in his voice, which told the doctor that his friend was holding himself tightly in rein.
"It really began when the four of us got together to investigate Capellette, two months ago." Van Emmon was a thorough man in important matters. "Maybe I ought to say that both Billie and I were as much interested as either you or Smith; she often says that even the tour of Mercury and Venus was less wonderful.
"What is more, we are both just as eager to continue the investigations. We still have all kinds of faith in the Venusian formula; we want to 'visit' as many more worlds as the science of telepathy will permit. It isn't that either of us has lost interest."
The doctor rather liked the geologist's scientific way of stating the case, even though it meant hearing things he already knew. Kinney watched and waited and listened intently.
"You remember, of course, what sort of a man I got in touch with. Powart was easily the greatest Capellan of them all; a magnificent intellect, which I still think was intended to have ruled the rest. I haven't backed down from my original position."
"Van! You still believe," incredulously, "in a government of the sort he contemplated?"
Van Emmon nodded aggressively. "All that we learned merely strenthens my conviction. Remember what sort of people the working classes of Capellette were? Smith's 'agent' was typical—a helpless nincompoop, not fit to govern himself!" The geologist strove to keep his patience.
"However," remarked Kinney, "the chap whose mind I used was no fool."
"Nor was Billie's agent, the woman surgeon," agreed Van Emmon, "even if she did prefer 'the Devolutionist' to Powart. But you'll have to admit, doc, that the vast majority of the Capellans were incompetents; the rest were exceptions."
The doctor spoke after a brief pause. "And—that's what is wrong, Van?"
"Yes," grimly. "Billie can't help but rejoice that things turned out the way they did. She is sure that the workers, now that they've been separated from the ruling class, will proceed to make a perfect paradise out of their land." He could not repress a certain amount of sarcasm. "As well expect a bunch of monkeys to build a steam engine!
"Well," after a little hesitation, "as I said before, doc, I've no reason to change my mind. You may talk all you like about it—I can't agree to such ideas. The only way to get results on that planet is for the upper classes to continue to govern."
"And this is what you two have—quarreled about?"
Van Emmon nodded sorrowfully. He lit another cigar absent-mindedly and cleared his throat twice before going on:
"My fault, I guess. I've been so darned positive about everything I've said, I've probably caused Billie to sympathize with her friends more solidly than she would otherwise."
"But just because you've championed the autocrats so heartily—"
"I'm afraid so!" The geologist was plainly relieved to have stated the case in full. He leaned forward in his eagerness to be understood. He told the doctor things that were altogether too personal to be included in this account.
Meanwhile, out in the doctor's study, Smith had made no move whatever to interrogate the geologist's young wife. Instead, the engineer simply remained standing after Billie had sat down, and gave her only an occasional hurried glance. Shortly the silence got on her nerves; and—such was her nature, as contrasted with Van Emmon's—whereas he had stated causes first, she went straight to effects.
"Well," explosively, "Van and I have split!"
Smith was seldom surprised at anything. This time was no exception. He merely murmured "Sorry" under his breath; and Billie rushed on, her pent-up feelings eager to escape.
"We haven't mentioned Capellette for weeks, Smith! We don't dare! If we did, there'd be such a rumpus that we—we'd separate!" Something came up into her throat which had to be choked back before she could go on. Then—
"I don't know why it is, but every time the subject is brought up Van makes me so WILD!" She controlled herself with a tremendous effort. "He blames me, of course, because of what I did to help the Devolutionist. But I can't be blamed for sympathizing with the under dog, can I? I've always preferred justice to policy, any time. Justice first, I say! And I think we've seen—there on Capellette—how utterly impossible it is for any such system as theirs to last indefinitely."
But before she could follow up her point the door opened and the doctor returned with her husband. Kinney did not allow any tension to develop; instead, he said briskly:
"There's only a couple of hours remaining between now and dinner time; I move we get busy." He glanced about the room, to see if all was in place. The four chairs, each with its legs tipped with glass; the four footstools, similarly insulated from the floor; the electrical circuit running from the odd group of machinery in the corner, and connecting four pair of brass bracelets—all were ready for use. He motioned the others to the chairs in which they had already accomplished marvels in the way of mental traveling.
"Now," he remarked, as he began to fit the bracelets to his wrists, an example which the rest straightway followed; "now, we want to make sure that we all have the same purpose in mind. Last time, we were simply looking for four people, such as had view-points similar to our own. To-day, our object is to locate, somewhere among the planets attached to one of the innumerable sun-stars of the universe, one on which the conditions are decidedly different from anything we have known before."
Billie and Van Emmon, their affair temporarily forgotten, listened eagerly.
"As I recall it," Smith calmly observed, "we agreed that this attempt would be to locate a new kind of—well, near-human. Isn't that right?"
The doctor nodded. "Nothing more or less"—speaking very distinctly—"than a creature as superior as we are, but NOT IN HUMAN FORM."
Smith tried hard not to share the thrill. He had been reading biology the previous week. "I may as well protest, first as last, that I don't see how human intelligence can ever be developed outside the human form. Not—possibly!"
Van Emmon also was skeptical, but his wife declared the idea merely unusual, not impossible. "Is there any particular reason against it?" she demanded of the doctor.
"I will say this much," cautiously. "Given certain conditions, and inevitably the human form will most certainly become the supreme creature, superior to all the others.
"However, suppose the planetary conditions are entirely different. I conceive it entirely possible for one of the other animals to forge ahead of the man-ape; quite possible, Smith," as the engineer started to object, "if only the conditions are different ENOUGH.
"At any rate, we shall soon find out. I have been reading further in the library the Venusians gave us, and I assure you that I've found some astonishing things." He fingered one of the diminutive volumes. "There is one planet in particular, whose name I have forgotten, where all animal life has disappeared entirely. There are none but vegetable forms on the land, and all of them are the rankest sort of weeds. They have literally choked off everything else!
"And the highest form of life there is a weed; a hideous monstrosity, shaped something like an octopus, and capable of the most horrible—" He stopped abruptly, remembering that one of his hearers was a woman. "Never mind about that now."
He indicated another of the little books. "I think we will do well to investigate a planet which the Venusians call 'Sanus.' It belongs to the tremendous planetary family of the giant star Arcturus. I haven't read any details at all; I didn't want to know more than you. We can proceed with our discoveries on an equal footing."
"But," objected Smith, recalling the previous methods, "how are we to put our minds in touch with any of theirs, unless we know enough about them to imagine their viewpoints?"
"Our knowledge of their planet's name and location," replied the doctor, "makes it easier for us. All we have to do is to go into the telepathic state, via the Venusian formula; then, at the same time, each must concentrate upon some definite mental quality, some particular characteristic of his own mind, which he or she wishes to find on Sanus. It makes no difference what it may be; all you have to do is, exert your imaginations a little."
There was a pause, broken by Smith: "We ought to tell each other what we have in mind, so that we don't conflict."
"Yes. For my part," said the doctor, "I'd like to get in touch with a being who is mildly rebellious; not a violent radical, but a philosophical revolutionist. I don't care what sort of a creature he, she, or it may be, so long as the mind is in revolt against whatever injustice may exist."
"Then I," stated Smith, "will stick to the idea of service." Nobody was surprised that the engineer should make such a choice; he was, first, last, and all the time, essentially a useful man.
Van Emmon was not ready with his choice. Instead: "You say, doc, that you know nothing further about Sanus than what you've already told us?"
"I was about to mention that. The Venusians say that conditions are reversed from what we found on Capellette. Instead of Sanus being ruled by a small body of autocrats, it is—ruled by the working class!"
"Under the circumstances," said Van, "I'll take something different from what I got last time. No imperiousness this trip." He smiled grimly. "There was a time when I used to take orders. Suppose you call my choice 'subordinacy.'"
"How very noble of you!" gibed Billie. "My idea is supremacy, and plenty of it! I want to get in touch with the man higher up—the worker who is boss of the whole works!" She flashed a single glance at her husband, then threw herself back in her chair. "Go ahead!"
And before two minutes were up, the power of concerted thought, aided by a common objective and the special electrical circuit which joined them, had projected the minds of the four across the infinite depths of space. The vast distance which separated their bodies from Sanus was annihilated, literally as quick as thought.
Neither of the four stirred. To all appearances they were fast asleep. The room was quite still; only the clock ticked dully on the wall. Down-stairs, the doctor's wife kept watch over the house.
The greatest marvel in creation, the human mind, was exploring the unknown.