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The doctor closed the door behind him, crossed to the table, silently offered the geologist a cigar, and waited until smoke was issuing from it. Then he said:
"Well," bluntly, "what's come between you and your wife, Van?"
The geologist showed no surprise. Instead, he frowned severely at the end of his cigar, and carefully seated himself on the corner of the table. When he spoke there was a certain rigor in his voice, which told the doctor that his friend was holding himself tightly in rein.
"It really began when the four of us got together to investigate Capellette, two months ago." Van Emmon was a thorough man in important matters. "Maybe I ought to say that both Billie and I were as much interested as either you or Smith; she often says that even the tour of Mercury and Venus was less wonderful.
"What is more, we are both just as eager to continue the investigations. We still have all kinds of faith in the Venusian formula; we want to 'visit' as many more worlds as the science of telepathy will permit. It isn't that either of us has lost interest."
The doctor rather liked the geologist's scientific way of stating the case, even though it meant hearing things he already knew. Kinney watched and waited and listened intently.
"You remember, of course, what sort of a man I got in touch with. Powart was easily the greatest Capellan of them all; a magnificent intellect, which I still think was intended to have ruled the rest. I haven't backed down from my original position."
"Van! You still believe," incredulously, "in a government of the sort he contemplated?"
Van Emmon nodded aggressively. "All that we learned merely strenthens my conviction. Remember what sort of people the working classes of Capellette were? Smith's 'agent' was typical—a helpless nincompoop, not fit to govern himself!" The geologist strove to keep his patience.
"However," remarked Kinney, "the chap whose mind I used was no fool."
"Nor was Billie's agent, the woman surgeon," agreed Van Emmon, "even if she did prefer 'the Devolutionist' to Powart. But you'll have to admit, doc, that the vast majority of the Capellans were incompetents; the rest were exceptions."
The doctor spoke after a brief pause. "And—that's what is wrong, Van?"
"Yes," grimly. "Billie can't help but rejoice that things turned out the way they did. She is sure that the workers, now that they've been separated from the ruling class, will proceed to make a perfect paradise out of their land." He could not repress a certain amount of sarcasm. "As well expect a bunch of monkeys to build a steam engine!
"Well," after a little hesitation, "as I said before, doc, I've no reason to change my mind. You may talk all you like about it—I can't agree to such ideas. The only way to get results on that planet is for the upper classes to continue to govern."
"And this is what you two have—quarreled about?"
Van Emmon nodded sorrowfully. He lit another cigar absent-mindedly and cleared his throat twice before going on:
"My fault, I guess. I've been so darned positive about everything I've said, I've probably caused Billie to sympathize with her friends more solidly than she would otherwise."
"But just because you've championed the autocrats so heartily—"
"I'm afraid so!" The geologist was plainly relieved to have stated the case in full. He leaned forward in his eagerness to be understood. He told the doctor things that were altogether too personal to be included in this account.
Meanwhile, out in the doctor's study, Smith had made no move whatever to interrogate the geologist's young wife. Instead, the engineer simply remained standing after Billie had sat down, and gave her only an occasional hurried glance. Shortly the silence got on her nerves; and—such was her nature, as contrasted with Van Emmon's—whereas he had stated causes first, she went straight to effects.
"Well," explosively, "Van and I have split!"
Smith was seldom surprised at anything. This time was no exception. He merely murmured "Sorry" under his breath; and Billie rushed on, her pent-up feelings eager to escape.
"We haven't mentioned Capellette for weeks, Smith! We don't dare! If we did, there'd be such a rumpus that we—we'd separate!" Something came up into her throat which had to be choked back before she could go on. Then—
"I don't know why it is, but every time the subject is brought up Van makes me so WILD!" She controlled herself with a tremendous effort. "He blames me, of course, because of what I did to help the Devolutionist. But I can't be blamed for sympathizing with the under dog, can I? I've always preferred justice to policy, any time. Justice first, I say! And I think we've seen—there on Capellette—how utterly impossible it is for any such system as theirs to last indefinitely."
But before she could follow up her point the door opened and the doctor returned with her husband. Kinney did not allow any tension to develop; instead, he said briskly:
"There's only a couple of hours remaining between now and dinner time; I move we get busy." He glanced about the room, to see if all was in place. The four chairs, each with its legs tipped with glass; the four footstools, similarly insulated from the floor; the electrical circuit running from the odd group of machinery in the corner, and connecting four pair of brass bracelets—all were ready for use. He motioned the others to the chairs in which they had already accomplished marvels in the way of mental traveling.
"Now," he remarked, as he began to fit the bracelets to his wrists, an example which the rest straightway followed; "now, we want to make sure that we all have the same purpose in mind. Last time, we were simply looking for four people, such as had view-points similar to our own. To-day, our object is to locate, somewhere among the planets attached to one of the innumerable sun-stars of the universe, one on which the conditions are decidedly different from anything we have known before."
Billie and Van Emmon, their affair temporarily forgotten, listened eagerly.
"As I recall it," Smith calmly observed, "we agreed that this attempt would be to locate a new kind of—well, near-human. Isn't that right?"
The doctor nodded. "Nothing more or less"—speaking very distinctly—"than a creature as superior as we are, but NOT IN HUMAN FORM."
Smith tried hard not to share the thrill. He had been reading biology the previous week. "I may as well protest, first as last, that I don't see how human intelligence can ever be developed outside the human form. Not—possibly!"
Van Emmon also was skeptical, but his wife declared the idea merely unusual, not impossible. "Is there any particular reason against it?" she demanded of the doctor.
"I will say this much," cautiously. "Given certain conditions, and inevitably the human form will most certainly become the supreme creature, superior to all the others.
"However, suppose the planetary conditions are entirely different. I conceive it entirely possible for one of the other animals to forge ahead of the man-ape; quite possible, Smith," as the engineer started to object, "if only the conditions are different ENOUGH.
"At any rate, we shall soon find out. I have been reading further in the library the Venusians gave us, and I assure you that I've found some astonishing things." He fingered one of the diminutive volumes. "There is one planet in particular, whose name I have forgotten, where all animal life has disappeared entirely. There are none but vegetable forms on the land, and all of them are the rankest sort of weeds. They have literally choked off everything else!
"And the highest form of life there is a weed; a hideous monstrosity, shaped something like an octopus, and capable of the most horrible—" He stopped abruptly, remembering that one of his hearers was a woman. "Never mind about that now."
He indicated another of the little books. "I think we will do well to investigate a planet which the Venusians call 'Sanus.' It belongs to the tremendous planetary family of the giant star Arcturus. I haven't read any details at all; I didn't want to know more than you. We can proceed with our discoveries on an equal footing."
"But," objected Smith, recalling the previous methods, "how are we to put our minds in touch with any of theirs, unless we know enough about them to imagine their viewpoints?"
"Our knowledge of their planet's name and location," replied the doctor, "makes it easier for us. All we have to do is to go into the telepathic state, via the Venusian formula; then, at the same time, each must concentrate upon some definite mental quality, some particular characteristic of his own mind, which he or she wishes to find on Sanus. It makes no difference what it may be; all you have to do is, exert your imaginations a little."
There was a pause, broken by Smith: "We ought to tell each other what we have in mind, so that we don't conflict."
"Yes. For my part," said the doctor, "I'd like to get in touch with a being who is mildly rebellious; not a violent radical, but a philosophical revolutionist. I don't care what sort of a creature he, she, or it may be, so long as the mind is in revolt against whatever injustice may exist."
"Then I," stated Smith, "will stick to the idea of service." Nobody was surprised that the engineer should make such a choice; he was, first, last, and all the time, essentially a useful man.
Van Emmon was not ready with his choice. Instead: "You say, doc, that you know nothing further about Sanus than what you've already told us?"
"I was about to mention that. The Venusians say that conditions are reversed from what we found on Capellette. Instead of Sanus being ruled by a small body of autocrats, it is—ruled by the working class!"
"Under the circumstances," said Van, "I'll take something different from what I got last time. No imperiousness this trip." He smiled grimly. "There was a time when I used to take orders. Suppose you call my choice 'subordinacy.'"
"How very noble of you!" gibed Billie. "My idea is supremacy, and plenty of it! I want to get in touch with the man higher up—the worker who is boss of the whole works!" She flashed a single glance at her husband, then threw herself back in her chair. "Go ahead!"
And before two minutes were up, the power of concerted thought, aided by a common objective and the special electrical circuit which joined them, had projected the minds of the four across the infinite depths of space. The vast distance which separated their bodies from Sanus was annihilated, literally as quick as thought.
Neither of the four stirred. To all appearances they were fast asleep. The room was quite still; only the clock ticked dully on the wall. Down-stairs, the doctor's wife kept watch over the house.
The greatest marvel in creation, the human mind, was exploring the unknown.
Of course, the four still had the ability to communicate with each other while in the trance state; they had developed this power to a fair degree while investigating Capellette. However, each was so deeply interested in what he or she was seeing during the first hour of their Sanusian experiences that neither thought to discuss the matter until afterward.
When the doctor first made connection with the eyes of his agent, he instinctively concluded that he, at least, had got in touch with a being more or less like himself. The whole thing was so natural; he was surveying a sunny, brush-covered landscape from eyes whose height from the ground, and other details, were decidedly those of a human.
For a moment there was comparative silence. Then his unknown agent swiftly raised something—a hand, presumably—to a mouth, and gave out a piercing cry. Whereupon the doctor learned something that jarred him a trifle. His agent was—a woman!
He had time to congratulate himself upon the fact that he was (1) a doctor, (2) a married man, (3) the father of a daughter or two, before his agent repeated her cry. Almost immediately it was answered by another exactly like it, from an unseen point not far away. The Sanusian plainly chuckled to herself with satisfaction.
A moment later there came, rather faintly, two more calls, each from a different direction in the dun-colored brush. Still without moving from the spot, the doctor's agent replied two or three times, meanwhile watching her surroundings very closely. Within half a minute the first of her friends came in sight.
It was a young woman. At a distance of about twenty yards she appeared to be about five feet tall and sturdily built. She was dressed in a single garment, made of the skin of some yellow, short-haired animal. It may have been a lion cub. Around her waist was a strip of hide, which served as a belt, and held a small, stone-headed tomahawk. One shoulder and both legs were left quite bare, revealing a complexion so deeply tanned that the doctor instantly thought: "Spanish!"
In a way, the girl's face gave the same impression. Large, dark-brown eyes, full lips and a healthy glow beneath her tan, all made it possible for her to pass as a Spaniard. However, there was nothing in the least coquettish about her; she had a remarkably independent manner, and a gaze as frank and direct as it was pure and untroubled.
In one hand she carried a branch from some large-leafed shrub. The eyes which Kinney was using became fixed upon this branch; and even as the newcomer cried out in joyous response to the other's greeting, her expression changed and she turned and fled, laughing, as the doctor's agent darted toward her. She did not get away, and immediately the two were struggling over the possession of the branch.
In the midst of the tussle another figure made its appearance.
"Look out! Here comes Dulnop!"  cried Kinney's agent; at the same time she made a special effort, and succeeded in breaking off a good half of the branch.
Instantly she darted to one side, where she calmly began to pluck some small, hard-shelled nuts from the branch, and proceeded to crack them, with entire ease, using a set of teeth which must have been absolutely perfect.
She gave the latest comer only a glance or two. He—for it certainly was a man—was nearly a half a foot taller than the girl already described; but he was plainly not much older or younger, and in build and color much the same. He was clothed neither more nor less than she, the only difference being that some leopardlike animal had contributed the material. In his belt was tucked a primitive stone hammer, also a stone knife. His face was longer than hers, his eyes darker; but he was manifestly still very boyish. Dulnop, they had called him.
"Hail, Cunora!" he called to the girl who had brought the nuts; then, to her who was watching: "Rolla! Where got ye the nuts?"
Rolla didn't answer; she couldn't use her mouth just then; it was too full of nuts. She merely nodded in the direction of Cunora.
"Give me some, Cunora!"
The younger girl gave no reply, but backed away from him as he approached; her eyes sparkled mischievously and, the doctor thought, somewhat affectionately. Dulnop made a sudden darting move toward her branch, and she as swiftly whirled in her tracks, so that he missed. However, he instantly changed his mind and grasped the girl instead. Like a flash he drew her to him and kissed her noisily.
Next second he was staggering backward under the weight of her hard brown fist. "Do that again, and I'll have the hair out of thy head!" the girl screamed, her face flaming. Yet Kinney saw that the man was laughing joyously even as he rubbed the spot where her blow had landed, while the expression of her eyes quite belied what she had said.
Not until then did the doctor's agent say anything. When she spoke it was in a deep, contralto voice which gave the impression of riper years than either of the other two. Afterward Kinney learned that Rolla was nearly ten years their senior, a somewhat more lithe specimen of the same type, clad in the skin of what was once a magnificent goat. She carried only a single small knife in her belt. As seen reflected in pools of water, her complexion was slightly paler and her whole expression a little less self-assertive and distinctively philosophical. To those who admire serious, thoughtful women of regular feature and different manner, Rolla would have seemed downright beautiful.
"Dulnop," said she, with a laugh in her voice, "ye will do well to seek the nut tree, first as last." She nonchalantly crushed another shell in her mouth. "Neither Cunora nor I can spare good food to a kiss-hungry lout like thee!"
He only laughed again and made as though to come toward her. She stood ready to dodge, chuckling excitedly, and he evidently gave it up as a bad job. "Tell me whence cameth the nuts, Cunora!" he begged; but the girl pretended to be cross, and shut her mouth as firmly as its contents would allow.
Next moment there was a shout from the thicket, together with a crashing sound; and shortly the fourth Sanusian appeared. He was by far the larger; but his size was a matter of width rather than of height. An artist would have picked him as a model for Ajax himself. His muscles fairly strained the huge lion's skin in which he was clad, and he had twice the weight of Dulnop within the same height. Also, to the doctor's eye, he was nearer Rolla's age.
His face was strong and handsome in a somewhat fierce, relentless way; his complexion darker than the rest. He carried a huge club, such as must have weighed all of forty pounds, while his belt was jammed full of stone weapons. The doctor classed him and the younger girl together because of their vigor and independence, while Dulnop and Rolla seemed to have dispositions very similar in their comparative gentleness and restraint.
"Hail, all of ye!" shouted this latest arrival in a booming baritone. He strode forward with scarcely a glance at the two younger people; his gaze was fixed upon Rolla, his expression unmistakable. The woman quietly turned upon Dulnop and Cunora.
"Look!" she exclaimed, pointing to a spot back of them. "See the curious bird!" They wheeled instantly, with the unquestioning faith of two children; and before they had brought their gazes back again, the big man had seized Rolla, crushed her to his breast and kissed her passionately. She responded just as warmly, pushing him away only in order to avoid being seen by the others. They showed only an innocent disappointment at having missed seeing the "curious bird."
"A simple-minded people, basically good-humored," was the way the doctor summed the matter up when reporting what he had seen. However, it was not so easy to analyze certain things that were said during the time the four Sanusians spent in each other's company. For one thing—
"Did They give thee permission to go?" Rolla was asked by the big man. His name, it seemed, was Corrus.
"Yes, Corrus. They seemed to think it a good idea for us to take a little recreation to-day. I suppose ye left thy herd with thy brother?"
He nodded; and the doctor was left to wonder whom "They" might be. Were They a small group of humans, whose function was to superintend? Or were They, as the books from Venus seemed to indicate, another type of creature, entirely different from the humans, and yet, because of the peculiar Sanusian conditions, superior to the humans?
"They have decided to move their city a little farther away from the forest," Rolla overheard Dulnop telling Cunora; which was the first indication that the planet boasted such a thing as a city. Otherwise, things appeared to be in a primitive, rather than a civilized condition.
These four skin-clad savages seemed to be enjoying an aboriginal picnic. For lunch, they munched on various fruits and nuts picked up en route, together with handfuls of some wheatlike cereal which the big man had brought in a goatskin. From time to time they scared out various animals from the brush, chasing the creatures after the fashion of dogs and children. Whenever they came to a stream, invariably all four splashed through it, shouting and laughing with delight.
However, there were but two of these streams, and both of them quite small. Their banks indicated that either the season was very far advanced, or else that the streams were at one time vastly larger.