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It was beginning to look as if no one could prevent the destruction of the Universe. For a strange intelligence was directing the destruction of all civilization from the icy depths of space. Kim Kinnison of the Patrol was one of the few men who knew how near the end was. And in the last desperate plan to save all life, he knew he had to use his children as bait in a desperate plan to prevent the destruction of the universe.
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Children of the Lens
THE TUBE OF DEATH
The terminus of the Patrol’s hyper-spatial tube erupted into space alongside the enemy planet. It would be in existence for exactly three seconds.
Through that tube was traveling the ultimate weapon—an utterly foreign planet with an absolutely impossible intrinsic velocity, whose kinetic energy could be measured only in infinities. But what would happen after it erupted into normal space no one, not even its brilliant creators, could predict with certainty.
All they knew was that if the weapon didn’t totally destroy Ploor instantly, Earth’s galaxy had exactly three seconds left to live. . . .
A LENSMAN ADVENTURE
Sixth in the Great Series
Novels of science fiction
The Lensman series
SECOND STAGE LENSMEN
CHILDREN OF THE LENS
MASTERS OF THE VORTEX
The Skylark series
THE SKYLARK OF SPACE
SKYLARK OF VALERON
SKYLARK DU QUESNE
Message of Transmittal
Kim and Kit; Gray Lensmen
Worsel and the Overlords
Kinnison Writes a Space Opera
Nadreck of Palain VII at Work
The Abduction of a President
Tregonsee, Camilla, and “X”
Kathryn on Guard
An Arisian Education
Constance Out-Worsels Worsel
Nadreck Traps a Trapper
Kalonia Becomes of Interest
Clarrissa Takes Her L-2 Work
Kinnison-Thyron, Drug Runner
Thyron Follows a Lead
Red Lensman in Gray
Nadreck vs. Kandron
Camilla Kinnison, Detector
The Hell-Hole in Space
Kinnison and the Black Lensman
The Red Lensman on Lyrane
Kit Invades Eddore; and—
—Escapes with His Life
The Conference Solves a Problem
The Defense of Arisia
The Battle of Ploor
The Battle of Eddore
The Power of Love
Subject: The Conclusion of the Boskonian War; A Report:
By: Christopher K. Kinnison, L3, of Klovia:
To: The Entity Able to Obtain and to Read It.
To you, the third-level intellect who has been guided to this imperishable container and who is able to break the Seal and to read this tape, and to your fellows, greetings:
For reasons which will become obvious, this report will not be made available for an indefinite but very long time; my present visualization of the Cosmic All does not extend to the time at which such action will become necessary. Therefore it is desirable to review briefly the most pertinent facts of the earlier phases of Civilization’s climactic conflict: information which, while widely known at present, will probably in that future time exist otherwise only in the memories of my descendants.
In early Civilization law enforcement lagged behind crime because the police were limited in their spheres of action, while criminals were not. Each technological advance made that condition worse until finally, when Bergenholm so perfected the crude inertialess space-drive of Rodebush and Cleveland that commerce throughout the galaxy became an actuality, crime began to threaten Civilization’s very existence.
Of course it was not then suspected that there was anything organized, coherent, or of large purpose about this crime. Centuries were to pass before my father, Kimball Kinnison of Tellus, now galactic coordinator, was to prove that Boskonia—an autocratic, dictatorial culture diametrically opposed to every ideal of Civilization—was in fact back of practically all the pernicious activities of the First Galaxy. Even he, however, has never had any inkling either of the eons-long conflict between the Arisians and the Eddorians or of the fundamental raison d’etre of the Galactic Patrol—material which can never be revealed to any mind not inherently stable at the third level of stress.
Virgil Samms, then chief of the Triplanetary Service, perceived the general situation and foresaw the shape of the inevitable. He realized that unless and until his organization could secure an identifying symbol which could not be counterfeited, police work would remain relatively ineffectual. Tellurian science had done its best in the golden meteors of the Service, and its best was not good enough.
Through one Dr. Nels Bergenholm, an Arisian-activated form of human flesh, Virgil Samms became the first wearer of Arisia’s Lens, and during his life he began the rigid selection of those worthy of wearing it. For centuries the Patrol grew and spread. It became widely known that the Lens was a perfect telepath, that it glowed with colored light only when worn by the individual to whose ego it was attuned, that it killed any other living being who attempted to wear it. Whatever his race or shape, any wearer of the Lens was accepted as the embodiment of Civilization.
Kimball Kinnison was the first Lensman to realize that the Lens was more than an identification and a telepath. He was thus the first Lensman to return to Arisia to take the second stage of Lensmanship—the treatment which only an exceptional brain can withstand, but which gives the second-stage Lensman any mental power which he needs and which he can both visualize and control.
Aided by Lensmen Worsel of Velantia and Tregonsee of Rigel IV—the former a winged reptile, the latter a four-legged, barrel-shaped creature with the sense of perception instead of sight—Kimball Kinnison traced and surveyed Boskone’s military organization in the First Galaxy. He helped plan the attack on Grand Base, the headquarters of Helmuth, who “spoke for Boskone”. By flooding the control dome of Grand Base with thionite, that deadly drug native to the peculiar planet Trenco, he made it possible for Civilization’s Grand Fleet, under the command of Port Admiral Haynes, to reduce that base. He, personally, killed Helmuth in hand-to-hand combat.
He was instrumental in the almost-complete destruction of the Overlords of Delgon; those sadistic, life-eating reptiles who were the first to employ the hyper-spatial tube against humanity.
He was wounded more than once; in one of his hospitalizations becoming acquainted with Surgeon-Marshal Lacy and with Sector Chief Nurse Clarrissa MacDougall, who was later to become the widely-known “Red” Lensman and, still later, my mother.
In spite of the military defeat, however, Boskonia’s real organization remained intact, and Kinnison’s further search led into Lundmark’s Nebula, thenceforth called the Second Galaxy. The planet Medon, being attacked by Boskonians, was rescued from the enemy and was moved across inter-galactic space to the First Galaxy. Medon made two notable contributions to Civilization: first, electrical insulation, conductors, and switches by whose means voltages and amperages theretofore undreamed-of could be handled; and later Phillips, a Posenian surgeon, was able there to complete the researches which made it possible for human bodies to grow anew lost members or organs.
Kinnison, deciding that the drug syndicate was the quickest and surest line to Boskone, became Wild Bill Williams the meteor-miner, a hard-drinking, bentlam-eating, fast-shooting space-hellion. As Williams he traced the zwilnik line upward, step by step, to the planet Jarnevon in the Second Galaxy. Upon Jarnevon lived the Eich; frigid-blooded monsters more intelligent, more merciless, more truly Boskonian even than the Overlords.
He and Worsel, second-stage Lensmen both, set out to investigate Jarnevon. He was captured, tortured, dismembered; but Worsel brought him back to Tellus with his mind and knowledge intact—the enormously important knowledge that Jarnevon was ruled by a council of nine of the Eich, a council named Boskone.
Kinnison was given a Phillips treatment, and again Clarrissa MacDougall nursed him back to health. They loved each other, but they could not marry until the Gray Lensman’s job was done; until Civilization had triumphed over Boskonia.
The Galactic Patrol assembled its Grand Fleet, composed of millions of units, under the flagship Z9M9Z. It attacked. The planet of Jalte, Boskonia’s director of the First Galaxy, was consumed by a bomb of negative matter. Jarnevon was crushed between two colliding planets; positioned inertialess, then inerted especially for that crushing. Grand Fleet returned, triumphant.
But Boskonia struck back, sending an immense fleet against Tellus through a hyper-spatial tube instead of through normal space. This method of approach was not, however, unexpected. Survey-ships and detectors were out; the scientists of the Patrol had been for months hard at work on the “sunbeam”—a device, to concentrate the energy of the sun into one frightful beam. With this weapon re-enforcing the already vast powers of Grand Fleet, the invaders were wiped out.
Again Kinnison had to search for a high Boskonian; some authority higher than the Council of Boskone. Taking his personal super-dreadnought, the Dauntless, which carried his indetectable, non-ferrous speedster, he found a zwilnik trail and followed it to Dunstan’s Region, an unexplored, virtually unknown, outlying spiral arm of the First Galaxy. It led to the planet Lyrane II, with its humanoid matriarchy, ruled by Helen, its queen.
There he found Illona Potter, the ex-Aldebaranian dancer; who, turning against her Boskonian masters, told him all she knew of the Boskonian planet Lonabar, where she had spent most of her life. Lonabar was unknown to the Patrol and Illona knew nothing of its location in space. She did, however, know its unique jewelry—gems also completely unknown to Civilization.
Nadreck of Palain VII, a frigid-blooded Second-Stage Lensman, with one jewel as a clue, set out to find Lonabar; while Kinnison began to investigate Boskonian activities among the matriarchs.
The Lyranians, however, were fanatically non-cooperative. They hated all males; they despised and detested all foreigners. Kinnison, with the consent and assistance of Mentor of Arisia, made Clarrissa MacDougall an Unattached Lensman and assigned to her the task of working Lyrane II.
Nadreck found and mapped Lonabar; and to build up an unimpeachable Boskonian identity Kinnison became Cartiff the jeweler—Cartiff the jewel-thief and swindler—Cartiff the fence—Cartiff the murderer-outlaw—Cartiff the Boskonian big shot. He challenged and overthrew Menjo Bleeko, the dictator of Lonabar, and before killing him took from his mind everything he knew.
The Red Lensman secured information from which it was deduced that a cavern of Overlords existed on Lyrane II. This cavern was raided and destroyed, the Patrolmen learning that the Eich themselves had a heavily fortified base on Lyrane VIII.
Nadreck, master psychologist, invaded that base tracelessly; learning that the Eich received orders from the Thralian solar system in the Second Galaxy and that frigid-blooded Kandron of Onlo (Thrallis IX) was second in power only to human Alcon, the Tyrant of Thrale (Thrallis II).
Kinnison went to Thrale, Nadreck to Onlo; the operations of both being covered by the Patrol’s invasion of the Second Galaxy. In that invasion Boskonia’s Grand Fleet was defeated and the planet Klovia was occupied and fortified.
Assuming the personality of Traska Gannel, a Thralian, Kinnison worked his way upward in Alcon’s military organization. Trapped in a hyper-spatial tube, ejected into an unknown one of the infinity of parallel, co-existent, three-dimensional spaces comprising the Cosmic All, he was rescued by Mentor, working through the brain of Sir Austin Cardynge, the Tellurian mathematician.
Returning to Thrale, he fomented a revolution, in which he killed Alcon and took his place as the Tyrant of Thrale. He then discovered that his prime minister, Fossten, who concealed his true appearance by means of a zone of hypnosis, had been Alcon’s superior instead of his adviser. Neither quite ready for an open break, but both supremely confident of victory when that break should come, subtle hostilities began.
Gannel and Fossten planned and launched an attack on Klovia, but just before engagement the hostilities between the two Boskonian leaders flared into an open fight for supremacy. After a terrific mental struggle, during which the entire crew of the flagship died, leaving the Boskonian fleet at the mercy of the Patrol, Kinnison won.
He did not know, of course, then or ever, either that Fossten was in fact Gharlane of Eddore or that it was Mentor of Arisia who in fact overcame Fossten. Kinnison thought, and Mentor encouraged him to believe, that Fossten was an Arisian who had been insane since youth, and that Kinnison had killed him without assistance. It is a mere formality to emphasize at this point that none of this information must ever become available to any mind below the third level; since to any entity able either to obtain or to read this report it will be obvious that such revealment would set up an inferiority complex which must inevitably destroy both the Patrol and Civilization.
With Fossten dead and with Kinnison already the despot of Thrale, it was comparatively easy for the Patrol to take over. Nadreck drove the Onlonian garrisons insane, so that all fought to the death among themselves; thus rendering Onlo’s mighty armament completely useless.
Then, thinking that the Boskonian War was over—encouraged, in fact, by Mentor so to think—Kinnison married Clarrissa, established his headquarters upon Klovia, and assumed his duties as galactic coordinator.
Kimball Kinnison, while in no sense a mutant, was the penultimate product of a prodigiously long line of selective, controlled breeding. So was Clarrissa MacDougall. Just what course the science of Arisia took in making those two what they are I can deduce, but I do not as yet actually know. Nor, for the purpose of this record, does it matter. Port Admiral Haynes and Surgeon-Marshal Lacy thought that they brought them together and promoted their romance. Let them think so—as agents, they did. Whatever the method employed, the result was that the genes of those two uniquely complementary penultimates were precisely those necessary to produce the first, and at present the only third-stage Lensman.
I was born on Klovia, as were, three and four galactic-standard years later, my four sisters—two pairs of non-identical twins. I had little babyhood, no childhood. Fathered and mothered by Second-Stage Lensmen, accustomed from infancy to wide-open two-ways with such beings as Worsel of Velantia, Tregonsee of Rigel IV, and Nadreck of Palain VII, it would seem obvious that we did not go to school. We were not like other children of our ages; but before I realized that it was anything unusual for a baby who could scarcely walk to be computing highly perturbed asteroidal orbits as “mental arithmetic”, I knew that we would have to keep our abnormalities to ourselves, insofar as the bulk of mankind and of Civilization was concerned.
I traveled much; sometimes with my father or mother or both, sometimes alone. At least once each year I went to Arisia for treatment. I took the last two years of Lensmanship, for physical reasons only, at Wentworth Hall instead of the Academy of Klovia because upon Tellus the name Kinnison is not at all uncommon, while upon Klovia the fact that “Kit” Kinnison was the son of the coordinator could not have been concealed.
I graduated, and with my formal enlensment this record properly begins.
I have recorded this material as impersonally as possible, realizing fully that my sisters and I did only the work for which we were specifically developed and trained; even as you who read this will do that for which you shall have been developed and are to be trained.
Christopher K. Kinnison, L3, Klovia.
Galactic Coordinator Kimball Kinnison finished his second cup of Tellurian coffee, got up from the breakfast table, and prowled about in black abstraction. Twenty-odd years had changed him but little. He weighed the same, or a few pounds less; although a little of his mass had shifted downward from his mighty chest and shoulders. His hair was still brown; his stern face was only faintly lined. He was mature, with a conscious maturity no young man can know.
“Since when, Kim, did you think you could get away with blocking me out of your mind?” Clarrissa Kinnison directed a quiet thought. The years had dealt as lightly with the Red Lensman as with the Gray. She had been gorgeous; she was now magnificent. “This room is shielded, you know, against even the girls.”
“Sorry, Cris—I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I know,” she laughed. “Automatic. But you’ve had that block up for two solid weeks, except when you force yourself to keep it down. That means you’re ’way off the green.”
“I’ve been thinking, incredible as it may seem.”
“I know it. Let’s have it, Kim.”
“QX—you asked for it. Queer things have been going on; all over. Inexplicable things . . . no apparent reason.”
“Almost any kind of insidious deviltry you care to name. Disaffections, psychoses, mass hysterias, hallucinations; pointing toward a Civilization-wide epidemic of revolutions and uprisings for which there seems to be no basis or justification whatever.”
“Why, Kim! How could there be? I haven’t heard of anything like that!”
“It hasn’t got around. Each solar system thinks it’s a purely local condition, but it isn’t. As galactic coordinator, with a broad view of the entire picture, my office would of course see such a thing before anyone else could. We saw it, and set out to nip it in the bud . . . but . . .” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned wryly.
“But what?” Clarrissa persisted.
“It didn’t nip. We sent Lensmen to investigate, but none of them got to the first check-station. Then I asked our Second-Stage Lensmen—Worsel, Nadreck, and Tregonsee—to drop whatever they were doing and solve it for me. They hit it and bounced. They followed, and are still following, leads and clues galore, but they haven’t got a millo’s worth of results so far.”
“What? You mean it’s a problem they can’t solve?”
“That they haven’t, to date,” he corrected, absently. “And that ‘gives me furiously to think’.”
“It would,” she conceded, “and it also would make you itch to join them. Think at me, it’ll help you correlate. You should have gone over the data with me right at first.”
“I had reasons not to, as you’ll see. But I’m stumped now, so here goes. We’ll have to go away back, to before we were married. First; Mentor told me, quote, only your descendants will be ready for that for which you now so dimly grope, unquote. Second; you were the only being ever able to read my thoughts without a Lens. Third; Mentor told us, when we asked him if it was QX for us to go ahead, that our marriage was necessary, a choice of phraseology which bothered you somewhat at the time, but which I then explained as being in accord with his visualization of the Cosmic All. Fourth; the Patrol formula is to send the man best fitted for any job to do that job, and if he can’t swing it, to send the Number One graduate of the current class of Lensmen. Fifth; a Lensman has got to use everything and everybody available, no matter what or who it is. I used even you, you remember, in that Lyrane affair and others. Sixth; Sir Austin Cardynge believed to the day of his death that we were thrown out of that hyper-spatial tube, and out of space, deliberately.”
“Well, go on. I don’t see much, if any, connection.”
“You will, if you think of those six points in connection with our present predicament. Kit graduates next month, and he’ll rank number one of all Civilization, for all the tea in China.”
“Of course. But after all, he’s a Lensman. He’ll have to be assigned some problem; why not that one?”
“You don’t see yet what that problem is. I’ve been adding two and two together for weeks, and can’t get any other answer than four. And if two and two are four, Kit has got to tackle Boskone—the real Boskone; the one I never did and probably never can reach.”
“No, Kim—no!” she almost shrieked. “Not Kit, Kim—he’s just a boy!”
Kinnison waited, wordless.
She got up, crossed the room to him. He put his arm around her in the old but ever new gesture.
“Lensman’s load, Cris,” he said, quietly.
“Of course,” she replied then, as quietly. “It was a shock at first, coming after all these years, but . . . if it has to be, it must. But he—surely we can help him, Kim?”
“Surely.” The man’s arm tightened. “When he hits space I go back to work. So do Nadreck and Worsel and Tregonsee. So do you, if your kind of a job turns up. And with us to do the blocking, and with Kit to carry the ball . . .” His thought died away.
“I’ll say so,” she breathed. Then: “But you won’t call me, I know, unless you absolutely have to . . . and to give up you and Kit both . . . why did we have to be Lensmen, Kim?” she protested, rebelliously. “Why couldn’t we have been ground-grippers? You used to growl that thought at me before I knew what a Lens really meant . . .”
“Vell, some of us has got to be der first violiners in der orchestra,” Kinnison misquoted, in an attempt at lightness. “Ve can’t all push vind t’rough der trombone.”
“I suppose that’s true.” The Red Lensman’s somber air deepened. “Well, we were going to start for Tellus today, anyway, to see Kit graduate. This doesn’t change that.”
And in a distant room four tall, shapely, auburn-haired girls stared at each other briefly, then went en rapport; for their mother had erred greatly in saying that the breakfast room was screened against their minds. Nothing was or could be screened against them; they could think above, below, or, by sufficient effort, straight through any thought-screen known to Tellurian science. Nothing in which they were interested was safe from them, and they were interested in practically everything.
“Kay, we’ve got ourselves a job!” Kathryn, older by minutes than Karen, excluded pointedly the younger twins, Camilla and Constance—“Cam” and “Con.”
“At last!” Karen exclaimed. “I’ve been wondering what we were born for, with nine-tenths of our minds so deep down that nobody except Kit even knows they’re there and so heavily blocked that we can’t let even each other in without a conscious effort. This is it. We’ll go places now, Kat, and really do things.”
“What do you mean you’ll go places and do things?” Con demanded, indignantly. “Do you think for a second you carry screen enough to block us out of all the fun?”
“Certainly,” Kat said, equably. “You’re too young.”
“We’ll let you know what we’re doing, though,” Kay conceded, magnanimously. “You might, just conceivably, contribute an idea we could use.”
“Ideas—phooey!” Con jeered. “A real idea would shatter both your skulls. You haven’t any more plan than a . . .”
“Hush—shut up, everybody!” Kat commanded. “This is too new for any of us to have any worth-while ideas on, yet. Tell you what let’s do—we’ll all think this over until we’re aboard the Dauntless, half-way to Tellus; then we’ll compare notes and decide what to do.”
They left Klovia that afternoon. Kinnison’s personal super-dreadnought, the mighty Dauntless—the fourth to bear that name—bored through inter-galactic space. Time passed. The four young red-heads convened.
“I’ve got it all worked out!” Kat burst out, enthusiastically, forestalling the other three. “There’ll be four Second-Stage Lensmen at work and there are four of us. We’ll circulate—percolate—you might say—around and through the universe. We’ll pick up ideas and facts and feed ’em to our Gray Lensmen. Surreptitiously, sort of, so they’ll think they got ’em themselves. I’ll take dad for my partner, Kay can have . . .”
“You’ll do no such thing!” A general clamor arose, Con’s thought being the most insistent. “If we aren’t going to work with them all, indiscriminately, we’ll draw lots or throw dice to see who gets him, so there!”
“Seal it, snake-hips, please,” Kat requested, sweetly. “It is trite but true to say that infants should be seen, but not heard. This is serious business . . .”
“Snake-hips! Infant!” Con interrupted, venomously. “Listen, my steatopygous and senile friend!” Constance measured perhaps a quarter of an inch less in gluteal circumference than did her oldest sister; she tipped the beam at one scant pound below her weight. “You and Kay are a year older than Cam and I, of course; a year ago your minds were stronger than ours. That condition, however, no longer exists. We too are grown-up. And to put that statement to test, what can you do that I can’t?”
“This.” Kathryn extended a bare arm, narrowed her eyes in concentration. A Lens materialized about her wrist; not attached to it by a metallic bracelet, but a bracelet in itself, clinging sentiently to the smooth, bronzed skin. “I felt that in this work there would be a need. I learned to satisfy it. Can you match that?”
They could. In a matter of seconds the three others were similarly enlensed. They had not previously perceived the need, but at Kathryn’s demonstration their acquisition of full knowledge had been virtually instantaneous.
Kat’s Lens disappeared.
So did the other three. Each knew that no hint of this knowledge or of this power should ever be revealed; each knew that in any moment of stress the Lens of Civilization could be and would be hers.
“Logic, then, and by reason, not by chance.” Kat changed her tactics. “I still get him. Everybody knows who works best with whom. You, Con, have tagged around after Worsel all your life. You used to ride him like a horse . . .”
“She still does,” Kay snickered. “He pretty nearly split her in two a while ago in a seven-gravity pull-out, and she almost broke a toe when she kicked him for it.”
“Worsel is nice,” Con defended herself vigorously. “He’s more human than most people, and more fun, as well as having infinitely more brains. And you can’t talk, Kay—what anyone can see in that Nadreck, so cold-blooded that he freezes you even through armor at twenty feet—you’ll get as cold and hard as he is if you don’t . . .”
“And every time Cam gets within five hundred parsecs of Tregonsee she goes into the silences with him, contemplating raptly the whichnesses of the why,” Kathryn interrupted, forestalling recriminations. “So you see, by the process of elimination, dad’s mine.”
Since they could not all have him it was finally agreed that Kathryn’s claim would be allowed and, after a great deal of discussion and argument, a tentative plan of action was developed. In due course the Dauntless landed at Prime Base. The Kinnisons went to Wentworth Hall, the towering, chromium-and-glass home of the Tellurian cadets of the Galactic Patrol. They watched the impressive ceremonies of graduation. Then, as the new Lensmen marched out to the magnificent cadences of “Our Patrol”, the Gray Lensman, leaving his wife and daughters to their own devices, made his way to his Tellurian office.
“Lensman Christopher K. Kinnison, sir, by appointment,” his secretary announced, and as Kit strode in Kinnison stood up and came to attention.
“Christopher K. Kinnison of Klovia, sir, reporting for duty.” Kit saluted crisply.
The coordinator returned the salute punctiliously. Then: “At rest, Kit. I’m proud of you, mighty proud. We all are. The women want to heroize you, but I had to see you first, to clear up a few things. An explanation, an apology, and, in a sense, commiseration.”
“An apology, sir?” Kit was dumbfounded. “Why, that’s unthinkable . . .”
“For not graduating you in Gray. It has never been done, but that wasn’t the reason. Your commandant, the board of examiners, and Port Admiral LaForge, all recommended it, agreeing that none of us is qualified to give you either orders or directions. I blocked it.”
“Of course. For the son of the coordinator to be the first Lensman to graduate Unattached would smell—especially since the fewer who know of my peculiar characteristics the better. That can wait, sir.”
“Not too long, son.” Kinnison’s smile was a trifle forced. “Here’s your Release and your kit, and a request that you go to work on whatever it is that’s going on. We rather think it heads up somewhere in the Second Galaxy, but that’s just a guess.”
“I start out from Klovia, then? Good—I can go home with you.”
“That’s the idea, and on the way there you can study the situation. We’ve made tapes of the data, with our best attempts at analysis and interpretation. The stuff’s up to date, except for a thing I got this morning . . . I can’t figure out whether it means anything or not, but it should be inserted . . .” Kinnison paced the room, scowling.
“Might as well tell me. I’ll insert it when I scan the tape.”
“QX. I don’t suppose you’ve heard much about the unusual shipping trouble we’ve been having, particularly in the Second Galaxy?”
“Rumor—gossip only. I’d rather have it straight.”
“It’s all on the tapes, so I’ll just hit the high spots. Losses are twenty-five percent above normal. A few very peculiar derelicts have been found—they seem to have been wrecked by madmen. Not only wrecked, but gutted, and every mark of identification wiped out. We can’t determine even origin or destination, since the normal disappearances outnumber the abnormal ones by four to one. On the tapes this is lumped in with the other psychoses you’ll learn about. But this morning they found another derelict, in which the chief pilot had scrawled ‘WARE HELLHOLE IN SP’ across a plate. Connection with the other derelicts, if any, obscure. If the pilot was sane when he wrote that message it means something—but nobody knows what. If he wasn’t, it doesn’t, any more than the dozens of obviously senseless—excuse me, I should say apparently senseless—messages on the tapes.”
“Hm . . . m. Interesting. I’ll bear it in mind and tape it in its place. But speaking of peculiar things, I’ve got one I wanted to tell you about—getting my Release was such a shock I almost forgot it. Reported it, but nobody thought it was anything important. Maybe—probably—it isn’t. Tune your mind up to the top of the range—there—did you ever hear of a race that thinks on that band?”
“I never did—it’s practically unreachable. Why—have you?”
“Yes and no. Only once, and that only a touch. Or, rather, a burst; as though a hard-held mind-block had exploded, or the creature had just died a violent, instantaneous death. Not enough of it to trace, and I never found any more of it.”
“Any characteristics? Bursts can be quite revealing.”
“A few. It was on my last break-in trip in the Second Galaxy, out beyond Thrale—about here.” Kit marked the spot upon a mental chart. “Mentality very high—precisionist grade—possibly beyond social needs, as the planet was a bare desert and terrifically hot. No thought of cities. Nor of water, although both may have existed without appearing in that burst of thought. The thing’s bodily structure was RTSL, to four places. No gross digestive tract—atmosphere-nourished or an energy-converter, perhaps. The sun was a blue giant. No spectral data, of course, but at a rough guess I’d say somewhere around class B5 or A0. That’s all I could get.”
“That’s a lot to get from one burst. It doesn’t mean a thing to me right now . . . but I’ll watch for a chance to fit it in somewhere.”
How casually they dismissed as unimportant that cryptic burst of thought! But if they both, right then, together, had been authoritatively informed that that description fitted exactly the physical form forced upon its denizens in its summer by the accurately-described, simply hellish climatic conditions obtaining during that season on the noxious planet Ploor, the information would still not have seemed important to either of them—then.
“Anything else we ought to discuss before night?” The older Lensman went on without a break.
“Not that I know of.”
“You said your Release was a shock. You’ve got another one coming.”
“Worsel, Tregonsee, Nadreck and I are quitting our jobs and going Gray again. Our main purpose in life is going to be rallying ’round at max whenever you whistle.”
“That is a shock, sir . . . Thanks . . . I hadn’t expected—it’s really overwhelming. And you said something about commiserating me?” Kit lifted his red-thatched head—all of Clarrissa’s children had inherited her startling hair—and gray eyes stared level into eyes of gray.
“In a sense, yes. You’ll understand later . . . Well, you’d better go hunt up your mother and the girls. After the clambake is over . . .”
“I’d better cut it, hadn’t I?” Kit asked, eagerly. “Don’t you think it’d be better for me to get started right away?”
“Not on your life!” Kinnison demurred, positively. “Do you think I want that mob of red-heads snatching me bald? You’re in for a large day and evening of lionization, so take it like a man. As I was about to say, as soon as the brawl is over tonight we’ll all board the Dauntless and do a flit for Klovia, where we’ll fix you up an outfit. Until then, son . . .” Two big hands gripped.
“But I’ll be seeing you around the Hall!” Kit exclaimed. “You can’t . . .”
“No, I can’t run out on it, either,” Kinnison grinned, “but we won’t be in a sealed and shielded room. So, son . . . I’m proud of you.”
“Right back at you, big fellow—and thanks a million.” Kit strode out and, a few minutes later, the coordinator did likewise.
The “brawl”, which was the gala event of the Tellurian social year, was duly enjoyed by all the Kinnisons. The Dauntless made an uneventful flight to Klovia. Arrangements were made. Plans, necessarily sketchy and elastic, were laid.
Two big, gray-clad Lensmen stood upon the deserted spacefield between two blackly indetectable speedsters. Kinnison was massive, sure, calm with the poised calmness of maturity, experience, and power. Kit, with the broad shoulders and narrow waist of his years and training, was taut and tense, fiery, eager to come to grips with Civilization’s foes.
“Remember, son,” Kinnison said as the two gripped hands. “There are four of us—old-timers who’ve been through the mill—on call every second. If you can use any one of us or all of us don’t wait—snap out a call.”
“I know, dad . . . thanks. The four best. One of you may make a strike before I do. With the thousands of leads we have, and your experience and know-how, you probably will. So remember it cuts both ways. If any of you can use me any time, you whistle.”
“QX. We’ll keep in touch. Clear ether, Kit!”
“Clear ether, dad!” What a wealth of meaning there was in that low-voiced, simple exchange of the standard bon voyage!
For minutes, as his speedster flashed through space, Kinnison thought only of the boy. He knew exactly how he felt; he re-lived in memory the supremely ecstatic moments of his own first launching into space as a Gray Lensman. But Kit had the stuff—stuff which he, Kinnison could never know anything about—and he had his own job to do. Therefore, methodically, like the old campaigner he was, he set about it.
Worsel the Velantian, hard and durable and long-lived as Velantians are, had in twenty Tellurian years changed scarcely at all. As the first Lensman and the only Second-Stage Lensman of his race, the twenty years had been very fully occupied indeed.
He had solved the varied technological and administrative problems incident to the welding of Velantia into the structure of Civilization. He had worked at the many tasks which, in the opinion of the Galactic Council, fitted his peculiarly individual talents. In his “spare” time he had sought out in various parts of two galaxies, and had ruthlessly slain, widely-scattered groups of the Overlords of Delgon.
Continuously, however, he had taken an intense sort of godfatherly interest in the Kinnison children, particularly in Kit and in the youngest daughter, Constance; finding in the girl a mentality surprisingly akin to his own.
When Kinnison’s call came he answered it. He was now out in space; not in the Dauntless, but in a ship of his own, under his own command. And what a ship! The Velan was manned entirely by beings of his own race. It carried Velantian air, at Velantian temperature and pressure. Above all, it was built and powered for inert maneuvering at the atrocious accelerations employed by the Velantians in their daily lives; and Worsel loved it with enthusiasm and elan.
He had worked conscientiously and well with Kinnison and with other entities of Civilization. He and they had all known, however, that he could work more efficiently alone or with others of his own kind. Hence, except in emergencies, he had done so; and hence, except in similar emergencies, he would so continue to do.
Out in deep space, Worsel entwined himself, in a Velantian’s idea of comfort, in an intricate series of figures-of-eight around a pair of parallel bars and relaxed in thought. There were insidious deviltries afoot, Kinnison had said. There were disaffections, psychoses, mass hysterias, and—Oh happy thought!—hallucinations. There were also certain revolutions and sundry uprisings, which might or might not be connected or associated with the disappearances of a considerable number of persons of note. In these latter, however, Worsel of Velantia was not interested. He knew without being told that Kinnison would pounce upon such blatant manifestations as those. He himself would work upon something much more to his taste.
Hallucination was Worsel’s dish. He had been born among hallucinations; had been reared in an atmosphere of them. What he did not know about hallucinations could have been printed in pica on the smallest one of his scales.
Therefore, isolating one section of his multi-compartmented mind from all others and from any control over his physical self, he sensitized it to receive whatever hallucinatory influences might be abroad. Simultaneously he set two other parts of his mind to watch over the one to be victimized; to study and to analyze whatever figments of obtrusive mentality might be received and entertained.
Then, using all his naturally tremendous sensitivity and reach, all his Arisian super-training, and the full power of his Lens, he sent his mental receptors out into space. And then, although the thought is staggeringly incomprehensible to any Tellurian or near-human mind, he relaxed. For day after day, as the Velan hurtled randomly through the void, he hung blissfully slack upon his bars, most of his mind a welter of the indescribable thoughts in which it is a Velantian’s joy to revel.
Suddenly, after an unknown interval of time, a thought impinged: a thought under the impact of which Worsel’s long body tightened so convulsively as to pull the bars a foot out of true. Overlords! The unmistakable, the body-and-mind-paralyzing hunting call of the Overlords of Delgon!
His crew had not felt it yet, of course; nor would they feel it. If they should, they would be worse than useless in the conflict to come; for they could not withstand that baneful influence. Worsel could. Worsel was the only Velantian who could.
“Thought-screens all!” his commanding thought snapped out. Then, even before the order could be obeyed: “As you were!”
For the impenetrably shielded chamber of his mind told him instantly that this was no ordinary Delgonian hunting call; or rather, that it was more than that. Much more.
Mixed with, superimposed upon the overwhelming compulsion which generations of Velantians had come to know so bitterly and so well, were the very things for which he had been searching—hallucinations! To shield his crew or, except in the subtlest possible fashion himself, simply would not do. Overlords everywhere knew that there was at least one Velantian Lensman who was mentally their master; and, while they hated this Lensman tremendously, they feared him even more. Therefore, even though a Velantian was any Overlord’s choicest prey, at the first indication of an ability to disobey their commands the monsters would cease entirely to radiate; would withdraw at once every strand of their far-flung mental nets into the fastnesses of their superbly hidden and indetectably shielded cavern.
Therefore Worsel allowed the inimical influence to take over, not only the total minds of his crew, but also the unshielded portions of his own. And stealthily, so insidiously that no mind affected could discern the change, values gradually grew vague and reality began to alter.
Loyalty dimmed, and esprit de corps. Family ties and pride of race waned into meaninglessness. All concepts of Civilization, of the Galactic Patrol, degenerated into strengthless gossamer, into oblivion. And to replace those hitherto mighty motivations there crept in an overmastering need for, and the exact method of obtainment of, whatever it was that was each Velantian’s deepest, most primal desire. Each crewman stared into an individual visiplate whose substance was to him as real and as solid as the metal of his ship had ever been; each saw upon that plate whatever it was that, consciously or unconsciously, he wanted most to see. Noble or base, lofty or low, intellectual or physical, spiritual or carnal, it made no difference to the Overlords. Whatever each victim wanted most was there.
No figment was, however, even to the Velantians, actual or tangible. It was a picture on a plate, transmitted from a well-defined point in space. There, upon that planet, was the actuality, eagerly await; toward and to that planet must the Velan go at maximum blast. Into that line and at that blast, then, the pilots set their vessel without orders, and each of the crew saw upon his non-existent plate that she had so been set. If she had not been, if the pilots had been able to offer any resistance, the crew would have slaughtered them out of hand. As it was, all was well.
And Worsel, watching the affected portion of his mind accept those hallucinations as truths and admiring unreservedly the consummate artistry with which the work was being done, was well content. He knew that only a hard, solidly-driven, individually probing beam could force him to reveal the fact that a portion of his mind and all of his bodily controls were being withheld; he knew that unless he made a slip no such investigation was to be expected. He would not slip.
No human or near-human mind can really understand how the mind of a Velantian works. A Tellurian can, by dint of training, learn to do two or more unrelated things simultaneously. But neither is done very well and both must be more or less routine in nature. To perform any original or difficult operation successfully he must concentrate on it, and he can concentrate upon only one thing at a time. A Velantian can and does, however, concentrate upon half-a-dozen totally unrelated things at once; and, with his multiplicity of arms, hands, and eyes, he can perform simultaneously an astonishing number of completely independent operations.
The Velantian’s is, however, in no sense such a multiple personality as would exist if six or eight human heads were mounted upon one body. There is no joint tenancy about it. There is only one ego permeating all those pseudo-independent compartments; no contradictory orders are, or ordinarily can be, sent along the bundled nerves of the spinal cord. While individual in thought and in the control of certain actions, the mind-compartments are basically, fundamentally, one mind.
Worsel had progressed beyond his fellows. He was different; unique. The perception of the need of the ability to isolate certain compartments of his mind, to separate them completely from his real ego, was one of the things which had enabled him to become the only Second-Stage Lensman of his race.
L2 Worsel, then, held himself aloof and observed appreciatively everything that went on. More, he did a little hallucinating of his own. Under the Overlords’ compulsion he was supposed to remain motionless, staring raptly into an imaginary visiplate at an orgiastic saturnalia of which no description will be attempted. Therefore, as far as the occupied portion of his mind and through it the Overlords were concerned, he did so. Actually, however, his body moved purposefully about, directed solely by his own grim will; moved to make ready against the time of landing.
For Worsel knew that his opponents were not fools. He knew that they reduced their risks to the irreducible minimum. He knew that the mighty Velan, with her prodigious weaponry, would not be permitted to be within extreme range of the cavern, if the Overlords could possibly prevent it, when that cavern’s location was revealed. His was the task to see to it that she was not only within range, but was at the very portal.
The speeding space-ship approached the planet . . . went inert . . . matched the planetary intrinsic . . . landed. Her airlocks opened. Her crew rushed out headlong, sprang into the air, and arrowed away en masse. Then Worsel, Grand Master of Hallucinations, went blithely but intensely to work.
Thus, although he stayed at the Velan’s control board instead of joining the glamored Velantians in their rush over the unfamiliar terrain, and although the huge vessel lifted lightly into the air and followed them, neither the fiend-possessed part of Worsel’s mind, nor any of his fellows, nor through them any one of the many Overlords, knew that either of those two things was happening. To that part of his mind Worsel’s body was, under full control, flying along upon tireless wings in the midst of the crowd; to it and to all other Velantians and hence to the Overlords the Velan lay motionless and deserted upon the rocks far below and behind them. They watched her diminish in the distance; they saw her vanish beyond the horizon!
This was eminently tricky work, necessitating as it did such nicety of synchronization with the Delgonians’ own compulsions as to be indetectable even to the monsters themselves. Worsel was, however, an expert; he went at the job not with any doubt as to his ability to carry it through, but only with an uncontrollably shivering physical urge to come to grips with the hereditary enemies of his race.
The flyers shot downward, and as a boulder-camouflaged entrance yawned open in the mountain’s side Worsel closed up and shot out a widely enveloping zone of thought-screen. The Overlords’ control vanished. The Velantians, realizing instantly what had happened, flew madly back to their ship. They jammed through the airlocks, flashed to their posts. The cavern’s gates had closed by then, but the monsters had no screen fit to cope with the Velan’s tremendous batteries. Down they went. Barriers, bastions, and a considerable portion of the mountain’s face flamed away in fiery vapor or flowed away in molten streams. Through reeking atmosphere, over red-hot debris, the armored Velantians flew to the attack.
The Overlords had, however, learned. This cavern, as well as being hidden, was defended by physical, as well as mental, means. There were inner barriers of metal and of force, there were armed and armored defenders who, dominated completely by the monsters, fought with the callous fury of the robots which in effect they were. Nevertheless, against all opposition, the attackers bored relentlessly in. Heavy semi-portables blazed, hand-to-hand combat raged in the narrow confines of that noisome tunnel. In the wavering, glaring light of the contending beams and screens, through the hot and rankly stinking steam billowing away from the reeking walls, the invaders fought their way. One by one and group by group the defenders died where they stood and the Velantians drove onward over their burned and dismembered bodies.
Into the cavern at last. To the Overlords. Overlords! They who for ages had preyed upon generation after generation of helpless Velantians, torturing their bodies to the point of death and then devouring ghoulishly the life-forces which their mangled bodies could no longer retain!
Worsel and his crew threw away their DeLameters. Only when it is absolutely necessary does any Velantian use any artificial weapon against any Overlord of Delgon. He is too furious, too berserk, to do so. He is scared to the core of his being; the cold grue of a thousand fiendishly eaten ancestors has bred that fear into the innermost atoms of his chemistry. But against that fear, negating and surmounting it, is a hatred of such depth and violence as no human being has ever known; a starkly savage hatred which can be even partially assuaged only by the ultimate of violences—by rending his foe apart member by member; by actually feeling the Delgonian’s life depart under gripping hands and tearing talons and constricting body and shearing tail.
It is best, then, not to go into too fine detail as to this conflict. Since there were almost a hundred of the Delgonians, since they were insensately vicious fighters when cornered, and since their physical make-up was very similar to the Velantians’ own, many of Worsel’s troopers died. But since the Velan carried over fifteen hundred and since less than half of her personnel could even get into the cavern, there were plenty of them left to operate and to fight the space-ship.
Worsel took great care that the opposing commander was not killed with his minions. The fighting over, the Velantians chained this sole survivor into one of his own racks and stretched him out into immobility. Then, restraining by main strength the terrific urge to put the machine then and there to its fullest ghastly use, Worsel cut his screen, threw a couple of turns of tail around a convenient anchorage, and faced the Boskonian almost nose to nose. Eight weirdly stalked eyes curled out as he drove a probing thought-beam against the monster’s shield.
“I could use this—or this—or this,” Worsel gloated. As he touched various wheels and levers the chains hummed slightly, sparks flashed, the rigid body twitched. “I am not going to, however—yet. While you are still sane I shall take your total knowledge.”
Face to face, eye to eye, brain to brain, that silently and motionlessly cataclysmic battle was joined.
As has been said, Worsel had hunted down and had destroyed many Overlords. He had hunted them, however, like vermin. He had killed them with bombs and beams, with talons, teeth, and tail. He had not engaged an Overlord mind to mind for over twenty Tellurian years; not since he and Nadreck of Palain Seven had captured alive the leaders of those who had been preying upon Helen’s matriarchs and warring upon Civilization from their cavern on Lyrane II. Nor had he ever dueled one mentally to the death without powerful support; Kinnison or some other Lensman had always been near by.
But Worsel would need no help. He was not shivering in eagerness now. His body was as still as the solid rock upon which most of it lay; every chamber and every faculty of his mind was concentrated upon battering down or blasting through the Overlord’s stubbornly-held shields.
Brighter and brighter flamed Worsel’s Lens, flooding the gloomy cave with pulsating polychromatic light. Alert for any possible trickery, guarding intently against any possibility of counterthrust, Worsel slammed in bolt after bolt of mental force. He surrounded the monster’s mind with a searing, constricting field. He squeezed; relentlessly and with appalling power.
The Overlord was beaten. He, who had never before encountered a foreign mind or a vital force stronger than his own, knew that he was beaten. He knew that at long last he had met that half-fabulous Velantian Lensman with whom not one of his monstrous race could cope. He knew starkly, with the chilling, numbing terror possible only to such a being in such a position, that he was doomed to die the same hideous and long-drawn-out death he had dealt out to so many others. He did not read into the mind of the bitterly vengeful, the implacably ferocious Velantian any more mercy, any more compunction, than were actually there. He knew perfectly that there was no slightest trace of either. Knowing these things with the black certainty that was his, he quailed.
There is an old saying that the brave man dies only once, the coward a thousand times. The Overlord, during that lethal combat, died more times than it is pleasant to contemplate. Nevertheless, he fought. His mind was keen and powerful; he brought to the defense of his beleaguered ego every resource of skill and of trickery and of sheer power at his command. In vain. Deeper and deeper, in spite of everything he could do, the relentless Lensman squeezed and smashed and cut and pried and bored; little by little the Overlord gave mental ground.
“This station is here . . . this staff is here . . . I am here, then . . . to wreak damage . . . all possible damage . . . to the commerce . . . and to the personnel of . . . the Galactic Patrol . . . and Civilization in every aspect . . .” the Overlord admitted haltingly as Worsel’s pressure became intolerable; but such admissions, however unwillingly made or however revealing in substance, were not enough.
Worsel wanted, and would be satisfied with nothing less than, his enemy’s total knowledge. Hence he maintained his assault until, unable longer to withstand the frightful battering, the Overlord’s barriers went completely down; until every convolution of his brain and every track of his mind lay open, helplessly exposed to Worsel’s poignant scrutiny. Then, scarcely taking time to gloat over his victim, Worsel did scrutinize.
Hurtling through space, toward a definite objective now, Worsel studied and analyzed some of the things he had just learned. He was not surprised that this Overlord had not known any of his superior officers in things or enterprises Boskonian; that he did not consciously know that he had been obeying orders or that he had superiors. That technique, by this time, was familiar enough. The Boskonian psychologists were able operators; to attempt to unravel the unknowable complexities of their subconscious compulsions would be a sheer waste of time.
What the Overlords had been doing, however, was clear enough. That outpost had indeed been wreaking havoc with Civilization’s commerce. Ship after ship had been lured from its course; had been compelled to land upon this barren planet. Some of those vessels had been destroyed; some of them had been stripped and rifled as though by pirates of old; some of them had been set upon new courses with hulls, mechanical equipment, and cargoes almost untouched. No crewman or passenger, however, escaped unscathed; even though only ten percent of them died in the Overlordish fashion Worsel knew so well.
The Overlord himself had wondered why they had not been able to kill them all. They wanted intensely enough to do so; their lust for life-force simply could not be sated. He knew only that something had limited their killing to ten percent of the bag.
Worsel grinned wolfishly at that thought, even while he was admiring the quality of the psychology able to impress such a compulsion upon such intractable minds as those. That was the work of the Boskonian higher-ups; to spread confusion wider and wider.
The other ninety percent had merely been “played with”—a procedure which, although less satisfying to the Overlords than the ultimate treatment, was not very different as far as the victims’ egos were concerned. For none of them emerged from the ordeal with any memory of what had happened, or of who or what he had ever been. They were not all completely mad; some were only partially so. All had, however, been . . . altered. Changed; shockingly transformed. No two were alike. Each Overlord, it appeared, had tried with all his ultra-hellish might to excel his fellows in the manufacture of an outrageous something whose like had never before been seen on land or sea or in the depths of space.
These and many other things Worsel studied carefully. He’d head for the “Hell-Hole in Space,” he decided. This planet, the Overlords he had just slain, were not the Hell-Hole; could have had nothing to do with it—wrong location.
He knew now, though, what the Hell-Hole really was. It was a cavern of Overlords—couldn’t be anything else—and in himself and his crew and his mighty vessel he, the Overlord-slayer supreme of two galaxies, had everything it took to extirpate any number of Overlords. That Hell-Hole was just as good as out, as of that minute.
And just then a solid, diamond-clear thought came in.
“Worsel! Con calling. What goes on there, fellow old snake?”
Each of the Second-Stage Lensmen had exactly the same facts, the same data, upon which to theorize and from which to draw conclusions. Each had shared his experiences, his findings, and his deductions and inductions with all of the others. They had discussed minutely, in wide-open four-ways, every phase of the Boskonian problem. Nevertheless the approach of each to that problem and the point of attack chosen by each was individual and characteristic.
Kimball Kinnison was by nature forthright; direct. As has been seen, he could use the approach circuitous if necessary, but he much preferred and upon every possible occasion employed the approach direct. He liked plain, unambiguous clues much better than obscure ones; the more obvious and factual the clue was, the better he liked it.
He was now, therefore, heading for Antigan IV, the scene of the latest and apparently the most outrageous of a long series of crimes of violence. He didn’t know much about it; the request had come through regular channels, not via Lens, that he visit Antigan and direct the investigation of the supposed murder of the Planetary President.
As his speedster flashed through space the Gray Lensman mulled over in his mind the broad aspects of this crime-wave. It was spreading far and wide, and the wider it spread and the intenser it became the more vividly one salient fact struck out. Selectivity—distribution. The solar systems of Thrale, Velantia, Tellus, Klovia, and Palain had not been affected. Thrale, Tellus, and Klovia were full of Lensmen. Velantia, Rigel, Palain, and a good part of the time Klovia, were the working headquarters of Second-Stage Lensmen. It seemed, then, that the trouble was roughly in inverse ratio to the numbers or the abilities of the Lensmen in the neighborhood. Something, therefore, that Lensmen—particularly Second-Stage Lensmen—were bad for. That was true, of course, for all crime. Nevertheless, this seemed to be a special case.
And when he reached his destination he found out that it was. The planet was seething. Its business and its everyday activities seemed to be almost paralyzed. Martial law had been declared; the streets were practically deserted except for thick-clustered groups of heavily-armed guards. What few people were abroad were furtive and sly; slinking hastily along with their fear-filled eyes trying to look in all directions at once.
“QX, Wainwright, go ahead,” Kinnison directed bruskly when, alone with the escorting Patrol officers in a shielded car, he was being taken to the Capitol grounds. “There’s been too much pussyfooting about the whole affair.”
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