Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
by E. E. Smith
Copyright 1951 Edward E. "Doc" Smith, PhD.
This edition published by Reading Essentials.
All Rights Reserved.
SUICIDE IN SPACE
The war-vessel was in full view of the DAUNTLESS, a Boskonian in every line and member. “Fire!” Kinnison shot out the order. And then, incredibly, a wave of thought came beating into his brain. He had to leave the DAUNTLESS! It was most vital to get into that dimly-seen companion craft without an instant’s delay!
Even as his mind instinctively reared a barrier, blocking out the intruding thought, he recognized it for what it was—the summons of the Overlords!
Kinnison turned and whitened: his crew—officers and all—had thrown off their armor, discarded their weapons, and were rushing toward the lock. . . .
A LENSMAN ADVENTURE
Fourth in the Great Series
Novels of science fiction
SECOND STAGE LENSMEN
CHILDREN OF THE LENS
MASTERS OF THE VORTEX
THE SKYLARK OF SPACE
SKYLARK OF VALERON
SKYLARK DU QUESNE
Dei Ex Machina
Dessa Desplaines, Zwilnik
Eich and Arisian
Wild Bill Williams, Meteor Miner
Eich and Overlord
Overlords of Delgon
Out of the Vortex
Down the Hyper-Spatial Tube
Crown on Shield
Prellin Is Eliminated
Passing of the Eich
Two thousand million or so years ago, at the time of the Coalescence, when the First and Second Galaxies were passing through each other and when myriads of planets were coming into existence where only a handful had existed before, two races of beings were already old; so old that each had behind it many millions of years of recorded history. Both were so old that each had perforce become independent of the chance formation of planets upon which to live. Each had, in its own way, gained a measure of control over its environment; the Arisians by power of mind alone, the Eddorians by employing both mind and mechanism.
The Arisians were indigenous to this, our normal space-time continuum; they had lived in it since the unthinkably remote time of their origin; and the original Arisia was very Earth-like in mass, composition, size, atmosphere, and climate. Thus all normal space was permeated by Arisian life-spores, and thus upon all Earth-like or Tellurian planets there came into being races of creatures more or less resembling Arisians in the days of their racial youth. None except Tellurians are Homo Sapiens, of course; few can actually be placed in Genus Homo; but many millions of planets are peopled by races distantly recognizable or belonging to the great class of MAN.
The Eddorians, on the other hand, were interlopers—intruders. They were not native to our normal space-time system, but came to it from some other, some alien and horribly different other, plenum. For eons, in fact, they had been exploring the macrocosmic All; moving their planets from continuum to continuum; seeking that which at last they found—a space and a time in which there were enough planets, soon to be inhabited by intelligent life, to sate even the Eddorian lust for dominance. Here, in our own space-time, they would stay; and here supreme they would rule.
The Elders of Arisia, however, the ablest thinkers of the race, had known and had studied the Eddorians for many cycles of time. Their integrated Visualization of the Cosmic All showed what was to happen. No more than the Arisians themselves could the Eddorians be slain by any physical means, however applied; nor could the Arisians, unaided, kill all of the invaders by mental force. Eddore’s All-Highest and his Innermost Circle, in their ultra-shielded citadel, could be destroyed only by a mental bolt of such nature and magnitude that its generator, which was to become known throughout two galaxies as the Galactic Patrol, would require several long Arisian lifetimes for its building.
Nor would that building be easy. The Eddorians must be kept in ignorance, both of Arisia and of the proposed generator, until too late to take effective counter-measures. Also, no entity below the third level of intelligence, even—or especially?—of the Patrol, could ever learn the truth; for that knowledge would set up an inferiority complex and thus rob the generator of all ability to do the work for which it was designed.
Nevertheless the Arisians began building. On the four most promising planets of the First Galaxy—our Earth or Sol Three, Velantia, Rigel Four, and Palain Seven—breeding programs, aiming toward the highest mentality of which each race was capable, were begun as soon as intelligent life developed.
On our Earth there were only two blood-lines, since humanity has only two sexes. One was a straight male line of descent, and was always named Kinnison or its equivalent. Civilizations rose and fell; Arisia surreptitiously and unobtrusively lifting them up, Eddore callously knocking them down as soon as it became evident that they were not what Eddore wanted. Pestilences raged, and wars, and famines, and holocausts and disasters that decimated entire populations again and again, but the direct male line of descent of the Kinnisons was never broken.
The other line, sometimes male and sometimes female, which was to culminate in the female penultimate of the Arisian program, was equally persistent and was characterized throughout its prodigious length by a peculiarly spectacular shade of red-bronze-auburn hair and equally striking gold-flecked, tawny eyes. Atlantis fell, but the red-headed, yellow-eyed child of Captain Phryges had been sent to North Maya, and lived. Patroclus, the red-headed gladiator, begot a red-headed daughter before he was cut down. And so it went.
World Wars One, Two, and Three, occupying as they did only a few moments of Arisian-Eddorian time, formed merely one incident in the eons-long game. That incident was important, however, because immediately after it Gharlane of Eddore made what proved to be an error. Knowing nothing of the Arisians, or of what they had done to raise the level of intelligence of mankind, he assumed that the then completely ruined Earth would not require his personal attention again for many hundreds of Tellurian years, and went elsewhere: to Rigel Four, to Palain Seven, and to Velantia Two, or Delgon, where he found that his creatures, the Overlords, were not progressing satisfactorily. He spent quite a little time there; time during which the men of Earth, aided almost openly by the Arisians, made a phenomenally rapid recovery from the ravages of atomic warfare and fantastically rapid advances in both sociology and technology.
Virgil Samms, the auburn-haired, tawny-eyed Crusader who was to become the first wearer of Arisia’s Lens, took advantage of the general demoralization to institute a really effective planetary police force. Then, with the advent of inter-planetary flight, he was instrumental in forming the Interplanetary League. As head of the Triplanetary Service, he took a leading part in the brief war with the Nevians, a race of highly intelligent amphibians who used allotropic iron as a source of atomic power.[A]
Gharlane of Eddore came back to the Solarian System as Gray Roger, the enigmatic and practically immortal scourge of space, only to find his every move blocked—blocked so savagely and so completely that he could not even kill two ordinary human beings, Conway Costigan and Clio Marsden. Nor were these two, in spite of some belief to the contrary, anything but what they seemed. Neither of them ever knew that they were being protected; but Gharlane’s blocker was in fact an Arisian fusion—the four-ply mentality which was to become known to every Lensman of the Galactic Patrol as Mentor of Arisia.
The inertialess drive, which made an interstellar trip a matter of minutes instead of lifetimes, brought with it such an increase in crime, and made detection of criminals so difficult, that law enforcement broke down almost completely. As Samms himself expressed it:
“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—when it takes months even to find out who and where—if any—the native police officers are?”
Also, there was the apparently insuperable difficulty of the identification of authorized personnel. Triplanetary’s best scientists had done their best in the way of a non-counterfeitable badge—the historic Golden Meteor, which upon touch impressed upon the toucher’s consciousness an unpronounceable, unspellable symbol—but that best was not enough. What physical science could devise and synthesize, physical science could analyze and duplicate; and that analysis and duplication had caused trouble indeed.
Triplanetary needed something vastly better than its meteor. In fact, without a better, its expansion into an intersystemic organization would be impossible. It needed something to identify a Patrolman, anytime and anywhere. It must be impossible of duplication or imitation. In fact, it should kill, painfully, any entity attempting imposture. It should operate as a telepath, or endow its wearer with telepathic power—how else could a Tellurian converse with peoples such as the Rigellians, who could not talk, see, or hear?
Both Solarian Councillor Virgil Samms and his friend of old, Commissioner of Public Safety Roderick Kinnison, knew these things; but they also knew how utterly preposterous their thoughts were; how utterly and self-evidently impossible such a device was.
But Arisia again came to the rescue. The scientist who had been assigned the meteor problem, one Dr. Nels Bergenholm—who, all unknown to even his closest associates, was a form of flesh energized at various times by various Arisians—reported to Samms and Kinnison that:
1) Physical science could not then produce what was needed, and probably never could do so. 2) Although it could not be explained in any symbology or language known to man, there was—there must be—a science of the mind; a science whose tangible products physical science could neither analyze nor imitate. 3) Virgil Samms, by going in person to Arisia, could obtain exactly what was needed.
“Arisia! Of all the hells in space, why Arisia?” Kinnison demanded. “How? Don’t you know that nobody can get anywhere near that damn planet?”
“I know that the Arisians are very well versed in that science. I know that if Councillor Samms goes to Arisia he will obtain the symbol he needs. I know that he will never obtain it otherwise. As to how I know these things—I can’t—I just—I know them. I tell you!”
And, since Bergenholm was already as well known for uncannily accurate “hunches” as for a height of genius bordering perilously closely on insanity, the two leaders of Civilization did not press him further, but went immediately to the hitherto forbidden planet. They were—apparently—received hospitably enough, and were given Lenses by Mentor of Arisia. Lenses which, it developed, were all that Bergenholm had indicated, and more.
The Lens is a lenticular structure of hundreds of thousands of tiny crystalloids, built and tuned to match the individual life force—the ego, the personality—of one individual entity. While not, strictly speaking, alive, it is endowed with a sort of pseudo-life by virtue of which it gives off a strong, characteristically-changing, polychromatic light as long as it is in circuit with the living mentality with which it is in synchronization. Conversely, when worn by anyone except its owner, it not only remains dark but it kills—so strongly does its pseudo-life interfere with any life to which it is not attuned. It is also a telepathic communicator of astounding power and range—and other things.
Back on Earth, Samms set out to find people of Lensman caliber to send to Arisia. Kinnison’s son Jack, and his friend Mason Northrop, Conway Costigan, and Samms’s daughter Virgilia—who had inherited her father’s hair and eyes, and who was the most accomplished muscle-reader of her time—went first. The boys got Lenses, but Jill did not. Mentor, who was to her senses a woman seven feet tall, told her that she did not then and never would need a Lens—and it should be mentioned here in passing that no two entities who ever saw Mentor ever saw the same thing.
Frederick Rodebush, Lyman Cleveland, young Bergenholm, and a couple of commodores of the Patrol—Clayton of North America and Schweikert of Europe—just about exhausted Earth’s resources. Nor were the other Solarian planets very helpful, yielding only three Lensmen—Knobos of Mars, Dal-Nalten of Venus, and Rularion of Jove. Lensman material was extremely scarce stuff.
Knowing that his proposed Galactic Council would have to be made up exclusively of Lensmen, and that it should represent as many solar systems as possible, Samms visited the various systems which had been colonized by humanity, then went on: to Rigel Four, where he found Dronvire the Explorer, who was of Lensman grade; and next to Pluto, where he found Pilinixi the Dexitroboper, who very definitely was not; and finally to Palain Seven, an ultra-frigid world where he found Tallick, who might—or might not—go to Arisia some day. And Virgil Samms, being physically tough and mentally a real Crusader, survived these various ordeals.
For some time the existence of the newly-formed Galactic Patrol was precarious indeed. Archibald Isaacson, head of Interstellar Spaceways, wanting a monopoly of interstellar trade, first tried bribery; then, joining forces with the machine of Senator Morgan and Boss Towne, assassination. The other Lensmen and Jill Samms saved her father’s life, after which Kinnison took Samms to the safest place on Earth—deep underground beneath The Hill: the tremendously fortified, superlatively armed fortress which had been built to be the headquarters of the Triplanetary Service.
But even there the First Lensman was attacked, this time by a fleet of space-ships in full battle array. By that time, however, the Galactic Patrol had a fleet of its own, and again the Lensmen won.
Knowing that the final and decisive struggle would of necessity be a political one, the Patrol took over the Cosmocrat party and set out to gather detailed and documented evidence of corrupt and criminal activities of the Nationalists, the party then in power. Roderick (“Rod the Rock”) Kinnison ran for President of North America against the incumbent Witherspoon; and, after a knock-down-and-drag-out political battle with Senator Morgan, the voice of the Morgan-Towne-Isaacson machine, he was elected.
And Morgan was murdered—supposedly by disgruntled gangsters; actually by his Kalonian boss, who was in turn a minion of the Eddorians—simply and merely because he had failed.[B]
North America was the most powerful continent of Earth; Earth was the Mother Planet, the Leader, the Boss. Hence, under the sponsorship of the Cosmocratic Government of North America, the Galactic Council and its arm, the Galactic Patrol, came into their own. At the end of R. K. Kinnison’s term of office, at which time he resumed his interrupted duties as Port Admiral of the Patrol, there were a hundred planets adherent to Civilization. In ten years there were a thousand; in a hundred years a million: and it is sufficient characterization of the light but effective rule of the Galactic Council to say that in all the long history of Civilization no planet whose peoples have ever voted to adhere to Civilization has ever withdrawn from it.
Time went on; the prodigiously long blood-lines, so carefully manipulated by Mentor of Arisia, neared culmination. Lensman Kimball Kinnison was graduated Number One of his class—as a matter of fact, although he did not know it, he was Number One of his time. And his female counterpart and complement, Clarrissa MacDougall of the red-bronze-auburn hair and the gold-flecked tawny eyes, was a nurse in the Patrol’s immense hospital at Prime Base.
Shortly after graduation Kinnison was called to Prime Base by Port Admiral Haynes. Space piracy had become an organized force; and, under the leadership of someone or something known as “Boskone”, had risen to such heights of power as to threaten seriously the Galactic Patrol itself. In one respect Boskonia was ahead of the Patrol, its scientists having developed a source of power vastly greater than any known to Galactic Civilization. It had fighting ships of a new and extraordinary type, from which even convoyed shipping was no longer safe. Being faster than the Patrol’s fastest cruisers and yet more heavily armed than its heaviest battleships, they had been doing practically as they pleased throughout space.
For one particular purpose, the engineers of the Patrol had designed and built one ship—the Britannia. She was the fastest thing in space, but for offensive armament she had only one weapon, the “Q-gun”. Kinnison was put in command of this vessel, with orders to: 1) Capture a Boskonian war-vessel of late model; 2) Learn her secrets of power; and 3) Transmit the information to Prime Base.
He found and took such a warship. Sergeant Peter vanBuskirk led the storming party of Valerians—men of human ancestry, but of extraordinary size, strength, and agility because of the enormous gravitation of the planet Valeria—in wiping out those of the pirate crew not killed in the battle between the two vessels.
The Brittanta’s scientists secured the desired data. It could not be transmitted to Prime Base, however, as the pirates were blanketing all channels of communication. Boskonian warships were gathering for the kill, and the crippled Patrol ship could neither run nor fight. Therefore each man was given a spool of tape bearing a complete record of everything that had occurred; and, after setting up a director-by-chance to make the empty ship pursue an unpredictable course in space, and after rigging bombs to destroy her at the first touch of a ray, the Patrolmen paired off by lot and took to the lifeboats.
The erratic course of the cruiser brought her near the lifeboat manned by Kinnison and vanBuskirk, and there the pirates tried to stop her. The ensuing explosion was so violent that flying wreckage disabled practically the entire personnel of one of the attacking ships, which did not have time to go free before the crash. The two Patrolmen boarded the pirate vessel and drove her toward Earth, reaching the solar system of Velantia before the Boskonians headed them off. Again taking to their lifeboat, they landed upon the planet Delgon, where they were rescued from a horde of Catlats by one Worsel—later to become Lensman Worsel of Velantia—a highly intelligent winged reptile.
By means of improvements upon Velantian thought-screens the three destroyed a group of the Overlords of Delgon, a sadistic race of monsters who had been preying upon the other peoples of the system by sheer power of mind. Worsel then accompanied the two Patrolmen to Velantia, where all the resources of the planet were devoted to the preparation of defenses against the expected attack of the Boskonians. Several other lifeboats reached Velantia, guided by Worsel’s mind working through Kinnison’s ego and Lens.
Kinnison intercepted a message from Helmuth, who “spoke for Boskone”, and traced his communicator beam, thus getting his first line upon Boskone’s Grand Base. The pirates attacked Velantia, and six of their warships were captured. In these six ships, manned by Velantian crews, the Patrolmen again set out for Earth and Prime Base.
Then Kinnison’s Bergenholm, the generator of the force which makes inertialess flight possible, broke down, so that he had to land upon Trenco for repairs. Trenco, the tempestuous, billiard-ball-smooth planet where it rains forty-seven feet and five inches every night and where the wind blows at eight hundred miles an hour—Trenco, the source of thionite, the deadliest of all deadly drugs—Trenco, whose weirdly-charged ether and atmosphere so distort beams and vision that it can be policed only by such beings as the Rigellians, who possess the sense of perception instead of those of sight and hearing!
Lensman Tregonsee, of Rigel Four, then in command of the Patrol’s wandering base upon Trenco, supplied Kinnison with a new Bergenholm and he again set out for Tellus.
Meanwhile Helmuth had deduced that some one particular Lensman was the cause of all his set-backs; and that the Lens, a complete enigma to all Boskonians, was in some way connected with Arisia. That planet had always been dreaded and shunned by all spacemen. No Boskonian who had ever approached that planet could be compelled, even by the certainty of death, to go near it again.
Thinking himself secure by virtue of thought-screens given him by a being from a higher-echelon planet named Ploor, Helmuth went alone to Arisia, determined to learn all about the Lens. There he was punished to the verge of insanity, but was permitted to return to his Grand Base alive and sane: “Not for your own good, but for the good of that struggling young Civilization which you oppose.”
Kinnison reached Prime Base with the all-important data. By building super-powerful battleships, called “maulers”, the Patrol gained a temporary advantage over Boskonia, but a stalemate soon ensued. Kinnison developed a plan of action whereby he hoped to locate Helmuth’s Grand Base; and asked Port Admiral Haynes for permission to follow it. In lieu of that however, Haynes told him that he had been given his Release; that he was an Unattached Lensman—a “Gray” Lensman, popularly so called, from the color of the plain leather uniforms they wear. Thus he earned the highest honor which the Patrol can give, for the Gray Lensman works under no supervision or direction whatever. He is as absolutely a free agent as it is possible to be. He is responsible to no one; to nothing save his own conscience. He is no longer of Tellus, nor of the Solarian System, but of Civilization as a whole. He is no longer a cog in the immense machine of the Patrol: wherever he may go he is the Patrol!
In quest of a second line upon Grand Base, Kinnison scouted a pirate stronghold upon Aldebaran I. Its personnel, however, were not even near-human, but were wheelmen, possessed of the sense of perception; hence Kinnison was discovered before he could accomplish anything and was very seriously wounded. He managed to get back to his speedster and to send a thought to Port Admiral Haynes, who rushed ships to his aid. In Base Hospital Surgeon-Marshal Lacy put him back together; and, during a long and quarrelsome convalescence, Nurse Clarrissa MacDougall held him together. And Lacy and Haynes connived to promote a romance between nurse and Lensman.
As soon as he could leave the hospital he went to Arisia in the hope that he might be given advanced training—a theretofore unthought-of idea. Much to his surprise he learned that he had been expected to return for exactly such training. Getting it almost killed him, but he emerged from the ordeal infinitely stronger of mind than any man had ever been before; and possessed of a new sense as well—the sense of perception, a sense somewhat analogous to sight, but of vastly greater power, depth, and scope, and not dependent upon light.
After trying out his new mental equipment by solving a murder mystery upon Radelix, he succeeded in entering an enemy base upon Boyssia II. There he took over the mind of a communications officer and waited for the opportunity of getting the second, all-important line to Boskonia’s Grand Base. An enemy ship captured a hospital ship of the Patrol and brought it in to Boyssia Base. Nurse MacDougall, head nurse of the captured vessel, working under Kinnison’s instructions, stirred up trouble which soon became mutiny. Helmuth, from Grand Base, took a hand; thus enabling Kinnison to get his second line.
The hospital ship, undetectable by virtue of the Lensman’s nullifier, escaped from Boyssia II and headed for Earth at full blast. Kinnison, convinced that Helmuth was really Boskone himself, found that the intersection of his two lines—and therefore the pirates’ Grand Base—lay in star cluster AC 257-4736, well outside the galaxy. Pausing only long enough to destroy the Wheelmen of Aldebaran I, the project in which his first attempt had failed so dismally, he set out to investigate Helmuth’s headquarters. He found a stronghold impregnable to any massed attack the Patrol could throw against it, manned by beings each wearing a thought-screen. His sense of perception was suddenly cut off—the pirates had thrown a thought-screen around the entire planet. He then returned to Prime Base, deciding en route that boring from within was the only possible way in which that stupendous fortress could be taken.
In consultation with Port Admiral Haynes, the zero hour was set, at which time the massed Grand Fleet of the Patrol was to attack Helmuth’s base with every projector that could be brought to bear.
Pursuant to his plan, Kinnison again visited Trenco, where the Patrol forces extracted for him fifty kilograms of thionite, the noxious drug which, in microgram inhalations, makes the addict experience all the sensations of doing whatever it is that he wishes most ardently to do. The larger the dose, the more intense the sensations; the slightest overdose resulting in an ecstatic death. Thence to Helmuth’s planet; where, working through the unshielded brain of a dog, he let himself into the central dome. Here, just before the zero minute, he released his thionite into the air-stream, thus wiping out all the pirate personnel except Helmuth, who, in his inner sanctum, could not be affected.
The Grand Fleet of the Patrol attacked, but Helmuth would not leave his retreat, even to try to save his Base. Therefore Kinnison had to go in after him. Poised in the air of Helmuth’s inner sphere there was an enigmatic, sparkling ball of force which the Lensman could not understand, and of which he was in consequence extremely suspicious.
But the storming of that quadruply-defended inner stronghold was precisely the task for which Kinnison’s new and ultra-cumbersome armor had been designed; and in the Gray Lensman went.[C]
For a complete treatment of matters up to this point, including the discovery of the inertialess—“free”—space-drive, the Nevian War, and the mind-to-mind meeting of Mentor of Arisia and Gharlane of Eddore, see Triplanetary.
Among the world-girdling fortifications of a planet distant indeed from star cluster AC 257-4736 there squatted sullenly a fortress quite similar to Helmuth’s own. Indeed, in some respects it was even superior to the base of him who spoke for Boskone. It was larger and stronger. Instead of one dome, it had many. It was dark and cold withal, for its occupants had practically nothing in common with humanity save the possession of high intelligence.
In the central sphere of one of the domes there sparkled several of the peculiarly radiant globes whose counterpart had given Kinnison so seriously to think, and near them there crouched or huddled or lay at ease a many-tentacled creature indescribable to man. It was not like an octopus. Though spiny, it did not resemble at all closely a sea-cucumber. Nor, although it was scaly and toothy and wingy, was it, save in the vaguest possible way, similar to a lizard, a sea-serpent, or a vulture. Such a description by negatives is, of course, pitifully inadequate; but, unfortunately, it is the best that can be done.
The entire attention of this being was focused within one of the globes, the obscure mechanism of which was relaying to his sense of perception from Helmuth’s globe and mind at clear picture of everything which was happening within Grand Base. The corpse-littered dome was clear to his sight; he knew that the Patrol was attacking from without; knew that that ubiquitous Lensman, who had already unmanned the citadel, was about to attack from within.
“You have erred seriously,” the entity was thinking coldly, emotionlessly, into the globe, “in not deducing until after it was too late to save your base that the Lensman had perfected a nullifier of sub-ethereal detection. Your contention that I am equally culpable is, I think, untenable. It was your problem, not mine; I had, and still have, other things to concern me. Your base is of course lost; whether or not you yourself survive will depend entirely upon the adequacy of your protective devices.”
“But, Eichlan, you yourself pronounced them adequate!”
“Pardon me—I said that they seemed adequate.”
“If I survive—or, rather, after I have destroyed this Lensman—what are your orders?”
“Go to the nearest communicator and concentrate our forces; half of them to engage this Patrol fleet, the remainder to wipe out all the life of Sol III. I have not tried to give those orders direct, since all the beams are keyed to your board and, even if I could reach them, no commander in that galaxy knows that I speak for Boskone. After you have done that, report to me here.”
“Instructions received and understood. Helmuth, ending message.”
“Set your controls as instructed. I will observe and record. Prepare yourself, the Lensman comes. Eichlan, speaking for Boskone, ending message.”
The Lensman rushed. Even before he crashed the pirate’s screens his own defensive zones flamed white in the beam of semi-portable projectors and through that blaze came tearing the metallic slugs of a high-calibre machine rifle. But the Lensman’s screens were almost those of a battleship, his armor relatively as strong; he had at his command projectors scarcely inferior to those opposing his advance. Therefore, with every faculty of his newly-enlarged mind concentrated upon that thought-screened, armored head behind the bellowing gun and the flaring projectors, Kinnison held his line and forged ahead.
Attentive as he was to Helmuth’s thought-screen, the Patrolman was ready when it weakened slightly and a thought began to seep through, directed at that peculiar ball of force. He blanketed it savagely, before it could even begin to take form, and attacked the screen so viciously that the Boskonian had either to restore full coverage instantly or else die there and then.
Kinnison feared that force-ball no longer. He still did not know what it was; but he had learned that, whatever its nature might be, it was operated or controlled by thought. Therefore it was and would remain harmless; for if the pirate chief softened his screen enough to emit a thought he would never think again.
Doggedly the Lensman drove in, closer and closer. Magnetic clamps locked and held. Two steel-clad, warring figures rolled into the line of fire of the ravening automatic rifle. Kinnison’s armor, designed and tested to withstand even heavier stuff, held; wherefore he came through that storm of metal unscathed. Helmuth’s, however, even though stronger far than the ordinary personal armor of space, failed; and thus the Boskonian died.
Blasting himself upright, the Patrolman shot across the inner dome to the control panel and paused, momentarily baffled. He could not throw the switches controlling the defensive screens of the gigantic outer dome! His armor, designed for the ultimate of defensive strength, could not and did not bear any of the small and delicate external mechanisms so characteristic of the ordinary space-suit. To leave his personal tank at that time and in that environment was unthinkable; yet he was fast running out of time. A scant fifteen seconds was all that remained before zero, the moment at which the hellish output of every watt generable by the massed fleet of the Galactic Patrol would be hurled against those screens in their furiously, ragingly destructive might. To release the screens after that zero moment would mean his own death, instantaneous and inevitable.
Nevertheless he could open those circuits—the conservation of Boskonian property meant nothing to him. He flipped on his own projector and flashed its beam briefly across the banked panels in front of him. Insulation burst into flame, fairly exploding in its haste to disintegrate; copper and silver ran in brilliant streams or puffed away in clouds of sparkling vapor: high-tension arcs ripped, crashed, and crackled among the writhing, dripping, flaring bus-bars. The shorts burned themselves clear or blew their fuses, every circuit opened, every Boskonian defense came down; and then, and only then, could Kinnison get into communication with his friends.
“Haynes!” he thought crisply into his Lens. “Kinnison calling!”
“Haynes acknowledging!” a thought instantly snapped back. “Congrat . . .”
“Hold it! We’re not done yet! Have every ship in the Fleet go free at once. Have them all, except yours, put out full-coverage screens, so that they can’t look at this base—that’s to keep ’em from thinking into it.”
A moment passed. “Done!”
“Don’t come in any closer—I’m on my way out to you. Now as to you personally—I don’t like to seem to be giving orders to the Port Admiral, but it may be quite essential that you concentrate on me, and think of nothing else, for the next few minutes.”
“Right! I don’t mind taking orders from you.”
“QX—now we can take things a bit easier.” Kinnison had so arranged matters that no one except himself could think into that stronghold, and he himself would not. He would not think into that tantalizing enigma, nor toward it, nor even of it, until he was completely ready to do so. And how many persons, I wonder, really realize just how much of a feat that was? Realize the sort of mental training required for its successful performance?
“How many gamma-zeta tracers can you put out, chief?” Kinnison asked then, more conversationally.
A brief consultation, then “Ten in regular use. By tuning in all our spares we can put out sixty.”
“At two diameters’ distance forty-eight fields will surround this planet at one hundred percent overlap. Please have that many set that way. Of the other twelve, set three to go well outside the first sphere—say at four diameters out—covering the line from this planet to Lundmark’s Nebula. Set the last nine to be thrown out about half a detet—as far as you can read them accurately to one decimal—centering on the same line. Not much overlap is necessary on these backing fields—just contact. Release nothing, of course, until I get there. And while the boys are setting things up, you might go inert—it’s safe enough now—so I can match your intrinsic velocity and come aboard.”
There followed the maneuvering necessary for one inert body to approach another in space, then Kinnison’s incredible housing of steel was hauled into the airlock by means of space-lines attached to magnetic clamps. The outer door of the lock closed behind him, the inner one opened, and the Lensman entered the flagship.
First to the armory, where he clambered stiffly out of his small battleship and gave orders concerning its storage. Then to the control room, stretching and bending hugely as he went, in vast relief at his freedom from the narrow and irksome confinement which he had endured so long. He wanted a shower badly—in fact, he needed one—but business came first.
Of all the men in that control room, only two knew Kinnison personally. All knew of him, however, and as the tall, gray-clad figure entered there was a loud, quick cheer.
“Hi, fellows—thanks.” Kinnison waved a salute to the room as a whole. “Hi, Port Admiral! Hi, Commandant!” He saluted Haynes and von Hohendorff as perfunctorily, and greeted them as casually, as though he had last seen them an hour, instead of ten weeks, before; as though the intervening time had been spent in the veriest idleness, instead of in the fashion in which it actually had been spent.
Old von Hohendorff greeted his erstwhile pupil cordially enough, but:
“Out with it!” Haynes demanded. “What did you do? How did you do it? What does all this confounded rigmarole mean? Tell us all about it—all you can, I mean,” he added, hastily.
“There’s no need for secrecy now, I don’t think,” and in flashing thoughts the Gray Lensman went on to describe everything that had happened.
“So you see,” he concluded, “I don’t really know anything. It’s all surmise, suspicion, and deduction. Maybe nothing at all will happen; in which case these precautions, while they will have been wasted effort, will have done us no harm. In case something does happen, however—and something will, for all the tea in China—we’ll be ready for it.”
“But if what you are beginning to suspect is really true, it means that Boskonia is inter-galactic in scope—wider-spread even than the Patrol!”
“Probably, but not necessarily—it may mean only that they have bases farther outside. And remember I’m arguing on a mighty slim thread of evidence. That screen was hard and tight, and I couldn’t touch the external beam—if there was one—at all. I got just part of a thought, here and there. However, the thought was ‘that’ galaxy; not just ‘galaxy,’ or ‘this’ or ‘the’ galaxy—and why think that way if the guy was already in this galaxy?”
“But nobody has ever . . . but skip it for now—the boys are ready for you. Take over!”
“QX. First we’ll go free again. Don’t think much, if any, of the stuff can come out here, but no use taking chances. Cut your screens. Now, all you gamma-zeta men, throw out your fields, and if any of you get a puncture, or even a flash, measure its position. You recording observers, step your scanners up to fifty thousand. QX?”
“QX!” the observers and recorders reported, almost as one, and the Gray Lensman sat down at a plate.
His mind, free at last to make the investigation from which it had been so long and so sternly barred, flew down into and through the dome, to and into that cryptic globe so tantalizingly poised in the air of the Center.
The reaction was practically instantaneous; so rapid that any ordinary mind could have perceived nothing at all; so rapid that even Kinnison’s consciousness recorded only a confusedly blurred impression. But he did see something: in that fleeting millionth of a second he sensed a powerful, malignant mental force; a force backing multiplex scanners and sub-ethereal stress-fields interlocked in peculiarly unidentifiable patterns.
For that ball was, as Kinnison had more than suspected, a potent agency indeed. It was, as he had thought, a communicator; but it was far more than that. Ordinarily harmless enough, it could be so set as to become an infernal machine at the vibrations of any thought not in a certain coded sequence; and Helmuth had so set it.
Therefore at the touch of the Patrolman’s thoughts it exploded: liberating instantaneously the unimaginable forces with which it was charged. More, it sent out waves which, attuned to detonating receivers, touched off strategically-placed stores of duodecaplylatomate. “Duodec”, the concentrated quintessence of atomic violence!
“Hell’s . . . Jingling . . . Bells!” Port Admiral Haynes grunted in stunned amazement, then subsided into silence, eyes riveted upon his plate; for to the human eye dome, fortress, and planet had disappeared in one cataclysmically incandescent sphere of flame.
But the observers of the Galactic Patrol did not depend upon eyesight alone. Their scanners had been working at ultra-fast speed; and, as soon as it became clear that none of the ships of the Fleet had been endangered, Kinnison asked that certain of the spools be run into a visitank at normal tempo.
There, slowed to a speed at which the eye could clearly discern sequences of events, the two old Lensmen and the young one studied with care the three-dimensional pictures of what had happened; pictures taken from points of projection close to and even within the doomed structure itself.
Deliberately the ball of force opened up, followed an inappreciable instant later by the secondary centers of detonation; all expanding magically into spherical volumes of blindingly brilliant annihilation. There were as yet no flying fragments: no inert fragment can fly from duodec in the first few instants of its detonation. For the detonation of duodec is propagated at the velocity of light, so that the entire mass disintegrates in a period of time to be measured only in fractional trillionths of a second. Its detonation pressure and temperature have never been measured save indirectly, since nothing will hold it except a Q-type helix of pure force. And even those helices, which must be practically open at both ends, have to be designed and powered to withstand pressures and temperatures obtaining only in the cores of suns.
Imagine, if you can, what would happen if some fifty thousand metric tons of material from the innermost core of Sirius B were to be taken to Grand Base, separated into twenty-five packages, each package placed at a strategic point, and all restraint instantaneously removed. What would have happened then, was what actually was happening!
As has been said, for moments nothing moved except the ever-expanding spheres of destruction. Nothing could move—the inertia of matter itself held it in place until it was too late—everything close to those centers of action simply flared into turgid incandescence and added its contribution to the already hellish whole.
As the spheres expanded their temperatures and pressures decreased and the action became somewhat less violent. Matter no longer simply disappeared. Instead, plates and girders, even gigantic structural members, bent, buckled, and crumbled. Walls blew outward and upward. Huge chunks of metal and of masonry, many with fused and dripping edges, began to fly in all directions.
And not only, or principally, upward was directed the force of those inconceivable explosions. Downward the effect was, if possible, even more catastrophic, since conditions there approximated closely the oft-argued meeting between the irresistible force and the immovable object. The planet was to all intents and purposes immovable, the duodec to the same degree irresistible. The result was that the entire planet was momentarily blown apart. A vast chasm was blasted deep into its interior, and, gravity temporarily overcome, stupendous cracks and fissures began to yawn. Then, as the pressure decreased, the core-stuff of the planet became molten and began to wreak its volcanic havoc. Gravity, once more master of the situation, took hold. The cracks and chasms closed, extruding uncounted cubic miles of fiery lava and metal. The entire world shivered and shuddered in a Gargantuan cosmic ague.
The explosion blew itself out. The hot gases and vapors cooled. The steam condensed. The volcanic dust disappeared. There lay the planet; but changed—hideously and awfully changed. Where Grand Base had been there remained nothing whatever to indicate that anything wrought by man had ever been there. Mountains were leveled, valleys were filled. Continents and oceans had shifted, and were still shifting; visibly. Earthquakes, volcanoes, and other seismic disturbances, instead of decreasing, were increasing in violence, minute by minute.
Helmuth’s planet was and would for years remain a barren and uninhabitable world.
“Well!” Haynes, who had been holding his breath unconsciously, released it in an almost explosive sigh. “That is inescapably and incontrovertibly that. I was going to use that base, but it looks as though we’ll have to get along without it.”
Without comment Kinnison turned to the gamma-zeta observers. “Any traces?” he asked.
It developed that three of the fields had shown activity. Not merely traces or flashes, but solid punctures showing the presence of a hard, tight beam. And those three punctures were in the same line; a line running straight out into inter-galactic space.
Kinnison took careful readings on the line, then stood motionless. Feet wide apart, hands jammed into pockets, head slightly bent, eyes distant, he stood there unmoving; thinking with all the power of his brain.
“I want to ask three questions,” the old Commandant of Cadets interrupted his cogitations finally. “Was Helmuth Boskone, or not? Have we got them licked, or not? What do we do next, besides mopping up those eighteen supermaulers?”
“To all three the answer is ‘I don’t know.’ ” Kinnison’s face was stern and hard. “You know as much about the whole thing as I do—I haven’t held back anything I even suspect. I didn’t tell you that Helmuth was Boskone; I said that everyone in any position to judge, including myself, was as sure of it as one could be about anything that couldn’t be proved. The presence of this communicator line, and the other stuff I’ve told you about, makes me think he wasn’t. However, we don’t actually know any more than we did before. It is no more certain now that Helmuth was not Boskone than it was before that he was. The second question ties in with the first, and so does the third—but I see they’ve started to mop up.”
While von Hohendorff and Kinnison had been talking, Haynes had issued orders and the Grand Fleet, divided roughly and with difficulty into eighteen parts, went raggedly outward to surround the eighteen outlying fortresses. But, and surprisingly enough to the Patrol forces, the reduction of those hulking monsters was to prove no easy task.
The Boskonians had witnessed the destruction of Helmuth’s Grand Base. Their master plates were dead. Try as they would, they could get in touch with no one with authority to give them orders, with no one to whom they could report their present plight. Nor could they escape: the slowest mauler in the Patrol Fleet could have caught any one of them in five minutes.
To surrender was not even thought of—better far to die a clean death in the blazing holocaust of space-battle than to be thrown ignominiously into the lethal chambers of the Patrol. There was not, there could not be, any question of pardon or of sentence to any mere imprisonment, for the strife between Civilization and Boskonia in no respect resembled the wars between two fundamentally similar and friendly nations which small, green Terra knew so frequently of old. It was a galaxy-wide struggle for survival between two diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive, and absolutely incompatible cultures; a duel to the death in which quarter was neither asked nor given; a conflict which, except for the single instance which Kinnison himself had engineered, was and of stern necessity had to be one of ruthless, complete, and utter extinction.
Die, then, the pirates must; and, although adherents to a scheme of existence monstrous indeed to our way of thinking, they were in no sense cowards. Not like cornered rats did they conduct themselves, but fought like what they were; courageous beings hopelessly outnumbered and outpowered, unable either to escape or to choose the field of operations, grimly resolved that in their passing they would take full toll of the minions of that detested and despised Galactic Civilization. Therefore, in suicidal glee, Boskonian engineers rigged up a fantastically potent weapon of offense, tuned in their defensive screens, and hung poised in space, awaiting calmly the massed attack so sure to come.
Up flashed the heavy cruisers of the Patrol, serenely confident. Although of little offensive strength, these vessels mounted tractors and pressors of prodigious power, as well as defensive screens which—theoretically—no projector-driven beam of force could puncture. They had engaged mauler after mauler of Boskonia’s mightiest, and never yet had one of those screens gone down. Theirs the task of immobilizing the opponent; since, as is of course well known, it is under any ordinary conditions impossible to wreak any hurt upon an object which is both inertialess and at liberty to move in space. It simply darts away from the touch of the harmful agent, whether it be immaterial beam or material substance.
Formerly the attachment of two or three tractors was all that was necessary to insure immobility, and thus vulnerability; but with the Velantian development of a shear-plane to cut tractor beams, a new technique became necessary. This was englobement, in which a dozen or more vessels surrounded the proposed victim in space and held it motionless at the center of a sphere by means of pressors, which could not be cut or evaded. Serene, then, and confident, the heavy cruisers rushed out to englobe the Boskonian fortress.
Flash! Flash! Flash! Three points of light, as unbearably brilliant as atomic vortices, sprang into being upon the fortress’ side. Three needle-rays of inconceivable energy lashed out, hurtling through the cruisers’ outer screens as though they had been so much inactive webbing. Through the second and through the first. Through the wall-shield, even that ultra-powerful field scarcely flashing as it went down. Through the armor, violating the prime tenet then held and which has just been referred to, that no object free in space can be damaged—in this case, so unthinkably vehement was the thrust, the few atoms of substance in the space surrounding the doomed cruisers afforded resistance enough. Through the ship itself, a ravening cylinder of annihilation.
For perhaps a second—certainly no longer—those incredible, those undreamed-of beams persisted before winking out into blackness; but that second had been long enough. Three riddled hulks lay dead in space, and as the three original projectors went black three more flared out. Then three more. Nine of the mightiest of Civilization’s ships of war were riddled before the others could hurl themselves backward out of range!
Most of the officers of the flagship were stunned into temporary inactivity by that shocking development, but two reacted almost instantly.
“Thorndyke!” the admiral snapped. “What did they do, and how?”
And Kinnison, not speaking at all, leaped to a certain panel, to read for himself the analysis of those incredible beams of force.
“They made super-needle-rays out of their main projectors,” Master Technician LaVerne Thorndyke reported, crisply. “They must have shorted everything they’ve got onto them to burn them out that fast.”
“Those beams were hot—plenty hot,” Kinnison corroborated the findings. “These recorders go to five billion and have a factor of safety of ten. Even that wasn’t anywhere nearly enough—everything in the recorder circuits blew.”
“But how could they handle them . . .” von Hohendorff began to ask.
“They didn’t—they pointed them and died,” Thorndyke explained, grimly. “They traded one projector and its crew for one cruiser and its crew—a good trade from their viewpoint.”
“There will be no more such trades,” Haynes declared.
Nor were there. The Patrol had maulers enough to englobe the enemy craft at a distance greater even than the effective range of those suicidal beams, and it did so.
Shielding screens cut off the Boskonians’ intake of cosmic power and the relentless beaming of the bull-dog maulers began. For hour after hour it continued, the cordon ever tightening as the victims’ power lessened. And finally even the gigantic accumulators of the immense fortresses were drained. Their screens went down under the hellish fury of the maulers’ incessant attack, and in a space of minutes thereafter the structures and their contents ceased to exist save as cosmically atomic detritus.
The Grand Fleet of the Galactic Patrol remade its formation after a fashion and set off toward the galaxy at touring blast.
And in the control room of the flagship three Lensmen brought a very serious conference to a close.
“You saw what happened to Helmuth’s planet,” Kinnison’s voice was oddly hard, “and I gave you all I could get of the thought about the destruction of all life on Sol III. A big enough duodec bomb in the bottom of an ocean would do it. I don’t really know anything except that we hadn’t better let them catch us asleep at the switch again—we’ve got to be on our toes every second.”
And the Gray Lensman, face set and stern, strode off to his quarters.
During practically all of the long trip back to earth Kinnison kept pretty much to his cabin, thinking deeply, blackly, and, he admitted ruefully to himself, to very little purpose. And at Prime Base, through week after week of its feverish activity, he continued to think. Finally, however, he was snatched out of his dark abstraction by no less a personage than Surgeon-Marshal Lacy.
“Snap out of it, lad,” that worthy advised, smilingly. “When you concentrate on one thing too long, you know, the vortices of thought occupy narrower and narrower loci, until finally the effective volume becomes infinitesimal. Or, mathematically, the then range of cogitation, integrated between the limits of plus and minus infinity, approaches zero as a limit . . .”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” the Lensman demanded.
“Poor mathematics, perhaps, but sound psychology,” Lacy grinned. “It got your undivided attention, didn’t it? That was what I was after. In plain English, if you keep on thinking around in circles you’ll soon be biting yourself in the small of the back. Come on, you and I are going places.”
“To the Grand Ball in honor of the Grand Fleet, my boy—old Doctor Lacy prescribes it for you as a complete and radical change of atmosphere. Let’s go!”
The city’s largest ball-room was a blaze of light and color. A thousand polychromatic lamps flooded their radiance downward through draped bunting upon an even more colorful throng. Two thousand items of feminine loveliness were there, in raiment whose fabrics were the boasts of hundreds of planets, whose hues and shades put the spectrum itself to shame. There were over two thousand men, clad in plain or beribboned or bemedaled full civilian dress, or in the variously panoplied dress uniforms of the many Services.
“You’re dancing with Miss Forrester first, Kinnison,” the surgeon introduced them informally, and the Lensman found himself gliding away with a stunning blonde, ravishingly and revealingly dressed in a dazzlingly blue wisp of Manarkan glamorette—fashion’s dernier cri.
To the uninformed, Kinnison’s garb of plain gray leather might have seemed incongruous indeed in that brilliantly and fastidiously dressed assemblage. But to those people, as to us of today, the drab, starkly utilitarian uniform of the Unattached Lensman transcended far any other, however resplendent, worn by man: and literally hundreds of eyes followed the strikingly handsome couple as they slid rhythmically out upon the polished floor. But a measure of the tall beauty’s customary poise had deserted her. She was slimly taut in the circle of the Lensman’s arm, her eyes were downcast, and suddenly she missed a step.
“ ’Scuse me for stepping on your feet,” he apologized. “A fellow gets out of practice, flitting around in a speedster so much.”
“Thanks for taking the blame, but it’s my fault entirely—I know it as well as you do,” she replied, flushing uncomfortably. “I do know how to dance, too, but . . . well, you’re a Gray Lensman, you know.”
“Huh?” he ejaculated, in honest surprise, and she looked up at him for the first time. “What has that fact got to do with the price of Venetian orchids in Chicago—or with my clumsy walking all over your slippers?”
“Everything in the world,” she assured him. Nevertheless, her stiff young body relaxed and she fell into the graceful, accurate dancing which she really knew so well how to do. “You see, I don’t suppose that any of us has ever seen a Gray Lensman before, except in pictures, and actually to be dancing with one is . . . well, it’s really a kind of shock. I have to get used to it gradually. Why, I don’t even know how to talk to you! One couldn’t possibly call you plain Mister, as one would any ord . . .”
“It’ll be QX if you just call me ‘say’,” he informed her. “Maybe you’d rather not dance with a dub? What say we go get us a sandwich and a bottle of fayalin or something?”
“No—never!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t mean it that way at all. I’m going to have this full dance with you, and enjoy every second of it. And later I’m going to pack this dance card—which I hope you will sign for me—away in lavender, so it will go down in history that in my youth I really did dance with Gray Lensman Kinnison. Perhaps I’ve recovered enough now to talk and dance at the same time. Do you mind if I ask you some silly questions about space?”
“Go ahead. They won’t be silly, if I’m any judge. Elementary, perhaps, but not silly.”
“I hope so, but I think you’re being charitable again. Like most of the girls here, I suppose, I’ve never been out in deep space at all. Besides a few hops to the moon. I’ve taken only two flits, and they were both only inter-planetary—one to Mars and one to Venus. I never could see how you deep-space men can really understand what you’re doing—either the frightful speeds at which you travel, the distances you cover, or the way your communicators work. In fact, according to the professors, no human mind can understand figures of those magnitudes at all. But you must understand them, I should think . . . or, perhaps . . .”
“Or maybe the guy isn’t human?” Kinnison laughed deeply, infectiously. “No, the professors are right. We can’t understand the figures, but we don’t have to—all we have to do is to work with ’em. And, now that it has just percolated through my skull who you really are, that you are Gladys Forrester, it’s quite clear that you and I are in the same boat.”
“Me? How?” she exclaimed.
“The human mind cannot really understand a million of anything. Yet your father, an immensely wealthy man, gave you clear title to a million credits in cash, to train you in finance in the only way that really produces results—the hard way of actual experience. You lost a lot of it at first, of course; but at last accounts you had got it all back, and some besides, in spite of all the smart guys trying to take it away from you. The fact that your brain can’t envisage a million credits hasn’t interfered with your manipulation of that amount, has it?”
“No, but that’s entirely different!” she protested.