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BY E. E. SMITH, PH.D.
They were the finest interstellar agents—and greatest circus stars—the Service of the Empire had!
Des Plaines (Plan) 15 rev cat 4-1076-9525. Hostile PX-3M-RKQ. Pop (2440) 7500 00. COL 2015 Fr (qv) & NrAm (qv) phys. cult. Comml stndg, 229th. Prin ctrib gal: Circus o/t Gal, heav met, prec stones. (Encyclopedia Galactica, Vol. 9, p2937)
Jules and Yvetta
For twenty-eight minutes The Flying d'Alemberts—who throughout two centuries had been the greatest troupe of aerialists of the entire Empire of Earth—had kept the vast audience of the Circus of the Galaxy spellbound: densely silent; almost tranced. For twenty-eight minutes both side rings had been empty and dark. The air over the center ring, from the hard-packed, imitation-sawdust-covered earth floor up to the plastic top one hundred forty-five feet above that floor, had been full of flying white-clad forms—singles and pairs and groups all doing something utterly breath-taking.
Suddenly, in perfect unison, eighteen of the twenty d'Alemberts then performing swung to their perches, secured their apparatus, and stood motionless, each with his or her right arm pointing upward at the highest part of the Big Top.
As all those arms pointed up at her, Yvette d'Alembert moved swiftly, smoothly, out to the middle of her high wire—and that wire was high indeed, being one hundred thirty-two feet above the floor of the ring. She did not carry even a fan for balance. She maintained her equilibrium by almost imperceptible movements of her hands, feet, and body. Reaching the center of the span, she stopped and posed. To the audience she appeared as motionless as a statue.
Like all the other d'Alemberts, she was dressed in silver-spangled tights that clung to every part of her body like a second skin. Thus, while she was too short and too wide and too thick to be acceptable as an Earthly high-fashion model, her flamboyantly female figure made a very striking and very attractive picture—at a distance. Close up, however, that picture changed.
Her ankles were much larger than any Earthwoman's should have been. Her wrists were those of a six-foot-four, two-hundred-fifty-pound timberman. Her musculature, from toenails to ears to fingertips, would have made all the beach-boys of Southern California turn green with envy.
After a few seconds of posing, she turned her head and looked down at her brother Jules, on a perch sixty-one feet below her and an "impossible" sixty-four feet off to one side. Then, flexing her knees and swinging her horizontally outstretched arms in ever-increasing arcs, she put more and more power into her tightly stretched steel—and Jules, grasping a flying ring in his left hand, began to flex his knees and move his body in precise synchronization with the natural period of the girl-wire system so far above him. Finally, in the last cycle through which she could hold the wire, Yvette squatted and drove both powerful legs downward and to her right—and something snapped, with a harsh, metallic report as loud as a pistol shot.
The wire, all its terrific tension released instantly as one end broke free and dropped, coiled itself up in the air with metallic whinings and slitherings; and Yvette d'Alembert, premiere aerialiste of all civilization, sprawling helplessly in mid-air, began her long fall to the floor.
Eighteen d'Alemberts came to life on their perches, seized all the equipment they could reach, and hurled it all at the falling girl. One of her frantically reaching fingertips barely touched the bar of one swinging trapeze; none of the other apparatus came even close.
Jules, in the lowest position, had more time than did any of the others; but he did not have a millisecond to spare. In the instant of the break he went outward and downward along the arc of the ninety-eight-foot radius of his top-hung flying ring. His aim was true and the force of launching had been precisely right.
Yvette was falling face down, flat and horizontal, at a speed of over seventy feet a second as she neared the point of meeting. Jules, rigidly vertical at the bottom of his prodigious swing, was moving almost half that fast. In the instant before a right-angle collision that would have smashed any two ordinary athletes into masses of bloody flesh, two strong right hands smacked together in the practically unbreakable hand-over-wrist grip of the aerialist and Yvette spun and twisted like a cat—except much faster. Both her feet went flat against his hard, flat belly. Her hard-sprung knees and powerful leg muscles absorbed most of the momentum of his mass and speed. Then, at the last possible instant, her legs went around his waist and locked behind his back, and his right hand flashed up to join his left in gripping the ring.
That took care of the horizontal component of energy, but the vertical one was worse—much worse; almost twice as great. Its violence drove their locked bodies downward and into a small but vicious arc; a savagely wrenching violence that would have broken any ordinary man's back in a fraction of a second. But Jules d'Alembert, although only five feet eight in height, had a mass of two hundred twenty-five pounds, most of which was composed of super-hard, super-reactive muscle; unstretchable, unbreakable gristle; and super-dense, super-strong, horse-sized bone. His arms were as large as, and immensely stronger than, an ordinary Earthman's legs.
The two bodies, unstressed now relative to each other, began to hurtle downward together, at an angle of thirty degrees from the vertical, toward the edge of the ring facing the reserved-seat and box section of the stands.
The weakest point in the whole stressed system was now Jules' grip on that leather-covered steel ring. Could he hold it? Could he possibly hold it? Not one person in all that immense audience moved a muscle: not one of them even breathed.
He held his grip for just under half a second, held it while that half-inch nylon cable stretched a good seven feet, held it while the entire supporting framework creaked and groaned. Then the merest moment before that frightful fall would have been arrested and both would have been safe, Jules' hands slipped from the ring and both began to fall the remaining forty feet to the ground.
A high-speed camera, however, would have revealed the fact that they did not fall out of control. Each landed in perfect position. Hard-sprung knees took half of shock of landing; hard-sprung elbows took half of what was left. Heads bent low on chests; powerful leg muscles drove forward; thick, hard shoulders and back muscles struck the floor in perfect rolls; and both brother and sister somersaulted lightly to their feet.
Hand in hand, they posed motionless for a moment; then bowed deeply in unison, turned and ran lightly to an exit—and they covered that one hundred yards of distance in less than five seconds.
And the multitude of spectators went wild.
They had seen a girl falling to certain death. They had felt a momentary flash of relief—or actually of disappointment?—when it seemed as though her life might be saved. Then they had watched two magnificently alive young people fall, if not to certain death, at least to maiming, crippling injury. Then, in the climactic last split second, the whole terrible accident had become the grand finale of the act.
That it was a grand finale—a crashing smash of a finish—there was no possible doubt. The only question was, what emotion predominated in that shrieking, yelling, clapping, jeering, cheering, whistling and catcalling throng of Earthpeople—relief, appreciation or disappointment?
Whatever it was, however, they had all had the thrill of a life-time; and few if any of them could understand how it could possibly have been done.
For of the teeming billions of people inhabiting the nine hundred forty-two other planets of the Empire of Earth, scarcely one in a million had ever even heard of the planet DesPlaines. Of those who had heard of it, comparatively few knew that its surface gravity was approximately three thousand centimeters per second squared—more than three times that of small, green Earth. And most of those who knew that fact neither knew nor cared that harsh, forbidding, hostile DesPlaines was the home world of the Circus of the Galaxy and of The Family d'Alembert
The Service of the Empire (SOTE) was founded in 2239 by Empress Stanley 3, the first of the Great Stanleys, who, during her reign of 37 years (2237-2274) inculcated in it the spirit of loyalty and devotion that has characterized it ever since. Its spirit wavered only once, under weak and vicious Empress Stanley 5, whose reign—fortunately very short (2293-2299)—was calamitous in every respect. SOTE came to full power, however, only under Emperor Stanley 10 (reign 2379- —), the third and greatest of the Great Stanleys, under whom it became the finest organization of its kind ever known. (Baird, A Study of Security, Ed. 2447, p291).
The Brawl in the Dunedin Arms
The city of Tampeta, Florida, had a population of over fifteen million. It included, not only what had once been Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, but also all the other cities and villages between Sarasota on the south and Port Richey on the north. Just outside Tampeta's city limit, well out toward Lakeland, lay the Pinellas Fair Ground. There the Circus of the Galaxy had been playing to capacity crowds for over a week, with a different show—especially with an entirely different climax—every night.
Jules and Yvette d'Alembert, as top stars of the show, of course had private dressing rooms. They also had private entrances. Thus no one connected with the show saw, and no one else either noticed or cared, that two short, fat Delfians, muffled to the eyes in the shapelessly billowing robes and hoods of their race, joined one of the columns of people moving slowly toward the exits leading to the immense parking lot. It took them half an hour to get to their car, but they were in no hurry.
Out of the traffic jam at last, Jules maneuvered his heavy vehicle up into the second-level, west-bound Interstate Four and sped for the Dunedin district and the Dunedin Arms, one of the plushiest night spots in all North America. At the Arms, he gave a dollar to the parking-lot attendant, another to the resplendently-uniformed doorman and a third to the usher who escorted them ceremoniously into the elevator and up to the fourth floor. At the check-stand the two Delfians refused—as expected—to part with any of their mufflings. Jules did, however—also as expected—give the provocatively clad hat-check girl a dollar before he handed his reservation slip and a five-dollar bill to the bowing captain.
"Thank you, sir and madam," that worthy said. "We are very glad indeed to have you with us this evening, Mister and Misses Tygven. Will you have your table now, or perhaps a little later?"
"A little later, I think," Jules said, using faultlessly the Russo-English "Empirese" that was the court language of the Empire. He paused then, and gazed about the huge room. At his right, along the full two-hundred-foot length of the room, ran the subduedly ornate, mirror-backed bar. At his left were three tremendous windows overlooking the beach and the open Gulf. Heavy tables of genuine oak, not too closely spaced, filled the place except for a large central dance floor. On a stage at the far end of the room a spot-lighted, red-haired stripper was doing her stuff. Priceless paintings and fabulous tapestries adorned the walls. Suits of armor dating from the ancient days of chivalry stood on pedestals and niches here and there. The place was jammed with a gay, colorful and festive crowd; there were only a few vacant places even at that tremendously long bar.
It was quite evident why the captain had suggested a short delay, so Jules said, "Yes, later, please. We will do a little serious drinking at the bar before we eat."