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TABLE OF CONTENTS
The visitor, making his way unobserved through the crowded main laboratory of The Hill, stepped up to within six feet of the back of a big Norwegian seated at an electrono-optical bench. Drawing an automatic pistol, he shot the apparently unsuspecting scientist seven times, as fast as he could pull the trigger; twice through the brain, five times, closely spaced, through the spine.
"Ah, Gharlane of Eddore, I have been expecting you to look me up. Sit down." Blonde, blue-eyed Dr. Nels Bergenholm, completely undisturbed by the passage of the stream of bullets through his head and body, turned and waved one huge hand at a stool beside his own.
"But those were not ordinary projectiles!" the visitor protested. Neither person—or rather, entity—was in the least surprised that no one else had paid any attention to what had happened, but it was clear that the one was taken aback by the failure of his murderous attack. "They should have volatilized that form of flesh—should at least have blown you back to Arisia, where you belong."
"Ordinary or extraordinary, what matter? As you, in the guise of Gray Roger, told Conway Costigan a short time since, 'I permitted that, as a demonstration of futility.' Know, Gharlane, once and for all, that you will no longer be allowed to act directly against any adherent of Civilization, wherever situate. We of Arisia will not interfere in person with your proposed conquest of the two galaxies as you have planned it, since the stresses and conflicts involved are necessary—and, I may add, sufficient—to produce the Civilization which must and shall come into being. Therefore, neither will you, or any other Eddorian, so interfere. You will go back to Eddore and you will stay there."
"Think you so?" Gharlane sneered. "You, who have been so afraid of us for over two thousand million Tellurian years that you dared not let us even learn of you? So afraid of us that you dared not take any action to avert the destruction of any one of your budding Civilizations upon any one of the worlds of either galaxy? So afraid that you dare not, even now, meet me mind to mind, but insist upon the use of this slow and unsatisfactory oral communication between us?"
"Either your thinking is loose, confused, and turbid, which I do not believe to be the case, or you are trying to lull me into believing that you are stupid." Bergenholm's voice was calm, unmoved. "I do not think that you will go back to Eddore; I know it. You, too, as soon as you have become informed upon certain matters, will know it. You protest against the use of spoken language because it is, as you know, the easiest, simplest, and surest way of preventing you from securing any iota of the knowledge for which you are so desperately searching. As to a meeting of our two minds, they met fully just before you, operating as Gray Roger, remembered that which your entire race forgot long ago. As a consequence of that meeting I so learned every line and vibration of your life pattern as to be able to greet you by your symbol, Gharlane of Eddore, whereas you know nothing of me save that I am an Arisian, a fact which has been obvious from the first."
In an attempt to create a diversion, Gharlane released the zone of compulsion which he had been holding; but the Arisian took it over so smoothly that no human being within range was conscious of any change.
"It is true that for many cycles of time we concealed our existence from you," Bergenholm went on without a break. "Since the reason for that concealment will still further confuse you, I will tell you what it was. Had you Eddorians learned of us sooner you might have been able to forge a weapon of power sufficient to prevent the accomplishment of an end which is now certain.
"It is true that your operations as Lo Sung of Uighar were not constrained. As Mithridates of Pontus—as Sulla, Marius, and Nero of Rome—as Hannibal of Carthage—as those self-effacing wights Alcixerxes of Greece and Menocoptes of Egypt—as Genghis Khan and Attila and the Kaiser and Mussolini and Hitler and the Tyrant of Asia—you were allowed to do as you pleased. Similar activities upon Rigel Four, Velantia, Palain Seven, and elsewhere were also allowed to proceed without effective opposition. With the appearance of Virgil Samms, however, the time arrived to put an end to your customary pernicious, obstructive, and destructive activities. I therefore interposed a barrier between you and those who would otherwise be completely defenseless against you."
"But why now? Why not thousands of cycles ago? And why Virgil Samms?"
"To answer those questions would be to give you valuable data. You may—too late—be able to answer them yourself. But to continue: you accuse me, and all Arisia, of cowardice; an evidently muddy and inept thought. Reflect, please, upon the completeness of your failure in the affair of Roger's planetoid; upon the fact that you have accomplished nothing whatever since that time; upon the situation in which you now find yourself.
"Even though the trend of thought of your race is basically materialistic and mechanistic, and you belittle ours as being 'philosophic' and 'impractical', you found—much to your surprise—that your most destructive physical agencies are not able to affect even this form of flesh which I am now energizing, to say nothing of affecting the reality which is I.
"If this episode is the result of the customary thinking of the second-in-command of Eddore's Innermost Circle ... but no, my visualization cannot be that badly at fault. Overconfidence—the tyrant's innate proclivity to underestimate an opponent—these things have put you into a false position; but I greatly fear that they will not operate to do so in any really important future affair."
"Rest assured that they will not!" Gharlane snarled. "It may not be—exactly—cowardice. It is, however, something closely akin. If you could have acted effectively against us at any time in the past, you would have done so. If you could act effectively against us now, you would be acting, not talking. That is elementary—self-evidently true. So true that you have not tried to deny it—nor would you expect me to believe you if you did." Cold black eyes stared level into icy eyes of Norwegian blue.
"Deny it? No. I am glad, however, that you used the word 'effectively' instead of 'openly'; for we have been acting effectively against you ever since these newly-formed planets cooled sufficiently to permit of the development of intelligent life."
"What? You have? How?"
"That, too, you may learn—too late. I have now said all I intend to say. I will give you no more information. Since you already know that there are more adult Arisians than there are Eddorians, so that at least one of us can devote his full attention to blocking the direct effort of any one of you, it is clear to you that it makes no difference to me whether you elect to go or to stay. I can and I will remain here as long as you do; I can and I will accompany you whenever you venture out of the volume of space protected by Eddorian screen, wherever you go. The election is yours."
Gharlane disappeared. So did the Arisian—instantaneously. Dr. Nels Bergenholm, however, remained. Turning, he resumed his work where he had left off, knowing exactly what he had been doing and exactly what he was going to do to finish it. He released the zone of compulsion, which he had been holding upon every human being within sight or hearing, so dexterously that no one suspected, then or ever, that anything out of the ordinary had happened. He knew these things and did these things in spite of the fact that the form of flesh which his fellows of the Triplanetary Service knew as Nels Bergenholm was then being energized, not by the stupendously powerful mind of Drounli the Molder, but by an Arisian child too young to be of any use in that which was about to occur.
Arisia was ready. Every Arisian mind capable of adult, or of even near-adult thinking was poised to act when the moment of action should come. They were not, however, tense. While not in any sense routine, that which they were about to do had been foreseen for many cycles of time. They knew exactly what they were going to do, and exactly how to do it. They waited.
"My visualization is not entirely clear concerning the succession of events stemming from the fact that the fusion of which Drounli is a part did not destroy Gharlane of Eddore while he was energizing Gray Roger," a young Watchman, Eukonidor by symbol, thought into the assembled mind. "May I take a moment of this idle time in which to spread my visualization, for enlargement and instruction?"
"You may, youth." The Elders of Arisia—the mightiest intellects of that tremendously powerful race—fused their several minds into one mind and gave approval. "That will be time well spent. Think on."
"Separated from the other Eddorians by inter-galactic distance as he then was, Gharlane could have been isolated and could have been destroyed," the youth pointed out, as he somewhat diffidently spread his visualization in the public mind. "Since it is axiomatic that his destruction would have weakened Eddore somewhat and to that extent would have helped us, it is evident that some greater advantage will accrue from allowing him to live. Some points are clear enough: that Gharlane and his fellows will believe that the Arisian fusion could not kill him, since it did not; that the Eddorians, contemptuous of our powers and thinking us vastly their inferiors, will not be driven to develop such things as atomic-energy-powered mechanical screens against third-level thought until such a time as it will be too late for even those devices to save their race from extinction; that they will, in all probability, never even suspect that the Galactic Patrol which is so soon to come into being will in fact be the prime operator in that extinction. It is not clear, however, in view of the above facts, why it has now become necessary for us to slay one Eddorian upon Eddore. Nor can I formulate or visualize with any clarity the techniques to be employed in the final wiping out of the race; I lack certain fundamental data concerning events which occurred and conditions which obtained many, many cycles before my birth. I am unable to believe that my perception and memory could have been so imperfect—can it be that none of that basic data is, or ever has been available?"
"That, youth, is the fact. While your visualization of the future is of course not as detailed nor as accurate as it will be after more cycles of labor, your background of knowledge is as complete as that of any other of our number."
"I see." Eukonidor gave the mental equivalent of a nod of complete understanding. "It is necessary, and the death of a lesser Eddorian—a Watchman—will be sufficient. Nor will it be either surprising or alarming to Eddore's Innermost Circle that the integrated total mind of Arisia should be able to kill such a relatively feeble entity. I see."
Then silence; and waiting. Minutes? Or days? Or weeks? Who can tell? What does time mean to any Arisian?
Then Drounli arrived; arrived in the instant of his leaving The Hill—what matters even inter-galactic distance to the speed of thought? He fused his mind with those of the three other Molders of Civilization. The massed and united mind of Arisia, poised and ready, awaiting only his coming, launched itself through space. That tremendous, that theretofore unknown concentration of mental force arrived at Eddore's outer screen in practically the same instant as did the entity that was Gharlane. The Eddorian, however, went through without opposition; the Arisians did not.
Some two thousand million years ago, when the Coalescence occurred—the event which was to make each of the two interpassing galaxies teem with planets—the Arisians were already an ancient race; so ancient that they were even then independent of the chance formation of planets. The Eddorians, it is believed, were older still. The Arisians were native to this, our normal space-time continuum; the Eddorians were not.
Eddore was—and is—huge, dense, and hot. Its atmosphere is not air, as we of small, green Terra, know air, but is a noxious mixture of gaseous substances known to mankind only in chemical laboratories. Its hydrosphere, while it does contain some water, is a poisonous, stinking, foully corrosive, slimy and sludgy liquid.
And the Eddorians were as different from any people we know as Eddore is different from the planets indigenous to our space and time. They were, to our senses, utterly monstrous; almost incomprehensible. They were amorphous, amoeboid, sexless. Not androgynous or parthenogenetic, but absolutely sexless; with a sexlessness unknown in any Earthly form of life higher than the yeasts. Thus they were, to all intents and purposes and except for death by violence, immortal; for each one, after having lived for hundreds of thousands of Tellurian years and having reached its capacity to live and to learn, simply divided into two new individuals, each of which, in addition to possessing in full its parent's mind and memories and knowledges, had also a brand-new zest and a greatly increased capacity.
And, since life was, there had been competition. Competition for power. Knowledge was worth while only insofar as it contributed to power. Warfare began, and aged, and continued; the appallingly efficient warfare possible only to such entities as those. Their minds, already immensely powerful, grew stronger and stronger under the stresses of inter-necine struggle.
But peace was not even thought of. Strife continued, at higher and even higher levels of violence, until two facts became apparent. First, that every Eddorian who could be killed by physical violence had already died; that the survivors had developed such tremendous powers of mind, such complete mastery of things physical as well as mental, that they could not be slain by physical force. Second, that during the ages through which they had been devoting their every effort to mutual extermination, their sun had begun markedly to cool; that their planet would very soon become so cold that it would be impossible for them ever again to live their normal physical lives.
Thus there came about an armistice. The Eddorians worked together—not without friction—in the development of mechanisms by the use of which they moved their planet across light-years of space to a younger, hotter sun. Then, Eddore once more at its hot and reeking norm, battle was resumed. Mental battle, this time, that went on for more than a hundred thousand Eddorian years; during the last ten thousand of which not a single Eddorian died.
Realizing the futility of such unproductive endeavor, the relatively few survivors made a peace of sorts. Since each had an utterly insatiable lust for power, and since it had become clear that they could neither conquer nor kill each other, they would combine forces and conquer enough planets—enough galaxies—so that each Eddorian could have as much power and authority as he could possibly handle.
What matter that there were not that many planets in their native space? There were other spaces, an infinite number of them; some of which, it was mathematically certain, would contain millions upon millions of planets instead of only two or three. By mind and by machine they surveyed the neighboring continua; they developed the hyper-spatial tube and the inertialess drive; they drove their planet, space-ship-wise, through space after space after space.
And thus, shortly after the Coalescence began, Eddore came into our space-time; and here, because of the multitudes of planets already existing and the untold millions more about to come into existence, it stayed. Here was what they had wanted since their beginnings; here were planets enough, here were fields enough for the exercise of power, to sate even the insatiable. There was no longer any need for them to fight each other; they could now cooperate whole-heartedly—as long as each was getting more—and more and MORE!
Enphilisor, a young Arisian, his mind roaming eagerly abroad as was its wont, made first contact with the Eddorians in this space. Inoffensive, naive, innocent, he was surprised beyond measure at their reception of his friendly greeting; but in the instant before closing his mind to their vicious attacks, he learned the foregoing facts concerning them.
The fused mind of the Elders of Arisia, however, was not surprised. The Arisians, while not as mechanistic as their opponents, and innately peaceful as well, were far ahead of them in the pure science of the mind. The Elders had long known of the Eddorians and of their lustful wanderings through plenum after plenum. Their Visualizations of the Cosmic All had long since forecast, with dreadful certainty, the invasion which had now occurred. They had long known what they would have to do. They did it. So insidiously as to set up no opposition they entered the Eddorians' minds and sealed off all knowledge of Arisia. They withdrew, tracelessly.
They did not have much data, it is true; but no more could be obtained at that time. If any one of those touchy suspicious minds had been given any cause for alarm, any focal point of doubt, they would have had time in which to develop mechanisms able to force the Arisians out of this space before a weapon to destroy the Eddorians—the as yet incompletely designed Galactic Patrol—could be forged. The Arisians could, even then, have slain by mental force alone all the Eddorians except the All-Highest and his Innermost Circle, safe within their then impenetrable shield; but as long as they could not make a clean sweep they could not attack—then.
Be it observed that the Arisians were not fighting for themselves. As individuals or as a race they had nothing to fear. Even less than the Eddorians could they be killed by any possible application of physical force. Past masters of mental science, they knew that no possible concentration of Eddorian mental force could kill any one of them. And if they were to be forced out of normal space, what matter? To such mentalities as theirs, any given space would serve as well as any other.
No, they were fighting for an ideal; for the peaceful, harmonious, liberty-loving Civilization which they had envisaged as developing throughout, and eventually entirely covering the myriads of planets of, two tremendous Island Universes. Also, they felt a heavy weight of responsibility. Since all these races, existing and yet to appear, had sprung from and would spring from the Arisian life-spores which permeated this particular space, they all were and would be, at bottom, Arisian. It was starkly unthinkable that Arisia would leave them to the eternal dominance of such a rapacious, such a tyrannical, such a hellishly insatiable breed of monsters.
Therefore the Arisians fought; efficiently if insidiously. They did not—they could not—interfere openly with Eddore's ruthless conquest of world after world; with Eddore's ruthless smashing of Civilization after Civilization. They did, however, see to it, by selective matings and the establishment of blood-lines upon numberless planets, that the trend of the level of intelligence was definitely and steadily upward.
Four Molders of Civilization—Drounli, Kriedigan, Nedanillor, and Brolenteen, who, in fusion, formed the "Mentor of Arisia" who was to become known to every wearer of Civilization's Lens—were individually responsible for the Arisian program of development upon the four planets of Tellus, Rigel IV, Velantia, and Palain VII. Drounli established upon Tellus two principal lines of blood. In unbroken male line of descent the Kinnisons went back to long before the dawn of even mythical Tellurian history. Kinnexa of Atlantis, daughter of one Kinnison and sister of another, is the first of the blood to be named in these annals; but the line was then already old. So was the other line; characterized throughout its tremendous length, male and female, by peculiarly spectacular red-bronze-auburn hair and equally striking gold-flecked, tawny eyes.
Nor did these strains mix. Drounli had made it psychologically impossible for them to mix until the penultimate stage of development should have been reached.
While that stage was still in the future Virgil Samms appeared, and all Arisia knew that the time had come to engage the Eddorians openly, mind to mind. Gharlane-Roger was curbed, savagely and sharply. Every Eddorian, wherever he was working, found his every line of endeavor solidly blocked.
Gharlane, as has been intimated, constructed a supposedly irresistible weapon and attacked his Arisian blocker, with results already told. At that failure Gharlane knew that there was something terribly amiss; that it had been amiss for over two thousand million Tellurian years. Really alarmed for the first time in his long life, he flashed back to Eddore; to warn his fellows and to take counsel with them as to what should be done. And the massed and integrated force of all Arisia was only an instant behind him.
Arisia struck Eddore's outermost screen, and in the instant of impact that screen went down. And then, instantaneously and all unperceived by the planet's defenders, the Arisian forces split. The Elders, including all the Molders, seized the Eddorian who had been handling that screen—threw around him an impenetrable net of force—yanked him out into inter-galactic space.
Then, driving in resistlessly, they turned the luckless wight inside out. And before the victim died under their poignant probings, the Elders of Arisia learned everything that the Eddorian and all of his ancestors had ever known. They then withdrew to Arisia, leaving their younger, weaker, partially-developed fellows to do whatever they could against mighty Eddore.
Whether the attack of these lesser forces would be stopped at the second, the third, the fourth, or the innermost screen; whether they would reach the planet itself and perhaps do some actual damage before being driven off; was immaterial. Eddore must be allowed and would be allowed to repel that invasion with ease. For cycles to come the Eddorians must and would believe that they had nothing really to fear from Arisia.
The real battle, however, had been won. The Arisian visualizations could now be extended to portray every essential element of the climactic conflict which was eventually to come. It was no cheerful conclusion at which the Arisians arrived, since their visualizations all agreed in showing that the only possible method of wiping out the Eddorians would also of necessity end their own usefulness as Guardians of Civilization.
Such an outcome having been shown necessary, however, the Arisians accepted it, and worked toward it, unhesitatingly.
As has been said, The Hill, which had been built to be the Tellurian headquarters of the Triplanetary Service and which was now the headquarters of the half-organized Solarian Patrol, was—and is—a truncated, alloy-sheathed, honey-combed mountain. But, since human beings do not like to live eternally underground, no matter how beautifully lighted or how carefully and comfortably air-conditioned the dungeon may be, the Reservation spread far beyond the foot of that gray, forbidding, mirror-smooth cone of metal. Well outside that farflung Reservation there was a small city; there were hundreds of highly productive farms; and, particularly upon this bright May afternoon, there was a Recreation Park, containing, among other things, dozens of tennis courts.
One of these courts was three-quarters enclosed by stands, from which a couple of hundred people were watching a match which seemed to be of some little local importance. Two men sat in a box which had seats for twenty, and watched admiringly the pair who seemed in a fair way to win in straight sets the mixed-doubles championship of the Hill.
"Fine-looking couple, Rod, if I do say so myself, as well as being smooth performers." Solarian Councillor Virgil Samms spoke to his companion as the opponents changed courts. "I still think, though, the young hussy ought to wear some clothes—those white nylon shorts make her look nakeder even than usual. I told her so, too, the jade, but she keeps on wearing less and less."
"Of course," Commissioner Roderick K. Kinnison laughed quietly. "What did you expect? She got her hair and eyes from you, why not your hard-headedness, too? One thing, though, that's all to the good—she's got what it takes to strip ship that way, and most of 'em haven't. But what I can't understand is why they don't...." He paused.
"I don't either. Lord knows we've thrown them at each other hard enough, and Jack Kinnison and Jill Samms would certainly make a pair to draw to. But if they won't ... but maybe they will yet. They're still youngsters, and they're friendly enough."
If Samms père could have been out on the court, however, instead of in the box, he would have been surprised; for young Kinnison, although smiling enough as to face, was addressing his gorgeous partner in terms which carried little indeed of friendliness.
"Listen, you bird-brained, knot-headed, grand-standing half-wit!" he stormed, voice low but bitterly intense. "I ought to beat your alleged brains out! I've told you a thousand times to watch your own territory and stay out of mine! If you had been where you belonged, or even taken my signal, Frank couldn't have made that thirty-all point; and if Lois hadn't netted she'd've caught you flat-footed, a kilometer out of position, and made it deuce. What do you think you're doing, anyway—playing tennis or seeing how many innocent bystanders you can bring down out of control?"
"What do you think?" the girl sneered, sweetly. Her tawny eyes, only a couple of inches below his own, almost emitted sparks. "And just look at who's trying to tell who how to do what! For your information, Master Pilot John K. Kinnison, I'll tell you that just because you can't quit being 'Killer' Kinnison even long enough to let two good friends of ours get a point now and then, or maybe even a game, is no reason why I've got to turn into 'Killer' Samms. And I'll also tell you...."
"You'll tell me nothing, Jill—I'm telling you! Start giving away points in anything and you'll find out some day that you've given away too many. I'm not having any of that kind of game—and as long as you're playing with me you aren't either—or else. If you louse up this match just once more, the next ball I serve will hit the tightest part of those fancy white shorts of yours—right where the hip pocket would be if they had any—and it'll raise a welt that will make you eat off of the mantel for three days. So watch your step!"
"You insufferable lug! I'd like to smash this racket over your head! I'll do it, too, and walk off the court, if you don't...."
The whistle blew. Virgilia Samms, all smiles, toed the base-line and became the personification and embodiment of smoothly flowing motion. The ball whizzed over the net, barely clearing it—a sizzling service ace. The game went on.
And a few minutes later, in the shower room, where Jack Kinnison was caroling lustily while plying a towel, a huge young man strode up and slapped him ringingly between the shoulder blades.
"Congratulations, Jack, and so forth. But there's a thing I want to ask you. Confidential, sort of...?"
"Shoot! Haven't we been eating out of the same dish for lo, these many moons? Why the diffidence all of a sudden, Mase? It isn't in character."
"Well ... it's ... I'm a lip-reader, you know."
"Sure. We all are. What of it?"
"It's only that ... well, I saw what you and Miss Samms said to each other out there, and if that was lovers' small talk I'm a Venerian mud-puppy."
"Lovers! Who the hell ever said we were lovers?... Oh, you've been inhaling some of dad's balloon-juice. Lovers! Me and that red-headed stinker—that jelly-brained sapadilly? Hardly!"
"Hold it, Jack!" The big officer's voice was slightly edged. "You're off course—a hell of a long flit off. That girl has got everything. She's the class of the Reservation—why, she's a regular twelve-nineteen!"
"Huh?" Amazed, young Kinnison stopped drying himself and stared. "You mean to say you've been giving her a miss just because...." He had started to say "because you're the best friend I've got in the System," but he did not.
"Well, it would have smelled slightly cheesy, I thought." The other man did not put into words, either, what both of them so deeply knew to be the truth. "But if you haven't got ... if it's O.K. with you, of course...."
"Stand by for five seconds—I'll take you around."
Jack threw on his uniform, and in a few minutes the two young officers, immaculate in the space-black-and-silver of the Patrol, made their way toward the women's dressing rooms.
"... but she's all right, at that ... in most ways ... I guess." Kinnison was half-apologizing for what he had said. "Outside of being chicken-hearted and pig-headed, she's a good egg. She really qualifies ... most of the time. But I wouldn't have her, bonus attached, any more than she would have me. It's strictly mutual. You won't fall for her, either, Mase; you'll want to pull one of her legs off and beat the rest of her to death with it inside of a week—but there's nothing like finding things out for yourself."
In a short time Miss Samms appeared; dressed somewhat less revealingly than before in the blouse and kilts which were the mode of the moment.
"Hi, Jill! This is Mase—I've told you about him. My boat-mate. Master Electronicist Mason Northrop."
"Yes, I've heard about you, 'Troncist—a lot." She shook hands warmly.
"He hasn't been putting tracers on you, Jill, on accounta he figured he'd be poaching. Can you feature that? I straightened him out, though, in short order. Told him why, too, so he ought to be insulated against any voltage you can generate."
"Oh, you did? How sweet of you! But how ... oh, those?" She gestured at the powerful prism binoculars, a part of the uniform of every officer of space.
"Uh-huh." Northrop wriggled, but held firm.
"If I'd only been as big and husky as you are," surveying admiringly some six feet two of altitude and two hundred-odd pounds of hard meat, gristle, and bone, "I'd have grabbed him by one ankle, whirled him around my head, and flung him into the fifteenth row of seats. What's the matter with him, Mase, is that he was born centuries and centuries too late. He should have been an overseer when they built the pyramids—flogging slaves because they wouldn't step just so. Or better yet, one of those people it told about in those funny old books they dug up last year—liege lords, or something like that, remember? With the power of life and death—'high, middle, and low justice', whatever that was—over their vassals and their families, serfs, and serving-wenches. Especiallyserving-wenches! He likes little, cuddly baby-talkers, who pretend to be utterly spineless and completely brainless—eh, Jack?"
"Ouch! Touché, Jill—but maybe I had it coming to me, at that. Let's call it off, shall we? I'll be seeing you two, hither or yon." Kinnison turned and hurried away.
"Want to know why he's doing such a quick flit?" Jill grinned up at her companion; a bright, quick grin. "Not that he was giving up. The blonde over there—the one in rocket red. Very few blondes can wear such a violent shade. Dimples Maynard."
"And is she ... er...?"
"Cuddly and baby-talkish? Uh-uh. She's a grand person. I was just popping off; so was he. You know that neither of us really meant half of what we said ... or ... at least...." Her voice died away.
"I don't know whether I do or not," Northrop replied, awkwardly but honestly. "That was savage stuff if there ever was any. I can't see for the life of me why you two—two of the world's finest people—should have to tear into each other that way. Do you?"
"I don't know that I ever thought of it like that." Jill caught her lower lip between her teeth. "He's splendid, really, and I like him a lot—usually. We get along perfectly most of the time. We don't fight at all except when we're too close together ... and then we fight about anything and everything ... say, suppose that that could be it? Like charges, repelling each other inversely as the square of the distance? That's about the way it seems to be."
"Could be, and I'm glad." The man's face cleared. "And I'm a charge of the opposite sign. Let's go!"
And in Virgil Samms' deeply-buried office, Civilization's two strongest men were deep in conversation.
"... troubles enough to keep four men of our size awake nights." Samms' voice was light, but his eyes were moody and somber. "You can probably whip yours, though, in time. They're mostly in one solar system; a short flit covers the rest. Languages and customs are known. But how—how—can legal processes work efficiently—work at all, for that matter—when a man can commit a murder or a pirate can loot a space-ship and be a hundred parsecs away before the crime is even discovered? How can a Tellurian John Law find a criminal on a strange world that knows nothing whatever of our Patrol, with a completely alien language—maybe no language at all—where it takes months even to find out who and where—if any—the native police officers are? But there must be a way, Rod—there's got to be a way!" Samms slammed his open hand resoundingly against his desk's bare top. "And by God I'll find it—the Patrol will come out on top!"
"'Crusader' Samms, now and forever!" There was no trace of mockery in Kinnison's voice or expression, but only friendship and admiration. "And I'll bet you do. Your Interstellar Patrol, or whatever...."
"Galactic Patrol. I know what the name of it is going to be, if nothing else."
"... is just as good as in the bag, right now. You've done a job so far, Virge. This whole system, Nevia, the colonies on Aldebaran II and other planets, even Valeria, as tight as a drum. Funny about Valeria, isn't it...."
There was a moment of silence, then Kinnison went on:
"But wherever diamonds are, there go Dutchmen. And Dutch women go wherever their men do. And, in spite of medical advice, Dutch babies arrive. Although a lot of the adults died—three G's is no joke—practically all of the babies keep on living. Developing bones and muscles to fit—walking at a year and a half old—living normally—they say that the third generation will be perfectly at home there."
"Which shows that the human animal is more adaptable than some ranking medicos had believed, is all. Don't try to side-track me, Rod. You know as well as I do what we're up against; the new headaches that inter-stellar commerce is bringing with it. New vices—drugs—thionite, for instance; we haven't been able to get an inkling of an idea as to where that stuff is coming from. And I don't have to tell you what piracy has done to insurance rates."
"I'll say not—look at the price of Aldebaranian cigars, the only kind fit to smoke! You've given up, then, on the idea that Arisia is the pirates' GHQ?"
"Definitely. It isn't. The pirates are even more afraid of it than tramp spacemen are. It's out of bounds—absolutely forbidden territory, apparently—to everybody, my best operatives included. All we know about it is the name—Arisia—that our planetographers gave it. It is the first completely incomprehensible thing I have ever experienced. I am going out there myself as soon as I can take the time—not that I expect to crack a thing that my best men couldn't touch, but there have been so many different and conflicting reports—no two stories agree on anything except in that no one could get anywhere near the planet—that I feel the need of some first-hand information. Want to come along?"
"Try to keep me from it!"
"But at that, we shouldn't be too surprised," Samms went on, thoughtfully. "Just beginning to scratch the surface as we are, we should expect to encounter peculiar, baffling—even completely inexplicable things. Facts, situations, events, and beings for which our one-system experience could not possibly have prepared us. In fact, we already have. If, ten years ago, anyone had told you that such a race as the Rigellians existed, what would you have thought? One ship went there, you know—once. One hour in any Rigellian city—one minute in a Rigellian automobile—drives a Tellurian insane."
"I see your point." Kinnison nodded. "Probably I would have ordered a mental examination. And the Palainians are even worse. People—if you can call them that—who live on Pluto and like it! Entities so alien that nobody, as far as I know, understands them. But you don't have to go even that far from home to locate a job of unscrewing the inscrutable. Who, what, and why—and for how long—was Gray Roger? And, not far behind him, is this young Bergenholm of yours. And by the way, you never did give me the lowdown on how come it was the 'Bergenholm', and not the 'Rodebush-Cleveland', that made trans-galactic commerce possible and caused nine-tenths of our headaches. As I get the story, Bergenholm wasn't—isn't—even an engineer."
"Didn't I? Thought I did. He wasn't, and isn't. Well, the original Rodebush-Cleveland free drive was a killer, you know...."
"How I know!" Kinnison exclaimed, feelingly.
"They beat their brains out and ate their hearts out for months, without getting it any better. Then, one day, this kid Bergenholm ambles into their shop—big, awkward, stumbling over his own feet. He gazes innocently at the thing for a couple of minutes, then says:
"'Why don't you use uranium instead of iron and rewind it so it will put out a wave-form like this, with humps here, and here; instead of there, and there?' and he draws a couple of free-hand, but really beautiful curves.
"'Why should we?' they squawk at him.
"'Because it will work that way,' he says, and ambles out as unconcernedly as he came in. Can't—or won't—say another word.
"Well in sheer desperation, they tried it—and it WORKED! And nobody has ever had a minute's trouble with a Bergenholm since. That's why Rodebush and Cleveland both insisted on the name."
"I see; and it points up what I just said. But if he's such a mental giant, why isn't he getting results with his own problem, the meteor? Or is he?"
"No ... or at least he wasn't as of last night. But there's a note on my pad that he wants to see me sometime today—suppose we have him come in now?"
"Fine! I'd like to talk to him, if it's O.K. with you and with him."
The young scientist was called in, and was introduced to the Commissioner.
"Go ahead, Doctor Bergenholm," Samms suggested then. "You may talk to both of us, just as freely as though you and I were alone."
"I have, as you already know, been called psychic," Bergenholm began, abruptly. "It is said that I dream dreams, see visions, hear voices, and so on. That I operate on hunches. That I am a genius. Now I very definitely am not a genius—unless my understanding of the meaning of that word is different from that of the rest of mankind."
Bergenholm paused. Samms and Kinnison looked at each other. The latter broke the short silence.
"The Councillor and I have just been discussing the fact that there are a great many things we do not know; that with the extension of our activities into new fields, the occurrence of the impossible has become almost a commonplace. We are able, I believe, to listen with open minds to anything you have to say."
"Very well. But first, please know that I am a scientist. As such, I am trained to observe; to think calmly, clearly, and analytically; to test every hypothesis. I do not believe at all in the so-called supernatural. This universe did not come into being, it does not continue to be, except by the operation of natural and immutable laws. And I mean immutable, gentlemen. Everything that has ever happened, that is happening now, or that ever is to happen, was, is, and will be statistically connected with its predecessor event and with its successor event. If I did not believe that implicitly, I would lose all faith in the scientific method. For if one single 'supernatural' event or thing had ever occurred or existed it would have constituted an entirely unpredictable event and would have initiated a series—a succession—of such events; a state of things which no scientist will or can believe possible in an orderly universe.
"At the same time, I recognize the fact that I myself have done things—caused events to occur, if you prefer—that I cannot explain to you or to any other human being in any symbology known to our science; and it is about an even more inexplicable—call it 'hunch' if you like—that I asked to have a talk with you today."
"But you are arguing in circles," Samms protested. "Or are you trying to set up a paradox?"
"Neither. I am merely clearing the way for a somewhat startling thing I am to say later on. You know, of course, that any situation with which a mind is unable to cope; a really serious dilemma which it cannot resolve; will destroy that mind—frustration, escape from reality, and so on. You also will realize that I must have become cognizant of my own peculiarities long before anyone else did or could?"
"Ah. I see. Yes, of course." Samms, intensely interested, leaned forward. "Yet your present personality is adequately, splendidly integrated. How could you possibly have overcome—reconciled—a situation so full of conflict?"
"You are, I think, familiar with my parentage?" Samms, keen as he was, did not consider it noteworthy that the big Norwegian answered his question only by asking one of his own.
"Yes ... oh, I'm beginning to see ... but Commissioner Kinnison has not had access to your dossier. Go ahead."
"My father is Dr. Hjalmar Bergenholm. My mother, before her marriage, was Dr. Olga Bjornson. Both were, and are, nuclear physicists—very good ones. Pioneers, they have been called. They worked, and are still working, in the newest, outermost fringes of the field."
"Oh!" Kinnison exclaimed. "A mutant? Born with second sight—or whatever it is?"
"Not second sight, as history describes the phenomenon, no. The records do not show that any such faculty was ever demonstrated to the satisfaction of any competent scientific investigator. What I have is something else. Whether or not it will breed true is an interesting topic of speculation, but one having nothing to do with the problem now in hand. To return to the subject, I resolved my dilemma long since. There is, I am absolutely certain, a science of the mind which is as definite, as positive, as immutable of law, as is the science of the physical. While I will make no attempt to prove it to you, I know that such a science exists, and that I was born with the ability to perceive at least some elements of it.
"Now to the matter of the meteor of the Patrol. That emblem was and is purely physical. The pirates have just as able scientists as we have. What physical science can devise and synthesize, physical science can analyze and duplicate. There is a point, however, beyond which physical science cannot go. It can neither analyze nor imitate the tangible products of that which I have so loosely called the science of the mind.
"I know, Councillor Samms, what the Triplanetary Service needs; something vastly more than its meteor. I also know that the need will become greater and greater as the sphere of action of the Patrol expands. Without a really efficient symbol, the Solarian Patrol will be hampered even more than the Triplanetary Service; and its logical extension into the Space Patrol, or whatever that larger organization may be called, will be definitely impossible. We need something which will identify any representative of Civilization, positively and unmistakably, wherever he may be. It must be impossible of duplication, or even of imitation, to which end it must kill any unauthorized entity who attempts imposture. It must operate as a telepath between its owner and any other living intelligence, of however high or low degree, so that mental communication, so much clearer and faster than physical, will be possible without the laborious learning of language; or between us and such peoples as those of Rigel Four or of Palain Seven, both of whom we know to be of high intelligence and who must already be conversant with telepathy."
"Are you or have you been, reading my mind?" Samms asked quietly.
"No," Bergenholm replied flatly. "It is not and has not been necessary. Any man who can think, who has really considered the question, and who has the good of Civilization at heart, must have come to the same conclusions."
"Probably so, at that. But no more side issues. You have a solution of some kind worked out, or you would not be here. What is it?"
"It is that you, Solarian Councillor Samms, should go to Arisia as soon as possible."
"Arisia!" Samms exclaimed, and:
"Arisia! Of all the hells in space, why Arisia? And how can we make the approach? Don't you know that nobody can get anywhere near that damn planet?"
Bergenholm shrugged his shoulders and spread both arms wide in a pantomime of complete helplessness.
"How do you know—another of your hunches?" Kinnison went on. "Or did somebody tell you something? Where did you get it?"
"It is not a hunch," the Norwegian replied, positively. "No one told me anything. But I know—as definitely as I know that the combustion of hydrogen in oxygen will yield water—that the Arisians are very well versed in that which I have called the science of the mind; that if Virgil Samms goes to Arisia he will obtain the symbol he needs; that he will never obtain it otherwise. As to how I know these things ... I can't ... I just ... I know it, I tell you!"
Without another word, without asking permission to leave, Bergenholm whirled around and hurried out. Samms and Kinnison stared at each other.
"Well?" Kinnison asked, quizzically.
"I'm going. Now. Whether I can be spared or not, and whether you think I'm out of control or not. I believe him, every word—and besides, there's the Bergenholm. How about you? Coming?"
"Yes. Can't say that I'm sold one hundred percent; but, as you say, the Bergenholm is a hard fact to shrug off. And at minimum rating, it's got to be tried. What are you taking? Not a fleet, probably—the Boise? Or the Chicago?" It was the Commissioner of Public Safety speaking now, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. "The Chicago, I'd say—the fastest and strongest thing in space."
"Recommendation approved. Blast-off; twelve hundred hours tomorrow!"
The superdreadnought Chicago, as she approached the imaginary but nevertheless sharply defined boundary, which no other ship had been allowed to pass, went inert and crept forward, mile by mile. Every man, from Commissioner and Councillor down, was taut and tense. So widely variant, so utterly fantastic, were the stories going around about this Arisia that no one knew what to expect. They expected the unexpected—and got it.
"Ah, Tellurians, you are precisely on time." A strong, assured, deeply resonant pseudo-voice made itself heard in the depths of each mind aboard the tremendous ship of war. "Pilots and navigating officers, you will shift course to one seventy eight dash seven twelve fifty three. Hold that course, inert, at one Tellurian gravity of acceleration. Virgil Samms will now be interviewed. He will return to the consciousnesses of the rest of you in exactly six of your hours."
Practically dazed by the shock of their first experience with telepathy, not one of the Chicago's crew perceived anything unusual in the phraseology of that utterly precise, diamond-clear thought. Samms and Kinnison, however, precisionists themselves, did. But, warned although they were and keyed up although they were to detect any sign of hypnotism or of mental suggestion, neither of them had the faintest suspicion, then or ever, that Virgil Samms did not as a matter of fact leave the Chicago at all.
Samms knew that he boarded a lifeboat and drove it toward the shimmering haze beyond which Arisia was. Commissioner Kinnison knew, as surely as did every other man aboard, that Samms did those things, because he and the other officers and most of the crew watched Samms do them. They watched the lifeboat dwindle in size with distance; watched it disappear within the peculiarly iridescent veil of force which their most penetrant ultra-beam spy-rays could not pierce.
And, since every man concerned knew, beyond any shadow of doubt and to the end of his life, that everything that seemed to happen actually did happen, it will be so described.
Virgil Samms, then, drove his small vessel through Arisia's innermost screen and saw a planet so much like Earth that it might have been her sister world. There were the white ice-caps, the immense blue oceans, the verdant continents partially obscured by fleecy banks of cloud.
Would there, or would there not, be cities? While he had not known at all exactly what to expect, he did not believe that there would be any large cities upon Arisia. To qualify for the role of deus ex machina, the Arisian with whom Samms was about to deal would have to be a super-man indeed—a being completely beyond man's knowledge or experience in power of mind. Would such a race of beings have need of such things as cities? They would not. There would be no cities.
Nor were there. The lifeboat flashed downward—slowed—landed smoothly in a regulation dock upon the outskirts of what appeared to be a small village surrounded by farms and woods.
"This way, please." An inaudible voice directed him toward a two-wheeled vehicle which was almost, but not quite, like a Dillingham roadster.
This car, however, took off by itself as soon as Samms closed the door. It sped smoothly along a paved highway devoid of all other traffic, past farms and past cottages, to stop of itself in front of the low, massive structure which was the center of the village and, apparently, its reason for being.
"This way, please," and Samms went through an automatically-opened door; along a short, bare hall; into a fairly large central room containing a vat and one deeply-holstered chair.
"Sit down, please." Samms did so, gratefully. He did not know whether he could have stood up much longer or not.
He had expected to encounter a tremendous mentality; but this was a thing far, far beyond his wildest imaginings. This was a brain—just that—nothing else. Almost globular; at least ten feet in diameter; immersed in and in perfect equilibrium with a pleasantly aromatic liquid—a BRAIN!
"Relax," the Arisian ordered, soothingly, and Samms found that he could relax. "Through the one you know as Bergenholm I heard of your need and have permitted you to come here this once for instruction."
"But this ... none of this ... it isn't ... it can't be real!" Samms blurted. "I am—I must be—imagining it ... and yet I know that I can't be hypnotized—I've been psychoed against it!"
"What is reality?" the Arisian asked, quietly. "Your profoundest thinkers have never been able to answer that question. Nor, although I am much older and a much more capable thinker than any member of your race, would I attempt to give you its true answer. Nor, since your experience has been so limited, is it to be expected that you could believe without reservation any assurances I might give you in thoughts or in words. You must, then, convince yourself—definitely, by means of your own five senses—that I and everything about you are real, as you understand reality. You saw the village and this building; you see the flesh that houses the entity which is I. You feel your own flesh; as you tap the woodwork with your knuckles you feel the impact and hear the vibrations as sound. As you entered this room you must have perceived the odor of the nutrient solution in which and by virtue of which I live. There remains only the sense of taste. Are you by any chance either hungry or thirsty?"
"Drink of the tankard in the niche yonder. In order to avoid any appearance of suggestion I will tell you nothing of its content except the one fact that it matches perfectly the chemistry of your tissues."
Gingerly enough, Samms brought the pitcher to his lips—then, seizing it in both hands, he gulped down a tremendous draught. It was GOOD! It smelled like all appetizing kitchen aromas blended into one; it tasted like all of the most delicious meals he had ever eaten; it quenched his thirst as no beverage had ever done. But he could not empty even that comparatively small container—whatever the stuff was, it had a satiety value immensely higher even than old, rare, roast beef! With a sigh of repletion Samms replaced the tankard and turned again to his peculiar host.
"I am convinced. That was real. No possible mental influence could so completely and unmistakably satisfy the purely physical demands of a body as hungry and as thirsty as mine was. Thanks, immensely, for allowing me to come here, Mr....?"
"You may call me Mentor. I have no name, as you understand the term. Now, then, please think fully—you need not speak—of your problems and of your difficulties; of what you have done and of what you have it in mind to do."
Samms thought, flashingly and cogently. A few minutes sufficed to cover Triplanetary's history and the beginning of the Solarian Patrol; then, for almost three hours, he went into the ramifications of the Galactic Patrol of his imaginings. Finally he wrenched himself back to reality. He jumped up, paced the floor, and spoke.
"But there's a vital flaw, one inherent and absolutely ruinous fact that makes the whole thing impossible!" he burst out, rebelliously. "No one man, or group of men, no matter who they are, can be trusted with that much power. The Council and I have already been called everything imaginable; and what we have done so far is literally nothing at all in comparison with what the Galactic Patrol could and must do. Why, I myself would be the first to protest against the granting of such power to anybody. Every dictator in history, from Philip of Macedon to the Tyrant of Asia, claimed to be—and probably was, in his beginnings—motivated solely by benevolence. How am I to think that the proposed Galactic Council, or even I myself, will be strong enough to conquer a thing that has corrupted utterly every man who has ever won it? Who is to watch the watchmen?"
"The thought does you credit, youth," Mentor replied, unmoved. "That is one reason why you are here. You, of your own force, can not know that you are in fact incorruptible. I, however, know. Moreover, there is an agency by virtue of which that which you now believe to be impossible will become commonplace. Extend your arm."
Samms did so, and there snapped around his wrist a platinum-iridium bracelet carrying, wrist-watch-wise, a lenticular something at which the Tellurian stared in stupefied amazement. It seemed to be composed of thousands—millions—of tiny gems, each of which emitted pulsatingly all the colors of the spectrum; it was throwing out—broadcasting—a turbulent flood of writhing, polychromatic light!
"The successor to the golden meteor of the Triplanetary Service," Mentor said, calmly. "The Lens of Arisia. You may take my word for it, until your own experience shall have convinced you of the fact, that no one will ever wear Arisia's Lens who is in any sense unworthy. Here also is one for your friend, Commissioner Kinnison; it is not necessary for him to come physically to Arisia. It is, you will observe, in an insulated container, and does not glow. Touch its surface, but lightly and very fleetingly, for the contact will be painful."
Samms' finger-tip barely touched one dull, gray, lifeless jewel: his whole arm jerked away uncontrollably as there swept through his whole being the intimation of an agony more poignant by far than any he had ever known.
"Why—it's alive!" he gasped.
"No, it is not really alive, as you understand the term ..." Mentor paused, as though seeking a way to describe to the Tellurian a thing which was to him starkly incomprehensible. "It is, however, endowed with what you might call a sort of pseudo-life; by virtue of which it gives off its characteristic radiation while, and only while, it is in physical circuit with the living entity—the ego, let us say—with whom it is in exact resonance. Glowing, the Lens is perfectly harmless; it is complete—saturated—satiated—fulfilled. In the dark condition it is, as you have learned, dangerous in the extreme. It is then incomplete—unfulfilled—frustrated—you might say seeking or yearning or demanding. In that condition its pseudo-life interferes so strongly with any life to which it is not attuned that that life, in a space of seconds, is forced out of this plane or cycle of existence."
"Then I—I alone—of all the entities in existence, can wear this particular Lens?" Samms licked his lips and stared at it, glowing so satisfyingly and contentedly upon his wrist. "But when I die, will it be a perpetual menace?"
"By no means. A Lens cannot be brought into being except to match some one living personality; a short time after you pass into the next cycle your Lens will disintegrate."