Short Fiction

By Frederik Pohl.

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Asteroid of the Damned

“Sorry, son,” MacCauley said with the barrel-scrapings of his patience. “I said no and I meant it. I haven’t got anything to give you. Now please stop waggling at me and go.”

The excited glitter of the Palladian’s luminiferous eyes died dispiritedly. MacCauley turned his back on the slight-bodied asterite and rapped his thumbnail against his drained glass. The bartender, a heavy and humorous man, expertly refilled Mac’s glass with oily, musky, milk-white synthetic liquor and said: “This Kiddie bothering you? Scat, you, or I’ll see that you never get into this place again.”

Mac shrugged as he watched the stripling strain to catch the bartender’s meaning by reading his lips, then mournfully disappear. “No more than they all do,” he answered. “What’s the matter with them, anyhow? They’re positively nutty on the subject of money.”

The bartender shook his head and snatched a quick drag on a smoldering cigar-stub. Replacing it on a ledge, he said: “Not money so much. You couldn’t bribe a Kiddie with a certified check for a couple of billion dollars. They’re not bright, exactly; they don’t regard paper as worth anything. It’s metal they want. If it happens to be precious, that’s all right, but any kind of metal will do. What they’re really crazy about, of course, is silver and copper. They’ll do just about anything for it, including murder and treason.”

Mac, listening too intently, gulped a bit more of his drink than even his spaceman’s gullet could take. When the red-hot lava stopped strangling him and he could see once more through the streaming fountains that had been his eyes, he managed to choke out: “What do they want it for? Do they eat it?”

The bartender laughed. “Nah. They don’t really eat anything. They drink some kind of stuff they find in the rocks⁠—like they used to find petroleum, on Earth. Radioactive, this stuff is. That’s all they need to live on. They don’t breathe at all. You can see that; they don’t even have a mouth or a real nose, just a sort of trunk that they drink through.⁠ ⁠… Wait a minute. Be back.”

The bartender rolled away. A couple of new customers had come into his side of the bar and were demanding attention.

Mac sighed and glanced at his watch. But the bartender was back and ready for more talk before Mac had made up his mind to leave. The bartender wanted to talk because this was a dull night in the café attached to Pallas’ largest gambling-room; for the same reason, MacCauley wanted to leave. He was here on business.

However, he might need to know something about the natives of Pallas for his business. And he really was shockingly uninformed about the creatures who inhabited the free-port asteroid. Other than that they were called Kiddies, looked like seven-year-old Earthly children, and didn’t breathe, he really knew nothing.

“Then what do they do with this metal if they don’t eat it?” he asked.

The bartender shrugged. “They probably know, but they’re too dopey to be able to tell you. I asked one of them once⁠—he wrote out an answer, the way they always do when they want to tell you something. Seems they generate electricity in their bodies. A Palladian’s idea of a real good time is to take a hunk of pure copper and hold it in his hands. The current runs from one hand to the other. They are like that. This one claimed that each metal gave them a different kind of thrill.”

“All right if you like,” MacCauley said absently. “Me, I’ll take my jolts out of a bottle.”

“Was that an order for another drink?” The bottle was already in the fat man’s hands.

MacCauley nodded, and glanced again at the time. He swallowed the poisonous liquor as fast as he could manage; then took one last quick look around the bar to make sure.

Yep, he was wasting time here. The place was practically empty.

He paid his check in Earth-American dollars, and passed on to the main game room.

Like everything else in Pallas, it was completely underground, with a purely artificial atmosphere. Artificial, in fact, was the word for Pallas. Everything about it was synthetic; there wasn’t a figment of reality to be found in it. All that Pallas had to offer visitors was freedom from most of the more pressing laws of the more civilized⁠—and larger⁠—worlds. That, and the Kiddies, the peculiar race that had been found on the small asteroid when the first space-explorers got there. Everything that Pallas had, it owed to the fact that, in essence, it had nothing. No minerals worth the cost of extraction; no agriculture; no science; no artifacts; no history. It was so totally useless that the major worlds of the system had declared, “Hands off!” And to that fact Pallas owed the liberality of laws that made it a refuge for fugitives from the Tri-Planet justice, as well as a planet-sized gambling den.

MacCauley curled the tip of his nose when he got a whiff of the atmosphere. It had been bad enough in the bar⁠—thin, moist air, representing a compromise between the atmospheres of Earth, Mars and Venus; enjoyable to the members of none of the races from those planets, but just barely breathable to all. That atmosphere, even when pure, was obnoxious. And here, in the densely-packed main hall, it was really foul. There was something about Venusians, Mac decided, that he didn’t like. It wasn’t their fault, of course, that they had evolved in a wet climate, and had distinct auras of unearthly B.O. in consequence of their need to perspire. But it wasn’t his fault, either, and he didn’t see why he should suffer for it.


Mentally holding his nostrils, he waded into the reek and halted by a magneto-roulette table. A casual observer, MacCauley hoped, would think he was engrossed in watching the game. Actually he was carefully scrutinizing each of the score of players and spectators at the table. Somewhere in this motley mob made of the dwellers of a half-dozen planets there might be a cool, levelheaded, thoroughly dangerous man, the brains of the syndicate that was flooding Earth and Venus with narcophene. That drug was the most formidable in the history of narcotics. You chewed it⁠—if you were insane or ignorant!⁠—and you felt nothing but a pleasant coolness on your tongue. There weren’t any mad hallucinations of grandeur; you never lost consciousness of what you were doing or who you were. Just, without your consciously realizing it, you felt better all around. Things that should have worried you sick seemed trivial; you could laugh at the specter of sickness or agony or anything, however fearsome that endangered or injured you. The drug had a certain medical value; it was used to prevent total insanity in persons suffering from utterly incurable and horribly painful diseases. For with them it didn’t matter that the narcophene habit was permanent, once acquired; they didn’t have to fear the mental and moral and eventually physical collapse that was bound to come. They were as good as dead anyhow.

But for others.⁠ ⁠…

And the man who had reorganized the once-smashed industry of manufacturing and smuggling it was on Pallas now. That much the home office of Tri-Planet Law knew, and had told Mac. That was all their best operatives on the inner planets had been able to dig up, and from that point onward⁠ ⁠… nothing. Those who could have told more were addicts, and those who had tried to tell more were dead. Murdered.

There was a T.P.L. office on Pallas, of course, but it was a one-man outfit. And the one man seemed thoroughly incompetent, for this job, at least. His reports had shown him to be unable to even begin the job of tracking down the man. Hence, MacCauley.

For the sake of appearances, MacCauley threw a bill on number 28, lost it, and moved on. Nobody in the neighborhood of that table corresponded to the vague physical description he’d been able to glean from the scanty reports.

Nor, he found, did anyone in the house. That didn’t prove anything, of course, except that the man Mac was after wasn’t at this particular place at the time; or, naturally, that the description MacCauley’d been given was wrong from the ground up, but that wasn’t a thing to think about.

He shrugged and moved toward the exit. The room was packed worse than ever; he had to shove his way through. He kept bumping into people, he noticed⁠—then looked around. It wasn’t so much that he was bumping into people, he found, as that people, represented by the Kiddie, were nudging him.

“Oh, for the Lord’s sake!” he cried tiredly. “I tell you I won’t give you anything. Now get away from me. And stay away, if you want to keep living.”

The Kiddie shrank into himself and seemed to whimper voicelessly. The glow-glands set around his eyes shone a pinkish purple of fright. He started to say something⁠—in the primitive sign-language that his race used to communicate with aliens⁠—but halted the gesture and abruptly turned and slunk away. His slight frame, the size and appearance of a seven-year-old boy’s, vanished almost immediately in the pack of hulking Venusians and attenuated, pallid stick-men from Mars.

MacCauley didn’t pursue him; there was no reason, of course, for him to do so.


But that, “of course,” like so many others, was wrong. There was a definite reason for Mac to follow the metals-mad asterite. Mac found the reason when he reached the cloakroom. He reached in his pocket to tip the pretty Terrestrial check-girl⁠—and found not even a pocket. Just a slit that had been made not more than ten minutes before, through which the pocket itself and contents had been neatly extracted. Presumably by the Kiddie.

“Damn!” was the best Mac could do, but he said it with feeling. He was casting about in his mind for something he could say to the girl that might make her forget about tips when he saw the Kiddie himself, luminescing a vivid green, scuttling out the front door.

“Hey!” he yelled, and it wasn’t only a desire to get away that kept the Kiddie from looking around; he couldn’t hear any more than he could speak. Language failing, Mac took stronger measures. He left his sport-silk jacket on the arm of the bewildered girl and sprinted after the Kiddie. Intercepting him just previous to the door, he swung the Palladian around and gestured with frantic anger. The Kiddie, with a surprising show of strength in so frail a body, attempted no answer or denial of the charge of theft, but wrenched himself free and darted out the door.

Mac, following, met the inevitable. When the luck of the MacCauleys ran bad, it stayed bad⁠—or worse. He collided with a fat and pugnacious drunk. Not only collided with him but knocked the wind out of him. If it hadn’t been that the drunk had an equally drunk and volatile companion, that would have been all right. As it was, Mac found himself on the receiving end of a pale, knuckly Venusian fist.

He was flat on the floor before he realized he’d been hit. Then began the real trouble.

Somebody yelled, “Oh, boy! A fight!” and leaped joyously on Mac with a pair of magno-caulked spaceman’s boots. What happened after that got worse and worse. Everybody in the gambling joint seemed to have mayhem in their hearts. Practically to a man, they poured out and joined in the free-for-all. Half the floating population of Pallas seemed to have come to rest on MacCauley’s solar plexus by the time he heard the soft, popping noises from the weapons of the house’s private army of bouncers and troubleshooters. When MacCauley next found himself able to look around he was out in the halfhearted illumination of the street, sick and weak from the effect of the gas pellets which had quelled the riot.

And without a penny to his name.


It would have been foolhardy to have left his money in the “safe” at the hotel, though there was slight comfort in that thought. One place was as good as another on Pallas, where laws were made for the sheer pleasure of violating them; the native Palladians, shifty and unmoral as they were, were hopelessly outclassed in dishonesty by the civilized men of the inner planets. The one law all respected was the law of pure and applied force.

Mac fumbled a crumpled cigarette from his pocket and thought miserably of going to the police. Miserably, because the native police force was a joke and a mockery, maintained more to put the squeeze on innocent foreigners than for any other reason. Which shows how naive the asterites were; there was nothing innocent about most of the foreigners that came to the tiny planet.

Even the T.P.L. post on the asteroid was powerless, shackled by diplomatic necessities to the pretence that the thick-witted Palladians were capable of running their own world. “Hands off!” was the watchword.

His swollen eyes squinting at the fluoro-flame lamps set in the rocky ceiling of the tunneled street, MacCauley sighed heavily, feeling the full weight of his predicament.

All his money had been on him. All that was left of his money was a memory and a neat little slit just under the zip-seal flap of his hip pocket. And on Pallas, where it was dog eat dog and the devil help the one who lacked a full set of teeth, money was the means of obtaining dental attention.

Yes, Mac was in a mess, for all his kit, including the last can of Terrestrial cigarettes, were in the hotel room; even his blasters, the slim, wicked pistols that projected a vibratory pencil-beam that destroyed flesh and neural fibers and left the brain watery pulp, were locked up in that dark little rat-hole up near the top of Pallas’ single, buried city. Mac was weaponless, except for a tempered bronze knife in his shirt, on an outlaw world where a swift attack was the best insurance against sudden death.

His hotel bill was payable every twenty-four hours, and his period of grace had expired. Pallas being first and foremost a gambling planet, it wasn’t at all uncommon for a man to check into the best suite a hotel could offer, his money-belt fat and heavy with a half-million in platinum credits; leave in the early afternoon for a little fling at the tables, and come back in the evening asking apologetically if he might borrow the price of a shave so he could look nice on the trip back home.

For that was the rule: no money, out you go and your baggage held by right of a lockout. Everything on Pallas was operated by the same ruling⁠—cash strictly in advance. And to make sure that no floaters were left to the dubious charity of the planetoid, there was another standing rule. A law, this time; a duly enacted law of the Palladian legislature and the sole ordinance that was enforced by the foreign-sponsored native authorities.

Before a visitor was admitted to Pallas, he was first made to post a bond equal to his passage back home. And that could not be touched or refunded until he left.

MacCauley groaned aloud and looked about him. Walking blindly and without thinking, very easy in the light gravity of low-powered magna-gravs, he had entered a part of the sealed city new to him.

He was in the native quarter, at the planetoid’s core, where the asterites were as thick as red dust on Mars⁠—and for the first time Mac saw a Kiddie policeman. He was wearing no more clothing than the rest of his kind, just carried a staff of office, like the old Bow Street Runners.

An idea suddenly made contact in MacCauley’s mind. He signaled the officer and dragged out a notebook and pencil, unnecessarily, as it happened. The Kiddie, in sinuous gestures, signified that he could understand English, partly by lipreading, partly by picking up the sound in some weird fashion through rock-conduction and the sensitive soles of his splay feet.

Mac, enunciating carefully, spoke.

“One of your people has robbed me. I want him arrested. Where do I go?”

The Kiddie bobbed his head, and from the manner in which his luminiferous glands sparkled balefully, it was evident where he thought MacCauley should go. Nevertheless, he snapped out his little pad and stylus, and scrawled: “Commi wih me tu Offic he wil arange arest.”

MacCauley deciphered the scribble. He shrugged and said, “Okay. Hop to it, sonny.” He walked beside the diminutive policeman for a few hundred feet, glancing incuriously at the small burrows which pierced the rock walls and kicking away chunks of the queer, spongy rock on which the Kiddies subsisted, the equivalent of Earthly garbage.

He should have thought of the cops before, he realized. The Kiddies, as a race, were not numerous, and he could probably bully them into finding the thief and recovering his money. After all, why not?

He soon found out. The lolling half-breed Venusian interpreter who loafed around the ratty, worm-infested police station heard his complaint and deftly translated it for the benefit of a moth-eaten Kiddie who seemed to be as much in charge here as anyone else. MacCauley drew an easy breath, his first in two hours, and then⁠—

The interpreter singsonged, “Forty Earth-dollars, please. Filing fee.”

MacCauley’s eyes narrowed. The old squeeze play. “Don’t be a sap,” he said flatly, his thin lips tight against his teeth. “I haven’t got forty cents. That little louse took everything that was in my pocket.”

The Venusian smirked, and regarded his greenish, webbed hand with great interest. “That is very bad, my friend,” he said, and flicked a flea from a fold in the skin of his wrinkled wrist. “Here on Pallas we have a law; the citizens must be protected. When a foreigner makes an accusation against a citizen, it is quite possible that he is wrong, and a great injustice will have been done. As you know, there is only one way to soothe a Palladian⁠ ⁠… money.”

MacCauley cursed bitterly, harsh, biting oaths. “All right,” he said then, forcing his tone to evenness. “I’ll sign a guarantee of the money. When you catch this pickpocket, you’ll reclaim the money; then I’ll put up the bond pending trial.”

By great effort the interpreter managed to look shocked. “That is absurd. You must pay now; if the Palladian is innocent, he will not have the money. No, it is impossible.”

“If he’s innocent it’ll be because you caught the wrong guy. Why, by all the Plutonian Ice Devils, should I have to pay for your mistake?”

The green-skinned man smirked again. “It is the law. The law is very strict. If you do not like it, you can go back to the planet you came from.” And he turned away, busying himself with some important-looking papers, dusty and much-handled. MacCauley was not too preoccupied to note that the blubbery Venusian was holding them upside-down.

MacCauley socked his balled fist into his palm and wondered if pacing the littered floor would help. He was now, he assured himself, in the worst of all fixes. The time he’d been trapped between two hostile groups of Mercurians who were settling a private argument with quarter-mile lightning bolts was a pleasure compared to this. Then he’d had his guns, at least, and no restrictions about using them.

He had to have his kit. Which meant getting his money back. It was necessary, he decided, to play his trump card. He hadn’t wanted to reveal himself as a freelancing T.P.L. man; word would be sure to leak out. But he certainly couldn’t accomplish anything otherwise; the chance of recovering the credits, and eventually his matériel, was nil without some sort of aid. And that was what he could get only by showing these small-time constables that he was Mr. Law himself. It may be also that he was motivated by justifiable conceit in T.P.L. itself.

“Okay,” he snapped suddenly, startling the pudgy hybrid with the sharpness of his voice. “I guess there’s no point in keeping under wraps any longer. Let me tell you who I am.⁠ ⁠…”

Twenty minutes later, as he stumbled out of the warped stone building, he was wondering dazedly why his T.P.L. affiliation had done him no good.

Tri-Planet Law was an organization that had considerable history, nor could all of it be written. It was the most potent single force in the history of any planet of the Solar System, figured any way you like. It was the only force whose rule was hardly ever challenged.

When you broke the law within the territories mandated by T.P.L., you did so with the very greatest caution. And you never tried to fight back if you were caught. It wasn’t really a large organization, relative to the vast throngs of intelligent life that swarmed the System. It was only a tiny decimal of one percent of the entire population of the thirty inhabited globes. But when you consider that the total census showed more than a hundred billion individuals of high enough brainpower to be rated sentient, you can understand that a fraction of a percent does mean close to a hundred and thirty thousand persons united into the best-organized police and military force that a hundred trained social technicians could evolve.

That is why MacCauley couldn’t understand the fact that the half-breed interpreter had practically laughed in his face.

True, T.P.L.’s hundred and thirty thousand of personnel were largely on the planets of Earth, Mars and Venus, plus their possessions and allied states. T.P.L. had no standing here, officially, but the organization had a de facto reign over all of space by virtue of the fastest and best-armed spaceships made. And Pallas, dependent upon the transient trade, certainly shouldn’t be able to afford to anger a representative of the body that ruled the space-lanes.

Something, Mac decided, was thoroughly rotten in the local checking office of T.P.L. Something that might show why the operative on Pallas hadn’t begun to be able to find the man or men behind the narcophene racket.

MacCauley hadn’t shown himself there before because he didn’t want himself identified with the Law group. Now that he’d uselessly exposed himself, that obstacle was nullified.

He’d found out where the place was just so he could avoid it. Pausing a second to puzzle out its probable direction, he started off.

It was close, of course; nothing was far from anything on Pallas. Within five minutes he was standing outside the building, rubbing his chin and deciding that he could stand a wash-up before going in.

Like most of the asteroid’s structures, this one seemed to have been made by a blind moron for his elder brother’s fifth birthday. Stepping gingerly to avoid bringing the ceiling down about his ears, he made for the washroom.

The Kiddie attendant was scrunched up in a corner, luminescing happily over a former airlock handle. “Hey!” Mac said uselessly. A wadded paper towel brought better results, and the Kiddie glanced up.

Of course, it had to be the Kiddie who lifted Mac’s roll. The gods of chance saw to that. In a trice Mac had backed the frightened Kiddie into a corner, looking rather threatening what with his grim expression and the bronze knife suddenly sprouting from his fist. He was fumbling for the gesture that would convey, “Gimme!” to the asterite when the interruption came.

“Having fun?”

Mac dropped the Kiddie and spun around, automatically reaching for a blaster that wasn’t there. “Who the devil are you?” he snarled.

The long Terrestrial newcomer leaned gingerly on a soot-covered washstand and frowned. “Me? I work near here. Who are you?” He stuck a cigarette in his taut lips, pinched the tip and inhaled sharply as it flared bluely.

Something clicked in MacCauley’s memory. Remembrances of long rows of files, photographs.⁠ ⁠… The T.P.L. agent for Pallas. He said, “You’re Kittrell, right?”

The long man nodded. “I might be,” he said, “if you’re somebody that’s got a right to know. So what?” He hadn’t moved but his posture seemed subtly altered, caution in every line of his frame. From the position of his hands, Mac more than suspected he was armed.

Easing his hands behind his back, he twisted the stem of his wristwatch. Kittrell jumped. “Hey!” he exclaimed. Sparks were fairly snapping from the blazing dial of his own heavy, old-fashioned timepiece⁠—the recognition signal of T.P.L. operatives. “I guess I am Kittrell,” the man acknowledged. “They told me they were sending someone from the Narcotics division to take over on that narcophene business. You him?”

“Yeah. Right now I’m having trouble of my own, though. This Kiddie rolled me last night. Every cent I had; I can’t even get back to my hotel.”

“Rolled you?” Kittrell’s eyes widened. “I know this fella. He cleans up around the office. Wait a minute.” His thin, pale hands flashed in intricate motions, meaningless to Mac. They were significant to the Kiddie, though, for he replied as rapidly. Kittrell nodded. “I wouldn’t have thought it of him. Always thought he was too stupid to rob anybody over ten.”

That was a pretty dubious remark, Mac thought, but he ignored it. “Do you suppose you can make him cough up?”

“Sure!” The other smiled cheerfully. “Like this!”

Mac was unprepared for the next move. Kittrell pulled his punch, of course, because he didn’t want to kill the frail Palladian, but his heavy fist bounced the Kiddie off the floor and flung him to the base of the wall. He lay there, his glow-glands jetting crimson beams of fear and rage.

“Hey!” cried MacCauley. “Don’t murder the poor son! That’s no way to get my dough back!”

Kittrell stared. Then a shadow passed over his face and he seemed to lose interest. He shrugged. “Have it your way. What do you want me to do⁠—adopt him?”

“Ask him what he did with the money. Tell him he can have the metal stuff; all I want back is the bills.”

Kittrell, looking disgusted, semaphored the message. Kiddie faces don’t react as a human’s does, but MacCauley was pretty sure there was gratitude glowing on this one’s knobby features. After a couple of seconds’ gesticulation, Kittrell looked around. “He says he’s sorry he took it. If you come with him he’ll give you the money. He’s got it stashed away in the sty he lives in, a little farther along this corridor.”

“Will he do it?”

Kittrell shrugged again. “Guess so. Anyway, you’re bigger than him⁠—or don’t you like rough stuff?”

That, MacCauley thought, was hardly a friendly remark. He resolved to take it up later; after all, it wasn’t his fault that he was superseding Kittrell. There really was no cause for jealousy in the long man. “Coming?” Mac asked.

Kittrell shook his head. “Got to go back to the office for a minute. I’ll drop around in about ten minutes, though.”

“Okay,” said Mac, satisfied, and went out behind the Kiddie.

The Kiddie’s dwelling was ugly and cluttered, but moderately clean.

The little asterite, with somewhat the attitude of a man who expects a poke in the face, gestured to Mac to be seated on a hassock-like affair. MacCauley rumbled: “Sure I’ll sit down. I’ll stay right here until I get my dough back.”

The Kiddie seemed to shrug resignedly; probably he just gave that impression from his general demeanor. He slipped away into another room. Mac just had time to think of the possibility that the Kiddie had made a getaway when he was back again, holding MacCauley’s billfold.

Mac counted it swiftly. “Where’s the rest of it?” he grunted. The bills were there, but there had been about two dollars in change⁠—gone now.

The Kiddie looked scared but shook his head. “Won’t tell me, huh?” Mac blustered. “How would you like to be put away for robbery? I swore out a complaint against you today; if I turn you over, it’ll be a long time before you get out.”

The Kiddie looked more frightened than ever; he was practically trembling. Mac was encouraged, but surprised by the reaction to his threat⁠—it shouldn’t have been so great. He lived to regret the fact that he didn’t find out just why the Kiddie was so affected by the threat of imprisonment.

“All right,” he went on. “Suppose I let you keep the metal. Suppose I pay you well, get you lots more. Gold and silver dollars. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

From the Palladian’s sudden attitude of doglike devotion, it was more than clear that he would.

“Okay,” Mac said. “I’ll pay you one hundred dollars in silver quarters, if⁠—”

The Kiddie was ablaze with interest. Not taking his eyes off Mac, he scuttled crabwise over to a tablette, snatched up a notebook and scrawled: “Il do anyhin wat do yu wan.”

Mac grinned. “Fine. Listen carefully now. I’m looking for an Earthman. He’s somewhere on this planet, but I wouldn’t know him if I saw him. He is about two inches taller than me; weighs maybe two hundred pounds⁠—a little fatter than I am. He’s blind, practically, in one eye. That’s all I can tell you, because those are the only things he can’t disguise.”

The Kiddie seemed suddenly reluctant, but was persuaded by a gesture of Mac’s⁠—a gesture that cost him dear, as it turned out.

“Here,” he said, to seal the bargain. “Here’s an advance for you.” Dexterously he flipped his knife from some recess of his shirt and presented it to the Kiddie.

Ecstasy was clearly shown by that Kiddie. His glow-glands fairly spat large orange sparks of joy. The tempered bronze⁠—it was made of that metal only to avoid magnetic spotters⁠—wasn’t much good for cutting, but it certainly was a conductor of electricity.

“Well?” MacCauley said, growing impatient. He tapped the engrossed Kiddie and repeated the question. The asterite bobbed his head and pressed a stud on his pad. The writing vanished, and he was scribbling again.

“Hello there!” boomed a new voice from the doorway. “What’s going on?”

MacCauley whirled. Kittrell was standing there, beaming broadly. “Hi,” Mac said. “We were wondering⁠—Hey! What the hell!”

Kittrell’s eyes had narrowed and a snarl flashed out on his face. With the fastest draw MacCauley had ever seen, he snapped out his gun and blasted⁠—

Not MacCauley. There was a stomach-squeezing hiss of sizzling flesh behind Mac. He spun again, to see the Kiddie, his shoulder and half his neck gone, slumped to the floor.

Mac knelt swiftly beside him. Dead as a Ganymedan Secessionist. “Now what the hell did you do that for?” Mac demanded. “I was on the trail of something hot.” He stared at the pad and stylus that had dropped from the dead asterite’s limp hand.

“I kni the man yu wan he is th.” That was all it said.

That’s a big help,” said MacCauley, confronting the other man, who was strangely tense. He thrust the tablet at him. “Now what do I do?”

Kittrell scanned it briefly, and relaxed a bit. “It looked bad to me,” he explained. “There was that damned Kiddie with a knife in his hand. He had it up to throw at you⁠—or me. Can’t take chances.”

Mac sighed, resigning himself to continued hard luck. “We all make mistakes, I guess,” he said. Then, hardening: “But you’ve made your last boner on this case. From now on stay the hell away from me. I don’t like you and I don’t like the way you do things.” He moved toward the door. Kittrell, lounging across it, obstructed his path⁠—just enough to stop him.

“Where’re you going?” the bigger man asked.

“To report this,” Mac snapped. “You’ll get out of it all right.”

“Don’t report it.”

“Why not?”

Kittrell grimaced distastefully. “Too much red tape. What the devil, who’ll know we were here?”

Mac snorted and filled his lungs preparatory to telling Kittrell just what he thought of him. There was a sweetish, balsam-like taste to the air, like the smell of a fir forest.

Or like the smell of narcophene.

He had picked up the knife; still had it in his hands. While he was still figuring things out, his hand swept up with the knife still in it, pressed against Kittrell’s abdomen. Kittrell’s draw had been fast. Maybe he was naturally gun-slick⁠—fast enough, maybe, for a lightning draw like that to be natural to him. Maybe he was, but maybe he was just burning up the years of his life twice as fast as normal under the influence of the drug.

“If you don’t want your gut slit, Kittrell, keep your hands where they are!” Mac grated, his voice suddenly gone flat and hard.

Kittrell’s hand had fluttered toward his shoulder holster; it stopped as Mac spoke.

“I don’t know whether you’re really Kittrell or not⁠—probably you are,” Mac muttered. “But if you’re in T.P.L. now, you’ll be out pretty soon. As soon as I tell them you’re a hophead.”

Kittrell’s face had gone white. Other than that there was no change as his bleak eyes bored steadily into MacCauley’s. “What are you talking about?” he said evenly. “Take that thing out of my stomach.”

“Oh, no!” Mac shook his head decisively. “You killed one of my witnesses; you’ll take his place. You’re going to tell me how to find the guy that sells you the narcophene.”

“Sorry,” said Kittrell, tautening still more, “but I can’t.” At the last possible second his eyes flicked behind and over Mac’s shoulder.

The thing that hit MacCauley on the back of the neck first didn’t quite knock him out. He was stunned, but in the half-second before the next blow jolted him into complete darkness, he heard Kittrell conclude, most casually: “You see, I am the guy who sells the narcophene.”


A shiver rippled along Mac’s spine, and another one. That was his first waking impression. He was cold, frozen stiff, he decided next, when his limbs failed to react to the stimuli of his neural commands. As the fog cleared away from his aching head he discovered that his hands were tightly bound behind him, hobbles on his feet to keep him from walking far or fast.

Not that he could have gone anywhere much. He was in a bare little metal room, lying on the grating that supplanted decks in most modern spacers. Not much point in getting up, he realized, and merely hitched himself into a more comfortable position in a corner, moving as well as he could under the unaccustomed drag of full Earth gravity.

He was in the lock-room, the chamber before an airlock. He felt vaguely unhappy. Whatever was coming, he was sure he wouldn’t like it.

Behind him a heavy door eased open. Boots thumped hollowly on the grids and a familiar voice sounded, echoing from the bare metal walls. “Hello, MacCauley. How’s the head?”

“Go to hell,” Mac suggested. He craned his neck and stared full into Kittrell’s face. There was a curious mixture of emotions there; faint sorrow, an unpleasant sort of crooked leer, and an air of boredom⁠—each was visible. Kittrell shrugged.

“I guess you know what you’re up against?”

“Sure.” MacCauley tried to shrug, too, but succeeded only in tearing a patch of skin from his wrists where the wire bonds were tightest. “You’re going to shove me out.”

“I’m afraid so. Believe me, I’d rather not. I think you’re a good chap; once I wanted to be like you⁠—loyal to the service. They stuck me out here and made a desk clerk of me, when I would have given my arm to do some real work. I got a good salary; there was prestige enough whenever I could get back to Boston and show off. It was a good job, in a way. But there was nothing to do. Then I intercepted a load of narcophene. Like everybody else, I thought I could beat it. I didn’t. I tried it and couldn’t stop.”

He stopped abruptly and scanned MacCauley’s face through narrowed eyes. “You see how it is?” he questioned.

MacCauley tried to stall for time. Tensing his chest muscles against the bruises, he said, “Give me a cigarette, Kittrell? That’s the usual privilege of the condemned man.” The lunatic obligingly popped a brown-paper cylinder between his lips, squeezed the tip to light it. Mac suddenly heard more footsteps, lighter ones but many of them. “What’s that?”

“Just my Kiddies,” the dope peddler explained, as a dozen of them trotted into the room and ranged themselves, immobile, along the walls. “They’ve never seen an air-breather⁠—that’s you⁠—in empty space, and they don’t believe it will be fatal. You don’t mind if they watch, do you?”

Mac could hold it in no longer. “Kittrell,” he blurted, “you’re crazy as a coot!”

Kittrell, wading through Kiddies whose faces shone an excited red, turned a surprised stare. “I’ve been afraid of that,” he said worriedly over his shoulder. His long fingers pressed a stud by the ’lock, and the inner valve whined open. “You see, that’s the trouble with narcophene. You know what’s happening to you, but you just don’t give a damn. God, it’s cold in this ’lock!”

He stood there, one foot on the coaming of the ’lock, peering around the dark, icy chamber. The lawman braced his back to the wall, shoved up. “It’s a hell of a death, Kittrell,” he said, his voice strained.

Kittrell replied dreamily. “Is it? I don’t know. It isn’t bad. It’s clean, at least, and the worms don’t get you.” Absently he fended off the crew of impatient, crowding Kiddies. He stared silently into nothingness, for a long minute.

MacCauley found he could reach his pocket, and his heart tried to impale itself on his palate. Eagerly he tore more flesh from his raw wrists, strained his fingers to plumb the depths of the pocket. A weapon⁠—anything.

And his fingers found nothing. He remembered; that this was the pocket the dead asterite had picked; nothing there but a slit.

On the automatic return trip, his fingers, numbed by disheartenment, sent a message to his brain; a message of cold. He disregarded it for a split second.

Then, just as Kittrell was opening his mouth to speak, the correct interpretation of that coolness penetrated Mac’s consciousness. Desperately he fumbled at the thing that was woven to his broad belt: wrenched at it with every atom of strength at his command. It came free; he twisted suddenly and something metallic jingled musically in the far corner of the ’lock, sending vibrations through the grid flooring to be picked up by the Palladians. The jingle of metal⁠—and the Kiddies loved metal insanely!

“Money!” roared MacCauley. And, “Money! In the ’lock! Copper⁠—metal! Go get it!”

Kittrell vanished, washed into the airlock by an overflowing wave of Palladians. Hands fumbling desperately behind him for the control switch⁠—where was it!⁠—Mac cursed his stiff, ineffectual fingers and his inability to see behind his back. He touched a switch⁠—no, not that one!⁠—and another, jabbed at it. Motors hummed softly, the scrambling noise died away as the inner door swung shut⁠—so slowly!⁠—and then for a second the only sound in the chamber was the harsh sobbing of Mac’s breath as he slumped weakly against the chill metal wall.

Until that semi-silence was broken by the descending siren-scream of the outer door’s opening, abruptly terminating in a whooosh as the last molecules of air tore into the vacuum without, dragging with irresistible force at the chunks of matter, living and dead, that tried to obstruct its passage.⁠ ⁠…


“And that’s the story.” MacCauley turned away from the recorder. “Here’s the notebook I found among Kittrell’s things.” He flipped a thin, black pad at the major. “I think you’ll be able to break the code easily enough, as there are enough names known for you to work on. It seems to include his whole organization.”

Major Copeland glanced at the cabalistic signs incuriously, then ticketed the book and slipped it into a pneumatic tube.

“What bothers me,” he complained, “is why Kittrell didn’t claw his way out of the ’lock. Sounds to me as though he had plenty of time.”

Mac gestured inquiringly at his superior, received a nod, and with a sigh unclipped his Sam Browne. “Kittrell? Probably stumbled and slammed his head against a rivet.” He stood up suddenly, savagely snubbed out a freshly lit cigarette. “Oh, hell! I’ll tell you what I really think, Major⁠—I don’t believe Kittrell tried to get out of there. I don’t think he cared, and I haven’t forgotten what he said about dying that way.”

“Could be,” Copeland agreed. “And what did you say that stuff was that saved your life?”

Mac smiled. “Money, of a sort. You know where I was stationed last year?”

“Some place on Earth, wasn’t it?”

MacCauley nodded. “China. Got to know some of the people there. Got kind of chummy with one of them; she gave me a present when I left, as a keepsake. A string of what they call ‘cash.’ It’s a kind of money they used to use; square pieces of copper with holes in the middle. Had ’em strung together and sewn onto a belt. Well, you know how Palladians feel about copper.” His eyes crinkled again. “That was a pretty good keepsake⁠—not worth much, but it bought my life.”

Both men were silent for a while. Then, “What are your plans now, MacCauley? I’ve recommended you for promotion, to fill Kittrell’s job on Pallas. You’ll get a higher rating, more pay⁠—and all the time in the world to yourself.”

MacCauley shook his head. “Sorry, Major,” he said, “But that’s not what I want. My plans are extra-special. Say,” he went on, sitting down and staring earnestly at Copeland, “have you ever heard the story of how Manhattan Island⁠—that’s part of New York City⁠—was bought from the ancient Indians? Twenty-four dollars’ worth of junk beads⁠—that’s what they paid the Indians for it. Now the land is worth billions of dollars⁠—a square foot of it brings the best part of a million.”

“So?” The major was interested but lacked comprehension. “What’s that got to do with your resignation?”

MacCauley smiled. “A lot,” he answered. “Did it ever occur to you that intelligent salesmanship can do wonders? And did you ever think of the possibilities that you could realize on Pallas with⁠—say⁠—a couple of dozen thousand dollars’ worth of copper and other metal junk?”

The major looked startled. “No⁠—not till now,” he added, understanding dawning. “And what you’re going to do is⁠—?”

“What I’m going to do,” MacCauley beamed, “is convert reward money into junk. And then, Major, I’ll begin to convert the junk⁠—into a kingdom. I’m going to buy up a world⁠—a wide-open world⁠—with a boatload of scrap metal!”

Conspiracy on Callisto

I

Duane’s hand flicked to his waist and hung there, poised. His dis-gun remained undrawn.

The tall, white-haired man⁠—Stevens⁠—smiled.

“You’re right, Duane,” he said. “I could blast you, too. Nobody would win that way, so let’s leave the guns where they are.”

The muscles twitched in Peter Duane’s cheeks, but his voice, when it came, was controlled. “Don’t think we’re going to let this go,” he said. “We’ll take it up with Andrias tonight. We’ll see whether you can cut me out!”

The white-haired man’s smile faded. He stepped forward, one hand bracing him against the thrust of the rocket engines underneath, holding to the guide rail at the side of the ship’s corridor.

He said, “Duane, Andrias is your boss, not mine. I’m a free lance; I work for myself. When we land on Callisto tonight I’ll be with you when you turn our⁠—shall I say, our cargo?⁠—over to him. And I’ll collect my fair share of the proceeds. That’s as far as it goes. I take no orders from him.”

A heavyset man in blue appeared at the end of the connecting corridor. He was moving fast, but stopped short when he saw the two men.

“Hey!” he said. “Change of course⁠—get to your cabins.” He seemed about to walk up to them, then reconsidered and hurried off. Neither man paid any attention.

Duane said, “Do I have to kill you?” It was only a question as he asked it, without threatening.

A muted alarm bell sounded through the P.A. speakers, signaling a one-minute warning. The white-haired man cocked his eyebrow.

“Not at all,” he said. He took the measure of his slim, redheaded opponent. Taller, heavier, older, he was still no more uncompromisingly belligerent than Duane, standing there. “Not at all,” he repeated. “Just take your ten thousand and let it go at that. Don’t make trouble. Leave Andrias out of our private argument.”

“Damn you!” Duane flared. “I was promised fifty thousand. I need that money. Do you think⁠—”

“Forget what I think,” Stevens said, his voice clipped and angry. “I don’t care about fairness, Duane, except to myself. I’ve done all the work on this⁠—I’ve supplied the goods. My price is set, a hundred thousand Earth dollars. What Andrias promised you is no concern of mine. The fact is that, after I’ve taken my share, there’s only ten thousand left. That’s all you get!”

Duane stared at him a long second, then nodded abruptly. “I was right the first time,” he said. “I’ll have to kill you!”

Already his hand was streaking toward the grip of his dis-gun, touching it, drawing it forth. But the white-haired man was faster. His arms swept up and pinioned Duane, holding him impotent.

“Don’t be a fool,” he grated. “Duane⁠—”

The P.A. speaker rattled, blared something unintelligible. Neither man heard it. Duane lunged forward into the taller man’s grip, sliding down to the floor. The white-haired man grappled furiously to keep his hold on Peter’s gun arm, but Peter was slipping away. Belatedly, Stevens went for his own gun.

He was too late. Duane’s was out and leveled at him.

Now will you listen to reason?” Duane panted. But he halted, and the muzzle of his weapon wavered. The floor swooped and surged beneath him as the thrust of the mighty jets was cut off. Suddenly there was no gravity. The two men, locked together, floated weightlessly out to the center of the corridor.

“Course change!” gasped white-haired Stevens. “Good God!”

The ship had reached the midpoint of its flight. The bells had sounded, warning every soul on it to take shelter, to strap themselves in their pressure bunks against the deadly stress of acceleration as the ship reversed itself and began to slow its headlong plunge into Callisto. But the two men had not heeded.

The small steering rockets flashed briefly. The men were thrust bruisingly against the side of the corridor as the rocket spun lazily on its axis. The side jets flared once more to halt the spin, when the one-eighty turn was completed, and the men were battered against the opposite wall, still weightless, still clinging to each other, still struggling.

Then the main-drive bellowed into life again, and the ship began to battle against its own built-up acceleration. The corridor floor rose up with blinking speed to smite them⁠—

And the lights went out in a burst of crashing pain for Peter Duane.


Someone was talking to him. Duane tried to force an eye open to see who it was, and failed. Something damp and clinging was all about his face, obscuring his vision. But the voice filtered in.

“Open your mouth,” it said. “Please, Peter, open your mouth. You’re all right. Just swallow this.”

It was a girl’s voice. Duane was suddenly conscious that a girl’s light hand was on his shoulder. He shook his head feebly.

The voice became more insistent. “Swallow this,” it said. “It’s only a stimulant, to help you throw off the shock of your⁠—accident. You’re all right, otherwise.”

Obediently he opened his mouth, and choked on a warm, tingly liquid. He managed to swallow it, and lay quiet as deft feminine hands did something to his face. Suddenly light filtered through his closed eyelids, and cool air stirred against his damp face.

He opened his eyes. A slight redheaded girl in white nurse’s uniform was standing there. She stepped back a pace, a web of wet gauze bandage in her hands, looking at him.

“Hello,” he whispered. “You⁠—where am I?”

“In the sick bay,” she said. “You got caught out when the ship changed course. Lucky you weren’t hurt, Peter. The man you were with⁠—the old, white-haired one, Stevens⁠—wasn’t so lucky. He was underneath when the jets went on. Three ribs broken⁠—his lung was punctured. He died in the other room an hour ago.”

Duane screwed his eyes tight together and grimaced. When he opened them again there was alertness and clarity in them⁠—but there was also bafflement.

“Girl,” he said, “who are you? Where am I?”

“Peter!” There was shock and hurt in the tone of her voice. “I’m⁠—don’t you know me, Peter?”

Duane shook his head confusedly. “I don’t know anything,” he said. “I⁠—I don’t even know my own name.”

“Duane, Duane,” a man’s heavy voice said. “That won’t wash. Don’t play dumb on me.”

“Duane?” he said. “Duane.⁠ ⁠…” He swiveled his head and saw a dark, squat man frowning at him. “Who are you?” Peter asked.

The dark man laughed. “Take your time, Duane,” he said easily. “You’ll remember me. My name’s Andrias. I’ve been waiting here for you to wake up. We have some business matters to discuss.”

The nurse, still eyeing Duane with an odd bewilderment, said: “I’ll leave you alone for a moment. Don’t talk too much to him, Mr. Andrias. He’s still suffering from shock.”

“I won’t,” Andrias promised, grinning. Then, as the girl left the room, the smile dropped from his face.

“You play rough, Duane,” he observed. “I thought you’d have trouble with Stevens. I didn’t think you’d find it necessary to put him out of the way so permanently. Well, no matter. If you had to kill him, it’s no skin off my nose. Give me a release on the merchandise. I’ve got your money here.”

Duane waved a hand and pushed himself dizzily erect, swinging his legs over the side of the high cot. A sheet had been thrown over him, but he was fully dressed. He examined his clothing with interest⁠—gray tunic, gray leather spaceman’s boots. It was unfamiliar.

He shook his head in further confusion, and the motion burst within his skull, throbbing hotly. He closed his eyes until it subsided, trying to force his brain to operate, to explain to him where and what he was.

He looked at the man named Andrias.

“Nobody seems to believe me,” he said, “but I really don’t know what’s going on. Things are moving too fast for me. Really, I⁠—why, I don’t even know my own name! My head⁠—it hurts. I can’t think clearly.”

Andrias straightened, turned a darkly-suspicious look on Duane. “Don’t play tricks on me,” he said savagely. “I haven’t time for them. I won’t mince words with you. Give me a release on the cargo now, before I have to get rough. This is a lot more important to me than your life is.”

“Go to hell,” Duane said shortly. “I’m playing no tricks.”

There was an instant’s doubt in Andrias’ eyes, then it flashed away. He bent closer, peered at Duane. “I almost think⁠—” he began.

Then he shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’re lying all right. You killed Stevens to get his share⁠—and now you’re trying to hold me up. That’s your last chance that just went by, Duane. From now on, I’m running this show!”

He spun around and strode to the door, thrust it open. “Dakin!” he bellowed. “Reed!”

Two large, ugly men in field-gray uniforms, emblazoned with the shooting-star insignia of Callisto’s League police, came in, looking to Andrias for instructions.

“Duane here is resisting arrest,” Andrias said. “Take him along. We’ll fix up the charges later.”

“You can’t do that,” Duane said wearily. “I’m sick. If you’ve got something against me, save it. Wait till my head clears. I’m sure I can explain⁠—”

“Explain, hell.” The dark man laughed. “If I wait, this ship will be blasting off for Ganymede within two hours. I’ll wait⁠—but so will the ship. It’s not going anywhere till I give it clearance. I run Callisto; I’ll give the orders here!”

II

Whoever this man Andrias was, thought Duane, he was certainly a man of importance on Callisto. As he had said, he gave the orders.

The crew of the rocket made no objection when Andrias and his men took Duane off without a word. Duane had thought the nurse, who seemed a good enough sort, might have said something on his behalf. But she was out of sight as they left. A curt sentence to a gray-clad official on the blast field where the rocket lay, and the man nodded and hurried off, to tell the rocket’s captain that the ship was being refused clearance indefinitely.

A long, powerful ground car slid up before them. Andrias got in front, while the two uniformed men shoved Duane into the back of the car, climbed in beside him. Andrias gave a curt order, and the car shot forward.

The driver, sitting beside Andrias, leaned forward and readied a hand under the dashboard. The high wail of a siren came instantly from the car’s roof, and what traffic was on the broad, straight highway into which they had turned pulled aside to let them race through.

Ahead lay the tall spires of a city. Graceful, hundreds of feet high, they seemed dreamlike yet somehow oddly familiar to Duane. Somewhere he had seen them before. He dragged deep into his mind, plumbing the cloudy, impenetrable haze that had settled on it, trying to bring forth the memories that he should have had. Amnesia, they called it; complete forgetting of the happenings of a lifetime. He’d heard of it⁠—but never dreamed it could happen to him!

My name, it seems, is Peter Duane, he thought. And they tell me that I killed a man!

The thought was starkly incredible to him. A white-haired man, it had been; someone named Stevens. He tried to remember.

Yes, there had been a white-haired man. And there had been an argument. Something to do with money, with a shipment of goods that Stevens had supplied to Duane. There had even been talk of killing.⁠ ⁠…

But⁠—murder! Duane looked at his hands helplessly.

Andrias, up ahead, was turning around. He looked sharply at Duane, for a long second. An uncertainty clouded his eyes, and abruptly he looked forward again without speaking.

“Who’s this man Andrias?” Duane whispered to the nearest guard.

The man stared at him. “Governor Andrias,” he said, “is the League’s deputy on Callisto. You know⁠—the Earth-Mars League. They put Governor Andrias here to⁠—well, to govern for them.”

“League?” Duane asked, wrinkling his brow. He had heard something about a League once, yes. But it was all so nebulous.⁠ ⁠…

The other guard stirred, leaned over. “Shut up,” he said heavily. “You’ll have plenty of chance for talking later.”

But the chance was a long time in coming. Duane found himself, an hour later, still in the barred room into which he’d been thrust. The guards had brought him there, at Andrias’ order, and left him. That had been all.

This was not a regular jail, Duane realized. It was more like a palace, something out of Earth’s Roman-empire days, all white stone and frescoed walls. Duane wished for human companionship⁠—particularly that of the nurse. Of all the people he’d met since awakening in that hospital bed, only she seemed warm and human. The others were⁠—brutal, deadly. It was too bad, Duane reflected, that he’d failed to remember her. She’d seemed hurt, and she had certainly known him by first name. But perhaps she would understand.

Duane sat down on a lumpy, sagging bed and buried his head in his hands. Dim ghosts of memory were wandering in his mind. He tried to conjure them into stronger relief, or to exorcise them entirely.

Somewhere, sometime, a man had said to him, “Andrias is secretly arming the Callistan cutthroats for revolt against the League. He wants personal power⁠—he’s prepared to pay any price for it. He needs guns, Earth guns smuggled in through the League patrol. If he can wipe out the League police garrison⁠—those who are loyal to the League, still, instead of to Andrias⁠—he can sit back and laugh at any fleet Earth and Mars can send. Rockets are clumsy in an atmosphere. They’re helpless. And if he can arm enough of Callisto’s rabble, he can’t be stopped. That’s why he’ll pay for electron rifles with their weight in gold.”

Duane could remember the scene clearly. Could almost see the sharp, aquiline face of the man who had spoken to him. But there memory stopped.

A fugitive recollection raced through his mind. He halted it, dragged it back, pinned it down.⁠ ⁠…

They had stopped in Darkside, the spaceport on the side of Luna that keeps perpetually averted from Earth, as if the moon knows shame and wants to hide the rough and roaring dome city that nestles in one of the great craters. Duane remembered sitting in a low-ceilinged, smoke-heavy room, across the table from a tall man with white hair. Stevens!

“Four thousand electron rifles,” the man had said. “Latest government issue. Never mind how I got them; they’re perfect. You know my price. Take it or leave it. And it’s payable the minute we touch ground on Callisto.”

There had been a few minutes of haggling over terms, then a handshake and a drink from a thin-necked flagon of pale-yellow liquid fire.

He and the white-haired man had gone out then, made their way by unfrequented side streets to a great windowless building. Duane remembered the white-hot stars overhead, shining piercingly through the great transparent dome that kept the air in the sealed city of Darkside, as they stood at the entrance of the warehouse and spoke in low tones to the man who answered their summons.

Then, inside. And they were looking at a huge chamber full of stacked fiber boxes⁠—containing nothing but dehydrated dairy products and mining tools, by the stencils they bore. Duane had turned to the white-haired man with a puzzled question⁠—and the man had laughed aloud.

He dragged one of the boxes down, ripped it open with the sharp point of a handling hook. Short-barreled, flare-mouthed guns rolled out, tumbling over the floor. Eight of them were in that one box, and hundreds of boxes all about. Duane picked one up, broke it, peered into the chamber where the tiny capsule of U-235 would explode with infinite violence when the trigger was pulled, spraying radiant death three thousand yards in the direction the gun was aimed.⁠ ⁠…

And that memory ended.

Duane got up, stared at his haggard face in the cracked mirror over the bed. “They say I’m a killer,” he thought. “Apparently I’m a gunrunner as well. Good lord⁠—what am I not?

His reflection⁠—white, drawn face made all the more pallid by the red hair that blazed over it⁠—stared back at him. There was no answer there. If only he could remember⁠—

“All right, Duane.” The deep voice of a guard came to him as the door swung open. “Stop making eyes at yourself.”

Duane looked around. The guard beckoned. “Governor Andrias wants to speak to you⁠—now. Let’s not keep the governor waiting.”


A long, narrow room, with a long carpet leading from the entrance up to a great heavy desk⁠—that was Andrias’ office. Duane felt a click in his memory as he entered. One of the ancient Earth dictators had employed just such a psychological trick to overawe those who came to beg favors of him. Muslini, or some such name.

The trick failed to work. Duane had other things on his mind; he walked the thirty-foot length of the room, designed to imbue him with a sense of his own unimportance, as steadily as he’d ever walked in the open air of his home planet.

Whichever planet that was.

The guard had remained just inside the door, at attention. Andrias waved him out.

“Here I am,” said Duane. “What do you want?”

Andrias said, “I’ve had the ship inspected and what I want is on it. That saves your life, for now. But the cargo is in your name. I could take it by force, if I had to. I prefer not to.” He picked up a paper, handed it to Duane. “In spite of your behavior, you can keep alive. You can even collect the money for the guns⁠—Stevens’ share as well as your own. This is a release form, authorizing my men to take four hundred and twenty cases of dehydrated foods and drilling supplies from the hold of the Cameroon⁠—the ship you came on. Sign it, and we’ll forget our argument. Only, sign it now and get it over with. I’m losing patience, Duane.”

Duane said, without expression, “No.”

Dark red flooded into Andrias’ sallow face. His jaws bunched angrily and there was a ragged thread of incomplete control to his voice as he spoke.

“I’ll have your neck for this, Duane,” he said softly.

Duane looked at the man’s eyes. Death was behind them, peeping out. Mentally he shrugged. What difference did it make?

“Give me the pen,” he said shortly.

Andrias exhaled a deep breath. You could see the tension leave him, the mottled anger fade from his face and leave it without expression. He handed the paper to Duane without a word. He gave him a pen, watched him scrawl his name.

“That,” he said, “is better.” He paused a moment ruminatively. “It would have been better still if you’d not stalled me so long. I find that hard to forgive in my associates.”

“The money,” Peter said. If he were playing a part⁠—pretending he knew what he was doing⁠—he might as well play it to the hilt. “When do I get it?”

Andrias picked up the paper and looked carefully at the signature. He creased it thoughtfully, stowed it in a pocket before answering.

“Naturally,” he said, “there will have to be a revision of terms. I offered a hundred and ten thousand Earth-dollars. I would have paid it⁠—but you made me angry. You’ll have to pay for that.”

Duane said, “I’ve paid already. I’ve been dragged from pillar to post by you. That’s enough. Pay me what you owe me, if you want any more of the same goods!”

That was a shot in the dark⁠—and it missed the mark.

Andrias’ eyes widened. “You amaze me, Duane,” he said. He rose and stepped around the desk, confronting Duane. “I almost think you really have lost your memory, Duane,” he said. “Otherwise, surely you would know that this is all the rifles I need. With them I’ll take whatever else I want!”

Duane said, “You’re ready, then.⁠ ⁠…”

He took time to think it over, but he knew that no thought was required. Already the hands that he had locked behind him were clenched, taut. Already the muscles of his legs were tensing.

“You’re ready,” he repeated. “You’ve armed the Callistan exiles⁠—the worst gutter scum on nine planets. You’re set to betray the League that gave you power here.⁠ ⁠… Well, that changes things. I can’t let you do it!”

He hurled himself at Andrias, hands sweeping around to grapple for the dark man’s throat. Andrias, off-balance, staggered backward. But his own hands were diving for the twin heat guns that hung at his waist.

Duane saw his danger, and reacted. His foot twisted around Andrias’ ankle; his hands at the other’s throat gripped tighter. He lunged forward, slamming the hard top of his head into the other’s face, feeling flesh and cartilage give as Andrias’ nose mashed flat. His own head pin-wheeled dizzily, agonizingly, as the jar revived the pain of his earlier accident.

But Andrias, unconscious already, tumbled back with Duane on top of him. His head made an audible, spine-chilling thud as it hit the carpeted floor.

Duane got up, retrieving the two heat guns, and stared at him.

They tell me I killed Stevens the same way,” he thought. “I’m getting in a rut!

But Andrias was not dead, though he was out as cold as the void beyond Pluto. The thick carpeting had saved him from a broken head.

Duane stepped over the unconscious man and looked around the room. It was furnished severely, to the point of barrenness. Two chairs before Andrias’ ornate, bare-topped desk and one luxurious chair behind it; a tasseled bell cord within easy reach of Andrias’ chair; the long carpet. That was all it contained.

The problem of getting out was serious, he saw. How could one⁠—

III

Methodically he ransacked the drawers of Andrias’ desk. Papers, a whole arsenal of handguns, Callistan money by the bale, ominously black-covered notebooks with cryptic figures littering their pages⁠—those were the contents. A coldly impersonal desk, without the familiar trivia most men accumulate. There was nothing, certainly, that would get him out of a building that so closely resembled a fortress.

He tumbled the things back into the drawers helter-skelter, turned Andrias over and searched his pockets. More money⁠—the man must have had a fortune within reach at all times⁠—and a few meaningless papers. Duane took the release he had signed and tore it to shreds. But that was only a gesture. When Andrias came to, unless Duane had managed to get away and accomplish something, the mere lack of written permission would not keep him from the rocket’s lethal cargo!

When Andrias came to.⁠ ⁠…

An idea bloomed in Duane’s brain. He looked, then, at unconscious Andrias⁠—and the idea withered again.

He had thought of forcing Andrias himself to front for him, at gun’s point, in the conventional manner of escaping prisoners. But fist fights, fiction to the contrary notwithstanding, leave marks on the men who lose them. Andrias’ throat was speckled with the livid marks of Duane’s fingers; Duane’s head, butting Andrias in the face, had drawn a thick stream of crimson from his nostrils, turned his sharp nose askew.

No guard of Andrias’ would have been deceived for an instant, looking at that face⁠—even assuming that Andrias could have been forced to cooperate by the threat of a gun. Which, considering the stake Andrias had in this play, was doubtful.⁠ ⁠…

He stood up and looked around. He had to act quickly. Already Andrias’ breath was audible; he saw the man grimace and an arm flopped spasmodically on the floor. Consciousness was on its way back.

Duane touched the heat gun he’d thrust into his belt; drew it and held it poised, while he sought to discover what was in his own mind. He’d killed a man already, they said. Was he then a killer⁠—could he shoot Andrias now, in cold blood, with so much to gain and nothing to lose?

He stood there a moment. Then, abruptly, he reversed the weapon and chopped it down on Andrias’ skull.

There was a sharp grunt from the still unconscious man, but no other sign. Only⁠—the first tremors of movement that had shown on him halted, and did not reappear.

No,” Duane thought. “Whatever they say, I’m not a killer!

But still he had to get out. How?

Once more he stared around the room, catalogued its contents. The guard would be getting impatient. Perhaps any minute he would tap the door, first timorously, then with heavier strokes.

The guard! There was a way!

Duane eyed the length of the room. Thirty feet⁠—it would take him a couple of seconds to run it at full speed. Was that fast enough?

There was only one way to find out.

He walked around the desk to the bell cord. He took a deep breath, tugged it savagely, and at once was in speedy motion, racing toward the door, his footsteps muffled in the deep, springy carpet. Almost as he reached it, he saw it begin to open. He quickly sidestepped and was out of the guard’s sight, behind the door, as the man looked in.

Quick suspicion flared in his eyes, then certainty as he saw Andrias huddled on the floor. He opened his mouth to cry out⁠—

But Duane’s arm was around his throat, and he had no breath to spare. Duane’s foot lashed out and the door slammed shut; Duane’s balled left fist came up and connected with the guard’s chin. Abruptly the man slumped.

Duane took a deep breath and let the man drop to the floor. But he paused only a second; now he had two unconscious men on his hands and he dared let neither revive until he was prepared.

He grasped the guard’s arm and dragged him roughly the length of the room. He leaped on top of the desk, brutally scarring its gleaming top with the hard spikes of his boots. His agile fingers unfastened the long bell cord without causing it to ring and, bearing it, he dropped again to the floor.

Tugging and straining, he got the limp form of Andrias into his own chair, bound him with the bell cord, gagged him with the priceless Venus-wool scarf Andrias wore knotted about his throat. He tested his bindings with full strength, and smiled. Those would hold, let Andrias struggle as he would.

The guard he stripped of clothing, bound and gagged with his own belt and spaceman’s kerchief. He dragged him around behind the desk, thrust him under it out of sight. Andrias’ chair he turned so that the unconscious face was averted from the door. Should anyone look in, then, the fact of Andrias’ unconsciousness might not be noticed.

Then he took off his own clothes, quickly assumed the field-gray uniform of the guard. It fit like the skin of a fruit. He felt himself bulging out of it in a dozen places. The long cape the guard wore would conceal that, perhaps. In any case, there was nothing better.

Trying to make his stride as martial as possible, he walked down the long carpet to the door, opened it and stepped outside.

His luck couldn’t hold out forever. It was next to miraculous that he got as far as he did⁠—out of the anteroom before Andrias’ office, past the two guards there, who eyed him absently but said nothing, down the great entrance hall, straight out the front door.

Going through the city had been easier, of course. There were many men in uniforms like his. Duane thought, then, that Andrias’ power could not have been too strong, even over the League police whom he nominally commanded. The police could not all have been corrupt. There were too many of them; had they been turncoats, aiding Andrias in his revolt against the League, there would have been no need to smuggle rifles in for an unruly mass of civilians.

Duane cursed the lack of foresight of the early Earth governments. They’d made a prison planet of Callisto; had filled it with the worst scum of Earth. Then, when the damage had been done⁠—when Callisto had become a pesthole among the planets; its iniquities a stench that rose to the stars⁠—they had belatedly found that they had created a problem worse than the one they’d tried to solve. One like a hydra-beast.

Criminality was not a thing of heredity. The children of the transported convicts, most of them, were honest and wanted to be respectable. And they could not be.

Earth’s crime rate, too, had not been lowered materially by exiling its gangsters and murderers to Callisto. When it was long past time, the League had stepped in, and set a governor of its own over Callisto.

If the governor had been an honest man a satisfactory solution might have been worked out. The first governor had been honest. Under him great strides had been made. The bribe-proof, gun-handy League police had stamped out the wide-open plague spots of the planet; public works had been begun on a large scale. The beginnings of representative government had been established.

But the first governor had died. And the second governor had been⁠—Andrias.

You can see the results!” Duane thought grimly as he swung into the airfield in his rented ground car. Foreboding was stamped on the faces of half the Callistans he’d seen⁠—and dark treachery on the others. Some of those men had been among the actual exiled criminals⁠—the last convict ship had landed only a dozen years before. All of those whom Andrias planned to arm were either of the original transportation-men, or their weaker descendants.

What was holding Andrias back? Why the need for smuggling guns in?

The answer to that, Duane thought, was encouraging but not conclusive. Clearly, then, Andrias did not have complete control over the League police. But how much control he did have, what officers he had won over to treachery, Duane could not begin to guess.

Duane slid the car into a parking slot, switched off the ignition and left it. It was night, but the short Callistan dark period was nearly over. A pearly glow at the horizon showed where the sun would come bulging over in a few minutes; while at the opposite rim of the planet he could still see the blood-red disc of mighty Jupiter lingering for a moment, casting a crimson hue over the landscape, before it made the final plunge. The field was not floodlighted. Traffic was scarce on Callisto.

Duane, almost invisible in the uncertain light, stepped boldly out across the jet-blasted tarmac toward the huge bulk of the Cameroon, the rocket transport which had brought him. Two other ships lay on the same seared pavement, but they were smaller. They were fighting ships, small, speedy ones, in Callisto for refueling before returning to the League’s ceaseless patrol of the System’s starlanes.

Duane hesitated briefly, wondering whether he ought to go to one of those ships and tell his story to its League commander. He decided against it. There was too little certainty for him there; too much risk that the commander, even, might be a tool of Andrias’.

Duane shook his head angrily. If only his memory were clear⁠—if only he could be sure what he was doing!

He reached the portal of the ship. A gray-clad League officer was there standing guard, to prevent the ship taking off.

“Official business,” Duane said curtly, and swept by the startled man before he could object. He hurried along the corridor toward the captain’s office and control room. A purser he passed looked at him curiously, and Duane averted his face. If the man recognized him there might be questions.

For the thousandth time he cursed the gray cloud that overhung his memory. He didn’t know, even, who among the crew might know him and spread the alarm.

Then he was at the door marked, Crew only⁠—do not enter! He tapped on it, then grasped the knob and swung it open.

A squat, open-featured man in blue, the bronze eagles of the Mercantile Service resting lightly on his powerful shoulders, looked at him. Recognition flared in his eyes.

“Duane!” he whispered. “Peter Duane, what’re you doing in the clothes of Andrias’ household guard?”

Duane felt the tenseness ebb out of his throat. Here was a friend.

“Captain,” he said, “you seem to be a friend of mine. If you are⁠—I need you. You see, I’ve lost my memory.”

“Lost your memory?” the captain echoed. “You mean that blow on your head? The ship’s surgeon said something⁠ ⁠… yes, that was it. I hardly believed him, though.”

“But were we friends?”

“Why, yes, Peter.”

“Then help me now,” said Duane. “I have a cargo stowed in your hold, Captain. Do you know what it is?”

“Why⁠—yes. The rifles, you mean?”

Duane blinked. He nodded, then looked dizzily for a chair. The captain was a friend of his, all right⁠—a fellow gunrunner!

“Good God,” he said aloud. “What a mess!”

“What’s happened?” the captain asked. “I saw you in the corridor, arguing with Stevens. You looked like trouble, and I should have come up to you then. But the course was to be changed, and I had to be there.⁠ ⁠… And the next I hear, Stevens is dead, and you’ve maybe killed him. Then I heard you’ve lost your memory, and are in a jam with Andrias.”

He paused and speculation came into his eyes, almost hostility.

“Peter Duane,” he said softly, “it strikes me that you may have lost more than your memory. Which side are you on. What happened between you and Andrias? Tell me now if you’ve changed sides on me, man. For friendship’s sake I won’t be too hard on you. But there’s too much at stake here⁠—”

“Oh, hell,” said Peter, and the heat gun was suddenly in his hand, leveled at the squat man in blue. “I wish you were on my side, but there’s no way I can tell. I can trust myself, I think⁠—but that’s all. Put up your hands!”

And that was when his luck ran out.

“Peter⁠—” the captain began.

IV

But a sound from outside halted him. Together the two men stared at the viewplates. A siren had begun to shriek in the distance, the siren of a racing ground car. Through the gates it plunged, scattering the light wooden barrier. It spun crazily around on two wheels and came roaring for the ship.

Andrias was in it.

Peter turned on the captain, and the gun was rigidly outthrust in his hand.

“Close your ports!” he snarled. “Up rockets⁠—in a hurry!”

“Listen, Peter,” the captain began.

“I said, hurry!” The car’s brakes shrieked outside, and it disappeared from the view of the men. There was an abrupt babble of voices.

“Close your ports!” Peter shouted savagely. “Now!”

The captain opened his mouth to speak, then snapped it shut. He touched the stud of a communications set, said into it, “Close ports. Snap to it. Engine room⁠—up rockets in ten seconds. All crew⁠—stand by for lift!”

The ship’s own takeoff siren howled shrilly, drowning out the angry voices from below. Peter felt the whine of the electrics that dogged shut the heavy pressure doors. He stepped to the pilot’s chair, slid into it, buckled the compression straps around him.

The instruments⁠—he recognized them all, knew how to use them! Had he been a rocket pilot before his mind had blanked⁠—before embarking on the more lucrative profession of gun smuggler? He wondered.⁠ ⁠…

But it was the captain who took the ship off. “Ten seconds,” Peter said. “Get moving!”

The captain hesitated the barest fraction, but his eyes were on the heat gun and he knew that Duane was capable of using it. “The men⁠—” he said. “If they’re underneath when the jets go, they’ll burn!”

“That’s the chance they take,” said Duane. “They heard the siren!”

The captain turned his head quickly, and his fingers flashed out. He was in his own acceleration seat too, laced down by heavy canvas webbing. His hands reached out to the controls before him, and his fingers took on a life of their own as they wove dexterously across the keys, setting up fire-patterns, charting a course of takeoff. Then the heel of his hand settled on the firing stop.⁠ ⁠…

The acceleration was worse than Peter’s clouded mind had expected, but no more than he could stand. In his frame of mind, he could stand almost anything, he thought⁠—short of instant annihilation!

The thin air of Callisto howled past them, forming a high obligato to the thunder of the jets. Then the air-howl faded sharply to silence, and the booming of the rockets became less a thing of sound than a rumble in the framework of the Cameroon. They were in space.

The captain’s foot kicked the pedal that shut off the overdrive jets, reducing the thrust to a mere one-gravity acceleration. He turned to Duane.

“What now?” he asked.

Duane, busy unstrapping himself from the restraining belts, shook his head without answering. What now? “A damn good question!” he thought.

The captain, with the ease of long practice, was already out of his own pressure straps. He stood there by his chair, watching Duane closely. But the gun was still in Duane’s hand, despite his preoccupation.

Duane cocked an ear as he threw off the last strap. Did he hear voices in the corridor, a distance away but coming.

The captain, looking out the port with considerable interest, interrupted his train of thought. “What,” he asked, “for instance, are you going to do about⁠—those?”

His arm was outstretched, pointing outward and down. Duane looked in that direction⁠—

The two patrol rockets were streaking up after his commandeered ship. Fairy-like in their pastel shades, with the delicate tracery of girders over their fighting noses, they nevertheless represented grim menace to Duane!

He swore under his breath. The Cameroon, huge and lumbering, was helpless as a sitting bird before those lithe hawks of prey. If only he knew which side the ships were on. If only he knew⁠—anything!

He couldn’t afford to take a chance. “Stand back!” he ordered the captain. The man in blue gave ground before him, staring wonderingly as Duane advanced. Duane took a quick look at the control setup, tried to remember how to work it.

It was so tantalizingly close to his memory! He cursed again; then stabbed down on a dozen keys at random, heeled the main control down, jumped back, even as the ship careened madly about in its flight, and blasted the delicate controls to shattered ashes with a bolt from his heat gun. Now the ship was crippled, for the time being at least. Short of a nigh-impossible boarding in space, the two patrol cruisers could do nothing with it till the controls were repaired. The Cameroon, and its cargo of political dynamite, would circle through space for hours or days.

It wasn’t much⁠—but it was the best he could do. At least it would give him time to think things over.

No. He heard the voices of the men in the corridor again, tumbled about by the abrupt course change⁠—luckily, it had been only a mild thing compared to the one that had killed Stevens and caused his own present dilemma⁠—but regaining their feet and coming on. And one of the voices, loud and harsh, was Andrias! Somehow, before the ports closed, he’d managed to board the Cameroon!

Duane stood erect, whirled to face the door. The captain stood by it. Duane thrust his heat gun at him.

“The door!” he commanded. “Lock it!”

Urged by the menace of the heat gun, the captain hurriedly put out a hand to the lock of the door⁠—

And jerked it back, nursing smashed knuckles, as Andrias and four men burst in, hurling the door open before them. They came to a sliding, tumbling halt, though, as they faced grim Duane and his ready heat pistol.

“Hold it!” he ordered. “That’s right.⁠ ⁠… Stay that way while I figure things out. The first man that moves, dies for it.”

Dark blood flooded into Andrias’ face, but he said no word, only stood there glaring hatred. The smear of crimson had been brushed from his face, but his nose was still awry and a huge purplish bruise was spreading over it and across one cheek. The three men with him were guards. All were armed⁠—the police with hand weapons as lethal as Duane’s own, Andrias with an old-style projective-type weapon⁠—an ancient pistol, snatched from some bewildered spaceman as they burst into the Cameroon.

Duane braced himself with one arm against the pilot’s chair and stared at them. The crazy circular course the blasted controls had given the ship had a strong lateral component; around and around the ship went, in a screaming circle, chasing its own tail. There was a sudden change in the light from the port outside; Duane involuntarily looked up for a moment. Dulled and purplish was the gleam from the brilliant stars all about; the Cameroon, in its locked orbit, had completed a circle and was plunging through its own wake of expelled jet-gases. He saw the two patrol rockets streak past; then saw the flood of rocket-flares from their side jets as they spun and braked, trying to match course and speed with the crazy orbit of the Cameroon.

He’d looked away for only a second; abruptly he looked back.

“Easy!” he snapped. Andrias’ arm, which had begun to lift, straightened out, and the scowl on the governor’s face darkened even more.

Clackety-clack. There was the sound of a girl’s high heels running along the corridor, followed by heavier thumps from the space boots of men. Duane jerked his gun at Andrias and his police.

“Out of the way!” he said. “Let’s see who’s coming now.”

It was the girl. Red hair fluttering in the wake of her running, face alight with anxiety, she burst into the room.

“Peter!” she cried. “Andrias and his men⁠—”

She stopped short and took in the tableau. Duane’s eyes were on her, and he was about to speak. Then he became conscious of something in her own eyes, a sudden spark that flared even before her lips opened and a thin cry came from them; even before she leaped to one side, at Andrias.

Peter cursed and tried to turn, to dodge; tried to bring his heat gun around. But a thunder louder than the bellowing jets outside filled the room, and a streak of livid fire crossed the fringe of Peter’s brain. Sudden blackness closed in around him. He fell⁠—and his closing eyes saw new figures running into the room, saw the counterplay of lashing heat beams.

This is it⁠—he thought grimly, and then thought no more.

V

Duane was in the sickbay again, on the same bed. His head was spinning agonizedly. He forced his eyes open⁠—and the girl was there; the same girl. She was watching him. A cloud on her face lifted as she saw his lids flicker open; then it descended again. Her lips quivered.

“Darn you, Peter,” she whispered. “Who are you now?”

“Why⁠—why, I’m Peter Duane, of course,” he said.

“Well, thank God you know that!” It was the captain. He’d changed since the last time Peter had seen him. One arm was slung in bandages that bore the yellow seeping tint of burn salve.

Peter shook his head to try to clear it. “Where⁠—where am I?” he asked. “Andrias⁠—”

“Andrias is where he won’t bother you,” the captain said. “Locked up below. So are two of his men. The other one’s dead. How’s your memory, Peter?”

Duane touched it experimentally with a questing mental finger. It seemed all right, though he felt still dazed.

“Coming along,” he said. “But where am I? The controls⁠—I blasted them.”

The captain laughed. “I know,” he said briefly. “Well⁠—I guess you had to, in a way. You didn’t trust anyone; couldn’t trust anyone. You had to make sure the rifles wouldn’t get back to Callisto too soon. But they’re working on installing duplicates now, Peter. In an hour we’ll be back on Callisto. We shut the jets off already; we’re in an orbit.”

Duane sank back. “Listen,” he said. “I think⁠—I think my memory’s clearing, somehow. But how⁠—I mean, were you on my side? All along?”

The captain nodded soberly. “On your side, yes, Peter,” he said. “The League’s side, that is. You and I, you know, both work for the League. When they got word of Andrias’ plans, they had to work fast. To move in by force would have meant bloodshed, would have forced his hand. That would have been utterly bad. It was too dangerous. Callisto is politically a powder-keg already. The whole thing might have exploded.”

Peter’s eyes flared with sudden hope and enlightment. “And you and I⁠—” he began.

“You and I, and a couple of other undercover workers were put on the job,” the captain nodded. “We had to find out who Andrias’ supporters were⁠—and to keep him from getting more electron rifles while the commanders of the Callisto garrison were quietly checked, to see who was on which side. They’ve found Andrias’ Earth backers⁠—a group of wealthy malcontents who thought Callisto should be exploited for their gain, had made secret deals with him for concessions. You, of course, slowed down the delivery of the rifles as long as you could. They lay in the Lunar warehouses a precious extra week while you haggled over terms. That’s what you were doing with Stevens, I think, when the course change caught you both.”

“You’ve had him long enough,” the nurse broke in. “I have a few words to say.”

“No, wait⁠—” Duane protested. But the captain was grinning broadly. He moved toward the door.

“Later,” he said over his shoulder. “There’ll be plenty of time.” The door closed behind him. Duane turned to the girl.

He shook his head again. The cloud was lifting. He could almost remember everything again; things were beginning to come into focus. This girl, for instance⁠—

She noticed his motion. “How’s your head, Peter?” she asked solicitously. “Andrias hit you with that awful old bullet-gun. I tried to stop him, but all I could do was jar his arm. Oh, Peter, I was so afraid when I saw you fall!”

“You probably saved my life,” Peter said soberly. “Andrias struck me as a pretty good shot.” He tried to grin.

The girl frowned. “Peter,” she said, “I’m sorry if I seemed rude, before⁠—the last time you were here. It was just that I.⁠ ⁠… Well, you didn’t remember me. I couldn’t understand.”

Peter stared at her. Yes⁠—he should remember her. He did, only⁠—

“Perhaps this will help you,” the girl said. She rummaged in a pocket of her uniform, brought something out that was tiny and glittering. “I don’t wear it on duty, Peter. But I guess this is an exception.⁠ ⁠…”

Peter pushed himself up on one elbow, trying to make out what she was doing. She was slipping the small thing on a finger.⁠ ⁠…

A ring. An engagement ring!

“Oh⁠—” said Peter. And suddenly everything clicked; he remembered; he could recall⁠ ⁠… everything. That second blow on his head had undone the harm of the first one.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed, stood up, reached out hungry arms for the girl.

“Of course I remember,” he said as she came into the circle of his arms. “The ring on your finger. I ought to remember⁠—I put it there!

And for a long time after there was no need for words.

Double-Cross

The Officer of the Deck was pleased as he returned to the main lock. There was no reason why everything shouldn’t have been functioning perfectly, of course, but he was pleased to have it confirmed, all the same. The Executive Officer was moodily smoking a cigarette in the open lock, staring out over the dank Venusian terrain at the native town. He turned.

“Everything shipshape, I take it!” he commented.

The O.D. nodded. “I’ll have a blank log if this keeps up,” he said. “Every man accounted for except the delegation, cargo stowed, drivers ready to lift as soon as they come back.”

The Exec tossed away his cigarette. “If they come back.”

“Is there any question?”

The Exec shrugged. “I don’t know, Lowry,” he said. “This is a funny place. I don’t trust the natives.”

Lowry lifted his eyebrows. “Oh? But after all, they’re human beings, just like us⁠—”

“Not anymore. Four or five generations ago they were. Lord, they don’t even look human anymore. Those white, flabby skins⁠—I don’t like them.”

“Acclimation,” Lowry said scientifically. “They had to acclimate themselves to Venus’s climate. They’re friendly enough.”

The Exec shrugged again. He stared at the wooden shacks that were the outskirts of the native city, dimly visible through the ever-present Venusian mist. The native guard of honor, posted a hundred yards from the Earth-ship, stood stolidly at attention with their old-fashioned proton-rifles slung over their backs. A few natives were gazing wonderingly at the great ship, but made no move to pass the line of guards.

“Of course,” Lowry said suddenly, “there’s a minority who are afraid of us. I was in town yesterday, and I talked with some of the natives. They think there will be hordes of immigrants from Earth, now that we know Venus is habitable. And there’s some sort of a paltry underground group that is spreading the word that the immigrants will drive the native Venusians⁠—the descendants of the first expedition, that is⁠—right down into the mud. Well⁠—” he laughed⁠—“maybe they will. After all, the fittest survive. That’s a basic law of⁠—”

The annunciator over the open lock clanged vigorously, and a metallic voice rasped: “Officer of the Deck! Post Number One! Instruments reports a spy ray focused on the main lock!”

Lowry, interrupted in the middle of a word, jerked his head back and stared unbelievingly at the telltale next to the annunciator. Sure enough, it was glowing red⁠—might have been glowing for minutes. He snatched at the hand-phone dangling from the wall, shouted into it. “Set up a screen! Notify the delegation! Alert a landing party!” But even while he was giving orders, the warning light flickered suddenly and went out. Stricken, Lowry turned to the Exec.

The Executive Officer nodded gloomily. He said, “You see!”


“You see?”

Svan clicked off the listening-machine and turned around. The five others in the room looked apprehensive. “You see?” Svan repeated. “From their own mouths you have heard it. The Council was right.”

The younger of the two women sighed. She might have been beautiful, in spite of her dead-white skin, if there had been a scrap of hair on her head. “Svan, I’m afraid,” she said. “Who are we to decide if this is a good thing? Our parents came from Earth. Perhaps there will be trouble at first, if colonists come, but we are of the same blood.”

Svan laughed harshly. “They don’t think so. You heard them. We are not human anymore. The officer said it.”

The other woman spoke unexpectedly. “The Council was right,” she agreed. “Svan, what must we do?”

Svan raised his hand, thoughtfully. “One moment. Ingra, do you still object?”

The younger woman shrank back before the glare in his eyes. She looked around at the others, found them reluctant and uneasy, but visibly convinced by Svan.

“No,” she said slowly. “I do not object.”

“And the rest of us? Does any of us object?”

Svan eyed them, each in turn. There was a slow but unanimous gesture of assent.

“Good,” said Svan. “Then we must act. The Council has told us that we alone will decide our course of action. We have agreed that, if the Earth-ship returns, it means disaster for Venus. Therefore, it must not return.”

An old man shifted restlessly. “But they are strong, Svan,” he complained. “They have weapons. We cannot force them to stay.”

Svan nodded. “No. They will leave. But they will never get back to Earth.”

“Never get back to Earth?” the old man gasped. “Has the Council authorized⁠—murder?”

Svan shrugged. “The Council did not know what we would face. The Councilmen could not come to the city and see what strength the Earth-ship has.” He paused dangerously. “Toller,” he said, “do you object?”

Like the girl, the old man retreated before his eyes. His voice was dull. “What is your plan?” he asked.

Svan smiled, and it was like a dark flame. He reached to a box at his feet, held up a shiny metal globe. “One of us will plant this in the ship. It will be set by means of this dial⁠—” he touched a spot on the surface of the globe with a pallid finger⁠—“to do nothing for forty hours. Then⁠—it will explode. Atomite.”

He grinned triumphantly, looking from face to face. The grin faded uncertainly as he saw what was in their eyes⁠—uncertainty, irresolution. Abruptly he set the bomb down, savagely ripped six leaves off a writing tablet on the table next him. He took a pencil and made a mark on one of them, held it up.

“We will let chance decide who is to do the work,” he said angrily. “Is there anyone here who is afraid? There will be danger, I think.⁠ ⁠…”

No answer. Svan jerked his head. “Good,” he said. “Ingra, bring me that bowl.”

Silently the girl picked up an opaque glass bowl from the broad arm of her chair. It had held Venus-tobacco cigarettes; there were a few left. She shook them out and handed the bowl to Svan, who was rapidly creasing the six fatal slips. He dropped them in the bowl, stirred it with his hand, offered it to the girl. “You first, Ingra,” he said.

She reached in mechanically, her eyes intent on his, took out a slip and held it without opening it. The bowl went the rounds, till Svan himself took the last. All eyes were on him. No one had looked at their slips.

Svan, too, had left his unopened. He sat at the table, facing them. “This is the plan,” he said. “We will go, all six of us, in my ground car, to look at the Earth-ship. No one will suspect⁠—the whole city has been to see it already. One will get out, at the best point we can find. It is almost dusk now. He can hide, surely, in the vegetation. The other five will start back. Something will go wrong with the car⁠—perhaps it will run off the road, start to sink in the swamp. The guards will be called. There will be commotion⁠—that is easy enough, after all; a hysterical woman, a few screams, that’s all there is to it. And the sixth person will have his chance to steal to the side of the ship. The bomb is magnetic. It will not be noticed in the dark⁠—they will take off before sunrise, because they must travel away from the sun to return⁠—in forty hours the danger is removed.”

There was comprehension in their eyes, Svan saw⁠ ⁠… but still that uncertainty. Impatiently, he crackled: “Look at the slips!”

Though he had willed his eyes away from it, his fingers had rebelled. Instinctively they had opened the slip, turned it over and over, striving to detect if it was the fatal one. They had felt nothing.⁠ ⁠…

And his eyes saw nothing. The slip was blank. He gave it but a second’s glance, then looked up to see who had won the lethal game of chance. Almost he was disappointed.

Each of the others had looked in that same second. And each was looking up now, around at his neighbors. Svan waited impatiently for the chosen one to announce it⁠—a second, ten seconds.⁠ ⁠…

Then gray understanding came to him. A traitor! his subconscious whispered. A coward! He stared at them in a new light, saw their indecision magnified, became opposition.

Svan thought faster than ever before in his life. If there was a coward, it would do no good to unmask him. All were wavering, any might be the one who had drawn the fatal slip. He could insist on inspecting everyone, but⁠—suppose the coward, cornered, fought back? In fractions of a second, Svan had considered the evidence and reached his decision. Masked by the table, his hand, still holding the pencil, moved swiftly beneath the table, marked his own slip.

In the palm of his hand, Svan held up the slip he had just marked in secret. His voice was very tired as he said, “I will plant the bomb.”


The six conspirators in Svan’s old ground car moved slowly along the main street of the native town. Two Earth-ship sailors, unarmed except for deceptively flimsy-looking pistols at their hips, stood before the entrance to the town’s Hall of Justice.

“Good,” said Svan, observing them. “The delegation is still here. We have ample time.”

He half turned in the broad front seat next to the driver, searching the faces of the others in the car. Which was the coward? he wondered. Ingra? Her aunt? One of the men?

The right answer leaped up at him. They all are, he thought. Not one of them understands what this means. They’re afraid.

He clamped his lips. “Go faster, Ingra,” he ordered the girl who was driving. “Let’s get this done with.”

She looked at him, and he was surprised to find compassion in her eyes. Silently she nodded, advanced the fuel-handle so that the clumsy car jolted a trace more rapidly over the corduroy road. It was quite dark now. The car’s driving light flared yellowishly in front of them, illuminating the narrow road and the pale, distorted vegetation of the jungle that surrounded them. Svan noticed it was raining a little. The present shower would deepen and intensify until midnight, then fall off again, to halt before morning. But before then they would be done.

A proton-bolt lanced across the road in front of them. In the silence that followed its thunderous crash, a man’s voice bellowed: “Halt!”

The girl, Ingra, gasped something indistinguishable, slammed on the brakes. A Venusian in the trappings of the State Guard advanced on them from the side of the road, proton-rifle held ready to fire again.

“Where are you going?” he growled.

Svan spoke up. “We want to look at the Earth-ship,” he said. He opened the door beside him and stepped out, careless of the drizzle. “We heard it was leaving tonight,” he continued, “and we have not seen it. Is that not permitted?”

The guard shook his head sourly. “No one is allowed near the ship. The order was just issued. It is thought there is danger.”

Svan stepped closer, his teeth bared in what passed for a smile. “It is urgent,” he purred. His right hand flashed across his chest in a complicated gesture. “Do you understand?”

Confusion furrowed the guard’s hairless brows, then was replaced by a sudden flare of understanding⁠—and fear. “The Council!” he roared. “By heaven, yes, I understand! You are the swine that caused this⁠—” He strove instinctively to bring the clumsy rifle up, but Svan was faster. His gamble had failed; there was only one course remaining. He hurled his gross white bulk at the guard, bowled him over against the splintery logs of the road. The proton-rifle went flying, and Svan savagely tore at the throat of the guard. Knees, elbows and claw-like nails⁠—Svan battered at the astonished man with every ounce of strength in his body. The guard was as big as Svan, but Svan had the initial advantage⁠ ⁠… and it was only a matter of seconds before the guard lay unconscious, his skull a mass of gore at the back where Svan had ruthlessly pounded it against the road.

Svan rose, panting, stared around. No one else was in sight, save the petrified five and the ground car. Svan glared at them contemptuously, then reached down and heaved on the senseless body of the guard. Over the shoulder of the road the body went, onto the damp swampland of the jungle. Even while Svan watched the body began to sink. There would be no trace.

Svan strode back to the car. “Hurry up,” he gasped to the girl. “Now there is danger for all of us, if they discover he is missing. And keep a watch for other guards.”


Venus has no moon, and no star can shine through its vast cloud layer. Ensign Lowry, staring anxiously out through the astrodome in the bow of the Earth-ship, cursed the blackness.

“Can’t see a thing,” he complained to the Exec, steadily writing away at the computer’s table. “Look⁠—are those lights over there?”

The Exec looked up wearily. He shrugged. “Probably the guards. Of course, you can’t tell. Might be a raiding party.”

Lowry, stung, looked to see if the Exec was smiling, but found no answer in his stolid face. “Don’t joke about it,” he said. “Suppose something happens to the delegation?”

“Then we’re in the soup,” the Exec said philosophically. “I told you the natives were dangerous. Spy-rays! They’ve been prohibited for the last three hundred years.”

“It isn’t all the natives,” Lowry said. “Look how they’ve doubled the guard around us. The administration is cooperating every way they know how. You heard the delegation’s report on the intercom. It’s this secret group they call the Council.”

“And how do you know the guards themselves don’t belong to it?” the Exec retorted. “They’re all the same to me.⁠ ⁠… Look, your light’s gone out now. Must have been the guard. They’re on the wrong side to be coming from the town, anyhow.⁠ ⁠…”


Svan hesitated only a fraction of a second after the girl turned the lights out and stopped the car. Then he reached in the compartment under the seat. If he took a little longer than seemed necessary to get the atomite bomb out of the compartment, none of the others noticed. Certainly it did not occur to them that there had been two bombs in the compartment, though Svan’s hand emerged with only one.

He got out of the car, holding the sphere. “This will do for me,” he said. “They won’t be expecting anyone to come from behind the ship⁠—we were wise to circle around. Now, you know what you must do?”

Ingra nodded, while the others remained mute. “We must circle back again,” she parroted. “We are to wait five minutes, then drive the car into the swamp. We will create a commotion, attract the guards.”

Svan, listening, thought: It’s not much of a plan. The guards would not be drawn away. I am glad I can’t trust these five anymore. If they must be destroyed, it is good that their destruction will serve a purpose.

Aloud, he said, “You understand. If I get through, I will return to the city on foot. No one will suspect anything if I am not caught, because the bomb will not explode until the ship is far out in space. Remember, you are in no danger from the guards.”

From the guards, his mind echoed. He smiled. At least, they would feel no pain, never know what happened. With the amount of atomite in that bomb in the compartment, they would merely be obliterated in a ground-shaking crash.

Abruptly he swallowed, reminded of the bomb that was silently counting off the seconds. “Go ahead,” he ordered. “I will wait here.”

“Svan.” The girl, Ingra, leaned over to him. Impulsively she reached for him, kissed him. “Good luck to you, Svan,” she said.

“Good luck,” repeated the others. Then silently the electric motor of the car took hold. Skilfully the girl backed it up, turned it around, sent it lumbering back down the road. Only after she had traveled a few hundred feet by the feel of the road did she turn the lights on again.

Svan looked after them. The kiss had surprised him. What did it mean? Was it an error that the girl should die with the others?

There was an instant of doubt in his steel-shackled mind, then it was driven away. Perhaps she was loyal, yet certainly she was weak. And since he could not know which was the one who had received the marked slip, and feared to admit it, it was better they all should die.

He advanced along the midnight road to where the ground rose and the jungle plants thinned out. Ahead, on an elevation, were the rain-dimmed lights of the Earth-ship, set down in the center of a clearing made by its own fierce rockets. Svan’s mist-trained eyes spotted the circling figures of sentries, and knew that these would be the ship’s own. They would not be as easily overcome as the natives, not with those slim-shafted blasters they carried. Only deceit could get him to the side of the ship.

Svan settled himself at the side of the road, waiting for his chance. He had perhaps three minutes to wait; he reckoned. His fingers went absently to the pouch in his wide belt, closed on the slip of paper. He turned it over without looking at it, wondering who had drawn the first cross, and been a coward. Ingra? One of the men?

He became abruptly conscious of a commotion behind him. A ground car was racing along the road. He spun around and was caught in the glare of its blinding driving-light, as it bumped to a slithering stop.

Paralyzed, he heard the girl’s voice. “Svan! They’re coming! They found the guard’s rifle, and they’re looking for us! Thirty Earthmen, Svan, with those frightful guns. They fired at us, but we got away and came for you. We must flee!”

He stared unseeingly at the light. “Go away!” he croaked unbelievingly. Then his muscles jerked into action. The time was almost up⁠—the bomb in the car⁠—

“Go away!” he shrieked, and turned to run. His fists clenched and swinging at his side, he made a dozen floundering steps before something immense pounded at him from behind. He felt himself lifted from the road, sailing, swooping, dropping with annihilating force onto the hard, charred earth of the clearing. Only then did he hear the sound of the explosion, and as the immense echoes died away he began to feel the pain seeping into him from his hideously racked body.⁠ ⁠…

The Flight Surgeon rose from beside him. “He’s still alive,” he said callously to Lowry, who had just come up. “It won’t last long, though. What’ve you got there?”

Lowry, a bewildered expression on his beardless face, held out the two halves of a metallic sphere. Dangling ends of wires showed where a connection had been broken. “He had a bomb,” he said. “A magnetic-type, delayed-action atomite bomb. There must have been another in the car, and it went off. They⁠—they were planning to bomb us.”

“Amazing,” the surgeon said dryly. “Well, they won’t do any bombing now.”

Lowry was staring at the huddled, mutilated form of Svan. He shuddered. The surgeon, seeing the shudder, grasped his shoulder.

“Better them than us,” he said. “It’s poetic justice if I ever saw it. They had it coming.⁠ ⁠…” He paused thoughtfully, staring at a piece of paper between his fingers. “This is the only part I don’t get,” he said.

“What’s that?” Lowry craned his neck. “A piece of paper with a cross on it? What about it?”

The surgeon shrugged. “He had it clenched in his hand,” he said. “Had the devil of a time getting it loose from him.” He turned it over slowly, displayed the other side. “Now what in the world would he be doing carrying a scrap of paper with a cross marked on both sides?”

A Hitch in Time

Obviously the man was dying, and there was no chance that he ever would be discovered.

I blessed the carelessness that had caused me to set the space-time dials a little off when I began this journey to the distant past. I had come to this barbaric era in the proper time, indeed, but millions of miles removed from it in space. It had been only after an annoying search that I had discovered Earth, jetted toward it in my space-drive suit and had come down out of the skies to land on this tiny, deserted island in the middle of an empty sea.

But it was incredible luck that had brought me there. For I had found exactly what I needed⁠—a man who would give me information, clothing and an identity⁠—and then die, and obliterate the record of my interference with the course of events!

I, Thom Ra, walked toward him. Feeble though he was, he opened his eyes and stared at me.

“Thank Heaven!” he whispered, in the thick, hideous language of that era. “I couldn’t have lasted much longer if you hadn’t found me.” He fell back and smiled at me with heartfelt gratitude, and for a moment I felt a wild, fleeting impulse to help him, to save his life. But of course, I dared not interfere. For that would change the shape of the future, and that meant destruction for me.⁠ ⁠…

When I blasted off from the island, a little later, he was dead, and I was wearing his uniform⁠—and his name.

He gave me information before he died, and I had no trouble locating the spot I wanted. I waited till dark before landing a few hundred yards from the war-dome. Then I hid my space-drive suit in a cluster of ancient trees, and walked into the building that housed the most murderous weapon of all time.

The sentry challenged me, of course, but I was ready for him. After a quick look at my stolen credentials he sheathed his ray pistol.

“Pass, sir,” he said, and I walked in, no longer as Thom Ra, but identified as a Captain San Requa of the Intelligence Service.

At once I saw the atom-rocket. It was on the other side of the great chamber, nestled in a wheeled cradle, ready to be rolled out to the blastoff point. Hurrying technicians swarmed about it with last-minute checks. I walked over, saluted the officer who was supervising and began to witness events which I had crossed so tremendous a span of years to observe.

The atom-rocket was a long, silvery torpedo, a cluster of tubes at the rear, a snub-nosed warhead at the front. A panel in the side of it was open, and technicians were setting dials according to the figures read off by a white-haired old officer with the insignia of a general on his collar.

I listened in awe and reverence, straining to note and remember everything that occurred. To think that I was actually present at the climactic moment of the legendary War of Annihilation! It was the most thrilling moment of my life. Almost I forgot to curse Master Lys and his duplicity as I watched.

Almost⁠—but not quite. For the thing was too fresh in my mind, and I was aware that I was still in danger.

It had begun with a routine notice that my preparatory work had been approved, and that I was authorized to enter a theme in ortho-history for my final Citizenship Ratings. The theme, I saw with a sinking heart, was the War of Annihilation.

I had hurried to Master Lys, my instructor, sure that there was an error.

“Master, you give me an impossible task,” I had said. “The theme regulations are that I must make a ‘real and complete contribution to human knowledge.’ But how can I? We have so pitifully few records of the War of Annihilation⁠—all of them have been studied, and analyzed, and worked over for thousands of years. There is no way for me to add to what has been written already!”

He cackled at me in his insufferable Tri-Alpha way.

“There is a way,” he mumbled, peeping at me out of his rheumy old eyes.

It took me a moment to realize what he meant.

“The time-belts!” And Master Lys nodded.

Well, I argued with him, of course. The time-belts were too dangerous; not one time-traveler in ten returned from the past, even when their projects were as recent as a hundred years ago. And the farther into the past one ventured, the more certain it became that return would be impossible.

For although the mechanism of the time-belts could be trusted and there was no physical menace that the conductor-screens or the katonator-guns could not cope with, there was the ever-present danger of Fan-Shaped Time itself.

It was the First Law of Chronistics: Our era is the product of everything that occurred in the past. Should anything in the past be changed, our age would also be changed. Oh, it would continue to exist, but in a parallel branch of time⁠—and there was no way of passing from one branch to another. And if a traveler into the past should interfere in the course of events, he would be bound to the new time-stream his actions created, and the unlucky traveler would never be able to return.

The branches of Fan-Shaped time could never be retraced. The man who interfered with the space-time matrix, displacing even a comma in the great scroll of time, would be cut off from his origin forever.

The danger was too great. I refused to accept the assignment, even though I knew it would mean I could never rise to the status of Tri-Alpha citizenship which was otherwise my right.

But then I heard about Elren⁠—lovely, adored Elren Dri⁠—and I could no longer refuse.

For Elren’s Mating Indices were posted, and she was a Tri-Alpha herself! Then I understood what had been in Master Lys’ mind when he set that impossible task for me. For I knew that the gnarled, worm-eaten old wreck had dared to covet my Elren! Loving me, she could never be his. But with me out of the way he might have a chance.

I accepted the assignment. Master Lys secured a time-belt for me⁠—he was willing enough to help at my execution⁠—and I began my perilous journey through time.

I came back to my surroundings with a start. Something was wrong!

Subconsciously I had been studying the atom-rocket, and now I was jolted out of my reveries as I realized that it did not look as it should have.

The ortho-history books were clear on one fact: Venus had been destroyed in the War of Annihilation by means of a hydrogen-chain reaction, the most deadly atom blast known. Atoms of hydrogen, under the influence of gamma-particle bombardment, coalesced to form atoms of helium⁠—and all the incalculable power represented by the odd fraction of mass left over was released in the form of free energy.

But the atom-rocket before me seemed to be nothing more than a simple nuclear-fission affair! Where were the photon-exciters? The gamma-ray bombardment equipment?

Of course, even a fission bomb could do a good deal of local damage, as shown in the first atom-bombed cities during the Little Wars of the early Twentieth Century. But, unless our nuclear science was in error, it could not set off a chain reaction of the type that had destroyed the Venusian colonies. Was I in the wrong place?

Alarmed, I shoved my way closer to the rocket, staring at it. It was a crude, primitive affair, of course, and it was hard for me to identify its parts. I examined it with frantic curiosity⁠—and abruptly I found myself in peril!

One of the technicians I had pushed aside was staring at me, eyes filled with suspicion. I caught his gaze and cursed myself for having acted so rashly. Desperately I strove to think of a way to allay his suspicions, but it was too late.

“What are you doing?” the technician demanded. “Who are you?”

I tried to conciliate him.

“Captain San Requa’s my name,” I said, using the name on the stolen identity papers. “I am⁠—” But I got no farther than that. My accent gave me away.

“He’s a spy!” roared the technician. “Help!” And a dozen ray-pistols flashed out of their holsters as the men around us were galvanized into action.

I lost my head. Terrified, I grabbed for the safety belt concealed beneath my stolen tunic, touched the button that controlled my conductor screen. The screen shimmered into instant life, and not a moment too soon. Rays from the weapons pointed at me flashed from all sides, sparked against the opalescent curtain of the screen and were dissipated.

I was safe⁠—but only for an instant.

For I had made my second great mistake. I was too close to the atom-rocket. My conductor screen grazed the warhead itself!

Its energies surged through the unstable elements in the warhead; a warning bell sprang into clamorous life. The group around me froze in their tracks, mouths open, faces mirroring fright and disbelief⁠—and the frightful power of the strained atoms within the warhead began to grind toward nuclear fission!

There was only one thing to do, and a poor choice it was! But in a moment the warhead would explode, and of me and my mission, and the whole future of Earth, nothing would be left but a puff of fiery vapor.

Quickly I dropped the shield of my conductor screen. Trusting that my luck would hold, and the men around me would be too dazed to fire their weapons again, I drew my katonator, set it at “drain,” focused it on the atomic warhead.

The twin violet beams sprang out and impinged on the silvery metal, pierced it and sucked the heart from the seething mass of erupting matter within. Blinding energies were drawn from those toppling atomic structures, surging through the carrier-beam of the katonator into the photon-pack cartridges at my waist. I had an instant’s fear as I wondered if the storage pack would hold all the mighty energies of the warhead, far greater than the maximum load for which it was designed.

But lightnings of static electricity played about my head, dissipating brilliantly but harmlessly into the air, and in an instant the danger was over. The bursting energies of the warhead had been drawn out, and the mass of matter inside it was inert.

Before me lay the atom-rocket, harmless, dead.

I had destroyed Earth’s most potent weapon!

I give those ancients credit for bravery. Dangerous though I must have seemed, they closed in on me without firing their weapons. Meekly I raised my arms over my head.

The white-haired general blazed hatred at me from his pale eyes.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

I shrugged. Carefully I phrased my words in their outlandish tongue.

“I am a⁠—a visitor from the future,” I said. “I regret the accident that just happened more than I can say.”

“Regret it?” he blazed. “Hah! You’ll regret it twice as much when you face the firing squad!”

I spread my hands helplessly. In truth, death had no terrors for me now. A firing squad would seem almost a blessing⁠—for I had destroyed the bomb that would have blasted Venus. Whatever happened now, the future before me was changed⁠—and in a changed future I had no place, and my Elren would not exist!

“Take him out and shoot him,” the general cried.

I turned to go to death, almost eagerly. In my heart I whispered:

“Elren! Elren, my lost love!”

The technician who had unmasked me interfered.

“Wait!” he begged. “Let me question him, sir. Perhaps he’s telling the truth.”

The general glowered. “What’s the difference? He’s wrecked the bomb!” But he hesitated and finally said, “All right. Question him. The harm’s done anyhow.”

Sunk in despair I scarcely heard the other officer’s sharp queries, but he was hesitant and I told him whence I had come, and why. He looked at me incredulously.

“But the bomb?” he demanded. “What did you do to it?”

I patted the photon-pack cartridges strung along my belt. “I had to drain it,” I said. “It was about to explode⁠—”

“Drain it? How?”

“With the katonator.” I explained to him how the energies of the exploding atoms were drawn off through the katonator-beams and trapped in the photon-pack.

He stared at the tiny power cells, eyes wide but showing a sudden glint of hope.

“Can you take that energy out again and send it into another object?”

“You mean to energize the atom-bomb again?” I said. “No, of course not.”

He was shaking his head. “I mean something else,” he said. “Can you send them across fifty million miles of space?”

I stared at him, fascinated and afraid.

“I dare not interfere,” I whispered.

“But, you have interfered,” he yelled. “You’ve wrecked our chance to win this war. You’ve got to help us!”

I stepped back, bewildered. What he said was true enough. Yet all my training, all the warnings of Elren and Master Lys, said over and over: You must not interfere!

Yet I had interfered already; I had started a new time-sequence by destroying Earth’s chance to wipe out Venus. If I could neutralize that act by helping them now, perhaps there would be a chance.

“I will show you how to use the katonator,” I said weakly.

Silently I adjusted it, slipped the belt off and handed it to him. He led me outside to where stars blazed in a black night. He looked upward hesitantly, pointed to a brilliant blue planet.

“Is that it?” he asked one of his companions. The man nodded. Carefully he took aim, pressed the trigger as I had showed him.

Lightnings roared again! The twin violet beams leaped from the muzzle of the weapon, howled up into the heavens. In a fraction of a second the photon-pack was drained and the pyrotechnic display died away. All was silent.

One of the officers raced back into the building, pounded the keys of a calculator. He returned almost at once.

“At this distance it will take just under nine minutes for light to make the round trip,” he said.

The officer who had fired the katonator whirled to confront me.

“Suppose I missed?” he cried in sudden alarm. “It is so far⁠—a fraction of a second of arc would make the beam miss entirely.”

I shook my head. “The beam fans out,” I explained. “And a planet has mass and the photons are attracted by gravity. Even if they should miss, the attraction of the planet would draw them into it.”

He nodded and was silent. Silence cloaked us all⁠—a hundred ancients and myself, all staring up into a mysterious night.

Nine minutes passed as slowly as nine terrible years. But by and by the hands of my chronometer completed their revolutions.

Suddenly we saw the katonator-beams strike.

Above us a new sun blazed forth, kindling like the striking of a cosmic match. Night fled around us, and day came flaring up into noonday brilliance, and beyond. Heat poured down upon us, brilliant rays of sunlight more intense than I had ever seen. The dome behind me sparkled and glistened in the incredible radiations from the stricken planet millions of miles away, and for a moment I could almost feel the fierce actinic waves of ultraviolet, cosmics and a thousand other super-spectral radiations.

Then the peak was reached, and the light began to fade as all the hydrogen was transmuted and consumed. In a moment the flare of energies was gone, and the pale blue planet had become a glowing orange coal.

We had seen a billion persons dying in a planetary suttee.

The vastness of the dead stunned me. I found that I was sobbing, almost weeping as I felt myself stained with a cosmic guilt.

The officer who had destroyed a billion lives glanced at me in full understanding of what he had done. He placed a hand on my shoulder, strangely comforting.

“It couldn’t be helped,” he said in a voice that surged with emotion.

I nodded bleakly. It couldn’t be helped. “It was for the sake of Earth,” I said, blindly seeking justification. “Earth was destined to win, in my time-sequence, and I had interfered⁠—I had to correct the consequences of my blunder⁠—”

I stopped. Wild astonishment burst through the tragic mask on the face of the officer. He drew back his arm as though he had found himself embracing an adder.

“What’s the matter?” I asked in astonishment.

He stared at me with dawning comprehension⁠—and pity. “Say that again!” he whispered.

“Why⁠—I said I had to correct my mistake. I had interfered, and the time-traveler who interferes maroons himself hopelessly. I had destroyed your weapon against Venus⁠—yet Venus had to be obliterated, or else I had no chance of return. I was lost⁠—and now, perhaps, I may have a chance to get back.”

He shook his head. There was compassion in his voice. “No, you have no chance,” he said, and hesitated while I tried to take in his meaning. “You see, this is Venus.” He waved at the glowing cinder in the sky. “That was Earth up there.”

Let the Ants Try

Gordy survived the Three-Hour War, even though Detroit didn’t; he was on his way to Washington, with his blueprints and models in his bag, when the bombs struck.

He had left his wife behind in the city, and not even a trace of her body was ever found. The children, of course, weren’t as lucky as that. Their summer camp was less than twenty miles away, and unfortunately in the direction of the prevailing wind. But they were not in any pain until the last few days of the month they had left to live. Gordy managed to fight his way back through the snarled, frantic airline controls to them. Even though he knew they would certainly die of radiation sickness, and they suspected it, there was still a whole blessed week of companionship before the pain got too bad.

That was about all the companionship Gordy had for the whole year of 1960.

He came back to Detroit, as soon as the radioactivity had died down; he had nowhere else to go. He found a house on the outskirts of the city, and tried to locate someone to buy it from. But the Emergency Administration laughed at him. “Move in, if you’re crazy enough to stay.”

When Gordy thought about it all, it occurred to him that he was in a sort of state of shock. His fine, trained mind almost stopped functioning. He ate and slept, and when it grew cold he shivered and built fires, and that was all. The War Department wrote him two or three times, and finally a government man came around to ask what had happened to the things that Gordy had promised to bring to Washington. But he looked queerly at the pink, hairless mice that fed unmolested in the filthy kitchen, and he stood a careful distance away from Gordy’s hairy face and torn clothes.

He said, “The Secretary sent me here, Mr. Gordy. He takes a personal interest in your discovery.”

Gordy shook his head. “The Secretary is dead,” he said. “They were all killed when Washington went.”

“There’s a new Secretary,” the man explained. He puffed on his cigarette and tossed it into the patch Gordy was scrabbling into a truck garden. “Arnold Cavanagh. He knows a great deal about you, and he told me, ‘If Salva Gordy has a weapon, we must have it. Our strength has been shattered. Tell Gordy we need his help.’ ”

Gordy crossed his hands like a lean Buddha.

“I haven’t got a weapon,” he said.

“You have something that can be used as a weapon. You wrote to Washington, before the War came, and said⁠—”

“The War is over,” said Salva Gordy. The government man sighed, and tried again, but in the end he went away. He never came back. The thing, Gordy thought, was undoubtedly written off as a crackpot idea after the man made his report; it was exactly that kind of a discovery, anyhow.


It was May when John de Terry appeared. Gordy was spading his garden. “Give me something to eat,” said the voice behind Gordy’s back.

Salva Gordy turned around and saw the small, dirty man who spoke. He rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. “You’ll have to work for it,” he said.

“All right.” The newcomer set down his pack. “My name is John de Terry. I used to live here in Detroit.”

Salva Gordy said, “So did I.”

Gordy fed the man, and accepted a cigarette from him after they had eaten. The first puffs made him lightheaded⁠—it had been that long since he’d smoked⁠—and through the smoke he looked at John de Terry amiably enough. Company would be all right, he thought. The pink mice had been company, of a sort⁠—but it turned out that the mutation that made them hairless had also given them an appetite for meat. And after the morning when he had awakened to find tiny tooth-marks in his leg, he’d had to destroy them. And there had been no other animal since, nothing but the ants.

“Are you going to stay?” Gordy asked.

De Terry said, “If I can. What’s your name?” When Gordy told him, some of the animal look went out of his eyes, and wonder took its place. “Doctor Salva Gordy?” he asked. “Mathematics and physics in Pasadena?”

“Yes, I used to teach at Pasadena.”

“And I studied there.” John de Terry rubbed absently at his ruined clothes. “That was a long time ago. You didn’t know me; I majored in biology. But I knew you.”

Gordy stood up and carefully put out the stub of his cigarette. “It was too long ago,” he said. “I hardly remember. Shall we work in the garden now?”

Together they sweated in the spring sunlight that afternoon, and Gordy discovered that what had been hard work for one man went quickly enough for two. They worked clear to the edge of the plot before the sun reached the horizon. John de Terry stopped and leaned on his spade, panting.

He gestured to the rank growth beyond Gordy’s patch. “We can make a bigger garden,” he said. “Clear out that truck, and plant more food. We might even⁠—” He stopped. Gordy was shaking his head.

“You can’t clear it out,” said Gordy. “It’s rank stuff, a sort of crabgrass with a particularly tough root. I can’t even cut it. It’s all around here, and it’s spreading.”

De Terry grimaced. “Mutation?”

“I think so. And look.” Gordy beckoned to the other man and led him to the very edge of the cleared area. He bent down, picked up something red and wriggling between his thumb and forefinger.

De Terry took it from his hand. “Another mutation?” He brought the thing close to his eyes. “It’s almost like an ant,” he said. “Except⁠—well, the thorax is all wrong. And it’s soft-bodied.” He fell silent, examining the thing.

He said something under his breath, and threw the insect from him. “You wouldn’t have a microscope, I suppose? No⁠—and yet, that thing is hard to believe. It’s an ant, but it doesn’t seem to have a tracheal breathing system at all. It’s something different.”

“Everything’s different,” Gordy said. He pointed to a couple of abandoned rows. “I had carrots there. At least, I thought they were carrots; when I tried to eat them they made me sick.” He sighed heavily. “Humanity has had its chance, John,” he said. “The atomic bomb wasn’t enough; we had to turn everything into a weapon. Even I, I made a weapon out of something that had nothing to do with war. And our weapons have blown up in our faces.”

De Terry grinned. “Maybe the ants will do better. It’s their turn now.”

“I wish it were.” Gordy stirred earth over the boiling entrance to an anthole and watched the insects in their consternation. “They’re too small, I’m afraid.”

“Why, no. These ants are different, Dr. Gordy. Insects have always been small because their breathing system is so poor. But these are mutated. I think⁠—I think they actually have lungs. They could grow, Dr. Gordy. And if ants were the size of men⁠ ⁠… they’d rule the world.”

“Lunged ants!” Gordy’s eyes gleamed. “Perhaps they will rule the world, John. Perhaps when the human race finally blows itself up once and for all.⁠ ⁠…”

De Terry shook his head, and looked down again at his tattered, filthy clothes. “The next blowup is the last blowup,” he said. “The ants come too late, by millions and millions of years.”

He picked up his spade. “I’m hungry again, Dr. Gordy,” he said.

They went back to the house and, without conversation, they ate. Gordy was preoccupied, and de Terry was too new in the household to force him to talk.

It was sundown when they had finished, and Gordy moved slowly to light a lamp. Then he stopped.

“It’s your first night, John,” he said. “Come down cellar. We’ll start the generator and have real electric lights in your honor.”

De Terry followed the older man down a flight of stairs, groping in the dark. By candlelight they worked over a gasoline generator; it was stiff from disuse, but once it started it ran cleanly. “I salvaged it from my own,” Gordy explained. “The generator⁠—and that.”

He swept an arm toward a corner of the basement. “I told you I invented a weapon,” he added. “That’s it.”

De Terry looked. It was as much like a cage as anything, he thought⁠—the height of a man and almost cubical. “What does it do?” he asked.

For the first time in months, Salva Gordy smiled. “I can’t tell you in English,” he said. “And I doubt that you speak mathematics. The closest I can come is to say that it displaces temporal coordinates. Is that gibberish?”

“It is,” said de Terry. “What does it do?”

“Well, the War Department had a name for it⁠—a name they borrowed from H. G. Wells. They called it a Time Machine.” He met de Terry’s shocked, bewildered stare calmly. “A time machine,” he repeated. “You see, John, we can give the ants a chance after all, if you like.”


Fourteen hours later they stepped into the cage, its batteries charged again and its strange motor whining.⁠ ⁠…

And, forty million years earlier, they stepped out onto quaking humid soil.

Gordy felt himself trembling, and with an effort managed to stop. “No dinosaurs or saber-toothed tigers in sight,” he reported.

“Not for a long time yet,” de Terry agreed. Then, “My Lord!”

He looked around him with his mouth open wide. There was no wind, and the air was warm and wet. Large trees were clustered quite thickly around them⁠—or what looked like trees; de Terry decided they were rather some sort of soft-stemmed ferns or fungi. Overhead was deep cloud.

Gordy shivered. “Give me the ants,” he ordered.

Silently de Terry handed them over. Gordy poked a hole in the soft earth with his finger and carefully tilted the flask, dropped one of the ant queens he had unearthed in the back yard. From her belly hung a slimy mass of eggs. A few yards away⁠—it should have been farther, he thought, but he was afraid to get too far from de Terry and the machine⁠—he made another hole and repeated the process.

There were eight queens. When the eighth was buried he flung the bottle away and came back to de Terry.

“That’s it,” he said.

De Terry exhaled. His solemn face cracked in a sudden embarrassed smile. “I⁠—I guess I feel like God,” he said. “Good lord, Dr. Gordy! Talk about your great moments in history⁠—this is all of them! I’ve been thinking about it, and the only event I can remember that measures up is the Flood. Not even that. We’ve created a race!”

“If they survive, we have.” Gordy wiped a drop of condensed moisture off the side of his time machine and puffed. “I wonder how they’ll get along with mankind,” he said.

They were silent for a moment, considering. From somewhere in the fern jungle came a raucous animal cry. Both men looked up in quick apprehension, but moments passed and the animal did not appear.

Finally de Terry said, “Maybe we’d better go back.”

“All right.” Stiffly they climbed into the closet-sized interior of the time machine.

Gordy stood with his hand on the control wheel, thinking about the ants. Assuming that they survived⁠—assuming that in 40,000,000 years they grew larger and developed brains⁠—what would happen? Would men be able to live in peace with them? Would it⁠—might it not make men brothers, joined against an alien race?

Might this thing prevent human war, and⁠—his thoughts took an insane leap⁠—could it have prevented the war that destroyed Gordy’s family!

Beside him, de Terry stirred restlessly. Gordy jumped, and turned the wheel, and was in the dark mathematical vortex which might have been a fourth dimension.

They stopped the machine in the middle of a city, but the city was not Detroit. It was not a human city at all.

The machine was at rest in a narrow street, half blocking it. Around them towered conical metal structures, some of them a hundred feet high. There were vehicles moving in the street, one coming toward them and stopping.

Dr. Gordy!” de Terry whispered. “Do you see them?”

Salva Gordy swallowed. “I see them,” he said.

He stepped out of the time machine and stood waiting to greet the race to which he had given life.

For these were the children of ants in the three-wheeled vehicle. Behind a transparent windshield he could see them clearly.

De Terry was standing close behind him now, and Gordy could feel the younger man’s body shaking. “They’re ugly things,” Gordy said mildly.

“Ugly! They’re filthy!”

The antlike creatures were as big as a man, but hard-looking and as obnoxious as blackbeetles. Their eyes, Gordy saw with surprise, had mutated more than their bodies. For, instead of faceted insect eyes, they possessed iris, cornea and pupil⁠—not round, or vertical like a cat’s eyes, or horizontal like a horse’s eyes, but irregular and blotchy. But they seemed like vertebrate’s eyes, and they were strange and unnatural in the parchment blackness of an ant’s bulged head.

Gordy stepped forward, and simultaneously the ants came out of their vehicle. For a moment they faced each other, the humans and the ants, silently.

“What do I do now?” Gordy asked de Terry over his shoulder.

De Terry laughed⁠—or gasped. Gordy wasn’t sure. “Talk to them,” he said. “What else is there to do?”

Gordy swallowed. He resolutely did not attempt to speak in English to these creatures, knowing as surely as he knew his name that English⁠—and probably any other language involving sound⁠—would be incomprehensible to them. But he found himself smiling pacifically to them, and that was of course as bad⁠ ⁠… the things had no expressions of their own, that he could see, and certainly they would have no precedent to help interpret a human smile.

Gordy raised his hand in the semantically sound gesture of peace, and waited to see what the insects would do.

They did nothing.

Gordy bit his lip and, feeling idiotic, bowed stiffly to the ants.

The ants did nothing. De Terry said from behind, “Try talking to them, Dr. Gordy.”

“That’s silly,” Gordy said. “They can’t hear.” But it was no sillier than anything else. Irritably, but making the words very clear, he said, “We⁠ ⁠… are⁠ ⁠… friends.”

The ants did nothing. They just stood there, with the unwinking pupiled eyes fixed on Gordy. They didn’t shift from foot to foot as a human might, or scratch themselves, or even show the small movement of human breathing. They just stood there.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said de Terry. “Here let me try.”

He stepped in front of Gordy and faced the ant-things. He pointed to himself. “I am human,” he said. “Mammalian.” He pointed to the ants. “You are insects. That⁠—” he pointed to the time machine⁠—“took us to the past, where we made it possible for you to exist.” He waited for reaction, but there wasn’t any. De Terry clicked his tongue and began again. He pointed to the tapering metal structures. “This is your city,” he said.

Gordy, listening to him, felt the hopelessness of the effort. Something disturbed the thin hairs at the back of his skull, and he reached absently to smooth them down. His hand encountered something hard and inanimate⁠—not cold, but, like spongy wood, without temperature at all. He turned around. Behind them were half a dozen larger ants. Drones, he thought⁠—or did ants have drones? “John,” he said softly⁠ ⁠… and the inefficient, fragile-looking pincer that had touched him clamped his shoulder. There was no strength to it, he thought at once. Until he moved, instinctively, to get away, and then a thousand sharp serrations slipped through the cloth of his coat and into the skin. It was like catching oneself on a cluster of tiny fishhooks. He shouted, “John! Watch out!”

De Terry, bending low for the purpose of pointing at the caterpillar treads of the ant vehicle, straightened up, startled. He turned to run, and was caught in a step. Gordy heard him yell, but Gordy had troubles of his own and could spare no further attention for de Terry.

When two of the ants had him, Gordy stopped struggling. He felt warm blood roll down his arm, and the pain was like being flayed. From where he hung between the ants, he could see the first two, still standing before their vehicle, still motionless.

There was a sour reek in his nostrils, and he traced it to the ants that held him, and wondered if he smelled as bad to them. The two smaller ants abruptly stirred and moved forward rapidly on eight thin legs to the time machine. Gordy’s captors turned and followed them, and for the first time since the scuffle he saw de Terry. The younger man was hanging limp from the lifted forelegs of a single ant, with two more standing guard beside. There was pulsing blood from a wound on de Terry’s neck. Unconscious, Gordy thought mechanically, and turned his head to watch the ants at the machine.

It was a disappointing sight. They merely stood there, and no one moved. Then Gordy heard de Terry grunt and swear weakly. “How are you, John?” he called.

De Terry grimaced. “Not very good. What happened?”

Gordy shook his head, and sought for words to answer. But the two ants turned in unison from the time machine and glided toward de Terry, and Gordy’s words died in his throat. Delicately one of them extended a foreleg to touch de Terry’s chest.

Gordy saw it coming. “John!” he shrieked⁠—and then it was all over, and de Terry’s scream was harsh in his ear and he turned his head away. Dimly from the corner of his eye he could see the sawlike claws moving up and down, but there was no life left in Terry to protest.


Salva Gordy sat against a wall and looked at the ants who were looking at him. If it hadn’t been for that which was done to de Terry, he thought, there would really be nothing to complain about.

It was true that the ants had given him none of the comforts that humanity lavishes on even its criminals⁠ ⁠… but they had fed him, and allowed him to sleep⁠—when it suited their convenience, of course⁠—and there were small signs that they were interested in his comfort, in their fashion. When the pulpy mush they first offered him came up thirty minutes later, his multi-legged hosts brought him a variety of foods, of which he was able to swallow some fairly palatable fruits. He was housed in a warm room. And, if it had neither chairs or windows, Gordy thought, that was only because ants had no use for these themselves. And he couldn’t ask for them.

That was the big drawback, he thought. That⁠ ⁠… and the memory of John de Terry.

He squirmed on the hard floor until his shoulder-blades found a new spot to prop themselves against, and stared again at the committee of ants who had come to see him.

They were working an angular thing that looked like a camera⁠—at least, it had a glittering something that might be a lens. Gordy stared into it sullenly. The sour reek was in his nostrils again.⁠ ⁠…

Gordy admitted to himself that things hadn’t worked out just as he had planned. Deep under the surface of his mind⁠—just now beginning to come out where he could see it⁠—there had been a furtive hope. He had hoped that the rise of the ants, with the help he had given them, would aid and speed the rise of mankind. For hatred, Gordy knew, started in the recoil from things that were different. A man’s first enemy is his family⁠—for he sees them first⁠—but he sides with them against the families across the way. And still his neighbors are allies against the Ghettos and Harlems of his town⁠—and his town to him is the heart of the nation⁠—and his nation commands life and death in war.

For Gordy, there had been a buried hope that a separate race would make a whipping-boy for the passions of humanity. And that, if there were struggle, it would not be between man and man, but between the humans⁠ ⁠… and the ants.

There had been this buried hope, but the hope was denied. For the ants simply had not allowed man to rise.

The ants put up their camera-like machine and Gordy looked up in expectation. Half a dozen of them left, and two stayed on. One was the smallish creature with a bangle on the foreleg which seemed to be his personal jailer; the other a stranger to Gordy, as far as he could tell.

The two ants stood motionless for a period of time that Gordy found tedious. He changed his position, and lay on the floor, and thought of sleeping. But sleep would not come. There was no evading the knowledge that he had wiped out his own race⁠—annihilated them by preventing them from birth, forty million years before his own time. He was like no other murderer since Cain, Gordy thought, and wondered that he felt no blood on his hands.

There was a signal that he could not perceive, and his guardian ant came forward to him, nudged him outward from the wall. He moved as he was directed⁠—out the low exit-hole (he had to navigate it on hands and knees) and down a corridor to the bright day outside.

The light set Gordy blinking. Half blind, he followed the bangled ant across a square to a conical shed. More ants were waiting there, circled around a litter of metal parts.

Gordy recognized them at once. It was his time machine, stripped piece by piece.

After a moment the ant nudged him again, impatiently, and Gordy understood what they wanted. They had taken the machine apart for study, and they wanted it put together again.

Pleased with the prospect of something to do with his fingers and his brain, Gordy grinned and reached for the curious ant-made tools.⁠ ⁠…

He ate four times, and slept once, never moving from the neighborhood of the cone-shaped shed. And then he was finished.

Gordy stepped back. “It’s all yours,” he said proudly. “It’ll take you anywhere. A present from humanity to you.”

The ants were very silent. Gordy looked at them and saw that there were drone-ants in the group, all still as statues.

“Hey!” he said in startlement, unthinking. And then the needle-jawed ant claw took him from behind.

Gordy had a moment of nausea⁠—and then terror and hatred swept it away.

Heedless of the needles that laced his skin, he struggled and kicked against the creatures that held him. One arm came free, leaving gobbets of flesh behind, and his heavy shod foot plunged into a pulpy eye. The ant made a whistling, gasping sound and stood erect on four hairy legs.

Gordy felt himself jerked a dozen feet into the air, then flung free in the wild, silent agony of the ant. He crashed into the ground, cowering away from the staggering monster. Sobbing, he pushed himself to his feet; the machine was behind him; he turned and blundered into it a step ahead of the other ants, and spun the wheel.

A hollow insect leg, detached from the ant that had been closest to him, was flopping about on the floor of the machine; it had been that close.

Gordy stopped the machine where it had started, on the same quivering, primordial bog, and lay crouched over the controls for a long time before he moved.

He had made a mistake, he and de Terry; there weren’t any doubts left at all. And there was⁠ ⁠… there might be a way to right it.

He looked out at the Coal Measure forest. The fern trees were not the fern trees he had seen before; the machine had been moved in space. But the time, he knew was identically the same; trust the machine for that. He thought: I gave the world to the ants, right here. I can take it back. I can find the ants I buried and crush them underfoot⁠ ⁠… or intercept myself before I bury them.⁠ ⁠…

He got out of the machine, suddenly panicky. Urgency squinted his eyes as he peered around him.

Death had been very close in the ant city; the reaction still left Gordy limp. And was he safe here? He remembered the violent animal scream he had heard before, and shuddered at the thought of furnishing a casual meal to some dinosaur⁠ ⁠… while the ant queens lived safely to produce their horrid young.

A gleam of metal through the fern trees made his heart leap. Burnished metal here could mean but one thing⁠—the machine!

Around a clump of fern trees, their bases covered with thick club mosses, he ran, and saw the machine ahead. He raced toward it⁠—then came to a sudden stop, slipping on the damp ground.

For there were two machines in sight.

The farther machine was his own, and through the screening mosses he could see two figures standing in it, his own and de Terry’s.

But the nearer was a larger machine, and a strange design.

And from it came a hastening mob⁠—not a mob of men, but of black insect shapes racing toward him.

Of course, thought Gordy, as he turned hopelessly to run⁠—of course, the ants had infinite time to work in. Time enough to build a machine after the pattern of his own⁠—and time to realize what they had to do to him, to insure their own race safety.

Gordy stumbled, and the first of the black things was upon him.

As his panicky lungs filled with air for the last time, Gordy knew what animal had screamed in the depths of the Coal Measure forest.

The Tunnel Under the World

I

On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream.

It was more real than any dream he had ever had in his life. He could still hear and feel the sharp, ripping-metal explosion, the violent heave that had tossed him furiously out of bed, the searing wave of heat.

He sat up convulsively and stared, not believing what he saw, at the quiet room and the bright sunlight coming in the window.

He croaked, “Mary?”

His wife was not in the bed next to him. The covers were tumbled and awry, as though she had just left it, and the memory of the dream was so strong that instinctively he found himself searching the floor to see if the dream explosion had thrown her down.

But she wasn’t there. Of course she wasn’t, he told himself, looking at the familiar vanity and slipper chair, the uncracked window, the unbuckled wall. It had only been a dream.

“Guy?” His wife was calling him querulously from the foot of the stairs. “Guy, dear, are you all right?”

He called weakly, “Sure.”

There was a pause. Then Mary said doubtfully, “Breakfast is ready. Are you sure you’re all right? I thought I heard you yelling⁠—”

Burckhardt said more confidently, “I had a bad dream, honey. Be right down.”

In the shower, punching the lukewarm-and-cologne he favored, he told himself that it had been a beaut of a dream. Still, bad dreams weren’t unusual, especially bad dreams about explosions. In the past thirty years of H-bomb jitters, who had not dreamed of explosions?

Even Mary had dreamed of them, it turned out, for he started to tell her about the dream, but she cut him off. “You did?” Her voice was astonished. “Why, dear, I dreamed the same thing! Well, almost the same thing. I didn’t actually hear anything. I dreamed that something woke me up, and then there was a sort of quick bang, and then something hit me on the head. And that was all. Was yours like that?”

Burckhardt coughed. “Well, no,” he said. Mary was not one of these strong-as-a-man, brave-as-a-tiger women. It was not necessary, he thought, to tell her all the little details of the dream that made it seem so real. No need to mention the splintered ribs, and the salt bubble in his throat, and the agonized knowledge that this was death. He said, “Maybe there really was some kind of explosion downtown. Maybe we heard it and it started us dreaming.”

Mary reached over and patted his hand absently. “Maybe,” she agreed. “It’s almost half-past eight, dear. Shouldn’t you hurry? You don’t want to be late to the office.”

He gulped his food, kissed her and rushed out⁠—not so much to be on time as to see if his guess had been right.

But downtown Tylerton looked as it always had. Coming in on the bus, Burckhardt watched critically out the window, seeking evidence of an explosion. There wasn’t any. If anything, Tylerton looked better than it ever had before: It was a beautiful crisp day, the sky was cloudless, the buildings were clean and inviting. They had, he observed, steam-blasted the Power & Light Building, the town’s only skyscraper⁠—that was the penalty of having Contro Chemical’s main plant on the outskirts of town; the fumes from the cascade stills left their mark on stone buildings.

None of the usual crowd were on the bus, so there wasn’t anyone Burckhardt could ask about the explosion. And by the time he got out at the corner of Fifth and Lehigh and the bus rolled away with a muted diesel moan, he had pretty well convinced himself that it was all imagination.

He stopped at the cigar stand in the lobby of his office building, but Ralph wasn’t behind the counter. The man who sold him his pack of cigarettes was a stranger.

“Where’s Mr. Stebbins?” Burckhardt asked.

The man said politely, “Sick, sir. He’ll be in tomorrow. A pack of Marlins today?”

“Chesterfields,” Burckhardt corrected.

“Certainly, sir,” the man said. But what he took from the rack and slid across the counter was an unfamiliar green-and-yellow pack.

“Do try these, sir,” he suggested. “They contain an anti-cough factor. Ever notice how ordinary cigarettes make you choke every once in a while?”

Burckhardt said suspiciously, “I never heard of this brand.”

“Of course not. They’re something new.” Burckhardt hesitated, and the man said persuasively, “Look, try them out at my risk. If you don’t like them, bring back the empty pack and I’ll refund your money. Fair enough?”

Burckhardt shrugged. “How can I lose? But give me a pack of Chesterfields, too, will you?”

He opened the pack and lit one while he waited for the elevator. They weren’t bad, he decided, though he was suspicious of cigarettes that had the tobacco chemically treated in any way. But he didn’t think much of Ralph’s stand-in; it would raise hell with the trade at the cigar stand if the man tried to give every customer the same high-pressure sales talk.

The elevator door opened with a low-pitched sound of music. Burckhardt and two or three others got in and he nodded to them as the door closed. The thread of music switched off and the speaker in the ceiling of the cab began its usual commercials.

No, not the usual commercials, Burckhardt realized. He had been exposed to the captive-audience commercials so long that they hardly registered on the outer ear anymore, but what was coming from the recorded program in the basement of the building caught his attention. It wasn’t merely that the brands were mostly unfamiliar; it was a difference in pattern.

There were jingles with an insistent, bouncy rhythm, about soft drinks he had never tasted. There was a rapid patter dialogue between what sounded like two ten-year-old boys about a candy bar, followed by an authoritative bass rumble: “Go right out and get a delicious Choco-Bite and eat your tangy Choco-Bite all up. That’s Choco-Bite!” There was a sobbing female whine: “I wish I had a Feckle Freezer! I’d do anything for a Feckle Freezer!” Burckhardt reached his floor and left the elevator in the middle of the last one. It left him a little uneasy. The commercials were not for familiar brands; there was no feeling of use and custom to them.

But the office was happily normal⁠—except that Mr. Barth wasn’t in. Miss Mitkin, yawning at the reception desk, didn’t know exactly why. “His home phoned, that’s all. He’ll be in tomorrow.”

“Maybe he went to the plant. It’s right near his house.”

She looked indifferent. “Yeah.”

A thought struck Burckhardt. “But today is June 15th! It’s quarterly tax return day⁠—he has to sign the return!”

Miss Mitkin shrugged to indicate that that was Burckhardt’s problem, not hers. She returned to her nails.

Thoroughly exasperated, Burckhardt went to his desk. It wasn’t that he couldn’t sign the tax returns as well as Barth, he thought resentfully. It simply wasn’t his job, that was all; it was a responsibility that Barth, as office manager for Contro Chemicals’ downtown office, should have taken.

He thought briefly of calling Barth at his home or trying to reach him at the factory, but he gave up the idea quickly enough. He didn’t really care much for the people at the factory and the less contact he had with them, the better. He had been to the factory once, with Barth; it had been a confusing and, in a way, a frightening experience. Barring a handful of executives and engineers, there wasn’t a soul in the factory⁠—that is, Burckhardt corrected himself, remembering what Barth had told him, not a living soul⁠—just the machines.

According to Barth, each machine was controlled by a sort of computer which reproduced, in its electronic snarl, the actual memory and mind of a human being. It was an unpleasant thought. Barth, laughing, had assured him that there was no Frankenstein business of robbing graveyards and implanting brains in machines. It was only a matter, he said, of transferring a man’s habit patterns from brain cells to vacuum-tube cells. It didn’t hurt the man and it didn’t make the machine into a monster.

But they made Burckhardt uncomfortable all the same.

He put Barth and the factory and all his other little irritations out of his mind and tackled the tax returns. It took him until noon to verify the figures⁠—which Barth could have done out of his memory and his private ledger in ten minutes, Burckhardt resentfully reminded himself.

He sealed them in an envelope and walked out to Miss Mitkin. “Since Mr. Barth isn’t here, we’d better go to lunch in shifts,” he said. “You can go first.”

“Thanks.” Miss Mitkin languidly took her bag out of the desk drawer and began to apply makeup.

Burckhardt offered her the envelope. “Drop this in the mail for me, will you? Uh⁠—wait a minute. I wonder if I ought to phone Mr. Barth to make sure. Did his wife say whether he was able to take phone calls?”

“Didn’t say.” Miss Mitkin blotted her lips carefully with a Kleenex. “Wasn’t his wife, anyway. It was his daughter who called and left the message.”

“The kid?” Burckhardt frowned. “I thought she was away at school.”

“She called, that’s all I know.”

Burckhardt went back to his own office and stared distastefully at the unopened mail on his desk. He didn’t like nightmares; they spoiled his whole day. He should have stayed in bed, like Barth.


A funny thing happened on his way home. There was a disturbance at the corner where he usually caught his bus⁠—someone was screaming something about a new kind of deep-freeze⁠—so he walked an extra block. He saw the bus coming and started to trot. But behind him, someone was calling his name. He looked over his shoulder; a small harried-looking man was hurrying toward him.

Burckhardt hesitated, and then recognized him. It was a casual acquaintance named Swanson. Burckhardt sourly observed that he had already missed the bus.

He said, “Hello.”

Swanson’s face was desperately eager. “Burckhardt?” he asked inquiringly, with an odd intensity. And then he just stood there silently, watching Burckhardt’s face, with a burning eagerness that dwindled to a faint hope and died to a regret. He was searching for something, waiting for something, Burckhardt thought. But whatever it was he wanted, Burckhardt didn’t know how to supply it.

Burckhardt coughed and said again, “Hello, Swanson.”

Swanson didn’t even acknowledge the greeting. He merely sighed a very deep sigh.

“Nothing doing,” he mumbled, apparently to himself. He nodded abstractedly to Burckhardt and turned away.

Burckhardt watched the slumped shoulders disappear in the crowd. It was an odd sort of day, he thought, and one he didn’t much like. Things weren’t going right.

Riding home on the next bus, he brooded about it. It wasn’t anything terrible or disastrous; it was something out of his experience entirely. You live your life, like any man, and you form a network of impressions and reactions. You expect things. When you open your medicine chest, your razor is expected to be on the second shelf; when you lock your front door, you expect to have to give it a slight extra tug to make it latch.

It isn’t the things that are right and perfect in your life that make it familiar. It is the things that are just a little bit wrong⁠—the sticking latch, the light switch at the head of the stairs that needs an extra push because the spring is old and weak, the rug that unfailingly skids underfoot.

It wasn’t just that things were wrong with the pattern of Burckhardt’s life; it was that the wrong things were wrong. For instance, Barth hadn’t come into the office, yet Barth always came in.

Burckhardt brooded about it through dinner. He brooded about it, despite his wife’s attempt to interest him in a game of bridge with the neighbors, all through the evening. The neighbors were people he liked⁠—Anne and Farley Dennerman. He had known them all their lives. But they were odd and brooding, too, this night and he barely listened to Dennerman’s complaints about not being able to get good phone service or his wife’s comments on the disgusting variety of television commercials they had these days.

Burckhardt was well on the way to setting an all-time record for continuous abstraction when, around midnight, with a suddenness that surprised him⁠—he was strangely aware of it happening⁠—he turned over in his bed and, quickly and completely, fell asleep.

II

On the morning of June 15th, Burckhardt woke up screaming.

It was more real than any dream he had ever had in his life. He could still hear the explosion, feel the blast that crushed him against a wall. It did not seem right that he should be sitting bolt upright in bed in an undisturbed room.

His wife came pattering up the stairs. “Darling!” she cried. “What’s the matter?”

He mumbled, “Nothing. Bad dream.”

She relaxed, hand on heart. In an angry tone, she started to say: “You gave me such a shock⁠—”

But a noise from outside interrupted her. There was a wail of sirens and a clang of bells; it was loud and shocking.

The Burckhardts stared at each other for a heartbeat, then hurried fearfully to the window.

There were no rumbling fire engines in the street, only a small panel truck, cruising slowly along. Flaring loudspeaker horns crowned its top. From them issued the screaming sound of sirens, growing in intensity, mixed with the rumble of heavy-duty engines and the sound of bells. It was a perfect record of fire engines arriving at a four-alarm blaze.

Burckhardt said in amazement, “Mary, that’s against the law! Do you know what they’re doing? They’re playing records of a fire. What are they up to?”

“Maybe it’s a practical joke,” his wife offered.

“Joke? Waking up the whole neighborhood at six o’clock in the morning?” He shook his head. “The police will be here in ten minutes,” he predicted. “Wait and see.”

But the police weren’t⁠—not in ten minutes, or at all. Whoever the pranksters in the car were, they apparently had a police permit for their games.

The car took a position in the middle of the block and stood silent for a few minutes. Then there was a crackle from the speaker, and a giant voice chanted:

“Feckle Freezers!
Feckle Freezers!
Gotta have a
Feckle Freezer!
Feckle, Feckle, Feckle,
Feckle, Feckle, Feckle⁠—”

It went on and on. Every house on the block had faces staring out of windows by then. The voice was not merely loud; it was nearly deafening.

Burckhardt shouted to his wife, over the uproar, “What the hell is a Feckle Freezer?”

“Some kind of a freezer, I guess, dear,” she shrieked back unhelpfully.

Abruptly the noise stopped and the truck stood silent. It was still misty morning; the Sun’s rays came horizontally across the rooftops. It was impossible to believe that, a moment ago, the silent block had been bellowing the name of a freezer.

“A crazy advertising trick,” Burckhardt said bitterly. He yawned and turned away from the window. “Might as well get dressed. I guess that’s the end of⁠—”

The bellow caught him from behind; it was almost like a hard slap on the ears. A harsh, sneering voice, louder than the archangel’s trumpet, howled:

“Have you got a freezer? It stinks! If it isn’t a Feckle Freezer, it stinks! If it’s a last year’s Feckle Freezer, it stinks! Only this year’s Feckle Freezer is any good at all! You know who owns an Ajax Freezer? Fairies own Ajax Freezers! You know who owns a Triplecold Freezer? Commies own Triplecold Freezers! Every freezer but a brand-new Feckle Freezer stinks!”

The voice screamed inarticulately with rage. “I’m warning you! Get out and buy a Feckle Freezer right away! Hurry up! Hurry for Feckle! Hurry for Feckle! Hurry, hurry, hurry, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle.⁠ ⁠…”

It stopped eventually. Burckhardt licked his lips. He started to say to his wife, “Maybe we ought to call the police about⁠—” when the speakers erupted again. It caught him off guard; it was intended to catch him off guard. It screamed:

“Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle. Cheap freezers ruin your food. You’ll get sick and throw up. You’ll get sick and die. Buy a Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle! Ever take a piece of meat out of the freezer you’ve got and see how rotten and moldy it is? Buy a Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle, Feckle. Do you want to eat rotten, stinking food? Or do you want to wise up and buy a Feckle, Feckle, Feckle⁠—”

That did it. With fingers that kept stabbing the wrong holes, Burckhardt finally managed to dial the local police station. He got a busy signal⁠—it was apparent that he was not the only one with the same idea⁠—and while he was shakingly dialing again, the noise outside stopped.

He looked out the window. The truck was gone.


Burckhardt loosened his tie and ordered another Frosty-Flip from the waiter. If only they wouldn’t keep the Crystal Café so hot! The new paint job⁠—searing reds and blinding yellows⁠—was bad enough, but someone seemed to have the delusion that this was January instead of June; the place was a good ten degrees warmer than outside.

He swallowed the Frosty-Flip in two gulps. It had a kind of peculiar flavor, he thought, but not bad. It certainly cooled you off, just as the waiter had promised. He reminded himself to pick up a carton of them on the way home; Mary might like them. She was always interested in something new.

He stood up awkwardly as the girl came across the restaurant toward him. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in Tylerton. Chin-height, honey-blonde hair and a figure that⁠—well, it was all hers. There was no doubt in the world that the dress that clung to her was the only thing she wore. He felt as if he were blushing as she greeted him.

Mr. Burckhardt.” The voice was like distant tomtoms. “It’s wonderful of you to let me see you, after this morning.”

He cleared his throat. “Not at all. Won’t you sit down, Miss⁠—”

“April Horn,” she murmured, sitting down⁠—beside him, not where he had pointed on the other side of the table. “Call me April, won’t you?”

She was wearing some kind of perfume, Burckhardt noted with what little of his mind was functioning at all. It didn’t seem fair that she should be using perfume as well as everything else. He came to with a start and realized that the waiter was leaving with an order for filets mignon for two.

“Hey!” he objected.

“Please, Mr. Burckhardt.” Her shoulder was against his, her face was turned to him, her breath was warm, her expression was tender and solicitous. “This is all on the Feckle Corporation. Please let them⁠—it’s the least they can do.”

He felt her hand burrowing into his pocket.

“I put the price of the meal into your pocket,” she whispered conspiratorially. “Please do that for me, won’t you? I mean I’d appreciate it if you’d pay the waiter⁠—I’m old-fashioned about things like that.”

She smiled meltingly, then became mock-businesslike. “But you must take the money,” she insisted. “Why, you’re letting Feckle off lightly if you do! You could sue them for every nickel they’ve got, disturbing your sleep like that.”

With a dizzy feeling, as though he had just seen someone make a rabbit disappear into a top hat, he said, “Why, it really wasn’t so bad, uh, April. A little noisy, maybe, but⁠—”

“Oh, Mr. Burckhardt!” The blue eyes were wide and admiring. “I knew you’d understand. It’s just that⁠—well, it’s such a wonderful freezer that some of the outside men get carried away, so to speak. As soon as the main office found out about what happened, they sent representatives around to every house on the block to apologize. Your wife told us where we could phone you⁠—and I’m so very pleased that you were willing to let me have lunch with you, so that I could apologize, too. Because truly, Mr. Burckhardt, it is a fine freezer.

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but⁠—” the blue eyes were shyly lowered⁠—“I’d do almost anything for Feckle Freezers. It’s more than a job to me.” She looked up. She was enchanting. “I bet you think I’m silly, don’t you?”

Burckhardt coughed. “Well, I⁠—”

“Oh, you don’t want to be unkind!” She shook her head. “No, don’t pretend. You think it’s silly. But really, Mr. Burckhardt, you wouldn’t think so if you knew more about the Feckle. Let me show you this little booklet⁠—”

Burckhardt got back from lunch a full hour late. It wasn’t only the girl who delayed him. There had been a curious interview with a little man named Swanson, whom he barely knew, who had stopped him with desperate urgency on the street⁠—and then left him cold.

But it didn’t matter much. Mr. Barth, for the first time since Burckhardt had worked there, was out for the day⁠—leaving Burckhardt stuck with the quarterly tax returns.

What did matter, though, was that somehow he had signed a purchase order for a twelve-cubic-foot Feckle Freezer, upright model, self-defrosting, list price $625, with a ten percent “courtesy” discount⁠—“Because of that horrid affair this morning, Mr. Burckhardt,” she had said.

And he wasn’t sure how he could explain it to his wife.


He needn’t have worried. As he walked in the front door, his wife said almost immediately, “I wonder if we can’t afford a new freezer, dear. There was a man here to apologize about that noise and⁠—well, we got to talking and⁠—”

She had signed a purchase order, too.

It had been the damnedest day, Burckhardt thought later, on his way up to bed. But the day wasn’t done with him yet. At the head of the stairs, the weakened spring in the electric light switch refused to click at all. He snapped it back and forth angrily and, of course, succeeded in jarring the tumbler out of its pins. The wires shorted and every light in the house went out.

“Damn!” said Guy Burckhardt.

“Fuse?” His wife shrugged sleepily. “Let it go till the morning, dear.”

Burckhardt shook his head. “You go back to bed. I’ll be right along.”

It wasn’t so much that he cared about fixing the fuse, but he was too restless for sleep. He disconnected the bad switch with a screwdriver, stumbled down into the black kitchen, found the flashlight and climbed gingerly down the cellar stairs. He located a spare fuse, pushed an empty trunk over to the fuse box to stand on and twisted out the old fuse.

When the new one was in, he heard the starting click and steady drone of the refrigerator in the kitchen overhead.

He headed back to the steps, and stopped.

Where the old trunk had been, the cellar floor gleamed oddly bright. He inspected it in the flashlight beam. It was metal!

“Son of a gun,” said Guy Burckhardt. He shook his head unbelievingly. He peered closer, rubbed the edges of the metallic patch with his thumb and acquired an annoying cut⁠—the edges were sharp.

The stained cement floor of the cellar was a thin shell. He found a hammer and cracked it off in a dozen spots⁠—everywhere was metal.

The whole cellar was a copper box. Even the cement-brick walls were false fronts over a metal sheath!

Baffled, he attacked one of the foundation beams. That, at least, was real wood. The glass in the cellar windows was real glass.

He sucked his bleeding thumb and tried the base of the cellar stairs. Real wood. He chipped at the bricks under the oil burner. Real bricks. The retaining walls, the floor⁠—they were faked.

It was as though someone had shored up the house with a frame of metal and then laboriously concealed the evidence.

The biggest surprise was the upside-down boat hull that blocked the rear half of the cellar, relic of a brief home workshop period that Burckhardt had gone through a couple of years before. From above, it looked perfectly normal. Inside, though, where there should have been thwarts and seats and lockers, there was a mere tangle of braces, rough and unfinished.

“But I built that!” Burckhardt exclaimed, forgetting his thumb. He leaned against the hull dizzily, trying to think this thing through. For reasons beyond his comprehension, someone had taken his boat and his cellar away, maybe his whole house, and replaced them with a clever mock-up of the real thing.

“That’s crazy,” he said to the empty cellar. He stared around in the light of the flash. He whispered, “What in the name of Heaven would anybody do that for?”

Reason refused an answer; there wasn’t any reasonable answer. For long minutes, Burckhardt contemplated the uncertain picture of his own sanity.

He peered under the boat again, hoping to reassure himself that it was a mistake, just his imagination. But the sloppy, unfinished bracing was unchanged. He crawled under for a better look, feeling the rough wood incredulously. Utterly impossible!

He switched off the flashlight and started to wriggle out. But he didn’t make it. In the moment between the command to his legs to move and the crawling out, he felt a sudden draining weariness flooding through him.

Consciousness went⁠—not easily, but as though it were being taken away, and Guy Burckhardt was asleep.

III

On the morning of June 16th, Guy Burckhardt woke up in a cramped position huddled under the hull of the boat in his basement⁠—and raced upstairs to find it was June 15th.

The first thing he had done was to make a frantic, hasty inspection of the boat hull, the faked cellar floor, the imitation stone. They were all as he had remembered them⁠—all completely unbelievable.

The kitchen was its placid, unexciting self. The electric clock was purring soberly around the dial. Almost six o’clock, it said. His wife would be waking at any moment.

Burckhardt flung open the front door and stared out into the quiet street. The morning paper was tossed carelessly against the steps⁠—and as he retrieved it, he noticed that this was the 15th day of June.

But that was impossible. Yesterday was the 15th of June. It was not a date one would forget⁠—it was quarterly tax-return day.

He went back into the hall and picked up the telephone; he dialed for Weather Information, and got a well-modulated chant: “⁠—and cooler, some showers. Barometric pressure thirty point zero four, rising⁠ ⁠… United States Weather Bureau forecast for June 15th. Warm and sunny, with high around⁠—”

He hung the phone up. June 15th.

“Holy heaven!” Burckhardt said prayerfully. Things were very odd indeed. He heard the ring of his wife’s alarm and bounded up the stairs.

Mary Burckhardt was sitting upright in bed with the terrified, uncomprehending stare of someone just waking out of a nightmare.

“Oh!” she gasped, as her husband came in the room. “Darling, I just had the most terrible dream! It was like an explosion and⁠—”

“Again?” Burckhardt asked, not very sympathetically. “Mary, something’s funny! I knew there was something wrong all day yesterday and⁠—”

He went on to tell her about the copper box that was the cellar, and the odd mock-up someone had made of his boat. Mary looked astonished, then alarmed, then placatory and uneasy.

She said, “Dear, are you sure? Because I was cleaning that old trunk out just last week and I didn’t notice anything.”

“Positive!” said Guy Burckhardt. “I dragged it over to the wall to step on it to put a new fuse in after we blew the lights out and⁠—”

“After we what?” Mary was looking more than merely alarmed.

“After we blew the lights out. You know, when the switch at the head of the stairs stuck. I went down to the cellar and⁠—”

Mary sat up in bed. “Guy, the switch didn’t stick. I turned out the lights myself last night.”

Burckhardt glared at his wife. “Now I know you didn’t! Come here and take a look!”

He stalked out to the landing and dramatically pointed to the bad switch, the one that he had unscrewed and left hanging the night before.⁠ ⁠…

Only it wasn’t. It was as it had always been. Unbelieving, Burckhardt pressed it and the lights sprang up in both halls.

Mary, looking pale and worried, left him to go down to the kitchen and start breakfast. Burckhardt stood staring at the switch for a long time. His mental processes were gone beyond the point of disbelief and shock; they simply were not functioning.

He shaved and dressed and ate his breakfast in a state of numb introspection. Mary didn’t disturb him; she was apprehensive and soothing. She kissed him goodbye as he hurried out to the bus without another word.

Miss Mitkin, at the reception desk, greeted him with a yawn. “Morning,” she said drowsily. “Mr. Barth won’t be in today.”

Burckhardt started to say something, but checked himself. She would not know that Barth hadn’t been in yesterday, either, because she was tearing a June 14th pad off her calendar to make way for the “new” June 15th sheet.

He staggered to his own desk and stared unseeingly at the morning’s mail. It had not even been opened yet, but he knew that the Factory Distributors envelope contained an order for twenty thousand feet of the new acoustic tile, and the one from Finebeck & Sons was a complaint.

After a long while, he forced himself to open them. They were.

By lunchtime, driven by a desperate sense of urgency, Burckhardt made Miss Mitkin take her lunch hour first⁠—the June-fifteenth-that-was-yesterday, he had gone first. She went, looking vaguely worried about his strained insistence, but it made no difference to Burckhardt’s mood.

The phone rang and Burckhardt picked it up abstractedly. “Contro Chemicals Downtown, Burckhardt speaking.”

The voice said, “This is Swanson,” and stopped.

Burckhardt waited expectantly, but that was all. He said, “Hello?”

Again the pause. Then Swanson asked in sad resignation, “Still nothing, eh?”

“Nothing what? Swanson, is there something you want? You came up to me yesterday and went through this routine. You⁠—”

The voice crackled: “Burckhardt! Oh, my good heavens, you remember! Stay right there⁠—I’ll be down in half an hour!”

“What’s this all about?”

“Never mind,” the little man said exultantly. “Tell you about it when I see you. Don’t say any more over the phone⁠—somebody may be listening. Just wait there. Say, hold on a minute. Will you be alone in the office?”

“Well, no. Miss Mitkin will probably⁠—”

“Hell. Look, Burckhardt, where do you eat lunch? Is it good and noisy?”

“Why, I suppose so. The Crystal Café. It’s just about a block⁠—”

“I know where it is. Meet you in half an hour!” And the receiver clicked.


The Crystal Café was no longer painted red, but the temperature was still up. And they had added piped-in music interspersed with commercials. The advertisements were for Frosty-Flip, Marlin Cigarettes⁠—“They’re sanitized,” the announcer purred⁠—and something called Choco-Bite candy bars that Burckhardt couldn’t remember ever having heard of before. But he heard more about them quickly enough.

While he was waiting for Swanson to show up, a girl in the cellophane skirt of a nightclub cigarette vendor came through the restaurant with a tray of tiny scarlet-wrapped candies.

“Choco-Bites are tangy,” she was murmuring as she came close to his table. “Choco-Bites are tangier than tangy!”

Burckhardt, intent on watching for the strange little man who had phoned him, paid little attention. But as she scattered a handful of the confections over the table next to his, smiling at the occupants, he caught a glimpse of her and turned to stare.

“Why, Miss Horn!” he said.

The girl dropped her tray of candies.

Burckhardt rose, concerned over the girl. “Is something wrong?”

But she fled.

The manager of the restaurant was staring suspiciously at Burckhardt, who sank back in his seat and tried to look inconspicuous. He hadn’t insulted the girl! Maybe she was just a very strictly reared young lady, he thought⁠—in spite of the long bare legs under the cellophane skirt⁠—and when he addressed her, she thought he was a masher.

Ridiculous idea. Burckhardt scowled uneasily and picked up his menu.

“Burckhardt!” It was a shrill whisper.

Burckhardt looked up over the top of his menu, startled. In the seat across from him, the little man named Swanson was sitting, tensely poised.

“Burckhardt!” the little man whispered again. “Let’s get out of here! They’re on to you now. If you want to stay alive, come on!”

There was no arguing with the man. Burckhardt gave the hovering manager a sick, apologetic smile and followed Swanson out. The little man seemed to know where he was going. In the street, he clutched Burckhardt by the elbow and hurried him off down the block.

“Did you see her?” he demanded. “That Horn woman, in the phone booth? She’ll have them here in five minutes, believe me, so hurry it up!”

Although the street was full of people and cars, nobody was paying any attention to Burckhardt and Swanson. The air had a nip in it⁠—more like October than June, Burckhardt thought, in spite of the weather bureau. And he felt like a fool, following this mad little man down the street, running away from some “them” toward⁠—toward what? The little man might be crazy, but he was afraid. And the fear was infectious.

“In here!” panted the little man.

It was another restaurant⁠—more of a bar, really, and a sort of second-rate place that Burckhardt had never patronized.

“Right straight through,” Swanson whispered; and Burckhardt, like a biddable boy, sidestepped through the mass of tables to the far end of the restaurant.

It was “L”-shaped, with a front on two streets at right angles to each other. They came out on the side street, Swanson staring coldly back at the question-looking cashier, and crossed to the opposite sidewalk.

They were under the marquee of a movie theater. Swanson’s expression began to relax.

“Lost them!” he crowed softly. “We’re almost there.”

He stepped up to the window and bought two tickets. Burckhardt trailed him in to the theater. It was a weekday matinee and the place was almost empty. From the screen came sounds of gunfire and horse’s hoofs. A solitary usher, leaning against a bright brass rail, looked briefly at them and went back to staring boredly at the picture as Swanson led Burckhardt down a flight of carpeted marble steps.

They were in the lounge and it was empty. There was a door for men and one for ladies; and there was a third door, marked “Manager” in gold letters. Swanson listened at the door, and gently opened it and peered inside.

“Okay,” he said, gesturing.

Burckhardt followed him through an empty office, to another door⁠—a closet, probably, because it was unmarked.

But it was no closet. Swanson opened it warily, looked inside, then motioned Burckhardt to follow.

It was a tunnel, metal-walled, brightly lit. Empty, it stretched vacantly away in both directions from them.

Burckhardt looked wondering around. One thing he knew and knew full well:

No such tunnel belonged under Tylerton.


There was a room off the tunnel with chairs and a desk and what looked like television screens. Swanson slumped in a chair, panting.

“We’re all right for a while here,” he wheezed. “They don’t come here much anymore. If they do, we’ll hear them and we can hide.”

“Who?” demanded Burckhardt.

The little man said, “Martians!” His voice cracked on the word and the life seemed to go out of him. In morose tones, he went on: “Well, I think they’re Martians. Although you could be right, you know; I’ve had plenty of time to think it over these last few weeks, after they got you, and it’s possible they’re Russians after all. Still⁠—”

“Start from the beginning. Who got me when?”

Swanson sighed. “So we have to go through the whole thing again. All right. It was about two months ago that you banged on my door, late at night. You were all beat up⁠—scared silly. You begged me to help you⁠—”

I did?”

“Naturally you don’t remember any of this. Listen and you’ll understand. You were talking a blue streak about being captured and threatened, and your wife being dead and coming back to life, and all kinds of mixed-up nonsense. I thought you were crazy. But⁠—well, I’ve always had a lot of respect for you. And you begged me to hide you and I have this darkroom, you know. It locks from the inside only. I put the lock on myself. So we went in there⁠—just to humor you⁠—and along about midnight, which was only fifteen or twenty minutes after, we passed out.”

“Passed out?”

Swanson nodded. “Both of us. It was like being hit with a sandbag. Look, didn’t that happen to you again last night?”

“I guess it did,” Burckhardt shook his head uncertainly.

“Sure. And then all of a sudden we were awake again, and you said you were going to show me something funny, and we went out and bought a paper. And the date on it was June 15th.”

“June 15th? But that’s today! I mean⁠—”

“You got it, friend. It’s always today!”

It took time to penetrate.

Burckhardt said wonderingly, “You’ve hidden out in that darkroom for how many weeks?”

“How can I tell? Four or five, maybe. I lost count. And every day the same⁠—always the 15th of June, always my landlady, Mrs. Keefer, is sweeping the front steps, always the same headline in the papers at the corner. It gets monotonous, friend.”

IV

It was Burckhardt’s idea and Swanson despised it, but he went along. He was the type who always went along.

“It’s dangerous,” he grumbled worriedly. “Suppose somebody comes by? They’ll spot us and⁠—”

“What have we got to lose?”

Swanson shrugged. “It’s dangerous,” he said again. But he went along.

Burckhardt’s idea was very simple. He was sure of only one thing⁠—the tunnel went somewhere. Martians or Russians, fantastic plot or crazy hallucination, whatever was wrong with Tylerton had an explanation, and the place to look for it was at the end of the tunnel.

They jogged along. It was more than a mile before they began to see an end. They were in luck⁠—at least no one came through the tunnel to spot them. But Swanson had said that it was only at certain hours that the tunnel seemed to be in use.

Always the fifteenth of June. Why? Burckhardt asked himself. Never mind the how. Why?

And falling asleep, completely involuntarily⁠—everyone at the same time, it seemed. And not remembering, never remembering anything⁠—Swanson had said how eagerly he saw Burckhardt again, the morning after Burckhardt had incautiously waited five minutes too many before retreating into the darkroom. When Swanson had come to, Burckhardt was gone. Swanson had seen him in the street that afternoon, but Burckhardt had remembered nothing.

And Swanson had lived his mouse’s existence for weeks, hiding in the woodwork at night, stealing out by day to search for Burckhardt in pitiful hope, scurrying around the fringe of life, trying to keep from the deadly eyes of them.

Them. One of “them” was the girl named April Horn. It was by seeing her walk carelessly into a telephone booth and never come out that Swanson had found the tunnel. Another was the man at the cigar stand in Burckhardt’s office building. There were more, at least a dozen that Swanson knew of or suspected.

They were easy enough to spot, once you knew where to look⁠—for they, alone in Tylerton, changed their roles from day to day. Burckhardt was on that 8:51 bus, every morning of every day-that-was-June-15th, never different by a hair or a moment. But April Horn was sometimes gaudy in the cellophane skirt, giving away candy or cigarettes; sometimes plainly dressed; sometimes not seen by Swanson at all.

Russians? Martians? Whatever they were, what could they be hoping to gain from this mad masquerade?

Burckhardt didn’t know the answer⁠—but perhaps it lay beyond the door at the end of the tunnel. They listened carefully and heard distant sounds that could not quite be made out, but nothing that seemed dangerous. They slipped through.

And, through a wide chamber and up a flight of steps, they found they were in what Burckhardt recognized as the Contro Chemicals plant.

Nobody was in sight. By itself, that was not so very odd⁠—the automatized factory had never had very many persons in it. But Burckhardt remembered, from his single visit, the endless, ceaseless busyness of the plant, the valves that opened and closed, the vats that emptied themselves and filled themselves and stirred and cooked and chemically tasted the bubbling liquids they held inside themselves. The plant was never populated, but it was never still.

Only⁠—now it was still. Except for the distant sounds, there was no breath of life in it. The captive electronic minds were sending out no commands; the coils and relays were at rest.

Burckhardt said, “Come on.” Swanson reluctantly followed him through the tangled aisles of stainless steel columns and tanks.

They walked as though they were in the presence of the dead. In a way, they were, for what were the automatons that once had run the factory, if not corpses? The machines were controlled by computers that were really not computers at all, but the electronic analogues of living brains. And if they were turned off, were they not dead? For each had once been a human mind.

Take a master petroleum chemist, infinitely skilled in the separation of crude oil into its fractions. Strap him down, probe into his brain with searching electronic needles. The machine scans the patterns of the mind, translates what it sees into charts and sine waves. Impress these same waves on a robot computer and you have your chemist. Or a thousand copies of your chemist, if you wish, with all of his knowledge and skill, and no human limitations at all.

Put a dozen copies of him into a plant and they will run it all, twenty-four hours a day, seven days of every week, never tiring, never overlooking anything, never forgetting.⁠ ⁠…

Swanson stepped up closer to Burckhardt. “I’m scared,” he said.

They were across the room now and the sounds were louder. They were not machine sounds, but voices; Burckhardt moved cautiously up to a door and dared to peer around it.

It was a smaller room, lined with television screens, each one⁠—a dozen or more, at least⁠—with a man or woman sitting before it, staring into the screen and dictating notes into a recorder. The viewers dialed from scene to scene; no two screens ever showed the same picture.

The pictures seemed to have little in common. One was a store, where a girl dressed like April Horn was demonstrating home freezers. One was a series of shots of kitchens. Burckhardt caught a glimpse of what looked like the cigar stand in his office building.

It was baffling and Burckhardt would have loved to stand there and puzzle it out, but it was too busy a place. There was the chance that someone would look their way or walk out and find them.


They found another room. This one was empty. It was an office, large and sumptuous. It had a desk, littered with papers. Burckhardt stared at them, briefly at first⁠—then, as the words on one of them caught his attention, with incredulous fascination.

He snatched up the topmost sheet, scanned it, and another, while Swanson was frenziedly searching through the drawers.

Burckhardt swore unbelievingly and dropped the papers to the desk.

Swanson, hardly noticing, yelped with delight: “Look!” He dragged a gun from the desk. “And it’s loaded, too!”

Burckhardt stared at him blankly, trying to assimilate what he had read. Then, as he realized what Swanson had said, Burckhardt’s eyes sparked. “Good man!” he cried. “We’ll take it. We’re getting out of here with that gun, Swanson. And we’re going to the police! Not the cops in Tylerton, but the F.B.I., maybe. Take a look at this!”

The sheaf he handed Swanson was headed: “Test Area Progress Report. Subject: Marlin Cigarettes Campaign.” It was mostly tabulated figures that made little sense to Burckhardt and Swanson, but at the end was a summary that said:

Although Test 47‒K3 pulled nearly double the number of new users of any of the other tests conducted, it probably cannot be used in the field because of local sound-truck control ordinances.

The tests in the 47‒K12 group were second best and our recommendation is that retests be conducted in this appeal, testing each of the three best campaigns with and without the addition of sampling techniques.

An alternative suggestion might be to proceed directly with the top appeal in the K12 series, if the client is unwilling to go to the expense of additional tests.

All of these forecast expectations have an 80% probability of being within one-half of one percent of results forecast, and more than 99% probability of coming within 5%.

Swanson looked up from the paper into Burckhardt’s eyes. “I don’t get it,” he complained.

Burckhardt said, “I don’t blame you. It’s crazy, but it fits the facts, Swanson, it fits the facts. They aren’t Russians and they aren’t Martians. These people are advertising men! Somehow⁠—heaven knows how they did it⁠—they’ve taken Tylerton over. They’ve got us, all of us, you and me and twenty or thirty thousand other people, right under their thumbs.

“Maybe they hypnotize us and maybe it’s something else; but however they do it, what happens is that they let us live a day at a time. They pour advertising into us the whole damned day long. And at the end of the day, they see what happened⁠—and then they wash the day out of our minds and start again the next day with different advertising.”

Swanson’s jaw was hanging. He managed to close it and swallow. “Nuts!” he said flatly.

Burckhardt shook his head. “Sure, it sounds crazy⁠—but this whole thing is crazy. How else would you explain it? You can’t deny that most of Tylerton lives the same day over and over again. You’ve seen it! And that’s the crazy part and we have to admit that that’s true⁠—unless we are the crazy ones. And once you admit that somebody, somehow, knows how to accomplish that, the rest of it makes all kinds of sense.

“Think of it, Swanson! They test every last detail before they spend a nickel on advertising! Do you have any idea what that means? Lord knows how much money is involved, but I know for a fact that some companies spend twenty or thirty million dollars a year on advertising. Multiply it, say, by a hundred companies. Say that every one of them learns how to cut its advertising cost by only ten percent. And that’s peanuts, believe me!

“If they know in advance what’s going to work, they can cut their costs in half⁠—maybe to less than half, I don’t know. But that’s saving two or three hundred million dollars a year⁠—and if they pay only ten or twenty percent of that for the use of Tylerton, it’s still dirt cheap for them and a fortune for whoever took over Tylerton.”

Swanson licked his lips. “You mean,” he offered hesitantly, “that we’re a⁠—well, a kind of captive audience?”

Burckhardt frowned. “Not exactly.” He thought for a minute. “You know how a doctor tests something like penicillin? He sets up a series of little colonies of germs on gelatine disks and he tries the stuff on one after another, changing it a little each time. Well, that’s us⁠—we’re the germs, Swanson. Only it’s even more efficient than that. They don’t have to test more than one colony, because they can use it over and over again.”

It was too hard for Swanson to take in. He only said: “What do we do about it?”

“We go to the police. They can’t use human beings for guinea pigs!”

“How do we get to the police?”

Burckhardt hesitated. “I think⁠—” he began slowly. “Sure. This place is the office of somebody important. We’ve got a gun. We’ll stay right here until he comes along. And he’ll get us out of here.”

Simple and direct. Swanson subsided and found a place to sit, against the wall, out of sight of the door. Burckhardt took up a position behind the door itself⁠—

And waited.


The wait was not as long as it might have been. Half an hour, perhaps. Then Burckhardt heard approaching voices and had time for a swift whisper to Swanson before he flattened himself against the wall.

It was a man’s voice, and a girl’s. The man was saying, “⁠—reason why you couldn’t report on the phone? You’re ruining your whole day’s test! What the devil’s the matter with you, Janet?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Dorchin,” she said in a sweet, clear tone. “I thought it was important.”

The man grumbled, “Important! One lousy unit out of twenty-one thousand.”

“But it’s the Burckhardt one, Mr. Dorchin. Again. And the way he got out of sight, he must have had some help.”

“All right, all right. It doesn’t matter, Janet; the Choco-Bite program is ahead of schedule anyhow. As long as you’re this far, come on in the office and make out your worksheet. And don’t worry about the Burckhardt business. He’s probably just wandering around. We’ll pick him up tonight and⁠—”

They were inside the door. Burckhardt kicked it shut and pointed the gun.

“That’s what you think,” he said triumphantly.

It was worth the terrified hours, the bewildered sense of insanity, the confusion and fear. It was the most satisfying sensation Burckhardt had ever had in his life. The expression on the man’s face was one he had read about but never actually seen: Dorchin’s mouth fell open and his eyes went wide, and though he managed to make a sound that might have been a question, it was not in words.

The girl was almost as surprised. And Burckhardt, looking at her, knew why her voice had been so familiar. The girl was the one who had introduced herself to him as April Horn.

Dorchin recovered himself quickly. “Is this the one?” he asked sharply.

The girl said, “Yes.”

Dorchin nodded. “I take it back. You were right. Uh, you⁠—Burckhardt. What do you want?”

Swanson piped up, “Watch him! He might have another gun.”

“Search him then,” Burckhardt said. “I’ll tell you what we want, Dorchin. We want you to come along with us to the F.B.I. and explain to them how you can get away with kidnapping twenty thousand people.”

“Kidnapping?” Dorchin snorted. “That’s ridiculous, man! Put that gun away⁠—you can’t get away with this!”

Burckhardt hefted the gun grimly. “I think I can.”

Dorchin looked furious and sick⁠—but, oddly, not afraid. “Damn it⁠—” he started to bellow, then closed his mouth and swallowed. “Listen,” he said persuasively, “you’re making a big mistake. I haven’t kidnapped anybody, believe me!”

“I don’t believe you,” said Burckhardt bluntly. “Why should I?”

“But it’s true! Take my word for it!”

Burckhardt shook his head. “The F.B.I. can take your word if they like. We’ll find out. Now how do we get out of here?”

Dorchin opened his mouth to argue.

Burckhardt blazed: “Don’t get in my way! I’m willing to kill you if I have to. Don’t you understand that? I’ve gone through two days of hell and every second of it I blame on you. Kill you? It would be a pleasure and I don’t have a thing in the world to lose! Get us out of here!”

Dorchin’s face went suddenly opaque. He seemed about to move; but the blonde girl he had called Janet slipped between him and the gun.

“Please!” she begged Burckhardt. “You don’t understand. You mustn’t shoot!”

Get out of my way!

“But, Mr. Burckhardt⁠—”

She never finished. Dorchin, his face unreadable, headed for the door. Burckhardt had been pushed one degree too far. He swung the gun, bellowing. The girl called out sharply. He pulled the trigger. Closing on him with pity and pleading in her eyes, she came again between the gun and the man.

Burckhardt aimed low instinctively, to cripple, not to kill. But his aim was not good.

The pistol bullet caught her in the pit of the stomach.

Dorchin was out and away, the door slamming behind him, his footsteps racing into the distance.

Burckhardt hurled the gun across the room and jumped to the girl.

Swanson was moaning. “That finishes us, Burckhardt. Oh, why did you do it? We could have got away. We could have gone to the police. We were practically out of here! We⁠—”

Burckhardt wasn’t listening. He was kneeling beside the girl. She lay flat on her back, arms helter-skelter. There was no blood, hardly any sign of the wound; but the position in which she lay was one that no living human being could have held.

Yet she wasn’t dead.

She wasn’t dead⁠—and Burckhardt, frozen beside her, thought: She isn’t alive, either.

There was no pulse, but there was a rhythmic ticking of the outstretched fingers of one hand.

There was no sound of breathing, but there was a hissing, sizzling noise.

The eyes were open and they were looking at Burckhardt. There was neither fear nor pain in them, only a pity deeper than the Pit.

She said, through lips that writhed erratically, “Don’t⁠—worry, Mr. Burckhardt. I’m⁠—all right.”

Burckhardt rocked back on his haunches, staring. Where there should have been blood, there was a clean break of a substance that was not flesh; and a curl of thin golden-copper wire.

Burckhardt moistened his lips.

“You’re a robot,” he said.

The girl tried to nod. The twitching lips said, “I am. And so are you.”

V

Swanson, after a single inarticulate sound, walked over to the desk and sat staring at the wall. Burckhardt rocked back and forth beside the shattered puppet on the floor. He had no words.

The girl managed to say, “I’m⁠—sorry all this happened.” The lovely lips twisted into a rictus sneer, frightening on that smooth young face, until she got them under control. “Sorry,” she said again. “The⁠—nerve center was right about where the bullet hit. Makes it difficult to⁠—control this body.”

Burckhardt nodded automatically, accepting the apology. Robots. It was obvious, now that he knew it. In hindsight, it was inevitable. He thought of his mystic notions of hypnosis or Martians or something stranger still⁠—idiotic, for the simple fact of created robots fitted the facts better and more economically.

All the evidence had been before him. The automatized factory, with its transplanted minds⁠—why not transplant a mind into a humanoid robot, give it its original owner’s features and form?

Could it know that it was a robot?

“All of us,” Burckhardt said, hardly aware that he spoke out loud. “My wife and my secretary and you and the neighbors. All of us the same.”

“No.” The voice was stronger. “Not exactly the same, all of us. I chose it, you see. I⁠—” this time the convulsed lips were not a random contortion of the nerves⁠—“I was an ugly woman, Mr. Burckhardt, and nearly sixty years old. Life had passed me. And when Mr. Dorchin offered me the chance to live again as a beautiful girl, I jumped at the opportunity. Believe me, I jumped, in spite of its disadvantages. My flesh body is still alive⁠—it is sleeping, while I am here. I could go back to it. But I never do.”

“And the rest of us?”

“Different, Mr. Burckhardt. I work here. I’m carrying out Mr. Dorchin’s orders, mapping the results of the advertising tests, watching you and the others live as he makes you live. I do it by choice, but you have no choice. Because, you see, you are dead.”

“Dead?” cried Burckhardt; it was almost a scream.

The blue eyes looked at him unwinkingly and he knew that it was no lie. He swallowed, marveling at the intricate mechanisms that let him swallow, and sweat, and eat.

He said: “Oh. The explosion in my dream.”

“It was no dream. You are right⁠—the explosion. That was real and this plant was the cause of it. The storage tanks let go and what the blast didn’t get, the fumes killed a little later. But almost everyone died in the blast, twenty-one thousand persons. You died with them and that was Dorchin’s chance.”

“The damned ghoul!” said Burckhardt.

The twisted shoulders shrugged with an odd grace. “Why? You were gone. And you and all the others were what Dorchin wanted⁠—a whole town, a perfect slice of America. It’s as easy to transfer a pattern from a dead brain as a living one. Easier⁠—the dead can’t say no. Oh, it took work and money⁠—the town was a wreck⁠—but it was possible to rebuild it entirely, especially because it wasn’t necessary to have all the details exact.

“There were the homes where even the brains had been utterly destroyed, and those are empty inside, and the cellars that needn’t be too perfect, and the streets that hardly matter. And anyway, it only has to last for one day. The same day⁠—June 15th⁠—over and over again; and if someone finds something a little wrong, somehow, the discovery won’t have time to snowball, wreck the validity of the tests, because all errors are canceled out at midnight.”

The face tried to smile. “That’s the dream, Mr. Burckhardt, that day of June 15th, because you never really lived it. It’s a present from Mr. Dorchin, a dream that he gives you and then takes back at the end of the day, when he has all his figures on how many of you responded to what variation of which appeal, and the maintenance crews go down the tunnel to go through the whole city, washing out the new dream with their little electronic drains, and then the dream starts all over again. On June 15th.

“Always June 15th, because June 14th is the last day any of you can remember alive. Sometimes the crews miss someone⁠—as they missed you, because you were under your boat. But it doesn’t matter. The ones who are missed give themselves away if they show it⁠—and if they don’t, it doesn’t affect the test. But they don’t drain us, the ones of us who work for Dorchin. We sleep when the power is turned off, just as you do. When we wake up, though, we remember.” The face contorted wildly. “If I could only forget!”

Burckhardt said unbelievingly, “All this to sell merchandise! It must have cost millions!”

The robot called April Horn said, “It did. But it has made millions for Dorchin, too. And that’s not the end of it. Once he finds the master words that make people act, do you suppose he will stop with that? Do you suppose⁠—”

The door opened, interrupting her. Burckhardt whirled. Belatedly remembering Dorchin’s flight, he raised the gun.

“Don’t shoot,” ordered the voice calmly. It was not Dorchin; it was another robot, this one not disguised with the clever plastics and cosmetics, but shining plain. It said metallically: “Forget it, Burckhardt. You’re not accomplishing anything. Give me that gun before you do any more damage. Give it to me now.”

Burckhardt bellowed angrily. The gleam on this robot torso was steel; Burckhardt was not at all sure that his bullets would pierce it, or do much harm if they did. He would have put it to the test⁠—

But from behind him came a whimpering, scurrying whirlwind; its name was Swanson, hysterical with fear. He catapulted into Burckhardt and sent him sprawling, the gun flying free.

“Please!” begged Swanson incoherently, prostrate before the steel robot. “He would have shot you⁠—please don’t hurt me! Let me work for you, like that girl. I’ll do anything, anything you tell me⁠—”

The robot voice said. “We don’t need your help.” It took two precise steps and stood over the gun⁠—and spurned it, left it lying on the floor.

The wrecked blonde robot said, without emotion, “I doubt that I can hold out much longer, Mr. Dorchin.”

“Disconnect if you have to,” replied the steel robot.

Burckhardt blinked. “But you’re not Dorchin!”

The steel robot turned deep eyes on him. “I am,” it said. “Not in the flesh⁠—but this is the body I am using at the moment. I doubt that you can damage this one with the gun. The other robot body was more vulnerable. Now will you stop this nonsense? I don’t want to have to damage you; you’re too expensive for that. Will you just sit down and let the maintenance crews adjust you?”

Swanson groveled. “You⁠—you won’t punish us?”

The steel robot had no expression, but its voice was almost surprised. “Punish you?” it repeated on a rising note. “How?”

Swanson quivered as though the word had been a whip; but Burckhardt flared: “Adjust him, if he’ll let you⁠—but not me! You’re going to have to do me a lot of damage, Dorchin. I don’t care what I cost or how much trouble it’s going to be to put me back together again. But I’m going out of that door! If you want to stop me, you’ll have to kill me. You won’t stop me any other way!”

The steel robot took a half-step toward him, and Burckhardt involuntarily checked his stride. He stood poised and shaking, ready for death, ready for attack, ready for anything that might happen.

Ready for anything except what did happen. For Dorchin’s steel body merely stepped aside, between Burckhardt and the gun, but leaving the door free.

“Go ahead,” invited the steel robot. “Nobody’s stopping you.”

Outside the door, Burckhardt brought up sharp. It was insane of Dorchin to let him go! Robot or flesh, victim or beneficiary, there was nothing to stop him from going to the F.B.I. or whatever law he could find away from Dorchin’s synthetic empire, and telling his story. Surely the corporations who paid Dorchin for test results had no notion of the ghoul’s technique he used; Dorchin would have to keep it from them, for the breath of publicity would put a stop to it. Walking out meant death, perhaps⁠—but at that moment in his pseudo-life, death was no terror for Burckhardt.

There was no one in the corridor. He found a window and stared out of it. There was Tylerton⁠—an ersatz city, but looking so real and familiar that Burckhardt almost imagined the whole episode a dream. It was no dream, though. He was certain of that in his heart and equally certain that nothing in Tylerton could help him now.

It had to be the other direction.

It took him a quarter of an hour to find a way, but he found it⁠—skulking through the corridors, dodging the suspicion of footsteps, knowing for certain that his hiding was in vain, for Dorchin was undoubtedly aware of every move he made. But no one stopped him, and he found another door.

It was a simple enough door from the inside. But when he opened it and stepped out, it was like nothing he had ever seen.

First there was light⁠—brilliant, incredible, blinding light. Burckhardt blinked upward, unbelieving and afraid.

He was standing on a ledge of smooth, finished metal. Not a dozen yards from his feet, the ledge dropped sharply away; he hardly dared approach the brink, but even from where he stood he could see no bottom to the chasm before him. And the gulf extended out of sight into the glare on either side of him.


No wonder Dorchin could so easily give him his freedom! From the factory, there was nowhere to go⁠—but how incredible this fantastic gulf, how impossible the hundred white and blinding suns that hung above!

A voice by his side said inquiringly, “Burckhardt?” And thunder rolled the name, mutteringly soft, back and forth in the abyss before him.

Burckhardt wet his lips. “Y‑yes?” he croaked.

“This is Dorchin. Not a robot this time, but Dorchin in the flesh, talking to you on a hand mike. Now you have seen, Burckhardt. Now will you be reasonable and let the maintenance crews take over?”

Burckhardt stood paralyzed. One of the moving mountains in the blinding glare came toward him.

It towered hundreds of feet over his head; he stared up at its top, squinting helplessly into the light.

It looked like⁠—

Impossible!

The voice in the loudspeaker at the door said, “Burckhardt?” But he was unable to answer.

A heavy rumbling sigh. “I see,” said the voice. “You finally understand. There’s no place to go. You know it now. I could have told you, but you might not have believed me, so it was better for you to see it yourself. And after all, Burckhardt, why would I reconstruct a city just the way it was before? I’m a businessman; I count costs. If a thing has to be full-scale, I build it that way. But there wasn’t any need to in this case.”

From the mountain before him, Burckhardt helplessly saw a lesser cliff descend carefully toward him. It was long and dark, and at the end of it was whiteness, five-fingered whiteness.⁠ ⁠…

“Poor little Burckhardt,” crooned the loudspeaker, while the echoes rumbled through the enormous chasm that was only a workshop. “It must have been quite a shock for you to find out you were living in a town built on a table top.”

VI

It was the morning of June 15th, and Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream.

It had been a monstrous and incomprehensible dream, of explosions and shadowy figures that were not men and terror beyond words.

He shuddered and opened his eyes.

Outside his bedroom window, a hugely amplified voice was howling.

Burckhardt stumbled over to the window and stared outside. There was an out-of-season chill to the air, more like October than June; but the scent was normal enough⁠—except for the sound-truck that squatted at curbside halfway down the block. Its speaker horns blared:

“Are you a coward? Are you a fool? Are you going to let crooked politicians steal the country from you? No! Are you going to put up with four more years of graft and crime? No! Are you going to vote straight Federal Party all up and down the ballot? Yes! You just bet you are!

Sometimes he screams, sometimes he wheedles, threatens, begs, cajoles⁠ ⁠… but his voice goes on and on through one June 15th after another.

Pythias

I am sitting on the edge of what passes for a bed. It is made of loosely woven strips of steel, and there is no mattress, only an extra blanket of thin olive-drab. It isn’t comfortable; but of course they expect to make me still more uncomfortable.

They expect to take me out of this precinct jail to the District prison and eventually to the death house.

Sure, there will be a trial first, but that is only a formality. Not only did they catch me with the smoking gun in my hand and Connaught bubbling to death through the hole in his throat, but I admitted it.

I⁠—knowing what I was doing, with, as they say, malice aforethought⁠—deliberately shot to death Laurence Connaught.

They execute murderers. So they mean to execute me.

Especially because Laurence Connaught had saved my life.

Well, there are extenuating circumstances. I do not think they would convince a jury.

Connaught and I were close friends for years. We lost touch during the war. We met again in Washington, a few years after the war was over. We had, to some extent, grown apart; he had become a man with a mission. He was working very hard on something and he did not choose to discuss his work and there was nothing else in his life on which to form a basis for communication. And⁠—well, I had my own life, too. It wasn’t scientific research in my case⁠—I flunked out of med school, while he went on. I’m not ashamed of it; it is nothing to be ashamed of. I simply was not able to cope with the messy business of carving corpses. I didn’t like it, I didn’t want to do it, and when I was forced to do it, I did it badly. So⁠—I left.

Thus I have no string of degrees, but you don’t need them in order to be a Senate guard.

Does that sound like a terribly impressive career to you? Of course not; but I liked it. The Senators are relaxed and friendly when the guards are around, and you learn wonderful things about what goes on behind the scenes of government. And a Senate guard is in a position to do favors⁠—for newspapermen, who find a lead to a story useful; for government officials, who sometimes base a whole campaign on one careless, repeated remark; and for just about anyone who would like to be in the visitors’ gallery during a hot debate.

Larry Connaught, for instance. I ran into him on the street one day, and we chatted for a moment, and he asked if it was possible to get him in to see the upcoming foreign relations debate. It was; I called him the next day and told him I had arranged for a pass. And he was there, watching eagerly with his moist little eyes, when the Secretary got up to speak and there was that sudden unexpected yell, and the handful of Central American fanatics dragged out their weapons and began trying to change American policy with gunpowder.

You remember the story, I suppose. There were only three of them, two with guns, one with a hand grenade. The pistol men managed to wound two Senators and a guard. I was right there, talking to Connaught. I spotted the little fellow with the hand grenade and tackled him. I knocked him down, but the grenade went flying, pin pulled, seconds ticking away. I lunged for it. Larry Connaught was ahead of me.

The newspaper stories made heroes out of both of us. They said it was miraculous that Larry, who had fallen right on top of the grenade, had managed to get it away from himself and so placed that when it exploded no one was hurt.

For it did go off⁠—and the flying steel touched nobody. The papers mentioned that Larry had been knocked unconscious by the blast. He was unconscious, all right.

He didn’t come to for six hours and when he woke up, he spent the next whole day in a stupor.

I called on him the next night. He was glad to see me.

“That was a close one, Dick,” he said. “Take me back to Tarawa.”

I said, “I guess you saved my life, Larry.”

“Nonsense, Dick! I just jumped. Lucky, that’s all.”

“The papers said you were terrific. They said you moved so fast, nobody could see exactly what happened.”

He made a deprecating gesture, but his wet little eyes were wary. “Nobody was really watching, I suppose.”

“I was watching,” I told him flatly.

He looked at me silently for a moment.

“I was between you and the grenade,” I said. “You didn’t go past me, over me, or through me. But you were on top of the grenade.”

He started to shake his head.

I said, “Also, Larry, you fell on the grenade. It exploded underneath you. I know, because I was almost on top of you, and it blew you clear off the floor of the gallery. Did you have a bulletproof vest on?”

He cleared his throat. “Well, as a matter of⁠—”

“Cut it out, Larry! What’s the answer?”

He took off his glasses and rubbed his watery eyes. He grumbled, “Don’t you read the papers? It went off a yard away.”

“Larry,” I said gently, “I was there.”

He slumped back in his chair, staring at me. Larry Connaught was a small man, but he never looked smaller than he did in that big chair, looking at me as though I were Mr. Nemesis himself.

Then he laughed. He surprised me; he sounded almost happy. He said, “Well, hell, Dick⁠—I had to tell somebody about it sooner or later. Why not you?”

I can’t tell you all of what he said. I’ll tell most of it⁠—but not the part that matters.

I’ll never tell that part to anybody.

Larry said, “I should have known you’d remember.” He smiled at me ruefully, affectionately. “Those bull sessions in the cafeterias, eh? Talking all night about everything. But you remembered.”

“You claimed that the human mind possessed powers of psychokinesis,” I said. “You argued that just by the mind, without moving a finger or using a machine, a man could move his body anywhere, instantly. You said that nothing was impossible to the mind.”

I felt like an absolute fool saying those things; they were ridiculous notions. Imagine a man thinking himself from one place to another! But⁠—I had been on that gallery.

I licked my lips and looked to Larry Connaught for confirmation.

“I was all wet,” Larry laughed. “Imagine!”

I suppose I showed surprise, because he patted my shoulder.

He said, becoming sober, “Sure, Dick, you’re wrong, but you’re right all the same. The mind alone can’t do anything of the sort⁠—that was just a silly kid notion. But,” he went on, “but there are⁠—well, techniques⁠—linking the mind to physical forces⁠—simple physical forces that we all use every day⁠—that can do it all. Everything! Everything I ever thought of and things I haven’t found out yet.

“Fly across the ocean? In a second, Dick! Wall off an exploding bomb? Easily! You saw me do it. Oh, it’s work. It takes energy⁠—you can’t escape natural law. That was what knocked me out for a whole day. But that was a hard one; it’s a lot easier, for instance, to make a bullet miss its target. It’s even easier to lift the cartridge out of the chamber and put it in my pocket, so that the bullet can’t even be fired. Want the Crown Jewels of England? I could get them, Dick!”

I asked, “Can you see the future?”

He frowned. “That’s silly. This isn’t supersti⁠—”

“How about reading minds?”

Larry’s expression cleared. “Oh, you’re remembering some of the things I said years ago. No, I can’t do that either, Dick. Maybe, some day, if I keep working at this thing⁠—Well, I can’t right now. There are things I can do, though, that are just as good.”

“Show me something you can do,” I asked.

He smiled. Larry was enjoying himself; I didn’t begrudge it to him. He had hugged this to himself for years, from the day he found his first clue, through the decade of proving and experimenting, almost always being wrong, but always getting closer.⁠ ⁠… He needed to talk about it. I think he was really glad that, at last, someone had found him out.

He said, “Show you something? Why, let’s see, Dick.” He looked around the room, then winked. “See that window?”

I looked. It opened with a slither of wood and a rumble of sash weights. It closed again.

“The radio,” said Larry. There was a click and his little set turned itself on. “Watch it.”

It disappeared and reappeared.

“It was on top of Mount Everest,” Larry said, panting a little.

The plug on the radio’s electric cord picked itself up and stretched toward the baseboard socket, then dropped to the floor again.

“No,” said Larry, and his voice was trembling, “I’ll show you a hard one. Watch the radio, Dick. I’ll run it without plugging it in! The electrons themselves⁠—”

He was staring intently at the little set. I saw the dial light go on, flicker, and hold steady; the speaker began to make scratching noises. I stood up, right behind Larry, right over him.

I used the telephone on the table beside him. I caught him right beside the ear and he folded over without a murmur. Methodically, I hit him twice more, and then I was sure he wouldn’t wake up for at least an hour. I rolled him over and put the telephone back in its cradle.

I ransacked his apartment. I found it in his desk: All his notes. All the information. The secret of how to do the things he could do.

I picked up the telephone and called the Washington police. When I heard the siren outside, I took out my service revolver and shot him in the throat. He was dead before they came in.

For, you see, I knew Laurence Connaught. We were friends. I would have trusted him with my life. But this was more than just a life.

Twenty-three words told how to do the things that Laurence Connaught did. Anyone who could read could do them. Criminals, traitors, lunatics⁠—the formula would work for anyone.

Laurence Connaught was an honest man and an idealist, I think. But what would happen to any man when he became God? Suppose you were told twenty-three words that would let you reach into any bank vault, peer inside any closed room, walk through any wall? Suppose pistols could not kill you?

They say power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And there can be no more absolute power than the twenty-three words that can free a man of any jail or give him anything he wants. Larry was my friend. But I killed him in cold blood, knowing what I did, because he could not be trusted with the secret that could make him king of the world.

But I can.

The Day of the Boomer Dukes

I

Foraminifera 9

Paptaste udderly, semped sempsemp dezhavoo, qued schmerz⁠—Excuse me. I mean to say that it was like an endless diet of days, boring, tedious.⁠ ⁠…

No, it loses too much in the translation. Explete my reasons, I say. Do my reasons matter? No, not to you, for you are troglodytes, knowing nothing of causes, understanding only acts. Acts and facts, I will give you acts and facts.

First you must know how I am called. My “name” is Foraminifera 9-Hart Bailey’s Beam, and I am of adequate age and size. (If you doubt this, I am prepared to fight.) Once the⁠—the tediety of life, as you might say, had made itself clear to me, there were, of course, only two alternatives. I do not like to die, so that possibility was out; and the remaining alternative was flight.

Naturally, the necessary machinery was available to me. I arrogated a small viewing machine, and scanned the centuries of the past in the hope that a sanctuary might reveal itself to my aching eyes. Kwel tediety that was! Back, back I went through the ages. Back to the Century of the Dog, back to the Age of the Crippled Men. I found no time better than my own. Back and back I peered, back as far as the Numbered Years. The Twenty-Eighth Century was boredom unendurable, the Twenty-Sixth a morass of dullness. Twenty-Fifth, Twenty-Fourth⁠—wherever I looked, tediety was what I found.

I snapped off the machine and considered. Put the problem thus: Was there in all of the pages of history no age in which a 9-Hart Bailey’s Beam might find adventure and excitement? There had to be! It was not possible, I told myself, despairing, that from the dawn of the dreaming primates until my own time there was no era at all in which I could be⁠—happy? Yes, I suppose happiness is what I was looking for. But where was it? In my viewer, I had fifty centuries or more to look back upon. And that was, I decreed, the trouble; I could spend my life staring into the viewer, and yet never discover the time that was right for me. There were simply too many eras to choose from. It was like an enormous library in which there must, there had to be, contained the one fact I was looking for⁠—that, lacking an index, I might wear my life away and never find.

Index!

I said the word aloud! For, to be sure, it was the answer. I had the freedom of the Learning Lodge, and the index in the reading room could easily find for me just what I wanted.

Splendid, splendid! I almost felt cheerful. I quickly returned the viewer I had been using to the keeper, and received my deposit back. I hurried to the Learning Lodge and fed my specifications into the index, as follows, that is to say: Find me a time in recent past where there is adventure and excitement, where there is a secret, colorful band of desperadoes with whom I can ally myself. I then added two specifications⁠—second, that it should be before the time of the high radiation levels; and first, that it should be after the discovery of anesthesia, in case of accident⁠—and retired to a desk in the reading room to await results.

It took only a few moments, which I occupied in making a list of the gear I wished to take with me. Then there was a hiss and a crackle, and in the receiver of the desk a book appeared. I unzipped the case, took it out, and opened it to the pages marked on the attached reading tape.

I had found my wonderland of adventure!


Ah, hours and days of exciting preparation! What a round of packing and buying; what a filling out of forms and a stamping of visas; what an orgy of injections and inoculations and preventive therapy! Merely getting ready for the trip made my pulse race faster and my adrenalin balance rise to the very point of paranoia; it was like being given a true blue new chance to live.

At last I was ready. I stepped into the transmission capsule; set the dials; unlocked the door, stepped out; collapsed the capsule and stored it away in my carryall; and looked about at my new home.

Pyew! Kwel smell of staleness, of sourness, above all of coldness! It was a close matter then if I would be able to keep from a violent eructative stenosis, as you say. I closed my eyes and remembered warm violets for a moment, and then it was all right.

The coldness was not merely a smell; it was a physical fact. There was a damp grayish substance underfoot which I recognized as snow; and in a hard-surfaced roadway there were a number of wheeled vehicles moving, which caused the liquefying snow to splash about me. I adjusted my coat controls for warmth and deflection, but that was the best I could do. The reek of stale decay remained. Then there were also the buildings, painfully almost vertical. I believe it would not have disturbed me if they had been truly vertical; but many of them were minutes of arc from a true perpendicular, all of them covered with a carbonaceous material which I instantly perceived was an inadvertent deposit from the air. It was a bad beginning!

However, I was not bored.

I made my way down the “street,” as you say, toward where a group of young men were walking toward me, five abreast. As I came near, they looked at me with interest and kwel respect, conversing with each other in whispers.

I addressed them: “Sirs, please direct me to the nearest recruiting office, as you call it, for the dread Camorra.”

They stopped and pressed about me, looking at me intently. They were handsomely, though crudely dressed in coats of a striking orange color, and long trousers of an extremely dark material.

I decreed that I might not have made them understand me⁠—it is always probable, it is understood, that a quicknik course in dialects of the past may not give one instant command of spoken communication in the field. I spoke again: “I wish to encounter a representative of the Camorra, in other words the Black Hand, in other words the cruel and sinister Sicilian terrorists named the Mafia. Do you know where these can be found?”

One of them said, “Nay. What’s that jive?”

I puzzled over what he had said for a moment, but in the end decreed that his message was sense-free. As I was about to speak, however, he said suddenly: “Let’s rove, man.” And all five of them walked quickly away a few “yards.” It was quite disappointing. I observed them conferring among themselves, glancing at me, and for a time proposed terminating my venture, for I then believed that it would be better to return “home,” as you say, in order to more adequately research the matter.

However, the five young men came toward me again. The one who had spoken before, who I now detected was somewhat taller and fatter than the others, spoke as follows: “You’re wanting the Mafia?” I agreed. He looked at me for a moment. “Are you holding?”

He was inordinately hard to understand. I said, slowly and with patience, “Keska that ‘holding’ say?”

“Money, man. You going to slip us something to help you find these cats?”

“Certainly, money. I have a great quantity of money instantly available,” I rejoined him. This appeared to relieve his mind.

There was a short pause, directly after which this first of the young men spoke: “You’re on, man. Yeah, come with us. What’s to call you?” I queried this last statement, and he expanded: “The name. What’s the name?”

“You may call me Foraminifera 9,” I directed, since I wished to be incognito, as you put it, and we proceeded along the “street.” All five of the young men indicated a desire to serve me, offering indeed to take my carryall. I rejected this, politely.

I looked about me with lively interest, as you may well believe. Kwel dirt, kwel dinginess, kwel cold! And yet there was a certain charm which I can determine no way of expressing in this language. Acts and facts, of course. I shall not attempt to capture the subjectivity which is the charm, only to transcribe the physical datum⁠—perhaps even data, who knows? My companions, for example: They were in appearance overwrought, looking about them continually, stopping entirely and drawing me with them into the shelter of a “door” when another man, this one wearing blue clothing and a visored hat appeared. Yet they were clearly devoted to me, at that moment, since they had put aside their own projects in order to escort me without delay to the Mafia.


Mafia! Fortunate that I had found them to lead me to the Mafia! For it had been clear in the historical work I had consulted that it was not ultimately easy to gain access to the Mafia. Indeed, so secret were they that I had detected no trace of their existence in other histories of the period. Had I relied only on the conventional work, I might never have known of their great underground struggle against what you term society. It was only in the actual contemporary volume itself, the curiosity titled U.S.A. Confidential by one Lait and one Mortimer, that I had descried that, throughout the world, this great revolutionary organization flexed its tentacles, the plexus within a short distance of where I now stood, battling courageously. With me to help them, what heights might we not attain! Kwel dramatic delight!

My meditations were interrupted. “Boomers!” asserted one of my five escorts in a loud, frightened tone. “Let’s cut, man!” he continued, leading me with them into another entrance. It appeared, as well as I could decree, that the cause of his ejaculative outcry was the discovery of perhaps three, perhaps four, other young men, in coats of the same shiny material as my escorts. The difference was that they were of a different color, being blue.

We hastened along a lengthy chamber which was quite dark, immediately after which the large, heavy one opened a way to a serrated incline leading downward. It was extremely dark, I should say. There was also an extreme smell, quite like that of the outer air, but enormously intensified; one would suspect that there was an incomplete combustion of, perhaps, wood or coal, as well as a certain quantity of general decay. At any rate, we reached the bottom of the incline, and my escort behaved quite badly. One of them said to the other four, in these words: “Them jumpers follow us sure. Yeah, there’s much trouble. What’s to prime this guy now and split?”

Instantly they fell upon me with violence. I had fortunately become rather alarmed at their visible emotion of fear, and already had taken from my carryall a Stollgratz 16, so that I quickly turned it on them. I started to replace the Stollgratz 16 as they fell to the floor, yet I realized that there might be an additional element of danger. Instead of putting the Stollgratz 16 in with the other trade goods, which I had brought to assist me in negotiating with the Mafia, I transferred it to my jacket. It had become clear to me that the five young men of my escort had intended to abduct and rob me⁠—indeed had intended it all along, perhaps having never intended to convoy me to the office of the Mafia. And the other young men, those who wore the blue jackets in place of the orange, were already descending the incline toward me, quite rapidly.

“Stop,” I directed them. “I shall not entrust myself to you until you have given me evidence that you entirely deserve such trust.”

They all halted, regarding me and the Stollgratz 16. I detected that one of them said to another: “That cat’s got a zip.”

The other denied this, saying: “That no zip, man. Yeah, look at them Leopards. Say, you bust them flunkies with that thing?”

I perceived his meaning quite quickly. “You are ‘correct,’ ” I rejoined. “Are you associated in friendship with them flunkies?”

“Hell, no. Yeah, they’re Leopards and we’re Boomer Dukes. You cool them, you do us much good.” I received this information as indicating that the two socioeconomic units were inimical, and unfortunately lapsed into an example of the Bivalent Error. Since p implied not-q, I sloppily assumed that not-q implied r (with, you understand, r being taken as the class of phenomena pertinently favorable to me). This was a very poor construction, and of course resulted in certain difficulties. Qued, after all. I stated:

“Them flunkies offered to conduct me to a recruiting office, as you say, of the Mafia, but instead tried to take from me the much money I am holding.” I then went on to describe to them my desire to attain contact with the said Mafia; meanwhile they descended further and grouped about me in the very little light, examining curiously the motionless figures of the Leopards.

They seemed to be greatly impressed; and at the same time, very much puzzled. Naturally. They looked at the Leopards, and then at me.

They gave every evidence of wishing to help me; but of course if I had not forgotten that one cannot assume from the statements “not-Leopard implies Boomer Duke” and “not-Leopard implies Foraminifera 9” that, qued, “Boomer Duke implies Foraminifera 9”⁠ ⁠… if I had not forgotten this, I say, I should not have been “deceived.” For in practice they were as little favorable to me as the Leopards. A certain member of their party reached a position behind me.

I quickly perceived that his intention was not favorable, and attempted to turn around in order to discharge at him with the Stollgratz 16, but he was very rapid. He had a metallic cylinder, and with it struck my head, knocking “me” unconscious.

II

Shield 8805

This candy store is called Chris’s. There must be ten thousand like it in the city. A marble counter with perhaps five stools, a display case of cigars and a bigger one of candy, a few dozen girlie magazines hanging by clothespin-sort-of things from wire ropes along the wall. It has a couple of very small glass-topped tables under the magazines. And a juke⁠—I can’t imagine a place like Chris’s without a juke.

I had been sitting around Chris’s for a couple of hours, and I was beginning to get edgy. The reason I was sitting around Chris’s was not that I liked Cokes particularly, but that it was one of the hanging-out places of a juvenile gang called The Leopards, with whom I had been trying to work for nearly a year; and the reason I was becoming edgy was that I didn’t see any of them there.

The boy behind the counter⁠—he had the same first name as I, Walter in both cases, though my last name is Hutner and his is, I believe, something Puerto Rican⁠—the boy behind the counter was dummying up, too. I tried to talk to him, on and off, when he wasn’t busy. He wasn’t busy most of the time; it was too cold for sodas. But he just didn’t want to talk. Now, these kids love to talk. A lot of what they say doesn’t make sense⁠—either bullying, or bragging, or purposeless swearing⁠—but talk is their normal state; when they quiet down it means trouble. For instance, if you ever find yourself walking down Thirty-Fifth Street and a couple of kids pass you, talking, you don’t have to bother looking around; but if they stop talking, turn quickly. You’re about to be mugged. Not that Walt was a mugger⁠—as far as I know; but that’s the pattern of the enclave.

So his being quiet was a bad sign. It might mean that a rumble was brewing⁠—and that meant that my work so far had been pretty nearly a failure. Even worse, it might mean that somehow the Leopards had discovered that I had at last passed my examinations and been appointed to the New York City Police Force as a rookie patrolman, Shield 8805.

Trying to work with these kids is hard enough at best. They don’t like outsiders. But they particularly hate cops, and I had been trying for some weeks to decide how I could break the news to them.

The door opened. Hawk stood there. He didn’t look at me, which was a bad sign. Hawk was one of the youngest in the Leopards, a skinny, very dark kid who had been reasonably friendly to me. He stood in the open door, with snow blowing in past him. “Walt. Out here, man.”

It wasn’t me he meant⁠—they call me “Champ,” I suppose because I beat them all shooting eight-ball pool. Walt put down the comic he had been reading and walked out, also without looking at me. They closed the door.

Time passed. I saw them through the window, talking to each other, looking at me. It was something, all right. They were scared. That’s bad, because these kids are like wild animals; if you scare them, they hit first⁠—it’s the only way they know to defend themselves. But on the other hand, a rumble wouldn’t scare them⁠—not where they would show it; and finding out about the shield in my pocket wouldn’t scare them, either. They hated cops, as I say; but cops were a part of their environment. It was strange, and baffling.

Walt came back in, and Hawk walked rapidly away. Walt went behind the counter, lit a cigaret, wiped at the marble top, picked up his comic, put it down again and finally looked at me. He said: “Some punk busted Fayo and a couple of the boys. It’s real trouble.”

I didn’t say anything.

He took a puff on his cigaret. “They’re chilled, Champ. Five of them.”

“Chilled? Dead?” It sounded bad; there hadn’t been a real rumble in months, not with a killing.

He shook his head. “Not dead. You’re wanting to see, you go down Gomez’s cellar. Yeah, they’re all stiff but they’re breathing. I be along soon as the old man comes back in the store.”

He looked pretty sick. I left it at that and hurried down the block to the tenement where the Gomez family lived, and then I found out why.

They were sprawled on the filthy floor of the cellar like winoes in an alley. Fayo, who ran the gang; Jap; Baker; two others I didn’t know as well. They were breathing, as Walt had said, but you just couldn’t wake them up.

Hawk and his twin brother, Yogi, were there with them, looking scared. I couldn’t blame them. The kids looked perfectly all right, but it was obvious that they weren’t. I bent down and smelled, but there was no trace of liquor or anything else on their breath.

I stood up. “We’d better get a doctor.”

“Nay. You call the meat wagon, and a cop comes right with it, man,” Yogi said, and his brother nodded.

I laid off that for a moment. “What happened?”

Hawk said, “You know that witch Gloria, goes with one of the Boomer Dukes? She opened her big mouth to my girl. Yeah, opened her mouth and much bad talk came out. Said Fayo primed some jumper with a zip and the punk cooled him, and then a couple of the Boomers moved in real cool. Now they got the punk with the zip and much other stuff, real stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

Hawk looked worried. He finally admitted that he didn’t know what kind of stuff, but it was something dangerous in the way of weapons. It had been the “zip” that had knocked out the five Leopards.

I sent Hawk out to the drugstore for smelling salts and containers of hot black coffee⁠—not that I knew what I was doing, of course, but they were dead set against calling an ambulance. And the boys didn’t seem to be in any particular danger, only sleep.

However, even then I knew that this kind of trouble was something I couldn’t handle alone. It was a toss-up what to do⁠—the smart thing was to call the precinct right then and there; but I couldn’t help feeling that that would make the Leopards clam up hopelessly. The six months I had spent trying to work with them had not been too successful⁠—a lot of the other neighborhood workers had made a lot more progress than I⁠—but at least they were willing to talk to me; and they wouldn’t talk to uniformed police.

Besides, as soon as I had been sworn in, the day before, I had begun the practice of carrying my .38 at all times, as the regulations say. It was in my coat. There was no reason for me to feel I needed it. But I did. If there was any truth to the story of a “zip” knocking out the boys⁠—and I had all five of them right there for evidence⁠—I had the unpleasant conviction that there was real trouble circulating around East Harlem that afternoon.

“Champ. They all waking up!”

I turned around, and Hawk was right. The five Leopards, all of a sudden, were stirring and opening their eyes. Maybe the smelling salts had something to do with it, but I rather think not.

We fed them some of the black coffee, still reasonably hot. They were scared; they were more scared than anything I had ever seen in those kids before. They could hardly talk at first, and when finally they came around enough to tell me what had happened I could hardly believe them. This man had been small and peculiar, and he had been looking for, of all things, the “Mafia,” which he had read about in history books⁠—old history books.

Well, it didn’t make sense, unless you were prepared to make a certain assumption that I refused to make. Man from Mars? Nonsense. Or from the future? Equally ridiculous.⁠ ⁠…

Then the five Leopards, reviving, began to walk around. The cellar was dark and dirty, and packed with the accumulation of generations in the way of old furniture and rat-inhabited mattresses and piles of newspapers; it wasn’t surprising that we hadn’t noticed the little gleaming thing that had apparently rolled under an abandoned potbelly stove.

Jap picked it up, squalled, dropped it and yelled for me.

I touched it cautiously, and it tingled. It wasn’t painful, but it was an odd, unexpected feeling⁠—perhaps you’ve come across the “buzzers” that novelty stores sell which, concealed in the palm, give a sudden, surprising tingle when the owner shakes hands with an unsuspecting friend. It was like that, like a mild electric shock. I picked it up and held it. It gleamed brightly, with a light of its own; it was round; it made a faint droning sound; I turned it over, and it spoke to me. It said in a friendly, feminine whisper: Warning, this portatron attuned only to Bailey’s Beam percepts. Remain quiescent until the Adjuster comes.

That settled it. Any time a lit-up cue ball talks to me, I refer the matter to higher authority. I decided on the spot that I was heading for the precinct house, no matter what the Leopards thought.

But when I turned and headed for the stairs, I couldn’t move. My feet simply would not lift off the ground. I twisted, and stumbled, and fell in a heap; I yelled for help, but it didn’t do any good. The Leopards couldn’t move either.

We were stuck there in Gomez’s cellar, as though we had been nailed to the filthy floor.

III

Cow

When I see what this flunky has done to them Leopards, I call him a cool cat right away. But then we jump him and he ain’t so cool. Angel and Tiny grab him under the arms and I’m grabbing the stuff he’s carrying. Yeah, we get out of there.

There’s bulls on the street, so we cut through the back and over the fences. Tiny don’t like that. He tells me, “Cow. What’s to leave this cat here? He must weigh eighteen tons.” “You’re bringing him,” I tell him, so he shuts up. That’s how it is in the Boomer Dukes. When Cow talks, them other flunkies shut up fast.

We get him in the loft over the R. and I. Social Club. Damn, but it’s cold up there. I can hear the pool balls clicking down below so I pass the word to keep quiet. Then I give this guy the foot and pretty soon he wakes up.

As soon as I talk to him a little bit I figure we had luck riding with us when we see them Leopards. This cat’s got real bad stuff. Yeah, I never hear of anything like it. But what it takes to make a fight he’s got. I take my old pistol and give it to Tiny. Hell, it makes him happy and what’s it cost me? Because what this cat’s got makes that pistol look like something for babies.

First he don’t want to talk. “Stomp him,” I tell Angel, but he’s scared. He says, “Nay. This is a real weird cat, Cow. I’m for cutting out of here.”

“Stomp him,” I tell him again, pretty quiet, but he does it. He don’t have to tell me this cat’s weird, but when the cat gets the foot a couple of times he’s willing to talk. Yeah, he talks real funny, but that don’t matter to me. We take all the loot out of his bag, and I make this cat tell me what it’s to do. Damn, I don’t know what he’s talking about one time out of six, but I know enough. Even Tiny catches on after a while, because I see him put down that funky old pistol I gave him that he’s been loving up.

I’m feeling pretty good. I wish a couple of them chicken Leopards would turn up so I could show them what they missed out on. Yeah, I’ll take on them, and the Black Dogs, and all the cops in the world all at once⁠—that’s how good I’m feeling. I feel so good that I don’t even like it when Angel lets out a yell and comes up with a wad of loot. It’s like I want to prime the U.S. Mint for chickenfeed, I don’t want it to come so easy.

But money’s on hand, so I take it off Angel and count it. This cat was really loaded; there must be a thousand dollars here.

I take a handful of it and hand it over to Angel real cool. “Get us some charge,” I tell him. “There’s much to do and I’m feeling ready for some charge to do it with.”

“How many sticks you want me to get?” he asks, holding on to that money like he never saw any before.

I tell him: “Sticks? Nay. I’m for real stuff tonight. You find Four-Eye and get us some horse.” Yeah, he digs me then. He looks like he’s pretty scared and I know he is, because this punk hasn’t had anything bigger than reefers in his life. But I’m for busting a couple of caps of H, and what I do he’s going to do. He takes off to find Four-Eye and the rest of us get busy on this cat with the funny artillery until he gets back.


It’s like I’m a million miles down Dream Street. Hell, I don’t want to wake up.

But the H is wearing off and I’m feeling mean. Damn, I’ll stomp my mother if she talks big to me right then.

I’m the first one on my feet and I’m looking for trouble. The whole place is full now. Angel must have passed the word to everybody in the Dukes, but I don’t even remember them coming in. There’s eight or ten cats lying around on the floor now, not even moving. This won’t do, I decide.

If I’m on my feet, they’re all going to be on their feet. I start to give them the foot and they begin to move. Even the weirdie must’ve had some H. I’m guessing that somebody slipped him some to see what would happen, because he’s off on Cloud Number Nine. Yeah, they’re feeling real mean when they wake up, but I handle them cool. Even that little flunky Sailor starts to go up against me but I look at him cool and he chickens. Angel and Pete are real sick, with the shakes and the heaves, but I ain’t waiting for them to feel good. “Give me that loot,” I tell Tiny, and he hands over the stuff we took off the weirdie. I start to pass out the stuff.

“What’s to do with this stuff?” Tiny asks me, looking at what I’m giving him.

I tell him, “Point it and shoot it.” He isn’t listening when the weirdie’s telling me what the stuff is. He wants to know what it does, but I don’t know that. I just tell him, “Point it and shoot it, man.” I’ve sent one of the cats out for drinks and smokes and he’s back by then, and we’re all beginning to feel a little better, only still pretty mean. They begin to dig me.

“Yeah, it sounds like a rumble,” one of them says, after a while.

I give him the nod, cool. “You’re calling it,” I tell him. “There’s much fighting tonight. The Boomer Dukes is taking on the world!”

IV

Sandy Van Pelt

The front office thought the radio car would give us a break in spot news coverage, and I guessed as wrong as they did. I had been covering City Hall long enough, and that’s no place to build a career⁠—the Press Association is very tight there, there’s not much chance of getting any kind of exclusive story because of the sharing agreements. So I put in for the radio car. It meant taking the night shift, but I got it.

I suppose the front office got their money’s worth, because they played up every lousy auto smash the radio car covered as though it were the story of the Second Coming, and maybe it helped circulation. But I had been on it for four months and, wouldn’t you know it, there wasn’t a decent murder, or sewer explosion, or running gun fight between six p.m. and six a.m. any night I was on duty in those whole four months. What made it worse, the kid they gave me as photographer⁠—Sol Detweiler, his name was⁠—couldn’t drive worth a damn, so I was stuck with chauffeuring us around.

We had just been out to LaGuardia to see if it was true that Marilyn Monroe was sneaking into town with Aly Khan on a night plane⁠—it wasn’t⁠—and we were coming across the Triborough Bridge, heading south toward the East River Drive, when the office called. I pulled over and parked and answered the radiophone.

It was Harrison, the night City Editor. “Listen, Sandy, there’s a gang fight in East Harlem. Where are you now?”

It didn’t sound like much to me, I admit. “There’s always a gang fight in East Harlem, Harrison. I’m cold and I’m on my way down to Night Court, where there may or may not be a story; but at least I can get my feet warm.”

Where are you now?” Harrison wasn’t fooling. I looked at Sol, on the seat next to me; I thought I had heard him snicker. He began to fiddle with his camera without looking at me. I pushed the “talk” button and told Harrison where I was. It pleased him very much; I wasn’t more than six blocks from where this big rumble was going on, he told me, and he made it very clear that I was to get on over there immediately.

I pulled away from the curb, wondering why I had ever wanted to be a newspaperman; I could have made five times as much money for half as much work in an ad agency. To make it worse, I heard Sol chuckle again. The reason he was so amused was that when we first teamed up I made the mistake of telling him what a hot reporter I was, and I had been visibly cooling off before his eyes for a better than four straight months.

Believe me, I was at the very bottom of my career that night. For five cents cash I would have parked the car, thrown the keys in the East River, and taken the first bus out of town. I was absolutely positive that the story would be a bust and all I would get out of it would be a bad cold from walking around in the snow.

And if that doesn’t show you what a hot newspaperman I really am, nothing will.

Sol began to act interested as we reached the corner Harrison had told us to go to. “That’s Chris’s,” he said, pointing at a little candy store. “And that must be the pool hall where the Leopards hang out.”

“You know this place?”

He nodded. “I know a man named Walter Hutner. He and I went to school together, until he dropped out, couple weeks ago. He quit college to go to the Police Academy. He wanted to be a cop.”

I looked at him. “You’re going to college?”

“Sure, Mr. Van Pelt. Wally Hutner was a sociology major⁠—I’m journalism⁠—but we had a couple of classes together. He had a part-time job with a neighborhood council up here, acting as a sort of adult adviser for one of the gangs.”

“They need advice on how to be gangs?”

“No, that’s not it, Mr. Van Pelt. The councils try to get their workers accepted enough to bring the kids in to the social centers, that’s all. They try to get them off the streets. Wally was working with a bunch called the Leopards.”

I shut him up. “Tell me about it later!” I stopped the car and rolled down a window, listening.

Yes, there was something going on all right. Not at the corner Harrison had mentioned⁠—there wasn’t a soul in sight in any direction. But I could hear what sounded like gunfire and yelling, and, my God, even bombs going off! And it wasn’t too far away. There were sirens, too⁠—squad cars, no doubt.

“It’s over that way!” Sol yelled, pointing. He looked as though he was having the time of his life, all keyed up and delighted. He didn’t have to tell me where the noise was coming from, I could hear for myself. It sounded like D-Day at Normandy, and I didn’t like the sound of it.

I made a quick decision and slammed on the brakes, then backed the car back the way we had come. Sol looked at me. “What⁠—”

“Local color,” I explained quickly. “This the place you were talking about? Chris’s? Let’s go in and see if we can find some of these hoodlums.”

“But, Mr. Van Pelt, all the pictures are over where the fight’s going on!”

“Pictures, shmictures! Come on!” I got out in front of the candy store, and the only thing he could do was follow me.

Whatever they were doing, they were making the devil’s own racket about it. Now that I looked a little more closely I could see that they must have come this way; the candy store’s windows were broken; every other street light was smashed; and what had at first looked like a flight of steps in front of a tenement across the street wasn’t anything of the kind⁠—it was a pile of bricks and stone from the false-front cornice on the roof! How in the world they had managed to knock that down I had no idea; but it sort of convinced me that, after all, Harrison had been right about this being a big fight. Over where the noise was coming from there were queer flashing lights in the clouds overhead⁠—reflecting exploding flares, I thought.


No, I didn’t want to go over where the pictures were. I like living. If it had been a normal Harlem rumble with broken bottles and knives, or maybe even homemade zip guns⁠—I might have taken a chance on it, but this was for real.

“Come on,” I yelled to Sol, and we pushed the door open to the candy store.

At first there didn’t seem to be anyone in, but after we called a couple times a kid of about sixteen, coffee-colored and scared-looking, stuck his head up above the counter.

“You. What’s going on here?” I demanded. He looked at me as if I was some kind of a two-headed monster. “Come on, kid. Tell us what happened.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Van Pelt.” Sol cut in ahead of me and began talking to the kid in Spanish. It got a rise out of him; at least Sol got an answer. My Spanish is only a little bit better than my Swahili, so I missed what was going on, except for an occasional word. But Sol was getting it all. He reported: “He knows Walt; that’s what’s bothering him. He says Walt and some of the Leopards are in a basement down the street, and there’s something wrong with them. I can’t exactly figure out what, but⁠—”

“The hell with them. What about that?”

“You mean the fight? Oh, it’s a big one all right, Mr. Van Pelt. It’s a gang called the Boomer Dukes. They’ve got hold of some real guns somewhere⁠—I can’t exactly understand what kind of guns he means, but it sounds like something serious. He says they shot that parapet down across the street. Gosh, Mr. Van Pelt, you’d think it’d take a cannon for something like that. But it has something to do with Walt Hutner and all the Leopards, too.”

I said enthusiastically, “Very good, Sol. That’s fine. Find out where the cellar is, and we’ll go interview Hutner.”

“But Mr. Van Pelt, the pictures⁠—”

“Sorry. I have to call the office.” I turned my back on him and headed for the car.


The noise was louder, and the flashes in the sky brighter⁠—it looked as though they were moving this way. Well, I didn’t have any money tied up in the car, so I wasn’t worried about leaving it in the street. And somebody’s cellar seemed like a very good place to be. I called the office and started to tell Harrison what we’d found out; but he stopped me short. “Sandy, where’ve you been? I’ve been trying to call you for⁠—Listen, we got a call from Fordham. They’ve detected radiation coming from the East Side⁠—it’s got to be what’s going on up there! Radiation, do you hear me? That means atomic weapons! Now, you get th⁠—”

Silence.

“Hello?” I cried, and then remembered to push the talk button. “Hello? Harrison, you there?”

Silence. The two-way radio was dead.

I got out of the car; and maybe I understood what had happened to the radio and maybe I didn’t. Anyway, there was something new shining in the sky. It hung below the clouds in parts, and I could see it through the bottom of the clouds in the middle; it was a silvery teacup upside down, a hemisphere over everything.

It hadn’t been there two minutes before.

I heard firing coming closer and closer. Around a corner a bunch of cops came, running, turning, firing; running, turning and firing again. It was like the retreat from Caporetto in miniature. And what was chasing them? In a minute I saw. Coming around the corner was a kid with a lightning-blue satin jacket and two funny-looking guns in his hand; there was a silvery aura around him, the same color as the lights in the sky; and I swear I saw those cops’ guns hit him twenty times in twenty seconds, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Sol and the kid from the candy store were right beside me. We took another look at the one-man army that was coming down the street toward us, laughing and prancing and firing those odd-looking guns. And then the three of us got out of there, heading for the cellar. Any cellar.

V

Priam’s Maw

My occupation was “short-order cook,” as it is called. I practiced it in a locus entitled “The White Heaven,” established at Fifth Avenue, Newyork, between 1949 and 1962 CE. I had created rapport with several of the aboriginals, who addressed me as Bessie, and presumed to approve the manner in which I heated specimens of minced ruminant quadruped flesh (deceased to be sure). It was a satisfactory guise, although tiring.

Using approved techniques, I was compiling anthropometric data while “I” was, as they say, “brewing coffee.” I deem the probability nearly conclusive that it was the double duty, plus the datum that, as stated, “I” was physically tired, which caused me to overlook the first signal from my portatron. Indeed, I might have overlooked the second as well except that the aboriginal named Lester stated: “Hey, Bessie. Ya got an alarm clock in ya pocketbook?” He had related the annunciator signal of the portatron to the only significant datum in his own experience which it resembled, the ringing of a bell.

I annotated his dossier to provide for his removal in case it eventuated that he had made an undesirable intuit (this proved unnecessary) and retired to the back of the “store” with my carryall. On identifying myself to the portatron, I received information that it was attuned to a Bailey’s Beam, identified as Foraminifera 9-Hart, who had refused treatment for systemic weltschmerz and instead sought to relieve his boredom by adventuring into this era.

I thereupon compiled two recommendations which are attached: 2, a proposal for reprimand to the Keeper of the Learning Lodge for failure to properly annotate a volume entitled U.S.A. Confidential and, 1, a proposal for reprimand to the Transport Executive, for permitting Bailey’s Beam-class personnel access to temporal transport. Meanwhile, I left the “store” by a rear exit and directed myself toward the locus of the transmitting portatron.

I had proximately left when I received an additional information, namely that developed weapons were being employed in the area toward which I was directing. This provoked that I abandon guise entirely. I went transparent and quickly examined all aboriginals within view, to determine if any required removal; but none had observed this. I rose to perhaps seventy-five meters and sped at full atmospheric driving speed toward the source of the alarm. As I crossed a “park” I detected the drive of another Adjuster, whom I determined to be Alephplex Priam’s Maw⁠—that is, my father. He bespoke me as follows: “Hurry, Besplex Priam’s Maw. That crazy Foraminifera has been captured by aboriginals and they have taken his weapons away from him.” “Weapons?” I inquired. “Yes, weapons,” he stated, “for Foraminifera 9-Hart brought with him more than forty-three kilograms of weapons, ranging up to and including electronic.”

I recorded this datum and we landed, went opaque in the shelter of a doorway and examined our percepts. “Quarantine?” asked my father, and I had to agree. “Quarantine,” I voted, and he opened his carryall and set up a quarantine shield on the console. At once appeared the silvery quarantine dome, and the first step of our adjustment was completed. Now to isolate, remove, replace.

Queried Alephplex: “An Adjuster?” I observed the phenomenon to which he was referring. A young, dark aboriginal was coming toward us on the “street,” driving a group of police aboriginals before him. He was armed, it appeared, with a fission-throwing weapon in one hand and some sort of tranquilizer⁠—I deem it to have been a Stollgratz 16⁠—in the other; moreover, he wore an invulnerability belt. The police aboriginals were attempting to strike him with missile weapons, which the belt deflected. I neutralized his shield, collapsed him and stored him in my carryall. “Not an Adjuster,” I asserted my father, but he had already perceived that this was so. I left him to neutralize and collapse the police aboriginals while I zeroed in on the portatron. I did not envy him his job with the police aboriginals, for many of them were “dead,” as they say. It required the most delicate adjustments.


The portatron developed to be in a “cellar” and with it were some nine or eleven aboriginals which it had immobilized pending my arrival. One spoke to me thus: “Young lady, please call the cops! We’re stuck here, and⁠—” I did not wait to hear what he wished to say further, but neutralized and collapsed him with the other aboriginals. The portatron apologized for having caused me inconvenience; but of course it was not its fault, so I did not neutralize it. Using it for d.f., I quickly located the culprit, Foraminifera 9-Hart Bailey’s Beam, nearby. He spoke despairingly in the dialect of the locus, “Besplex Priam’s Maw, for God’s sake get me out of this!” “Out!” I spoke to him, “you’ll wish you never were ‘born,’ as they say!” I neutralized but did not collapse him, pending instructions from the Central Authority. The aboriginals who were with him, however, I did collapse.

Presently arrived Alephplex, along with four other Adjusters who had arrived before the quarantine shield made it not possible for anyone else to enter the disturbed area. Each one of us had had to abandon guise, so that this locus of Newyork 1939⁠–⁠1986 must require new Adjusters to replace us⁠—a matter to be charged against the guilt of Foraminifera 9-Hart Bailey’s Beam, I deem.

This concluded Steps 3 and 2 of our Adjustment, the removal and the isolation of the disturbed specimens. We are transmitting same disturbed specimens to you under separate cover herewith, in neutralized and collapsed state, for the manufacture of simulacra thereof. One regrets to say that they number three thousand eight hundred forty-six, comprising all aboriginals within the quarantined area who had firsthand knowledge of the anachronisms caused by Foraminifera’s importation of contemporary weapons into this locus.

Alephplex and the four other Adjusters are at present reconstructing such physical damage as was caused by the use of said weapons. Simultaneously, while I am preparing this report, “I” am maintaining the quarantine shield which cuts off this locus, both physically and temporally, from the remainder of its environment. I deem that if replacements for the attached aboriginals can be fabricated quickly enough, there will be no significant outside percept of the shield itself, or of the happenings within it⁠—that is, by maintaining a quasi-stasis of time while the repairs are being made, an outside aboriginal observer will see, at most, a mere flicker of silver in the sky. All Adjusters here present are working as rapidly as we can to make sure the shield can be withdrawn, before so many aboriginals have observed it as to make it necessary to replace the entire city with simulacra. We do not wish a repetition of the California incident, after all.

The Engineer

By Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

It was very simple. Some combination of low temperature and high pressure had forced something from the seepage at the ocean bottom into combination with something in the water around them.

And the impregnable armor around Subatlantic Oil’s drilling chamber had discovered a weakness.

On the television screen it looked more serious than it was⁠—so Muhlenhoff told himself, staring at it grimly. You get down more than a mile, and you’re bound to have little technical problems. That’s why deep-sea oil wells were still there.

Still, it did look kind of serious. The water driving in the pitted faults had the pressure of eighteen hundred meters behind it, and where it struck it did not splash⁠—it battered and destroyed. As Muhlenhoff watched, a bulkhead collapsed in an explosion of spray; the remote camera caught a tiny driblet of the scattering brine, and the picture in the screen fluttered and shrank, and came back with a wavering sidewise pulse.

Muhlenhoff flicked off the screen and marched into the room where the Engineering Board was waiting in attitudes of flabby panic.

As he swept his hand through his snow-white crew cut and called the board to order a dispatch was handed to him⁠—a preliminary report from a quickly-dispatched company troubleshooter team. He read it to the board, stone-faced.

A veteran heat-transfer man, the first to recover, growled:

“Some vibration thing⁠—and seepage from the oil pool. Sloppy drilling!” He sneered. “Big deal! So a couple hundred meters of shaft have to be plugged and pumped. So six or eight compartments go pop. Since when did we start to believe the cack Research & Development hands out? Armor’s armor. Sure it pops⁠—when something makes it pop. If Atlantic oil was easy to get at, it wouldn’t be here waiting for us now. Put a gang on the job. Find out what happened, make sure it doesn’t happen again. Big deal!”

Muhlenhoff smiled his attractive smile. “Breck,” he said, “thank God you’ve got guts. Perhaps we were in a bit of a panic. Gentlemen, I hope we’ll all take heart from Mr. Breck’s levelheaded⁠—what did you say, Breck?”

Breck didn’t look up. He was pawing through the dispatch Muhlenhoff had dropped to the table. “Nine-inch plate,” he read aloud, whitefaced. “And time of installation, not quite seven weeks ago. If this goes on in a straight line⁠—” he grabbed for a pocket slide-rule⁠—“we have, uh⁠—” he swallowed⁠—“less time than the probable error,” he finished.

“Breck!” Muhlenhoff yelled. “Where are you going?”

The veteran heat-transfer man said grimly as he sped through the door: “To find a submarine.”

The rest of the Engineering Board was suddenly pulling chairs toward the troubleshooting team’s dispatch. Muhlenhoff slammed a fist on the table.

“Stop it,” he said evenly. “The next man who leaves the meeting will have his contract canceled. Is that clear, gentlemen? Good. We will now proceed to get organized.”

He had them; they were listening. He said forcefully: “I want a task force consisting of a petrochemist, a vibrations man, a hydrostatics man and a structural engineer. Co-opt mathematicians and computermen as needed. I will have all machines capable of handling Fourier series and up cleared for your use. The work of the task force will be divided into two phases. For Phase One, members will keep their staffs as small as possible. The objective of Phase One is to find the cause of the leaks and predict whether similar leaks are likely elsewhere in the project. On receiving a first approximation from the force I will proceed to set up Phase Two, to deal with countermeasures.”

He paused. “Gentlemen,” he said, “we must not lose our nerves. We must not panic. Possibly the most serious technical crisis in Atlantic’s history lies before us. Your most important job is to maintain⁠—at all times⁠—a cheerful, courageous attitude. We cannot, repeat cannot, afford to have the sub-technical staff of the project panicked for lack of a good example from us.” He drilled each of them in turn with a long glare. “And,” he finished, “if I hear of anyone suddenly discovering emergency business ashore, the man who does it better get fitted for a sludgemonkey’s suit, because that’s what he’ll be tomorrow. Clear?”

Each of the executives assumed some version of a cheerful, courageous attitude. They looked ghastly, even to themselves.


Muhlenhoff stalked into his private office, the nerve-center of the whole bulkheaded works.

In Muhlenhoff’s private office, you would never know you were 1800 meters below the surface of the sea. It looked like any oilman’s brass-hat office anywhere, complete to the beautiful blonde outside the door (but whitefaced and trembling), the potted palm (though the ends of its fronds vibrated gently), and the typical section chief bursting in in the typical flap. “Sir,” he whined, frenzied, “Section Six has pinholed! The corrosion⁠—”

“Handle it!” barked Muhlenhoff, and slammed the door. Section Six be damned! What did it matter if a few of the old bulkheads pinholed and filled? The central chambers were safe, until they could lick whatever it was that was corroding. The point was, you had to stay with it and get out the oil; because if you didn’t prove your lease, PetroMex would. Mexican oil wanted those reserves mighty badly.

Muhlenhoff knew how to handle an emergency. Back away from it. Get a fresh slant. Above all, don’t panic.

He slapped a button that guaranteed no interruption and irritably, seeking distraction, picked up his latest copy of the New New Review⁠—for he was, among other things, an intellectual as time allowed.

Under the magazine was the latest of several confidential communications from the home office. Muhlenhoff growled and tossed the magazine aside. He reread what Priestley had had to say:

“I know you understand the importance of beating our Spic friends to the Atlantic deep reserves, so I won’t give you a hard time about it. I’ll just pass it on the way Lundstrom gave it to me: ‘Tell Muhlenhoff he’ll come back on the Board or on a board, and no alibis or excuses.’ Get it? Well⁠—”

Hell. Muhlenhoff threw the sheet down and tried to think about the damned corrosion-leakage situation.

But he didn’t try for long. There was, he realized, no point at all in him thinking about the problem. For one thing, he no longer had the equipment.

Muhlenhoff realized, wonderingly, that he hadn’t opened a table of integrals for ten years; he doubted that he could find his way around the pages well enough to run down a tricky form. He had come up pretty fast through the huge technical staff of Atlantic. First he had been a geologist in the procurement section, one of those boots-and-leather-jacket guys who spent his days in rough, tough blasting and drilling and his nights in rarefied scientific air, correlating and integrating the findings of the day. Next he had been a Chief Geologist, chairborne director of youngsters, now and then tackling a muddled report with Theory of Least Squares and Gibbs Phase Rule that magically separated dross from limpid fact⁠ ⁠… or, he admitted wryly, at least turning the muddled reports over to mathematicians who specialized in those disciplines.

Next he had been a Raw Materials Committee member who knew that drilling and figuring weren’t the almighty things he had supposed them when he was a kid, who began to see the Big Picture of offshore leases and depreciation allowances; of power and fusible rocks and steel for the machines, butane for the drills, plastics for the pipelines, metals for the circuits, the computers, the doors, windows, walls, tools, utilities. A committeeman who began to see that a friendly beer poured for the right resources-commission man was really more important than Least Squares or Phase Rule, because a resources commissioner who didn’t get along with you might get along, for instance, with somebody from Coastwide, and allot to Coastwide the next available block of leases⁠—thus working grievous harm to Atlantic and the billions it served. A committeeman who began to see that the Big Picture meant government and science leaning chummily against each other, government setting science new and challenging tasks like the billion-barrel procurement program, science backing government with all its tremendous prestige. You consume my waste hydrocarbons, Muhlenhoff thought comfortably, and I’ll consume yours.

Thus mined, smelted and milled, Muhlenhoff was tempered for higher things. For the first, the technical directorate of an entire Atlantic Sub-Sea Petroleum Corporation district, and all wells, fields, pipelines, stills, storage fields, transport, fabrication and maintenance appertaining thereto. Honors piled upon honors. And then⁠—

He glanced around him at the comfortable office. The top. Nothing to be added but voting stock and Board membership⁠—and those within his grasp, if only he weathered this last crisis. And then the rarefied height he occupied alone.

And, by God, he thought, I do a damn good job of it! Pleasurably he reviewed his conduct at the meeting; he had already forgotten his panic. Those shaking fools would have brought the roof down on us, he thought savagely. A few gallons of water in an unimportant shaft, and they’re set to message the home office, run for the surface, abandon the whole project. The Big Picture! They didn’t see it, and they never would. He might, he admitted, not be able to chase an integral form through a table, but by God he could give the orders to those who would. The thing was organized now; the project was rolling; the task force had its job mapped out; and somehow, although he would not do a jot of the brainwearing, eyestraining, actual work, it would be his job, because he had initiated it. He thought of the flat, dark square miles of calcareous ooze outside, under which lay the biggest proved untapped petroleum reserve in the world. Sector Forty-one, it was called on the hydrographic charts.

Perhaps, some day, the charts would say: Muhlenhoff Basin.

Well, why not?


The emergency intercom was flickering its red call light pusillanimously. Muhlenhoff calmly lifted the handset off its cradle and ignored the tinny bleat. When you gave an order, you had to leave the men alone to carry it out.

He relaxed in his chair and picked up a book from the desk. He was, among other things, a student of Old American History, as time permitted.

Fifteen minutes now, he promised himself, with the heroic past. And then back to work refreshed!

Muhlenhoff plunged into the book. He had schooled himself to concentration; he hardly noticed when the pleading noise from the intercom finally gave up trying to attract his attention. The book was a study of that Mexican War in which the United States had been so astonishingly deprived of Texas, Oklahoma and points west under the infamous Peace of Galveston. The story was well told; Muhlenhoff was lost in its story from the first page.

Good thumbnail sketch of Presidente Lopez, artistically contrasted with the United States’ Whitmore. More-in-sorrow-than-in-anger off-the-cuff psychoanalysis of the crackpot Texan Byerly, derisively known to Mexicans as “El Cacafuego.” Byerly’s raid at the head of his screwball irredentists, their prompt annihilation by the Mexican Third Armored Regiment, Byerly’s impeccably legal trial and execution at Tehuantepec. Stiff diplomatic note from the United States. Bland answer: Please mind your business, Señores, and we will mind ours. Stiffer diplomatic note. We said please, Señores, and can we not let it go at that? Very stiff diplomatic note; and Latin temper flares at last: Mexico severs relations.

Bad to worse. Worse to worst.

Massacre of Mexican nationals at San Antonio. Bland refusal of the United States federal government to interfere in “local police problem” of punishing the guilty. Mexican Third Armored raids San Antone, arrests the murderers (fêted for weeks, their faces in the papers, their proud boasts of butchery retold everywhere), and hangs them before recrossing the border.

United States declares war. United States loses war⁠—outmaneuvered, outgeneraled, out-logisticated, outgunned, outmanned.

And outfought.

Said the author:

“The colossal blow this cold military fact delivered to the United States’ collective ego is inconceivable to us today. Only a study of contemporary comment can make it real to the historian: The choked hysteria of the newspapers, the raging tides of suicides, Whitmore’s impeachment and trial, the forced resignations of the entire General Staff⁠—all these serve only to sketch in the national mood.

“Clearly something had happened to the military power which, within less than five decades previous, had annihilated the war machines of the Cominform and the Third Reich.

“We have the words of the contemporary military analyst, Osgood Ferguson, to explain it:

“The rise of the so-called ‘political general’ means a decline in the efficiency of the army. Other things being equal, an undistracted professional beats an officer who is half soldier and half politician. A general who makes it his sole job to win a war will infallibly defeat an opponent who, by choice or constraint, must offend no voters of enemy ancestry, destroy no cultural or religious shrines highly regarded by the press, show leniency when leniency is fashionable at home, display condign firmness when the voters demand it (though it cause his zone of communications to blaze up into a fury of guerrilla clashes), choose his invasion routes to please a state department apprehensive of potential future ententes.

“It is unfortunate that most of Ferguson’s documentation was lost when his home was burned during the unsettled years after the war. But we know that what Mexico’s Presidente Lopez said to his staff was: ‘My generals, win me this war.’ And this entire volume does not have enough space to record what the United States generals were told by the White House, the Congress as a whole, the Committees on Military Affairs, the Special Committees on Conduct of the War, the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Interior Department, the Director of the Budget, the War Manpower Commission, the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the Steel lobby, the Oil lobby, the Labor lobby, the political journals, the daily newspapers, the broadcasters, the ministry, the Granges, the Chambers of Commerce. However, we do know⁠—unhappily⁠—that the United States generals obeyed their orders. This sorry fact was inscribed indelibly on the record at the Peace of Galveston.”


Muhlenhoff yawned and closed the book. An amusing theory, he thought, but thin. Political generals? Nonsense.

He was glad to see that his subordinates had given up their attempt to pass responsibility for the immediate problem to his shoulders; the intercom had been silent for many minutes now. It only showed, he thought comfortably, that they had absorbed his leading better than they knew.

He glanced regretfully at the door that had sheltered him, for this precious refreshing interlude, from the shocks of the project outside. Well, the interlude was over; now to see about this leakage thing. Muhlenhoff made a note, in his tidy card-catalog mind, to have Maintenance on the carpet. The door was bulging out of true. Incredible sloppiness! And some damned fool had shut the locks in the ventilating system. The air was becoming stuffy.

Aggressive and confident, the political engineer pressed the release that opened the door to the greatest shock of all.

My Lady Greensleeves

I

His name was Liam O’Leary and there was something stinking in his nostrils. It was the smell of trouble. He hadn’t found what the trouble was yet, but he would. That was his business. He was a captain of guards in Estates-General Correctional Institution⁠—better known to its inmates as the Jug⁠—and if he hadn’t been able to detect the scent of trouble brewing a cellblock away, he would never have survived to reach his captaincy.

And her name, he saw, was Sue-Ann Bradley, Detainee No. WFA‒656R.

He frowned at the rap sheet, trying to figure out what got a girl like her into a place like this. And, what was more important, why she couldn’t adjust herself to it, now that she was in.

He demanded: “Why wouldn’t you mop out your cell?”

The girl lifted her head angrily and took a step forward. The block guard, Sodaro, growled warningly: “Watch it, auntie!”

O’Leary shook his head. “Let her talk, Sodaro.” It said in the Civil Service Guide to Prison Administration: “Detainees will be permitted to speak in their own behalf in disciplinary proceedings.” And O’Leary was a man who lived by the book.

She burst out: “I never got a chance! That old witch Mathias never told me I was supposed to mop up. She banged on the door and said, ‘Slush up, sister!’ And then, ten minutes later, she called the guards and told them I refused to mop.”

The block guard guffawed. “Wipe talk⁠—that’s what she was telling you to do. Cap’n, you know what’s funny about this? This Bradley is⁠—”

“Shut up, Sodaro.”

Captain O’Leary put down his pencil and looked at the girl. She was attractive and young⁠—not beyond hope, surely. Maybe she had got off to a wrong start, but the question was, would putting her in the disciplinary block help straighten her out? He rubbed his ear and looked past her at the line of prisoners on the rap detail, waiting for him to judge their cases.

He said patiently: “Bradley, the rules are you have to mop out your cell. If you didn’t understand what Mathias was talking about, you should have asked her. Now I’m warning you, the next time⁠—”

“Hey, Cap’n, wait!” Sodaro was looking alarmed. “This isn’t a first offense. Look at the rap sheet. Yesterday she pulled the same thing in the mess hall.” He shook his head reprovingly at the prisoner. “The block guard had to break up a fight between her and another wench, and she claimed the same business⁠—said she didn’t understand when the other one asked her to move along.” He added virtuously: “The guard warned her then that next time she’d get the Greensleeves for sure.”

Inmate Bradley seemed to be on the verge of tears. She said tautly: “I don’t care. I don’t care!”

O’Leary stopped her. “That’s enough! Three days in Block O!”

It was the only thing to do⁠—for her own sake as much as for his. He had managed, by strength of will, not to hear that she had omitted to say “sir” every time she spoke to him, but he couldn’t keep it up forever and he certainly couldn’t overlook hysteria. And hysteria was clearly the next step for her.

All the same, he stared after her as she left. He handed the rap sheet to Sodaro and said absently: “Too bad a kid like her has to be here. What’s she in for?”

“You didn’t know, Cap’n?” Sodaro leered. “She’s in for conspiracy to violate the Categoried Class laws. Don’t waste your time with her, Cap’n. She’s a figger-lover!”

Captain O’Leary took a long drink of water from the fountain marked “Civil Service.” But it didn’t wash the taste out of his mouth, the smell from his nose.

What got into a girl to get her mixed up with that kind of dirty business? He checked out of the cell blocks and walked across the yard, wondering about her. She’d had every advantage⁠—decent Civil Service parents, a good education, everything a girl could wish for. If anything, she had had a better environment than O’Leary himself, and look what she had made of it.

The direction of evolution is toward specialization and Man is no exception, but with the difference that his is the one species that creates its own environment in which to specialize. From the moment that clans formed, specialization began⁠—the hunters using the weapons made by the flint-chippers, the food cooked in clay pots made by the ceramists, over fire made by the shaman who guarded the sacred flame.

Civilization merely increased the extent of specialization. From the born mechanic and the man with the gift of gab, society evolved to the point of smaller contact and less communication between the specializations, until now they could understand each other on only the most basic physical necessities⁠—and not even always then.

But this was desirable, for the more specialists, the higher the degree of civilization. The ultimate should be the complete segregation of each specialization⁠—social and genetic measures to make them breed true, because the unspecialized man is an uncivilized man, or at any rate he does not advance civilization. And letting the specializations mix would produce genetic undesirables: clerk-laborer or Professional-G.I. misfits, for example, being only half specialized, would be good at no specialization.

And the basis of this specialization society was: “The aptitude groups are the true races of mankind.” Putting it into law was only the legal enforcement of a demonstrable fact.

“Evening, Cap’n.” A bleary old inmate orderly stood up straight and touched his cap as O’Leary passed by.

“Evening.”

O’Leary noted, with the part of his mind that always noted those things, that the orderly had been leaning on his broom until he’d noticed the captain coming by. Of course, there wasn’t much to sweep⁠—the spray machines and sweeperdozers had been over the cobblestones of the yard twice already that day. But it was an inmate’s job to keep busy. And it was a guard captain’s job to notice when they didn’t.

There wasn’t anything wrong with that job, he told himself. It was a perfectly good civil-service position⁠—better than post-office clerk, not as good as Congressman, but a job you could be proud to hold. He was proud of it. It was right that he should be proud of it. He was civil-service born and bred, and naturally he was proud and content to do a good, clean civil-service job.

If he had happened to be born a fig⁠—a clerk, he corrected himself⁠—if he had happened to be born a clerk, why, he would have been proud of that, too. There wasn’t anything wrong with being a clerk⁠—or a mechanic or a soldier, or even a laborer, for that matter.

Good laborers were the salt of the Earth! They weren’t smart, maybe, but they had a⁠—well, a sort of natural, relaxed joy of living. O’Leary was a broad-minded man and many times he had thought almost with a touch of envy how comfortable it must be to be a wipe⁠—a laborer. No responsibilities. No worries. Just an easy, slow routine of work and loaf, work and loaf.

Of course, he wouldn’t really want that kind of life, because he was Civil Service and not the kind to try to cross over class barriers that weren’t meant to be⁠—

“Evening, Cap’n.”

He nodded to the mechanic inmate who was, theoretically, in charge of maintaining the prison’s car pool, just inside the gate.

“Evening, Conan,” he said.

Conan, now⁠—he was a big buck greaser and he would be there for the next hour, languidly poking a piece of fluff out of the air filter on the prison jeep. Lazy, sure. Undependable, certainly. But he kept the cars going⁠—and, O’Leary thought approvingly, when his sentence was up in another year or so, he would go back to his life with his status restored, a mechanic on the outside as he had been inside, and he certainly would never risk coming back to the Jug by trying to pass as Civil Service or anything else. He knew his place.

So why didn’t this girl, this Sue-Ann Bradley, know hers?

II

Every prison has its Greensleeves⁠—sometimes they are called by different names. Old Marquette called it “the canary;” Louisiana State called it “the red hats;” elsewhere it was called “the hole,” “the snake pit,” “the Klondike.” When you’re in it, you don’t much care what it is called; it is a place for punishment.

And punishment is what you get.

Block O in Estates-General Correctional Institution was the disciplinary block, and because of the green straitjackets its inhabitants wore, it was called the Greensleeves. It was a community of its own, an enclave within the larger city-state that was the Jug. And like any other community, it had its leading citizens⁠ ⁠… two of them. Their names were Sauer and Flock.

Sue-Ann Bradley heard them before she reached the Greensleeves. She was in a detachment of three unfortunates like herself, convoyed by an irritable guard, climbing the steel steps toward Block O from the floor below, when she heard the yelling.

“Owoo‑o‑o,” screamed Sauer from one end of the cell block and “Yow‑w‑w!” shrieked Flock at the other.

The inside deck guard of Block O looked nervously at the outside deck guard. The outside guard looked impassively back⁠—after all, he was on the outside.

The inside guard muttered: “Wipe rats! They’re getting on my nerves.”

The outside guard shrugged.

“Detail, halt!” The two guards turned to see what was coming in as the three new candidates for the Greensleeves slumped to a stop at the head of the stairs. “Here they are,” Sodaro told them. “Take good care of ’em, will you? Especially the lady⁠—she’s going to like it here, because there’s plenty of wipes and greasers and figgers to keep her company.” He laughed coarsely and abandoned his charges to the Block O guards.

The outside guard said sourly: “A woman, for God’s sake. Now O’Leary knows I hate it when there’s a woman in here. It gets the others all riled up.”

“Let them in,” the inside guard told him. “The others are riled up already.”

Sue-Ann Bradley looked carefully at the floor and paid them no attention. The outside guard pulled the switch that turned on the tanglefoot electronic fields that swamped the floor of the block corridor and of each individual cell. While the fields were on, you could ignore the prisoners⁠—they simply could not move fast enough, against the electronic drag of the field, to do any harm. But it was a rule that, even in Block O, you didn’t leave the tangler fields on all the time⁠—only when the cell doors had to be opened or a prisoner’s restraining garment removed.

Sue-Ann walked bravely forward through the opened gate⁠—and fell flat on her face. It was her first experience of a tanglefoot field. It was like walking through molasses.

The guard guffawed and lifted her up by one shoulder. “Take it easy, auntie. Come on, get in your cell.” He steered her in the right direction and pointed to a greensleeved straitjacket on the cell cot. “Put that on. Being as you’re a lady, we won’t tie it up, but the rules say you got to wear it and the rules⁠—Hey. She’s crying!” He shook his head, marveling. It was the first time he had ever seen a prisoner cry in the Greensleeves.

However, he was wrong. Sue-Ann’s shoulders were shaking, but not from tears. Sue-Ann Bradley had got a good look at Sauer and at Flock as she passed them by and she was fighting off an almost uncontrollable urge to retch.

Sauer and Flock were what are called prison wolves. They were laborers⁠—“wipes,” for short⁠—or, at any rate, they had been once. They had spent so much time in prisons that it was sometimes hard even for them to remember what they really were, outside. Sauer was a big, grinning redhead with eyes like a water moccasin. Flock was a lithe five-footer with the build of a water moccasin⁠—and the sad, stupid eyes of a calf.

Sauer stopped yelling for a moment. “Hey, Flock!”

“What do you want, Sauer?” called Flock from his own cell.

“We got a lady with us! Maybe we ought to cut out this yelling so as not to disturb the lady!” He screeched with howling, maniacal laughter. “Anyway, if we don’t cut this out, they’ll get us in trouble, Flock!”

“Oh, you think so?” shrieked Flock. “Jeez, I wish you hadn’t said that, Sauer. You got me scared! I’m so scared, I’m gonna have to yell!”

The howling started all over again.

The inside guard finished putting the new prisoners away and turned off the tangler field once more. He licked his lips. “Say, you want to take a turn in here for a while?”

“Uh-uh.” The outside guard shook his head.

“You’re yellow,” the inside guard said moodily. “Ah, I don’t know why I don’t quit this lousy job. Hey, you! Pipe down or I’ll come in and beat your head off!”

“Ee‒ee‒ee!” screamed Sauer in a shrill falsetto. “I’m scared!” Then he grinned at the guard, all but his water-moccasin eyes. “Don’t you know you can’t hurt a wipe by hitting him on the head, Boss?”

“Shut up!” yelled the inside guard.

Sue-Ann Bradley’s weeping now was genuine. She simply could not help it. The crazy yowling of the hard-timers, Sauer and Flock, was getting under her skin. They weren’t even⁠—even human, she told herself miserably, trying to weep silently so as not to give the guards the satisfaction of hearing her⁠—they were animals!

Resentment and anger, she could understand. She told herself doggedly that resentment and anger were natural and right. They were perfectly normal expressions of the freedom-loving citizen’s rebellion against the vile and stifling system of Categoried Classes. It was good that Sauer and Flock still had enough spirit to struggle against the vicious system⁠—

But did they have to scream so?

The senseless yelling was driving her crazy. She abandoned herself to weeping and she didn’t even care who heard her anymore. Senseless!

It never occurred to Sue-Ann Bradley that it might not be senseless, because noise hides noise. But then she hadn’t been a prisoner very long.

III

“I smell trouble,” said O’Leary to the warden.

“Trouble? Trouble?” Warden Schluckebier clutched his throat and his little round eyes looked terrified⁠—as perhaps they should have. Warden Godfrey Schluckebier was the almighty Caesar of ten thousand inmates in the Jug, but privately he was a fussy old man trying to hold onto the last decent job he would have in his life.

“Trouble? What trouble?”

O’Leary shrugged. “Different things. You know Lafon, from Block A? This afternoon, he was playing ball with the laundry orderlies in the yard.”

The warden, faintly relieved, faintly annoyed, scolded: “O’Leary, what did you want to worry me for? There’s nothing wrong with playing ball in the yard. That’s what recreation periods are for.”

“You don’t see what I mean, Warden. Lafon was a professional on the outside⁠—an architect. Those laundry cons were laborers. Pros and wipes don’t mix; it isn’t natural. And there are other things.”

O’Leary hesitated, frowning. How could you explain to the warden that it didn’t smell right?

“For instance⁠—Well, there’s Aunt Mathias in the women’s block. She’s a pretty good old girl⁠—that’s why she’s the block orderly. She’s a lifer, she’s got no place to go, she gets along with the other women. But today she put a woman named Bradley on report. Why? Because she told Bradley to mop up in wipe talk and Bradley didn’t understand. Now Mathias wouldn’t⁠—”

The warden raised his hand. “Please, O’Leary, don’t bother me about that kind of stuff.” He sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. He poured himself a cup of steaming black coffee from a brewpot, reached in a desk drawer for something, hesitated, glanced at O’Leary, then dropped a pale blue tablet into the cup. He drank it down eagerly, ignoring the scalding heat.

He leaned back, looking suddenly happier and much more assured.

“O’Leary, you’re a guard captain, right? And I’m your warden. You have your job, keeping the inmates in line, and I have mine. Now your job is just as important as my job,” he said piously. “Everybody’s job is just as important as everybody else’s, right? But we have to stick to our own jobs. We don’t want to try to pass.”

O’Leary snapped erect, abruptly angry. Pass! What the devil way was that for the warden to talk to him?

“Excuse the expression, O’Leary,” the warden said anxiously. “I mean, after all, ‘Specialization is the goal of civilization,’ right?” He was a great man for platitudes, was Warden Schluckebier. “You know you don’t want to worry about my end of running the prison. And I don’t want to worry about yours. You see?” And he folded his hands and smiled like a civil-service Buddha.

O’Leary choked back his temper. “Warden, I’m telling you that there’s trouble coming up. I smell the signs.”

“Handle it, then!” snapped the warden, irritated at last.

“But suppose it’s too big to handle. Suppose⁠—”

“It isn’t,” the warden said positively. “Don’t borrow trouble with all your supposing, O’Leary.” He sipped the remains of his coffee, made a wry face, poured a fresh cup and, with an elaborate show of not noticing what he was doing, dropped three of the pale blue tablets into it this time.

He sat beaming into space, waiting for the jolt to take effect.

“Well, then,” he said at last. “You just remember what I’ve told you tonight, O’Leary, and we’ll get along fine. ‘Specialization is the⁠—’ Oh, curse the thing.”

His phone was ringing. The warden picked it up irritably.

That was the trouble with those pale blue tablets, thought O’Leary; they gave you a lift, but they put you on edge.

“Hello,” barked the warden, not even glancing at the viewscreen. “What the devil do you want? Don’t you know I’m⁠—What? You did what? You’re going to what?”

He looked at the viewscreen at last with a look of pure horror. Whatever he saw on it, it did not reassure him. His eyes opened like clamshells in a steamer.

“O’Leary,” he said faintly, “my mistake.”

And he hung up⁠—more or less by accident; the handset dropped from his fingers.

The person on the other end of the phone was calling from Cell Block O.

Five minutes before, he hadn’t been anywhere near the phone and it didn’t look as if his chances of ever getting near it were very good. Because five minutes before, he was in his cell, with the rest of the hard-timers of the Greensleeves.

His name was Flock.

He was still yelling. Sue-Ann Bradley, in the cell across from him, thought that maybe, after all, the man was really in pain. Maybe the crazy screams were screams of agony, because certainly his face was the face of an agonized man.

The outside guard bellowed: “Okay, okay. Take ten!”

Sue-Ann froze, waiting to see what would happen. What actually did happen was that the guard reached up and closed the switch that actuated the tangler fields on the floors of the cells. The prison rules were humanitarian, even for the dregs that inhabited the Greensleeves. Ten minutes out of every two hours, even the worst case had to be allowed to take his hands out of the restraining garment.

“Rest period” it was called⁠—in the rule book. The inmates had a less lovely term for it.

At the guard’s yell, the inmates jumped to their feet.

Bradley was a little slow getting off the edge of the steel-slat bed⁠—nobody had warned her that the eddy currents in the tangler fields had a way of making metal smoke-hot. She gasped but didn’t cry out. Score one more painful lesson in her new language course. She rubbed the backs of her thighs gingerly⁠—and slowly, slowly, for the eddy currents did not permit you to move fast. It was like pushing against rubber; the faster you tried to move, the greater the resistance.

The guard peered genially into her cell. “You’re okay, auntie.” She proudly ignored him as he slogged deliberately away on his rounds. He didn’t have to untie her and practically stand over her while she attended to various personal matters, as he did with the male prisoners. It was not much to be grateful for, but Sue-Ann Bradley was grateful. At least she didn’t have to live quite like a fig⁠—like an underprivileged clerk, she told herself, conscience-stricken.

Across the hall, the guard was saying irritably: “What the hell’s the matter with you?” He opened the door of the cell with an asbestos-handled key held in a canvas glove.

Flock was in that cell and he was doubled over.

The guard looked at him doubtfully. It could be a trick, maybe. Couldn’t it? But he could see Flock’s face and the agony in it was real enough. And Flock was gasping, through real tears: “Cramps. I⁠—I⁠—”

“Ah, you wipes always got a pain in the gut.” The guard lumbered around Flock to the drawstrings at the back of the jacket. Funny smell in here, he told himself⁠—not for the first time. And imagine, some people didn’t believe that wipes had a smell of their own! But this time, he realized cloudily, it was a rather unusual smell. Something burning. Almost like meat scorching.

It wasn’t pleasant. He finished untying Flock and turned away; let the stinking wipe take care of his own troubles. He only had ten minutes to get all the way around Block O and the inmates complained like crazy if he didn’t make sure they all got the most possible free time. He was pretty good at snowshoeing through the tangler field. He was a little vain about it, even; at times he had been known to boast of his ability to make the rounds in two minutes, every time.

Every time but this.

For Flock moaned behind him, oddly close.

The guard turned, but not quickly enough. There was Flock⁠—astonishingly, he was half out of his jacket; his arms hadn’t been in the sleeves at all! And in one of the hands, incredibly, there was something that glinted and smoked.

“All right,” croaked Flock, tears trickling out of eyes nearly shut with pain.

But it wasn’t the tears that held the guard; it was the shining, smoking thing, now poised at his throat. A shiv! It looked as though it had been made out of a bedspring, ripped loose from its frame God knows how, hidden inside the greensleeved jacket God knows how⁠—filed, filed to sharpness over endless hours.

No wonder Flock moaned⁠—the eddy currents in the shiv were slowly cooking his hand; and the blister against his abdomen, where the shiv had been hidden during other rest periods, felt like raw acid.

“All right,” whispered Flock, “just walk out the door and you won’t get hurt. Unless the other screw makes trouble, you won’t get hurt, so tell him not to, you hear?”

He was nearly fainting with the pain.

But he hadn’t let go.

He didn’t let go. And he didn’t stop.

IV

It was Flock on the phone to the warden⁠—Flock with his eyes still streaming tears, Flock with Sauer standing right behind him, menacing the two bound deck guards.

Sauer shoved Flock out of the way. “Hey, Warden!” he said, and the voice was a cheerful bray, though the serpent eyes were cold and hating. “Warden, you got to get a medic in here. My boy Flock, he hurt himself real bad and he needs a doctor.” He gestured playfully at the guards with the shiv. “I tell you, Warden. I got this knife and I got your guards here. Enough said? So get a medic in here quick, you hear?”

And he snapped the connection.

O’Leary said: “Warden, I told you I smelled trouble!”

The warden lifted his head, glared, started feebly to speak, hesitated, and picked up the long-distance phone. He said sadly to the prison operator: “Get me the governor⁠—fast.”

Riot!

The word spread out from the prison on seven-league boots.

It snatched the city governor out of a friendly game of Seniority with his manager and their wives⁠—and just when he was holding the Porkbarrel Joker concealed in the hole.

It broke up the Base Championship Scramble Finals at Hap Arnold Field to the south, as half the contestants had to scramble in earnest to a Red Alert that was real.

It reached to police precinct houses and TV newsrooms and highway checkpoints, and from there it filtered into the homes and lives of the nineteen million persons that lived within a few dozen miles of the Jug.

Riot. And yet fewer than half a dozen men were involved.

A handful of men, and the enormous bulk of the city-state quivered in every limb and class. In its ten million homes, in its hundreds of thousands of public places, the city-state’s people shook under the impact of the news from the prison.

For the news touched them where their fears lay. Riot! And not merely a street brawl among roistering wipes, or a barroom fight of greasers relaxing from a hard day at the plant. The riot was down among the corrupt sludge that underlay the state itself. Wipes brawled with wipes and no one cared; but in the Jug, all classes were cast together.


Forty miles to the south, Hap Arnold Field was a blaze of light. The airmen tumbled out of their quarters and dayrooms at the screech of the alert siren, and behind them their wives and children stretched and yawned and worried. An alert! The older kids fussed and complained and their mothers shut them up. No, there wasn’t any alert scheduled for tonight; no, they didn’t know where Daddy was going; no, the kids couldn’t get up yet⁠—it was the middle of the night.

And as soon as they had the kids back in bed, most of the mothers struggled into their own airwac uniforms and headed for the briefing area to hear.

They caught the words from a distance⁠—not quite correctly. “Riot!” gasped an aircraftswoman first-class, mother of three. “The wipes! I told Charlie they’d get out of hand and⁠—Alys, we aren’t safe. You know how they are about G.I. women! I’m going right home and get a club and stand right by the door and⁠—”

“Club!” snapped Alys, radarscope-sergeant, with two children querulously awake in her nursery at home. “What in God’s name is the use of a club? You can’t hurt a wipe by hitting him on the head. You’d better come along to Supply with me and draw a gun⁠—you’ll need it before this night is over.”

But the airmen themselves heard the briefing loud and clear over the scramble-call speakers, and they knew it was not merely a matter of trouble in the wipe quarters. The Jug! The governor himself had called them out; they were to fly interdicting missions at such-and-such levels on such-and-such flight circuits around the prison.

The rockets took off on fountains of fire; and the jets took off with a whistling roar; and last of all, the helicopters took off⁠ ⁠… and they were the ones who might actually accomplish something. They took up their picket posts on the prison perimeter, a pilot and two bombardiers in each ’copter, stone-faced, staring grimly alert at the prison below.

They were ready for the breakout.

But there wasn’t any breakout.

The rockets went home for fuel. The jets went home for fuel. The helicopters hung on⁠—still ready, still waiting.

The rockets came back and roared harmlessly about, and went away again. They stayed away. The helicopter men never faltered and never relaxed. The prison below them was washed with light⁠—from the guard posts on the walls, from the cell blocks themselves, from the mobile lights of the guard squadrons surrounding the walls.

North of the prison, on the long, flat, damp developments of reclaimed land, the matchbox row houses of the clerical neighborhoods showed lights in every window as the figgers stood ready to repel invasion from their undesired neighbors to the east, the wipes. In the crowded tenements of the laborers’ quarters, the wipes shouted from window to window; and there were crowds in the bright streets.

“The whole bloody thing’s going to blow up!” a helicopter bombardier yelled bitterly to his pilot, above the flutter and roar of the whirling blades. “Look at the mobs in Greaserville! The first breakout from the Jug’s going to start a fight like you never saw and we’ll be right in the middle of it!”

He was partly right. He would be right in the middle of it⁠—for every man, woman and child in the city-state would be right in the middle of it. There was no place anywhere that would be spared. No mixing. That was the prescription that kept the city-state alive. There’s no harm in a family fight⁠—and aren’t all mechanics a family, aren’t all laborers a clan, aren’t all clerks and office workers related by closer ties than blood or skin?

But the declassed cons of the Jug were the dregs of every class; and once they spread, the neat compartmentation of society was pierced. The breakout would mean riot on a bigger scale than any prison had ever known.

But he was also partly wrong. Because the breakout wasn’t seeming to come.


The Jug itself was coming to a boil.

Honor Block A, relaxed and easy at the end of another day, found itself shaken alert by strange goings-on. First there was the whir and roar of the Air Force overhead. Trouble. Then there was the sudden arrival of extra guards, doubling the normal complement⁠—day-shift guards, summoned away from their comfortable civil-service homes at some urgent call. Trouble for sure.

Honor Block A wasn’t used to trouble. A Block was as far from the Greensleeves of O Block as you could get and still be in the Jug. Honor Block A belonged to the prison’s halfbreeds⁠—the honor prisoners, the trusties who did guards’ work because there weren’t enough guards to go around. They weren’t Apaches or Piutes; they were camp-following Injuns who had sold out for the white man’s firewater. The price of their service was privilege⁠—many privileges.

Item: TV sets in every cell. Item: Hobby tools, to make gadgets for the visitor trade⁠—the only way an inmate could earn an honest dollar. Item: In consequence, an exact knowledge of everything the outside world knew and put on its TV screens (including the grim, alarming reports of “trouble at Estates-General”), and the capacity to convert their “hobby tools” to⁠—other uses.

An honor prisoner named Wilmer Lafon was watching the TV screen with an expression of rage and despair.

Lafon was a credit to the Jug⁠—he was a showpiece for visitors. Prison rules provided for prisoner training⁠—it was a matter of “rehabilitation.” Prisoner rehabilitation is a joke and a centuries-old one at that; but it had its serious uses, and one of them was to keep the prisoners busy. It didn’t much matter at what.

Lafon, for instance, was being “rehabilitated” by studying architecture. The guards made a point of bringing inspection delegations to his cell to show him off. There were his walls, covered with pin-ups⁠—but not of women. The pictures were sketches Lafon had drawn himself; they were of buildings, highways, dams and bridges; they were splendidly conceived and immaculately executed.

“Looka that!” the guards would rumble to their guests. “There isn’t an architect on the outside as good as this boy! What do you say, Wilmer? Tell the gentlemen⁠—how long you been taking these correspondence courses in architecture? Six years! Ever since he came to the Jug.”

And Lafon would grin and bob his head, and the delegation would go, with the guards saying something like: “Believe me, that Wilmer could design a whole skyscraper⁠—and it wouldn’t fall down, either!”

And they were perfectly, provably right. Not only could Inmate Lafon design a skyscraper, but he had already done so. More than a dozen of them. And none had fallen down.

Of course, that was more than six years back, before he was convicted and sent to the Jug. He would never design another. Or if he did, it would never be built. For the plain fact of the matter was that the Jug’s rehabilitation courses were like rehabilitation in every prison since crime and punishment began. They kept the inmates busy. They made a show of purpose for an institution that had never had a purpose beyond punishment.

And that was all.

For punishment for a crime is not satisfied by a jail sentence. How does it hurt a man to feed and clothe and house him, with the bills paid by the state? Lafon’s punishment was that he, as an architect, was through.

Savage tribes used to lop off a finger or an ear to punish a criminal. Civilized societies confine their amputations to bits and pieces of the personality. Chop-chop, and a man’s reputation comes off; chop-chop again, and his professional standing is gone; chop-chop, and he has lost the respect and trust of his fellows.

The jail itself isn’t the punishment. The jail is only the shaman’s hatchet that performs the amputation. If rehabilitation in a jail worked⁠—if it were meant to work⁠—it would be the end of jails.

Rehabilitation? Rehabilitation for what?

Wilmer Lafon switched off the television set and silently pounded his fist into the wall.

Never again to return to the Professional class! For, naturally, the conviction had cost him his membership in the Architectural Society and that had cost him his Professional standing.

But still⁠—just to be out of the Jug, that would be something! And his whole hope of ever getting out lay not here in Honor Block A, but in the turmoil of the Greensleeves, a hundred meters and more than fifty armed guards away.

He was a furious man. He looked into the cell next door, where a con named Garcia was trying to concentrate on a game of Solitaire Splitfee. Once Garcia had been a Professional, too; he was the closest thing to a friend Wilmer Lafon had. Maybe he could now help to get Lafon where he wanted⁠—needed!⁠—to be.

Lafon swore silently and shook his head. Garcia was a spineless milksop, as bad as any clerk⁠—Lafon was nearly sure there was a touch of the inkwell somewhere in his family. Shrewd and slippery enough, like all figgers. But you couldn’t rely on him in a pinch.

Lafon would have to do it all himself.

He thought for a second, ignoring the rustle and mumble of the other honor prisoners of Block A. There was no help for it; he would have to dirty his hands with physical activity.

Outside on the deck, the guards were grumbling to each other. Lafon wiped the scowl off his black face, put on a smile, rehearsed what he was going to say, and politely rattled the door of his cell.

“Shut up down there!” one of the screws bawled. Lafon recognized the voice; it was the guard named Sodaro. That was all to the good. He knew Sodaro and he had some plans for him.

He rattled the cell door again and called: “Chief, can you come here a minute, please?”

Sodaro yelled: “Didn’t you hear me? Shut up!” But he came wandering by and looked into Lafon’s tidy little cell.

“What the devil do you want?” he growled.

Lafon said ingratiatingly: “What’s going on, Chief?”

“Shut your mouth,” Sodaro said absently and yawned. He hefted his shoulder holster comfortably. That O’Leary, what a production he had made of getting the guards back! And here he was, stuck in Block A on the night he had set aside for getting better acquainted with that little blue-eyed statistician from the Census office.

“Aw, Chief. The television says there’s something going on in the Greensleeves. What’s the score?”

Sodaro had no reason not to answer him, but it was his unvarying practice to make a con wait before doing anything the con wanted. He gave Lafon a ten-second stare before he relented.

“The score? Sauer and Flock took over Block O. What about it?”

Much, much about it! But Lafon looked away to hide the eagerness in his eyes. Perhaps, after all, it was not too late.⁠ ⁠…

He suggested humbly: “You look a little sleepy. Do you want some coffee?”

“Coffee?” Sodaro scratched. “You got a cup for me?”

“Certainly! I’ve got one put aside⁠—swiped it from the messhall⁠—not the one I use myself.”

“Um.” Sodaro leaned on the cell door. “You know I could toss you in the Greensleeves for stealing from the messhall.”

“Aw, chief!” Lafon grinned.

“You been looking for trouble. O’Leary says you were messing around with the bucks from the laundry detail,” Sodaro said halfheartedly. But he didn’t really like picking on Lafon, who was, after all, an agreeable inmate to have on occasion. “All right. Where’s the coffee?”

They didn’t bother with tanglefoot fields in Honor Block A. Sodaro just unlocked the door and walked in, hardly bothering to look at Lafon. He took three steps toward the neat little desk at the back of the cell, where Lafon had rigged up a drawing board and a table, where Lafon kept his little store of luxury goods.

Three steps.

And then, suddenly aware that Lafon was very close to him, he turned, astonished⁠—a little too late. He saw that Lafon had snatched up a metal chair; he saw Lafon swinging it, his black face maniacal; he saw the chair coming down.

He reached for his shoulder holster, but it was very much too late for that.

V

Captain O’Leary dragged the scared little wretch into the warden’s office. He shook the con angrily. “Listen to this, Warden! The boys just brought this one in from the Shops Building. Do you know what he’s been up to?”

The warden wheezed sadly and looked away. He had stopped even answering O’Leary by now. He had stopped talking to Sauer on the interphone when the big convict called, every few minutes, to rave and threaten and demand a doctor. He had almost stopped doing everything except worry and weep. But⁠—still and all, he was the warden. He was the one who gave the orders.

O’Leary barked: “Warden, this little greaser has bollixed up the whole tangler circuit for the prison. If the cons get out into the yard now, you won’t be able to tangle them. You know what that means? They’ll have the freedom of the yard, and who knows what comes next?”

The warden frowned sympathetically. “Tsk, tsk.”

O’Leary shook the con again. “Come on, Hiroko! Tell the warden what you told the guards.”

The con shrank away from him. Sweat was glistening on his furrowed yellow forehead. “I⁠—I had to do it, Cap’n! I shorted the wormcan in the tangler subgrid, but I had to! I got a signal⁠—‘Bollix the grid tonight or some day you’ll be in the yard and we’ll static you!’ What could I do, Cap’n? I didn’t want to⁠—”

O’Leary pressed: “Who did the signal come from?”

The con only shook his head, perspiring still more.

The warden asked faintly: “What’s he saying?”

O’Leary rolled his eyes to heaven. And this was the warden⁠—couldn’t even understand shoptalk from the mouths of his own inmates!

He translated: “He got orders from the prison underground to short-circuit the electronic units in the tangler circuit. They threatened to kill him if he didn’t.”

The warden drummed with his fingers on the desk.

“The tangler field, eh? My, yes. That is important. You’d better get it fixed, O’Leary. Right away.”

“Fixed? Warden, who’s going to fix it? You know as well as I do that every mechanic in the prison is a con. Even if one of the guards would do a thing like that⁠—and I’d bust him myself if he did!⁠—he wouldn’t know where to start. That’s mechanic work.”

The warden swallowed. He had to admit that O’Leary was right. Naturally nobody but a mechanic⁠—and a specialist electrician from a particular subgroup of the greaser class at that⁠—could fix something like the tangler field generators.

He said absently: “Well, that’s true enough. After all, ‘Specialization is the goal of civilization,’ you know.”

O’Leary took a deep breath. He needed it.

He beckoned to the guard at the door. “Take this greaser out of here!”

The con shambled out, his head hanging.

O’Leary turned to the warden and spread his hands.

“Warden,” he said, “don’t you see how this thing is building up? Let’s not just wait for the place to explode in our faces! Let me take a squad into Block O before it’s too late.”

The warden pursed his lips thoughtfully and cocked his head, as though he were trying to find some trace of merit in an unreasonable request.

He said at last: “No.”

O’Leary made a passionate sound that was trying to be bad language, but he was too raging mad to articulate it. He walked stiffly away from the limp, silent warden and stared out the window.

At least, he told himself, he hadn’t gone to pieces. It was his doing, not the warden’s, that all the off-duty guards had been dragged double-time back to the prison, his doing that they were now ringed around the outer walls or scattered on extra-man patrols throughout the prison.

It was something, but O’Leary couldn’t believe that it was enough. He’d been in touch with half a dozen of the details inside the prison on the intercom and each of them had reported the same thing. In all of E.G., not a single prisoner was asleep. They were talking back and forth between the cells and the guards couldn’t shut them up. They were listening to concealed radios and the guards didn’t dare make a shakedown to find them. They were working themselves up to something. To what?

O’Leary didn’t want ever to find out what. He wanted to go in there with a couple of the best guards he could get his hands on⁠—shoot his way into the Greensleeves if he had to⁠—and clean out the infection.

But the warden said no.

O’Leary stared balefully at the hovering helicopters.

The warden was the warden. He was placed in that position through the meticulously careful operations of the Civil Service machinery, maintained in that position year after year through the penetrating annual inquiries of the Reclassification Board. It was subversive to think that the Board could have made a mistake!

But O’Leary was absolutely sure that the warden was a scared, ineffectual jerk.


The interphone was ringing again. The warden picked up the handpiece and held it bonelessly at arm’s length, his eyes fixed glassily on the wall. It was Sauer from the Greensleeves again. O’Leary could hear his maddened bray.

“I warned you, Warden!” O’Leary could see the big con’s contorted face in miniature, in the view screen of the interphone. The grin was broad and jolly, the snake’s eyes poisonously cold. “I’m going to give you five minutes, Warden, you hear? Five minutes! And if there isn’t a medic in here in five minutes to take care of my boy Flock⁠—your guards have had it! I’m going to slice off an ear and throw it out the window, you hear me? And five minutes later, another ear. And five minutes later⁠—”

The warden groaned weakly. “I’ve called for the prison medic, Sauer. Honestly I have! I’m sure he’s coming as rapidly as he⁠—”

“Five minutes!” And the ferociously grinning face disappeared.

O’Leary leaned forward. “Warden, let me take a squad in there!”

The warden gazed at him for a blank moment. “Squad? No, O’Leary. What’s the use of a squad? It’s a medic I have to get in there. I have a responsibility to those guards and if I don’t get a medic⁠—”

A cold, calm voice from the door: “I am here, Warden.”

O’Leary and the warden both jumped up.

The medic nodded slightly. “You may sit down.”

“Oh, Doctor! Thank heaven you’re here!” The warden was falling all over himself, getting a chair for his guest, flustering about.

O’Leary said sharply: “Wait a minute, Warden. You can’t let the doctor go in alone!”

“He isn’t alone!” The doctor’s intern came from behind him, scowling belligerently at O’Leary. Youngish, his beard pale and silky, he was a long way from his first practice. “I’m here to assist him!”

O’Leary put a strain on his patience. “They’ll eat you up in there, Doc! Those are the worst cons in the prison. They’ve got two hostages already. What’s the use of giving them two more?”

The medic fixed him with his eyes. He was a tall man and he wore his beard proudly. “Guard, do you think you can prevent me from healing a sufferer?” He folded his hands over his abdomen and turned to leave.

The intern stepped aside and bowed his head.

O’Leary surrendered. “All right, you can go. But I’m coming with you⁠—with a squad!”


Inmate Sue-Ann Bradley cowered in her cell. The Greensleeves was jumping. She had never⁠—no, never, she told herself wretchedly⁠—thought that it would be anything like this. She listened unbelievingly to the noise the released prisoners were making, smashing the chairs and commodes in their cells, screaming threats at the bound guards.

She faced the thought with fear, and with the sorrow of a murdered belief that was worse than fear. It was bad that she was in danger of dying right here and now, but what was even worse was that the principles that had brought her to the Jug were dying, too.

Wipes were not the same as Civil-Service people!

A bull’s roar from the corridor and a shocking crash of glass⁠—that was Flock, and apparently he had smashed the TV interphone.

“What in the world are they doing?” Inmate Bradley sobbed to herself. It was beyond comprehension. They were yelling words that made no sense to her, threatening punishments on the guards that she could barely imagine. Sauer and Flock were laborers; some of the other rioting cons were clerks, mechanics⁠—even Civil-Service or Professionals, for all she could tell. But she could hardly understand any of them. Why was the quiet little Chinese clerk in Cell Six setting fire to his bed?

There did seem to be a pattern, of sorts. The laborers were rocketing about, breaking things at random. The mechanics were pleasurably sabotaging the electronic and plumbing installations. The white-collar categories were finding their dubious joys in less direct ways⁠—liking setting fire to a bed. But what a mad pattern!

The more Sue-Ann saw of them, the less she understood.

It wasn’t just that they talked differently. She had spent endless hours studying the various patois of shoptalk and it had defeated her; but it wasn’t just that.

It was bad enough when she couldn’t understand the words⁠—as when that trusty Mathias had ordered her in wipe shoptalk to mop out her cell. But what was even worse was not understanding the thought behind the words.

Sue-Ann Bradley had consecrated her young life to the belief that all men were created free and equal⁠—and alike. Or alike in all the things that mattered, anyhow. Alike in hopes, alike in motives, alike in virtues. She had turned her back on a decent Civil-Service family and a promising Civil-Service career to join the banned and despised Association for the Advancement of the Categoried Classes⁠—

Screams from the corridor outside.

Sue-Ann leaped to the door of her cell to see Sauer clutching at one of the guards. The guard’s hands were tied, but his feet were free; he broke loose from the clumsy clown with the serpent’s eyes, almost fell, ran toward Sue-Ann.

There was nowhere else to run. The guard, moaning and gasping, tripped, slid, caught himself and stumbled into her cell. “Please!” he begged. “That crazy Sauer⁠—he’s going to cut my ear off! For heaven’s sake, ma’am⁠—stop him!”

Sue-Ann stared at him, between terror and tears. Stop Sauer! If only she could. The big redhead was lurching stiffly toward them⁠—raging, but not so angry that the water-moccasin eyes showed heat.

“Come here, you figger scum!” he roared.

The epithet wasn’t even close⁠—the guard was Civil Service through and through⁠—but it was like a reviving whip-sting to Sue-Ann Bradley.

“Watch your language, Mr. Sauer!” she snapped incongruously.

Sauer stopped dead and blinked.

“Don’t you dare hurt him!” she warned. “Don’t you see, Mr. Sauer, you’re playing into their hands? They’re trying to divide us. They pit mechanic against clerk, laborer against armed forces. And you’re helping them! Brother Sauer, I beg⁠—”

The redhead spat deliberately on the floor.

He licked his lips, and grinned an amiable clown’s grin, and said in his cheerful, buffoon bray: “Auntie, go verb your adjective adjective noun.”

Sue-Ann Bradley gasped and turned white. She had known such words existed⁠—but only theoretically. She had never expected to hear them. And certainly she would never have believed she would hear them, applied to her, from the lips of a⁠—a laborer.

At her knees, the guard shrieked and fell to the floor.

“Sauer! Sauer!” A panicky bellow from the corridor; the red-haired giant hesitated. “Sauer, come on out here! There’s a million guards coming up the stairs. Looks like trouble!”

Sauer said hoarsely to the unconscious guard: “I’ll take care of you.” And he looked blankly at the girl, and shook his head, and hurried back outside to the corridor.

Guards were coming, all right⁠—not a million of them, but half a dozen or more. And leading them all was the medic, calm, bearded face looking straight ahead, hands clasped before him, ready to heal the sick, comfort the aged or bring new life into the world.

“Hold it!” shrieked little Flock, crouched over the agonizing blister on his abdomen, gun in hand, peering insanely down the steps. “Hold it or⁠—”

“Shut up.” Sauer called softly to the approaching group: “Let only the doc come up. Nobody else!”

The intern faltered; the guards stopped dead; the medic said calmly: “I must have my intern with me.” He glanced at the barred gate wonderingly.

Sauer hesitated. “Well⁠—all right. But no guards!”

A few yards away, Sue-Ann Bradley was stuffing the syncoped form of the guard into her small washroom.

It was time to take a stand. No more cowering, she told herself desperately. No more waiting. She closed the door on the guard, still unconscious, and stood grimly before it. Him, at least, she would save if she could. They could get him, but only over her dead body.

Or anyway, she thought with a sudden throbbing in her throat, over her body.

VI

After O’Leary and the medic left, the warden tottered to a chair⁠—but not for long. His secretary appeared, eyes bulging. “The governor!” he gasped.

Warden Schluckebier managed to say: “Why, Governor! How good of you to come⁠—”

The governor shook him off and held the door open for the men who had come with him. There were reporters from all the news services, officials from the township governments within the city-state. There was an Air G.I. with major’s leaves on his collar⁠—“Liaison, sir,” he explained crisply to the warden, “just in case you have any orders for our men up there.” There were nearly a dozen others.

The warden was quite overcome.

The governor rapped out: “Warden, no criticism of you, of course, but I’ve come to take personal charge. I’m superseding you under Rule Twelve, Paragraph A, of the Uniform Civil Service Code. Right?”

“Oh, right!” cried the warden, incredulous with joy.

“The situation is bad⁠—perhaps worse than you think. I’m seriously concerned about the hostages those men have in there. And I had a call from Senator Bradley a short time ago⁠—”

“Senator Bradley?” echoed the warden.

“Senator Sebastian Bradley. One of our foremost civil servants,” the governor said firmly. “It so happens that his daughter is in Block O as an inmate.”

The warden closed his eyes. He tried to swallow, but the throat muscles were paralyzed.

“There is no question,” the governor went on briskly, “about the propriety of her being there. She was duly convicted of a felonious act, namely conspiracy and incitement to riot. But you see the position.”

The warden saw all too well.

“Therefore,” said the governor. “I intend to go in to Block O myself. Sebastian Bradley is an old and personal friend⁠—as well,” he emphasized, “as being a senior member of the Reclassification Board. I understand a medic is going to Block O. I shall go with him.”

The warden managed to sit up straight. “He’s gone. I mean they already left, Governor. But I assure you Miss Brad⁠—Inmate Bradley⁠—that is, the young lady is in no danger. I have already taken precautions,” he said, gaining confidence as he listened to himself talk. “I⁠—uh⁠—I was deciding on a course of action as you came in. See, Governor, the guards on the walls are all armed. All they have to do is fire a couple of rounds into the yard and then the ’copters could start dropping tear gas and light fragmentation bombs and⁠—”

The governor was already at the door. “You will not,” he said; and: “Now which way did they go?”


O’Leary was in the yard and he was smelling trouble, loud and strong. The first he knew that the rest of the prison had caught the riot fever was when the lights flared on in Cell Block A.

“That Sodaro!” he snarled, but there wasn’t time to worry about that Sodaro. He grabbed the rest of his guard detail and double-timed it toward the New Building, leaving the medic and a couple of guards walking sedately toward the Old. Block A, on the New Building’s lowest tier, was already coming to life; a dozen yards, and Blocks B and C lighted up.

And a dozen yards more and they could hear the yelling; and it wasn’t more than a minute before the building doors opened.

The cons had taken over three more blocks. How? O’Leary didn’t take time even to guess. The inmates were piling out into the yard. He took one look at the rushing mob. Crazy! It was Wilmer Lafon leading the rioters, with a guard’s gun and a voice screaming threats! But O’Leary didn’t take time to worry about an honor prisoner gone bad, either.

“Let’s get out of here!” he bellowed to the detachment, and they ran.

Just plain ran. Cut and ran, scattering as they went.

“Wait!” screamed O’Leary, but they weren’t waiting. Cursing himself for letting them get out of hand, O’Leary salvaged two guards and headed on the run for the Old Building, huge and dark, all but the topmost lights of Block O.

They saw the medic and his escort disappearing into the bulk of the Old Building and they saw something else. There were inmates between them and the Old Building! The Shops Building lay between⁠—with a dozen more cell blocks over the workshops that gave it its name⁠—and there was a milling rush of activity around its entrance, next to the laundry shed⁠—

The laundry shed.

O’Leary stood stock still. Lafon leading the breakout from Block A. The little greaser who was a trusty in the Shops Building sabotaging the yard’s tangler circuit. Sauer and Flock taking over the Greensleeves with a manufactured knife and a lot of guts.

Did it fit together? Was it all part of a plan?

That was something to find out⁠—but not just then. “Come on,” O’Leary cried to the two guards, and they raced for the temporary safety of the main gates.

The whole prison was up and yelling now.

O’Leary could hear scattered shots from the beat guards on the wall⁠—Over their heads, over their heads! he prayed silently. And there were other shots that seemed to come from inside the walls⁠—guards shooting, or convicts with guards’ guns, he couldn’t tell which. The yard was full of convicts now, in bunches and clumps; but none near the gate. And they seemed to have lost some of their drive. They were milling around, lit by the searchlights from the wall, yelling and making a lot of noise⁠ ⁠… but going nowhere in particular. Waiting for a leader, O’Leary thought, and wondered briefly what had become of Lafon.

“You Captain O’Leary?” somebody demanded.

He turned and blinked. Good Lord, the governor! He was coming through the gate, waving aside the gate guards, alone. “You him?” the governor repeated. “All right, glad I found you. I’m going into Block O with you.”

O’Leary swallowed and waved inarticulately at the teeming cons. True, there were none immediately near by⁠—but there were plenty in the yard! Riots meant breaking things up; already the inmates had started to break up the machines in the laundry shed and the athletic equipment in the yard lockers. When they found a couple of choice breakables like O’Leary and the governor, they’d have a ball!

“But, Governor⁠—”

“But my foot! Can you get me in there or can’t you?”

O’Leary gauged their chances. It wasn’t more than fifty feet to the main entrance to the Old Building⁠—not at the moment guarded, since all the guards were in hiding or on the walls, and not as yet being invaded by the inmates at large.

He said: “You’re the boss. Hold on a minute⁠—” The searchlights were on the bare yard cobblestones in front of them; in a moment, the searchlights danced away.

“Come on!” cried O’Leary, and jumped for the entrance. The governor was with him and a pair of the guards came stumbling after.

They made it to the Old Building.

Inside the entrance, they could hear the noise from outside and the yelling of the inmates who were still in their cells. But around them was nothing but gray steel walls and the stairs going all the way up to Block O.

“Up!” panted O’Leary, and they clattered up the steel steps.

They would have made it⁠—if it hadn’t been for the honor inmate, Wilmer Lafon, who knew what he was after and had headed for the Greensleeves through the back way. In fact, they did make it⁠—but not the way they planned. “Get out of the way!” yelled O’Leary at Lafon and the half-dozen inmates with him; and “Go to hell!” screamed Lafon, charging; and it was a rough-and-tumble fight, and O’Leary’s party lost it, fair and square.

So when they got to Block O, it was with the governor marching before a convict-held gun, and with O’Leary cold unconscious, a lump from a gun-butt on the side of his head.

As they came up the stairs, Sauer was howling at the medic: “You got to fix up my boy! He’s dying and all you do is sit there!”

The medic said patiently: “My son, I’ve dressed his wound. He is under sedation and I must rest. There will be other casualties.”

Sauer raged, but that was as far as it went. Even Sauer wouldn’t attack a medic. He would as soon strike an Attorney, or even a Director of Funerals. It wasn’t merely that they were Professionals. Even among the Professional class, they were special; not superior, exactly, but apart. They certainly were not for the likes of Sauer to fool with and Sauer knew it.

“Somebody’s coming!” bawled one of the other freed inmates.

Sauer jumped to the head of the steps, saw that Lafon was leading the group, stepped back, saw whom Lafon’s helpers were carrying and leaped forward again.

“Cap’n O’Leary!” he roared. “Gimme!”

“Shut up,” said Wilmer Lafon, and pushed the big redhead out of the way. Sauer’s jaw dropped and the snake eyes opened wide.

“Wilmer,” he protested feebly. But that was all the protest he made, because the snake’s eyes had seen that Lafon held a gun. He stood back, the big hands half outstretched toward the unconscious guard captain, O’Leary, and the cold eyes became thoughtful.

And then he saw who else was with the party. “Wilmer! You got the governor there!”

Lafon nodded. “Throw them in a cell,” he ordered, and sat down on a guard’s stool, breathing hard. It had been a fine fight on the steps, before he and his boys had subdued the governor and the guards, but Wilmer Lafon wasn’t used to fighting. Even six years in the Jug hadn’t turned an architect into a laborer; physical exertion simply was not his metier.

Sauer said coaxingly: “Wilmer, won’t you leave me have O’Leary for a while? If it wasn’t for me and Flock, you’d still be in A Block and⁠—”

“Shut up,” Lafon said again, gently enough, but he waved the gun muzzle. He drew a deep breath, glanced around him and grinned. “If it wasn’t for you and Flock,” he mimicked. “If it wasn’t for you and Flock! Sauer, you wipe clown, do you think it took brains to file down a shiv and start things rolling? If it wasn’t for me, you and Flock would have beaten up a few guards, and had your kicks for half an hour, and then the whole prison would fall in on you! It was me, Wilmer Lafon, who set things up and you know it!”

He was yelling and suddenly he realized he was yelling. And what was the use, he demanded of himself contemptuously, of trying to argue with a bunch of lousy wipes and greasers? They’d never understand the long, soul-killing hours of planning and sweat. They wouldn’t realize the importance of the careful timing⁠—of arranging that the laundry cons would start a disturbance in the yard right after the Greensleeves hard-timers kicked off the riot, of getting the little greaser Hiroko to short-circuit the yard field so the laundry cons could start their disturbances.

It took a Professional to organize and plan⁠—yes, and to make sure that he himself was out of it until everything was ripe, so that if anything went wrong, he was all right. It took somebody like Wilmer Lafon⁠—a Professional, who had spent six years too long in the Jug⁠—

And who would shortly be getting out.

VII

Any prison is a ticking bomb. Estates-General was in process of going off.

From the Greensleeves, where the trouble had started, clear out to the trusty farms that ringed the walls, every inmate was up and jumping. Some were still in their cells⁠—the scared ones, the decrepit oldsters, the short-termers who didn’t dare risk their early discharge. But for every man in his cell, a dozen were out and yelling.

A torch, licking as high as the hanging helicopters, blazing up from the yard⁠—that was the laundry shed. Why burn the laundry? The cons couldn’t have said. It was burnable and it was there⁠—burn it!

The yard lay open to the wrath of the helicopters, but the helicopters made no move. The cobblestones were solidly covered with milling men. The guards were on the walls, sighting down their guns; the helicopter bombardiers had their fingers on the bomb trips. There had been a few rounds fired over the heads of the rioters, at first.

Nothing since.

In the milling mob, the figures clustered in groups. The inmates from Honor Block A huddled under the guards’ guns at the angle of the wall. They had clubs⁠—all the inmates had clubs⁠—but they weren’t using them.

Honor Block A: On the outside, Civil Service and Professionals. On the inside, the trusties, the “good” cons.

They weren’t the type for clubs.

With all of the inmates, you looked at them and you wondered what twisted devil had got into their heads to land them in the Jug. Oh, perhaps you could understand it⁠—a little bit, at least⁠—in the case of the figgers in Blocks B and C, the greasers in the Shop Building⁠—that sort. It was easy enough for some of the Categoried Classes to commit a crime and thereby land in jail.

Who could blame a wipe for trying to “pass” if he thought he could get away with it? But when he didn’t get away with it, he wound up in the Jug and that was logical enough. And greasers liked Civil-Service women⁠—everyone knew that.

There was almost a sort of logic to it, even if it was a sort of inevitable logic that made decent Civil-Service people see red. You had to enforce the laws against rape if, for instance, a greaser should ask an innocent young female postal clerk for a date. But you could understand what drove him to it. The Jug was full of criminals of that sort. And the Jug was the place for them.

But what about Honor Block A?

Why would a Wilmer Lafon⁠—a certified public architect, a Professional by category⁠—do his own car repairs and get himself jugged for malpractice? Why would a dental nurse sneak back into the laboratory at night and cast an upper plate for her mother? She must have realized she would be caught.

But she had done it. And she had been caught; and there she was, this wild night, huddled under the helicopters, uncertainly waving the handle of a floor mop. It was a club.

She shivered and turned to the stocky convict next to her. “Why don’t they break down the gate?” she demanded. “How long are we going to hang around here, waiting for the guards to get organized and pick us all off one at a time?”

The convict next to her sighed and wiped his glasses with a beefy hand. Once he had been an Income-Tax Accountant, disbarred and convicted on three counts of impersonating an attorney when he took the liberty of making changes in a client’s lease. He snorted: “They expect us to do their dirty work.”

The two of them glared angrily and fearfully at the other convicts in the yard.

And the other convicts, huddled greaser with greaser, wipe with wipe, glared ragingly back. It wasn’t their place to plan the strategy of a prison break.


Captain Liam O’Leary muttered groggily: “They don’t want to escape. All they want is to make trouble. I know cons!”

He came fully awake and sat up and focused his eyes. His head was hammering.

That girl, that Bradley, was leaning over him. She looked scared and sick. “Sit still! Sauer is just plain crazy⁠—listen to them yelling out there!”

O’Leary sat up and looked around, one hand holding his drumming skull.

“They do want to escape,” said Sue-Ann Bradley. “Listen to what they’re saying!”

O’Leary discovered that he was in a cell. There was a battle going on outside. Men were yelling, but he couldn’t see them.

He jumped up, remembering. “The governor!”

Sue-Ann Bradley said: “He’s all right. I think he is, anyway. He’s in the cell right next to us, with a couple guards. I guess they came up with you.” She shivered as the yells in the corridor rose. “Sauer is angry at the medic,” she explained. “He wants him to fix Flock up so they can⁠—‘crush out,’ I think he said. The medic says he can’t do it. You see, Flock got burned pretty badly with a knife he made. Something about the tanglefoot field⁠—”

“Eddy currents,” said O’Leary dizzily.

“Anyway, the medic⁠—”

“Never mind the medic. What’s Lafon doing?”

“Lafon? The Negro?” Sue-Ann Bradley frowned. “I didn’t know his name. He started the whole thing, the way it sounds. They’re waiting for the mob down in the yard to break out and then they’re going to make a break⁠—”

“Wait a minute,” growled O’Leary. His head was beginning to clear. “What about you? Are you in on this?”

She hung between laughter and tears. Finally: “Do I look as if I am?”

O’Leary took stock. Somehow, somewhere, the girl had got a length of metal pipe⁠—from the plumbing, maybe. She was holding it in one hand, supporting him with the other. There were two other guards in the cell, both out cold⁠—one from O’Leary’s squad, the other, O’Leary guessed, a desk guard who had been on duty when the trouble started.

“I wouldn’t let them in,” she said wildly. “I told them they’d have to kill me before they could touch that guard.”

O’Leary said suspiciously: “You belonged to that Double-A-C, didn’t you? You were pretty anxious to get in the Greensleeves, disobeying Auntie Mathias’s orders. Are you sure you didn’t know this was going to⁠—”

It was too much. She dropped the pipe, buried her head in her hands. He couldn’t tell if she laughed or wept, but he could tell that it hadn’t been like that at all.

“I’m sorry,” he said awkwardly, and touched her helplessly on the shoulder.

He turned and looked out the little barred window, because he couldn’t think of any additional way to apologize. He heard the wavering beat in the air and saw them⁠—bobbing a hundred yards up, their wide metal vanes fluttering and hissing from the jets at the tips. The G.I. ’copters. Waiting⁠—as everyone seemed to be waiting.

Sue-Ann Bradley asked shakily: “Is anything the matter?”

O’Leary turned away. It was astonishing, he thought, what a different perspective he had on those helicopter bombers from inside Block O. Once he had cursed the warden for not ordering at least tear gas to be dropped.

He said harshly: “Nothing. Just that the ’copters have the place surrounded.”

“Does it make any difference?”

He shrugged. Does it make a difference? The difference between trouble and tragedy, or so it now seemed to Captain O’Leary. The riot was trouble. They could handle it, one way or another. It was his job, any guard’s job, to handle prison trouble.

But to bring the G.I.s into it was to invite race riot. Not prison riot⁠—race riot. Even the declassed scum in the Jug would fight back against the G.I.s. They were used to having the Civil-Service guards over them⁠—that was what guards were for. Civil-Service guards guarded. What else? It was their job⁠—as clerking was a figger’s job, and machines were a greaser’s, and pick-and-shovel strong-arm work was a wipe’s.

But the Armed Services⁠—their job was to defend the country against forces outside⁠—in a world that had only inside forces. The cons wouldn’t hold still under attack from the G.I.s. Race riot!

But how could you tell that to a girl like this Bradley? O’Leary glanced at her covertly. She looked all right. Rather nice-looking, if anything. But he hadn’t forgotten why she was in E.G. Joining a terrorist organization, the Association for the Advancement of the Categoried Classes.

Actually getting up on street corners and proposing that greasers’ children be allowed to go to school with G.I.s, that wipes intermarry with Civil Service. Good Lord, they’d be suggesting that doctors eat with laymen next!

The girl said evenly: “Don’t look at me that way. I’m not a monster.”

O’Leary coughed. “Sorry. I didn’t know I was staring.” She looked at him with cold eyes. “I mean,” he said, “you don’t look like anybody who’d get mixed up in⁠—well, miscegenation.”

“Miscegenation!” she blazed. “You’re all alike! You talk about the mission of the Categoried Classes and the rightness of segregation, but it’s always just the one thing that’s in your minds⁠—sex! I’ll tell you this, Captain O’Leary⁠—I’d rather marry a decent, hardworking clerk any day than the sort of Civil-Service trash I’ve seen around here!”

O’Leary cringed. He couldn’t help it. Funny, he told himself, I thought I was shockproof⁠—but this goes too far!

A bull-roar from the corridor. Sauer.

O’Leary spun. The big redhead was yelling: “Bring the governor out here. Lafon wants to talk to him!”

O’Leary went to the door of the cell, fast.

A slim, pale con from Block A was pushing the governor down the hall, toward Sauer and Lafon. The governor was a strong man, but he didn’t struggle. His face was as composed and remote as the medic’s; if he was afraid, he concealed it extremely well.

Sue-Ann Bradley stood beside O’Leary. “What’s happening?”

He kept his eyes on what was going on. “Lafon is going to try to use the governor as a shield, I think.” The voice of Lafon was loud, but the noises outside made it hard to understand. But O’Leary could make out what the dark ex-Professional was saying: “⁠—know damn well you did something. But what? Why don’t they crush out?

Mumble-mumble from the Governor. O’Leary couldn’t hear the words.

But he could see the effect of them in Lafon’s face, hear the rage in Lafon’s voice. “Don’t call me a liar, you civvy punk! You did something. I had it all planned, do you hear me? The laundry boys were going to rush the gate, the Block A bunch would follow⁠—and then I was going to breeze right through. But you loused it up somehow. You must’ve!”

His voice was rising to a scream. O’Leary, watching tautly from the cell, thought: He’s going to break. He can’t hold it in much longer.

“All right!” shouted Lafon, and even Sauer, looming behind him, looked alarmed. “It doesn’t matter what you did. I’ve got you now and you are going to get me out of here. You hear? I’ve got this gun and the two of us are going to walk right out, through the gate, and if anybody tries to stop us⁠—”

“Hey,” said Sauer, waking up.

“⁠—if anybody tries to stop us, you’ll get a bullet right in⁠—”

Hey!” Sauer was roaring loud as Lafon himself now. “What’s this talk about the two of you? You aren’t going to leave me and Flock!”

“Shut up,” Lafon said conversationally, without taking his eyes off the governor.

But Sauer, just then, was not the man to say “shut up” to, and especially he was not a man to take your eyes away from.

“That’s torn it,” O’Leary said aloud. The girl started to say something.

But he was no longer there to hear.

It looked very much as though Sauer and Lafon were going to tangle. And when they did, it was the end of the line for the governor.

Captain O’Leary hurtled out of the sheltering cell and skidded down the corridor. Lafon’s face was a hawk’s face, gleaming with triumph. As he saw O’Leary coming toward him, the hawk sneer froze. He brought the gun up, but O’Leary was a fast man.

O’Leary leaped on the lithe black honor prisoner. Lafon screamed and clutched; and O’Leary’s lunging weight drove him back against the wall. Lafon’s arm smacked against the steel grating and the gun went flying. The two of them clinched and fell, gouging, to the floor.

Grabbing the advantage, O’Leary hammered the con’s head against the deck, hard enough to split a skull. And perhaps it split Lafon’s, because the dark face twitched and froth appeared at the lips; and the body slacked.

One down!

Now Sauer was charging. O’Leary wriggled sidewise and the big redhead blundered crashing into the steel grate. Sauer fell and O’Leary caught at him. He tried hammering the head as he swarmed on top of the huge clown. But Sauer only roared the louder. The bull body surged under O’Leary and then Sauer was on top and O’Leary wasn’t breathing. Not at all.

Goodbye, Sue-Ann, O’Leary said silently, without meaning to say anything of the kind; and even then he wondered why he was saying it.

O’Leary heard a gun explode beside his head.

Amazing, he thought, I’m breathing again! The choking hands were gone from his throat.

It took him a moment to realize that it was Sauer who had taken the bullet, not him. Sauer who now lay dead, not O’Leary. But he realized it when he rolled over, and looked up, and saw the girl with the gun still in her hand, staring at him and weeping.

He sat up. The two guards still able to walk were backing Sue-Ann Bradley up. The governor was looking proud as an eagle, pleased as a mother hen.

The Greensleeves was back in the hands of law and order.

The medic came toward O’Leary, hands folded. “My son,” he said, “if your throat needs⁠—”

O’Leary interrupted him. “I don’t need a thing, Doc! I’ve got everything I want right now.”

VIII

Inmate Sue-Ann Bradley cried: “They’re coming! O’Leary, they’re coming!”

The guards who had once been hostages clattered down the steps to meet the party. The cons from the Greensleeves were back in their cells. The medic, after finishing his chores on O’Leary himself, paced meditatively out into the wake of the riot, where there was plenty to keep him busy. A faintly guilty expression tinctured his carven face. Contrary to his oath to care for all humanity in anguish, he had not liked Lafon or Sauer.

The party of fresh guards appeared and efficiently began re-locking the cells of the Greensleeves.

“Excuse me, Cap’n,” said one, taking Sue-Ann Bradley by the arm. “I’ll just put this one back⁠—”

“I’ll take care of her,” said Liam O’Leary. He looked at her sideways as he rubbed the bruises on his face.

The governor tapped him on the shoulder. “Come along,” he said, looking so proud of himself, so pleased. “Let’s go out in the yard for a breath of fresh air.” He smiled contentedly at Sue-Ann Bradley. “You, too.”

O’Leary protested instinctively: “But she’s an inmate!”

“And I’m a governor. Come along.”

They walked out into the yard. The air was fresh, all right. A handful of cons, double-guarded by sleepy and irritable men from the day shift, were hosing down the rubble on the cobblestones. The yard was a mess, but it was quiet now. The helicopters were still riding their picket line, glowing softly in the early light that promised sunrise.

“My car,” the governor said quietly to a state policeman who appeared from nowhere. The trooper snapped a salute and trotted away.

“I killed a man,” said Sue-Ann Bradley, looking a little ill.

“You saved a man,” corrected the governor. “Don’t weep for that Lafon. He was willing to kill a thousand men if he had to, to break out of here.”

“But he never did break out,” said Sue-Ann.

The governor stretched contentedly. “He never had a chance. Laborers and clerks join together in a breakout? It would never happen. They don’t even speak the same language⁠—as you have discovered, my dear.”

Sue-Ann blazed: “I still believe in the equality of Man!”

“Oh, please do,” the governor said, straight-faced. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Your father and I are perfectly willing to admit that men are equal⁠—but we can’t admit that all men are the same. Use your eyes! What you believe in is your business, but,” he added, “when your beliefs extend to setting fire to segregated public lavatories as a protest move, which is what got you arrested, you apparently need to be taught a lesson. Well, perhaps you’ve learned it. You were a help here tonight and that counts for a lot.”

Captain O’Leary said, face furrowed: “What about the warden, Governor? They say the category system is what makes the world go round; it fits the right man to the right job and keeps him there. But look at Warden Schluckebier! He fell completely apart at the seams. He⁠—”

“Turn that statement around, O’Leary.”

“Turn⁠—?”

The governor nodded. “You’ve got it reversed. Not the right man for the job⁠—the right job for the man! We’ve got Schluckebier on our hands, see? He’s been born; it’s too late to do anything about that. He will go to pieces in an emergency. So where do we put him?”

O’Leary stubbornly clamped his jaw, frowning.

“We put him,” the governor went on gently, “where the best thing to do in a crisis is to go to pieces! Why, O’Leary, you get some hotheaded man of action in here, and every time an inmate sneezes, you’ll have bloodshed! And there’s no harm in a prison riot. Let the poor devils work off steam. I wouldn’t have bothered to get out of bed for it⁠—except I was worried about the hostages. So I came down to make sure they were protected in the best possible way.”

O’Leary’s jaw dropped. “But you were⁠—”

The governor nodded. “I was a hostage myself. That’s one way to protect them, isn’t it? By giving the cons a hostage that’s worth more to them.”

He yawned and looked around for his car. “So the world keeps going around,” he said. “Everybody is somebody else’s outgroup and maybe it’s a bad thing, but did you ever stop to realize that we don’t have wars anymore? The categories stick tightly together. Who is to say that that’s a bad thing?”

He grinned. “Reminds me of a story, if you two will pay attention to me long enough to listen. There was a meeting⁠—this is an old, old story⁠—a neighborhood meeting of the leaders of the two biggest women’s groups on the block. There were eighteen Irish ladies from the Church Auxiliary and three Jewish ladies from B’nai B’rith. The first thing they did was have an election for a temporary chairwoman. Twenty-one votes were cast. Mrs. Grossinger from B’nai B’rith got three and Mrs. O’Flaherty from the Auxiliary got eighteen. So when Mrs. Murphy came up to congratulate Mrs. O’Flaherty after the election, she whispered: ‘Good for you! But isn’t it terrible, the way these Jews stick together?’ ”

He stood up and waved a signal as his long official car came poking hesitantly through the gate.

“Well,” he declared professionally, “that’s that. As we politicians say, any questions?”

Sue-Ann hesitated. “Yes, I guess I do have a question,” she said. “What’s a Jew?”


It was full dawn at last. The recall signal had come and the helicopters were swooping home to Hap Arnold Field.

A bombardier named Novak, red-eyed and grumpy, was amusing himself on the homeward flight by taking practice sights on the stream of work-bound mechanics as they fluttered over Greaserville.

“Could pick ’em off like pigeons,” he said sourly to his pilot, as he dropped an imaginary bomb on a cluster of a dozen men. “For two cents, I’d do it, too. The only good greaser is a dead greaser.”

His pilot, just as weary, said loftily: “Leave them alone. The best way to handle them is to leave them alone.”

And the pilot was perfectly right; and that was the way the world went round, spinning slowly and unstoppably toward the dawn.

Survival Kit

I

Mooney looked out of his window, and the sky was white.

It was a sudden, bright, cold flare and it was gone again. It had no more features than a fog, at least not through the window that was showered with snow and patterned with spray from the windy sea.

Mooney blew on his hands and frowned at the window.

“Son of a gun,” he said, and thought for a moment about phoning the Coast Guard station. Of course, that meant going a quarter of a mile in the storm to reach the only other house nearby that was occupied; the Hansons had a phone that worked, but a quarter of a mile was a long way in the face of a December gale. And it was all dark out there now. Less than twenty miles across the bay was New York, but this Jersey shore coast was harsh as the face of the Moon.

Mooney decided it was none of his business.

He shook the kettle, holding it with an old dish towel because it was sizzling hot. It was nearly empty, so he filled it again and put it back on the stove. He had all four top burners and the oven going, which made the kitchen tolerably warm⁠—as long as he wore the scarf and the heavy quilted jacket and kept his hands in his pockets. And there was plenty of tea.

Uncle Lester had left that much behind him⁠—plenty of tea, nearly a dozen boxes of assorted cookies and a few odds and ends of canned goods. And God’s own quantity of sugar.

It wasn’t exactly a balanced diet, but Mooney had lived on it for three weeks now⁠—smoked turkey sausages for breakfast, and oatmeal cookies for lunch, and canned black olives for dinner. And always plenty of tea.

The wind screamed at him as he poured the dregs of his last cup of tea into the sink and spooned sugar into the cup for the next one. It was, he calculated, close to midnight. If the damn wind hadn’t blown down the TV antenna, he could be watching the late movies now. It helped to pass the time; the last movie was off the air at two or three o’clock, and then he could go to bed and, with any luck, sleep till past noon.

And Uncle Lester had left a couple of decks of sticky, child-handled cards behind him, too, when the family went back to the city at the end of the summer. So what with four kinds of solitaire, and solo bridge, and television, and a few more naps, Mooney could get through to the next two or three a.m. again. If only the wind hadn’t blown down the antenna!

But as it was, all he could get on the cheap little set his uncle had left behind was a faint gray herringbone pattern⁠—

He straightened up with the kettle in his hand, listening.

It was almost as though somebody was knocking at the door.

“That’s crazy,” Mooney said out loud after a moment. He poured the water over the tea bag, tearing a little corner off the paper tag on the end of the string to mark the fact that this was the second cup he had made with the bag. He had found he could get three cups out of a single bag, but even loaded with sugar, the fourth cup was no longer very good. Still, he had carefully saved all the used, dried-out bags against the difficult future day when even the tea would be gone.

That was going to be one bad day for Howard Mooney.

Rap, tap. It really was someone at the door! Not knocking, exactly, but either kicking at it or striking it with a stick.

Mooney pulled his jacket tight around him and walked out into the frigid living room, not quite so frigid as his heart.

“Damn!” he said. “Damn, damn!”

What Mooney knew for sure was that nothing good could be coming in that door for him. It might be a policeman from Sea Bright, wondering about the light in the house; it might be a member of his uncle’s family. It was even possible that one of the stockholders who had put up the money for that unfortunate venture into frozen-food club management had tracked him down as far as the Jersey shore. It could be almost anything or anybody, but it couldn’t be good.

All the same, Mooney hadn’t expected it to turn out to be a tall, lean man with angry pale eyes, wearing a silvery sort of leotard.

“I come in,” said the angry man, and did.

Mooney slammed the door behind him. Too bad, but he couldn’t keep it open, even if it was conceding a sort of moral right to enter to the stranger; he couldn’t have all that cold air coming in to dilute his little bubble of warmth.

“What the devil do you want?” Mooney demanded.

The angry man looked about him with an expression of revulsion. He pointed to the kitchen. “It is warmer. In there?”

“I suppose so. What do⁠—” But the stranger was already walking into the kitchen. Mooney scowled and started to follow, and stopped, and scowled even more. The stranger was leaving footprints behind him, or anyway some kind of marks that showed black on the faded summer rug. True, he was speckled with snow, but⁠—that much snow? The man was drenched. It looked as though he had just come out of the ocean.

The stranger stood by the stove and glanced at Mooney warily. Mooney stood six feet, but this man was bigger. The silvery sort of thing he had on covered his legs as far as the feet, and he wore no shoes. It covered his body and his arms, and he had silvery gloves on his hands. It stopped at the neck, in a collar of what looked like pure silver, but could not have been because it gave with every breath the man took and every tensed muscle or tendon in his neck. His head was bare and his hair was black, cut very short.

He was carrying something flat and shiny by a molded handle. If it had been made of pigskin, it would have resembled a junior executive’s briefcase.

The man said explosively: “You will help me.”

Mooney cleared his throat. “Listen, I don’t know what you want, but this is my house and⁠—”

“You will help me,” the man said positively. “I will pay you. Very well?”

He had a peculiar way of parting his sentences in the middle, but Mooney didn’t care about that. He suddenly cared about one thing and that was the word “pay.”

“What do you want me to do?”

The angry-eyed man ran his gloved hands across his head and sluiced drops of water onto the scuffed linoleum and the bedding of the cot Mooney had dragged into the kitchen. He said irritably: “I am a wayfarer who needs a. Guide? I will pay you for your assistance.”

The question that rose to Mooney’s lips was “How much?” but he fought it back. Instead, he asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“One moment.” The stranger sat damply on the edge of Mooney’s cot and, click-snap, the shiny sort of briefcase opened itself in his hands. He took out a flat round thing like a mirror and looked into it, squeezing it by the edges, and holding it this way and that.

Finally he said: “I must go to Wednesday, the twenty-sixth of December, at⁠—” He tilted the little round thing again. “Brooklyn?” he finished triumphantly.

Mooney said, after a second: “That’s a funny way to put it.”

“Question?”

“I mean,” said Mooney, “I know where Brooklyn is and I know when the twenty-sixth of December is⁠—it’s next week⁠—but you have to admit that that’s an odd way of putting it. I mean you don’t go anywhere in time.”

The wet man turned his pale eyes on Mooney. “Perhaps you are. Wrong?”

II

Mooney stared at his napping guest in a mood of wonder and fear and delight.

Time traveler! But it was hard to doubt the pale-eyed man. He had said he was from the future and he mentioned a date that made Mooney gasp. He had said: “When you speak to me, you must know that my. Name? Is Harse.” And then he had curled up on the floor, surrounding his shiny briefcase like a mother cat around a kitten, and begun dozing alertly.

But not before he showed Mooney just what it was he proposed to pay him with.

Mooney sipped his cooling tea and forgot to shiver, though the drafts were fiercer and more biting than ever, now just before dawn. He was playing with what had looked at first like a string of steel ball-bearings, a child’s necklace, half-inch spheres linked together in a strand a yard long.

Wampum! That was what Harse had called the spheres when he picked the string out of his little kit, and that was what they were.

Each ball-bearing was hollow. Open them up and out come the treasures of the crown. Pop, and one of the spheres splits neatly in half, and out spills a star sapphire, as big as the ball of your finger, glittering like the muted lights of hell. Pop, and another sphere drops a ball of yellow gold into your palm. Pop for a narwhal’s tooth, pop for a cube of sugar; pop, pop, and there on the table before Harse sparkled diamonds and lumps of coal, a packet of heroin, a sphere of silver, pearls, beads of glass, machined pellets of tungsten, lumps of saffron and lumps of salt.

“It is,” said Harse, “for your. Pay? No, no!” And he headed off Mooney’s greedy fingers.

Click, click, click, and the little pellets of treasure and trash were back in the steel balls.

“No, no!” said Harse again, grinning, snapping the balls together like poppets in a string. “After you have guided me to Brooklyn and the December twenty-sixth. But I must say to you. This? That some of the balls contain plutonium and some radium. And I do not think that you can get them. Open? But if you did, you perhaps would die. Oh. Ho?” And, laughing, he began his taut nap.

Mooney swallowed the last of his icy tea. It was full daylight outside.

Very well, castaway, he said silently to the dozing pale-eyed man, I will guide you. Oh, there never was a guide like Mooney⁠—not when a guide’s fee can run so high. But when you are where you want to go, then we’ll discuss the price.⁠ ⁠…

A hacksaw, he schemed, and a Geiger counter. He had worn his fingers raw trying to find the little button or knob that Harse had used to open them. All right, he was licked there. But there were more ways than one to open a cat’s eye.

A hacksaw. A Geiger counter. And, Mooney speculated drowsily, maybe a gun, if the pale-eyed man got tough.

Mooney fell asleep in joy and anticipation for the first time in more than a dozen years.


It was bright the next morning. Bright and very cold.

“Look alive!” Mooney said to the pale-eyed man, shivering. It had been a long walk from Uncle Lester’s house to the bridge, in that ripping, shuddering wind that came in off the Atlantic.

Harse got up off his knees, from where he had been examining the asphalt pavement under the snow. He stood erect beside Mooney, while Mooney put on an egg-sucking smile and aimed his thumb down the road.

The station wagon he had spotted seemed to snarl and pick up speed as it whirled past them onto the bridge.

“I hope you skid into a ditch!” Mooney bawled into the icy air. He was in a fury. There was a bus line that went where they wanted to go. A warm, comfortable bus that would stop for them if they signaled, that would drop them just where they wanted to be, to convert one of Harse’s ball-bearings into money. The gold one, Mooney planned. Not the diamond, not the pearl. Just a few dollars was all they wanted, in this Jersey shore area where the towns were small and the gossip big. Just the price of fare into New York, where they could make their way to Tiffany’s.

But the bus cost thirty-five cents apiece. Total, seventy cents. Which they didn’t have.

“Here comes another. Car?”

Mooney dragged back the corners of his lips into another smile and held out his thumb.

It was a panel truck, light blue, with the sides lettered: Chris’s Delicatessen. Free Deliveries. The driver slowed up, looked them over and stopped. He leaned toward the right-hand window.

He called: “I can take you far’s Red Ba⁠—”

He got a good look at Mooney’s companion then and swallowed. Harse had put on an overcoat because Mooney insisted on it and he wore a hat because Mooney had told him flatly there would be trouble and questions if he didn’t. But he hadn’t taken off his own silvery leotard, which peeped through between neck and hat and where the coat flapped open.

“⁠—ank,” finished the driver thoughtfully.

Mooney didn’t give him a chance to change his mind. “Red Bank is just where we want to go. Come on!” Already he had his hand on the door. He jumped in, made room for Harse, reached over him and slammed the door.

“Thank you very much,” he said chattily to the driver. “Cold morning, isn’t it? And that was some storm last night. Say, we really do appreciate this. Anywhere in Red Bank will be all right to drop us, anywhere at all.”

He leaned forward slightly, just enough to keep the driver from being able to get a really good look at his other passenger.

It would have gone all right, it really would, except that just past Fair Haven, Harse suddenly announced: “It is the time for me to. Eat?”

He snip-snapped something around the edges of the gleaming sort of dispatch case, which opened. Mooney, peering over his shoulder, caught glimpses of shiny things and spinning things and things that seemed to glow. So did the driver.

“Hey,” he said, interested, “what’ve you got there?”

“My business,” said Harse, calmly and crushingly.

The driver blinked. He opened his mouth, and then he shut it again, and his neck became rather red.

Mooney said rapidly: “Say, isn’t there⁠—uh⁠—isn’t there a lot of snow?” He feigned fascination with the snow on the road, leaning forward until his face was nearly at the frosty windshield. “My gosh, I’ve never seen the road so snowy!”

Beside him, Harse was methodically taking things out of other things. A little cylinder popped open and began to steam; he put it to his lips and drank. A cube the size of a fist opened up at one end and little pellets dropped out into a cup. Harse picked a couple up and began to chew them. A flat, round object the shape of a cafeteria pie flipped open and something gray and doughy appeared⁠—

“Holy heaven!”

Mooney’s face slammed into the windshield as the driver tramped on his brakes. Not that Mooney could really blame him. The smell from that doughy mass could hardly be believed; and what made it retchingly worse was that Harse was eating it with a pearly small spoon.

The driver said complainingly: “Out! Out, you guys! I don’t mind giving you a lift, but I’ve got hard rolls in the back of the truck and that smell’s going to⁠—Out! You heard me!”

“Oh,” said Harse, tasting happily. “No.”

No?” roared the driver. “Now listen! I don’t have to take any lip from hitchhikers! I don’t have to⁠—”

“One moment,” said Harse. “Please.” Without hurry and without delay, beaming absently at the driver, he reached into the silvery case again. Snip, snippety-snap; a jointed metal thing wriggled and snicked into place. And Harse, still beaming, pointed it at the driver.

Pale blue light and a faint whine.

It was a good thing the truck was halted, because the whining blue light reached diffidently out and embraced the driver; and then there was no driver. There was nothing. He was gone, beyond the reach of any further lip from hitchhikers.

III

So there was Mooney, driving a stolen panel truck, Mooney the bankrupt, Mooney the ne’er-do-well, and now Mooney the accomplice murderer. Or so he thought, though the pale-eyed man had laughed like a panther when he’d asked.

He rehearsed little speeches all the day down U.S. One, Mooney did, and they all began: “Your Honor, I didn’t know⁠—”

Well, he hadn’t. How could a man like Mooney know that Harse was so bereft of human compassion as to snuff out a life for the sake of finishing his lunch in peace? And what could Mooney have done about it, without drawing the diffident blue glow to himself? No, Your Honor, really, Your Honor, he took me by surprise.⁠ ⁠…

But by the time they ditched the stolen car, nearly dry of gas, at the Hoboken ferry, Mooney had begun to get his nerve back. In fact, he was beginning to perceive that in that glittering silvery dispatch case that Harse hugged to him were treasures that might do wonders for a smart man unjustly dogged by hard times. The wampum alone! But beyond the wampum, the other good things that might in time be worth more than any amount of mere money.

There was that weapon. Mooney cast a glance at Harse, blank-eyed and relaxed, very much disinterested in the crowds of commuters on the ferry.

Nobody in all that crowd would believe that Harse could pull out a little jointed metal thing and push a button and make any one of them cease to exist. Nobody would believe it⁠—not even a jury. Corpus delicti, body of evidence⁠—why, there would be no evidence! It was a simple, workable, foolproof way of getting any desired number of people out of the way without fuss, muss or bother⁠—and couldn’t a smart but misfortunate man like Mooney do wonders by selectively removing those persons who stood as obstacles in his path?

And there would be more, much, much more. The thing to do, Mooney schemed, was to find out just what Harse had in that kit and how to work it; and then⁠—who could know, perhaps Harse would himself find the diffident blue light reaching out for him before the intersection of Brooklyn and December twenty-sixth?

Mooney probed.

“Ah,” laughed Harse. “Ho! I perceive what you want. You think perhaps there is something you can use in my survival kit.”

“All right, Harse,” Mooney said submissively, but he did have reservations.

First, it was important to find out just what was in the kit. After that⁠—

Well, even a man from the future had to sleep.


Mooney was in a roaring rage. How dared the Government stick its bureaucratic nose into a simple transaction of citizens! But it turned out to be astonishingly hard to turn Harse’s wampum into money. The first jeweler asked crudely threatening questions about an emerald the size of the ball of his thumb; the second quoted chapter and verse on the laws governing possession of gold. Finally they found a pawnbroker, who knowingly accepted a diamond that might have been worth a fortune; and when they took his first offer of a thousand dollars, the pawnbroker’s suspicions were confirmed. Mooney dragged Harse away from there fast.

But they did have a thousand dollars.

As the cab took them across town, Mooney simmered down; and by the time they reached the other side, he was entirely content. What was a fortune more or less to a man who very nearly owned some of the secrets of the future?

He sat up, lit a cigarette, waved an arm and said expansively to Harse: “Our new home.”

The pale-eyed man took a glowing little affair with eyepieces away from in front of his eyes.

“Ah,” he said. “So.”

It was quite an attractive hotel, Mooney thought judiciously. It did a lot to take away the sting of those sordidly avaricious jewelers. The lobby was an impressively close approximation of a cathedral and the bellboys looked smart and able.

Harse made an asthmatic sound. “What is. That?” He was pointing at a group of men standing in jovial amusement around the entrance to the hotel’s grand ballroom, just off the lobby. They wore purple harem pants and floppy green hats, and every one of them carried a silver-paper imitation of a scimitar.

Mooney chuckled in a superior way. “You aren’t up on our local customs, are you? That’s a convention, Harse. They dress up that way because they belong to a lodge. A lodge is a kind of fraternal organization. A fraternal organization is⁠—”

Harse said abruptly: “I want.”

Mooney began to feel alarm. “What?”

“I want one for a. Specimen? Wait, I think I take the big one there.”

“Harse! Wait a minute!” Mooney clutched at him. “Hold everything, man! You can’t do that.”

Harse stared at him. “Why?”

“Because it would upset everything, that’s why! You want to get to your rendezvous, don’t you? Well, if you do anything like that, we’ll never get there!”

“Why not?”

“Please,” Mooney said, “please take my word for it. You hear me? I’ll explain later!”

Harse looked by no means convinced, but he stopped opening the silvery metal case. Mooney kept an eye on him while registering. Harse continued to watch the conventioneers, but he went no further. Mooney began to breathe again.

“Thank you, sir,” said the desk clerk⁠—not every guest, even in this hotel, went for a corner suite with two baths. “Front!”

A smart-looking bellboy stepped forward, briskly took the key from the clerk, briskly nodded at Mooney and Harse. With the automatic reflex of any hotel bellhop, he reached for Harse’s silvery case. Baggage was baggage, however funny it looked.

But Harse was not just any old guest. The bellboy got the bag away from him, all right, but his victory was purely transitory. He yelled, dropped the bag, grabbed his fist with the other hand.

“Hey! It shocked me! What kind of tricks are you trying to do with electric suitcases?”

Mooney moaned softly. The whole lobby was looking at them⁠—even the conventioneers at the entrance to the ballroom; even the men in mufti mingling with the conventioneers, carrying cameras and flash guns; even the very doorman, the whole lobby away. That was bad. What was worse was that Harse was obviously getting angry.

“Wait, wait!” Mooney stepped between them in a hurry. “I can explain everything. My friend is, uh, an inventor. There’s some very important material in that briefcase, believe me!”

He winked, patted the bellhop on the shoulder, took his hand with friendly concern and left in it a folded bill.

“Now,” he said confidentially, “we don’t want any disturbance. I’m sure you understand how it is, son. Don’t you? My friend can’t take any chances with his, uh, confidential material, you see? Right. Well, let’s say no more about it. Now if you’ll show us to our room⁠—”

The bellhop, still stiff-backed, glanced down at the bill and the stiffness disappeared as fast as any truck-driver bathed in Harse’s pale blue haze. He looked up again and grinned.

“Sorry, sir⁠—” he began.

But he didn’t finish. Mooney had let Harse get out of his sight a moment too long.

The first warning he had was when there was a sudden commotion among the lodge brothers. Mooney turned, much too late. There was Harse; he had wandered over there, curious and interested and⁠—Harse. He had stared them up and down, but he hadn’t been content to stare. He had opened the little silvery dispatch-case and taken out of it the thing that looked like a film viewer; and maybe it was a camera, too, because he was looking through it at the conventioneers. He was covering them as Dixie is covered by the dew, up and down, back and forth, heels to head.

And it was causing a certain amount of attention. Even one of the photographers thought maybe this funny-looking guy with the funny-looking opera glasses was curious enough to be worth a shot. After all, that was what the photographer was there for. He aimed and popped a flash gun.

There was an abrupt thin squeal from the box. Black fog sprayed out of it in a greasy jet. It billowed toward Harse. It collected around him, swirled high. Now all the flashguns were popping.⁠ ⁠…

It was a clear waste of a twenty-dollar bill, Mooney told himself aggrievedly out on the sidewalk. There had been no point in buttering up the bellhop as long as Harse was going to get them thrown out anyway.


On the other side of the East River, in a hotel that fell considerably below Mooney’s recent, brief standards of excellence, Mooney cautiously tipped a bellboy, ushered him out, locked the door behind him and, utterly exhausted, flopped on one of the twin beds.

Harse glanced at him briefly, then wandered over to the window and stared incuriously at the soiled snow outside.

“You were fine, Harse,” said Mooney without spirit. “You didn’t do anything wrong at all.”

“Ah,” said Harse without turning. “So?”

Mooney sat up, reached for the phone, demanded setups and a bottle from room service and hung up.

“Oh, well,” he said, beginning to revive, “at least we’re in Brooklyn now. Maybe it’s just as well.”

“As well. What?”

“I mean this is where you wanted to be. Now we just have to wait four days, until the twenty-sixth. We’ll have to raise some more money, of course,” he added experimentally.

Harse turned and looked at him with the pale eyes. “One thousand dollars you have. Is not enough?”

“Oh, no, Harse,” Mooney assured him. “Why, that won’t be nearly enough. The room rent in this hotel alone is likely to use that up. Besides all the extras, of course.”

“Ah.” Harse, looking bored, sat down in the chair near Mooney, opened his kit, took out the thing that looked like a film viewer and put it to his eyes.

“We’ll have to sell some more of those things. After all⁠—” Mooney winked and dug at the pale-eyed man’s ribs with his elbow⁠—“we’ll be needing some, well, entertainment.”

Harse took the viewer away from his eyes. He glanced thoughtfully at the elbow and then at Mooney. “So,” he said.

Mooney coughed and changed the subject. “One thing, though,” he begged. “Don’t get me in any more trouble like you did in that hotel lobby⁠—or with that guy in the truck. Please? I mean, after all, you’re making it hard for me to carry out my job.”

Harse was thoughtfully silent.

“Promise?” Mooney urged.

Harse said, after some more consideration: “It is not altogether me. That is to say, it is a matter of defense. My picture should not be. Photographed? So the survival kit insures that it is not. You understand?”

Mooney leaned back. “You mean⁠—” The bellboy with the drinks interrupted him; he took the bottle, signed the chit, tipped the boy and mixed himself a reasonably stiff but not quite stupefying highball, thinking hard.

“Did you say ‘survival kit’?” he asked at last.

Harse was deep in the viewer again, but he looked away from it irritably. “Naturally, survival kit. So that I can. Survive?” He went back to the viewer.

Mooney took a long, thoughtful slug of the drink.

Survival kit. Why, that made sense. When the Air Force boys went out and raided the islands in the Pacific during the war, sometimes they got shot down⁠—and it was enemy territory, or what passed for it. Those islands were mostly held by Japanese, though their populations hardly knew it. All the aboriginals knew was that strange birds crossed the sky and sometimes men came from them. The politics of the situation didn’t interest the headhunters. What really interested them was heads.

But for a palatable second choice, they would settle for trade goods⁠—cloth, mirrors, beads. And so the bomber pilots were equipped with survival kits⁠—maps, trade goods, rations, weapons, instructions for proceeding to a point where, God willing, a friendly submarine might put ashore a rubber dinghy to take them off.

Mooney said persuasively: “Harse. I’m sorry to bother you, but we have to talk.” The man with the pale eyes took them away from the viewer again and stared at Mooney. “Harse, were you shot down like an airplane pilot?”

Harse frowned⁠—not in anger, or at least not at Mooney. It was the effort to make himself understood. He said at last: “Yes. Call it that.”

“And⁠—and this place you want to go to⁠—is that where you will be rescued?”

“Yes.”

Aha, thought Mooney, and the glimmerings of a new idea began to kick and stretch its fetal limbs inside him. He put it aside, to bear and coddle in private. He said: “Tell me more. Is there any particular part of Brooklyn you have to go to?”

“Ah. The Nexus Point?” Harse put down the viewer and, snap-snap, opened the gleaming kit. He took out the little round thing he had consulted in the house by the cold Jersey sea. He tilted it this way and that, frowned, consulted a small square sparkly thing that came from another part of the case, tilted the round gadget again.

“Correcting for local time,” he said, “the Nexus Point is one hour and one minute after midnight at what is called. The Vale of Cashmere?”

Mooney scratched his ear. “The Vale of Cashmere? Where the devil is that⁠—somewhere in Pakistan?”

“Brooklyn,” said Harse with an imp’s grimace. “You are the guide and you do not know where you are guiding me to?”

Mooney said hastily: “All right, Harse, all right. I’ll find it. But tell me one thing, will you? Just suppose⁠—suppose, I said⁠—that for some reason or other, we don’t make it to the what-you-call, Nexus Point. Then what happens?”

Harse for once neither laughed nor scowled. The pale eyes opened wide and glanced around the room, at the machine-made candlewick spreads on the beds, at the dusty red curtains that made a “suite” out of a long room, at the dog-eared Bible that lay on the night table.

“Suh,” he stammered, “suh⁠—suh⁠—seventeen years until there is another Nexus Point!”

IV

Mooney dreamed miraculous dreams and not entirely because of the empty bottle that had been full that afternoon. There never was a time, never will be a time, like the future Mooney dreamed of⁠—Mooney-owned, houri-inhabited, a fair domain for a live-wire Emperor of the Eons.⁠ ⁠…

He woke up with a splitting head.

Even a man from the future had to sleep, so Mooney had thought, and it had been in his mind that, even this first night, it might pay to stay awake a little longer than Harse, just in case it might then seem like a good idea to⁠—well, to bash him over the head and grab the bag. But the whiskey had played him dirty and he had passed out⁠—drunk, blind drunk, or at least he hoped so. He hoped that he hadn’t seen what he thought he had seen sober.

He woke up and wondered what was wrong. Little tinkling ice spiders were moving around him. He could hear their tiny crystal sounds and feel their chill legs, so lightly, on him. It was still a dream⁠—wasn’t it?

Or was he awake? The thing was, he couldn’t tell. If he was awake, it was the middle of the night, because there was no light whatever; and besides, he didn’t seem to be able to move.

Thought Mooney with anger and desperation: I’m dead. And: What a time to die!

But second thoughts changed his mind; there was no heaven and no hell, in all the theologies he had investigated, that included being walked over by tiny spiders of ice. He felt them. There was no doubt about it.

It was Harse, of course⁠—had to be. Whatever he was up to, Mooney couldn’t say, but as he lay there sweating cold sweat and feeling the crawling little feet, he knew that it was something Harse had made happen.

Little by little, he began to be able to see⁠—not much, but enough to see that there really was something crawling. Whatever the things were, they had a faint, tenuous glow, like the face of a watch just before dawn. He couldn’t make out shapes, but he could tell the size⁠—not much bigger than a man’s hand⁠—and he could tell the number, and there were dozens of them.

He couldn’t turn his head, but on the walls, on his chest, on his face, even on the ceiling, he could see faint moving patches of fox-fire light.

He took a deep breath. “Harse!” he started to call; wake him up, make him stop this! But he couldn’t. He got no further than the first huff of the aspirate when the scurrying cold feet were on his lips. Something cold and damp lay across them and it stuck. Like spider silk, but stronger⁠—he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move his lips, though he almost tore the flesh.

Oh, he could make a noise, all right. He started to do so, to snort and hum through his nose. But Mooney was not slow of thought and he had a sudden clear picture of that same cold ribbon crossing his nostrils, and what would be the use of all of time’s treasures then, when it was no longer possible to breathe at all?

It was quite apparent that he was not to make a noise.

He had patience⁠—the kind of patience that grows with a diet of thrice-used tea bags and soggy crackers. He waited.

It wasn’t the middle of the night after all, he perceived, though it was still utterly dark except for the moving blobs. He could hear sounds in the hotel corridor outside⁠—faintly, though: the sound of a vacuum cleaner, and it might have been a city block away; the tiniest whisper of someone laughing.

He remembered one of his drunken fantasies of the night before⁠—little robot mice, or so they seemed, spinning a curtain across the window; and he shuddered, because that had been no fantasy. The window was curtained. And it was mid-morning, at the earliest, because the chambermaids were cleaning the halls.

Why couldn’t he move? He flexed the muscles of his arms and legs, but nothing happened. He could feel the muscles straining, he could feel his toes and fingers twitch, but he was restrained by what seemed a web of Gulliver’s cords.⁠ ⁠…

There was a tap at the door. A pause, the scratching of a key, and the room was flooded with light from the hall.

Out of the straining corner of his eye, Mooney saw a woman in a gray cotton uniform, carrying fresh sheets, standing in the doorway, and her mouth was hanging slack. No wonder, for in the light from the hall, Mooney could see the room festooned with silver, with darting silvery shapes moving about. Mooney himself wore a cocoon of silver, and on the bed next to him, where Harse slept, there was a fantastic silver hood, like the basketwork of a baby’s bassinet, surrounding his head.

It was a fairyland scene and it lasted only a second. For Harse cried out and leaped to his feet. Quick as an adder, he scooped up something from the table beside his bed and gestured with it at the door. It was, Mooney half perceived, the silvery, jointed thing he had used in the truck; and he used it again.

Pale blue light streamed out.

It faded and the chambermaid, popping eyes and all, was gone.


It didn’t hurt as much the second time.

Mooney finally attracted Harse’s attention, and Harse, with a Masonic pass over one of the little silvery things, set it to loosening and removing the silver bonds. The things were like toy tanks with jointed legs; as they spun the silver webs, they could also suck them in. In moments, the webs that held Mooney down were gone.

He got up, aching in his tired muscles and his head, but this time the panic that had filled him in the truck was gone. Well, one victim more or less⁠—what did it matter? And besides, he clung to the fact that Harse had not exactly said the victims were dead.

So it didn’t hurt as much the second time.

Mooney planned. He shut the door and sat on the edge of the bed. “Shut up⁠—you put us in a lousy fix and I have to think a way out of it,” he rasped at Harse when Harse started to speak; and the man from the future looked at him with opaque pale eyes, and silently opened one of the flat canisters and began to eat.

“All right,” said Mooney at last. “Harse, get rid of all this stuff.”

“This. Stuff?”

“The stuff on the walls. What your little spiders have been spinning, understand? Can’t you get it off the walls?”

Harse leaned forward and touched the kit. The little spider-things that had been aimlessly roving now began to digest what they had created, as the ones that had held Mooney had already done. It was quick⁠—Mooney hoped it would be quick enough. There were over a dozen of the things, more than Mooney would have believed the little kit could hold; and he had seen no sign of them before.

The silvery silk on the walls, in aimless tracing, disappeared. The thick silvery coat over the window disappeared. Harse’s bassinet-hood disappeared. A construction that haloed the door disappeared⁠—and as it dwindled, the noises from the corridor grew louder; some sort of sound-absorbing contrivance, Mooney thought, wondering.

There was an elaborate silvery erector-set affair on the floor between the beds; it whirled and spun silently and the little machines took it apart again and swallowed it. Mooney had no notion of its purpose. When it was gone, he could see no change, but Harse shuddered and shifted his position uncomfortably.

“All right,” said Mooney when everything was back in the kit. “Now you just keep your mouth shut. I won’t ask you to lie⁠—they’ll have enough trouble understanding you if you tell the truth. Hear me?”

Harse merely stared, but that was good enough. Mooney put his hand on the phone. He took a deep breath and held it until his head began to tingle and his face turned red. Then he picked up the phone and, when he spoke, there was authentic rage and distress in his voice.

“Operator,” he snarled, “give me the manager. And hurry up⁠—I want to report a thief!”


When the manager had gone⁠—along with the assistant manager, the house detective and the ancient shrew-faced head housekeeper⁠—Mooney extracted a promise from Harse and left him. He carefully hung a “Do Not Disturb” card from the doorknob, crossed his fingers and took the elevator downstairs.

The fact seemed to be that Harse didn’t care about aboriginals. Mooney had arranged a system of taps on the door which, he thought, Harse would abide by, so that Mooney could get back in. Just the same, Mooney vowed to be extremely careful about how he opened that door. Whatever the pale blue light was, Mooney wanted no part of it directed at him.

The elevator operator greeted him respectfully⁠—a part of the management’s policy of making amends, no doubt. Mooney returned the greeting with a barely civil nod. Sure, it had worked; he’d told the manager that he’d caught the chambermaid trying to steal something valuable that belonged to that celebrated proprietor of valuable secrets, Mr. Harse; the chambermaid had fled; how dared they employ a person like that?

And he had made very sure that the manager and the house dick and all the rest had plenty of opportunity to snoop apologetically in every closet and under the beds, just so there would be no suspicion in their minds that a dismembered chambermaid-torso was littering some dark corner of the room. What could they do but accept the story? The chambermaid wasn’t there to defend herself, and though they might wonder how she had got out of the hotel without being noticed, it was their problem to figure it out, not Mooney’s to explain it.

They had even been grateful when Mooney offered handsomely to refrain from notifying the police.

“Lobby, sir,” sang out the elevator operator, and Mooney stepped out, nodded to the manager, stared down the house detective and walked out into the street.

So far, so good.

Now that the animal necessities of clothes and food and a place to live were taken care of, Mooney had a chance to operate. It was a field in which he had always had a good deal of talent⁠—the making of deals, the locating of contacts, the arranging of transactions that were better conducted in private.

And he had a good deal of business to transact. Harse had accepted without question his statement that they would have to raise more money.

“Try heroin or. Platinum?” he had suggested, and gone back to his viewer.

“I will,” Mooney assured him, and he did; he tried them both, and more besides.


Not only was it good that he had such valuable commodities to vend, but it was a useful item in his total of knowledge concerning Harse that the man from the future seemed to have no idea of the value of money in the 20th Century, chez U.S.A.

Mooney found a buyer for the drugs; and there was a few thousand dollars there, which helped, for although the quantity was not large, the drugs were chemically pure. He found a fence to handle the jewels and precious metals; and he unloaded all the ones of moderate value⁠—not the other diamond, not the rubies, not the star sapphire.

He arranged to keep those without mentioning it to Harse. No point in selling them now, not when they had several thousand dollars above any conceivable expenses, not when some future date would do as well, just in case Harse should get away with the balance of the kit.

Having concluded his business, Mooney undertook a brief but expensive shopping tour of his own and found a reasonably satisfactory place to eat. After a pleasantly stimulating cocktail and the best meal he had had in some years⁠—doubly good, for there was no reek from Harse’s nauseating concoctions to spoil it⁠—he called for coffee, for brandy, for the day’s papers.

The disappearance of the truck driver made hardly a ripple. There were a couple of stories, but small and far in the back⁠—amnesia, said one; an underworld kidnapping, suggested another; but the story had nothing to feed on and it would die.

Good enough, thought Mooney, waving for another glass of that enjoyable brandy; and then he turned back to the front page and saw his own face.

There was the hotel lobby of the previous day, and a pillar of churning black smoke that Mooney knew was Harse, and there in the background, mouth agape, expression worried, was Howard Mooney himself.

He read it all very, very carefully.

Well, he thought, at least they didn’t get our names. The story was all about the Loyal and Beneficent Order of Exalted Eagles, and the only reference to the picture was a brief line about a disturbance outside the meeting hall. Nonetheless, the second glass of brandy tasted nowhere near as good as the first.


Time passed. Mooney found a man who explained what was meant by the Vale of Cashmere. In Brooklyn, there is a very large park⁠—the name is Prospect Park⁠—and in it is a little planted valley, with a brook and a pool; and the name of it on the maps of Prospect Park is the Vale of Cashmere. Mooney sent out for a map, memorized it; and that was that.

However, Mooney didn’t really want to go to the Vale of Cashmere with Harse. What he wanted was that survival kit. Wonders kept popping out of it, and each day’s supply made Mooney covet the huger store that was still inside. There had been, he guessed, something like a hundred separate items that had somehow come out of that tiny box. There simply was no room for them all; but that was not a matter that Mooney concerned himself with. They were there, possible or not, because he had seen them.

Mooney laid traps.

The trouble was that Harse did not care for conversation. He spent endless hours with his film viewer, and when he said anything at all to Mooney, it was to complain. All he wanted was to exist for four days⁠—nothing else.

Mooney laid conversational traps, tried to draw him out, and there was no luck. Harse would turn his blank, pale stare on him, and refuse to be drawn.

At night, however hard Mooney tried, Harse was always awake past him; and in his sleep, always and always, the little metal guardians strapped Mooney tight. Survival kit? But how did the little metal things know that Mooney was a threat?

It was maddening and time was passing. There were four days, then only three, then only two. Mooney made arrangements of his own.

He found two girls⁠—lovely girls, the best that money could buy, and he brought them to the suite with a wink and a snigger. “A little relaxation, eh, Harse? The red-haired one is named Ginger and she’s partial to men with light-colored eyes.”

Ginger smiled a rehearsed and lovely smile. “I certainly am, Mr. Harse. Say, want to dance?”

But it came to nothing, though the house detective knocked deferentially on the door to ask if they could be a little more quiet, please. It wasn’t the sound of celebration that the neighbors were objecting to. It was the shrill, violent noise of Harse’s laughter. First he had seemed not to understand, and then he looked as astonished as Mooney had ever seen him. And then the laughter.

Girls didn’t work. Mooney got rid of the girls.

All right, Mooney was a man of infinite resource and sagacity⁠—hadn’t he proved that many a time? He excused himself to Harse, made sure his fat new pigskin wallet was in his pocket, and took a cab to a place on Brooklyn’s waterfront where cabs seldom go. The bartender had arms like beer kegs and a blue chin.

“Beer,” said Mooney, and made sure he paid for it with a twenty-dollar bill⁠—thumbing through a thick wad of fifties and hundreds to find the smallest. He retired to a booth and nursed his beer.

After about ten minutes, a man stood beside him, blue-chinned and muscular enough to be the bartender’s brother⁠—which, Mooney found, he was.

“Well,” said Mooney, “it took you long enough. Sit down. You don’t have to roll me; you can earn this.”

Girls didn’t work? Okay, if not girls, then try boys⁠ ⁠… well, not boys exactly. Hoodlums. Try hoodlums and see what Harse might do against the toughest inhabitants of the area around the Gowanus Canal.


Harse, sloshing heedlessly through melted snow, spattering Mooney, grumbled: “I do not see why we. Must? Wander endlessly across the face of this wretched slum.”

Mooney said soothingly: “We have to make sure, Harse. We have to be sure it’s the right place.”

“Huff,” said Harse, but he went along. They were in Prospect Park and it was nearly dark.

“Hey, look,” said Mooney desperately, “look at those kids on sleds!”

Harse glanced angrily at the kids on sleds and even more angrily at Mooney. Still, he wasn’t refusing to come and that was something. It had been possible that Harse would sit tight in the hotel room and it had taken all of the persuasive powers Mooney prided himself on to get him out. But Mooney was able to paint a horrible picture of getting to the wrong place, missing the Nexus Point, seventeen long years of waiting for the next one.

They crossed the Sheep Meadow, crossed the walk, crossed an old covered bridge; and they were at the head of a flight of shallow steps.

“The Vale of Cashmere!” cried Mooney, as though he were announcing a miracle.

Harse said nothing.

Mooney licked his lips, glancing at the kit Harse carried under an arm, glancing around. No one was in sight.

Mooney coughed. “Uh. You’re sure this is the place you mean?”

“If it is the Vale of Cashmere.” Harse looked once more down the steps, then turned.

“No, wait!” said Mooney frantically. “I mean⁠—well, where in the Vale of Cashmere is the Nexus Point? This is a big place!”

Harse’s pale eyes stared at him for a moment. “No. Not big.”

“Oh, fairly big. After all⁠—”

Harse said positively: “Come.”

Mooney swore under his breath and vowed never to trust anyone again, especially a bartender’s brother; but just then it happened. Out of the snowy bushes stepped a man in a red bandanna, holding a gun. “This is a stickup! Gimme that bag!”

Mooney exulted.

There was no chance for Harse now. The man was leaping toward him; there would be no time for him to open the bag, take out the weapon.⁠ ⁠…

But he didn’t have to. There was a thin, singing, whining sound from the bag. It leaped out of Harse’s hand, leaped free as though it had invisible wings, and flew at the man in the red bandanna. The man stumbled and jumped aside, the eyes incredulous over the mask. The silvery flat metal kit spun round him, whining. It circled him once, spiraled up. Behind it, like a smoke trail from a destroyer, a pale blue mist streamed backward. It surrounded the man and hid him.

The bag flew back into Harse’s hand.

The violet mist thinned and disappeared.

And the man was gone, as utterly and as finally as any chambermaid or driver of a truck.

There was a moment of silence. Mooney stared without belief at the snow sifting down from the bushes that the man had hid in.

Harse looked opaquely at Mooney. “It seems,” he said, “that in these slums are many. Dangers?”


Mooney was very quiet on the way back to the hotel. Harse, for once, was not gazing into his viewer. He sat erect and silent beside Mooney, glancing at him from time to time. Mooney did not relish the attention.

The situation had deteriorated.

It deteriorated even more when they entered the lobby of the hotel. The desk clerk called to Mooney.

Mooney hesitated, then said to Harse: “You go ahead. I’ll be up in a minute. And listen⁠—don’t forget about my knock.”

Harse inclined his head and strode into the elevator. Mooney sighed.

“There’s a gentleman to see you, Mr. Mooney,” the desk clerk said civilly.

Mooney swallowed. “A⁠—a gentleman? To see me?”

The clerk nodded toward the writing room. “In there, sir. A gentleman who says he knows you.”

Mooney pursed his lips.

In the writing room? Well, that was an advantage. The writing room was off the main lobby; it would give Mooney a chance to peek in before whoever it was could see him. He approached the entrance cautiously.⁠ ⁠…

“Howard!” cried an accusing familiar voice behind him.

Mooney turned. A small man with curly red hair was coming out of a door, marked “Men.”

“Why⁠—why, Uncle Lester!” said Mooney. “What a p-pleasant surprise!”

Lester, all of five feet tall, wispy red hair surrounding his red plump face, looked up at him belligerently.

“No doubt!” he snapped. “I’ve been waiting all day, Howard. Took the afternoon off from work to come here. And I wouldn’t have been here at all if I hadn’t seen this.”

He was holding a copy of the paper with Mooney’s picture, behind the pillar of black fog. “Your aunt wrapped my lunch in it, Howard. Otherwise I might have missed it. Went right to the hotel. You weren’t there. The doorman helped, though. Found a cab driver. Told me where he’d taken you. Here I am.”

“That’s nice,” lied Mooney.

“No, it isn’t. Howard, what in the world are you up to? Do you know the Monmouth County police are looking for you? Said there was somebody missing. Want to talk to you.” The little man shook his head angrily. “Knew I shouldn’t let you stay at my place. Your aunt warned me, too. Why do you make trouble for me?”

“Police?” Mooney asked faintly.

“At my age! Police coming to the house. Who was that fella who’s missing, Howard? Where did he go? Why doesn’t he go home? His wife’s half crazy. He shouldn’t worry her like that.”

Mooney clutched his uncle’s shoulder. “Do the police know where I am? You didn’t tell them?”

“Tell them? How could I tell them? Only I saw your picture while I was eating my sandwich, so I went to the hotel and⁠—”

“Uncle Lester, listen. What did they come to see you for?”

“Because I was stupid enough to let you stay in my house, that’s what for,” Lester said bitterly. “Two days ago. Knocking on my door, hardly eight o’clock in the morning. They said there’s a man missing, driving a truck, found the truck empty. Man from the Coast Guard station knows him, saw him picking up a couple of hitchhikers at a bridge someplace, recognized one of the hitchhikers. Said the hitchhiker’d been staying at my house. That’s you, Howard. Don’t lie; he described you. Pudgy, kind of a squinty look in the eyes, dressed like a bum⁠—oh, it was you, all right.”

“Wait a minute. Nobody knows you’ve come here, right? Not even Auntie?”

“No, course not. She didn’t see the picture, so how would she know? Would’ve said something if she had. Now come on, Howard, we’ve got to go to the police and⁠—”

“Uncle Lester!”

The little man paused and looked at him suspiciously. But that was all right; Mooney began to feel confidence flow back into him. It wasn’t all over yet, not by a long shot.

“Uncle Lester,” he said, his voice low-pitched and persuasive, “I have to ask you a very important question. Think before you answer, please. This is the question: Have you ever belonged to any Communist organization?”

The old man blinked. After a moment, he exploded. “Now what are you up to, Howard? You know I never⁠—”

“Think, Uncle Lester! Please. Way back when you were a boy⁠—anything like that?”

“Of course not!”

“You’re sure? Because I’m warning you, Uncle Lester, you’re going to have to take the strictest security check anybody ever took. You’ve stumbled onto something important. You’ll have to prove you can be trusted or⁠—well, I can’t answer for the consequences. You see, this involves⁠—” he looked around him furtively⁠—“Schenectady Project.”

“Schenec⁠—”

“Schenectady Project.” Mooney nodded. “You’ve heard of the atom bomb? Uncle Lester, this is bigger!”

“Bigger than the at⁠—”

“Bigger. It’s the molecule bomb. There aren’t seventy-five men in the country that know what that so-called driver in the truck was up to, and now you’re one of them.”

Mooney nodded soberly, feeling his power. The old man was hooked, tied and delivered. He could tell by the look in the eyes, by the quivering of the lips. Now was the time to slip the contract in his hand; or, in the present instance, to⁠—

“I’ll tell you what to do,” whispered Mooney. “Here’s my key. You go up to my room. Don’t knock⁠—we don’t want to attract attention. Walk right in. You’ll see a man there and he’ll explain everything. Understand?”

“Why⁠—why, sure, Howard. But why don’t you come with me?”

Mooney raised a hand warningly. “You might be followed. I’ll have to keep a lookout.”

Five minutes later, when Mooney tapped on the door of the room⁠—three taps, pause, three taps⁠—and cautiously pushed it open, the pale blue mist was just disappearing. Harse was standing angrily in the center of the room with the jointed metal thing thrust out ominously before him.

And of Uncle Lester, there was no trace at all.

V

Time passed; and then time was all gone, and it was midnight, nearly the Nexus Point.

In front of the hotel, a drowsy cabdriver gave them an argument. “The Public Liberry? Listen, the Liberry ain’t open this time of night. I ought to⁠—Oh, thanks. Hop in.” He folded the five-dollar bill and put the cab in gear.

Harse said ominously: “Liberry, Mooney? Why do you instruct him to take us to the Liberry?”

Mooney whispered: “There’s a law against being in the Park at night. We’ll have to sneak in. The Library’s right across the street.”

Harse stared, with his luminous pale eyes. But it was true; there was such a law, for the parks of the city lately had become fields of honor where rival gangs contended with bottle shards and zip guns, where a passerby was odds-on to be mugged.

“High Command must know this,” Harse grumbled. “Must proceed, they say, to Nexus Point. But then one finds the aboriginals have made laws! Oh, I shall make a report!”

Sure you will,” Mooney soothed; but in his heart, he was prepared to bet heavily against it.

Because he had a new strategy. Clearly he couldn’t get the survival kit from Harse. He had tried that and there was no luck; his arm still tingled as the bellboy’s had, from having seemingly absentmindedly taken the handle to help Harse. But there was a way.

Get rid of this clown from the future, he thought contentedly; meet the Nexus Point instead of Harse and there was the future, ripe for the taking! He knew where the rescuers would be⁠—and, above all, he knew how to talk. Every man has one talent and Mooney’s was salesmanship.

All the years wasted on peddling dime-store schemes like frozen-food plans! But this was the big time at last, so maybe the years of seasoning were not wasted, after all.

“That for you, Uncle Lester,” he muttered. Harse looked up from his viewer angrily and Mooney cleared his throat. “I said,” he explained hastily, “we’re almost at the⁠—the Nexus Point.”


Snow was drifting down. The cabdriver glanced at the black, quiet library, shook his head and pulled away, leaving black, wet tracks in the thin snow.

The pale-eyed man looked about him irritably. “You!” he cried, waking Mooney from a dream of possessing the next ten years of stock-market reports. “You! Where is this Vale of Cashmere?”

“Right this way, Harse, right this way,” said Mooney placatingly.

There was a wide sort of traffic circle⁠—Grand Army Plaza was the name of it⁠—and there were a few cars going around it. But not many, and none of them looked like police cars. Mooney looked up and down the broad, quiet streets.

“Across here,” he ordered, and led the time traveler toward the edge of the park. “We can’t go in the main entrance. There might be cops.”

“Cops?”

“Policemen. Law-enforcement officers. We’ll just walk down here a way and then hop over the wall. Trust me,” said Mooney, in the voice that had put frozen-food lockers into so many suburban homes.

The look from those pale eyes was anything but a look of trust, but Harse didn’t say anything. He stared about with an expression of detached horror, like an Alabama gentlewoman condemned to walk through Harlem.

“Now!” whispered Mooney urgently.

And over the wall they went.

They were in a thicket of shrubs and brush, snow-laden, the snow sifting down into Mooney’s neck every time he touched a branch, which was always; he couldn’t avoid it. They crossed a path and then a road⁠—long, curving, broad, white, empty. Down a hill, onto another path. Mooney paused, glancing around.

“You know where you are. Going?”

“I think so. I’m looking for cops.” None in sight. Mooney frowned. What the devil did the police think they were up to? They passed laws; why weren’t they around to enforce them?

Mooney had his landmarks well in mind. There was the Drive, and there was the fork he was supposed to be looking for. It wouldn’t be hard to find the path to the Vale. The only thing was, it was kind of important to Mooney’s hope of future prosperity that he find a policeman first. And time was running out.

He glanced at the luminous dial of his watch⁠—self-winding, shockproof, nonmagnetic; the man in the hotel’s jewelry shop had assured him only yesterday that he could depend on its timekeeping as on the beating of his heart. It was nearly a quarter of one.

“Come along, come along!” grumbled Harse.

Mooney stalled: “I⁠—I think we’d better go along this way. It ought to be down there⁠—”

He cursed himself. Why hadn’t he gone in the main entrance, where there was sure to be a cop? Harse would never have known the difference. But there was the artist in him that wanted the thing done perfectly, and so he had held to the pretense of avoiding police, had skulked and hidden. And now⁠—

“Look!” he whispered, pointing.

Harse spat soundlessly and turned his eyes where Mooney was pointing.

Yes. Under a distant light, a moving figure, swinging a nightstick.

Mooney took a deep breath and planted a hand between Harse’s shoulder blades.

“Run!” he yelled at the top of his voice, and shoved. He sounded so real, he almost convinced himself. “We’ll have to split up⁠—I’ll meet you there. Now run!”

VI

Oh, clever Mooney! He crouched under a snowy tree, watching the man from the future speed effortlessly away⁠ ⁠… in the wrong direction.

The cop was hailing him; clever cop! All it had taken was a couple of full-throated yells and at once the cop had perceived that someone was in the park. But cleverer than any cop was Mooney.

Men from the future. Why, thought Mooney contentedly, no Mrs. Meyerhauser of the suburbs would have let me get away with a trick like that to sell her a freezer. There’s going to be no problem at all. I don’t have to worry about a thing. Mooney can take care of himself!

By then, he had caught his breath⁠—and time was passing, passing.

He heard a distant confused yelling. Harse and the cop? But it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting to the Nexus Point at one minute past one.

He took a deep breath and began to trot. Slipping in the snow, panting heavily, he went down the path, around the little glade, across the covered bridge.

He found the shallow steps that led down to the Vale.

And there it was below him: a broad space where walks joined, and in the space a thing shaped like a dinosaur egg, rounded and huge. It glowed with a silvery sheen.

Confidently, Mooney started down the steps toward the egg and the moving figures that flitted soundlessly around it. Harse was not the only time traveler, Mooney saw. Good, that might make it all the simpler. Should he change his plan and feign amnesia, pass himself off as one of their own men?

Or⁠—

A movement made him look over his shoulder.

Somebody was standing at the top of the steps. “Hell’s fire,” whispered Mooney. He’d forgotten all about that aboriginal law; and here above him stood a man in a policeman’s uniform, staring down with pale eyes.

No, not a policeman. The face was⁠—Harse’s.

Mooney swallowed and stood rooted.

“You!” Harse’s savage voice came growling. “You are to stand. Still?”

Mooney didn’t need the order; he couldn’t move. No twentieth-century cop was a match for Harse, that was clear; Harse had bested him, taken his uniform away from him for camouflage⁠—and here he was.

Unfortunately, so was Howard Mooney.

The figures below were looking up, pointing and talking; Harse from above was coming down. Mooney could only stand, and wish⁠—wish that he were back in Sea Bright, living on cookies and stale tea, wish he had planned things with more intelligence, more skill⁠—perhaps even with more honesty. But it was too late for wishing.

Harse came down the steps, paused a yard from Mooney, scowled a withering scowl⁠—and passed on.

He reached the bottom of the steps and joined the others waiting about the egg. They all went inside.

The glowing silvery colors winked and went out. The egg flamed purple, faded, turned transparent and disappeared.

Mooney stared and, yelling a demand for payment, ran stumbling down the steps to where it had been. There was a round thawed spot, a trampled patch⁠—nothing else.

They were gone.⁠ ⁠…

Almost gone. Because there was a sudden bright wash of flame from overhead⁠—cold silvery flame. He looked up, dazzled. Over him, the egg was visible as thin smoke, hovering. A smoky, half-transparent hand reached out of a port. A thin, reedy voice cried: “I promised you. Pay?”

And the silvery dispatch-case sort of thing, the survival kit, dropped soundlessly to the snow beside Mooney.

When he looked up again, the egg was gone for good.


He was clear back to the hotel before he got a grip on himself⁠—and then he was drunk with delight. Honest Harse! Splendidly trustable Harse! Why, all this time, Mooney had been so worried, had worked so hard⁠—and the whole survival kit was his, after all!

He had touched it gingerly before picking it up but it didn’t shock him; clearly the protective devices, whatever they were, were off.

He sweated over it for an hour and a half, looking for levers, buttons, a slit that he might pry wider with the blade of a knife. At last he kicked it and yelled, past endurance: “Open up, damn you!”

It opened wide on the floor before him.

“Oh, bless your heart!” cried Mooney, falling to his knees to drag out the string of wampum, the little mechanical mice, the viewing-machine sort of thing. Treasures like those were beyond price; each one might fetch a fortune, if only in the wondrous new inventions he could patent if he could discover just how they worked.

But where were they?

Gone! The wampum was gone. The goggles were gone. Everything was gone⁠—the little flat canisters, the map instruments, everything but one thing.

There was, in a corner of the case, a squarish, sharp-edged thing that Mooney stared at blindly for a long moment before he recognized it. It was a part⁠—only a part⁠—of the jointed construction that Harse had used to rid himself of undesirables by bathing them in blue light.

What a filthy trick! Mooney all but sobbed to himself.

He picked up the squarish thing bitterly. Probably it wouldn’t even work, he thought, the world a ruin around him. It wasn’t even the whole complete weapon.

Still⁠—

There was a grooved, saddle-shaped affair that was clearly a sort of trigger; it could move forward or it could move back. Mooney thought deeply for a while.

Then he sat up, held the thing carefully away from him with the pointed part toward the wall and pressed, ever so gently pressed forward on the saddle-shaped thumb-trigger.

The pale blue haze leaped out, swirled around and, not finding anything alive in its range, dwindled and died.

Aha, thought Mooney, not everything is lost yet! Surely a bright young man could find some use for a weapon like this which removed, if it did not kill, which prevented any nastiness about a corpse turning up, or a messy job of disposal.

Why not see what happened if the thumb-piece was moved backward?

Well, why not? Mooney held the thing away from him, hesitated, and slid it back.

There was a sudden shivering tingle in his thumb, in the gadget he was holding, running all up and down his arm. A violet haze, very unlike the blue one, licked soundlessly forth⁠—not burning, but destroying as surely as flame ever destroyed; for where the haze touched the gadget itself, the kit, everything that had to do with the man from the future, it seared and shattered. The gadget fell into white crystalline powder in Mooney’s hand and the case itself became a rectangular shape traced in white powder ridges on the rug.

Oh, no! thought Mooney, even before the haze had gone. It can’t be!

The flame danced away like a cloud, spreading and rising. While Mooney stared, it faded away, but not without leaving something behind.

Mooney threw his taut body backward, almost under the bed. What he saw, he didn’t believe; what he believed filled him with panic.

No wonder Harse had laughed so when Mooney asked if its victims were dead. For there they were, all of them. Like djinn out of a jar, human figures jelled and solidified where the cloud of violet flame had not at all diffidently rolled.

They were alive, as big as life, and beginning to move⁠—and so many of them! Three⁠—five⁠—six:

The truck-driver, yes, and a man in long red flannel underwear who must have been the policeman, and Uncle Lester, and the bartender’s brother, and the chambermaid, and a man Mooney didn’t know.

They were there, all of them; and they came toward him, and oh! but they were angry!

The Hated

The bar didn’t have a name. No name of any kind. Not even an indication that it had ever had one. All it said on the outside was:

Cafe
Eat
Cocktails

which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it was a bar. It had a big TV set going ya-ta-ta ya-ta-ta in three glorious colors, and a jukebox that tried to drown out the TV with that lousy music they play. Anyway, it wasn’t a kid hangout. I kind of like it. But I wasn’t supposed to be there at all; it’s in the contract. I was supposed to stay in New York and the New England states.

Cafe-Eat-Cocktails was right across the river. I think the name of the place was Hoboken, but I’m not sure. It all had a kind of dreamy feeling to it. I was⁠—

Well, I couldn’t even remember going there. I remembered one minute I was downtown New York, looking across the river. I did that a lot. And then I was there. I don’t remember crossing the river at all.

I was drunk, you know.


You know how it is? Double bourbons and keep them coming. And after a while the bartender stops bringing me the ginger ale because gradually I forget to mix them. I got pretty loaded long before I left New York. I realize that. I guess I had to get pretty loaded to risk the pension and all.

Used to be I didn’t drink much, but now, I don’t know, when I have one drink, I get to thinking about Sam and Wally and Chowderhead and Gilvey and the captain. If I don’t drink, I think about them, too, and then I take a drink. And that leads to another drink, and it all comes out to the same thing. Well, I guess I said it already, I drink a pretty good amount, but you can’t blame me.

There was a girl.

I always get a girl someplace. Usually they aren’t much and this one wasn’t either. I mean she was probably somebody’s mother. She was around thirty-five and not so bad, though she had a long scar under her ear down along her throat to the little round spot where her larynx was. It wasn’t ugly. She smelled nice⁠—while I could still smell, you know⁠—and she didn’t talk much. I liked that. Only⁠—

Well, did you ever meet somebody with a nervous cough? Like when you say something funny⁠—a little funny, not a big yock⁠—they don’t laugh and they don’t stop with just smiling, but they sort of cough? She did that. I began to itch. I couldn’t help it. I asked her to stop it.

She spilled her drink and looked at me almost as though she was scared⁠—and I had tried to say it quietly, too.

“Sorry,” she said, a little angry, a little scared. “Sorry. But you don’t have to⁠—”

“Forget it.”

“Sure. But you asked me to sit down here with you, remember? If you’re going to⁠—”

Forget it!” I nodded at the bartender and held up two fingers. “You need another drink,” I said. “The thing is,” I said, “Gilvey used to do that.”

“What?”

“That cough.”

She looked puzzled. “You mean like this?”

Goddam it, stop it!” Even the bartender looked over at me that time. Now she was really mad, but I didn’t want her to go away. I said, “Gilvey was a fellow who went to Mars with me. Pat Gilvey.”

Oh.” She sat down again and leaned across the table, low. “Mars.

The bartender brought our drinks and looked at me suspiciously. I said, “Say, Mac, would you turn down the air-conditioning?”

“My name isn’t Mac. No.”

“Have a heart. It’s too cold in here.”

“Sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry.

I was cold. I mean that kind of weather, it’s always cold in those places. You know around New York in August? It hits eighty, eighty-five, ninety. All the places have air-conditioning and what they really want is for you to wear a shirt and tie.

But I like to walk a lot. You would, too, you know. And you can’t walk around much in long pants and a suit coat and all that stuff. Not around there. Not in August. And so then, when I went into a bar, it’d have one of those built-in freezers for the used-car salesmen with their dates, or maybe their wives, all dressed up. For what? But I froze.

Mars,” the girl breathed. “Mars.

I began to itch again. “Want to dance?”

“They don’t have a license,” she said. “Byron, I didn’t know you’d been to Mars! Please tell me about it.”

“It was all right,” I said.

That was a lie.

She was interested. She forgot to smile. It made her look nicer. She said, “I knew a man⁠—my brother-in-law⁠—he was my husband’s brother⁠—I mean my ex-husband⁠—”

“I get the idea.”

“He worked for General Atomic. In Rockford, Illinois. You know where that is?”

“Sure.” I couldn’t go there, but I knew where Illinois was.

“He worked on the first Mars ship. Oh, fifteen years ago, wasn’t it? He always wanted to go himself, but he couldn’t pass the tests.” She stopped and looked at me.

I knew what she was thinking. But I didn’t always look this way, you know. Not that there’s anything wrong with me now, I mean, but I couldn’t pass the tests anymore. Nobody can. That’s why we’re all one-trippers.

I said, “The only reason I’m shaking like this is because I’m cold.”

It wasn’t true, of course. It was that cough of Gilvey’s. I didn’t like to think about Gilvey, or Sam or Chowderhead or Wally or the captain. I didn’t like to think about any of them. It made me shake.

You see, we couldn’t kill each other. They wouldn’t let us do that. Before we took off, they did something to our minds to make sure. What they did, it doesn’t last forever. It lasts for two years and then it wears off. That’s long enough, you see, because that gets you to Mars and back; and it’s plenty long enough, in another way, because it’s like a straitjacket.

You know how to make a baby cry? Hold his hands. It’s the most basic thing there is. What they did to us so we couldn’t kill each other, it was like being tied up, like having our hands held so we couldn’t get free. Well. But two years was long enough. Too long.

The bartender came over and said, “Pal, I’m sorry. See, I turned the air-conditioning down. You all right? You look so⁠—”

I said, “Sure, I’m all right.”

He sounded worried. I hadn’t even heard him come back. The girl was looking worried, too, I guess because I was shaking so hard I was spilling my drink. I put some money on the table without even counting it.

“It’s all right,” I said. “We were just going.”

“We were?” She looked confused. But she came along with me. They always do, once they find out you’ve been to Mars.


In the next place, she said, between trips to the powder room, “It must take a lot of courage to sign up for something like that. Were you scientifically inclined in school? Don’t you have to know an awful lot to be a space-flyer? Did you ever see any of those little monkey characters they say live on Mars? I read an article about how they lived in little cities of pup-tents or something like that⁠—only they didn’t make them, they grew them. Funny! Ever see those? That trip must have been a real drag, I bet. What is it, nine months? You couldn’t have a baby! Excuse me⁠—Say, tell me. All that time, how’d you⁠—well, manage things? I mean didn’t you ever have to go to the you-know or anything?”

“We managed,” I said.

She giggled, and that reminded her, so she went to the powder room again. I thought about getting up and leaving while she was gone, but what was the use of that? I’d only pick up somebody else.

It was nearly midnight. A couple of minutes wouldn’t hurt. I reached in my pocket for the little box of pills they give us⁠—it isn’t refillable, but we get a new prescription in the mail every month, along with the pension check. The label on the box said:

Caution

Use only as directed by physician. Not to be taken by persons suffering heart condition, digestive upset or circulatory disease. Not to be used in conjunction with alcoholic beverages.

I took three of them. I don’t like to start them before midnight, but anyway I stopped shaking.

I closed my eyes, and then I was on the ship again. The noise in the bar became the noise of the rockets and the air washers and the sludge sluicers. I began to sweat, although this place was air-conditioned, too.

I could hear Wally whistling to himself the way he did, the sound muffled by his oxygen mask and drowned in the rocket noise, but still perfectly audible. The tune was “Sophisticated Lady.” Sometimes it was “Easy to Love” and sometimes “Chasing Shadows,” but mostly “Sophisticated Lady.” He was from Juilliard.

Somebody sneezed, and it sounded just like Chowderhead sneezing. You know how everybody sneezes according to his own individual style? Chowderhead had a ladylike little sneeze; it went hutta, real quick, all through the mouth, no nose involved. The captain went Hrasssh; Wally was Ashoo, ashoo, ashoo. Gilvey was Hutch-uh. Sam didn’t sneeze much, but he sort of coughed and sprayed, and that was worse.

Sometimes I used to think about killing Sam by tying him down and having Wally and the captain sneeze him to death. But that was a kind of a joke, naturally, when I was feeling good. Or pretty good. Usually I thought about a knife for Sam. For Chowderhead it was a gun, right in the belly, one shot. For Wally it was a tommy gun⁠—just stitching him up and down, you know, back and forth. The captain I would put in a cage with hungry lions, and Gilvey I’d strangle with my bare hands. That was probably because of the cough, I guess.


She was back. “Please tell me about it,” she begged. “I’m so curious.”

I opened my eyes. “You want me to tell you about it?”

“Oh, please!”

“About what it’s like to fly to Mars on a rocket?”

“Yes!”

“All right,” I said.

It’s wonderful what three little white pills will do. I wasn’t even shaking.

“There’s six men, see? In a space the size of a Buick, and that’s all the room there is. Two of us in the bunks all the time, four of us on watch. Maybe you want to stay in the sack an extra ten minutes⁠—because it’s the only place on the ship where you can stretch out, you know, the only place where you can rest without somebody’s elbow in your side. But you can’t. Because by then it’s the next man’s turn.

“And maybe you don’t have elbows in your side while it’s your turn off watch, but in the starboard bunk there’s the air-regenerator master valve⁠—I bet I could still show you the bruises right around my kidneys⁠—and in the port bunk there’s the emergency-escape-hatch handle. That gets you right in the temple, if you turn your head too fast.

“And you can’t really sleep, I mean not soundly, because of the noise. That is, when the rockets are going. When they aren’t going, then you’re in free-fall, and that’s bad, too, because you dream about falling. But when they’re going, I don’t know, I think it’s worse. It’s pretty loud.

“And even if it weren’t for the noise, if you sleep too soundly you might roll over on your oxygen line. Then you dream about drowning. Ever do that? You’re strangling and choking and you can’t get any air? It isn’t dangerous, I guess. Anyway, it always woke me up in time. Though I heard about a fellow in a flight six years ago⁠—

“Well. So you’ve always got this oxygen mask on, all the time, except if you take it off for a second to talk to somebody. You don’t do that very often, because what is there to say? Oh, maybe the first couple of weeks, sure⁠—everybody’s friends then. You don’t even need the mask, for that matter. Or not very much. Everybody’s still pretty clean. The place smells⁠—oh, let’s see⁠—about like the locker room in a gym. You know? You can stand it. That’s if nobody’s got space sickness, of course. We were lucky that way.

“But that’s about how it’s going to get anyway, you know. Outside the masks, it’s soup. It isn’t that you smell it so much. You kind of taste it, in the back of your mouth, and your eyes sting. That’s after the first two or three months. Later on, it gets worse.

“And with the mask on, of course, the oxygen mixture is coming in under pressure. That’s funny if you’re not used to it. Your lungs have to work a little bit harder to get rid of it, especially when you’re asleep, so after a while the muscles get sore. And then they get sorer. And then⁠—

“Well.

“Before we take off, the psych people give us a long doo-da that keeps us from killing each other. But they can’t stop us from thinking about it. And afterward, after we’re back on Earth⁠—this is what you won’t read about in the articles⁠—they keep us apart. You know how they work it? We get a pension, naturally. I mean there’s got to be a pension, otherwise there isn’t enough money in the world to make anybody go. But in the contract, it says to get the pension we have to stay in our own area.

“The whole country’s marked off. Six sections. Each has at least one big city in it. I was lucky, I got a lot of them. They try to keep it so every man’s home town is in his own section, but⁠—well, like with us, Chowderhead and the captain both happened to come from Santa Monica. I think it was Chowderhead that got California, Nevada, all that Southwest area. It was the luck of the draw. God knows what the captain got.

“Maybe New Jersey,” I said, and took another white pill.


We went on to another place and she said suddenly, “I figured something out. The way you keep looking around.”

“What did you figure out?”

“Well, part of it was what you said about the other fellow getting New Jersey. This is New Jersey. You don’t belong in this section, right?”

“Right,” I said after a minute.

“So why are you here? I know why. You’re here because you’re looking for somebody.”

“That’s right.”

She said triumphantly, “You want to find that other fellow from your crew! You want to fight him!”

I couldn’t help shaking, white pills or no white pills. But I had to correct her.

“No. I want to kill him.”

“How do you know he’s here? He’s got a lot of states to roam around in, too, doesn’t he?”

“Six. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland⁠—all the way down to Washington.”

“Then how do you know⁠—”

“He’ll be here.” I didn’t have to tell her how I knew. But I knew.

I wasn’t the only one who spent his time at the border of his assigned area, looking across the river or staring across a state line, knowing that somebody was on the other side. I knew. You fight a war and you don’t have to guess that the enemy might have his troops a thousand miles away from the battle line. You know where his troops will be. You know he wants to fight, too.

Hutta. Hutta.

I spilled my drink.

I looked at her. “You⁠—you didn’t⁠—”

She looked frightened. “What’s the matter?”

Did you just sneeze?

“Sneeze? Me? Did I⁠—”

I said something quick and nasty, I don’t know what. No! It hadn’t been her. I knew it.

It was Chowderhead’s sneeze.


Chowderhead. Marvin T. Roebuck, his name was. Five feet eight inches tall. Dark-complected, with a cast in one eye. Spoke with a Midwest kind of accent, even though he came from California⁠—“shrick” for “shriek,” “hawror” for “horror,” like that. It drove me crazy after a while. Maybe that gives you an idea what he talked about mostly. A skunk. A thoroughgoing, deep-rooted, mother-murdering skunk.

I kicked over my chair and roared, “Roebuck! Where are you, damn you?”

The bar was all at once silent. Only the jukebox kept going.

“I know you’re here!” I screamed. “Come out and get it! You louse, I told you I’d get you for calling me a liar the day Wally sneaked a smoke!”

Silence, everybody looking at me.

Then the door of the men’s room opened.

He came out.

He looked lousy. Eyes all red-rimmed and his hair falling out⁠—the poor crumb couldn’t have been over twenty-nine. He shrieked, “You!” He called me a million names. He said, “You thieving rat, I’ll teach you to try to cheat me out of my candy ration!”

He had a knife.

I didn’t care. I didn’t have anything and that was stupid, but it didn’t matter. I got a bottle of beer from the next table and smashed it against the back of a chair. It made a good weapon, you know; I’d take that against a knife any time.

I ran toward him, and he came all staggering and lurching toward me, looking crazy and desperate, mumbling and raving⁠—I could hardly hear him, because I was talking, too. Nobody tried to stop us. Somebody went out the door and I figured it was to call the cops, but that was all right. Once I took care of Chowderhead, I didn’t care what the cops did.

I went for the face.

He cut me first. I felt the knife slide up along my left arm but, you know, it didn’t even hurt, only kind of stung a little. I didn’t care about that. I got him in the face, and the bottle came away, and it was all like gray and white jelly, and then blood began to spring out. He screamed. Oh, that scream! I never heard anything like that scream. It was what I had been waiting all my life for.

I kicked him as he staggered back, and he fell. And I was on top of him, with the bottle, and I was careful to stay away from the heart or the throat, because that was too quick, but I worked over the face, and I felt his knife get me a couple times more, and⁠—

And⁠—


And I woke up, you know. And there was Dr. Santly over me with a hypodermic needle that he’d just taken out of my arm, and four male nurses in fatigues holding me down. And I was drenched with sweat.

For a minute, I didn’t know where I was. It was a horrible queasy falling sensation, as though the bar and the fight and the world were all dissolving into smoke around me.

Then I knew where I was.

It was almost worse.

I stopped yelling and just lay there, looking up at them.

Dr. Santly said, trying to keep his face friendly and noncommittal, “You’re doing much better, Byron, boy. Much better.”

I didn’t say anything.

He said, “You worked through the whole thing in two hours and eight minutes. Remember the first time? You were sixteen hours killing him. Captain Van Wyck it was that time, remember? Who was it this time?”

“Chowderhead.” I looked at the male nurses. Doubtfully, they let go of my arms and legs.

“Chowderhead,” said Dr. Santly. “Oh⁠—Roebuck. That boy,” he said mournfully, his expression saddened, “he’s not coming along nearly as well as you. Nearly. He can’t run through a cycle in less than five hours. And, that’s peculiar, it’s usually you he⁠—Well, I better not say that, shall I? No sense setting up a counter-impression when your pores are all open, so to speak?” He smiled at me, but he was a little worried in back of the smile.

I sat up. “Anybody got a cigarette?”

“Give him a cigarette, Johnson,” the doctor ordered the male nurse standing alongside my right foot.

Johnson did. I fired up.

“You’re coming along splendidly,” Dr. Santly said. He was one of these psych guys that thinks if you say it’s so, it makes it so. You know that kind? “We’ll have you down under an hour before the end of the week. That’s marvelous progress. Then we can work on the conscious level! You’re doing extremely well, whether you know it or not. Why, in six months⁠—say in eight months, because I like to be conservative⁠—” he twinkled at me⁠—“we’ll have you out of here! You’ll be the first of your crew to be discharged, you know that?”

“That’s nice,” I said. “The others aren’t doing so well?”

“No. Not at all well, most of them. Particularly Dr. Gilvey. The run-throughs leave him in terrible shape. I don’t mind admitting I’m worried about him.”

“That’s nice,” I said, and this time I meant it.

He looked at me thoughtfully, but all he did was say to the male nurses, “He’s all right now. Help him off the table.”

It was hard standing up. I had to hold onto the rail around the table for a minute. I said my set little speech: “Dr. Santly, I want to tell you again how grateful I am for this. I was reconciled to living the rest of my life confined to one part of the country, the way the other crews always did. But this is much better. I appreciate it. I’m sure the others do, too.”

“Of course, boy. Of course.” He took out a fountain pen and made a note on my chart; I couldn’t see what it was, but he looked gratified. “It’s no more than you have coming to you, Byron,” he said. “I’m grateful that I could be the one to make it come to pass.”

He glanced conspiratorially at the male nurses. “You know how important this is to me. It’s the triumph of a whole new approach to psychic rehabilitation. I mean to say our heroes of space travel are entitled to freedom when they come back home to Earth, aren’t they?”

“Definitely,” I said, scrubbing some of the sweat off my face onto my sleeve.

“So we’ve got to end this system of designated areas. We can’t avoid the tensions that accompany space travel, no. But if we can help you eliminate harmful tensions with a few run-throughs, why, it’s not too high a price to pay, is it?”

“Not a bit.”

“I mean to say,” he said, warming up, “you can look forward to the time when you’ll be able to mingle with your old friends from the rocket, free and easy, without any need for restraint. That’s a lot to look forward to, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I said. “I look forward to it very much,” I said. “And I know exactly what I’m going to do the first time I meet one⁠—I mean without any restraints, as you say,” I said. And it was true; I did. Only it wouldn’t be a broken beer bottle that I would do it with.

I had much more elaborate ideas than that.

The Knights of Arthur

I

There was three of us⁠—I mean if you count Arthur. We split up to avoid attracting attention. Engdahl just came in over the big bridge, but I had Arthur with me so I had to come the long way around.

When I registered at the desk, I said I was from Chicago. You know how it is. If you say you’re from Philadelphia, it’s like saying you’re from St. Louis or Detroit⁠—I mean nobody lives in Philadelphia anymore. Shows how things change. A couple years ago, Philadelphia was all the fashion. But not now, and I wanted to make a good impression.

I even tipped the bellboy a hundred and fifty dollars. I said: “Do me a favor. I’ve got my baggage booby-trapped⁠—”

“Natch,” he said, only mildly impressed by the bill and a half, even less impressed by me.

“I mean really booby-trapped. Not just a burglar alarm. Besides the alarm, there’s a little surprise on a short fuse. So what I want you to do, if you hear the alarm go off, is come running. Right?”

“And get my head blown off?” He slammed my bags onto the floor. “Mister, you can take your damn money and⁠—”

“Wait a minute, friend.” I passed over another hundred. “Please? It’s only a shaped charge. It won’t hurt anything except anybody who messes around, see? But I don’t want it to go off. So you come running when you hear the alarm and scare him away and⁠—”

“No!” But he was less positive. I gave him two hundred more and he said grudgingly: “All right. If I hear it. Say, what’s in there that’s worth all that trouble?”

“Papers,” I lied.

He leered. “Sure.”

“No fooling, it’s just personal stuff. Not worth a penny to anybody but me, understand? So don’t get any ideas⁠—”

He said in an injured tone: “Mister, naturally the staff won’t bother your stuff. What kind of a hotel do you think this is?”

“Of course, of course,” I said. But I knew he was lying, because I knew what kind of hotel it was. The staff was there only because being there gave them a chance to knock down more money than they could make any other way. What other kind of hotel was there?

Anyway, the way to keep the staff on my side was by bribery, and when he left I figured I had him at least temporarily bought. He promised to keep an eye on the room and he would be on duty for four more hours⁠—which gave me plenty of time for my errands.

I made sure Arthur was plugged in and cleaned myself up. They had water running⁠—New York’s very good that way; they always have water running. It was even hot, or nearly hot. I let the shower splash over me for a while, because there was a lot of dust and dirt from the Bronx that I had to get off me. The way it looked, hardly anybody had been up that way since it happened.

I dried myself, got dressed and looked out the window. We were fairly high up⁠—fifteenth floor. I could see the Hudson and the big bridge up north of us. There was a huge cloud of smoke coming from somewhere near the bridge on the other side of the river, but outside of that everything looked normal. You would have thought there were people in all those houses. Even the streets looked pretty good, until you noticed that hardly any of the cars were moving.

I opened the little bag and loaded my pockets with enough money to run my errands. At the door, I stopped and called over my shoulder to Arthur: “Don’t worry if I’m gone an hour or so. I’ll be back.”

I didn’t wait for an answer. That would have been pointless under the circumstances.

After Philadelphia, this place seemed to be bustling with activity. There were four or five people in the lobby and a couple of dozen more out in the street.

I tarried at the desk for several reasons. In the first place, I was expecting Vern Engdahl to try to contact me and I didn’t want him messing with the luggage⁠—not while Arthur might get nervous. So I told the desk clerk that in case anybody came inquiring for Mr. Schlaepfer, which was the name I was using⁠—my real name being Sam Dunlap⁠—he was to be told that on no account was he to go to my room but to wait in the lobby; and in any case I would be back in an hour.

“Sure,” said the desk clerk, holding out his hand.

I crossed it with paper. “One other thing,” I said. “I need to buy an electric typewriter and some other stuff. Where can I get them?”

P.X.,” he said promptly.

P.X.?”

“What used to be Macy’s,” he explained. “You go out that door and turn right. It’s only about a block. You’ll see the sign.”

“Thanks.” That cost me a hundred more, but it was worth it. After all, money wasn’t a problem⁠—not when we had just come from Philadelphia.


The big sign read “P.X.,” but it wasn’t big enough to hide an older sign underneath that said “Macy’s.” I looked it over from across the street.

Somebody had organized it pretty well. I had to admire them. I mean I don’t like New York⁠—wouldn’t live there if you gave me the place⁠—but it showed a sort of go-getting spirit. It was no easy job getting a full staff together to run a department store operation, when any city the size of New York must have a couple thousand stores. You know what I mean? It’s like running a hotel or anything else⁠—how are you going to get people to work for you when they can just as easily walk down the street, find a vacant store and set up their own operation?

But Macy’s was fully manned. There was a guard at every door and a walking patrol along the block-front between the entrances to make sure nobody broke in through the windows. They all wore green armbands and uniforms⁠—well, lots of people wore uniforms.

I walked over.

“Afternoon,” I said affably to the guard. “I want to pick up some stuff. Typewriter, maybe a gun, you know. How do you work it here? Flat rate for all you can carry, prices marked on everything, or what is it?”

He stared at me suspiciously. He was a monster; six inches taller than I, he must have weighed two hundred and fifty pounds. He didn’t look very smart, which might explain why he was working for somebody else these days. But he was smart enough for what he had to do.

He demanded: “You new in town?”

I nodded.

He thought for a minute. “All right, buddy. Go on in. You pick out what you want, see? We’ll straighten out the price when you come out.”

“Fair enough.” I started past him.

He grabbed me by the arm. “No tricks,” he ordered. “You come out the same door you went in, understand?”

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s the way you want it.”

That figured⁠—one way or another: either they got a commission, or, like everybody else, they lived on what they could knock down. I filed that for further consideration.

Inside, the store smelled pretty bad. It wasn’t just rot, though there was plenty of that; it was musty and stale and old. It was dark, or nearly. About one light in twenty was turned on, in order to conserve power. Naturally the escalators and so on weren’t running at all.

I passed a counter with pencils and ballpoint pens in a case. Most of them were gone⁠—somebody hadn’t bothered to go around in back and had simply knocked the glass out⁠—but I found one that worked and an old order pad to write on. Over by the elevators there was a store directory, so I went over and checked it, making a list of the departments worth visiting.

Office Supplies would be the typewriter. Garden & Home was a good bet⁠—maybe I could find a little wheelbarrow to save carrying the typewriter in my arms. What I wanted was one of the big ones where all the keys are solenoid-operated instead of the cam-and-roller arrangement⁠—that was all Arthur could operate. And those things were heavy, as I knew. That was why we had ditched the old one in the Bronx.

Sporting Goods⁠—that would be for a gun, if there were any left. Naturally, they were about the first to go after it happened, when everybody wanted a gun. I mean everybody who lived through it. I thought about clothes⁠—it was pretty hot in New York⁠—and decided I might as well take a look.

Typewriter, clothes, gun, wheelbarrow. I made one more note on the pad⁠—try the tobacco counter, but I didn’t have much hope for that. They had used cigarettes for currency around this area for a while, until they got enough bank vaults open to supply big bills. It made cigarettes scarce.

I turned away and noticed for the first time that one of the elevators was stopped on the main floor. The doors were closed, but they were glass doors, and although there wasn’t any light inside, I could see the elevator was full. There must have been thirty or forty people in the car when it happened.

I’d been thinking that, if nothing else, these New Yorkers were pretty neat⁠—I mean if you don’t count the Bronx. But here were thirty or forty skeletons that nobody had even bothered to clear away.

You call that neat? Right in plain view on the ground floor, where everybody who came into the place would be sure to go⁠—I mean if it had been on one of the upper floors, what difference would it have made?

I began to wish we were out of the city. But naturally that would have to wait until we finished what we came here to do⁠—otherwise, what was the point of coming all the way here in the first place?

The tobacco counter was bare. I got the wheelbarrow easily enough⁠—there were plenty of those, all sizes; I picked out a nice light red-and-yellow one with rubber-tired wheel. I rolled it over to Sporting Goods on the same floor, but that didn’t work out too well. I found a 30-30 with telescopic sights, only there weren’t any cartridges to fit it⁠—or anything else. I took the gun anyway; Engdahl would probably have some extra ammunition.

Men’s Clothing was a waste of time, too⁠—I guess these New Yorkers were too lazy to do laundry. But I found the typewriter I wanted.

I put the whole load into the wheelbarrow, along with a couple of odds and ends that caught my eye as I passed through Housewares, and I bumped as gently as I could down the shallow steps of the motionless escalator to the ground floor.

I came down the back way, and that was a mistake. It led me right past the food department. Well, I don’t have to tell you what that was like, with all the exploded cans and the rats as big as poodles. But I found some cologne and soaked a handkerchief in it, and with that over my nose, and some fast footwork for the rats, I managed to get to one of the doors.

It wasn’t the one I had come in, but that was all right. I sized up the guard. He looked smart enough for a little bargaining, but not too smart; and if I didn’t like his price, I could always remember that I was supposed to go out the other door.

I said: “Psst!”

When he turned around, I said rapidly: “Listen, this isn’t the way I came in, but if you want to do business, it’ll be the way I come out.”

He thought for a second, and then he smiled craftily and said: “All right, come on.”

Well, we haggled. The gun was the big thing⁠—he wanted five thousand for that and he wouldn’t come down. The wheelbarrow he was willing to let go for five hundred. And the typewriter⁠—he scowled at the typewriter as though it were contagious.

“What you want that for?” he asked suspiciously. I shrugged.

“Well⁠—” he scratched his head⁠—“a thousand?”

I shook my head.

“Five hundred?”

I kept on shaking.

“All right, all right,” he grumbled. “Look, you take the other things for six thousand⁠—including what you got in your pockets that you don’t think I know about, see? And I’ll throw this in. How about it?”

That was fine as far as I was concerned, but just on principle I pushed him a little further. “Forget it,” I said. “I’ll give you fifty bills for the lot, take it or leave it. Otherwise I’ll walk right down the street to Gimbel’s and⁠—”

He guffawed.

“Whats the matter?” I demanded.

“Pal,” he said, “you kill me. Stranger in town, hey? You can’t go anyplace but here.”

“Why not?”

“Account of there ain’t anyplace else. See, the chief here don’t like competition. So we don’t have to worry about anybody taking their trade elsewhere, like⁠—we burned all the other places down.”

That explained a couple of things. I counted out the money, loaded the stuff back in the wheelbarrow and headed for the Statler; but all the time I was counting and loading, I was talking to Big Brainless; and by the time I was actually on the way, I knew a little more about this “chief.”

And that was kind of important, because he was the man we were going to have to know very well.

II

I locked the door of the hotel room. Arthur was peeping out of the suitcase at me.

I said: “I’m back. I got your typewriter.” He waved his eye at me.

I took out the little kit of electricians’ tools I carried, tipped the typewriter on its back and began sorting out leads. I cut them free from the keyboard, soldered on a ground wire, and began taping the leads to the strands of a yard of forty-ply multiplex cable.

It was a slow and dull job. I didn’t have to worry about which solenoid lead went to which strand⁠—Arthur could sort them out. But all the same it took an hour, pretty near, and I was getting hungry by the time I got the last connection taped. I shifted the typewriter so that both Arthur and I could see it, rolled in a sheet of paper and hooked the cable to Arthur’s receptors.

Nothing happened.

“Oh,” I said. “Excuse me, Arthur. I forgot to plug it in.”

I found a wall socket. The typewriter began to hum and then it started to rattle and type:

Dura auk ukoo rqk mws aqb

It stopped.

“Come on, Arthur,” I ordered impatiently. “Sort them out, will you?”

Laboriously it typed:

!!!

Then, for a time, there was a clacking and thumping as he typed random letters, peeping out of the suitcase to see what he had typed, until the sheet I had put in was used up.

I replaced it and waited, as patiently as I could, smoking one of the last of my cigarettes. After fifteen minutes or so, he had the hang of it pretty well. He typed:

You damqxxx damn fool Whuxxx why did you leaqnxxx leave me alone Q Q

“Aw, Arthur,” I said. “Use your head, will you? I couldn’t carry that old typewriter of yours all the way down through the Bronx. It was getting pretty beat-up. Anyway, I’ve only got two hands⁠—”

You louse, it rattled, Are you tryonxxx trying to insult me because i dont have any Q Q

“Arthur!” I said, shocked. “You know better than that!”

The typewriter slammed its carriage back and forth ferociously a couple of times. Then he said: All right Sam you know youve got me by the throat so you can do anything you want to with me Who cares about my feelings anyhow

“Please don’t take that attitude,” I coaxed.

Well

“Please?”

He capitulated. All right Say heard anything from Engdahl Q Q

“No.”

Isnt that just like him Q Q Cant depend on that man He was the lousiest electricians mate on the Sea Sprite and he isnt much better now Say sam remember when we had to get him out of the jug in Newport News because

I settled back and relaxed. I might as well. That was the trouble with getting Arthur a new typewriter after a couple of days without one⁠—he had so much garrulity stored up in his little brain, and the only person to spill it on was me.


Apparently I fell asleep. Well, I mean I must have, because I woke up. I had been dreaming I was on guard post outside the Yard at Portsmouth, and it was night, and I looked up and there was something up there, all silvery and bad. It was a missile⁠—and that was silly, because you never see a missile. But this was a dream.

And the thing burst, like a Roman candle flaring out, all sorts of comet-trails of light, and then the whole sky was full of bright and colored snow. Little tiny flakes of light coming down, a mist of light, radiation dropping like dew; and it was so pretty, and I took a deep breath. And my lungs burned out like slow fire, and I coughed myself to death with the explosions of the missile banging against my flaming ears.⁠ ⁠…

Well, it was a dream. It probably wasn’t like that at all⁠—and if it had been, I wasn’t there to see it, because I was tucked away safe under a hundred and twenty fathoms of Atlantic water. All of us were on the Sea Sprite.

But it was a bad dream and it bothered me, even when I woke up and found that the banging explosions of the missile were the noise of Arthur’s typewriter carriage crashing furiously back and forth.

He peeped out of the suitcase and saw that I was awake. He demanded: How can you fall asleep when were in a place like this Q Q Anything could happen Sam I know you dont care what happens to me but for your own sake you shouldnt

“Oh, dry up,” I said.

Being awake, I remembered that I was hungry. There was still no sign of Engdahl or the others, but that wasn’t too surprising⁠—they hadn’t known exactly when we would arrive. I wished I had thought to bring some food back to the room. It looked like long waiting and I wouldn’t want to leave Arthur alone again⁠—after all, he was partly right.

I thought of the telephone.

On the off-chance that it might work, I picked it up. Amazing, a voice from the desk answered.

I crossed my fingers and said: “Room service?”

And the voice answered amiably enough: “Hold on, buddy. I’ll see if they answer.”

Clicking and a good long wait. Then a new voice said: “Whaddya want?”

There was no sense pressing my luck by asking for anything like a complete meal. I would be lucky if I got a sandwich.

I said: “Please, may I have a Spam sandwich on Rye Krisp and some coffee for Room Fifteen Forty-one?”

“Please, you go to hell!” the voice snarled. “What do you think this is, some damn delicatessen? You want liquor, we’ll get you liquor. That’s what room service is for!”

I hung up. What was the use of arguing? Arthur was clacking peevishly:

Whats the matter Sam You thinking of your belly again Q Q

“You would be if you⁠—” I started, and then I stopped. Arthur’s feelings were delicate enough already. I mean suppose that all you had left of what you were born with was a brain in a kind of sardine can, wouldn’t you be sensitive? Well, Arthur was more sensitive than you would be, believe me. Of course, it was his own foolish fault⁠—I mean you don’t get a prosthetic tank unless you die by accident, or something like that, because if it’s disease they usually can’t save even the brain.

The phone rang again.

It was the desk clerk. “Say, did you get what you wanted?” he asked chummily.

“No.”

“Oh. Too bad,” he said, but cheerfully. “Listen, buddy, I forgot to tell you before. That Miss Engdahl you were expecting, she’s on her way up.”

I dropped the phone onto the cradle.

“Arthur!” I yelled. “Keep quiet for a while⁠—trouble!”

He clacked once, and the typewriter shut itself off. I jumped for the door of the bathroom, cursing the fact that I didn’t have cartridges for the gun. Still, empty or not, it would have to do.

I ducked behind the bathroom door, in the shadows, covering the hall door. Because there were two things wrong with what the desk clerk had told me. Vern Engdahl wasn’t a “miss,” to begin with; and whatever name he used when he came to call on me, it wouldn’t be Vern Engdahl.

There was a knock on the door. I called: “Come in!”

The door opened and the girl who called herself Vern Engdahl came in slowly, looking around. I stayed quiet and out of sight until she was all the way in. She didn’t seem to be armed; there wasn’t anyone with her.

I stepped out, holding the gun on her. Her eyes opened wide and she seemed about to turn.

“Hold it! Come on in, you. Close the door!”

She did. She looked as though she were expecting me. I looked her over⁠—medium pretty, not very tall, not very plump, not very old. I’d have guessed twenty or so, but that’s not my line of work; she could have been almost any age from seventeen on.

The typewriter switched itself on and began to pound agitatedly. I crossed over toward her and paused to peer at what Arthur was yacking about: Search her you damn fool Maybe shes got a gun

I ordered: “Shut up, Arthur. I’m going to search her. You! Turn around!”

She shrugged and turned around, her hands in the air. Over her shoulder, she said: “You’re taking this all wrong, Sam. I came here to make a deal with you.”

“Sure you did.”

But her knowing my name was a blow, too. I mean what was the use of all that sneaking around if people in New York were going to know we were here?

I walked up close behind her and patted what there was to pat. There didn’t seem to be a gun.

“You tickle,” she complained.

I took her pocketbook away from her and went through it. No gun. A lot of money⁠—an awful lot of money. I mean there must have been two or three hundred thousand dollars. There was nothing with a name on it in the pocketbook.

She said: “Can I put my hands down, Sam?”

“In a minute.” I thought for a second and then decided to do it⁠—you know, I just couldn’t afford to take chances. I cleared my throat and ordered: “Take off your clothes.”

Her head jerked around and she stared at me. “What?

“Take them off. You heard me.”

“Now wait a minute⁠—” she began dangerously.

I said: “Do what I tell you, hear? How do I know you haven’t got a knife tucked away?”

She clenched her teeth. “Why, you dirty little man! What do you think⁠—” Then she shrugged. She looked at me with contempt and said: “All right. What’s the difference?”

Well, there was a considerable difference. She began to unzip and unbutton and wriggle, and pretty soon she was standing there in her underwear, looking at me as though I were a two-headed worm. It was interesting, but kind of embarrassing. I could see Arthur’s eyestalk waving excitedly out of the opened suitcase.

I picked up her skirt and blouse and shook them. I could feel myself blushing, and there didn’t seem to be anything in them.

I growled: “Okay, I guess that’s enough. You can put your clothes back on now.”

“Gee, thanks,” she said.

She looked at me thoughtfully and then shook her head as if she’d never seen anything like me before and never hoped to again. Without another word, she began to get back into her clothes. I had to admire her poise. I mean she was perfectly calm about the whole thing. You’d have thought she was used to taking her clothes off in front of strange men.

Well, for that matter, maybe she was; but it wasn’t any of my business.


Arthur was clacking distractedly, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. I demanded: “All right, now who are you and what do you want?”

She pulled up a stocking and said: “You couldn’t have asked me that in the first place, could you? I’m Vern Eng⁠—”

Cut it out!

She stared at me. “I was only going to say I’m Vern Engdahl’s partner. We’ve got a little business deal cooking and I wanted to talk to you about this proposition.”

Arthur squawked: Whats Engdahl up to now Q Q Sam Im warning you I dont like the look of this This woman and Engdahl are probably doublecrossing us

I said: “All right, Arthur, relax. I’m taking care of things. Now start over, you. What’s your name?”

She finished putting on her shoe and stood up. “Amy.”

“Last name?”

She shrugged and fished in her purse for a cigarette. “What does it matter? Mind if I sit down?”

“Go ahead,” I rumbled. “But don’t stop talking!”

“Oh,” she said, “we’ve got plenty of time to straighten things out.” She lit the cigarette and walked over to the chair by the window. On the way, she gave the luggage a good long look.

Arthur’s eyestalk cowered back into the suitcase as she came close. She winked at me, grinned, bent down and peered inside.

“My,” she said, “he’s a nice shiny one, isn’t he?”

The typewriter began to clatter frantically. I didn’t even bother to look; I told him: “Arthur, if you can’t keep quiet, you have to expect people to know you’re there.”

She sat down and crossed her legs. “Now then,” she said. “Frankly, he’s what I came to see you about. Vern told me you had a pross. I want to buy it.”

The typewriter thrashed its carriage back and forth furiously.

“Arthur isn’t for sale.”

“No?” She leaned back. “Vern’s already sold me his interest, you know. And you don’t really have any choice. You see, I’m in charge of matériel procurement for the Major. If you want to sell your share, fine. If you don’t, why, we requisition it anyhow. Do you follow?”

I was getting irritated⁠—at Vern Engdahl, for whatever the hell he thought he was doing; but at her because she was handy. I shook my head.

“Fifty thousand dollars? I mean for your interest?”

“No.”

“Seventy-five?”

“No!”

“Oh, come on now. A hundred thousand?”

It wasn’t going to make any impression on her, but I tried to explain: “Arthur’s a friend of mine. He isn’t for sale.”

She shook her head. “What’s the matter with you? Engdahl wasn’t like this. He sold his interest for forty thousand and was glad to get it.”

Clatter-clatter-clatter from Arthur. I didn’t blame him for having hurt feelings that time.

Amy said in a discouraged tone: “Why can’t people be reasonable? The Major doesn’t like it when people aren’t reasonable.”

I lowered the gun and cleared my throat. “He doesn’t?” I asked, cuing her. I wanted to hear more about this Major, who seemed to have the city pretty well under his thumb.

“No, he doesn’t.” She shook her head sorrowfully. She said in an accusing voice: “You out-of-towners don’t know what it’s like to try to run a city the size of New York. There are fifteen thousand people here, do you know that? It isn’t one of your hick towns. And it’s worry, worry, worry all the time, trying to keep things going.”

“I bet,” I said sympathetically. “You’re, uh, pretty close to the Major?”

She said stiffly: “I’m not married to him, if that’s what you mean. Though I’ve had my chances.⁠ ⁠… But you see how it is. Fifteen thousand people to run a place the size of New York! It’s forty men to operate the power station, and twenty-five on the P.X., and thirty on the hotel here. And then there are the local groceries, and the Army, and the Coast Guard, and the Air Force⁠—though, really, that’s only two men⁠—and⁠—Well, you get the picture.”

“I certainly do. Look, what kind of a guy is the Major?”

She shrugged. “A guy.”

“I mean what does he like?”

“Women, mostly,” she said, her expression clouded. “Come on now. What about it?”

I stalled. “What do you want Arthur for?”

She gave me a disgusted look. “What do you think? To relieve the manpower shortage, naturally. There’s more work than there are men. Now if the Major could just get hold of a couple of prosthetics, like this thing here, why, he could put them in the big installations. This one used to be an engineer or something, Vern said.”

“Well⁠ ⁠… like an engineer.”

Amy shrugged. “So why couldn’t we connect him up with the power station? It’s been done. The Major knows that⁠—he was in the Pentagon when they switched all the aircraft warning net over from computer to prosthetic control. So why couldn’t we do the same thing with our power station and release forty men for other assignments? This thing could work day, night, Sundays⁠—what’s the difference when you’re just a brain in a sardine can?”

Clatter-rattle-bang.

She looked startled. “Oh. I forgot he was listening.”

“No deal,” I said.

She said: “A hundred and fifty thousand?”

A hundred and fifty thousand dollars. I considered that for a while. Arthur clattered warningly.

“Well,” I temporized, “I’d have to be sure he was getting into good hands⁠—”

The typewriter thrashed wildly. The sheet of paper fluttered out of the carriage. He’d used it up. Automatically I picked it up⁠—it was covered with imprecations, self-pity and threats⁠—and started to put a new one in.

“No,” I said, bending over the typewriter, “I guess I couldn’t sell him. It just wouldn’t be right⁠—”

That was my mistake; it was the wrong time for me to say that, because I had taken my eyes off her.

The room bent over and clouted me.

I half turned, not more than a fraction conscious, and I saw this Amy girl, behind me, with the shoe still in her hand, raised to give me another blackjacking on the skull.

The shoe came down, and it must have weighed more than it looked, and even the fractional bit of consciousness went crashing away.

III

I have to tell you about Vern Engdahl. We were all from the Sea Sprite, of course⁠—me and Vern and even Arthur. The thing about Vern is that he was the lowest-ranking one of us all⁠—only an electrician’s mate third, I mean when anybody paid any attention to things like that⁠—and yet he was pretty much doing the thinking for the rest of us. Coming to New York was his idea⁠—he told us that was the only place we could get what we wanted.

Well, as long as we were carrying Arthur along with us, we pretty much needed Vern, because he was the one who knew how to keep the lash-up going. You’ve got no idea what kind of pumps and plumbing go into a prosthetic tank until you’ve seen one opened up. And, naturally, Arthur didn’t want any breakdowns without somebody around to fix things up.

The Sea Sprite, maybe you know, was one of the old liquid-sodium-reactor subs⁠—too slow for combat duty, but as big as a barn, so they made it a hospital ship. We were cruising deep when the missiles hit, and, of course, when we came up, there wasn’t much for a hospital ship to do. I mean there isn’t any sense fooling around with anybody who’s taken a good deep breath of fallout.

So we went back to Newport News to see what had happened. And we found out what had happened. And there wasn’t anything much to do except pay off the crew and let them go. But us three stuck together. Why not? It wasn’t as if we had any families to go back to anymore.

Vern just loved all this stuff⁠—he’d been an Eagle Scout; maybe that had something to do with it⁠—and he showed us how to boil drinking water and forage in the woods and all like that, because nobody in his right mind wanted to go near any kind of a town, until the cold weather set in, anyway. And it was always Vern, Vern, telling us what to do, ironing out our troubles.

It worked out, except that there was this one thing. Vern had bright ideas. But he didn’t always tell us what they were.

So I wasn’t so very surprised when I came to. I mean there I was, tied up, with this girl Amy standing over me, holding the gun like a club. Evidently she’d found out that there weren’t any cartridges. And in a couple of minutes there was a knock on the door, and she yelled, “Come in,” and in came Vern. And the man who was with him had to be somebody important, because there were eight or ten other men crowding in close behind.

I didn’t need to look at the oak leaves on his shoulders to realize that here was the chief, the fellow who ran this town, the Major.

It was just the kind of thing Vern would do.

Vern said, with the look on his face that made strange officers wonder why this poor persecuted man had been forced to spend so much time in the brig: “Now, Major, I’m sure we can straighten all this out. Would you mind leaving me alone with my friend here for a moment?”

The Major teetered on his heels, thinking. He was a tall, youngish-bald type, with a long, worried, horselike face. He said: “Ah, do you think we should?”

“I guarantee there’ll be no trouble, Major,” Vern promised.

The Major pulled at his little mustache. “Very well,” he said. “Amy, you come along.”

“We’ll be right here, Major,” Vern said reassuringly, escorting him to the door.

“You bet you will,” said the Major, and tittered. “Ah, bring that gun along with you, Amy. And be sure this man knows that we have bullets.”

They closed the door. Arthur had been cowering in his suitcase, but now his eyestalk peeped out and the rattling and clattering from that typewriter sounded like the Battle of the Bulge.

I demanded: “Come on, Vern. What’s this all about?”

Vern said: “How much did they offer you?”

Clatter-bang-bang. I peeked, and Arthur was saying: Warned you Sam that Engdahl was up to tricks Please Sam please please please hit him on the head Knock him out He must have a gun so get it and shoot our way out of here

“A hundred and fifty thousand dollars,” I said.

Vern looked outraged. “I only got forty!”

Arthur clattered: Vern I appeal to your common decency Were old shipmates Vern Remember all the times I

“Still,” Vern mused, “it’s all common funds anyway, right? Arthur belongs to both of us.”

I dont dont dont repeat dont belong to anybody but me

“That’s true,” I said grudgingly. “But I carried him, remember.”

Sam whats the matter with you Q Q I dont like the expression on your face Listen Sam you arent

Vern said, “A hundred and fifty thousand, remember.”

thinking of selling

“And of course we couldn’t get out of here,” Vern pointed out. “They’ve got us surrounded.”

me to these rats Q Q Sam Vern Please dont scare me

I said, pointing to the fluttering paper in the rattling machine: “You’re worrying our friend.”

Vern shrugged impatiently.

I knew I shouldnt have trusted you, Arthur wept. Thats all I mean to you eh

Vern said: “Well, Sam? Let’s take the cash and get this thing over with. After all, he will have the best of treatment.”

It was a little like selling your sister into white slavery, but what else was there to do? Besides, I kind of trusted Vern.

“All right,” I said.

What Arthur said nearly scorched the paper.

Vern helped pack Arthur up for moving. I mean it was just a matter of pulling the plugs out and making sure he had a fresh battery, but Vern wanted to supervise it himself. Because one of the little things Vern had up his sleeve was that he had found a spot for himself on the Major’s payroll. He was now the official Prosthetic (Human) Maintenance Department Chief.

The Major said to me: “Ah, Dunlap. What sort of experience have you had?”

“Experience?”

“In the Navy. Your friend Engdahl suggested you might want to join us here.”

“Oh. I see what you mean.” I shook my head. “Nothing that would do you any good, I’m afraid. I was a yeoman.”

“Yeoman?”

“Like a company clerk,” I explained. “I mean I kept records and cut orders and made out reports and all like that.”

“Company clerk!” The eyes in the long horsy face gleamed. “Ah, you’re mistaken, Dunlap! Why, that’s just what we need. Our morning reports are in foul shape. Foul! Come over to H.Q. Lieutenant Bankhead will give you a lift.”

“Lieutenant Bankhead?”

I got an elbow in my ribs for that. It was that girl Amy, standing alongside me. “I,” she said, “am Lieutenant Bankhead.”

Well, I went along with her, leaving Engdahl and Arthur behind. But I must admit I wasn’t sure of my reception.

Out in front of the hotel was a whole fleet of cars⁠—three or four of them, at least. There was a big old Cadillac that looked like a gangsters’ car⁠—thick glass in the windows, tires that looked like they belonged on a truck. I was willing to bet it was bulletproof and also that it belonged to the Major. I was right both times. There was a little MG with the top down, and a couple of light trucks. Every one of them was painted bright orange, and every one of them had the star-and-bar of the good old United States Army on its side.

It took me back to old times⁠—all but the unmilitary color. Amy led me to the MG and pointed.

“Sit,” she said.

I sat. She got in the other side and we were off.

It was a little uncomfortable on account of I wasn’t just sure whether I ought to apologize for making her take her clothes off. And then she tramped on the gas of that little car and I didn’t think much about being embarrassed or about her black lace lingerie. I was only thinking about one thing⁠—how to stay alive long enough to get out of that car.

IV

See, what we really wanted was an ocean liner.

The rest of us probably would have been happy enough to stay in Lehigh County, but Arthur was getting restless.

He was a terrible responsibility, in a way. I suppose there were a hundred thousand people or so left in the country, and not more than forty or fifty of them were like Arthur⁠—I mean if you want to call a man in a prosthetic tank a “person.” But we all did. We’d got pretty used to him. We’d shipped together in the war⁠—and survived together, as a few of the actual fighters did, those who were lucky enough to be underwater or high in the air when the I.C.B.M.s landed⁠—and as few civilians did.

I mean there wasn’t much chance for surviving, for anybody who happened to be breathing the open air when it happened. I mean you can do just so much about making a “clean” H-bomb, and if you cut out the long-life fission products, the short-life ones get pretty deadly.

Anyway, there wasn’t much damage, except of course that everybody was dead. All the surface vessels lost their crews. All the population of the cities were gone. And so then, when Arthur slipped on the gangplank coming into Newport News and broke his fool neck, why, we had the whole staff of the Sea Sprite to work on him. I mean what else did the surgeons have to do?

Of course, that was a long time ago.

But we’d stayed together. We headed for the farm country around Allentown, Pennsylvania, because Arthur and Vern Engdahl claimed to know it pretty well. I think maybe they had some hope of finding family or friends, but naturally there wasn’t any of that. And when you got into the inland towns, there hadn’t been much of an attempt to clean them up. At least the big cities and the ports had been gone over, in some spots anyway, by burial squads. Although when we finally decided to move out and went to Philadelphia⁠—

Well, let’s be fair; there had been fighting around there after the big fight. Anyway, that wasn’t so very uncommon. That was one of the reasons that for a long time⁠—four or five years, at any rate⁠—we stayed away from big cities.

We holed up in a big farmhouse in Lehigh County. It had its own generator from a little stream, and that took care of Arthur’s power needs; and the previous occupants had been just crazy about stashing away food. There was enough to last a century, and that took care of the two of us. We appreciated that. We even took the old folks out and gave them a decent burial. I mean they’d all been in the family car, so we just had to tow it to a gravel pit and push it in.

The place had its own well, with an electric pump and a hot-water system⁠—oh, it was nice. I was sorry to leave but, frankly, Arthur was driving us nuts.

We never could make the television work⁠—maybe there weren’t any stations near enough. But we pulled in a couple of radio stations pretty well and Arthur got a big charge out of listening to them⁠—see, he could hear four or five at a time and I suppose that made him feel better than the rest of us.

He heard that the big cities were cleaned up and every one of them seemed to want immigrants⁠—they were pleading, pleading all the time, like the TV-set and vacuum-cleaner people used to in the old days; they guaranteed we’d like it if we only came to live in Philly, or Richmond, or Baltimore, or wherever. And I guess Arthur kind of hoped we might find another pross. And then⁠—well, Engdahl came up with this idea of an ocean liner.

It figured. I mean you get out in the middle of the ocean and what’s the difference what it’s like on land? And it especially appealed to Arthur because he wanted to do some surface sailing. He never had when he was real⁠—I mean when he had arms and legs like anybody else. He’d gone right into the undersea service the minute he got out of school.

And⁠—well, sailing was what Arthur knew something about and I suppose even a prosthetic man wants to feel useful. It was like Amy said: He could be hooked up to an automated factory⁠—

Or to a ship.


H.Q. for the Major’s Temporary Military Government⁠—that’s what the sign said⁠—was on the 91st floor of the Empire State Building, and right there that tells you something about the man. I mean you know how much power it takes to run those elevators all the way up to the top? But the Major must have liked being able to look down on everybody else.

Amy Bankhead conducted me to his office and sat me down to wait for His Military Excellency to arrive. She filled me in on him, to some degree. He’d been an absolute nothing before the war; but he had a reserve commission in the Air Force, and when things began to look sticky, they’d called him up and put him in a Missile Master control point, underground somewhere up around Ossining.

He was the duty officer when it happened, and naturally he hadn’t noticed anything like an enemy aircraft, and naturally the anti-missile missiles were still rusting in their racks all around the city; but since the place had been operating on sealed ventilation, the duty complement could stay there until the short half-life radioisotopes wore themselves out.

And then the Major found out that he was not only in charge of the fourteen men and women of his division at the center⁠—he was ranking United States Military Establishment officer farther than the eye could see. So he beat it, fast as he could, for New York, because what Army officer doesn’t dream about being stationed in New York? And he set up his Temporary Military Government⁠—and that was nine years ago.

If there hadn’t been plenty to go around, I don’t suppose he would have lasted a week⁠—none of these city chiefs would have. But as things were, he was in on the ground floor, and as newcomers trickled into the city, his boys already had things nicely organized.

It was a soft touch.


Well, we were about a week getting settled in New York and things were looking pretty good. Vern calmed me down by pointing out that, after all, we had to sell Arthur, and hadn’t we come out of it plenty okay?

And we had. There was no doubt about it. Not only did we have a fat price for Arthur, which was useful because there were a lot of things we would have to buy, but we both had jobs working for the Major.

Vern was his specialist in the care and feeding of Arthur and I was his chief of office routine⁠—and, as such, I delighted his fussy little soul, because by adding what I remembered of Navy protocol to what he was able to teach me of Army routine, we came up with as snarled a mass of red tape as any field-grade officer in the whole history of all armed forces had been able to accumulate. Oh, I tell you, nobody sneezed in New York without a report being made out in triplicate, with eight endorsements.

Of course there wasn’t anybody to send them to, but that didn’t stop the Major. He said with determination: “Nobody’s ever going to chew me out for noncompliance with regulations⁠—even if I have to invent the regulations myself!”

We set up in a bachelor apartment on Central Park South⁠—the Major had the penthouse; the whole building had been converted to barracks⁠—and the first chance we got, Vern snaffled some transportation and we set out to find an ocean liner.

See, the thing was that an ocean liner isn’t easy to steal. I mean we’d scouted out the lay of the land before we ever entered the city itself, and there were plenty of liners, but there wasn’t one that looked like we could just jump in and sail it away. For that we needed an organization. Since we didn’t have one, the best thing to do was borrow the Major’s.

Vern turned up with Amy Bankhead’s MG, and he also turned up with Amy. I can’t say I was displeased, because I was beginning to like the girl; but did you ever try to ride three people in the seats of an MG? Well, the way to do it is by having one passenger sit in the other passenger’s lap, which would have been all right except that Amy insisted on driving.

We headed downtown and over to the West Side. The Major’s Topographical Section⁠—one former billboard artist⁠—had prepared road maps with little red-ink Xs marking the streets that were blocked, which was most of the streets; but we charted a course that would take us where we wanted to go. Thirty-fourth Street was open, and so was Fifth Avenue all of its length, so we scooted down Fifth, crossed over, got under the Elevated Highway and whined along uptown toward the Fifties.

“There’s one,” cried Amy, pointing.

I was on Vern’s lap, so I was making the notes. It was a Fruit Company combination freighter-passenger vessel. I looked at Vern, and Vern shrugged as best he could, so I wrote it down; but it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. No, not by a long shot.

Still, the thing to do was to survey our resources, and then we could pick the one we liked best. We went all the way up to the end of the big-ship docks, and then turned and came back down, all the way to the Battery. It wasn’t pleasure driving, exactly⁠—half a dozen times we had to get out the map and detour around impenetrable jams of stalled and empty cars⁠—or anyway, if they weren’t exactly empty, the people in them were no longer in shape to get out of our way. But we made it.

We counted sixteen ships in dock that looked as though they might do for our purposes. We had to rule out the newer ones and the reconverted jobs. I mean, after all, U-235 just lasts so long, and you can steam around the world on a walnut-shell of it, or whatever it is, but you can’t store it. So we had to stick with the ships that were powered with conventional fuel⁠—and, on consideration, only oil at that.

But that left sixteen, as I say. Some of them, though, had suffered visibly from being left untended for nearly a decade, so that for our purposes they might as well have been abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic; we didn’t have the equipment or ambition to do any great amount of salvage work.

The Empress of Britain would have been a pretty good bet, for instance, except that it was lying at pretty nearly a forty-five-degree angle in its berth. So was the United States, and so was the Caronia. The Stockholm was straight enough, but I took a good look, and only one tier of portholes was showing above the water⁠—evidently it had settled nice and even, but it was on the bottom all the same. Well, that mud sucks with a fine tight grip, and we weren’t going to try to loosen it.

All in all, eleven of the sixteen ships were out of commission just from what we could see driving by.

Vern and I looked at each other. We stood by the MG, while Amy sprawled her legs over the side and waited for us to make up our minds.

“Not good, Sam,” said Vern, looking worried.

I said: “Well, that still leaves five. There’s the Vulcania, the Cristobal⁠—”

“Too small.”

“All right. The Manhattan, the Liberté and the Queen Elizabeth.”

Amy looked up, her eyes gleaming. “Where’s the question?” she demanded. “Naturally, it’s the Queen.”

I tried to explain. “Please, Amy. Leave these things to us, will you?”

“But the Major won’t settle for anything but the best!”

“The Major?”

I glanced at Vern, who wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Well,” I said, “look at the problems, Amy. First we have to check it over. Maybe it’s been burned out⁠—how do we know? Maybe the channel isn’t even deep enough to float it anymore⁠—how do we know? Where are we going to get the oil for it?”

“We’ll get the oil,” Amy said cheerfully.

“And what if the channel isn’t deep enough?”

“She’ll float,” Amy promised. “At high tide, anyway. Even if the channel hasn’t been dredged in ten years.”

I shrugged and gave up. What was the use of arguing?

We drove back to the Queen Elizabeth and I had to admit that there was a certain attraction about that big old dowager. We all got out and strolled down the pier, looking over as much as we could see.

The pier had never been cleaned out. It bothered me a little⁠—I mean I don’t like skeletons much⁠—but Amy didn’t seem to mind. The Queen must have just docked when it happened, because you could still see bony queues, as though they were waiting for customs inspection.

Some of the bags had been opened and the contents scattered around⁠—naturally, somebody was bound to think of looting the Queen. But there were as many that hadn’t been touched as that had been opened, and the whole thing had the look of an amateur attempt. And that was all to the good, because the fewer persons who had boarded the Queen in the decade since it happened, the more chance of our finding it in usable shape.

Amy saw a gangplank still up, and with cries of girlish glee ran aboard.

I plucked at Vern’s sleeve. “You,” I said. “What’s this about what the Major won’t settle for less than?”

He said: “Aw, Sam, I had to tell her something, didn’t I?”

“But what about the Major⁠—”

He said patiently: “You don’t understand. It’s all part of my plan, see? The Major is the big thing here and he’s got a birthday coming up next month. Well, the way I put it to Amy, we’ll fix him up with a yacht as a birthday present, see? And, of course, when it’s all fixed up and ready to lift anchor⁠—”

I said doubtfully: “That’s the hard way, Vern. Why couldn’t we just sort of get steam up and take off?”

He shook his head. “That is the hard way. This way we get all the help and supplies we need, understand?”

I shrugged. That was the way it was, so what was the use of arguing?

But there was one thing more on my mind. I said: “How come Amy’s so interested in making the Major happy?”

Vern chortled. “Jealous, eh?”

“I asked a question!”

“Calm down, boy. It’s just that he’s in charge of things here so naturally she wants to keep in good with him.”

I scowled. “I keep hearing stories about how the Major’s chief interest in life is women. You sure she isn’t ambitious to be one of them?”

He said: “The reason she wants to keep him happy is so she won’t be one of them.”

V

The name of the place was Bayonne.

Vern said: “One of them’s got to have oil, Sam. It has to.”

“Sure,” I said.

“There’s no question about it. Look, this is where the tankers came to discharge oil. They’d come in here, pump the oil into the refinery tanks and⁠—”

“Vern,” I said. “Let’s look, shall we?”

He shrugged, and we hopped off the little outboard motorboat onto a landing stage. The tankers towered over us, rusty and screeching as the waves rubbed them against each other.

There were fifty of them there at least, and we poked around them for hours. The hatches were rusted shut and unmanageable, but you could tell a lot by sniffing. Gasoline odor was out; smell of seaweed and dead fish was out; but the heavy, rank smell of fuel oil, that was what we were sniffing for. Crews had been aboard these ships when the missiles came, and crews were still aboard.

Beyond the two-part superstructures of the tankers, the skyline of New York was visible. I looked up, sweating, and saw the Empire State Building and imagined Amy up there, looking out toward us.

She knew we were here. It was her idea. She had scrounged up a naval engineer, or what she called a naval engineer⁠—he had once been a stoker on a ferryboat. But he claimed he knew what he was talking about when he said the only thing the Queen needed to make ’er go was oil. And so we left him aboard to tinker and polish, with a couple of helpers Amy detached from the police force, and we tackled the oil problem.

Which meant Bayonne. Which was where we were.

It had to be a tanker with at least a fair portion of its cargo intact, because the Queen was a thirsty creature, drinking fuel not by the shot or gallon but by the ton.

“Saaam! Sam Dunlap!”

I looked up, startled. Five ships away, across the U of the mooring, Vern Engdahl was bellowing at me through cupped hands.

“I found it!” he shouted. “Oil, lots of oil! Come look!”

I clasped my hands over my head and looked around. It was a long way around to the tanker Vern was on, hopping from deck to deck, detouring around open stretches.

I shouted: “I’ll get the boat!”

He waved and climbed up on the rail of the ship, his feet dangling over, looking supremely happy and pleased with himself. He lit a cigarette, leaned back against the upward sweep of the rail and waited.

It took me a little time to get back to the boat and a little more time than that to get the damn motor started. Vern! “Let’s not take that lousy little twelve horsepower, Sam,” he’d said reasonably. “The twenty-five’s more what we need!” And maybe it was, but none of the motors had been started in most of a decade, and the twenty-five was just that much harder to start now.

I struggled over it, swearing, for twenty minutes or more.

The tanker by whose side we had tied up began to swing toward me as the tide changed to outgoing.

For a moment there, I was counting seconds, expecting to have to make a jump for it before the big red steel flank squeezed the little outboard flat against the piles.

But I got it started⁠—just about in time. I squeezed out of the trap with not much more than a yard to spare and threaded my way into open water.

There was a large, threatening sound, like an enormous slow cough.

I rounded the stern of the last tanker between me and open water, and looked into the eye of a fire-breathing dragon.

Vern and his cigarettes! The tanker was loose and ablaze, bearing down on me with the slow drift of the ebbing tide. From the hatches on the forward deck, two fountains of fire spurted up and out, like enormous nostrils spouting flame. The hawsers had been burned through, the ship was adrift, I was in its path⁠—

And so was the frantically splashing figure of Vern Engdahl, trying desperately to swim out of the way in the water before it.

What kept it from blowing up in our faces I will never know, unless it was the pressure in the tanks forcing the flame out; but it didn’t. Not just then. Not until I had Engdahl aboard and we were out in the middle of the Hudson, staring back; and then it went up all right, all at once, like a missile or a volcano; and there had been fifty tankers in that one mooring, but there weren’t any anymore, or not in shape for us to use.

I looked at Engdahl.

He said defensively: “Honest, Sam, I thought it was oil. It smelled like oil. How was I to know⁠—”

“Shut up,” I said.

He shrugged, injured. “But it’s all right, Sam. No fooling. There are plenty of other tankers around. Plenty. Down toward the Amboys, maybe moored out in the channel. There must be. We’ll find them.”

“No,” I said. “You will.”

And that was all I said, because I am forgiving by nature; but I thought a great deal more.

Surprisingly, though, he did find a tanker with a full load, the very next day.

It became a question of getting the tanker to the Queen. I left that part up to Vern, since he claimed to be able to handle it.

It took him two weeks. First it was finding the tanker, then it was locating a tug in shape to move, then it was finding someone to pilot the tug. Then it was waiting for a clear and windless day⁠—because the pilot he found had got all his experience sailing Star boats on Long Island Sound⁠—and then it was easing the tanker out of Newark Bay, into the channel, down to the pier in the North River⁠—

Oh, it was work and no fooling. I enjoyed it very much, because I didn’t have to do it.

But I had enough to keep me busy at that. I found a man who claimed he used to be a radio engineer. And if he was an engineer, I was Albert Einstein’s mother, but at least he knew which end of a soldering iron was hot. There was no need for any great skill, since there weren’t going to be very many vessels to communicate with.

Things began to move.

The advantage of a ship like the Queen, for our purposes, was that the thing was pretty well automated to start out with. I mean never mind what the seafaring unions required in the way of flesh-and-blood personnel. What it came down to was that one man in the bridge or wheelhouse could pretty well make any part of the ship go or not go.

The engine-room telegraph wasn’t hooked up to control the engines, no. But the wiring diagram needed only a few little changes to get the same effect, because where in the original concept a human being would take a look at the repeater down in the engine room, nod wisely, and push a button that would make the engines stop, start, or whatever⁠—why, all we had to do was cut out the middleman, so to speak.

Our genius of the soldering iron replaced flesh and blood with some wiring and, presto, we had centralized engine control.

The steering was even easier. Steering was a matter of electronic control and servomotors to begin with. Windjammers in the old movies might have a man lashed to the wheel whose muscle power turned the rudder, but, believe me, a big superliner doesn’t. The rudders weigh as much as any old windjammer ever did from stem to stern; you have to have motors to turn them; and it was only a matter of getting out the old soldering iron again.

By the time we were through, we had every operational facility of the Queen hooked up to a single panel on the bridge.

Engdahl showed up with the oil tanker just about the time we got the wiring complete. We rigged up a pump and filled the bunkers till they were topped off full. We guessed, out of hope and ignorance, that there was enough in there to take us half a dozen times around the world at normal cruising speed, and maybe there was. Anyway, it didn’t matter, for surely we had enough to take us anywhere we wanted to go, and then there would be more.

We crossed our fingers, turned our ex-ferry-stoker loose, pushed a button⁠—

Smoke came out of the stacks.

The antique screws began to turn over. Astern, a sort of hump of muddy water appeared. The Queen quivered underfoot. The mooring hawsers creaked and sang.

“Turn her off!” screamed Engdahl. “She’s headed for Times Square!”

Well, that was an exaggeration, but not much of one; and there wasn’t any sense in stirring up the bottom mud. I pushed buttons and the screws stopped. I pushed another button, and the big engines quietly shut themselves off, and in a few moments the stacks stopped puffing their black smoke.

The ship was alive.

Solemnly Engdahl and I shook hands. We had the thing licked. All, that is, except for the one small problem of Arthur.


The thing about Arthur was they had put him to work.

It was in the power station, just as Amy had said, and Arthur didn’t like it. The fact that he didn’t like it was a splendid reason for staying away from there, but I let my kind heart overrule my good sense and paid him a visit.

It was way over on the East Side, miles and miles from any civilized area. I borrowed Amy’s MG, and borrowed Amy to go with it, and the two of us packed a picnic lunch and set out. There were reports of deer on Avenue A, so I brought a rifle, but we never saw one; and if you want my opinion, those reports were nothing but wishful thinking. I mean if people couldn’t survive, how could deer?

We finally threaded our way through the clogged streets and parked in front of the power station.

“There’s supposed to be a guard,” Amy said doubtfully.

I looked. I looked pretty carefully, because if there was a guard, I wanted to see him. The Major’s orders were that vital defense installations⁠—such as the power station, the P.X. and his own barracks building⁠—were to be guarded against trespassers on a shoot-on-sight basis and I wanted to make sure that the guard knew we were privileged persons, with passes signed by the Major’s own hand. But we couldn’t find him. So we walked in through the big door, peered around, listened for the sounds of machinery and walked in that direction.

And then we found him; he was sound asleep. Amy, looking indignant, shook him awake.

“Is that how you guard military property?” she scolded. “Don’t you know the penalty for sleeping at your post?”

The guard said something irritable and unhappy. I got her off his back with some difficulty, and we located Arthur.

Picture a shiny four-gallon tomato can, with the label stripped off, hanging by wire from the flashing-light panels of an electric computer. That was Arthur. The shiny metal cylinder was his prosthetic tank; the wires were the leads that served him for fingers, ears and mouth; the glittering panel was the control center for the Consolidated Edison Eastside Power Plant No. 1.

“Hi, Arthur,” I said, and a sudden earsplitting thunderous hiss was his way of telling me that he knew I was there.

I didn’t know exactly what it was he was trying to say and I didn’t want to; fortune spares me few painful moments, and I accept with gratitude the ones it does. The Major’s boys hadn’t bothered to bring Arthur’s typewriter along⁠—I mean who cares what a generator-governor had to offer in the way of conversation?⁠—so all he could do was blow off steam from the distant boilers.

Well, not quite all. Light flashed; a bucket conveyor began crashingly to dump loads of coal; and an alarm gong began to pound.

“Please, Arthur,” I begged. “Shut up a minute and listen, will you?”

More lights. The gong rapped half a dozen times sharply, and stopped.

I said: “Arthur, you’ve got to trust Vern and me. We have this thing figured out now. We’ve got the Queen Elizabeth⁠—”

A shattering hiss of steam⁠—meaning delight this time, I thought. Or anyway hoped.

“⁠—and it’s only a question of time until we can carry out the plan. Vern says to apologize for not looking in on you⁠—” hiss⁠—“but he’s been busy. And after all, you know it’s more important to get everything ready so you can get out of this place, right?”

“Psst,” said Amy.

She nodded briefly past my shoulder. I looked, and there was the guard, looking sleepy and surly and definitely suspicious.

I said heartily: “So as soon as I fix it up with the Major, we’ll arrange for something better for you. Meanwhile, Arthur, you’re doing a capital job and I want you to know that all of us loyal New York citizens and public servants deeply appreciate⁠—”

Thundering crashes, bangs, gongs, hisses, and the scream of a steam whistle he’d found somewhere.

Arthur was mad.

“So long, Arthur,” I said, and we got out of there⁠—just barely in time. At the door, we found that Arthur had reversed the coal scoops and a growing mound of it was pouring into the street where we’d left the MG parked. We got the car started just as the heap was beginning to reach the bumpers, and at that the paint would never again be the same.

Oh, yes, he was mad. I could only hope that in the long run he would forgive us, since we were acting for his best interests, after all.

Anyway, I thought we were.

Still, things worked out pretty well⁠—especially between Amy and me. Engdahl had the theory that she had been dodging the Major so long that anybody looked good to her, which was hardly flattering. But she and I were getting along right well.

She said worriedly: “The only thing, Sam, is that, frankly, the Major has just about made up his mind that he wants to marry me⁠—”

“He is married!” I yelped.

“Naturally he’s married. He’s married to⁠—so far⁠—one hundred and nine women. He’s been hitting off a marriage a month for a good many years now and, to tell you the truth, I think he’s got the habit. Anyway, he’s got his eye on me.”

I demanded jealously: “Has he said anything?”

She picked a sheet of onionskin paper out of her bag and handed it to me. It was marked Top Secret, and it really was, because it hadn’t gone through his regular office⁠—I knew that because I was his regular office. It was only two lines of text and sloppily typed at that:

Lt. Amy Bankhead will report to H.Q. at 1700 hours 1 July to carry out orders of the Commanding Officer.

The first of July was only a week away. I handed the orders back to her.

“And the orders of the Commanding Officer will be⁠—” I wanted to know.

She nodded. “You guessed it.”

I said: “We’ll have to work fast.”


On the thirtieth of June, we invited the Major to come aboard his palatial new yacht.

“Ah, thank you,” he said gratefully. “A surprise? For my birthday? Ah, you loyal members of my command make up for all that I’ve lost⁠—all of it!” He nearly wept.

I said: “Sir, the pleasure is all ours,” and backed out of his presence. What’s more, I meant every word.

It was a select party of slightly over a hundred. All of the wives were there, barring twenty or thirty who were in disfavor⁠—still, that left over eighty. The Major brought half a dozen of his favorite officers. His bodyguard and our crew added up to a total of thirty men.

We were set up to feed a hundred and fifty, and to provide liquor for twice that many, so it looked like a nice friendly brawl. I mean we had our radio operator handing out highballs as the guests stepped on board. The Major was touched and delighted; it was exactly the kind of party he liked.

He came up the gangplank with his face one great beaming smile. “Eat! Drink!” he cried. “Ah, and be merry!” He stretched out his hands to Amy, standing by behind the radio op. “For tomorrow we wed,” he added, and sentimentally kissed his proposed bride.

I cleared my throat. “How about inspecting the ship, Major?” I interrupted.

“Plenty of time for that, my boy,” he said. “Plenty of time for that.” But he let go of Amy and looked around him. Well, it was worth looking at. Those Englishmen really knew how to build a luxury liner. God rest them.

The girls began roaming around.

It was a hot day and late afternoon, and the girls began discarding jackets and boleros, and that began to annoy the Major.

“Ah, cover up there!” he ordered one of his wives. “You too there, what’s-your-name. Put that blouse back on!”

It gave him something to think about. He was a very jealous man, Amy had said, and when you stop to think about it, a jealous man with a hundred and nine wives to be jealous of really has a job. Anyway, he was busy watching his wives and keeping his military cabinet and his bodyguard busy too, and that made him too busy to notice when I tipped the high sign to Vern and took off.

VI

In Consolidated Edison’s big power plant, the guard was friendly. “I hear the Major’s over on your boat, pal. Big doings. Got a lot of the girls there, hey?”

He bent, sniggering, to look at my pass.

“That’s right, pal,” I said, and slugged him.

Arthur screamed at me with a shrill blast of steam as I came in. But only once. I wasn’t there for conversation. I began ripping apart his comfy little home of steel braces and copper wires, and it didn’t take much more than a minute before I had him free. And that was very fortunate because, although I had tied up the guard, I hadn’t done it very well, and it was just about the time I had Arthur’s steel case tucked under my arm that I heard a yelling and bellowing from down the stairs.

The guard had got free.

“Keep calm, Arthur!” I ordered sharply. “We’ll get out of this, don’t you worry!”

But he wasn’t worried, or anyway didn’t show it, since he couldn’t. I was the one who was worried. I was up on the second floor of the plant, in the control center, with only one stairway going down that I knew about, and that one thoroughly guarded by a man with a grudge against me. Me, I had Arthur, and no weapon, and I hadn’t a doubt in the world that there were other guards around and that my friend would have them after me before long.

Problem. I took a deep breath and swallowed and considered jumping out the window. But it wasn’t far enough to the ground.

Feet pounded up the stairs, more than two of them. With Arthur dragging me down on one side, I hurried, fast as I could, along the steel galleries that surrounded the biggest boiler. It was a nice choice of alternatives⁠—if I stayed quiet, they would find me; if I ran, they would hear me, and then find me.

But ahead there was⁠—what? Something. A flight of stairs, it looked like, going out and, yes, up. Up? But I was already on the second floor.

“Hey, you!” somebody bellowed from behind me.

I didn’t stop to consider. I ran. It wasn’t steps, not exactly; it was a chain of coal scoops on a long derrick arm, a moving bucket arrangement for unloading fuel from barges. It did go up, though, and more important it went out. The bucket arm was stretched across the clogged roadway below to a loading tower that hung over the water.

If I could get there, I might be able to get down. If I could get down⁠—yes, I could see it; there were three or four mahogany motor launches tied to the foot of the tower.

And nobody around.

I looked over my shoulder, and didn’t like what I saw, and scuttled up that chain of enormous buckets like a roach on a washboard, one hand for me and one hand for Arthur.

Thank heaven, I had a good lead on my pursuers⁠—I needed it. I was on the bucket chain while they were still almost a city block behind me, along the galleries. I was halfway across the roadway, afraid to look down, before they reached the butt end of the chain.

Clash-clatter. Clank! The bucket under me jerked and clattered and nearly threw me into the street. One of those jokers had turned on the conveyor! It was a good trick, all right, but not quite in time. I made a flying jump and I was on the tower.

I didn’t stop to thumb my nose at them, but I thought of it.

I was down those steel steps, breathing like a spouting whale, in a minute flat, and jumping out across the concrete, coal-smeared yard toward the moored launches. Quickly enough, I guess, but with nothing at all to spare, because although I hadn’t seen anyone there, there was a guard.

He popped out of a doorway, blinking foolishly; and overhead the guards at the conveyor belt were screaming at him. It took him a second to figure out what was going on, and by that time I was in a launch, cast off the rope, kicked it free, and fumbled for the starting button.

It took me several seconds to realize that a rope was required, that in fact there was no button; and by then I was floating yards away, but the pudgy pop-eyed guard was also in a launch, and he didn’t have to fumble. He knew. He got his motor started a fraction of a second before me, and there he was, coming at me, set to ram. Or so it looked.

I wrenched at the wheel and brought the boat hard over; but he swerved too, at the last moment, and brought up something that looked a little like a spear and a little like a sickle and turned out to be a boathook. I ducked, just in time. It sizzled over my head as he swung and crashed against the windshield. Hunks of safety glass splashed out over the forward deck, but better that than my head.

Boathooks, hey? I had a boathook too! If he didn’t have another weapon, I was perfectly willing to play; I’d been sitting and taking it long enough and I was very much attracted by the idea of fighting back. The guard recovered his balance, swore at me, fought the wheel around and came back.

We both curved out toward the center of the East River in intersecting arcs. We closed. He swung first. I ducked⁠—

And from a crouch, while he was off balance, I caught him in the shoulder with the hook.

He made a mighty splash.

I throttled down the motor long enough to see that he was still conscious.

“Touché, buster,” I said, and set course for the return trip down around the foot of Manhattan, back toward the Queen.


It took a while, but that was all right; it gave everybody a nice long time to get plastered. I sneaked aboard, carrying Arthur, and turned him over to Vern. Then I rejoined the Major. He was making an inspection tour of the ship⁠—what he called an inspection, after his fashion.

He peered into the engine rooms and said: “Ah, fine.”

He stared at the generators that were turning over and nodded when I explained we needed them for power for lights and everything and said: “Ah, of course.”

He opened a couple of stateroom doors at random and said: “Ah, nice.”

And he went up on the flying bridge with me and such of his officers as still could walk and said: “Ah.”

Then he said in a totally different tone: “What the devil’s the matter over there?”

He was staring east through the muggy haze. I saw right away what it was that was bothering him⁠—easy, because I knew where to look. The power plant way over on the East Side was billowing smoke.

“Where’s Vern Engdahl? That gadget of his isn’t working right!”

“You mean Arthur?”

“I mean that brain in a bottle. It’s Engdahl’s responsibility, you know!”

Vern came up out of the wheelhouse and cleared his throat. “Major,” he said earnestly, “I think there’s some trouble over there. Maybe you ought to go look for yourself.”

“Trouble?”

“I, uh, hear there’ve been power failures,” Vern said lamely. “Don’t you think you ought to inspect it? I mean just in case there’s something serious?”

The Major stared at him frostily, and then his mood changed. He took a drink from the glass in his hand, quickly finishing it off.

“Ah,” he said, “hell with it. Why spoil a good party? If there are going to be power failures, why, let them be. That’s my motto!”

Vern and I looked at each other. He shrugged slightly, meaning, well, we tried. And I shrugged slightly, meaning, what did you expect? And then he glanced upward, meaning, take a look at what’s there.

But I didn’t really have to look because I heard what it was. In fact, I’d been hearing it for some time. It was the Major’s entire air force⁠—two helicopters, swirling around us at an average altitude of a hundred feet or so. They showed up bright against the gathering clouds overhead, and I looked at them with considerable interest⁠—partly because I considered it an even-money bet that one of them would be playing crumple-fender with our stacks, partly because I had an idea that they were not there solely for show.

I said to the Major: “Chief, aren’t they coming a little close? I mean it’s your ship and all, but what if one of them takes a spill into the bridge while you’re here?”

He grinned. “They know better,” he bragged. “Ah, besides, I want them close. I mean if anything went wrong.”

I said, in a tone that showed as much deep hurt as I could manage: “Sir, what could go wrong?”

“Oh, you know.” He patted my shoulder limply. “Ah, no offense?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Well,” I said, “let’s go below.”


All of it was done carefully, carefully as could be. The only thing was, we forgot about the typewriters. We got everybody, or as near as we could, into the Grand Salon where the food was, and right there on a table at the end of the hall was one of the typewriters clacking away. Vern had rigged them up with rolls of paper instead of sheets, and maybe that was ingenious, but it was also a headache just then. Because the typewriter was banging out:

Left four thirteen fourteen and twentyone boilers with a full head of steam and the safety valves locked Boy I tell you when those things let go youre going to hear a noise thatll knock your hat off

The Major inquired politely: “Something to do with the ship?”

“Oh, that,” said Vern. “Yeah. Just a little, uh, something to do with the ship. Say, Major, here’s the bar. Real scotch, see? Look at the label!”

The Major glanced at him with faint contempt⁠—well, he’d had the pick of the greatest collection of high-priced liquor stores in the world for ten years, so no wonder. But he allowed Vern to press a drink on him.

And the typewriter kept rattling:

Looks like rain any minute now Hoo boy Im glad I wont be in those whirlybirds when the storm starts Say Vern why dont you ever answer me Q Q Isnt it about time to take off XXX I mean get under weigh Q Q

Some of the “clerks, typists, domestic personnel and others”⁠—that was the way they were listed on the T.O.; it was only coincidence that the Major had married them all⁠—were staring at the typewriter.

“Drinks!” Vern called nervously. “Come on, girls! Drinks!”

The Major poured himself a stiff shot and asked: “What is that thing? A teletype or something?”

“That’s right,” Vern said, trailing after him as the Major wandered over to inspect it.

I give those boilers about ten more minutes Sam Well what about it Q Q Ready to shove off Q Q

The Major said, frowning faintly: “Ah, that reminds me of something. Now what is it?”

“More scotch?” Vern cried. “Major, a little more scotch?”

The Major ignored him, scowling. One of the “clerks, typists” said: “Honey, you know what it is? It’s like that pross you had, remember? It was on our wedding night, and you’d just got it, and you kept asking it to tell you limericks.”

The Major snapped his fingers. “Knew I’d get it,” he glowed. Then abruptly he scowled again and turned to face Vern and me. “Say⁠—” he began.

I said weakly: “The boilers.”

The Major stared at me, then glanced out the window. “What boilers?” he demanded. “It’s just a thunderstorm. Been building up all day. Now what about this? Is that thing⁠—”

But Vern was paying him no attention. “Thunderstorm?” he yelled. “Arthur, you listening? Are the helicopters gone?”

YesYesYes

“Then shove off, Arthur! Shove off!”

The typewriter rattled and slammed madly.

The Major yelled angrily: “Now listen to me, you! I’m asking you a question!”

But we didn’t have to answer, because there was a thrumming and a throbbing underfoot, and then one of the “clerks, typists” screamed: “The dock!” She pointed at a porthole. “It’s moving!”

Well, we got out of there⁠—barely in time. And then it was up to Arthur. We had the whole ship to roam around in and there were plenty of places to hide. They had the whole ship to search. And Arthur was the whole ship.

Because it was Arthur, all right, brought in and hooked up by Vern, attained to his greatest dream and ambition. He was skipper of a superliner, and more than any skipper had ever been⁠—the ship was his body, as the prosthetic tank had never been; the keel his belly, the screws his feet, the engines his heart and lungs, and every moving part that could be hooked into central control his many, many hands.

Search for us? They were lucky they could move at all! Fire Control washed them with salt water hoses, directed by Arthur’s brain. Watertight doors, proof against sinking, locked them away from us at Arthur’s whim.

The big bull whistle overhead brayed like a clamoring Gabriel, and the ship’s bells tinkled and clanged. Arthur backed that enormous ship out of its berth like a racing scull on the Schuylkill. The four giant screws lashed the water into white foam, and then the thin mud they sucked up into tan; and the ship backed, swerved, lashed the water, stopped, and staggered crazily forward.

Arthur brayed at the Statue of Liberty, tooted goodbye to Staten Island, feinted a charge at Sandy Hook and really laid back his ears and raced once he got to deep water past the moored lightship.

We were off!

Well, from there on, it was easy. We let Arthur have his fun with the Major and the bodyguards⁠—and by the sodden, whimpering shape they were in when they came out, it must really have been fun for him. There were just the three of us and only Vern and I had guns⁠—but Arthur had the Queen Elizabeth, and that put the odds on our side.

We gave the Major a choice: row back to Coney Island⁠—we offered him a boat, free of charge⁠—or come along with us as cabin boy. He cast one dim-eyed look at the hundred and nine “clerks, typists” and at Amy, who would never be the hundred and tenth.

And then he shrugged and, game loser, said: “Ah, why not? I’ll come along.”


And why not, when you come to think of it? I mean ruling a city is nice and all that, but a sea voyage is a refreshing change. And while a hundred and nine to one is a respectable female-male ratio, still it must be wearing; and eighty to thirty isn’t so bad, either. At least, I guess that was what was in the Major’s mind. I know it was what was in mine.

And I discovered that it was in Amy’s, for the first thing she did was to march me over to the typewriter and say: “You’ve had it, Sam. We’ll dispose with the wedding march⁠—just get your friend Arthur here to marry us.”

“Arthur?”

“The captain,” she said. “We’re on the high seas and he’s empowered to perform marriages.”

Vern looked at me and shrugged, meaning, you asked for this one, boy. And I looked at him and shrugged, meaning, it could be worse.

And indeed it could. We’d got our ship; we’d got our ship’s company⁠—because, naturally, there wasn’t any use stealing a big ship for just a couple of us. We’d had to manage to get a sizable colony aboard. That was the whole idea.

The world, in fact, was ours. It could have been very much worse indeed, even though Arthur was laughing so hard as he performed the ceremony that he jammed up all his keys.

Wolfbane

By Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

I

Roget Germyn, banker, of Wheeling, West Virginia, a Citizen, woke gently from a Citizen’s dreamless sleep. It was the third-hour-rising time, the time proper to a day of exceptional opportunity to appreciate.

Citizen Germyn dressed himself in the clothes proper for the appreciation of great works⁠—such as viewing the Empire State ruins against storm clouds from a small boat, or walking in silent single file across the remaining course of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or as today⁠—one hoped⁠—witnessing the Re-creation of the Sun.

Germyn with difficulty retained a Citizen’s necessary calm. One was tempted to meditate on improper things: Would the Sun be re-created? What if it were not?

He put his mind to his dress. First of all, he put on an old and storied bracelet, a veritable identity bracelet of heavy silver links and a plate which was inscribed:

P.F.C. Joe Hartmann
Korea
1953

His fellow jewelry-appreciators would have envied him that bracelet⁠—if they had been capable of such an emotion as envy. No other I.D. bracelet as much as two hundred and fifty years old was known to exist in Wheeling.

His finest shirt and pair of light pants went next to his skin, and over them he wore a loose parka whose seams had been carefully weakened. When the Sun was re-created, every five years or so, it was the custom to remove the parka gravely and rend it with the prescribed graceful gestures⁠ ⁠… but not so drastically that it could not be stitched together again. Hence the weakened seams.

This was, he counted, the forty-first day on which he and all of Wheeling had donned the appropriate Sun Re-creation clothing. It was the forty-first day on which the Sun⁠—no longer white, no longer blazing yellow, no longer even bright red⁠—had risen and displayed a color that was darker maroon and always darker.

It had, thought Citizen Germyn, never grown so dark and so cold in all of his life. Perhaps it was an occasion for special viewing. For surely it would never come again, this opportunity to see the old Sun so near to death.⁠ ⁠…

One hoped.

Gravely, Citizen Germyn completed his dressing, thinking only of the act of dressing itself. It was by no means his specialty, but he considered, when it was done, that he had done it well, in the traditional flowing gestures, with no flailing, at all times balanced lightly on the ball of the foot. It was all the more perfectly consummated because no one saw it but himself.

He woke his wife gently, by placing the palm of his hand on her forehead as she lay neatly, in the prescribed fashion, on the Woman’s Third of the bed.

The warmth of his hand gradually penetrated the layers of sleep. Her eyes demurely opened.

“Citizeness Germyn,” he greeted her, making the assurance-of-identity sign with his left hand.

“Citizen Germyn,” she said, with the assurance-of-identity inclination of the head which was prescribed when the hands are covered.

He retired to his tiny study.

It was the time appropriate to meditation on the properties of Connectivity. Citizen Germyn was skilled in meditation, even for a banker; it was a grace in which he had schooled himself since earliest childhood.

Citizen Germyn, his young face composed, his slim body erect as he sat but in no way tense or straining, successfully blanked out, one after another, all of the external sounds and sights and feelings that interfered with proper meditation. His mind was very nearly vacant except of one central problem: Connectivity.

Over his head and behind, out of sight, the cold air of the room seemed to thicken and form a⁠—call it a blob; a blob of air.

There was a name for those blobs of air. They had been seen before. They were a known fact of existence in Wheeling and in all the world. They came. They hovered. And they went away⁠—sometimes not alone. If someone had been in the room with Citizen Germyn to look at it, he would have seen a distortion, a twisting of what was behind the blob, like flawed glass, a lens, like an eye. And they were called Eye.

Germyn meditated.

The blob of air grew and slowly moved. A vagrant current that spun out from it caught a fragment of paper and whirled it to the floor. Germyn stirred. The blob retreated.

Germyn, all unaware, disciplined his thoughts to disregard the interruption, to return to the central problem of Connectivity. The blob hovered.⁠ ⁠…

From the other room, his wife’s small, thrice-repeated throat-clearing signaled to him that she was dressed. Germyn got up to go to her, his mind returning to the world; and the overhead Eye spun relentlessly, and disappeared.


Some miles east of Wheeling, Glenn Tropile⁠—of a class which found it wisest to give itself no special name, and which had devoted much time and thought to shaking the unwelcome name it had been given⁠—awoke on the couch of his apartment.

He sat up, shivering. It was cold. The damned Sun was still bloody dark outside the window and the apartment was soggy and chilled.

He had kicked off the blankets in his sleep. Why couldn’t he learn to sleep quietly, like anybody else? Lacking a robe, he clutched the blankets around him, got up and walked to the unglassed window.

It was not unusual for Glenn Tropile to wake up on his couch. This happened because Gala Tropile had a temper, was inclined to exile him from her bed after a quarrel, and⁠—the operative factor⁠—he knew he always had the advantage over her for the whole day following the night’s exile. Therefore the quarrel was worth it. An advantage was, by definition, worth anything you paid for it or else it was no advantage.

He could hear her moving about in one of the other rooms and cocked an ear, satisfied. She hadn’t waked him. Therefore she was about to make amends. A little itch in his spine or his brain⁠—it was not a physical itch, so he couldn’t locate it; he could only be sure that it was there⁠—stopped troubling him momentarily; he was winning a contest. It was Glenn Tropile’s nature to win contests⁠ ⁠… and his nature to create them.

Gala Tropile, young, dark, attractive, with a haunted look, came in tentatively carrying coffee from some secret hoard of hers.

Glenn Tropile affected not to notice. He stared coldly out at the cold landscape. The sea, white with thin ice, was nearly out of sight, so far had it retreated as the little sun waned.

“Glenn⁠—”

Ah, good! Glenn. Where was the proper mode of first-greeting-one’s-husband? Where was the prescribed throat-clearing upon entering a room?

Assiduously, he had untaught her the meticulous ritual of manners that they had all of them been brought up to know; and it was the greatest of his many victories over her that sometimes, now, she was the aggressor, she would be the first to depart from the formal behavior prescribed for Citizens.

Depravity! Perversion!

Sometimes they would touch each other at times which were not the appropriate coming-together times, Gala sitting on her husband’s lap in the late evening, perhaps, or Tropile kissing her awake in the morning. Sometimes he would force her to let him watch her dress⁠—no, not now, for the cold of the waning sun made that sort of frolic unattractive, but she had permitted it before; and such was his mastery over her that he knew she would permit it again, when the Sun was re-created.⁠ ⁠…

If, a thought came to him, if the Sun was re-created.

He turned away from the cold outside and looked at his wife. “Good morning, darling.” She was contrite.

He demanded jarringly: “Is it?” Deliberately he stretched, deliberately he yawned, deliberately he scratched his chest. Every movement was ugly. Gala Tropile quivered, but said nothing.

Tropile flung himself on the better of the two chairs, one hairy leg protruding from under the wrapped blankets. His wife was on her best behavior⁠—in his unique terms; she didn’t avert her eyes.

“What’ve you got there?” he asked. “Coffee?”

“Yes, dear. I thought⁠—”

“Where’d you get it?”

The haunted eyes looked away. Still better, thought Glenn Tropile, more satisfied even than usual; she’s been ransacking an old warehouse again. It was a trick he had taught her, and like all of the illicit tricks she had learned from him, a handy weapon when he chose to use it.

It was not prescribed that a Citizen should rummage through Old Places. A Citizen did his work, whatever that work might be⁠—banker, baker or furniture repairman. He received what rewards were his due for the work he did. A Citizen never took anything that was not his due⁠—not even if it lay abandoned and rotting.

It was one of the differences between Glenn Tropile and the people he moved among.

I’ve got it made, he exulted; it was what I needed to clinch my victory over her.

He spoke: “I need you more than I need coffee, Gala.”

She looked up, troubled.

“What would I do,” he demanded, “if a beam fell on you one day while you were scrambling through the fancy groceries? How can you take such chances? Don’t you know what you mean to me?”

She sniffed a couple of times. She said brokenly: “Darling, about last night⁠—I’m sorry⁠—” and miserably held out the cup. He took it and set it down. He took her hand, looked up at her, and kissed it lingeringly. He felt her tremble. Then she gave him a wild, adoring look and flung herself into his arms.

A new dominance cycle was begun at the moment he returned her frantic kisses.

Glenn knew, and Gala knew, that he had over her an edge, an advantage⁠—the weather gauge, initiative of fire, percentage, the can’t-lose lack of tension. Call it anything, but it was life itself to such as Glenn Tropile. He knew, and she knew, that having the advantage he would press it and she would yield⁠—on and on, in a rising spiral.

He did it because it was his life, the attaining of an advantage over anyone he might encounter; because he was (unwelcomely but justly) called a Son of the Wolf.


A world away, a Pyramid squatted sullenly on the planed-off top of the highest peak of the Himalayas.

It had not been built there. It had not been carried there by Man or Man’s machines. It had⁠—come, in its own time; for its own reasons.

Did it wake on that day, the thing atop Mount Everest, or did it ever sleep? Nobody knew. It stood, or sat, there, approximately a tetrahedron. Its appearance was known: constructed on a base line of some thirty-five yards, slaggy, midnight-blue in color. Almost nothing else about it was known⁠—at least, to mankind.

It was the only one of its kind on Earth, though men thought (without much sure knowledge) that there were more, perhaps many thousands more, like it on the unfamiliar planet that was Earth’s binary, swinging around the miniature Sun that hung at their common center of gravity like an unbalanced dumbbell. But men knew very little about that planet itself, only that it had come out of space and was now there.

Time was when men had tried to label that binary, more than two centuries before, when it had first appeared. “Runaway Planet.” “The Invader.” “Rejoice in Messias, the Day Is at Hand.” The labels were sense-free; they were Xs in an equation, signifying only that there was something there which was unknown.

“The Runaway Planet” stopped running when it closed on Earth.

“The Invader” didn’t invade; it merely sent down one slaggy, midnight-blue tetrahedron to Everest.

And “Rejoice in Messias” stole Earth from its sun⁠—with Earth’s old moon, which it converted into a miniature sun of its own.

That was the time when men were plentiful and strong⁠—or thought they were⁠—with many huge cities and countless powerful machines. It didn’t matter. The new binary planet showed no interest in the cities or the machines.

There was a plague of things like Eyes⁠—dust-devils without dust, motionless air that suddenly tensed and quivered into lenticular shapes. They came with the planet and the Pyramid, so that there probably was some connection. But there was nothing to do about the Eyes. Striking at them was like striking at air⁠—was the same thing, in fact.

While the men and machines tried uselessly to do something about it, the new binary system⁠—the stranger planet and Earth⁠—began to move, accelerating very slowly.

But accelerating.

In a week, astronomers knew something was happening. In a month, the Moon sprang into flame and became a new sun⁠—beginning to be needed, for already the parent Sol was visibly more distant, and in a few years it was only one other star among many.

When the little sun was burned to a clinker, they⁠—whoever “they” were, for men saw only the one Pyramid⁠—would hang a new one in the sky. It happened every five clock-years, more or less. It was the same old moon-turned-sun, but it burned out, and the fires needed to be rekindled.

The first of these suns had looked down on an Earthly population of ten billion. As the sequence of suns waxed and waned, there were changes, climatic fluctuation, all but immeasurable differences in the quantity and kind of radiation from the new source.

The changes were such that the forty-fifth such sun looked down on a shrinking human race that could not muster up a hundred million.

A frustrated man drives inward; it is the same with a race. The hundred million that clung to existence were not the same as the bold, vital ten billion.

The thing on Everest had, in its time, received many labels, too: The Devil, The Friend, The Beast, A Pseudo-living Entity of Quite Unknown Electrochemical Properties.

All these labels were also Xs.

If it did wake that morning, it did not open its eyes, for it had no eyes⁠—apart from the quivers of air that might or might not belong to it. Eyes might have been gouged; therefore it had none. So an illogical person might have argued⁠—and yet it was tempting to apply the “purpose, not function” fallacy to it. Limbs could be crushed; it had no limbs. Ears could be deafened; it had none. Through a mouth, it might be poisoned; it had no mouth. Intentions and actions could be frustrated; apparently it had neither.

It was there. That was all.

It and others like it had stolen the Earth and the Earth did not know why. It was there. And the one thing on Earth you could not do was hurt it, influence it, or coerce it in any way whatever.

It was there⁠—and it, or the masters it represented, owned the Earth by right of theft. Utterly. Beyond human hope of challenge or redress.

II

Citizen and Citizeness Roget Germyn walked down Pine Street in the chill and dusk of⁠—one hoped⁠—a Sun Re-creation Morning.

It was the convention to pretend that this was a morning like any other morning. It was not proper either to cast frequent hopeful glances at the sky, nor yet to seem disturbed or afraid because this was, after all, the forty-first such morning since those whose specialty was Sky Viewing had come to believe the Re-creation of the Sun was near.

The Citizen and his Citizeness exchanged the assurance-of-identity sign with a few old friends and stopped to converse. This also was a convention of skill divorced from purpose. The conversation was without relevance to anything that any one of the participants might know, or think, or wish to ask.

Germyn said for his friends a twenty-word poem he had made in honor of the occasion and heard their responses. They did line-capping for a while⁠—until somebody indicated unhappiness and a wish to change by frowning the Two Grooves between his brows. The game was deftly ended with an improvised rhymed exchange.

Casually, Citizen Germyn glanced aloft. The sky-change had not begun yet; the dying old Sun hung just over the horizon, east and south, much more south than east. It was an ugly thought, but suppose, thought Germyn, just suppose that the Sun were not re-created today? Or tomorrow. Or⁠—

Or ever.

The Citizen got a grip on himself and told his wife: “We shall dine at the oatmeal stall.”

The Citizeness did not immediately reply. When Germyn glanced at her with well-masked surprise, he found her almost staring down the dim street at a Citizen who moved almost in a stride, almost swinging his arms. Scarcely graceful.

“That might be more Wolf than man,” she said doubtfully.

Germyn knew the fellow. Tropile was his name. One of those curious few who made their homes outside of Wheeling, though they were not farmers. Germyn had had banking dealings with him⁠—or would have had, if it had been up to Tropile.

“That is a careless man,” he decided, “and an ill-bred one.”

They moved toward the oatmeal stall with the gait of Citizens, arms limp, feet scarcely lifted, slumped forward a little. It was the ancient gait of fifteen hundred calories per day, not one of which could be squandered.

There was a need for more calories. So many for walking, so many for gathering food. So many for the economical pleasures of the Citizens, so many more⁠—oh, many more, these days!⁠—to keep out the cold. Yet there were no more calories; the diet the whole world lived on was a bare subsistence diet.

It was impossible to farm well when half the world’s land was part of the time drowned in the rising sea, part of the time smothered in falling snow.

Citizens knew this and, knowing, did not struggle⁠—it was ungraceful to struggle, particularly when one could not win. Only⁠—well, Wolves struggled, wasting calories, lacking grace.

Citizen Germyn turned his mind to more pleasant things.

He allowed himself his First Foretaste of the oatmeal. It would be warm in the bowl, hot in the throat, a comfort in the belly. There was a great deal of pleasure there, in weather like this, when the cold plucked through the loosened seams and the wind came up the sides of the hills. Not that there wasn’t pleasure in the cold itself, for that matter. It was proper that one should be cold now, just before the re-creation of the Sun, when the old Sun was smoky-red and the new one not yet kindled.

“⁠—still looks like Wolf to me,” his wife was muttering.

“Cadence,” Germyn reproved his Citizeness, but took the sting out of it with a Quirked Smile.

The man with the ugly manners was standing at the very bar of the oatmeal stall where they were heading. In the gloom of mid-morning, he was all angles and strained lines. His head was turned awkwardly on his shoulder, peering toward the back of the stall where the vendor was rhythmically measuring grain into a pot. His hands were resting helter-skelter on the counter, not hanging by his sides.

Citizen Germyn felt a faint shudder from his wife. But he did not reprove her again, for who could blame her? The exhibition was revolting.

She said faintly: “Citizen, might we dine on bread this morning?”

He hesitated and glanced again at the ugly man. He said indulgently, knowing that he was indulgent: “On Sun Re-creation Morning, the Citizeness may dine on bread.” Bearing in mind the occasion, it was only a small favor and therefore a very proper one.

The bread was good, very good. They shared out the half-kilo between them and ate it in silence, as it deserved. Germyn finished his first portion and, in the prescribed pause before beginning his second, elected to refresh his eyes upward.

He nodded to his wife and stepped outside.

Overhead, the Old Sun parceled out its last barrel-scrapings of heat. It was larger than the stars around it, but many of them were nearly as bright.

A high-pitched male voice said: “Citizen Germyn, good morning.”

Germyn was caught off balance. He took his eyes off the sky, half turned, glanced at the face of the person who had spoken to him, raised his hand in the assurance-of-identity sign. It was all very quick and fluid⁠—almost too quick, for he had had his fingers bent nearly into the sign for female friends and this was a man. Citizen Boyne. Germyn knew him well; they had shared the Ice Viewing at Niagara a year before.

Germyn recovered quickly enough, but it had been disconcerting.

He improvised swiftly: “There are stars, but are stars still there if there is no Sun?” It was a hurried effort, he grieved, but no doubt Boyne would pick it up and carry it along. Boyne had always been very good, very graceful.

Boyne did no such thing. “Good morning,” he said again, faintly. He glanced at the stars overhead, as though trying to unravel what Germyn was talking about. He said accusingly, his voice cracking sharply: “There isn’t any Sun, Germyn. What do you think of that?”

Germyn swallowed. “Citizen, perhaps you⁠—”

“No Sun, you hear me!” the man sobbed. “It’s cold, Germyn. The Pyramids aren’t going to give us another Sun, do you know that? They’re going to starve us, freeze us; they’re through with us. We’re done, all of us!” He was nearly screaming.

All up and down Pine Street, people were trying not to look at him and some of them were failing.

Boyne clutched at Germyn helplessly. Revolted, Germyn drew back⁠—bodily contact!

It seemed to bring the man to his senses. Reason returned to his eyes. He said: “I⁠—” He stopped, stared about him. “I think I’ll have bread for breakfast,” he said foolishly, and plunged into the stall.

Boyne left behind him a shaken Citizen, caught halfway into the wrist-flip of parting, staring after him with jaw slack and eyes wide, as though Germyn had no manners, either.

All this on Sun Re-creation Day!

What could it mean? Germyn wondered fretfully, worriedly.

Was Boyne on the point of⁠—

Could Boyne be about to⁠—

Germyn drew back from the thought. There was one thing that might explain Boyne’s behavior. But it was not a proper speculation for one Citizen to make about another.

All the same⁠—Germyn dared the thought⁠—all the same, it did seem almost as though Citizen Boyne were on the point of⁠—well, running amok.


At the oatmeal stall, Glenn Tropile thumped on the counter. The laggard oatmeal vendor finally brought the ritual bowl of salt and the pitcher of thin milk. Tropile took his paper twist of salt from the top of the neatly arranged pile in the bowl. He glanced at the vendor. His fingers hesitated. Then, quickly, he ripped the twist of paper into his oatmeal and covered it to the permitted level with the milk.

He ate quickly and efficiently, watching the street outside.

They were wandering and mooning about, as always⁠—maybe today more than most days, since they hoped it would be the day the Sun blossomed flame once more.

Tropile always thought of the wandering, mooning Citizens as they. There was a we somewhere for Tropile, no doubt, but Tropile had not as yet located it, not even in the bonds of the marriage contract.

He was in no hurry. At the age of fourteen, Glenn Tropile had reluctantly come to realize certain things about himself⁠—that he disliked being bested, that he had to have a certain advantage in all his dealings, or an intolerable itch of the mind drove him to discomfort. The things added up to a terrifying fear, gradually becoming knowledge, that the only we that could properly include him was one that it was not very wise to join.

He had realized, in fact, that he was a Wolf.

For some years, Tropile had struggled against it, for Wolf was an obscene word; the children he played with were punished severely for saying it, and for almost nothing else.

It was not proper for one Citizen to advantage himself at the expense of another; Wolves did that.

It was proper for a Citizen to accept what he had, not to strive for more, to find beauty in small things, to accommodate himself, with the minimum of strain and awkwardness, to whatever his life happened to be.

Wolves were not like that. Wolves never meditated, Wolves never Appreciated, Wolves never were Translated⁠—that supreme fulfillment, granted only to those who succeeded in a perfect meditation, that surrender of the world and the flesh by taking leave of both, which could never be achieved by a Wolf.

Accordingly, Glenn Tropile had tried very hard to do all the things that Wolves could not do.

He had nearly succeeded. His specialty, Water Watching, had been most rewarding. He had achieved many partly successful meditations on Connectivity.

And yet he was still a Wolf, for he still felt that burning, itching urge to triumph and to hold an advantage. For that reason, it was almost impossible for him to make friends among the Citizens; and gradually he had almost stopped trying.

Tropile had arrived in Wheeling nearly a year before, making him one of the early settlers in point of time. And yet there was not a Citizen in the street who was prepared to exchange recognition gestures with him.

He knew them, nearly every one. He knew their names and their wives’ names. He knew what northern states they had moved down from with the spreading of the ice, as the sun grew dim. He knew very nearly to the quarter of a gram what stores of sugar and salt and coffee each one of them had put away⁠—for their guests, of course, not for themselves; the well-bred Citizen hoarded only for the entertainment of others.

Tropile knew these things because there was an advantage in knowing them. But there was no advantage in having anyone know him.

A few did⁠—that banker, Germyn; Tropile had approached him only a few months before about a prospective loan. But it had been a chancy, nervous encounter. The idea was so luminously simple to Tropile⁠—organize an expedition to the coal mines that once had flourished nearby, find the coal, bring it to Wheeling, heat the houses. And yet it had seemed blasphemous to Germyn. Tropile had counted himself lucky merely to have been refused the loan, instead of being cried out upon as Wolf.

The oatmeal vendor was fussing worriedly around his neat stack of paper twists in the salt bowl.

Tropile avoided the man’s eyes. Tropile was not interested in the little wry smile of self-deprecation which the vendor would make to him, given half a chance. Tropile knew well enough what was disturbing the vendor. Let it disturb him. It was Tropile’s custom to take extra twists of salt. They were in his pockets now; they would stay there. Let the vendor wonder why he was short.

Tropile licked the bowl of his spoon and stepped into the street. He was comfortably aware under a double-thick parka that the wind was blowing very cold.

A Citizen passed him, walking alone: odd, thought Tropile. He was walking rapidly and there was a look of taut despair on his face. Still more odd. Odd enough to be worth another look, because that sort of haste, that sort of abstraction, suggested something to Tropile. They were in no way normal to the gentle sheep of the class They, except in one particular circumstance.

Glenn Tropile crossed the street to follow the abstracted Citizen, whose name, he knew, was Boyne. The man blundered into Citizen Germyn outside the baker’s stall, and Tropile stood back out of easy sight, watching and listening.

Boyne was on the ragged edge of breakdown. What Tropile heard and saw confirmed his diagnosis. The one particular circumstance was close to happening⁠—Citizen Boyne was on the verge of running amok.

Tropile looked at the man with amusement and contempt. Amok! The gentle sheep could be pushed too far. He had seen Citizens run amok, the signs were obvious.

There was pretty sure to be an advantage in it for Glenn Tropile. There was an advantage in almost anything, if you looked for it.

He watched and waited. He picked his spot with care, so that he could see Citizen Boyne inside the baker’s stall, making a dismal botch of slashing his quarter-kilo of bread from the Morning Loaf.

He waited for Boyne to come racing out.⁠ ⁠…

Boyne did.

A yell⁠—loud, piercing. It was Citizen Germyn, shrilling: “Amok, amok!” A scream. An enraged wordless cry from Boyne, and the baker’s knife glinting in the faint light as Boyne swung it. And then Citizens were scattering in every direction⁠—all of the Citizens but one.

One Citizen was under the knife⁠—his own knife, as it happened; it was the baker himself. Boyne chopped and chopped again. And then Boyne came out, roaring, the broad knife whistling about his head. The gentle Citizens fled panicked before him. He struck at their retreating forms and screamed and struck again. Amok.

It was the one particular circumstance when they forgot to be gracious⁠—one of the two, Tropile corrected himself as he strolled across to the baker’s stall. His brow furrowed, because there was another circumstance when they lacked grace, and one which affected him nearly.

He watched the maddened creature, Boyne, already far down the road, chasing a knot of Citizens around a corner. Tropile sighed and stepped into the baker’s stall to see what he might gain from this.

Boyne would wear himself out⁠—the surging rage would leave him as quickly as it came; he would be a sheep again and the other sheep would close in and capture him. That was what happened when a Citizen ran amok. It was a measure of what pressures were on the Citizens that, at any moment, there might be one gram of pressure too much and one of them would crack. It had happened here in Wheeling twice within the past two months. Glenn Tropile had seen it happen in Pittsburgh, Altoona and Bronxville.

There is a limit to the pressure that can be endured.

Tropile walked into the baker’s stall and looked down without emotion at the slaughtered baker. The corpse was a gory mess, but Tropile had seen corpses before.

He looked around the stall, calculating. As a starter, he bent to pick up the quarter-kilo of bread Boyne had dropped, dusted it off and slipped it into his pocket. Food was always useful. Given enough food, perhaps Boyne would not have run amok.

Was it simple hunger they cracked under? Or the knowledge of the thing on Mount Everest, or the hovering Eyes, or the sought-after-dreaded prospect of Translation, or merely the strain of keeping up their laboriously figured lives?

Did it matter? They cracked and ran amok, and Tropile never would, and that was what mattered.

He leaned across the counter, reaching for what was left of the Morning Loaf⁠—

And found himself staring into the terrified large eyes of Citizeness Germyn.

She screamed: “Wolf! Citizens, help me! Wolf!”

Tropile faltered. He hadn’t even seen the damned woman, but there she was, rising up from behind the counter, screaming her head off: “Wolf! Wolf!”

He said sharply: “Citizeness, I beg you⁠—” But that was no good. The evidence was on him and her screams would fetch others.

Tropile panicked. He started toward her to silence her, but that was no good, either. He whirled. She was screaming, screaming, and there were people to hear. Tropile darted into the street, but they were popping out of every doorway now, appearing from each rat’s hole in which they had hid to escape Boyne.

“Please!” he cried, sobbing. “Wait a minute!”

But they weren’t waiting. They had heard the woman and maybe some of them had seen him with the bread. They were all around him⁠—no, they were all over him; they were clutching at him, tearing at his soft, warm furs.

They pulled at his pockets and the stolen twists of salt spilled accusingly out. They yanked at his sleeves and even the stout, unweakened seams ripped open. He was fairly captured.

“Wolf!” they were shouting. “Wolf!” It drowned out the distant noise from where Boyne had finally been run to earth, a block and more away. It drowned out everything.

It was the other circumstance when they forgot to be gracious: when they had trapped a Son of the Wolf.

III

Engineering had long ago come to an end.

Engineering is possible under one condition of the equation: Total available Calories divided by Population equals Artistic-Technological Style. When the ratio Calories-to-Population is large⁠—say, five thousand or more, five thousand daily calories for every living person⁠—then the Artistic-Technological Style is big. People carve Mount Rushmore; they build great foundries; they manufacture enormous automobiles to carry one housewife half a mile for the purchase of one lipstick.

Life is coarse and rich where C ∶ P is large. At the other extreme, where C ∶ P is too small, life does not exist at all. It has starved out.

Experimentally, add little increments to C ∶ P and it will be some time before the right-hand side of the equation becomes significant. But at last, in the 1,000 to 1,500 calorie range, Artistic-Technological Style firmly appears in self-perpetuating form. C ∶ P in that range produces the small arts, the appreciations, the peaceful arrangements of necessities into subtle relationships of traditionally agreed-upon virtue.

Think of Japan, locked into its Shogunate prison, with a hungry population scrabbling food out of mountainsides and beauty out of arrangements of lichens. The small, inexpensive sub-sub-arts are characteristic of the 1,000 to 1,500 calorie range.

And this was the range of Earth, the world of ten billion men, when the planet was stolen by its new binary.

Some few persons inexpensively studied the study of science with pencil and renewable paper, but the last research accelerator had long since been shut down. The juice from its hydro-power dam was needed to supply meager light to a million homes and to cook the pablum for two million brand-new babies.

In those days, one dedicated Byzantine wrote the definitive encyclopedia of engineering (though he was no engineer). Its four hundred and twenty tiny volumes examined exhaustively the engineering feats of ancient Greece and Egypt, the Wall of Shih-Hwang Ti, the Gothic builders, Brunel who changed the face of England, the Roeblings of Brooklyn, Groves of the Pentagon, Duggan of the Shelter System (before C ∶ P dropped to the point where war became vanishingly implausible), Levern of Operation Up. But the encyclopedist could not use a slide rule without thinking, faltering, jotting down his decimals.

And then⁠ ⁠… the magnitudes grew less.

Under the tectonic and climatic battering of the great abduction of Earth from its primary, under the sine-wave advances to and retreats from the equator of the ice sheath, as the small successor Suns waxed, waned, died and were replaced, the ratio C ∶ P remained stable. C had diminished enormously; so had P. As the calories to support life grew scarce, so the consuming mouths of mankind grew less in number.

The forty-fifth small Sun shone on no engineers.

Not even on the binary, perhaps. The Pyramids, the things on the binary, the thing on Mount Everest⁠—they were not engineers. They employed a crude metaphysic based on dissection and shoving.

They had no elegant field theories. All they knew was that everything came apart, and that if you pushed a thing, it would move.

If your biggest push would not move a thing, you took it apart and pushed the parts, and then it would move. Sometimes, for nuclear effects, they had to take things apart into 3 × 109 pieces and shove each piece very carefully.

By taking apart and shoving, then, they landed their one spaceship on the burned-out sunlet. Four human beings were on that ship. They meditated briefly on Connectivity and died screaming.

A point of new flame appeared on the sunlet’s surface and the spaceship scrambled for the binary. The point of flame went from cherry through orange into the blue-white and began to spread.


At the moment of the Re-creation of the Sun, there was rejoicing on the Earth.

Not quite everywhere, though. In Wheeling’s House of the Five Regulations, Glenn Tropile waited unquietly for death. Citizen Boyne, who had run amok and slaughtered the baker, shared Tropile’s room and his doom, but not his rage. Boyne, with demure pleasure, was composing his death poem.

“Talk to me!” snapped Tropile. “Why are we here? What did you do and why did you do it? What have I done? Why don’t I pick up a bench and kill you with it? You would’ve killed me two hours ago if I’d caught your eye!”

There was no satisfaction in Citizen Boyne; the passions were burned out of him. He politely tendered Tropile a famous aphorism: “Citizen, the art of living is the substitution of unimportant, answerable questions for important, unanswerable ones. Come, let us appreciate the newborn Sun.”

He turned to the window, where the spark of blue-white flame in what had once been the crater of Tycho was beginning to spread across the charred moon.

Tropile was child enough of his culture to turn with him, almost involuntarily. He was silent. That blue-white infinitesimal up there growing slowly⁠—the oneness, the calm rapture of Being in a universe that you shaded into without harsh discontinua, the being one with the great blue-white gem-flower blossoming now in the heavens that were no different stuff than you yourself⁠—

He closed his eyes, calm, and meditated on Connectivity.

He was being Good.

By the time the fusion reaction had covered the whole small disk of the sunlet, a quarter-hour at the most, his meditation began to wear off.

Tropile shrugged out of his torn parka, not bothering to rip it further. It was already growing warm in the room. Citizen Boyne, of course, was carefully opening every seam with graceful rending motions, miming great and smooth effort of the biceps and trapezius.

But the meditation was over, and as Tropile watched his cellmate, he screamed a silent Why? Since his adolescence, that wailing syllable had seldom been far from his mind. It could be silenced by appreciation and meditation.

Tropile’s specialty was Water Watching and he was so good at it that several beginners had asked him for instruction in the subtle art, in spite of his notorious oddities of life and manner. He enjoyed Water Watching. He almost pitied anybody so single-mindedly devoted to, say, Clouds and Odors⁠—great game though it was⁠—that he had never even tried Water Watching. And after a session of Watching, when one was lucky enough to observe the Nine Boiling Stages in classic perfection, one might slip into meditation and be harmonious, feel Good.

But what did one do when the meditations failed, as they had failed him? What did one do when they came farther and farther apart, became less and less intense, could be inspired, finally, only by a huge event like the renewal of the Sun?

One went amok, he had always thought.

But he had not. Boyne had. He had been declared a Son of the Wolf, on no evidence that he could understand. Yet he had not run amok.

Still, the penalties were the same, he thought, uncomfortably aware of an unfamiliar itch⁠—not the inward intolerable itch of needing the advantage, but a localized sensation at the base of his spine. The penalties for all gross crimes⁠—Wolfhood or running amok⁠—were the same, and simply this:

They would perform the Lumbar Puncture. He would make the Donation of Spinal Fluid.

He would be dead.


The Keeper of the House of Five Regulations, an old man, Citizen Harmane, looked in on his charges⁠—approvingly at Boyne, with a beclouded expression at Glenn Tropile.

It was thought that even Wolves were entitled to the common human decencies in the brief interval between exposure and the Donation of Fluid. The Keeper would not have dreamed of scowling at the detected Wolf or of interfering with whatever wretched imitation of meditation-before-dying the creature might practice. But he could not, all the same, bring himself to offer even an assurance-of-identity gesture.

Tropile had no such qualms.

He scowled at Keeper Harmane with such ferocity that the old man almost hurried away. He turned an almost equally ugly scowl upon Citizen Boyne. How dared that knife-murderer be so calm, so relaxed!

Tropile said brutally: “They’ll kill us! You know that? They’ll stick a needle in our spines and drain us dry. It hurts. Do you understand me? They’re going to drain us, and then they’re going to drink our spinal fluid, and it’s going to hurt.”

He was gently corrected. “We shall make the Donation,” Citizen Boyne said calmly. “Is not the difference intelligible to a Son of the Wolf?”

True culture demanded that that remark be accepted as a friendly joke, probably based on a truth⁠—how else could an unpalatable truth be put in words? Otherwise the unthinkable might happen. They might quarrel. They might even come to blows!

The appropriate mild smile formed on Tropile’s lips, but harshly he wiped it off. They were going to kill him. He would not smile for them! And the effort was enormous.

“I’m not a Son of the Wolf!” he howled, desperate, knowing he was protesting to the man of all men in Wheeling who didn’t care, and who could do least about it if he did. “What’s this crazy talk about Wolves? I don’t know what a Son of the Wolf is and I don’t think you or anybody does. All I know is that I was acting sensibly. And everybody began howling! You’re supposed to know a Son of the Wolf by his unculture, his ignorance, his violence. But you chopped down three people and I only picked up a piece of bread! And I’m supposed to be the dangerous one!”

“Wolves never know they’re Wolves,” sighed Citizen Boyne. “Fish probably think they’re birds and you evidently think you’re a Citizen. Would a Citizen speak as you are speaking?”

“But they’re going to kill us!”

“Then why aren’t you composing your death poem?”

Glenn Tropile took a deep breath. Something was biting him. It was bad enough that he was about to die, bad enough that he had done nothing worth dying for. But what was gnawing at him now had nothing to do with dying.

The percentages were going the wrong way. This pale Citizen was getting an edge on him.

An engorged gland in Tropile’s adrenals⁠—it was only a pinhead in Citizen Boyne’s⁠—gushed raw hormones into his bloodstream. He could die, yes⁠—that was a skill everyone had to acquire, sooner or later. But while he was alive, he could not stand to be bested in an encounter, an argument, a relationship⁠—not and stay alive. Wolf? Call him Wolf. Call him Operator, or Percentage Player; call him Sharp Article; call him Gamesman.

If there was an advantage to be derived, he would derive it. It was the way he was put together.

He said, for time: “You’re right. Stupid of me. I must have lost my head!”

He thought. Some men think by poking problems apart; some think by laying facts side by side to compare. Tropile’s thinking was neither of these, but a species of judo. He conceded to his opponent such things as Strength, Armor, Resource. He didn’t need these things for himself; to every contest, the opponent brought enough of them to supply two. It was Tropile’s habit (and Wolfish, he had to admit) to use the opponent’s strength against him, to break the opponent against his own steel walls.

He thought.

The first thing was to make up his mind: He was Wolf. Then let him be Wolf. He wouldn’t stay around for the spinal tap; he would go from there. But how?

The second thing was to plan. There were obstacles. Citizen Boyne was one. The Keeper of the House of the Five Regulations was another.

Where was the pole which would permit him to vault over these hurdles? There was always his wife, Gala. He owned her; she would do what he wished⁠—provided he made her want to do it.

Yes, Gala. He walked to the door and shouted to Citizen Harmane: “Keeper! I must see my wife! Have her brought to me!”

It was impossible for the Keeper to refuse. He called gently, “I will invite the Citizeness,” and toddled away.

The third thing was time.

Tropile turned to Citizen Boyne. “Citizen,” he said persuasively, “since your death poem is ready and mine is not, will you be gracious enough to go first when they⁠—when they come?”

Citizen Boyne looked temperately at his cellmate and made the Quirked Smile.

“You see?” he said. “Wolf.”

And that was true. But what was also true was that Boyne couldn’t and didn’t refuse.

IV

Half a world away, the midnight-blue Pyramid sat on its planed-off peak as it had sat since the days when Earth had a real sun of its own.

It was of no importance to the Pyramid that Glenn Tropile was about to receive a slim catheter into his spine, to drain his saps and his life. It didn’t matter to the Pyramid that the pretext for the execution was an act which human history had long stopped considering a capital crime. Ritual sacrifice in any guise made no difference to the Pyramid.

The Pyramid saw them come and the Pyramid saw them go⁠—if the Pyramid could be said to “see.” One human being more or less, what matter? Who bothers to take a census of the cells in a hangnail?

And yet the Pyramid did have a kind of interest in Glenn Tropile. Or, at least, in the human race of which he was a part.

Nobody knew much about the Pyramids, but everybody knew that much. They wanted something⁠—else why would they have bothered to steal the Earth?

The date of the theft was 2027. A great year⁠—the year of the first landings on the Runaway Planet that had come blundering into the Solar System. Maybe those landings were a mistake⁠—although they were a very great triumph, too; but maybe if it hadn’t been for the landings, the Runaway Planet might have run right through the ecliptic and away.

However, the triumphal mistake was made and that was the first time a human eye saw a Pyramid.

Shortly after⁠—though not before a radio message was sent⁠—that human eye winked out forever; but by then the damage was done. What passed in a Pyramid for “attention” had been attracted. The next thing that happened set the wireless channels between Palomar and Pernambuco, between Greenwich and the Cape of Good Hope, buzzing and worrying, as astronomers all over the Earth reported and confirmed and reconfirmed the astonishing fact that our planet was on the move. Rejoice in Messias had come to take us away.

A world of ten billion people, some of them brilliant, many of them brave, built and flung the giant rockets of Operation Up at the invader: Nothing.

The first, and only, Interplanetary Expeditionary Force was boosted up to no-gravity and dropped onto the new planet to strike back: Nothing.

Earth moved spirally outward.

If a battle could not be won, then perhaps a migration. New ships were built in haste. But they lay there rusting as the sun grew small and the ice grew thick, because where was there to go? Not Mars. Not the Moon, which was trailing alone. Not choking Venus or crushing Jupiter.

The migration was defeated as surely as the war, there being no place to migrate to.

One Pyramid came to Earth, only one. It shaved the crest off the highest mountain there was and squatted on it. An observer? A warden? Whatever it was, it stayed.

The sun grew too distant to be of use, and out of the old Moon, the Pyramid aliens built a new small sun in the sky⁠—a five-year sun that burned out and was replaced, again and again and endlessly again.

It had been a fierce struggle against unbeatable odds on the part of the ten billion; and when the uselessness of struggle was demonstrated at last, many of the ten billion froze to death, and many of them starved, and nearly all of the rest had something frozen or starved out of them; and what was left, two centuries and more later, was more or less like Citizen Boyne, except for a few⁠—a very few⁠—like Glenn Tropile.


Gala Tropile stared miserably at her husband. “I want to get out of here,” he was saying urgently. “They mean to kill me. Gala, you know you can’t make yourself suffer by letting them kill me!”

She wailed: “I can’t!”

Tropile looked over his shoulder. Citizen Boyne was fingering the textured contrasts of a golden watch-case which had been his father’s⁠—and soon would be his son’s. Boyne’s eyes were closed and he wasn’t listening.

Tropile leaned forward and deliberately put his hand on his wife’s arm. She started and flushed, of course.

“You can,” he said, “and what’s more, you will. You can help me get out of here. I insist on it, Gala, because I must save you that pain.”

He took his hand off her arm, content.

He said harshly: “Darling, don’t you think I know how much we’ve always meant to each other?”

She looked at him wretchedly. Fretfully she tore at the billowing filmy sleeve of her summer blouse. The seams hadn’t been loosened; there had not been time. She had just been getting into the appropriate Sun Re-creation Day costume, to be worn under the parka, when the messenger had come with the news about her husband.

She avoided his eyes. “If you’re really Wolf.⁠ ⁠…”

Tropile’s sub-adrenals pulsed and filled him with confident strength. “You know what I am⁠—you better than anyone else.” It was a sly reminder of their curious furtive behavior together; like the hand on her arm, it had its effect. “After all, why do we quarrel the way we did last night?”

He hurried on; the job of the rowel was to spur her to action, not to inflame a wound. “Because we’re important to each other. I know that you would count on me to help if you were in trouble. And I know that you’d be hurt⁠—deeply, Gala!⁠—if I didn’t count on you.”

She sniffled and scuffed the bright strap over her open-toed sandal.

Then she met his eyes.

It was the aftereffect of the argument, of course. Glenn Tropile knew just how heavily he could rely on the after-spiral of a quarrel. She was submitting.

She glanced furtively at Citizen Boyne and lowered her voice.

“What do I have to do?” she whispered.


In five minutes, she was gone, but that was more than enough time. Tropile had at least thirty minutes left. They would take Boyne first; he had seen to that. And once Boyne was gone⁠—

Tropile wrenched a leg off his three-legged stool and sat precariously balanced on the other two. He tossed the loose leg clattering into a corner.

The Keeper of the House of Five Regulations ambled slack-bodied by and glanced into the room. “Wolf, what happened to your stool?”

Tropile made a left-handed sign of no-importance. “It doesn’t matter. Except it is hard to meditate, sitting on this thing, with every muscle tensing and fighting against every other to keep my balance.⁠ ⁠…”

The Keeper made an overruling sign of please-let-me-help. “It’s your last half-hour, Wolf,” he reminded Tropile. “I’ll fix the stool for you.”

He entered and slammed and banged it together, and left with an expression of mild concern. Even a Son of the Wolf was entitled to the fullest appreciation of that unique opportunity for meditation, the last half-hour before a Donation.

In five minutes, the Keeper was back, looking solemn and yet glad, like a bearer of serious but welcome tidings.

“It is the time for the first Donation,” he announced. “Which of you⁠—”

“Him,” said Tropile quickly, pointing.

Boyne opened his eyes calmly and nodded. He got to his feet, made a formal leavetaking bow to Tropile, and followed the Keeper toward his Donation and his death. As they were going out, Tropile coughed a would-you-please-grant-me-a-favor cough.

The Keeper paused. “What is it, Wolf?”

Tropile showed him the empty water pitcher⁠—empty, all right; he had emptied it out the window.

“My apologies,” the Keeper said, flustered, and hurried Boyne along. He came back almost at once to fill the pitcher, even though he should be there to watch Boyne’s ceremonial Donation.

Tropile stood looking at the Keeper, his sub-adrenals beginning to pound like the rolling boil of Well-aged Water. The Keeper was at a disadvantage. He had been neglectful of his charge⁠—a broken stool, no water in the pitcher. And a Citizen, brought up in a Citizen’s maze of consideration and tact, could not help but be humiliated, seeking to make amends.

Tropile pressed his advantage home. “Wait,” he said to the Keeper. “I’d like to talk to you.”

The Keeper hesitated, torn. “The Donation⁠—”

“Damn the Donation,” Tropile said calmly. “After all, what is it but sticking a pipe into a man’s backbone and sucking out the juice that keeps him alive? It’s killing, that’s all.”

The Keeper turned literally white. Tropile was speaking blasphemy and he wasn’t stopping.

“I want to tell you about my wife,” Tropile went on, assuming a confidential air. “Now there’s a real woman. Not one of these frozen-up Citizenesses, you know? Why, she and I used to⁠—” He hesitated. “You’re a man of the world, aren’t you?” he demanded. “I mean you’ve seen life.”

“I⁠—suppose so,” the Keeper said faintly.

“Then you won’t be shocked,” Tropile lied. “Well, let me tell you, there’s a lot to women that these stuffed-shirt Citizens don’t know about. Boy! Ever see a woman’s knee?” He sniggered. “Ever kiss a woman with⁠—” he winked⁠—“with the light on? Ever sit in a big armchair, say, with a woman in your lap⁠—all soft and heavy, and kind of warm, and slumped up against your chest, you know, and⁠—”

He stopped and swallowed. He was almost making himself retch, it was so hard to say these things. But he forced himself to go on: “Well, that’s what she and I used to do. Plenty. All the time. That’s what I call a real woman.”

He stopped, warned by the Keeper’s sudden change of expression, glazed eyes, strangling breath. He had gone too far. He had only wanted to paralyze the man, revolt him, put him out of commission, but he was overdoing it. He jumped forward and caught the Keeper as he fell, fainting.

Tropile callously emptied the water pitcher over the man. The Keeper sneezed and sat up groggily. He focused his eyes on Tropile and agonizedly blushed.

Tropile said harshly: “I wish to see the new sun from the street.”

The request was incredible. Even after the unbelievable obscenities he had heard, the Keeper was not prepared for this; he was staggered. Tropile was in detention regarding the Fifth Regulation. That was all there was to it. Such persons were not to be released from their quarters. The Keeper knew it, the world knew it, Tropile knew it.

It was an obscenity even greater than the lurid tales of perverted lust, for Tropile had asked something which was impossible! No one ever asked anything that was impossible to grant, for no one could ever refuse anything. That was utterly graceless, unthinkable.

One could only attempt to compromise. The Keeper stammeringly said: “May I⁠—may I let you see the new sun from the corridor?” And even that was wretchedly wrong, but he had to offer something. One always offered something. The Keeper had never since babyhood given a flat no to anybody about anything. No Citizen had. A flat no led to anger, strong words⁠—perhaps even hurt feelings. The only flat no conceivable was the enormous terminal no of an amok. Short of that⁠—

One offered. One split the difference. One was invariably filled with tepid pleasure when, invariably, the offer was accepted, the difference was split, both parties were satisfied.

“That will do for a start,” Tropile snarled. “Open, man, open! Don’t make me wait.”

The Keeper reeled and unlatched the door to the corridor.

“Now the street!”

“I can’t!” burst in an anguished cry from the Keeper. He buried his face in his hands and began to sob, hopelessly incapacitated.

“The street!” Tropile said remorselessly. He himself felt wrenchingly ill; he was going against custom that had ruled his own life as surely as the Keeper’s.

But he was Wolf. “I will be Wolf,” he growled, and advanced upon the Keeper. “My wife,” he said, “I didn’t finish telling you. Sometimes she used to put her arm around me and just snuggle up and⁠—I remember one time she kissed my ear. Broad daylight. It felt funny and warm⁠—I can’t describe it.”

Whimpering, the Keeper flung the keys at Tropile and tottered brokenly away.

He was out of the action. Tropile himself was nearly as badly off; the difference was that he continued to function. The words coming from him had seared like acid in his throat.

“They call me Wolf,” he said aloud, reeling against the wall. “I will be one.”

He unlocked the outer door and his wife was waiting, holding in her arms the things he had asked her to bring.

Tropile said strangely to her: “I am steel and fire. I am Wolf, full of the old moxie.”

She wailed: “Glenn, are you sure I’m doing the right thing?”

He laughed unsteadily and led her by the arm through the deserted streets.

V

Citizen Germyn, as was his right by position and status as a connoisseur, helped prepare Citizen Boyne for his Donation. There was nothing much to it⁠—which made it an elaborate and lengthy task, according to the ethic of the Citizens; it had to be protracted, each step being surrounded by fullest dress of ritual.

It was done in the broad daylight of the new Sun, and as many of the three hundred citizens of Wheeling as could manage it were in the courtyard of the old Federal Building to watch.

The nature of the ceremony was this: A man who revealed himself Wolf, or who finally crumbled under the demands of life and ran amok, could not be allowed to live. He was hauled before an audience of his equals and permitted⁠—with the help of regretful force, if that should be necessary, but preferably not⁠—to make the Donation of Spinal Fluid.

Execution was murder and murder was not permitted under the gentle code of Citizens; this was not execution. The draining of a man’s spinal fluid did not kill him. It only insured that, after a time and with much suffering, his internal chemistry would so arrange itself that it would continue to function, only not in a way that would sustain life.

Once the Donation was made, the problem was completely altered, of course. Suffering was bad in itself. To save the Donor from the suffering that lay ahead, it was the custom to have the oldest and gentlest Citizen on hand stand by with a sharp-edged knife. When the Donation was complete, the Donor’s head was removed⁠—purely to avert suffering. That was not execution, either, but only the hastening of an inevitable end.

The dozen or so Citizens whose rank permitted them to assist then dissolved the spinal fluids in water and ceremoniously sipped them, at which time it was proper to offer a small poem in commentary. All in all, it was a perfectly splendid opportunity for the purest form of meditation for everyone concerned.

Citizen Germyn, whose role was Catheter Bearer, took his place behind the Introducer Bearer, the Annunciators and the Questioner of Purpose. As he passed Citizen Boyne, Germyn assisted him to assume the proper crouched-over position. Boyne looked up gratefully and Germyn found the occasion correct for a commendatory half-smile.

The Questioner of Purpose said solemnly to Boyne: “It is your privilege to make a Donation here today. Do you wish to do so?”

“I do,” said Boyne raptly. The anxiety had passed; clearly he was confident of making a good Donation. Germyn approved with all his heart.

The Annunciators, in alternate stanzas, announced the right pause for meditation to the meager crowd, and all fell silent. Citizen Germyn began the process of blanking out his mind, to ready himself for the great opportunity to Appreciate that lay ahead. A sound distracted him; he glanced up irritably. It seemed to come from the House of the Five Regulations, a man’s voice, carrying. But no one else appeared to notice it. All of the watchers, all of those on the stone steps, were in somber meditation.

Germyn tried to return his thoughts to where they belonged.

But something was troubling him. He had caught a glimpse of the Donor and there had been something⁠—something⁠—

He angrily permitted himself to look up once more to see just what it had been about Citizen Boyne that had attracted his attention.

Yes, there was something. Over the form of Citizen Boyne, silent, barely visible, a flicker of life and motion. Nothing tangible. It was as if the air itself were in motion.

It was, Germyn thought with a bursting heart⁠—it was an Eye!

The veritable miracle of Translation and it was about to take place here and now, upon the person of Citizen Boyne! And no one knew it but Germyn himself!

In this last surmise, Citizen Germyn was wrong. Or was he? True, no other human eyes saw the flawed-glass thing that twisted the air over Boyne’s prostrate body, but there was, in a sense, another witness⁠ ⁠… some thousands of miles away.

The Pyramid on Mount Everest “stirred.”

It did not move, but something about it moved, or changed, or radiated. The Pyramid surveyed its⁠—cabbage patch? Wristwatch mine? As much sense, it may be, to say wristwatch patch or cabbage mine. At any rate, it surveyed what to it was a place where intricate mechanisms grew, ripened and were dug up at the moment of usefulness, whereupon they were quick-frozen and wired into circuits.

Through signals perceptible to it, the Pyramids had become “aware” that one of its mechanisms was now ready to be plucked⁠—harvested.

The Pyramid’s blood was dielectric fluid. Its limbs were electrostatic charges. Its philosophy was: Unscrew It and Push. Its motive was survival.

Survival today was not what survival once had been, for a Pyramid.

Once survival had merely been gliding along on a cushion of repellent charges, streaming electrons behind for the push, sending h.f. pulses out often enough to get a picture of their bounced return to integrate deep inside.

If the picture showed something metabolizable, one metabolized it. One broke it down into molecules by lashing it with the surplus protons left over from the dispersed electrons; one adsorbed the molecules. Sometimes the metabolizable object was an Immobile and sometimes a Mobile⁠—a vague, theoretical, frivolous classification to a philosophy whose basis was that everything unscrewed. If it was a Mobile, one sometimes had to move after it.

That was the difference.

The essential was survival, not making idle distinctions. And one small part of survival today was the Everest Pyramid’s job.

It sat and waited. It sent out its h.f. pulses bouncing and scattering, and it bounced and scattered them additionally on their return. Deep inside, the more-than-anamorphically distorted picture was reintegrated. Deeper inside, it was interpreted and evaluated for its part in survival.

There was a need for certain mechanisms which grew on this planet. At irregular times, the Pyramid evaluated the picture to the effect that a mechanism⁠—a wristwatch, so to speak⁠—was ripe for plucking; and by electrostatic charges, it did so. The electrostatic charges, in forming, produced what humans called an Eye. But the Pyramid had no use for names.

It merely plucked, when a mechanism was ripe. It had found that a mechanism was ripe now.

A world away, before the steps of Wheeling’s Federal Building, electrostatic charges gathered above a component whose name was Citizen Boyne. There was a small sound like the clapping of two hands which made the three hundred citizens of Wheeling jerk upright out of their meditations.

The sound was air filling the gap that had once been occupied by Citizen Boyne, who had instantly vanished⁠—who had, in a word, been ripe and therefore been plucked.

VI

Glenn Tropile and his sobbing wife passed the night in the stubble of a cornfield. Neither of them slept much.

Tropile, numbed by contact with the iron chill of the field⁠—it would be months before the new Sun warmed the Earth enough for it to begin radiating in turn⁠—tossed restlessly, dreaming. He was Wolf. Let it be so, he told himself again and again. I will be Wolf. I will strike back at the Citizens. I will⁠—

Always the thought trailed off. He would exactly What? What could he do?

Migration was an answer⁠—go to another city. With Gala, he guessed. Start a new life, where he was not known as Wolf.

And then what? Try to live a sheep’s life, as he had tried all his years? And there was the question of whether, in fact, he could manage to find a city where he was not known. The human race was migratory, in these years of subjection to the never quite understood rule of the Pyramids.

It was a matter of insulation. When the new Sun was young, it was hot, and there was plenty of warmth; it was possible to spread north and south, away from final line of permafrost which, in North America, came just above the old Mason-Dixon line. When the Sun was dying, the cold spread down. The race followed the seasons. Soon all of Wheeling would be spreading north again, and how was he to be sure that none of Wheeling’s Citizens might not turn up wherever he might go?

He could be sure⁠—that was the answer to that.

All right, scratch migration. What remained? He could⁠—with Gala, he guessed⁠—live a solitary life on the fringes of cultivated land. They both had some skill at rummaging the old storehouses of the ancients, and there was still food and other commodities to be found.

But even a Wolf is gregarious by nature and there were bleak hours in that night when Tropile found himself close to sobbing with his wife.

At the first break of dawn, he was up. Gala had fallen into a light and restless sleep; he called her awake.

“We have to move,” he said harshly. “Maybe they’ll get up enough guts to follow us. I don’t want them to find us.”

Silently she got up. They rolled and tied the blankets she had bought; they ate quickly from the food she had brought; they made packs and put them on their shoulders and started to walk. One thing in their favor: they were moving fast, faster than any Citizen was likely to follow. All the same, Tropile kept looking nervously behind him.

They hurried north and east, and that was a mistake, because by noon they found themselves blocked by water. Once it had been a river; the melting of the polar ice caps that had submerged the coasts of the old continents had drowned it out and now it was salt water. But whatever it was, it was impassable. They would have to skirt it westward until they found a bridge or a boat.

“We can stop and eat,” Tropile said grudgingly, trying not to despair.

They slumped to the ground. It was warmer now. Tropile found himself getting drowsier, drowsier⁠—

He jerked erect and stared around belligerently. Beside him, his wife was lying motionless, though her eyes were open, gazing at the sky. Tropile sighed and stretched out. A moment’s rest, he promised himself, and then a quick bite to eat, and then onward.⁠ ⁠…

He was sound asleep when they spotted him.

There was a flutter of iron bird’s wings from overhead. Tropile jumped up out of his sleep, awakening to panic. It was outside the possibility of belief, but there it was:

In the sky over him, etched black against a cloud, a helicopter. And men staring out of it, staring down at him.

A helicopter!

But there were no helicopters, or none that flew⁠—if there had been fuel to fly them with⁠—if any man had had the skill to make them fly. It was impossible! And yet there it was, and the men were looking at him, and the impossible great whirling thing was coming down, nearer.

He began to run in the downward wash of air from the vanes. But it was no use. There were three men and they were fresh and he wasn’t. He stopped, dropping into the fighter’s crouch that is preset into the human body, ready to do battle.

The men didn’t want to fight. They laughed and one of them said amiably: “Long past your bedtime, boy. Get in. We’ll take you home.”

Tropile stood poised, hands half-clenched. “Take⁠—”

“Take you home. Yeah. Where you belong, Tropile. Not back to Wheeling, if that’s what is worrying you.”

“Where I⁠—”

“Where you belong.”

Then Tropile understood.

He got into the helicopter wonderingly. Home. So there was a home for such as he. He wasn’t alone. He needn’t keep his solitary self apart. He could be with his own kind.

He remembered Gala Tropile and paused. One of the men said with quick understanding: “Your wife? I think we saw her about half a mile from here. Heading back to Wheeling as fast as she could go.”

Tropile nodded. That was better, after all. Gala was no Wolf, though he had tried his best to make her one.

One of the men closed the door; another did something with levers and wheels; the vanes whooshed around overhead; the helicopter bounced on its stiff-sprung landing legs and then rocked up and away.

For the first time in his life, Glenn Tropile looked down on the land.

They didn’t fly high⁠—but Glenn Tropile had never flown at all, and the two or three hundred feet of air beneath made him faint and queasy. They danced through the passes in the West Virginia hills, crossed icy streams and rivers, swung past old empty towns which no longer even had names of their own. They saw no one.

It was something over four hundred miles to where they were going, one of the men told him. They made it easily before dark.


As Tropile walked through the town in the evening light, electricity flared white and violet in the buildings around him. Imagine! Electricity was calories, and calories were to be hoarded.

There were other walkers in the street. Their gait was not the economical shuffle with pendant arms. They burned energy visibly. They swung. They strode. It had been chiseled on his brain in earliest childhood that such walking was wrong, reprehensible, debilitating. It wasted calories. These people did not look debilitated and they didn’t seem to mind wasting calories.

It was an ordinary sort of town, apparently named Princeton. It did not have the transient look to it of, say, Wheeling, or Altoona, or Gary, in Tropile’s experience. It looked like⁠—well, it looked permanent.

Tropile had heard of a town called Princeton, but it happened that he had never passed through it southwarding or northbound. There was no reason why he or anybody should or should not have. Still, there was a possibility, once he thought of it, that things were somehow so arranged that they should not; maybe it was all on purpose. Like every town, it was underpopulated, but not so much so as most. Perhaps one living space in five was used. A high ratio.

The man beside him was named Haendl, one of the men from the helicopter. They hadn’t talked much on the flight and they didn’t talk much now. “Eat first,” Haendl said, and took Tropile to a bright and busy sort of food stall. Only it wasn’t a stall. It was a restaurant.

This Haendl⁠—what to make of him? He should have been disgusting, nasty, an abomination. He had no manners whatever. He didn’t know, or at least didn’t use, the Seventeen Conventional Gestures. He wouldn’t let Tropile walk behind him and to his left, though he was easily five years Tropile’s senior. When he ate, he ate. The Sip of Appreciation, the Pause of First Surfeit, the Thrice Proffered Share meant nothing to him. He laughed when Tropile tried to give him the Elder’s Portion.

Cheerfully patronizing, this man Haendl said to Tropile: “That stuffs all right when you don’t have anything better to do with your time. Those poor mutts don’t. They’d die of boredom without their inky-pinky cults and they don’t have the resources to do anything bigger. Yes, I do know the Gestures. Seventeen delicate ways of communicating emotions too refined for words. The hell with them, Tropile. I’ve got words. You’ll learn them, too.”

Tropile ate silently, trying to think.

A man arrived, threw himself in a chair, glanced curiously at Tropile and said: “Haendl, the Somerville Road. The creek backed up when it froze. Flooded bad. Ruined everything.”

Tropile ventured: “The flood ruined the road?”

“The road? No. Say, you must be the fellow Haendl went after. Tropile, that the name?” He leaned across the table, pumped Tropile’s hand. “We had the road nicely blocked,” he explained. “The flood washed it clean. Now we have to block it again.”

Haendl said: “Take the tractor if you need it.”

The man nodded and left.

Haendl said: “Eat up. We’re wasting time. About that road⁠—we keep all entrances blocked up, see? Why let a lot of sheep in and out?”

“Sheep?”

“The opposite,” said Haendl, “of Wolves.”

Take ten billion people and say that, out of every million of them, one⁠—just one⁠—is different. He has a talent for survival; call him Wolf. Ten thousand of him in a world of ten billion.

Squeeze them, freeze them, cut them down. Let old Rejoice in Messias loom in the terrifying sky and so abduct the Earth that the human race is decimated, fractionated, reduced to what is in comparison a bare handful of chilled, stunned survivors. There aren’t ten billion people in the world anymore. No, not by a factor of a thousand. Maybe there are as many as ten million, more or less, rattling around in the space their enormous Elder Generations made for them.

And of these ten million, how many are Wolf?

Ten thousand.

“You understand, Tropile?” said Haendl. “We survive. I don’t care what you call us. The sheep call us Wolves. Me, I kind of call us Supermen. We have a talent for survival.”

Tropile nodded, beginning to understand. “The way I survived the House of the Five Regulations.”

Haendl gave him a pitying look. “The way you survived thirty years of Sheephood before that. Come on.”

It was a tour of inspection. They went into a building, big, looking like any other big and useful building of the ancients, gray stone walls, windows with ragged spears of glass. Inside, though, it wasn’t like the others. Two sub-basements down, Tropile winced and turned away from the flood of violet light that poured out of a quartz bull’s-eye on top of a squat steel cone.

“Perfectly harmless, Tropile⁠—you don’t have to worry,” Haendl boomed. “Know what you’re looking at? There’s a fusion reactor down there. Heat. Power. All the power we need. Do you know what that means?”

He stared soberly down at the flaring violet light of the inspection port.

“Come on,” he said abruptly to Tropile.

Another building, also big, also gray stone. A cracked inscription over the entrance read: Orial Hall of Humanities. The sense-shock this time was not light; it was sound. Hammering, screeching, rattling, rumbling. Men were doing noisy things with metal and machines.

“Repair shop!” Haendl yelled. “See those machines? They belong to our man Innison. We’ve salvaged them from every big factory ruin we could find. Give Innison a piece of metal⁠—any alloy, any shape⁠—and one of those machines will change it into any other shape and damned near any other alloy. Drill it, cut it, plane it, weld it, smelt it, zone-melt it, bond it⁠—you tell him what to do and he’ll do it.

“We got the parts to make six tractors and forty-one cars out of this shop. And we’ve got other shops⁠—aircraft in Farmingdale and Wichita, armaments in Wilmington. Not that we can’t make some armaments here. Innison could build you a tank if he had to, complete with 105-millimeter gun.”

“What’s a tank?” Tropile asked.

Haendl only looked at him and said: “Come on!”

Glenn Tropile’s head spun dizzily and all the spectacles merged and danced in his mind. They were incredible. All of them.

Fusion pile, machine shop, vehicular garage, aircraft hangar. There was a storeroom under the seats of a football stadium, and Tropile’s head spun on his shoulders again as he tried to count the cases of coffee and canned soups and whiskey and beans. There was another storeroom, only this one was called an armory. It was filled with⁠ ⁠… guns. Guns that could be loaded with cartridges, of which they had very many; guns which, when you loaded them and pulled the trigger, would fire.

Tropile said, remembering: “I saw a gun once that still had its firing pin. But it was rusted solid.”

“These work, Tropile,” said Haendl. “You can kill a man with them. Some of us have.”

Kill⁠—”

“Get that sheep look out of your eyes, Tropile! What’s the difference how you execute a criminal? And what’s a criminal but someone who represents a danger to your world? We prefer a gun instead of the Donation of the Spinal Tap, because it’s quicker, because it’s less messy⁠—and because we don’t like to drink spinal fluid, no matter what imaginary therapeutic or symbolic value it has. You’ll learn.”

But he didn’t add “come on.” They had arrived where they were going.

It was a small room in the building that housed the armory and it held, among other things, a rack of guns.

“Sit down,” said Haendl, taking one of the guns out of the rack thoughtfully and handling it as the doomed Boyne had caressed his watch-case. It was the latest pre-Pyramid-model rifle, antipersonnel, short-range. It would not scatter a cluster of shots in a coffee can at more than two and a half miles.

“All right,” said Haendl, stroking the stock. “You’ve seen the works, Tropile. You’ve lived thirty years with sheep. You’ve seen what they have and what we have. I don’t have to ask you to make a choice. I know what you choose. The only thing left is to tell you what we want from you.”

A faint pulsing began inside Glenn Tropile. “I expected we’d be getting to that.”

“Why not? We’re not sheep. We don’t act that way. Quid pro quo. Remember that⁠—it saves time. You’ve seen the quid. Now we come to the quo.” He leaned forward. “Tropile, what do you know about the Pyramids?”

“Nothing.”

Haendl nodded. “Right. They’re all around us and our lives are beggared because of them. And we don’t even know why. We don’t have the least idea of what they are. Did you know that one of the sheep was Translated in Wheeling when you left?”

“Translated?”

Tropile listened with his mouth open while Haendl told him about what had happened to Citizen Boyne.

“So he didn’t make the Donation after all,” Tropile said.

“Might have been better if he had,” said Haendl. “Still, it gave you a chance to get away. We had heard⁠—never mind how just yet⁠—that Wheeling’d caught itself a Wolf, so we came looking for you. But you were already gone.”

Tropile said, faintly annoyed: “You were damn near too late.”

“Oh, no, Tropile,” Haendl assured him. “We’re never too late. If you don’t have enough guts and ingenuity to get away from sheep, you’re no wolf⁠—simple as that. But there’s this Translation. We know it happens, but we don’t even know what it is. All we know, people disappear. There’s a new sun in the sky every five years or so. Who makes it? The Pyramids. How? We don’t know that. Sometimes something floats around in the air and we call it an Eye. It has something to do with Translation, something to do with the Pyramids. What? We don’t know that.”

“We don’t know much of anything,” interrupted Tropile, trying to hurry him along.

“Not about the Pyramids, no.” Haendl shook his head. “Hardly anyone has ever seen one, for that matter.”

“Hardly⁠—You mean you have?”

“Oh, yes. There’s a Pyramid on Mount Everest, you know. That’s not just a story. It’s true. I’ve been there, and it’s there. At least, it was there five years ago, right after the last Sun Re-creation. I guess it hasn’t moved. It just sits there.”

Tropile listened, marveling. To have seen a real Pyramid! Almost he had thought of them as legends, contrived to account for such established physical facts as the Eyes and Translation, as children with a Santa Claus. But this incredible man had seen it!

“Somebody dropped an H-bomb on it, way back,” Haendl continued, “and the only thing that happened is that now the North Col is a crater. You can’t move the Pyramid. You can’t hurt it. But it’s alive. It has been there, alive, for a couple of hundred years; and that’s about all we know about the Pyramids. Right?”

“Right.”

Haendl stood up. “Tropile, that’s what all of this is all about!” He gestured around him. “Guns, tanks, airplanes⁠—we want to know more! We’re going to find out more and then we’re going to fight.”

There was a jarring note and Tropile caught at it, sniffing the air. Somehow⁠—perhaps it was his sub-adrenals that told him⁠—this very positive, very self-willed man was just the slightest bit unsure of himself. But Haendl swept on and Tropile, for a moment, forgot to be alert.

“We had a party up Mount Everest five years ago,” Haendl was saying. “We didn’t find out a thing. Five years before that, and five years before that⁠—every time there’s a sun, while it is still warm enough to give a party a chance to climb up the sides⁠—we send a team up there. It’s a rough job. We give it to the new boys, Tropile. Like you.”

There it was. He was being invited to attack a Pyramid.

Tropile hesitated, delicately balanced, trying to get the feel of this negotiation. This was Wolf against Wolf; it was hard. There had to be an advantage⁠—

“There is an advantage,” Haendl said aloud.

Tropile jumped, but then he remembered: Wolf against Wolf.

Haendl went on: “What you get out of it is your life, in the first place. You understand you can’t get out now. We don’t want sheep meddling around. And in the second place, there’s a considerable hope of gain.” He stared at Tropile with a dreamer’s eyes. “We don’t send parties up there for nothing, you know. We want to get something out of it. What we want is the Earth.”

“The Earth?” It reeked of madness. But this man wasn’t mad.

“Some day, Tropile, it’s going to be us against them. Never mind the sheep⁠—they don’t count. It’s going to be Pyramids and Wolves, and the Pyramids won’t win. And then⁠—”

It was enough to curdle the blood. This man was proposing to fight, and against the invulnerable, the godlike Pyramids.

But he was glowing and the fever was contagious. Tropile felt his own blood begin to pound. Haendl hadn’t finished his “and then⁠—” but he didn’t have to. The “and then” was obvious: And then the world takes up again from the day the wandering planet first came into view. And then we go back to our own solar system and an end to the five-year cycle of frost and hunger.

And then the Wolves can rule a world worth ruling.

It was a meretricious appeal, perhaps, but it could not be refused. Tropile was lost.

He said: “You can put away the gun, Haendl. You’ve signed me up.”

VII

The way to Mount Everest, Tropile glumly found, lay through supervising the colony’s nursery school. It wasn’t what he had expected, but it had the advantages that while his charges were learning, he was learning, too.

One jump ahead of the three-year-olds, he found that the “wolves,” far from being predators on the “sheep,” existed with them in a far more complicated ecological relationship. There were Wolves all through sheepdom; they leavened the dough of society.

In barbarously simple prose, a primer said: “The Sons of the Wolf are good at numbers and money. You and your friends play money games almost as soon as you can talk, and you can think in percentages and compound interest when you want to. Most people are not able to do this.”

True, thought Tropile subvocally, reading aloud to the tots. That was how it had been with him.

“Sheep are afraid of the Sons of the Wolf. Those of us who live among them are in constant danger of detection and death⁠—although ordinarily a Wolf can take care of himself against any number of sheep.” True, too.

“It is one of the most dangerous assignments a Wolf can be given to live among the sheep. Yet it is essential. Without us, they would die⁠—of stagnation, of rot, eventually of hunger.”

It didn’t have to be spelled out any further. Sheep can’t mend their own fences.

The prose was horrifyingly bald and the children were horrifyingly⁠—he choked on the word, but managed to form it in his mind⁠—competitive. The verbal taboos lingered, he found, after he had broken through the barriers of behavior.

But it was distressing, in a way. At an age when future Citizens would have been learning their Little Pitcher Ways, these children were learning to fight. The perennial argument about who would get to be Big Bill Zeckendorf when they played a strange game called “Zeckendorf and Hilton” sometimes ended in bloody noses.

And nobody⁠—nobody at all⁠—meditated on Connectivity.

Tropile was warned not to do it himself. Haendl said grimly: “We don’t understand it and we don’t like what we don’t understand. We’re suspicious animals, Tropile. As the children grow older, we give them just enough practice so they can go into one meditation and get the feel of it⁠—or pretend to, at any rate. If they have to pass as Citizens, they’ll need that much. But more than that we do not allow.”

“Allow?” Somehow the word grated; somehow his sub-adrenals began to pulse.

Allow! We have our suspicions and we know for a fact that sometimes people disappear when they meditate. We don’t want to disappear. We think it’s not a good thing to disappear. Don’t meditate, Tropile. You hear?”

But later, Tropile had to argue the point. He picked a time when Haendl was free, or as nearly free as that man ever was. The whole adult colony had been out on what they used as a parade ground⁠—it had once been a football field, Haendl said. They had done their regular twice-a-week infantry drill, that being one of the prices one paid for living among the free, progressive Wolves instead of the dull and tepid sheep.

Tropile was mightily winded, but he cast himself on the ground near Haendl, caught his breath and said: “Haendl⁠—about meditation.”

“What about it?”

“Well, perhaps you don’t really grasp it.”

Tropile searched for words. He knew what he wanted to say. How could anything that felt as good as Oneness be bad? And wasn’t Translation, after all, so rare as hardly to matter? But he wasn’t sure he could get through to Haendl in those terms.

He tried: “When you meditate successfully, Haendl, you’re one with the Universe. Do you know what I mean? There’s no feeling like it. It’s indescribable peace, beauty, harmony, repose.”

“It’s the world’s cheapest narcotic,” Haendl snorted.

“Oh, now, really⁠—”

And the world’s cheapest religion. The stone-broke mutts can’t afford gilded idols, so they use their own navels. That’s all it is. They can’t afford alcohol; they can’t even afford the muscular exertion of deep breathing that would throw them into a state of hyperventilated oxygen drunkenness. Then what’s left? Self-hypnosis. Nothing else. It’s all they can do, so they learn it, they define it as pleasant and good, and they’re all fixed up.”

Tropile sighed. The man was so stubborn! Then a thought occurred to him and he pushed himself up on his elbows. “Aren’t you leaving something out? What about Translation?”

Haendl glowered at him. “That’s the part we don’t understand.”

“But surely self-hypnosis doesn’t account for⁠—”

“Surely it doesn’t!” Haendl mimicked savagely. “All right. We don’t understand it and we’re afraid of it. Kindly do not tell me Translation is the supreme act of Unwilling, Total Disavowal of Duality, Unison with the Brahm-Ground or any such slop. You don’t know what it is and neither do we.” He started to get up. “All we know is, people vanish. And we want no part of it, so we don’t meditate. None of us⁠—including you!”


It was foolishness, this close-order drill. Could you defeat the unreachable Himalayan Pyramid with a squads-right flanking maneuver?

And yet it wasn’t all foolishness. Close-order drill and 2500-calorie-a-day diet began to put fat and flesh and muscle on Tropile’s body, and something other than that on his mind. He had not lost the edge of his acquisitiveness, his drive⁠—his whatever it was that made the difference between Wolf and sheep.

But he had gained something. Happiness? Well, if “happiness” is a sense of purpose, and a hope that the purpose can be accomplished, then happiness. It was a feeling that had never existed in his life before. Always it had been the glandular compulsion to gain an advantage, and that was gone, or anyway almost gone, because it was permitted in the society in which he now lived.

Glenn Tropile sang as he putt-putted in his tractor, plowing the thawing Jersey fields. Still, a faint doubt remained. Squads right against the Pyramids?

Stiffly, Tropile stopped the tractor, slowed the diesel to a steady thrum and got off. It was hot⁠—being midsummer of the five-year calendar the Pyramids had imposed. It was time for rest and maybe something to eat.

He sat in the shade of a tree, as farmers always have done, and opened his sandwiches. He was only a mile or so from Princeton, but he might as well have been in Limbo; there was no sign of any living human but himself. The northering sheep didn’t come near Princeton⁠—it “happened” that way, on purpose.

He caught a glimpse of something moving, but when he stood up for a better look into the woods on the other side of the field, it was gone. Wolf? Real Wolf, that is? It could have been a bear, for that matter⁠—there was talk of wolves and bears around Princeton; and although Tropile knew that much of the talk was assiduously encouraged by men like Haendl, he also knew that some of it was true.

As long as he was up, he gathered straw from the litter of last “year’s” head-high grass, gathered sticks under the trees, built a small fire and put water on to boil for coffee. Then he sat back and ate his sandwiches, thinking.

Maybe it was a promotion, going from the nursery school to labor in the fields. Or maybe it wasn’t. Haendl had promised him a place in the expedition that would⁠—maybe⁠—discover something new and great and helpful about the Pyramids. And that might still come to pass, because the expedition was far from ready to leave.

Tropile munched his sandwiches thoughtfully. Now why was the expedition so far from ready to leave? It was absolutely essential to get there in the warmest weather possible⁠—otherwise Mt. Everest was unclimbable. Generations of alpinists had proved that. That warmest weather was rapidly going by.

And why were Haendl and the Wolf colony so insistent on building tanks, arming themselves with rifles, organizing in companies and squads? The H-bomb hadn’t flustered the Pyramid. What lesser weapon could?

Uneasily, Tropile put a few more sticks on the fire, staring thoughtfully into the canteen cup of water. It was a satisfyingly hot fire, he noticed abstractedly. The water was very nearly ready to boil.


Half across the world, the Pyramid in the Himalays felt, or heard, or tasted⁠—a difference.

Possibly the h.f. pulses that had gone endlessly wheep, wheep, wheep were now going wheep-beep, wheep-beep. Possibly the electromagnetic “taste” of lower-than-red was now spiced with a tang of beyond-violet. Whatever the sign was, the Pyramid recognized it.

A part of the crop it tended was ready to harvest.

The ripening bud had a name, of course, but names didn’t matter to the Pyramid. The man named Tropile didn’t know he was ripening, either. All that Tropile knew was that, for the first time in nearly a year, he had succeeded in catching each stage of the nine perfect states of water-coming-to-a-boil in its purest form.

It was like⁠ ⁠… like⁠ ⁠… well, it was like nothing that anyone but a Water Watcher could understand. He observed. He appreciated. He encompassed and absorbed the myriad subtle perfections of time, of shifting transparency, of sound, of distribution of ebulliency, of the faint, faint odor of steam.

Complete, Glenn Tropile relaxed all his limbs and let his chin rest on his breastbone.

It was, he thought with placid, crystalline perception, a rare and perfect opportunity for meditation. He thought of Connectivity. (Overhead, a shifting glassy flaw appeared in the thin, still air.) There wasn’t any thought of Eyes in the erased palimpsest that was Glenn Tropile’s mind. There wasn’t any thought of Pyramids or of Wolves. The plowed field before him didn’t exist. Even the water, merrily bubbling itself dry, was gone from his perception.

He was beginning to meditate.

Time passed⁠—or stood still⁠—for Tropile; there was no difference. There was no time. He found himself almost on the brink of Understanding.

Something snapped. An intruding bluebottle drone, maybe, or a twitching muscle. Partly, Tropile came back to reality. Almost, he glanced upward. Almost, he saw the Eye.⁠ ⁠…

It didn’t matter. The thing that really mattered, the only thing in the world, was all within his mind; and he was ready, he knew, to find it.

Once more! Try harder!

He let the mind-clearing unanswerable question drift into his mind:

If the sound of two hands together is a clapping, what is the sound of one hand?

Gently he pawed at the question, the symbol of the futility of mind⁠—and therefore the gateway to meditation. Unawareness of self was stealing deliciously over him.

He was Glenn Tropile. He was more than that. He was the water boiling⁠ ⁠… and the boiling water was he. He was the gentle warmth of the fire, which was⁠—which was, yes, itself the arc of the sky. As each thing was each other thing; water was fire, and fire air; Tropile was the first simmering bubble and the full roll of Well-aged Water was Self, was⁠—more than Self⁠—was⁠—

The answer to the unanswerable question was coming clearer and softer to him. And then, all at once, but not suddenly, for there was no time, it was not close⁠—it was.

The answer was his, was him. The arc of sky was the answer, and the answer belonged to sky⁠—to warmth, to all warmths that there are, and to all waters, and⁠—and the answer was⁠—was⁠—

Tropile vanished. The mild thunderclap that followed made the flames dance and the column of steam fray; and then the fire was steady again, and so was the rising steam. But Tropile was gone.

VIII

Haendl plodded angrily through the high grass toward the dull throb of the diesel.

Maybe it had been a mistake to take this Glenn Tropile into the colony. He was more Citizen than Wolf⁠—no, cancel that, Haendl thought; he was more Wolf than Citizen. But the Wolf in him was tainted with sheep’s blood. He competed like a Wolf, but in spite of everything, he refused to give up some of his sheep’s ways. Meditation. He had been cautioned against that. But had he given it up?

He had not.

If it had been entirely up to Haendl, Glenn Tropile would have found himself back among the sheep or dead. Fortunately for Tropile, it was not entirely up to Haendl. The community of Wolves was by no means a democracy, but the leader had a certain responsibility to his constituents, and the responsibility was this: He couldn’t afford to be wrong. Like the Old Gray Wolf who protected Mowgli, he had to defend his actions against attack; if he failed to defend, the pack would pull him down.

And Innison thought they needed Tropile⁠—not in spite of the taint of the Citizen that he bore, but because of it.

Haendl bawled: “Tropile! Tropile, where are you?” There was only the wind and the thrum of the diesel. It was enormously irritating. Haendl had other things to do than to chase after Glenn Tropile. And where was he? There was the diesel, idling wastefully; there the end of the patterned furrows Tropile had plowed. There a small fire, burning⁠—

And there was Tropile.

Haendl stopped, frozen, his mouth opened, about to yell Tropile’s name.

It was Tropile, all right, staring with concentrated, oyster-eyed gaze at the fire and the little pot of water it boiled. Staring. Meditating. And over his head, like flawed glass in a pane, was the thing Haendl feared most of all things on Earth. It was an Eye.

Tropile was on the very verge of being Translated⁠ ⁠… whatever that was.

Time, maybe, to find out what that was! Haendl ducked back into the shelter of the high grass, knelt, plucked his radio communicator from his pocket, urgently called.

“Innison! Innison, will somebody, for God’s sake, put Innison on!”

Seconds passed. Voices answered. Then there was Innison.

“Innison, listen! You wanted to catch Tropile in the act of Meditation? All right, you’ve got him. The old wheat field, south end, under the elms around the creek. Get here fast, Innison⁠—there’s an Eye forming above him!”

Luck! Lucky that they were ready for this, and only by luck, because it was the helicopter that Innison had patiently assembled for the attack on Everest that was ready now, loaded with instruments, planned to weigh and measure the aura around the Pyramid⁠—now at hand when they needed it.

That was luck, but there was driving hurry involved, too; it was only a matter of minutes before Haendl heard the wobbling drone of the copter, saw the vanes fluttering low over the hedges, dropping to earth behind the elms.

Haendl raised himself cautiously and peered. Yes, Tropile was still there, and the Eye still above him! But the noise of the helicopter had frayed the spell. Tropile stirred. The Eye wavered and shook⁠—

But did not vanish.

Thanking what passed for his God, Haendl scuttled circuitously around the elms and joined Innison at the copter. Innison was furiously closing switches and pointing lenses.

They saw Tropile sitting there, the Eye growing larger and closer over his head. They had time⁠—plenty of time; oh, nearly a minute of time. They brought to bear on the silent and unknowing form of Glenn Tropile every instrument that the copter carried. They were waiting for Tropile to disappear⁠—

He did.


Innison and Haendl hunched at the thunderclap as air rushed in to replace him.

“We’ve got what you wanted,” Haendl said harshly. “Let’s read some instruments.”

Throughout the Translation, high-tensile magnetic tape on a madly spinning drum had been hurtling under twenty-four recording heads at a hundred feet a second. Output to the recording heads had been from every kind of measuring device they had been able to conceive and build, all loaded on the helicopter for use on Mount Everest⁠—all now pointed directly at Glenn Tropile.

They had, for the instant of Translation, readings from one microsecond to the next on the varying electric, gravitational, magnetic, radiant and molecular-state conditions in his vicinity.

They got back to Innison’s workshop, and the laboratory inside it, in less than a minute; but it took hours of playing back the magnetic pulses into machines that turned them into scribed curves on coordinate paper before Innison had anything resembling an answer.

He said: “No mystery. I mean no mystery except the speed. Want to know what happened to Tropile?”

“I do,” said Haendl.

“A pencil of electrostatic force maintained by a pinch effect bounced down the approximate azimuth of Everest⁠—God knows how they handled the elevation⁠—and charged him and the area positive. A big charge, clear off the scale. They parted company. He was bounced straight up. A meter off the ground, a correcting vector was applied. When last seen, he was headed fast in the direction of the Pyramids’ binary⁠—fast! So fast that I would guess he’ll get there alive. It takes an appreciable time, a good part of a second, for his protein to coagulate enough to make him sick and then kill him. If the Pyramids strip the charges off him immediately on arrival, as I should think they will, he’ll live.”

“Friction⁠—”

“Be damned to friction,” Innison said calmly. “He carried a packet of air with him and there was no friction. How? I don’t know. How are they going to keep him alive in space, without the charges that hold air? I don’t know. If they don’t maintain the charges, can they beat the speed of light? I don’t know. I can tell you what happened. I can’t tell you how.”

Haendl stood up thoughtfully. “It’s something,” he said grudgingly.

“It’s more than we’ve ever had⁠—a complete reading at the instant of Translation!”

“We’ll get more,” Haendl promised. “Innison, now that you know what to look for, go on looking for it. Keep every possible detection device monitored twenty-four hours a day. Turn on everything you’ve got that’ll find a sign of imposed modulation. At any sign⁠—or at anybody’s hunch that there might be a sign⁠—I’m to be called. If I’m eating. If I’m sleeping. If I’m enjoying with a woman. Call me, you hear? Maybe you were right about Tropile; maybe he did have some use. He might give the Pyramids a bellyache.”

Innison, flipping the magnetic tape drum to rewind, said thoughtfully: “It’s too bad they’ve got him. We could have used some more readings.”

“Too bad?” Haendl laughed sharply. “This time they’ve got themselves a Wolf.”


The Pyramids did have a Wolf⁠—a fact which did not matter in the least to them.

It is not possible to know what “mattered” to a Pyramid except by inference. But it is possible to know that they had no way of telling Wolf from Citizen.

The planet which was their home⁠—Earth’s old Moon⁠—was small, dark, atmosphereless and waterless. It was completely built over, much of it with its propulsion devices.

In the old days, when technology had followed war, luxury, government and leisure, the Pyramids’ sun had run out of steam; and at about the same time, they had run out of the Components they imported from a neighboring planet. They used the last of their Components to implement their stolid metaphysic of hauling and pushing. They pushed their planet.

They knew where to push it.

Each Pyramid as it stood was a radio-astronomy observatory, powerful and accurate beyond the wildest dreams of Earthly radio-astronomers. From this start, they built instruments to aid their naked senses. They went into a kind of hibernation, reducing their activity to a bare trickle except for a small “crew” and headed for Earth. They had every reason to believe they would find more Components there, and they did.

Tropile was one of them. The only thing which set him apart from the others was that he was the most recent to be stockpiled.

The religion, or vice, or philosophy he practiced made it possible for him to be a Component. Meditation derived from Zen Buddhism was a windfall for the Pyramids, though, of course, they had no idea at all of what lay behind it and did not “care.” They knew only that, at certain times, certain potential Components became Components which were no longer merely potential⁠—which were, in fact, ripe for harvesting.

It was useful to them that the minds they cropped were utterly blank. It saved the trouble of blanking them.

Tropile had been harvested at the moment his inhibiting conscious mind had been cleared, for the Pyramids were not interested in him as an entity capable of will and conception. They used only the raw capacity of the human brain and its perceptors.

They used Rashevsky’s Number, the gigantic, far more than astronomical expression that denoted the number of switching operations performable within the human brain. They used “subception,” the phenomenon by which the reasoning mind, uninhibited by consciousness, reacts directly to stimuli⁠—shortcutting the cerebral censor, avoiding the weighing of shall-I-or-shan’t-I that precedes every conscious act.

The harvested minds were⁠—Components.

It is not desirable that your bedroom wall switch have a mind of its own; if you turn the lights on, you want them on. So it was with the Pyramids.

A Component was needed in the industrial complex which transformed catabolism products into anabolism products.

With long experience gained since their planetfall, Pyramids received the tabula rasa that was Glenn Tropile. He arrived in one piece, wearing a blanket of air. Quick-frozen mentally at the moment of inert blankness his Meditation had granted him⁠—the psychic drunkard’s coma⁠—he was cushioned on repellent charges as he plummeted down, and instantly stripped of surplus electrostatic charge.

At this point, he was still human; only asleep.

He remained “asleep.” Annular fields they used for lifting and lowering seized him and moved him into a snug tank of nutrient fluid. There were many such tanks, ready and waiting.

The tanks themselves could be moved, and the one containing Glenn Tropile did move, to a metabolism complex where there were many other tanks, all occupied. This was a warm room⁠—the Pyramids had wasted no energy on such foppish comforts in the first “room.” In this room, Glenn Tropile gradually resumed the appearance of life. His heart once again began to beat. Faint stirrings were visible in his chest as his habit-numbed lungs attempted to breathe. Gradually the stirrings slowed and stopped. There was no need for that foppish comfort, either; the nutrient fluid supplied all.

Tropile was “wired into circuit.”

The only literal wiring, at first, was a temporary one⁠—a fine electrode aseptically introduced into the great nerve that leads to the rhinencephalon⁠—the “small brain,” the area of the brain which contains the pleasure centers that motivate human behavior.

More than a thousand Components had been spoiled and discarded before the Pyramids had located the pleasure centers so exactly.

While the Component, Tropile, was being “programmed,” the wire rewarded him with minute pulses that made his body glow with animal satisfaction when he functioned correctly. That was all there was to it. After a time, the wire was withdrawn, but by then Tropile had “learned” his entire task. Conditioned reflexes had been established. They could be counted on for the long and useful life of the Component.

That life might be very long indeed; in the nutrient tank beside Tropile’s, as it happened, lay a Component with eight legs and a chitinous fringe around its eyes. It had lain in such a tank for more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand Terrestrial years.

The Component was placed in operation. It opened its eyes and saw things. The sensory nerves of its limbs felt things. The muscles of its hands and toes operated things.

Where was Glenn Tropile?

He was there, all of him, but a zombie-Tropile. Bereft of will, emptied of memories. He was a machine and part of a huger machine. His sex was the sex of a photoelectric cell; his politics were those of a transistor; his ambition that of a mercury switch. He didn’t know anything about sex, or fear, or hope. He only knew two things: Input and Output.

Input to him was a display of small lights on a board before his vacant face; and also the modulation of a loudspeaker’s liquid-borne hum in each ear.

Output from him was the dancing manipulation of certain buttons and keys, prompted by changes in Input and by nothing else.

Between Input and Output, he lay in the tank, a human Black Box which was capable of Rashevsky’s Number of switchings, and of nothing else.

He had been programmed to accomplish a specific task⁠—to shepherd a chemical called 3, 7, 12-trihydroxycholanic acid, present in the catabolic product of the Pyramids, through a succession of more than five hundred separate operations until it emerged as the chemical, which the Pyramids were able to metabolize, called Protoporphin IX.

He was not the only Component operating in this task; there were several, each with its own program.

The acid accumulated in great tanks a mile from him. He knew its concentration, heat and pressure; he knew of all the impurities which would affect subsequent reactions. His fingers tapped, giving binary-coded signals to sluice gates to open for so many seconds and then to close; for such an amount of solvent at such a temperature to flow in; for the agitators to agitate for just so long at just such a force. And if a trouble signal disturbed any one of the 517 major and minor operations, he⁠—it?⁠—was set to decide among alternatives:

—scrap the batch in view of flow conditions along the line?

—isolate and bypass the batch through a standby loop?

—immediate action to correct the malfunction?

Without inhibiting intelligence, without the trammels of humanity on him, the intricate display board and the complex modulations of the two sound signals could be instantly taken in, evaluated and given their share in the decision.

Was it⁠—he?⁠—still alive?

The question has no meaning. It was working. It was an excellent machine, in fact, and the Pyramids cared for it well. Its only consciousness, apart from the reflexive responses that were its program, was⁠—well, call it “the sound of one hand alone.” Which is to say zero, mindlessness, Samadhi, stupor.

It continued to function for some time⁠—until the required supply of Protoporphin IX had been exceeded by a sufficient factor of safety to make further processing unnecessary⁠—that is, for some minutes or months. During that time, it was Happy. (It had been programmed to be Happy when there were no uncorrected malfunctions of the process.) At the end of that time, it shut itself off, sent out a signal that the task was completed, then it was laid aside in the analogue of a deep-freeze, to be reprogrammed when another Component was needed.

It was totally immaterial to the Pyramids that this particular Component had not been stamped from Citizen but from Wolf.

IX

Roget Germyn, of Wheeling a Citizen, contemplated his wife with growing concern.

Possibly the events of the past few days had unhinged her reason, but he was nearly sure that she had eaten a portion of the evening meal secretly, in the serving room, before calling him to the table.

He felt positive that it was only a temporary aberration; she was, after all, a Citizeness, with all that that implied. A⁠—a creature⁠—like that Gala Tropile, for example⁠—someone like that might steal extra portions with craft and guile. You couldn’t live with a Wolf for years and not have some of it rub off on you. But not Citizeness Germyn.

There was a light, thrice-repeated tap on the door.

Speak of the devil, thought Roget Germyn most appropriately; for it was that same Gala Tropile. She entered, her head downcast, looking worn and⁠—well, pretty.

He began formally: “I give you greeting, Citi⁠—”

“They’re here!” she interrupted in desperate haste. Germyn blinked. “Please,” she begged, “can’t you do something? They’re Wolves!”

Citizeness Germyn emitted a muted shriek.

“You may leave, Citizeness,” Germyn told her shortly, already forming in his mind the words of gentle reproof he would later use. “Now what is all this talk of Wolves?”

Gala Tropile distractedly sat in the chair her hostess had vacated. “We were running away,” she babbled. “Glenn⁠—he was Wolf, you see, and he made me leave with him, after the House of the Five Regulations. We were a day’s long march from Wheeling and we stopped to rest. And there was an aircraft, Citizen!”

“An aircraft!” Citizen Germyn allowed himself a frown. “Citizeness, it is not well to invent things which are not so.”

“I saw it, Citizen! There were men in it. One of them is here again! He came looking for me with another man and I barely escaped him. I’m afraid!”

“There is no cause for fear, only an opportunity to appreciate,” Citizen Germyn said mechanically⁠—it was what one told one’s children.

But within himself, he was finding it very hard to remain calm. That word Wolf⁠—it was a destroyer of calm, an incitement to panic and hatred! He remembered Tropile well, and there was Wolf, to be sure. The mere fact that Citizen Germyn had doubted his Wolfishness at first was powerful cause to be doubly convinced of it now; he had postponed the day of reckoning for an enemy of all the world, and there was enough secret guilt in his recollection to set his own heart thumping.

“Tell me exactly what happened,” said Citizen Germyn, in words that the stress of emotion had already made far less than graceful.

Obediently, Gala Tropile said: “I was returning to my home after the evening meal and Citizeness Puffin⁠—she took me in after Citizen Tropile⁠—after my husband was⁠—”

“I understand. You made your home with her.”

“Yes. She told me that two men had come to see me. They spoke badly, she said, and I was alarmed. I peered through a window of my home and they were there. One had been in the aircraft I saw! And they flew away with my husband.”

“It is a matter of seriousness,” Citizen Germyn admitted doubtfully. “So then you came here to me?”

“Yes, but they saw me, Citizen! And I think they followed. You must protect me⁠—I have no one else!”

“If they be Wolf,” Germyn said calmly, “we will raise hue and cry against them. Now will the Citizeness remain here? I go forth to see these men.”

There was a graceless hammering on the door.

“Too late!” cried Gala Tropile in panic. “They are here!”


Citizen Germyn went through the ritual of greeting, of deprecating the ugliness and poverty of his home, of offering everything he owned to his visitors; it was the way to greet a stranger.

The two men lacked both courtesy and wit, but they did make an attempt to comply with the minimal formal customs of introduction. He had to give them credit for that; and yet it was almost more alarming than if they had blustered and yelled.

For he knew one of these men.

He dredged the name out of his memory. It was Haendl. The same man had appeared in Wheeling the day Glenn Tropile had been scheduled to make the Donation of the Spinal Tap⁠—and had broken free and escaped. He had inquired about Tropile of a good many people, Citizen Germyn included, and even at that time, in the excitement of an Amok, a Wolf-finding and a Translation in a single day, Germyn had wondered at Haendl’s lack of breeding and airs.

Now he wondered no longer.

But the man made no overt act and Citizen Germyn postponed the raising of the hue and cry. It was not a thing to be done lightly.

“Gala Tropile is in this house,” the man with Haendl said bluntly.

Citizen Germyn managed a Quirked Smile.

“We want to see her, Germyn. It’s about her husband. He⁠—uh⁠—he was with us for a while and something happened.”

“Ah, yes. The Wolf.”

The man flushed and looked at Haendl. Haendl said loudly: “The Wolf. Sure he’s a Wolf. But he’s gone now, so you don’t have to worry about that.”

“Gone?”

“Not just him, but four or five of us. There was a man named Innison and he’s gone, too. We need help, Germyn. Something about Tropile⁠—God knows how it is, but he started something. We want to talk to his wife and find out what we can about him. So will you get her out of the back room where she’s hiding and bring her here, please?”

Citizen Germyn quivered. He bent over the I.D. bracelet that once had belonged to the one P.F.C. Joe Hartman, fingering it to hide his thoughts.

He said at last: “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps the Citizeness is with my wife. If this be so, would it not be possible that she is fearful of those who once were with her husband?”

Haendl laughed sourly. “She isn’t any more fearful than we are, Germyn. I told you about this man Innison who disappeared. He was a Son of the Wolf, you understand me? For that matter⁠—” He glanced at his companion, licked his lips and changed his mind about what he had been going to say next. “He was a Wolf. Do you ever remember hearing of a Wolf being Translated before?”

“Translated?” Germyn dropped the I.D. bracelet. “But that’s impossible!” he cried, forgetting his manners completely. “Oh, no! Translation comes only to those who attain the moment of supreme detachment, you can be sure of that. I know! I’ve seen it with my own eyes. No Wolf could possibly⁠—”

“At least five Wolves did,” Haendl said grimly. “Now you see what the trouble is? Tropile was Translated⁠—I saw that with my own eyes. The next day, Innison. Within a week, two or three others. So we came down here, Germyn, not because we like you people, not because we enjoy it, but because we’re scared.

“What we want is to talk to Tropile’s wife⁠—you, too, I guess; we want to talk to anybody who ever knew him. We want to find out everything there is to find out about Tropile and see if we can make any sense of the answers. Because maybe Translation is the supreme objective of life to you people, Germyn, but to us it’s just one more way of dying. And we don’t want to die.”

Citizen Germyn bent to pick up his cherished identification bracelet and dropped it absently on a table. There was very much on his mind.

He said at last: “That is strange. Shall I tell you another strange thing?”

Haendl, looking angry and baffled, nodded.

Germyn said: “There has been no Translation here since the day the Wolf, Tropile, escaped. But there have been Eyes. I have seen them myself. It⁠—” He hesitated, shrugged. “It has been disturbing. Some of our finest Citizens have ceased to Meditate; they have been worrying. So many Eyes and nobody taken! It is outside of all of our experience, and our customs have suffered. Politeness is dwindling among us. Even in my own household⁠—”

He coughed and went on: “No matter. But these Eyes have come into every home; they have peered about, peered about, and no one has been taken. Why? Is it something to do with the Translation of Wolves?” He stared hopelessly at his visitors. “All I know is that it is very strange and therefore I am worried.”

“Then take us to Gala Tropile,” said Haendl. “Let’s see what we can find out!”

Citizen Germyn bowed. He cleared his throat and raised his voice just sufficiently to carry from one room to another. “Citizeness!” he called.

There was a pause and then his wife appeared in the doorway, looking ruffled and ill at ease with her guest.

“Will you ask if Citizeness Tropile will join us here?” he requested.

His wife nodded. “She is resting. I will call her.”

They called her and questioned her for some time.

She told them nothing.

She had nothing to tell.

X

On Earth’s binary, Glenn Tropile had been reprogrammed for a new task.

The problem was navigation. Earth had been a disappointment to the Pyramids; it was necessary to move rapidly to a more rewarding planet.

The Pyramids had taken Earth out past Pluto’s orbit with a simple shove, slow and massive. It had been enough merely to approximate the direction in which they would want to go. There would be plenty of time for refinements of course later.

But now the time for refinements had come, earlier than they might have expected. They had now time to travel, they knew where to⁠—a star cluster reasonably sure to be rich in Componentiferous planets. It was inherent in the nature of Component mines that eventually they always played out.

There were always more mines, though. If that had not been so, it would have been necessary, perhaps, to stock-breed Components against future needs. But it was easier to work the vein out and move on.

Now the course had to be computed. There were such variables to be considered as: motion of the star cluster; acceleration of the binary-planet system; gravitational influence of every astronomical object in the island universe, without exception.

Precise computation on this basis was obviously not practical. That was not an answer to the problem, since the time required would approach eternity as one of its parameters.

It was possible to simplify the problem. Only the astronomical bodies which were relatively nearby need be treated as individuals. Farther away, the Pyramids began to group them in small bunches, still farther in large bunches, on to the point where the farthest⁠—and the most numerous⁠—bodies were lumped together as a vague gravitational “noise” whose average intensity alone it was required to know and to enter as a datum.

And still no single Component could handle even its own share of the problem, were the “computer” they formed to be kept within the range of permissible size.

It was for this that the Component which had once been Tropile was taken out of storage.

This was all old stuff to the Pyramids; they knew how to handle it. They broke the problem down to its essentials, separated even those into many parts. There was, for example, the subsection of one certain aspect of the logistical problem which involved locating and procuring additional Components to handle the load.

Even that tiny specialization was too much for a single Component, but fortunately the Pyramids had resources to bring to bear. The procedure in such cases was to hitch several Components together.

This was done.

When the Pyramids finished their neurosurgery, there floated in an oversized nutrient tank a thing like a great sea-anemone. It was composed of eight Components⁠—all human, as it happened⁠—arranged in a circle, facing inward, joined temple to temple, brain to brain.

At their feet, where sixteen eyes could see it, was the display board to feed them their Input. Sixteen hands each grasped a molded switch to handle their binary-coded Output. There would be no storage of the Output outside of the eight-Component complex itself; it went as control signals to the electrostatic generators, funneled through the single Pyramid on Mount Everest, which handled the task of Component-procurement.

That is, of Translation.

The programming was slow and thorough. Perhaps the Pyramid which finally activated the octuple unit and went away was pleased with itself, not knowing that one of its Components was Glenn Tropile.


Nirvana. (It pervaded all; there was nothing outside of it.)

Nirvana. (Glenn Tropile floated in it as in the amniotic fluid around him.)

Nirvana. (The sound of one hand.⁠ ⁠… Floating oneness.)

There was an intrusion.

Perfection is completed; by adding to it, it is destroyed. Duality struck like a thunderbolt. Oneness shattered.

For Glenn Tropile, it seemed as though his wife were screaming at him to wake up. He tried to.

It was curiously difficult and painful. Timeless poignant sadness, five years of sorrow over a lost love compressed into a microsecond. It was always so, Tropile thought drowsily, awakening. It never lasts. What’s the use of worrying over what always happens.⁠ ⁠…

Sudden shock and horror rocked him.

This was no ordinary awakening⁠—no ordinary thing at all⁠—nothing was as it ever had been before!

Tropile opened his mouth and screamed⁠—or thought he did. But there was only a hoarse, faint flutter in his eardrums.

It was a moment when sanity might have gone. But there was one curious, mundane fact that saved him. He was holding something in his hands. He found that he could look at it, and it was a switch. A molded switch, mounted on a board, and he was holding one in each hand.

It was little to cling to, but it at least was real. If his hands could be holding something, then there must be some reality somewhere.

Tropile closed his eyes and managed to open them again. Yes, there was reality, too. He closed his eyes and light stopped. He opened them and light returned.

Then perhaps he was not dead, as he had thought.

Carefully, stumbling⁠—his mind his only usable tool⁠—he tried to make an estimate of his surroundings.

He could hardly believe what he found.

Item: he could scarcely move. Somehow he was bound by his feet and his head. How? He couldn’t tell.

Item: he was bent over and he couldn’t straighten. Why? Again he couldn’t tell, but it was a fact. The great erecting muscles of his back answered his command, but his body would not move.

Item: his eyes saw, but only in a small area.

He couldn’t move his head, either. Still, he could see a few things. The switch in his hand, his feet, a sort of display of lights on a strangely circular board.

The lights flickered and changed their pattern.

Without thinking, he moved a switch. Why? Because it was right to move that switch. When a certain light flared green, a certain switch had to be thrown. Why? Well, when a certain light flared green, a certain switch⁠—

He abandoned that problem. Never mind why; what the devil was going on?

Glenn Tropile squinted about him like a mollusc peering out of its shell. There was another fact, the oddness of the seeing. What makes it look so queer, he asked himself.

He found an answer, but it required some time to take it in. He was seeing in a strange perspective. One looks out of two eyes. Close one eye and the world is flat. Open it again and there is a stereoscopic double; the saliencies of the picture leap forward, the background retreats.

So with the lights on the board⁠—no, not exactly; but something like that, he thought. It was as though⁠—he squinted and strained⁠—well, as though he had never really seen before. As though for all his life he had had only one eye, and now he had strangely been given two.

His visual perception of the board was total. He could see all of it at once. It had no “front” or “back.” It was in the round. The natural thinking of it was without orientation. He engulfed and comprehended it as a unit. It had no secrets of shadow or silhouette.

I think, Tropile mouthed slowly to himself, that I’m going crazy.

But that was no explanation, either. Mere insanity didn’t account for what he saw.

Then, he asked himself, was he in a state that was beyond Nirvana? He remembered, with an odd flash of guilt, that he had been Meditating, watching the stages of boiling water. All right, perhaps he had been Translated. But what was this, then? Were the Meditators wrong in teaching that Nirvana was the end⁠—and yet righter than the Wolves, who dismissed Meditation as a phenomenon wholly inside the skull and refused to discuss Translation at all?

That was a question for which he could find nothing approaching an answer. He turned away from it and looked at his hands.

He could see them, too, in the round, he noted. He could see every wrinkle and pore in all sixteen of them.⁠ ⁠…

Sixteen hands!

That was the other moment when sanity might have gone. He closed his eyes. (Sixteen eyes! No wonder the total perception!) And, after a while, he opened them again.

The hands were there. All sixteen of them.

Cautiously, Tropile selected a finger that seemed familiar in his memory. After a moment’s thought, he flexed it. It bent. He selected another. Another⁠—on a different hand this time.

He could use any or all of the sixteen hands. They were all his, all sixteen of them.

I appear, thought Tropile crazily, to be a sort of eight-branched snowflake. Each of my branches is a human body.

He stirred, and added another datum: I appear also to be in a tank of fluid and yet I do not drown.

There were certain deductions to be made from that. Either someone⁠—the Pyramids?⁠—had done something to his lungs, or else the fluid was as good an oxygenating medium as air. Or both.

Suddenly a burst of data-lights twinkled on the board below him. Instantly and involuntarily, his sixteen hands began working the switches, transmitting complex directions in a lightninglike stream of on-off clicks.

Tropile relaxed and let it happen. He had no choice; the power that made it right to respond to the board made it impossible for his brain to concentrate while the response was going on. Perhaps, he thought drowsily, he would never have awakened at all if it had not been for the long period with no lights.⁠ ⁠…

But he was awake. And his consciousness began to explore as the task ended.

He had had an opportunity to understand something of what was happening. He understood that he was now a part of something larger than himself, beyond doubt something which served and belonged to the Pyramids. His single brain not being large enough for the job, seven others had been hooked in with it.

But where were their personalities?

Gone, he supposed; presumably they had been Citizens. Sons of the Wolf did not Meditate and therefore were not Translated⁠—except for himself, he corrected wryly, remembering the Meditation on Rainclouds that had led him to⁠—

No, wait!

Not Rainclouds but Water!

Tropile caught hold of himself and forced his mind to retrace that thought. He remembered the Raincloud Meditation. It had been prompted by a particularly noble cumulus of the Ancient Ship type.

And this was odd. Tropile had never been deeply interested in Rainclouds, had never known even the secondary classifications of Raincloud types. And he knew that the Ancient Ship was of the fourth order of categories.

It was a false memory.

It was not his.

Therefore, logically, it was someone else’s memory; and being available to his own mind, as the fourteen other hands and eyes were available, it must belong to⁠—another branch of the snowflake.

He turned his eyes down and tried to see which of the branches was his old body. He found it quickly, with growing excitement. There was the left great toe of his body. He had injured it in boyhood and there was no mistaking the way it was bent. Good! It was reassuring.

He tried to feel the one particular body that led to that familiar toe.

He succeeded, though not easily. After a time, he became more aware of that body⁠—somewhat as a neurotic may become “stomach conscious” or “heart conscious.” But this was no neurosis; it was an intentional exploration.

Since that worked, with some uneasiness he transferred his attention to another pair of feet and “thought” his way up from them.

It was embarrassing.

For the first time in his life, he knew what it felt like to have breasts. For the first time in his life, he knew what it was like to have one’s internal organs quite differently shaped and arranged, buttressed and stressed by different muscles. The very faint background feel of man’s internal arrangements, never questioned unless something goes wrong with them and they start to hurt, was not at all like the faint background feel that a woman has inside her.

And when he concentrated on that feel, it was no faint background to him. It was surprising and upsetting.

He withdrew his attention⁠—hoping that he would be able to. Gratefully, he became conscious of his own body again. He was still himself if he chose to be.

Were the other seven still themselves?

He reached into his mind⁠—all of it, all eight separate intelligences that were combined within him.

“Is anybody there?” he demanded.

No answer⁠—or nothing he could recognize as an answer. He drove harder and there still was none. It was annoying. He resented it as bitterly, he remembered, as in the old days when he had first been learning the subtleties of Ruin Appreciation. There had been a Ruin Master, his name forgotten, who had been sometimes less than courteous, had driven hard⁠—

Another false memory!

He withdrew and weighed it. Perhaps, he thought, that was a part of the answer. These people, these other seven, would not be driven. The attempt to call them back to consciousness would have to be delicate. When he drove hard, it was painful⁠—he remembered the instant violent agony of his own awakening⁠—and they reacted with anguish.

More gently, alert for vagrant “memories,” he combed the depths of the eightfold mind within him, reaching into the sleeping portions, touching, handling, sifting and associating, sorting. This memory of an old knife wound from an Amok⁠—that was not the Raincloud woman; it was a man, very aged. This faint recollection of a childhood fear of drowning⁠—was that she? It was; it fitted with this other recollection, the long detour on the road south toward the sun, around a river.

The Raincloud woman was the first to round out in his mind, and the first he communicated with. He was not surprised to find that, early in her life, she had feared that she might be Wolf.

He reached out for her. It was almost magic⁠—knowing the “secret name” of a person, so that then he was yours to command. But the “secret name” was more than that. It was the gestalt of the person. It was the sum of all data and experience, never available to another person⁠—until now.

With her memories arranged at last in his own mind, he thought persuasively: “Citizeness Alla Narova, will you awaken and speak with me?”

No answer⁠—only a vague, troubled stirring.

Gently he persisted: “I know you well, Alla Narova. You sometimes thought you might be a Daughter of the Wolf, but never really believed it because you knew you loved your husband⁠—and thought Wolves did not love. You loved Rainclouds, too. It was when you stood at Beachy Head and saw a great cumulus that you went into Meditation⁠—”

And on and on, many times, coaxingly. Even so, it was not easy; but at last he began to reach her. Slowly she began to surface. Thoughts faintly sounded in his mind, like echoes at first, his own thoughts bouncing back at him, a sort of mental nod of agreement: “Yes, that is so.” Then⁠—terror. With a shaking fear, a hysterical rush, Citizeness Alla Narova came violently up to full consciousness and to panic.

She was soundlessly screaming. The whole eight-branched figure quivered and twisted in its nutrient bath.

The terrible storm raged in Tropile’s own mind as fully as in hers⁠—but he had the advantage of knowing what it was. He helped her. He fought it for the two of them⁠ ⁠… soothing, explaining, calming.

At last her branch of the snowflake-body retreated, sobbing for a spell. The storm was over.

He talked to her in his mind and she “listened.” She was incredulous, but there was no choice for her; she had to believe.

Exhausted and passive, she asked finally: “What can we do? I wish I were dead!”

He told her: “You were never a coward before. Remember, Alla Narova, I know you as nobody has ever known another human being before. That’s the way you will know me. As for what we can do⁠—we must begin by waking the others, if we can.”

“If not?”

“If not,” Tropile replied grimly, “then we will think of something else.”

She was of tough stuff, he thought admiringly. When she had rested and absorbed things, her spirit was almost that of a Wolf; she had very nearly been right about herself.

Together they explored their twinned members. They found through them exactly what task was theirs to do. They found how the electrostatic harvesting scythe of the Pyramids was controlled, by and through them. They found what limitations there were and what freedoms they owned. They reached into the other petals of the snowflake, reached past the linked Components into the whole complex of electrostatic field generators and propulsion machinery, reached even past that into⁠—

Into the great single function of the Pyramids that lay beyond.

XI

Haendl was on the ragged edge of breakdown, which was something new in his life.

It was full hot summer and the hidden colony of Wolves in Princeton should have been full of energy and life. The crops were growing on all the fields nearby; the drained storehouses were being replenished.

The aircraft that had been so painfully rebuilt and fitted for the assault on Mount Everest were standing by, ready to be manned and to take off.

And nothing, absolutely nothing, was going right.

It looked as though there would be no expedition to Everest. Four times now, Haendl had gathered his forces and been all ready. Four times, a key man of the expedition had⁠—vanished.

Wolves didn’t vanish!

And yet more than a score of them had. First Tropile⁠—then Innison⁠—then two dozen more, by ones and twos. No one was immune. Take Innison, for example. There was a man who was Wolf through and through. He was a doer, not a thinker; his skills were the skills of an artisan, a tinkerer, a jackleg mechanic. How could a man like that succumb to the pallid lure of Meditation?

But undeniably he had.

It had reached a point where Haendl himself was red-eyed and jumpy. He had set curious alarms for himself⁠—had enlisted the help of others of the colony to avert the danger of Translation from himself.

When he went to bed at night, a lieutenant sat next to his bed, watchfully alert lest Haendl, in that moment of reverie before sleep, fell into Meditation and himself be Translated. There was no hour of the day when Haendl permitted himself to be alone; and his companions, or guards, were ordered to shake him awake, as violently as need be, at the first hint of an abstracted look in the eyes or a reflective cast of the features.

As time went on, Haendl’s self-imposed regime of constant alertness began to cost him heavily in lost rest and sleep. And the consequences of that were⁠—more and more occasions when the bodyguards shook him awake; less and less rest.

He was very close to breakdown indeed.

On a hot, wet morning a few days after his useless expedition to see Citizen Germyn in Wheeling, Haendl ate a tasteless breakfast and, reeling with fatigue, set out on a tour of inspection of Princeton. Warm rain dripped from low clouds, but that was merely one more annoyance to Haendl. He hardly noticed it.

There were upward of a thousand Wolves in the Community and there were signs of worry on the face of every one of them. Haendl was not the only man in Princeton who had begun laying traps for himself as a result of the unprecedented disappearances; he was not the only one who was short of sleep. When one member in forty disappears, the morale of the whole community receives a shattering blow.

To Haendl, it was clear, looking into the faces of his compatriots, that not only was it going to be nearly impossible to mount the planned assault on the Pyramid on Everest this year, it was going to be unbearably difficult merely to keep the community going.

The whole Wolf pack was on the verge of panic.

There was a confused shouting behind Haendl. Groggily he turned and looked; half a dozen Wolves were yelling and pointing at something in the wet, muggy air.

It was an Eye, hanging silent and featureless over the center of the street.

Haendl took a deep breath and mustered command of himself. “Frampton!” he ordered one of his lieutenants. “Get the helicopter with the instruments here. We’ll take some more readings.”

Frampton opened his mouth, then looked more closely at Haendl and, instead, began to talk on his pocket radio. Haendl knew what was in the man’s mind⁠—it was in his own, too.

What was the use of more readings? From the time of Tropile’s Translation on, they had had a superfluity of instrument readings on the forces and auras that surrounded the Eyes⁠—yes, and on Translations themselves, too. Before Tropile, there had never been an Eye seen in Princeton, much less an actual Translation. But things were different now. Everything was different. Eyes roamed restlessly around day and night.

Some of the men nearest the Eye were picking up rocks and throwing them at the bobbing vortex in the air. Haendl started to yell at them to stop, then changed his mind. The Eye didn’t seem to be affected⁠—as he watched, one of the men scored a direct hit with a cobblestone. The stone went right through the Eye, without sound or effect; why not let them work off some of their fears in direct action?

There was a fluttering of vanes and the copter with the instruments mounted on it came down in the middle of the street, between Haendl and the Eye.

It was all very rapid from then on.

The Eye swooped toward Haendl. He couldn’t help it; he ducked. That was useless, but it was also unnecessary, for he saw in a second that it was only partly the motion of the Eye toward him that made it loom larger; it was also that the Eye itself was growing.

An Eye was perhaps the size of a football, as near as anyone could judge. This one got bigger, bigger. It was the size of a roc’s egg, the size of a whale’s blunt head. It stopped and hovered over the helicopter, while the man inside frantically pointed lenses and meters⁠—

Thundercrash.

Not a man this time⁠—Translation had gone beyond men. The whole helicopter vanished, man, instruments, spinning vanes and all.

Haendl picked himself up, sweating, shocked beyond sleepiness.

The young man named Frampton said fearfully: “Haendl, what do we do now?”

“Do?” Haendl stared at him absently. “Why, kill ourselves, I guess.”

He nodded soberly, as though he had at last attained the solution of a difficult problem. Then he sighed.

“Well, one thing before that,” he said. “I’m going to Wheeling. We Wolves are licked; maybe the Citizens can help us now.”


Roget Germyn, of Wheeling, a Citizen, received the message in the chambers that served him as a place of business. He had a visitor waiting for him at home.

Germyn was still Citizen and he could not quickly break off the pleasant and interminable discussion he was having with a prospective client over a potential business arrangement. He apologized for the interruption caused by the message the conventional five times, listened while his guest explained once more the plan he had come to propose in full, then turned his cupped hands toward himself in the gesture of Denial of Adequacy. It was the closest he could come to saying no.

On the other side of the desk, the Citizen who had come to propose an investment scheme immediately changed the subject by inviting Germyn and his Citizeness to a Sirius Viewing, the invitation in the form of rhymed couplets. He had wanted to transact his business very much, but he couldn’t insist.

Germyn got out of the invitation by a Conditional Acceptance in proper form, and the man left, delayed only slightly by the Four Urgings to Stay. Almost immediately, Germyn dismissed his clerk and closed his office for the day by tying a triple knot in a length of red cord across the open door.

When he got to his home, he found, as he had suspected, that the visitor was Haendl.

There was much doubt in Citizen Germyn’s mind about Haendl. The man had nearly admitted to being Wolf, and how could a citizen overlook that? But in the excitement of Gala Tropile’s Translation, there had been no hue and cry. Germyn had permitted the man to leave. And now?

He reserved judgment. He found Haendl distastefully sipping tea in the living room and attempting to keep up a formal conversation with Citizeness Germyn. He rescued him, took him aside, closed a door⁠—and waited.

He was astonished at the change in the man. Before, Haendl had been bouncy, aggressive, quick-moving⁠—the very qualities least desired in a Citizen, the mark of the Son of the Wolf. Now he was none of these things, but he looked no more like a Citizen for all that; he was haggard, tense.

He said, with an absolute minimum of protocol: “Germyn, the last time I saw you, there was a Translation. Gala Tropile, remember?”

“I remember,” Citizen Germyn said. Remember! It had hardly left his thoughts.

“And you told me there had been others. Are they still going on?”

Germyn said: “There have been others.” He was trying to speak directly, to match this man Haendl’s speed and forcefulness. It was hardly good manners, but it had occurred to Citizen Germyn that there were times when manners, after all, were not the most important thing in the world. “There were two in the past few days. One was a woman⁠—Citizeness Baird; her husband’s a teacher. She was Viewing Through Glass with four or five other women at the time. She just⁠—disappeared. She was looking through a green prism at the time, if that helps.”

“I don’t know if it helps or not. Who was the other one?”

Germyn shrugged. “A man named Harmane. No one saw it. But they heard the thunderclap, or something like a thunderclap, and he was missing.” He thought for a moment. “It is a little unusual, I suppose. Two in a week⁠—”

Haendl said roughly: “Listen, Germyn. It isn’t just two. In the past thirty days, within the area around here and in one other place, there have been at least fifty. In two places, do you understand? Here and in Princeton. The rest of the world⁠—nothing much; a few Translations here and there. But just in these two communities, fifty. Does that make sense?”

Citizen Germyn thought. “⁠—No.”

“No. And I’ll tell you something else. Three of the⁠—well, victims have been children under the age of five. One was too young to walk. And the most recent Translation wasn’t a person at all. It was a helicopter. Now figure that out, Germyn. What’s the explanation for Translations?”

Germyn was gaping. “Why⁠—you Meditate, you know. On Connectivity. The idea is that once you’ve grasped the Essential Connectivity of All Things, you become One with the Cosmic Whole. But I don’t see how a baby or a machine⁠—”

“No, of course you don’t. Remember Glenn Tropile?”

“Naturally.”

“He’s the link,” Haendl said grimly. “When he got Translated, we thought it was a big help, because he had the consideration to do it right under our eyes. We got enough readings to give us a clue as to what, physically speaking, Translation is all about. That was the first real clue and we thought he’d done us a favor. Now I’m not so sure.”

He leaned forward. “Every person I know of who was Translated was someone Tropile knew. The three kids were in his class at the nursery school⁠—we put him there for a while to keep him busy, when he first came to us. Two of the men he bunked with are gone; the mess boy who served him is gone; his wife is gone. Meditation? No, Germyn. I know most of those people. Not a damned one of them would have spent a moment Meditating on Connectivity to save his life. And what do you make of that?”

Swallowing hard, Germyn said: “I just remembered. That man Harmane⁠—”

“What about him?”

“The one who was Translated last week. He also knew Tropile. He was the Keeper of the House of the Five Regulations when Tropile was there.”

“You see? And I’ll bet the woman knew Tropile, too.” Haendl got up fretfully, pacing around. “Here’s the thing, Germyn. I’m licked. You know what I am, don’t you?”

Germyn said levelly: “I believe you to be Wolf.”

“You believe right. That doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t like Wolves. Well, I don’t like you. But this thing is too big for me to care about that anymore. Tropile has started something happening, and what the end of it is going to be, I can’t tell. But I know this: We’re not safe, either of us. Maybe you still think Translation is a fulfillment. I don’t; it scares me. But it’s going to happen to me⁠—and to you. It’s going to happen to everybody who ever had anything to do with Glenn Tropile, unless we can somehow stop it⁠—and I don’t know how. Will you help me?”

Germyn, trying not to tremble when all his buried fears screamed Wolf!, said honestly: “I’ll have to sleep on it.”

Haendl looked at him for a moment. Then he shrugged. Almost to himself, he said: “Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we can’t do anything about it anyhow. All right. I’ll come back in the morning, and if you’ve made up your mind to help, we’ll start trying to make plans. And if you’ve made up your mind the other way⁠—well, I guess I’ll have to fight off a few Citizens. Not that I mind that.”

Germyn stood up and bowed. He began the ritual Four Urgings.

“Spare me that,” Haendl growled. “Meanwhile, Germyn, if I were you, I wouldn’t make any long-range plans. You may not be here to carry them out.”

Germyn asked thoughtfully: “And if you were you?”

“I’m not making any,” Haendl said grimly.


Citizen Germyn, feeling utterly tainted with the scent of the Wolf in his home, tossed in his bed, sleepless. His eyes were wide open, staring at the dark ceiling. He could hear his wife’s decorous breathing from the foot of the bed⁠—soft and regular, it should have been lulling him to sleep.

It was not. Sleep was very far away.

Germyn was a brave enough man, as courage is measured among Citizens. That is to say, he had never been afraid, though it was true that there had been very little occasion. But he was afraid now. He didn’t want to be Translated.

The Wolf, Haendl, had put his finger on it: Perhaps you still think Translation is a fulfillment. Translation⁠—the reward of Meditation, the gift bestowed on only a handful of gloriously transfigured persons. That was one thing. But the sort of Translation that was now involved was nothing like that⁠—not if it happened to children; not if it happened to Gala Tropile; not if it happened to a machine.

And Glenn Tropile was involved in it.

Germyn turned restlessly.

If people who knew Glenn Tropile were likely to be Translated, and people who Meditated on Connectivity were likely to be Translated, then people who knew Glenn Tropile and didn’t want to be Translated had better not Meditate on Connectivity.

It was very difficult to not think of Connectivity.

Endlessly he calculated sums in arithmetic in his mind, recited the Five Regulations, composed Greeting Poems and Verses on Viewing. And endlessly he kept coming back to Tropile, to Translation, to Connectivity. He didn’t want to be Translated. But still the thought had a certain lure. What was it like? Did it hurt?

Well, probably not, he speculated. It was very fast, according to Haendl’s report⁠—if you could believe what an admitted Son of the Wolf reported. But Germyn had to.

Well, if it was fast⁠—at that kind of speed, he thought, perhaps you would die instantly. Maybe Tropile was dead. Was that possible? No, it didn’t seem so; after all, there was the fact of the connection between Tropile and so many of the recently Translated. What was the connection there? Or, generalizing, what connections were involved in⁠—

He rescued himself from the dread word and summoned up the first image that came to mind. It happened to be Tropile’s wife⁠—Gala Tropile, who had disappeared herself, in this very room.

Gala Tropile. He stuck close to the thought of her, a little pleased with himself. That was the trick of not thinking of Connectivity⁠—to think so hard and fully of something else as to leave no room in the mind for the unwanted thought. He pictured every line of her face, every wave of her stringy hair.⁠ ⁠…

It was very easy that way. He was pleased.

XII

On Mount Everest, the sullen stream of off-and-on responses that was “mind” to the Pyramid had taken note of a new input signal.

It was not a critical mind. Its only curiosity was a restless urge to shove-and-haul, and there was no shove-and-haul about what to it was perhaps the analogue of a man’s hunger pang. The input signal said: Do thus. It obeyed.

Call it craving for a new flavor. Where once it had patiently waited for the state that Citizens knew as Meditation on Connectivity, and the Pyramid itself perhaps knew as a stage of ripeness in the fruits of its wristwatch mine, now it wanted a different taste. Unripe? Overripe? At any rate, different.

Accordingly, the high-frequency wheep, wheep changed in tempo and in key, and the bouncing echoes changed and⁠ ⁠… there was a ripe one to be plucked. (Its name was Innison.) And there another. (Gala Tropile.) And another, another⁠—oh, many others⁠—a babe from Tropile’s nursery school and the Wheeling jailer and a woman Tropile once had coveted on the street.

Once the ruddy starch-to-sugar mark of ripeness had been what human beings called Meditation on Connectivity and the Pyramids knew as a convenient blankness. Now the sign was a sort of empathy with the Component named Tropile. It didn’t matter to the Pyramid on Mount Everest. It swung its electrostatic scythe and the⁠—call them Tropiletropes⁠—were harvested.

It did not occur to the Pyramid on Mount Everest that a Component might be directing its actions. How could it?

Perhaps the Pyramid on Mount Everest wondered, if it knew how to wonder, when it noticed that different criteria were involved in selecting components these days. If it knew how to “notice.” Surely even a Pyramid might wonder when, without warning or explanation, its orders were changed⁠—not merely to harvest a different sort of Component, but to drag along with the flesh-and-blood needful parts a clanking assortment of machinery and metal, as began to happen. Machines? Why would the Pyramids need to Translate machines?

But why, on the other hand, would a Pyramid bother to question a directive, even if it were able to?

In any case, it didn’t. It swung its scythe and gathered in what it was caused to gather in.

Men sometimes eat green fruit and come to regret it. Was it the same with Pyramids?

And Citizen Germyn fell into the unsuspected trap. Avoiding Connectivity, he thought of Glenn Tropile⁠—and the unfelt h.f. pulses found him out.

He didn’t see the Eye that formed above him. He didn’t feel the gathering of forces that formed his trap. He didn’t know that he was seized, charged, catapulted through space, caught, halted and drained. It happened too fast.

One moment he was in his bed; the next moment he was⁠—elsewhere. There wasn’t anything in between.

It had happened to hundreds of thousands of Components before him, but, for Citizen Germyn, what happened was in some ways different. He was not embalmed in nutrient fluid, formed and programmed to take his part in the Pyramid-structure, for he had not been selected by the Pyramid but by that single wild Component, Tropile. He arrived conscious, awake and able to move.

He stood up in a red-lit chamber. Vast thundering crashes of metal buffeted his ears. Heat sprang little founts of perspiration on his skin.

It was too much, too much to take in at once. Oily-skinned madmen, naked, were capering and shouting at him. It took him a moment to realize that they were not devils; this was not Hell; he was not dead.

“This way!” they were bawling at him. “Come on, hurry it up!”

He reeled, following their directions, across an unpleasantly warm floor, staggering and falling⁠—the binary planet was a quarter denser than Earth⁠—until he got his balance.

The capering madmen led him through a door⁠—or sphincter or trap; it was not like anything he had ever seen. But it was a portal of a sort, and on the other side of it was something closer to sanity. It was another room, and though the light was still red, it was a paler, calmer red and the thundering ironmongery was a wall away. The madmen were naked, yes, but they were not mad. The oil on their skins was only the sheen of sweat.

“Where⁠—where am I?” he gasped.

Two voices, perhaps three or four, were all talking at once. He could make no sense of it. Citizen Germyn looked about him. He was in a sort of chamber that formed a part of a machine that existed for the unknown purposes of the Pyramids on the binary planet. And he was alive⁠—and not even alone.

He had crossed more than a million miles of space without feeling a thing. But when what the naked men were saying began to penetrate, the walls lurched around him.

It was true; he had been Translated.

He looked dazedly down at his own bare body, and around at the room, and then he realized they were still talking: “⁠—when you get your bearings. Feel all right now? Come on, Citizen, snap out of it!”

Germyn blinked.

Another voice said peevishly: “Tropile’s got to find some other place to bring them in. That foundry isn’t meant for human beings. Look at the shape this one is in! Sometime somebody’s going to come in and we won’t spot him in time and⁠—pfut!”

The first voice said: “Can’t be helped. Hey! Are you all right?”

Citizen Germyn looked at the naked man in front of him and took a deep breath of hot, sour air. “Of course I’m all right,” he said.

The naked man was Haendl.


The Tropile-petal “said” to the Alla Narova-petal: “Got another one! It’s Citizen Germyn!” The petal fluttered feebly in soundless laughter.

The Alla Narova-petal “said”: “Glenn, come back! The whole propulsion-pneuma just went out of circuit!”

Tropile pulled his attention away from his human acquisitions in the chamber off the foundry and allowed himself to fuse with the woman-personality. Together they reached out and explored along the pathways they had laboriously traced. The propulsion-pneuma was the complex of navigation-computers, drive generators, course-vectoring units that their own unit had been originally part of⁠—until Glenn Tropile, by waking its Components, had managed to divert it for purposes of his own. The two of them reached out into it⁠—

Dead end.

It was out of circuit, as Alla Narova had said. One whole limb of their body⁠—their new, jointly tenanted body, that spanned a whole planet and reached across space to Earth⁠—had been lopped off. Quick, quick, they separated, traced separate paths. They came together again: Still dead end.

The dyad that was Tropile and the woman reached out to touch the others in the snowflake and communicated⁠—not in words, not in anything as slow and as opaque as words: The Pyramids have lopped off another circuit. The compound personality of the snowflake considered its course of action, reached its decision, acted. Quick, quick, three of the other members of the snowflake darted out of the collective unit and went about isolating and tracing the exact area that had been affected.

Tropile: “We expected this. They couldn’t help noticing sooner or later that something was going wrong.”

Alla Narova: “But, Glenn, suppose they cut us out of circuit? We’re stuck here. We can’t move. We can’t get out of the tanks. If they know that we are the source of their trouble⁠—”

Tropile: “Let them know! That’s what we’ve got the others here for!” He was cocky now, self-assured, fighting. For the first time in his life, he was free to fight⁠—to let his Wolf blood strive to the utmost⁠—and he knew what he was fighting for. This wasn’t a matter of Haendl’s pitiful tanks and carbines against the invulnerable Pyramids; this was the invulnerability of the whole Pyramid system turned against the Pyramids!

It was a warning, the fact that the Pyramids had become alert to danger, had begun cutting sections of their planetary communications system out of the main circuit. But as a warning, it didn’t frighten Tropile; it only spurred him to action.

Quick, quick, he and the woman-personality dissolved, sped away. Figuratively they sought out the most restive Components they could find, shook them by the shoulder, tried to wake them. Actually⁠—well, what is “actually?” The physical fact was surely that they didn’t move at all, for they were bound to their tank and to the surgical joinings, each to each, at their temples. No crawling child in a playpen was more helplessly confined than Tropile and Alla Narova and the others.

And yet no human being had ever been more free.


Regard that imbecile servant of Everyman, the thermostat.

He runs the furnace in Everyman’s house, he measures the doneness of Everyman’s breakfast toast, he valves the cooling fluid through the radiator of Everyman’s car. If Everyman’s house stays too hot or too cold, the man swears at the lackwit switch and maybe buys a new one to plug in. But he never, never thinks that his thermostat might be plotting against him.

Thermostat : Man = Man : Pyramid. Only that and nothing more. It was not in the nature of a Pyramid to think that its Components, once installed, could reprogram themselves. No Component ever had. (But before Glenn Tropile, no Component had been Wolf.)

When Tropile found himself, he found others. They were men and women, real persons with gonads and dreams. They had been caught at the moment of blankness⁠—yes; and frozen into that shape, true. But they were palimpsest personalities on which the Pyramids had programmed their duties. Underneath the Pyramids’ cabalistic scrawl, the men and women still remained. They had only to be reached.

Tropile and Alla Narova reached them⁠—one at a time, then by scores. The Pyramids made that possible. The network of communication that they had created for their own purposes encompassed every cell of the race and all its works. Tropile reached out from his floating snowflake and went where he wished⁠—anywhere within the binary planet; to the brooding Pyramid on Earth; through the Eyes, wherever he chose on Earth’s surface.

Physically, he was scarcely able to move a muscle. But, oh, the soaring range of his mind and vision!


Citizen Germyn was past shock, but just the same it was uncomfortable to be in a room with several dozen other persons, all of them naked. Uncomfortable. Once it would have been brain-shattering. For a Citizen to see his own Citizeness unclothed was gross lechery. To be part of a mixed and bare-skinned group was unthinkable. Or had been. Now it only made him uneasy.

He said numbly to Haendl: “Citizen, I pray you tell me what sort of place this is.”

“Later,” said Haendl gruffly, and led him out of the way. “Stay put,” he advised. “We’re busy.”

And that was true. Something was going on, but Citizen Germyn couldn’t make out exactly what it was. The naked people were worrying out a distribution of some sort of supplies. There were tools and there were also what looked to Citizen Germyn’s unsophisticated eyes very much like guns. Guns? It was foolishness to think they were guns, Citizen Germyn told himself strongly. Nobody had guns. He touched the floor with an exploratory hand. It was warm and it shook with a nameless distant vibration. He shuddered.

Haendl came back; yes, they were guns. Haendl was carrying one.

“Ours!” he crowed. “That Tropile must’ve looted our armory at Princeton. By the looks of what’s here, I doubt if he left a single round of ammunition. What the hell, they’re more use here!”

“But what are we going to do with guns?”

Haendl looked at him with savage amusement. “Shoot.”

Citizen Germyn said: “Please, Citizen. Tell me what this is all about.”

Haendl sat down next to him on the warm, quivering floor and began fitting cartridges into a clip.

“We’re fighting,” he explained gleefully. “Tropile did it all. You’ve been shanghaied and so have all the rest of us. Tropile’s alive! He’s part of the Pyramid communications network⁠—don’t ask me how. But he’s there and he has been hauling men and weapons and God knows what all up from Earth⁠—you’re on the binary planet now, you know⁠—and we’re going to bust things up so the Pyramids will never be able to put them back together again. Understand? Well, it doesn’t matter if you don’t. All you have to understand is that when I tell you to shoot this gun, you shoot.”

Numbly, Citizen Germyn took the unfamiliar stock and barrel into his hands. Muscles he had forgotten he owned straightened the limp curve of his back, squared his shoulders and thrust out his chest.

It had been many generations since any of Citizen Germyn’s people had known the feeling of being an Armed Man.

A naked woman with wild hair and a full, soft figure came toward them, jiggling in a way that agonized Citizen Germyn. He dropped his eyes to his gun and kept them there.

She cried: “Orders from Tropile! We’ve got to form a party and blow something up.”

Haendl demanded: “Such as what?”

“I don’t know what. I only know where. We’ve got a guide. And Tropile particularly asked for you, Haendl. He said you’d enjoy it.”

And enjoy it Haendl did⁠—anticipation was all over his face.

They formed a party of a dozen. They armed themselves with the guns Tropile had levitated from the bulging warehouse at Princeton. They supplied themselves with gray metal cans of something that Haendl said were explosives, and with fuses and detonators to match, and they set off⁠—with their guide.

A guide! It was a shambling, fearsome monster!

When Citizen Germyn saw it, he had to fight an almost irresistible temptation to be ill. Even the bare skins about him no longer mattered; this new horror canceled them out.

“What⁠—What⁠—” he strangled, pointing.

Haendl laughed raucously. “That’s Joey.”

“What’s Joey?”

“He works for us,” said Haendl, grinning.

Joey was neither human nor beast; it was not Pyramid; it was nothing Citizen Germyn had ever seen or imagined before. It crouched on many-jointed limbs, and even so was twice the height of a man. Its ropy arms and legs were covered with fine chitinous spines, laid on as close as hairs in a pelt, and sharp as thorns. There was a layer of chitin around its reddish eyes. What was more horrible than all, it spoke.

It said squeakily: “You all ready? Come on, snap it up! The Pyramids have got something big building up and we’ve got to squash it.”

Citizen Germyn whispered feverishly to Haendl: “That voice! It sounds odd, yes⁠—but isn’t it Tropile’s voice?”

“Sure it is! That’s what old Joey is good for,” said Haendl. “Tropile says he’s telepathic, whatever that is. Makes it handy for us.”

And it did. Telepathy was the alien’s very special use to Glenn Tropile, for what Joey was in fact was another Component, from a previous wristwatch mine. Joey’s planet had once circled a star never visible from Earth; his home air was thin and his home sunlight was weak, and in consequence his race had developed a species of telepathy for communicating at long range. This was handy for the Pyramids, because it simplified the wiring. And it was equally handy for Glenn Tropile, once he managed to wake the creature⁠—with its permission, he could use its body as a sort of walkie-talkie in directing the tactics of his shanghaied army.

That permission was very readily given. Joey remembered what the Pyramids had done to its own planet.

“Come on!” ordered Joey in Tropile’s filtered voice, and they hastened through a straight and achingly cramped tunnel in single file, toward what Tropile had said was their target.

They had nearly reached it when, abruptly, there was a thundering of explosions ahead.

The party stopped, looked at each other, and got ready to move on more slowly.

At last it had started. The Pyramids were beginning to fight back.

XIII

Citizeness Roget Germyn, widow, woke from sleep like a well-mannered cat on the narrow lower third of the bed that her training had taught her to occupy, though it had been some days since her husband’s Translation had emptied the Citizen’s two-thirds permanently.

Someone had tapped gently on her door.

“I am awake,” she called, in a voice just sufficient to carry.

A quiet voice said: “Citizeness, there is exceptional opportunity to Appreciate this morning. Come see, if you will. And I ask forgiveness for waking you.”

She recognized the voice; it was the wife of one of her neighbors. The Citizeness made the appropriate reply, combining forgiveness and gratitude.

She dressed rapidly, but with appropriate pauses for reflection and calm, and stepped out into the street.

It was not yet daylight. Overhead, great sheets of soundless lightnings flared.

Inside Citizeness Germyn long-unfelt emotions stirred. There was something that was very like terror, and something that was akin to love. This was a generation that had never seen the aurora, for the ricocheting electron beams that cause it could not span the increasing distance between the orphaned Earth and its primary, Old Sol, and the small rekindled suns the Pyramids made were far too puny.

Under the sleeting aurora, small knots of Citizens stood about the streets, their faces turned up to the sky and illuminated by the distant light. It was truly an exceptional opportunity to Appreciate and they were all making the most of it.

Conscientiously, Citizeness Germyn sought out another viewer with whom to exchange comments on the spectacle above. “It is more bright than meteors,” she said judiciously, “and lovelier than the freshly kindled Sun.”

“Sure,” said the woman. Citizeness Germyn, jolted, looked more closely. It was the Tropile woman⁠—Gala? Was that her name? And what sort of name was that? But it fitted her well; she was the one who had been wife to Wolf and, more likely than not, part Wolf herself.

Still, the case was not proved. Citizeness Germyn said honestly: “I have never seen a sight to compare with this in all my life.”

Gala Tropile said indifferently: “Yeah. Funny things are happening all the time these days, have you noticed? Ever since Glenn turned out to be⁠—” She stopped.

Citizeness Germyn rapidly diagnosed her embarrassment and acted to cover it up. “That is so. I have seen Eyes a hundred times and yet has there been a Translation with the Eyes? No. But there have been Translations. It is queer.”

“I suppose so,” Gala Tropile said, looking upward at the display. She sighed.

Over their heads, a formed Eye was drifting slowly about, but neither of the women noticed it. The shifting lights in the sky obscured it.

“I wonder what causes that stuff,” Gala Tropile said idly.

Citizeness Germyn made no attempt to answer. It was not the sort of question that would normally have occurred to her and therefore not a sort to which she could reply.

Moreover, it was not the question closest to Gala Tropile’s heart at that moment⁠—nor, for that matter, the question closest to Citizeness Germyn’s. The question that underlay the thoughts of both was: I wonder what happened to my husband.

It was strange, but true, that the answers to all their questions were very nearly the same.


The Alla-Narova mind said sharply: “Glenn, come back!”

Tropile withdrew from scanning the distant dark street. He laughed soundlessly. “I was watching my wife. God, we’re giving them fits down there! The Pyramids must be churning things up, too⁠—the sky is full of auroral displays. Looks like there’s plenty of h.f. bouncing around the atmosphere.”

“Pay attention!” the Alla-Narova mind commanded.

“All right.” Obediently, Tropile returned to the war he was waging.

It was a strange conflict, strangely fought. Tropile’s mind searched the abysses and tunnels of the Pyramid planet, and what he sensed or saw was immediately communicated to all of the awakened Components who were his allies.

It was a godlike position. Was he sane? There was no knowing. Sanity no longer meant anything to Tropile. He was beyond such human affairs as lunacy or its reverse. An insane man is one who is out of joint with his environment. Tropile was himself his environment. His mind encompassed two planets and the space between. He saw with a thousand eyes. He worked with a thousand hands.

And he struck mighty blows.

The weakness of a network that reaches everywhere is that it is everywhere vulnerable. If a teletype repeater in Omaha garbles a single digit, printing units in Atlanta and Bangor will type out errors. Tropile, by striking at the Pyramids’ net at a thousand points, garbled their communications and made them nearly useless. More, he took the Pyramid network for his own. The Tropile-pulse sped through the neurone guides of the Pyramid net, and what it encountered it mastered, and what it mastered it changed.

The Pyramids discovered that they had been attacked.

Frantically (if they felt frenzy), the Pyramids replaced Components; the Tropile-pulse woke the new ones. Unbelievingly (did they know how to “believe”?), the Pyramids isolated contaminated circuits; the Tropile-pulse bypassed them.

Desperately (or joyously or uffishly⁠—one term fits exactly as well as another), the Pyramids returned to shove-and-haul, and there was much destruction, and some Components died.

But by then, the Components had reprogrammed themselves.

The first job had been the matter of finding hands for the Tropile-brain to work with. Bring hands in, then! Tropile commanded the Pyramids’ network and obediently it was done. The Translation mechanism, the electrostatic scythe that had harvested so many crops from the wristwatch mines, suffered a change and went to work not for the pickers but for the fruit.

The essential change in the operation of that particular pneuma had been simple; first, to “harvest” or “Translate” the men and women Tropile wanted as fighters instead of the meditative Citizen kind. Second, to divert the new arrivals to where they would not go straight to deep-freeze. It happened that the only alternate space Tropile could find was a sort of foundry that was nearly Hell, but that was only a detail. The important thing was that new helpers were arriving, with minds of their own and the capacity to move and act.

Then Tropile needed to communicate with them. He found the alien, ropy-limbed Component whose name vaguely approached “Joey.” Joey’s limited sense of telepathy was needed and so, with enormous difficulty, Tropile and Alla Narova, combined, managed to reach and wake it.

And so he had an army, captured humans for troops, an awakened Joey for liaison.

Tropile was lord of two worlds. Not only the Pyramids were under his thumb, but his own fellow humans whom he had drafted into his service. They ate when a captured circuit he controlled fed synthetic mush into troughs for them. They breathed because a captured circuit he directed created air. They would return to Earth when⁠—and only when⁠—a captured circuit he operated sent them home.

Sane?

By what standards?

And what difference did it make?

XIV

With a series of grinding shocks, like an enormous earthquake-fault relieving a strain, the Pyramids began to fight back.

“Tropile!” the Alla-Narova mind called urgently.

Tropile flashed to the trouble spot. Through eyes that were not his own, Tropile scanned the honeycombed world of the Pyramids. There was an area where huge and ancient vehicles lay covered with the slow dust of centuries, and the vehicles were beginning to move.

Caterpillar-treaded hauling machines were loading themselves with what Tropile judged were quickly synthesized explosives. Almost forgotten wheeled vehicles were creeping mindlessly out of nearly abandoned storage sections and lumbering painfully along the tunnels of the planet.

“Coming toward us,” Tropile diagnosed dispassionately.

Alla Narova queried: “They mean to fight?”

“Of course. You see if you can penetrate the circuit that controls them. I⁠—” already he was flashing away⁠—“I’ll get to the boys through Joey.”

It was queer, looking through the eyes of the alien they called Joey; colors were all wrong, perspective was flat. But he could see, though cloudily. He saw Haendl joyously fitting a bayonet⁠—a bayonet!⁠—to a rifle; he saw Citizen Germyn, naked but square-shouldered, puffing valiantly along in the rear.

Tropile said through the strange vocal cords that belonged to the alien: “You’ll have to hurry.” (Strange to speak in words again!) “The Pyramids are heading toward the chambers where the Components are kept. I think they mean to kill us.”

He flashed away, located the area, flashed back. “You’ll have to go without me⁠—I mean without Joey-me. The only way I see to get there is through a narrow little ventilation tunnel⁠—I guess ventilation is what it was for.”

Quickly (but against the familiar race of thought, it seemed agonizingly slow) he laid out the route for them and left; it was up to them. Watching from a dozen viewpoints at once, he saw the slow creep of the Pyramids’ machines and the slower intersecting march of his little army. He studied the alternate cross routes and contrived to block some of them by interfering with the control-circuits of the emergency doors and portals.

But there were some circuits he could not control. The Pyramids had withdrawn whole sections of their net and areas of the planet were now hidden from him entirely. Sections of the vast maintenance-propulsion-manufacturing complex were no longer subject to his interference or control.

It would be, Tropile thought dispassionately, a rather close thing. The chances were perhaps six out of ten that his hastily assembled task force would be able to intercept the convoy of automatic machines before it could reach the racks of nutrient tanks.

And if they were not in time?

Tropile almost laughed out loud, if that had been possible. Why, then, his body would be destroyed! How trivial a thing to worry about! He began to forget he owned a body; surely it was someone else’s bone and tissue that lay floating in the eight-branched snowflake. He knew that this was not so. He knew that if his body were killed, he would die. And yet there was no sense of fear, no personal involvement. It was an interesting problem in scheduling and nothing more.

Would the human fighters get there in time?

Perhaps the automatic machines had senses, for as the first of the humans burst into the tunnel they were using, a few hundred yards ahead of the lead load-carrier, the machines shuddered to a stop. Pause for a second; then, laboriously, they began to back toward the nearest of the side passages that Tropile had been unable to block. He scanned it hurriedly. Good, good! The circuits surrounding the passage proper were out of his reach, but it led to another passage, an abandoned pipeline of sorts, it seemed to be. And that he could reach.⁠ ⁠…

Patiently (how slowly the machines crept along!) he waited until one of the Pyramids’ machines bearing explosives passed through an enormous valve in the line⁠—and then the valve was thrown.

The explosion triggered every vehicle in the line. The damage was complete.

Scratch one threat from the Pyramids⁠—

And almost at once, there was another urgent call from Alia Narova: “Tropile, quickly!”


The Pyramids were the mightiest race of warriors the Universe had ever known. They were invulnerable and unconquerable, except from within. Like Alexander the Great, they had met every enemy and whipped them all. And, like dying Alexander, they writhed and raged against the tiny, unseen bacillus within themselves.

Blindly, almost suicidally, the Pyramids returned to their ancient principle of shove-and-haul.

The geography of the binary planet was like a hive of bees, nearly featureless on the surface, but internally a congeries of tunnels, chambers, warrens, rooms, tubes and amphitheaters. Machinery and metal Components were everywhere thick under the planet’s crust. The more delicate and more useful Components of flesh and blood were, to a degree, concentrated in a few areas.⁠ ⁠…

And one of those areas had disappeared.

Tropile, battering futilely with his mind at the periphery of the vanished area, cried sharply to Alla Narova and the others: “It looks as though they’ve broken a piece right out of the planet! Everything stops here⁠—there’s a physical gap which I can’t cross. Hurry, one of you⁠—what was this section for?”

“Propulsion.”

“I see.” Tropile hesitated, confused for the first time since his awakening. “Wait.”

He retreated to the snowflake and communed with the other eight-branched members, now become something that resembled his general staff. He told them⁠—most of them already knew, but the telling took so little time that it was simpler to go through it from beginning to end:

“The Pyramids attempted to cut the propulsion-pneuma out of circuit some seconds or days ago and were unsuccessful; we awakened additional Components and were able to maintain contact with it. They have now apparently cut it loose from the planet itself. I do not think it is far, but there is a physical space between.”

“The importance of the propulsion-pneuma is this: It controls the master generators of electrostatic force, which are used both to move this planet and ours, and to perform the act of Translation. If the Pyramids control it, they may be able to take us out of circuit, perhaps back to Earth, perhaps throwing us into space, where we will die. The question for decision: How can we counteract this move?”

A rush of voices all spoke at once; it was no trick for Tropile and the others to sort them out and follow the arguments of each, but it cannot be reproduced.

At last, one said: “There is a way. I will do it.”

It was Alla Narova.

“What is the way?” Tropile demanded, curiously alarmed.

“I shall go with them, trace the areas the Pyramids are attempting to isolate, place my entire self⁠—” by this she meant her “concentration,” her “psyche,” that part of all of them which flashed along the neurone guides unhampered by flesh or distance⁠—“in the most likely point they will next cut loose. And then I shall cause the propulsion units on the severed sections to force them back into circuit.”

Tropile objected: “But you don’t know what will happen! We have never been cut off from our physical bodies, Alla Narova. It may be death. It may not be possible at all. You don’t know!”

Alla Narova thought a smile and a farewell. She said: “No, I do not.” And then, “Goodbye, Tropile.”

She had gone.

Furiously, Tropile hurled himself after her, but she was quick as he, too quick to catch; she was gone. Foolishness, foolishness! he shouted silently. How could she do an insane, chancy thing like this?

And yet what else was there to do? They were all ignorant babes, temporarily successful because there had been no defense against them, for who expects babes to rise up in rebellion? They didn’t know. For all they could guess or imagine, the Pyramids had an effective counter for any move they might make. Temporary success meant nothing. It was the final decision that counted, when either the Pyramids were vanquished or the men, and what steps were needed to make that decision favor the men were anyone’s guess⁠—Alla Narova’s was as good as his.

Tropile could only watch and wait.

Through a great many viewpoints and observers, he was able to see roughly what happened.

There was a section of the planet next the severed chunk where the mind and senses of Alla Narova lay coiled for a moment⁠—and were gone. For what it had accomplished, her purpose succeeded. She had been taken. She was out of circuit.

The overwhelming consciousness of loss that flooded through Glenn Tropile was something outside of all his experience.

Next to him in the snowflake, the body which he had learned to think of as the body of Alla Narova twisted sharply as though waking from a dream⁠—and lay flaccid, floating in the fluid.

“Alla Narova! Alla Narova!

There was no answer.

A voice came piercingly: “Tropile! Here now, quickly!”

Goodbye, Alla Narova! He flashed away to see what the other voice had found. Great mindless boulders were chipping away from the crust of the binary planet and whirling like midges in the void around it.

“What is it?” cried one of the others.

Tropile had no answer. It was the Pyramids, clearly. Were they attempting to demolish their own planet? Were they digging away at the crust to uncover the maggot’s-nest of awakened Components beneath?

“The air!” cried Tropile sharply, and knew it was true. What the Pyramids were up to was a simple delousing operation. If you could destroy their own machinery for maintaining air and pressure and temperature, they would destroy all living things within⁠—including Haendl and Citizen Germyn and thus, in the final analysis, including the bodies of Tropile and his awakened fellows. For without the mobile troops to defend their helpless cocoons against the machines of the Pyramids, the limp bodies could be destroyed as easily as a larva under a farmer’s heel.

So Alla Narova had failed.

Alone against the Pyramids, she had been unable to bring the recaptured sections back into the circuit that Tropile’s Components now dominated. It was the end of hope; but it was not the fear of defeat and damnation for the Earth that paralyzed Tropile. It was Alla Narova, gone from him forever.

The Pyramids were too strong.

And yet, he thought, quickening, they had been too strong before and still a weak spot had been found!

“Think,” he ordered himself desperately.

And then again: “Think!” Components stirred restlessly around him, questioning. “Think!” he cried mightily. “All of you, think! Think of your lives and hopes!

“Think!

“Hope!

“Worry!

“Dream!”

The Components were reaching toward him now, wonderingly. He commanded them violently: “Do it⁠—concentrate, wish, think! Let your minds run free and think of Earth, pleasant grass and warm sun! Think of loving and sweat and heartbreak! Think of death and birth! Think, for the love of heaven, think!”

And the answer was not in sound, but it was deafening.


In the cut-off sections, Alla Narova’s soaring mind lay trapped. It had not been enough; she could not force her will against the dull inflexibility of the Pyramids.⁠ ⁠…

Until that inflexible will began to waver.

There was a leakage of thought.

It maddened and baffled the Pyramids. The whole neuronic network was resounding to a babble of thoughts and emotions that, to a Pyramid, were utterly demented! The rousing Component minds throbbed with urge and emotion that were new to Pyramid experience. What could a Pyramid make of a human’s sex drive? Or of the ropy-armed aliens’ passionate deification of the Egg? What of hunger and thirst and the blazing Wolf-need for odds and advantage that streamed out of such as Tropile?

They wavered, unsure. Their reactions were slow and very confused.

For Alla Narova succeeded in her purpose. She was able to reach out across the space and barrier to Tropile and the propulsion-pneuma was back in circuit. The section that controlled the master generators of the electronic scythe lay under his hands.

“Now!” he cried, and all of the Components reached out to grasp and move.

“Now!” And the central control was theirs; the full flood of power from the generators was at their command.

“Now! Now! Now!” And they reached out, with a fat pencil of electrostatic force and caught the sluggish, brooding Pyramid on Mount Everest.

It had squatted there without motion for more than two centuries. Now it quivered and seemed to draw back, but the probing pencil caught it, and whirled it, and hurled it up and out of Earth, into the tiny artificial sun.

It struck with a flare of blue-white light.

“One gone!” gloated Tropile. “Alla Narova, are you there?”

“Still here,” she called from a great distance. “Again?”

“Again!”

They reached for the Pyramids and found them, wherever they were. Some lay close to the surface of the binary planet, and some were hundreds of miles within, and a few, more desperate than the others or merely assigned to the task, they discovered at the very portal of the single spaceship of the Pyramids.

But wherever they were and whatever they chose to do, each one of them was found and seized. They came wriggling and shaking, like trout on an angler’s line. They came bursting through layer on layer of impenetrable metal that, nevertheless, they penetrated. They came by the dozens and scores, and at last by the thousands; but they came.

There were more and more flares of blue-white light on the tiny sun⁠—so many that Tropile found himself scouring the planet in a desperate search for one surviving Pyramid⁠—not to destroy as an enemy, but to keep for a specimen.

But he searched in vain.

The Pyramids were destroyed, gone. There was not one left. The Earth lay open and free under its tiny sun for the first time in centuries.

It had been a strange war, but a short one.

And it was over.

XV

Tropile swam up out of hammering blackness into daylight and pain.

It hurt. He was being born again⁠—coming back to life⁠—and it had all the agonies of parturition, except that they were visited upon the creature being born, himself. There were crushing blows at his temples that pounded and pained like no other ache he had ever felt. He moaned raspingly.

Someone moved blurrily over his shut eyes. He felt something sting sharply at the base of his brain. Then it tingled, warming his scalp, comforting it, numbing it. Pain went slowly away.

He opened his eyes.

Four masked torturers were leaning over him. He stared, not understanding; but the eyes were not torturers’ eyes, and in a moment the masks came off. Surgical masks⁠—and the faces beneath the masks were human faces.

Surgeons and nurses.

He blinked at them and said groggily: “Where am we?” And then he remembered.

He was back on Earth; he was merely human again.

Someone came bustling into the room and he knew without looking that it was Haendl.

“We beat them, Tropile!” Haendl cried. “No, cancel that. You beat them. We’ve destroyed every Pyramid there was, and a nice hot fire they’re making up there on the sun, eh? Beautiful work, Tropile. Beautiful! You’re a credit to the name of Wolf!”

The surgeons stirred uneasily, but apparently, Tropile thought, there had been changes, for they did no more than that.

Tropile touched his temples fretfully and his fingers rested on gauze bandages. It was true: he was out of circuit. The long reach of his awareness was cut short at his skull; there was no more of the infinite sweep and grasp he had known as part of the snowflake in the nutrient fluid.

“Too bad,” he whispered hopelessly.

“What?” Haendl frowned. The nurse next to him whispered something and he nodded. “Oh, I see. You’re still a little groggy, right? Well, that’s not hard to understand⁠—they tell me it was a tricky job of surgery, separating you from that gunk the Pyramids had wired into your head.”

“Yes,” said Tropile, and closed his ears, though Haendl went on talking. After a while, Tropile pushed himself up and swung his legs over the side of the operating table. He was naked. Once that would have bothered him enormously, but now it didn’t seem to matter.

“Find me some clothes, will you?” he asked. “I’m back. I might as well start getting used to it.”


Glenn Tropile found that he was a returning hero, attracting a curious sort of hero-worship wherever he went. It was not, he thought after careful analysis, exactly what he might have expected. For instance, a man who went out and killed a dragon in the old days was received with great gratitude and rejoicing, and if there was a prince’s daughter around, he married her. Fair enough, after all. And Tropile had slain a foe more potent than any number of dragons.

But he tested the attention he received and found no gratitude in it. It was odd.

What it was like most of all, he thought, was the sort of attention a reigning baseball champion might get⁠—in a country where cricket was the national game. He had done something which, everybody agreed, was an astonishing feat, but about which nobody seemed to care. Indeed, there was an area of accusation in some of the attention he got.

Item: nearly ninety thousand erstwhile Components had now been brought back to ambient life, most of them with their families long dead, all of them a certain drain on the limited resources of the planet. And what was Glenn Tropile going to do about it?

Item: the old distinctions between Citizen and Wolf no longer made much sense now that so many Componentized Citizens had fought shoulder to shoulder with Componentized Sons of the Wolf. But didn’t Glenn Tropile think he had gone a little too far there?

And item⁠—looking pretty far ahead, of course, but still⁠—well, just what was Glenn Tropile going to do about providing a new sun for Earth, when the old one wore out and there would be no Pyramids to tend the fire?

He sought refuge with someone who would understand him. That, he was pleased to realize, was easy. He had come to know several persons extremely well. Loneliness, the tortured loneliness of his youth, was permanently behind him, definitely.

For example, he could seek out Haendl, who would understand everything very well.

Haendl said: “It is a bit of a letdown, I suppose. Well, hell with it; that’s life.” He laughed grimly. “Now that we’ve got rid of the Pyramids, there’s plenty of other work to be done. Man, we can breathe now! We can plan ahead! This planet has maundered along in its stupid, rutted, bogged-down course too many years already, eh? It’s time we took over! And we’ll be doing it, I promise you. You know, Tropile⁠—” he sniggered⁠—“I only regret one thing.”

“What’s that?” Tropile asked cautiously.

“All those weapons, out of reach! Oh, I’m not blaming you. But you can see what a lot of trouble it’s going to be now, stocking up all over again⁠—and there isn’t much we can do about bringing order to this tired old world, is there, until we’ve got the guns to do it with again?”

Tropile left him much sooner than he had planned.


Citizen Germyn, then? The man had fought well, if nothing else. Tropile went to find him and, for a moment at least, it was very good. Germyn said: “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, Tropile. I’m glad you’re here.” He sent his wife for refreshments, and decorously she brought them in, waited for exactly one minute, and then absented herself.

Tropile burst into speech as soon as she left. “I’m beginning to realize what has happened to the human race, Germyn. I don’t mean just now, when we licked the Pyramids and so on. No, I mean hundreds of years ago, what happened when the Pyramids arrived, and what has been happening since. Did you ever hear of Indians, Germyn?”

Germyn frowned minutely and shrugged.

“They were, oh, hundreds and hundreds of years ago. They were a different color and not very civilized⁠—of course, nobody was then. But the Indians were nomads, herdsmen, hunters⁠—like that. And the white people came from Europe and wanted this country for themselves. So they took it. And do you know something? I don’t think the Indians ever knew what hit them.”

They didn’t know about land grants and claiming territory for the crown and church missions and expanding populations. They didn’t have those things. It’s true that they learned pretty well, by and by⁠—at least they learned things like guns and horses and firewater; they didn’t have those things, either, but they could see some sense to them, you know. But I really don’t think the Indians ever knew exactly what the Europeans were up to, until it was too late to matter.

“And it was the same with us and the Pyramids, only more so. What the devil did they want? I mean, yes, we found out what they did with the Translated people. But what were they up to? What did they think? Did they think? You know, I’ve got a kind of a crazy idea⁠—maybe it’s not crazy, maybe it’s the truth. Anyway, I’ve been thinking. Suppose even the Pyramids weren’t the Pyramids? We never talked to one of them. We never gave it a Rorschach or tested its knee jerks. We licked them, but we don’t know anything about them. We don’t even know if they were the guys that started the whole bloody thing, or if they were just sort of super-sized Components themselves. Do we?

“And meanwhile, here’s the human race, up against something that it not only can’t understand, same as the Indians couldn’t the whites, but that it can’t begin to make a guess about. At least the Indians had a clue now and then, you know⁠—I mean they’d see the sailors off the great white devil ship making a beeline for the Indian women and so on, and they’d begin to understand there was something in common. But we didn’t have that much.

“So what did we do? Why, we did like the reservation Indians. We turned inward. We got loaded on firewater⁠—Meditation⁠—and we closed our minds to the possibility of ever expanding again. And there we were, all tied up in our own knots. Most of the race rebelled against action, because it had proven useless⁠—Citizens. A few of the race rebelled against that, because it was not only useless but deliberately useless⁠—Wolves. But they’re the same kind of people. You’ve seen that for yourself, right? And⁠—”

Tropile stopped, suddenly aware that Citizen Germyn was looking tepidly pained.

“What’s the matter?” Tropile demanded harshly.

Citizen Germyn gave him the faint deprecatory Quirked Smile. “I know you thought you were a Wolf, but⁠—I told you I’ve been thinking a lot, and that’s what I was thinking about. Truly, Citizen, you do yourself no good by pretending that you really thought you were Wolf. Clearly you were not; the rest of us might have been fooled, but certainly you couldn’t fool yourself.

“Now here’s what I think you ought to do. When I found you were coming, I asked several rather well-known Citizens to come here later this evening. There won’t be any embarrassment. I only want you to talk to them and set the record straight, so that this terrible blemish will no longer be held against you. Times change and perhaps a certain latitude is advisable now, but certainly you don’t want⁠—”

Tropile also left Citizen Germyn sooner than he had expected to.


There remained Alla Narova, but, queerly, she was not to be found.

Instantly it became clear to Tropile that it was she above all whom he needed to talk to. He remembered the shared beauty of their plunging drive through the neurone-guides of the Pyramids, the linked and inextricable flow of their thoughts and of their most hidden feelings.

She could not be very far, he thought numbly, cursing the blindness of his human eyes, the narrowness of his human senses. Time was when two worlds could not have hidden her from him; but that time was gone. He walked from place to place with the angry resentful tread of one used to riding⁠—no, to flying, or faster than flying. He asked after her. He searched.

And at last he found⁠—not her. A note. At one of the stations where the reawakened Components were funneled back into human affairs, there was a letter waiting for him:

I’m sure you will look for me. Please don’t. You thought that there were no secrets between us, but there was one.

When I was Translated, I was sixty-one years old. Two years before that, I was caught in a collapsing building; my legs are useless, and I had grown quite fat. I do not want you to see me fat and old.

Alla Narova.

And that was that, and at last Glenn Tropile turned to the last person of all those on his list who had known him well. Her name was Gala Tropile.


She had got thinner, he observed. They sat together quietly and there was considerable awkwardness, but then he noticed that she was weeping. Comforting her ended the awkwardness and he found that he was talking:

“It was like being a god, Gala! I swear, there’s no feeling like it. I mean it’s like⁠—well, maybe if you’d just had a baby, and invented fire, and moved a mountain, and transmuted lead into gold⁠—maybe if you’d done all of those things, then you might have some idea. But I was everywhere at once, Gala, and I could do anything! I fought a whole world of Pyramids, do you realize that? Me! And now I come back to⁠—”

He stopped her in time; it seemed she was about to weep again.

He went on: “No, Gala, don’t misunderstand, I don’t hold anything against you. You were right to leave me in the field. What did I have to offer you? Or myself, for that matter? And I don’t know that I have anything now, but⁠—”

He slammed his fist against the table. “They talk about putting the Earth back in its orbit! Why? And how? My God, Gala, we don’t know where we are. Maybe we could tinker up the gadgets the Pyramids used and turn our course backward⁠—but do you know what Old Sol looks like? I don’t. I never saw it.

“And neither did you or anyone else alive.

“It was like being a god⁠—

“And they talk about going back to things as they were⁠—

“I’m sick of that kind of thinking! Wolves or Citizens, they’re dead on their feet and don’t know it. I suppose they’ll snap out of it in time, but I can’t wait. I won’t live that long.

“Unless⁠—”

He paused and looked at her, confused.

Gala Tropile met her husband’s eyes.

“Unless what, Glenn?”

He shrugged and turned away.

“Unless you go back, you mean.” He stared at her; she nodded. “You want to go back,” she said, without stress. “You don’t want to stay here with me, do you? You want to go back into that tub of soup again and float like a baby. You don’t want to have babies⁠—you want to be one.”

“Gala, you don’t understand. We can own the Universe. I mean mankind can. And I can do it. Why not? There’s nothing for me⁠—”

“That’s right, Glenn. There’s nothing for you here. Not anymore.”

He opened his mouth to speak, looked at her, spread his hands helplessly. He didn’t look back as he walked out the door, but he knew that his back was turned not only on the woman who happened to be his wife, but on mankind and all of the flesh.


It was night outside, and warm. Tropile stood in the old street surrounded by the low, battered houses⁠—and he could make them new and grand! He looked up at the stars that swung in constellations too new and changeable to have names. There was the Universe.

Words were no good; there was no explaining things in words. Naturally he couldn’t make Gala or anyone else understand, for flesh couldn’t grasp the realities of mind and spirit that were liberated from flesh. Babies! A home! And the whole grubby animal business of eating and drinking and sleeping! How could anyone ask to stay in the mire when the stars challenged overhead?

He walked slowly down the street, alone in the night, an apprentice godling renouncing mortality. There was nothing here for him, so why this sense of loss?

Duty said (or was it Pride?): “Someone must give up the flesh to control Earth’s orbit and weather⁠—why not you?”

Flesh said (or was it his soul⁠—whatever that was?): “But you will be alone.”

He stopped, and for a moment he was poised between destiny and the dust.⁠ ⁠…

Until he became aware of footsteps behind him, running, and Gala’s voice: “Wait! Wait, Glenn! I want to go with you!”

And he turned and waited, but only until she caught up, and then he went on.

But not⁠—forever and always again⁠—not alone.

The Five Hells of Orion

I

His name was Herrell McCray and he was scared.

As best he could tell, he was in a sort of room no bigger than a prison cell. Perhaps it was a prison cell. Whatever it was, he had no business in it; for five minutes before he had been spaceborne, on the Long Jump from Earth to the thriving colonies circling Betelgeuse Nine. McCray was ship’s navigator, plotting course corrections⁠—not that there were any, ever; but the reason there were none was that the check-sightings were made every hour of the long flight. He had read off the azimuth angles from the computer sights, automatically locked on their beacon stars, and found them correct; then out of long habit confirmed the locking mechanism visually. It was only a personal quaintness; he had done it a thousand times. And while he was looking at Betelgeuse, Rigel and Saiph⁠ ⁠… it happened.

The room was totally dark, and it seemed to be furnished with a collection of hard, sharp, sticky and knobby objects of various shapes and a number of inconvenient sizes. McCray tripped over something that rocked under his feet and fell against something that clattered hollowly. He picked himself up, braced against something that smelled dangerously of halogen compounds, and scratched his shoulder, right through his space-tunic, against something that vibrated as he touched it.

McCray had no idea where he was, and no way to find out.

Not only was he in darkness, but in utter silence as well. No. Not quite utter silence.

Somewhere, just at the threshold of his senses, there was something like a voice. He could not quite hear it, but it was there. He sat as still as he could, listening; it remained elusive.

Probably it was only an illusion.

But the room itself was hard fact. McCray swore violently and out loud.

It was crazy and impossible. There simply was no way for him to get from a warm, bright navigator’s cubicle on Starship Jodrell Bank to this damned, dark, dismal hole of a place where everything was out to hurt him and nothing explained what was going on. He cried aloud in exasperation: “If I could only see!”

He tripped and fell against something that was soft, slimy and, like baker’s dough, not at all resilient.

A flickering halo of pinkish light appeared. He sat up, startled. He was looking at something that resembled a suit of medieval armor.

It was, he saw in a moment, not armor but a spacesuit. But what was the light? And what were these other things in the room?

Wherever he looked, the light danced along with his eyes. It was like having tunnel vision or wearing blinders. He could see what he was looking at, but he could see nothing else. And the things he could see made no sense. A spacesuit, yes; he knew that he could construct a logical explanation for that with no trouble⁠—maybe a subspace meteorite striking the Jodrell Bank, an explosion, himself knocked out, brought here in a suit⁠ ⁠… well, it was an explanation with more holes than fabric, like a fisherman’s net, but at least it was rational.

How to explain a set of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? A space-ax? Or the old-fashioned child’s rocking-chair, the chemistry set⁠—or, most of all, the scrap of gaily printed fabric that, when he picked it up, turned out to be a girl’s scanty bathing suit? It was slightly reassuring, McCray thought, to find that most of the objects were more or less familiar. Even the child’s chair⁠—why, he’d had one more or less like that himself, long before he was old enough to go to school. But what were they doing here?

Not everything he saw was familiar. The walls of the room itself were strange. They were not metal or plaster or knotty pine; they were not papered, painted or overlaid with stucco. They seemed to be made of some sort of hard organic compound, perhaps a sort of plastic or processed cellulose. It was hard to tell colors in the pinkish light. But they seemed to have none. They were “neutral”⁠—the color of aged driftwood or unbleached cloth.

Three of the walls were that way, and the floor and ceiling. The fourth wall was something else. Areas in it had the appearance of gratings; from them issued the pungent, distasteful halogen odor. They might be ventilators, he thought; but if so the air they brought in was worse than what he already had.

McCray was beginning to feel more confident. It was astonishing how a little light made an impossible situation bearable, how quickly his courage flowed back when he could see again.

He stood still, thinking. Item, a short time ago⁠—subjectively it seemed to be minutes⁠—he had been aboard the Jodrell Bank with nothing more on his mind than completing his check-sighting and meeting one of the female passengers for coffee. Item, apart from being shaken up and⁠—he admitted it⁠—scared damn near witless, he did not seem to be hurt. Item, wherever he was now, it became, not so much what had happened to him, but what had happened to the ship?

He allowed that thought to seep into his mind. Suppose there had been an accident to the Jodrell Bank.

He could, of course, be dead. All this could be the fantasies of a cooling brain.

McCray grinned into the pink-lit darkness. The thought had somehow refreshed him, like icewater between rounds, and with a clearing head he remembered what a spacesuit was good for.

It held a radio.

He pressed the unsealing tabs, slipped his hand into the vacant chest of the suit and pulled out the hand mike. “This is Herrell McCray,” he said, “calling the Jodrell Bank.”

No response. He frowned. “This is Herrell McCray, calling Jodrell Bank.

“Herrell McCray, calling anybody, come in, please.”

But there was no answer.

Thoughtfully he replaced the microphone. This was ultrawave radio, something more than a million times faster than light, with a range measured, at least, in hundreds of light-years. If there was no answer, he was a good long way from anywhere.

Of course, the thing might not be operating.

He reached for the microphone again⁠—

He cried aloud.

The pinkish lights went out. He was in the dark again, worse dark than before.

For before the light had gone, McCray had seen what had escaped his eyes before. The suit and the microphone were clear enough in the pinkish glimmer; but the hand⁠—his own hand, cupped to hold the microphone⁠—he had not seen at all. Nor his arm. Nor, in one fleeting moment of study, his chest.

McCray could not see any part of his own body at all.

II

Someone else could.

Someone was watching Herrell McCray, with the clinical fascination of a biochemist observing the wigglings of paramecia in a new antibiotic⁠—and with the prayerful emotions of a starving, shipwrecked, sailor, watching the inward bobbing drift of a wave-born cask that may contain food.

Suppose you call him “Hatcher” (and suppose you call it a “him.”) Hatcher was not exactly male, because his race had no true males; but it did have females and he was certainly not that. Hatcher did not in any way look like a human being, but they had features in common.

If Hatcher and McCray had somehow managed to strike up an acquaintance, they might have got along very well. Hatcher, like McCray, was an adventurous soul, young, able, well-learned in the technical sciences of his culture. Both enjoyed games⁠—McCray baseball, poker and three-dimensional chess; Hatcher a number of sports which defy human description. Both held positions of some importance⁠—considering their ages⁠—in the affairs of their respective worlds.

Physically they were nothing alike. Hatcher was a three-foot, hard-shelled sphere of jelly. He had “arms” and “legs,” but they were not organically attached to “himself.” They were snakelike things which obeyed the orders of his brain as well as your mind can make your toes curl; but they did not touch him directly. Indeed, they worked as well a yard or a quarter-mile away as they did when, rarely, they rested in the crevices they had been formed from in his “skin.” At greater distances they worked less well, for reasons irrelevant to the Law of Inverse Squares.

Hatcher’s principal task at this moment was to run the “probe team” which had McCray under observation, and he was more than a little excited. His members, disposed about the room where he had sent them on various errands, quivered and shook a little; yet they were the calmest limbs in the room; the members of the other team workers were in a state of violent commotion.

The probe team had had a shock.

“Paranormal powers,” muttered Hatcher’s second in command, and the others mumbled agreement. Hatcher ordered silence, studying the specimen from Earth.

After a long moment he turned his senses from the Earthman. “Incredible⁠—but it’s true enough,” he said. “I’d better report. Watch him,” he added, but that was surely unnecessary. Their job was to watch McCray, and they would do their job; and even more, not one of them could have looked away to save his life from the spectacle of a creature as odd and, from their point of view, hideously alien as Herrell McCray.


Hatcher hurried through the halls of the great buried structure in which he worked, toward the place where the supervising council of all probes would be in permanent session. They admitted him at once.

Hatcher identified himself and gave a quick, concise report:

“The subject recovered consciousness a short time ago and began to inspect his enclosure. His method of doing so was to put his own members in physical contact with the various objects in the enclosure. After observing him do this for a time we concluded he might be unable to see and so we illuminated his field of vision for him.

“This appeared to work well for a time. He seemed relatively undisturbed. However, he then reverted to physical-contact, manipulating certain appurtenances of an artificial skin we had provided for him.

“He then began to vibrate the atmosphere by means of resonating organs in his breathing passage.

“Simultaneously, the object he was holding, attached to the artificial skin, was discovered to be generating paranormal forces.”

The supervising council rocked with excitement. “You’re sure?” demanded one of the councilmen.

“Yes, sir. The staff is preparing a technical description of the forces now, but I can say that they are electromagnetic vibrations modulating a carrier wave of very high speed, and in turn modulated by the vibrations of the atmosphere caused by the subject’s own breathing.”

“Fantastic,” breathed the councillor, in a tone of dawning hope. “How about communicating with him, Hatcher? Any progress?”

“Well⁠ ⁠… not much, sir. He suddenly panicked. We don’t know why; but we thought we’d better pull back and let him recover for a while.”

The council conferred among itself for a moment, Hatcher waiting. It was not really a waste of time for him; with the organs he had left in the probe-team room, he was in fairly close touch with what was going on⁠—knew that McCray was once again fumbling among the objects in the dark, knew that the team-members had tried illuminating the room for him briefly and again produced the rising panic.

Still, Hatcher fretted. He wanted to get back.

“Stop fidgeting,” commanded the council leader abruptly. “Hatcher, you are to establish communication at once.”

“But, sir.⁠ ⁠…” Hatcher swung closer, his thick skin quivering slightly; he would have gestured if he had brought members with him to gesture with. “We’ve done everything we dare. We’ve made the place homey for him⁠—” actually, what he said was more like, we’ve warmed the biophysical nuances of his enclosure⁠—“and tried to guess his needs; and we’re frightening him half to death. We can’t go faster. This creature is in no way similar to us, you know. He relies on paranormal forces⁠—heat, light, kinetic energy⁠—for his life. His chemistry is not ours, his processes of thought are not ours, his entire organism is closer to the inanimate rocks of a sea-bottom than to ourselves.”

“Understood, Hatcher. In your first report you stated these creatures were intelligent.”

“Yes, sir. But not in our way.”

“But in a way, and you must learn that way. I know.” One lobster-claw shaped member drifted close to the councillor’s body and raised itself in an admonitory gesture. “You want time. But we don’t have time, Hatcher. Yours is not the only probe team working. The Central Masses team has just turned in a most alarming report.”

“Have they secured a subject?” Hatcher demanded jealously.

The councillor paused. “Worse than that, Hatcher. I am afraid their subjects have secured one of them. One of them is missing.”

There was a moment’s silence. Frozen, Hatcher could only wait. The council room was like a tableau in a museum until the councillor spoke again, each council member poised over his locus-point, his members drifting about him.

Finally the councillor said, “I speak for all of us, I think. If the Old Ones have seized one of our probers our time margin is considerably narrowed. Indeed, we may not have any time at all. You must do everything you can to establish communication with your subject.”

“But the danger to the specimen⁠—” Hatcher protested automatically.

“⁠—is no greater,” said the councillor, “than the danger to every one of us if we do not find allies now.”


Hatcher returned to his laboratory gloomily.

It was just like the council to put the screws on; they had a reputation for demanding results at any cost⁠—even at the cost of destroying the only thing you had that would make results possible.

Hatcher did not like the idea of endangering the Earthman. It cannot be said that he was emotionally involved; it was not pity or sympathy that caused him to regret the dangers in moving too fast toward communication. Not even Hatcher had quite got over the revolting physical differences between the Earthman and his own people. But Hatcher did not want him destroyed. It had been difficult enough getting him here.

Hatcher checked through the members that he had left with the rest of his team and discovered that there were no immediate emergencies, so he took time to eat. In Hatcher’s race this was accomplished in ways not entirely pleasant to Earthmen. A slit in the lower hemisphere of his body opened, like a purse, emitting a thin, pussy, fetid fluid which Hatcher caught and poured into a disposal trough at the side of the eating room. He then stuffed the slit with pulpy vegetation the texture of kelp; it closed, and his body was supplied with nourishment for another day.

He returned quickly to the room.

His second in command was busy, but one of the other team workers reported⁠—nothing new⁠—and asked about Hatcher’s appearance before the council. Hatcher passed the question off. He considered telling his staff about the disappearance of the Central Masses team member, but decided against it. He had not been told it was secret. On the other hand, he had not been told it was not. Something of this importance was not lightly to be gossiped about. For endless generations the threat of the Old Ones had hung over his race, those queer, almost mythical beings from the Central Masses of the galaxy. One brush with them, in ages past, had almost destroyed Hatcher’s people. Only by running and hiding, bearing one of their planets with them and abandoning it⁠—with its population⁠—as a decoy, had they arrived at all.

Now they had detected mapping parties of the Old Ones dangerously near the spiral arm of the galaxy in which their planet was located, they had begun the Probe Teams to find some way of combating them, or of fleeing again.

But it seemed that the Probe Teams themselves might be betraying their existence to their enemies⁠—

“Hatcher!”

The call was urgent; he hurried to see what it was about. It was his second in command, very excited. “What is it?” Hatcher demanded.

“Wait.⁠ ⁠…”

Hatcher was patient; he knew his assistant well. Obviously something was about to happen. He took the moment to call his members back to him for feeding; they dodged back to their niches on his skin, fitted themselves into their vestigial slots, poured back their wastes into his own circulation and ingested what they needed from the meal he had just taken.⁠ ⁠… “Now!” cried the assistant. “Look!”

At what passed among Hatcher’s people for a viewing console an image was forming. Actually it was the assistant himself who formed it, not a cathode trace or projected shadow; but it showed what it was meant to show.

Hatcher was startled. “Another one! And⁠—is it a different species? Or merely a different sex?”

“Study the probe for yourself,” the assistant invited.

Hatcher studied him frostily; his patience was not, after all, endless. “No matter,” he said at last. “Bring the other one in.”

And then, in a completely different mood, “We may need him badly. We may be in the process of killing our first one now.”

“Killing him, Hatcher?”

Hatcher rose and shook himself, his mindless members floating away like puppies dislodged from suck. “Council’s orders,” he said. “We’ve got to go into Stage Two of the project at once.”

III

Before Stage Two began, or before Herrell McCray realized it had begun, he had an inspiration.

The dark was absolute, but he remembered where the spacesuit had been and groped his way to it and, yes, it had what all spacesuits had to have. It had a light. He found the toggle that turned it on and pressed it.

Light. White, flaring, Earthly light, that showed everything⁠—even himself.

“God bless,” he said, almost beside himself with joy. Whatever that pinkish, dancing halo had been, it had thrown him into a panic; now that he could see his own hand again, he could blame the weird effects on some strange property of the light.

At the moment he heard the click that was the beginning of Stage Two.

He switched off the light and stood for a moment, listening.

For a second he thought he heard the far-off voice, quiet, calm and almost hopeless, that he had sensed hours before; but then that was gone. Something else was gone. Some faint mechanical sound that had hardly registered at the time, but was now missing. And there was, perhaps, a nice new sound that had not been there before; a very faint, an almost inaudible elfin hiss.

McCray switched the light on and looked around. There seemed to be no change.

And yet, surely, it was warmer in here.

He could see no difference; but perhaps, he thought, he could smell one. The unpleasant halogen odor from the grating was surely stronger now. He stood there, perplexed.

A tinny little voice from the helmet of the space suit said sharply, amazement in its tone, “McCray, is that you? Where the devil are you calling from?”

He forgot smell, sound and temperature and leaped for the suit. “This is Herrell McCray,” he cried. “I’m in a room of some sort, apparently on a planet of approximate Earth mass. I don’t know⁠—”

“McCray!” cried the tiny voice in his ear. “Where are you? This is Jodrell Bank calling. Answer, please!”

“I am answering, damn it,” he roared. “What took you so long?”

“Herrell McCray,” droned the tiny voice in his ear, “Herrell McCray, Herrell McCray, this is Jodrell Bank responding to your message, acknowledge please. Herrell McCray, Herrell McCray.⁠ ⁠…”

It kept on, and on.

McCray took a deep breath and thought. Something was wrong. Either they didn’t hear him, which meant the radio wasn’t transmitting, or⁠—no. That was not it; they had heard him, because they were responding. But it seemed to take them so long.⁠ ⁠…

Abruptly his face went white. Took them so long! He cast back in his mind, questing for a fact, unable to face its implications. When was it he called them? Two hours ago? Three?

Did that mean⁠—did it possibly mean⁠—that there was a lag of an hour or two each way? Did it, for example, mean that at the speed of his suit’s pararadio, millions of times faster than light, it took hours to get a message to the ship and back?

And if so⁠ ⁠… where in the name of heaven was he?


Herrell McCray was a navigator, which is to say, a man who has learned to trust the evidence of mathematics and instrument readings beyond the guesses of his “common sense.” When Jodrell Bank, hurtling faster than light in its voyage between stars, made its regular position check, common sense was a liar. Light bore false witness. The line of sight was trustworthy directly forward and directly after⁠—sometimes not even then⁠—and it took computers, sensing their data through instruments, to comprehend a star bearing and convert three fixes into a position.

If the evidence of his radio contradicted common sense, common sense was wrong. Perhaps it was impossible to believe what the radio’s message implied; but it was not necessary to “believe,” only to act.

McCray thumbed down the transmitter button and gave a concise report of his situation and his guesses. “I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know how long I’ve been gone, since I was unconscious for a time. However, if the transmission lag is a reliable indication⁠—” he swallowed and went on⁠—“I’d estimate I am something more than five hundred light-years away from you at this moment. That’s all I have to say, except for one more word: Help.”

He grinned sourly and released the button. The message was on its way, and it would be hours before he could have a reply. Therefore he had to consider what to do next.

He mopped his brow. With the droning, repetitious call from the ship finally quiet, the room was quiet again. And warm.

Very warm, he thought tardily; and more than that. The halogen stench was strong in his nostrils again.

Hurriedly McCray scrambled into the suit. By the time he was sealed down he was coughing from the bottom of his lungs, deep, tearing rasps that pained him, uncontrollable. Chlorine or fluorine, one of them was in the air he had been breathing. He could not guess where it had come from; but it was ripping his lungs out.

He flushed the interior of the suit out with a reckless disregard for the wastage of his air reserve, holding his breath as much as he could, daring only shallow gasps that made him retch and gag. After a long time he could breathe, though his eyes were spilling tears.

He could see the fumes in the room now. The heat was building up.

Automatically⁠—now that he had put it on and so started its servo-circuits operating⁠—the suit was cooling him. This was a deep-space suit, regulation garb when going outside the pressure hull of an F.T.L. ship. It was good up to at least five hundred degrees in thin air, perhaps three or four hundred in dense. In thin air or in space it was the elastic joints and couplings that depolymerized when the heat grew too great; in dense air, with conduction pouring energy in faster than the cooling coils could suck it out and hurl it away, it was the refrigerating equipment that broke down.

McCray had no way of knowing just how hot it was going to get. Nor, for that matter, had the suit been designed to operate in a corrosive medium.

All in all it was time for him to do something.

Among the debris on the floor, he remembered, was a five-foot space-ax, tungsten-steel blade and springy aluminum shaft.

McCray caught it up and headed for the door. It felt good in his gauntlets, a rewarding weight; any weapon straightens the back of the man who holds it, and McCray was grateful for this one. With something concrete to do he could postpone questioning. Never mind why he had been brought here; never mind how. Never mind what he would, or could, do next; all those questions could recede into the background of his mind while he swung the ax and battered his way out of this poisoned oven.

Crash-clang! The double jolt ran up the shaft of the ax, through his gauntlets and into his arm; but he was making progress, he could see the plastic⁠—or whatever it was⁠—of the door. It was chipping out. Not easily, very reluctantly; but flaking out in chips that left a white powdery residue.

At this rate, he thought grimly, he would be an hour getting through it. Did he have an hour?

But it did not take an hour. One blow was luckier than the rest; it must have snapped the lock mechanism. The door shook and slid ajar. McCray got the thin of the blade into the crack and pried it wide.

He was in another room, maybe a hall, large and bare.

McCray put the broad of his back against the broken door and pressed it as nearly closed as he could; it might not keep the gas and heat out, but it would retard them.

The room was again unlighted⁠—at least to McCray’s eyes. There was not even that pink pseudo-light that had baffled him; here was nothing but the beam of his suit lamp. What it showed was cryptic. There were evidences of use: shelves, boxy contraptions that might have been cupboards, crude level surfaces attached to the walls that might have been workbenches. Yet they were queerly contrived, for it was not possible to guess from them much about the creatures who used them. Some were near the floor, some at waist height, some even suspended from the ceiling itself. A man would need a ladder to work at these benches and McCray, staring, thought briefly of many-armed blind giants or shapeless huge intelligent amoebae, and felt the skin prickle at the back of his neck.

He tapped halfheartedly at one of the closed cupboards, and was not surprised when it proved as refractory as the door. Undoubtedly he could batter it open, but it was not likely that much would be left of its contents when he was through; and there was the question of time.

But his attention was diverted by a gleam from one of the benches. Metallic parts lay heaped in a pile. He poked at them with a stiff-fingered gauntlet; they were oddly familiar. They were, he thought, very much like the parts of a bullet-gun.

In fact, they were. He could recognize barrel, chamber, trigger, even a couple of cartridges, neatly opened and the grains of powder stacked beside them. It was an older, clumsier model than the kind he had seen in survival locker, on the Jodrell Bank⁠—and abruptly wished he were carrying now⁠—but it was a pistol. Another trophy, like the strange assortment in the other room? He could not guess. But the others had been more familiar; they all have come from his own ship. He was prepared to swear that nothing like this antique had been aboard.

The drone began again in his ear, as it had at five-minute intervals all along:

“Herrell McCray, Herrell McCray, Herrell McCray, this is Jodrell Bank calling Herrell McCray.⁠ ⁠…”

And louder, blaring, then fading to normal volume as the A.V.C. circuits toned the signal down, another voice. A woman’s voice, crying out in panic and fear: “Jodrell Bank! Where are you? Help!”

IV

Hatcher’s second in command said: “He has got through the first survival test. In fact, he broke his way out! What next?”

“Wait!” Hatcher ordered sharply. He was watching the new specimen and a troublesome thought had occurred to him. The new one was female and seemed to be in pain; but it was not the pain that disturbed Hatcher, it was something far more immediate to his interests.

“I think,” he said slowly, “that they are in contact.”

His assistant vibrated startlement.

“I know,” Hatcher said, “but watch. Do you see? He is going straight toward her.”

Hatcher, who was not human, did not possess truly human emotions; but he did feel amazement when he was amazed, and fear when there was cause to be afraid. These specimens, obtained with so much difficulty, needed so badly, were his responsibility. He knew the issues involved much better than any of his helpers. They could only be surprised at the queer antics of the aliens with attached limbs and strange powers. Hatcher knew that this was not a freak show, but a matter of life and death. He said, musing:

“This new one, I cannot communicate with her, but I get⁠—almost⁠—a whisper, now and then. The first one, the male, nothing. But this female is perhaps not quite mute.”

“Then shall we abandon him and work with her, forgetting the first one?”

Hatcher hesitated. “No,” he said at last. “The male is responding well. Remember that when last this experiment was done every subject died; he is alive at least. But I am wondering. We can’t quite communicate with the female⁠—”

“But?”

“But I’m not sure that others can’t.”


The woman’s voice was at such close range that McCray’s suit radio made a useful R.D.F. set. He located her direction easily enough, shielding the tiny built-in antenna with the tungsten-steel blade of the ax, while she begged him to hurry. Her voice was heavily accented, with some words in a language he did not recognize. She seemed to be in shock.

McCray was hardly surprised at that; he had been close enough to shock himself. He tried to reassure her as he searched for a way out of the hall, but in the middle of a word her voice stopped.

He hesitated, hefting the ax, glancing back at the way he had come. There had to be a way out, even if it meant chopping through a wall.

When he turned around again there was a door. It was oddly shaped and unlike the door he had hewn through, but clearly a door all the same, and it was open.

McCray regarded it grimly. He went back in his memory with meticulous care. Had he not looked at this very spot a matter of moments before? He had. And had there been an open door then? There had not. There hadn’t been even a shadowy outline of the three-sided, uneven opening that stood there now.

Still, it led in the proper direction. McCray added one more inexplicable fact to his file and walked through. He was in another hall⁠—or tunnel⁠—rising quite steeply to the right. By his reckoning it was the proper direction. He labored up it, sweating under the weight of the suit, and found another open door, this one round, and behind it⁠—

Yes, there was the woman whose voice he had heard.

It was a woman, all right. The voice had been so strained that he hadn’t been positive. Even now, short black hair might not have proved it, and she was lying face down but the waist and hips were a woman’s, even though she wore a bulky, quilted suit of coveralls.

He knelt beside her and gently turned her face.

She was unconscious. Broad, dark face, with no makeup; she was apparently in her late thirties. She appeared to be Chinese.

She breathed, a little raggedly but without visible discomfort; her face was relaxed as though she were sleeping. She did not rouse as he moved her.

He realized she was breathing the air of the room they were in.

His instant first thought was that she was in danger of asphyxiation; he started to leap up to get, and put her into, the small, flimsy space suit he saw slumped in a corner. At second thought he realized that she would not be breathing so comfortably if the air were full of the poisonous reek that had driven him out of the first room.

There was an obvious conclusion to be drawn from that; perhaps he could economize on his own air reserve. Tentatively he cracked the seal of his faceplate and took a cautious breath. The faint reek of halogens was still there, but it was not enough even to make his eyes water, and the temperature of the air was merely pleasantly warm.

He shook her, but she did not wake.

He stood up and regarded her thoughtfully. It was a disappointment. Her voice had given him hope of a companion, someone to talk things over with, to compare notes⁠—someone who, if not possessing any more answers than himself, could at least serve as a sounding-board in the give-and-take of discussion that might make some sort of sense out of the queerness that permeated this place.

What he had instead was another burden to carry, for she was unable to care for herself and surely he could not leave her in this condition.

He slipped off the helmet absently and pressed the buttons that turned off the suit’s cooling units, looking around the chamber. It was bare except for a litter of irrelevant human articles⁠—much like the one in which he himself had first appeared, except that the articles were not Jodrell Bank’s. A woven cane screen, some cooking utensils, a machine like a desk calculator, some books⁠—he picked up one of the books and glanced at it. It was printed on coarse paper, and the text was in ideographs, Chinese, perhaps; he did not know Oriental languages.

McCray knew that the Jodrell Bank was not the only F.T.L. vessel in this volume of space. The Betelgeuse run was a busy one, as F.T.L. shipping lanes went. Almost daily departures from some point on Earth to one of the colonies, with equal traffic in the other direction.

Of course, if the time-lag in communication did not lie, he was no longer anywhere within that part of the sky; Betelgeuse was only a few hundred light-years from Sol, and subspace radio covered that distance in something like fifty minutes. But suppose the woman came from another ship; perhaps a Singapore or Tokyo vessel, on the same run. She might easily have been trapped as he was trapped. And if she were awake, he could find out from her what had happened, and thus learn something that might be of use.

Although it was hard to see what might be of use in these most unprecedented and unpleasant circumstances.

The drone from Jodrell Bank began again: “Herrell McCray, Herrell McCray, Herrell McCray, this is Jodrell Bank responding⁠—”

He turned the volume down but did not dare turn it off. He had lost track of time and couldn’t guess when they would respond to his last message. He needed to hear that response when it came. Meanwhile, what about his fellow-captive?

Her suit was only a flimsy work-about model, as airtight as his but without the bracing required for building jet propulsors into it. It contained air reserves enough, and limited water; but neither food nor emergency medical supplies.

McCray had both of these, of course. It was merely one more reason why he could not abandon her and go on⁠ ⁠… if, that is, he could find some reason for going in one direction preferably to another, and if a wall would conveniently open again to let him go there.

He could give her an injection of a stimulant, he mused. Would that improve the situation? Not basically, he decided, with some regret. Sleep was a need, not a luxury; it would not help her to be awakened chemically, when body was demonstrating its need for rest by refusing to wake to a call. Anyway, if she were not seriously injured she would undoubtedly wake of her own accord before long.

He checked pulse and eye-pupils; everything normal, no evidence of bleeding or somatic shock.

So much for that. At least he had made one simple decision on his own, he thought with grim humor. To that extent he had reestablished his mastery of his own fate, and it made him feel a touch better.

Perhaps he could make some more. What about trying to find a way out of this place, for instance?

It was highly probable that they would not be able to stay here indefinitely, that was the first fact to take into account. Either his imagination was jumpy, or the reek of halogens was a bit stronger. In any case there was no guarantee that this place would remain habitable any longer than the last, and he had to reckon with the knowledge that a spacesuit’s air reserve was not infinite. These warrens might prove a death trap.

McCray paused, leaning on the haft of his ax, wondering how much of that was reason and how much panic. He knew that he wanted, more than anything to get out of this place, to see sky and stars, to be where no skulking creatures behind false panels in the walls, or peering through televiewers concealed in the furnishings, could trick and trap him. But did he have any reason to believe that he would be better off somewhere else? Might it not be even that this place was a sort of vivarium maintained for his survival⁠—that the leak of poison gases and heat in the first room was not a deliberate thrust at his safety, but a failure of the shielding that alone could keep him alive?

He didn’t know, and in the nature of things could not. But paradoxically the thought that escape might increase his danger made him all the more anxious to escape. He wanted to know. If death was waiting for him outside his chamber, McCray wanted to face it⁠—now⁠—while he was still in good physical shape.

While he was still sane. For there was a limit to how many phenomena he could store away in the back of his mind; sooner or later the contradictions, the puzzles, the fears would have to be faced.

Yet what could he do with the woman? Conceivably he could carry her; but could he also carry her suit? He did not dare take her without it. It would be no kindness to plunge her into another atmosphere of poison, and watch her die because he had taken her from her only hope of safety. Yet the suit weighed at least fifty pounds. His own was slightly more; the girl, say, a hundred and thirty. It added up to more mass than he could handle, at least for more than a few dozen yards.

The speaker in his helmet said suddenly: “Herrell McCray, this is Jodrell Bank. Your transmission received. We are vectoring and ranging your signal. Stand by. We will call again in ten minutes.” And, in a different tone: “God help you, Mac. What the devil happened to you?”

It was a good question. McCray swore uselessly because he didn’t know the answer.

He took wry pleasure in imagining what was going on aboard Jodrell Bank at that moment. At least not all the bewilderment was his own. They would be utterly baffled. As far as they were concerned, their navigator had been on the bridge at one moment and the next moment gone, tracelessly. That in itself was a major puzzle; the only way off an F.T.L. ship in flight was in the direction called “suicide.” That would have been their assumption, all right, as soon as they realized he was gone and checked the ship to make sure he was not for some reason wandering about in a cargo hold or unconscious in a closet after some hard-to-imagine attack from another crewman. They would have thought that somehow, crazily, he had got into a suit⁠—there was the suit⁠—and jumped out of a lock. But there would have been no question of going back to look for him. True, they could have tracked his subspace radio if he had used it. But what would have been the good of that? The first question, an all but unanswerable one, would be how long ago he had jumped. Even if they knew that, Jodrell Bank, making more than five hundred times light-speed, could not be stopped in fewer than a dozen light-years. They could hardly hope to return to even approximately the location in space where he might have jumped; and there was no hope of reaching a position, stopping, casting about, starting again⁠—the accelerations were too enormous, a man too tiny a dust-mote.

And, of course, he would have been dead in the first place, anyway. The transition from F.T.L. drive to normal space was instantly fatal except within the protecting shield of a ship’s engines.

So they would have given him up and, hours later⁠—or days, for he had lost track of time⁠—they would have received his message. What would they make of that?

He didn’t know. After all, he hardly knew what he made of it himself.

The woman still slept. The way back was still open. He could tell by sniffing the air that the poisons in the atmosphere were still gaining. Ahead there was nothing but blank walls, and the clutter of useless equipment littering the floor. Stolidly McCray closed his mind and waited.

The signal came at last.

“Mac, we have verified your position.” The voice was that of Captain Tillinger, strained and shaking. “I don’t know how you got there, but unless the readings lie you’re the hell of a long way off. The bearing is identical with Messier object M-42 and the distance⁠—” raggedly⁠—“is compatible. About a thousand light-years from us, Mac. One way or another, you’ve been kidnaped. I⁠—I⁠—”

The voice hesitated, unable to say what it could not accept as fact but could not deny. “I think,” it managed at last, “that we’ve finally come across those super-beings in space that we’ve wondered about.”


Hatcher’s detached limbs were quivering with excitement⁠—and with more than excitement, because he was afraid. He was trying to conceal from the others just how afraid he was.

His second in command reported: “We have the second subject out of consciousness. How long do you want us to keep her that way?”

“Until I tell you otherwise! How about the prime subject?”

“We can’t tell, Hatcher. But you were right. He is in communication with others, it seems, and by paranormal means.” Hatcher noted the dismay in what his assistant said. He understood the dismay well enough. It was one thing to work on a project involving paranormal forces as an exercise in theory. It was something else entirely to see them in operation.

But there was more cause for dismay than that, and Hatcher alone knew just how bad the situation was. He summoned one of his own members to him and impressed on it a progress report for the Council. He sent it floating through the long warrens of his people’s world, ordered his assistants back to their work and closed in his thoughts to consider what had happened.

These two creatures, with their command of forces in the paranormal⁠—i.e., the electromagnetic⁠—spectrum, seemed able to survive in the environments prepared for them. That was step one. No previous team had done as well. This was not the first time a probe team of his race had snatched a warmblooded biped from a spaceship for study⁠—because their operation forces, psionic in nature, operated in non-Euclidean ways, it was easiest for them to make contact with the crew of a ship in the non-Euclidean space of F.T.L. drive.

But it was the first time that the specimens had survived. He reviewed the work they had already done with the male specimen. He had shown himself unable to live in the normal atmospheric conditions of Hatcher’s world; but that was to be expected, after all, and the creature had been commendably quick about getting out of a bad environment. Probably they had blundered in illuminating the scene for him, Hatcher conceded. He didn’t know how badly he had blundered, for the concept of “light” from a general source, illuminating not only what the mind wished to see but irrelevant matter as well, had never occurred to Hatcher or any of his race; all of their senses operated through the mind itself, and what to them was “light” was a sort of focusing of attention. But although something about that episode which Hatcher failed to understand had gone wrong, the specimen had not been seriously harmed by it. The specimen was doing well. Probably they could now go to the hardest test of all, the one which would mean success or failure. Probably they could so modify the creature as to make direct communication possible.

And the other specimen?

Hatcher would have frowned, if he had had brow muscles to shape such an expression⁠—or a brow to be shaped. The female specimen was the danger. His own people knew how to shield their thoughts. This one evidently did not. It was astonishing that the Old Ones had not already encountered these bipeds, so loosely guarded was their radiation⁠—when they radiated at all, of course, for only a few of them seemed to possess any psionic power worth mentioning.

Hatcher hastily drove that thought from his mind, for what he proposed to do with the male specimen was to give him that power.

And yet there was no choice for Hatcher’s people, because they were faced with disaster. Hatcher, through his communications from the Council, knew how close the disaster was. When one of the probers from the Central Masses team disappeared, the only conclusion that could be drawn was the Old Ones had discovered them. They needed allies; more, they needed allies who had control of the electromagnetic forces that made the Old Ones so potent and so feared.

In the male and female they had snatched out of space they might have found those allies. But another thought was in Hatcher’s mind: Suppose the Old Ones found them too?

Hatcher made up his mind. He could not delay any longer.

“Open the way to the surface,” he ordered. “As soon as possible, take both of them to where we can work.”


The object Captain Tillinger had called “M-42” was no stranger to Herrell McCray. It was the Great Nebula in Orion, in Earth’s telescopes a fuzzy patch of light, in cold fact a great and glowing cloud of gas. M-42 was not an external galaxy, like most of the “nebulae” in Messier’s catalogue, but it was nothing so tiny as a single sun either. Its hydrogen mass spanned dozens of light-years. Imbedded in it⁠—growing in it, as they fed on the gas that surrounded them⁠—were scores of hot, bright new suns.

New suns. In all the incongruities that swarmed around him McCray took time to consider that one particular incongruity. The suns of the Orion gas cloud were of the spectral class called “B”⁠—young suns, less than a thousandth as old as a Sol. They simply had not been in existence long enough to own stable planetary systems⁠—much less planets which themselves were old enough to have cooled, brewed chemical complexes and thus in time produced life. But surely he was on a planet.⁠ ⁠…

Wasn’t he?

McCray breathed a deep sigh and for one more time turned his mind away from unprofitable speculations. The woman stirred slightly. McCray knelt to look at her; then, on quick impulse, opened his medical kit, took out a single-shot capsule of a stimulant and slipped it neatly into the exposed vein of her arm.

In about two minutes she would be awake. Good enough, thought McCray; at least he would have someone to talk to. Now if only they could find a way out of this place. If a door would open, as the other door had, and⁠—

He paused, staring.

There was another door. Open.

He felt himself swaying, threw out an arm and realized that he was⁠ ⁠… falling? Floating? Moving toward the door, somehow, not as though he were being dragged, not as though he were walking, but surely and rather briskly moving along.

His feet were not touching the ground.

It wasn’t a volitional matter. His intentions had nothing to do with it. He flailed out, and touched nothing; nor did he slow his motion at all. He fought against it, instinctively; and then reason took over and he stopped.

The woman’s form lifted from the floor ahead of him. She was still unconscious. From the clutter on the floor, her lightweight space suit rose, too; suit and girl, they floated ahead of him, toward the door and out.

McCray cried out and tried to run after them. His legs flailed and, of course, touched nothing; but it did seem that he was moving faster. The woman and her suit were disappearing around a bend, but he was right behind them.

He became conscious of the returning reek of gases. He flipped up the plate of his helmet and lunged at the girl, miraculously caught her in one hand and, straining, caught the suit with the other.

Stuffing her into the suit was hard, awkward work, like dressing a doll that is too large for its garments; but he managed it, closed her helmet, saw the flexible parts of her suit bulge out slightly as its automatic pressure regulators filled it with air.

They drove along, faster and faster, until they came to a great portal, and out into the blinding radiance of a molten copper sky.


Gathered in a circle were a score or more of Hatcher’s people.

McCray didn’t know they were Hatcher’s people, of course. He did not know even that they were animate beings, for they lacked all the features of animals that he had been used to. No eyes. No faces. Their detached members, bobbing about seemingly at random, did not appear to have any relation to the irregular spheres that were their owners.

The woman got unevenly to her feet, her faceplate staring toward the creatures. McCray heard a smothered exclamation in his suit-phones.

“Are you all right?” he demanded sharply. The great crystal eye turned round to look at him.

“Oh, the man who spoke to me.” Her voice was taut but controlled. The accent was gone; her control was complete. “I am Ann Mei-Ling, of the Woomara. What are⁠—those?”

McCray said, “Our kidnappers, I guess. They don’t look like much, do they?”

She laughed shakily, without answering. The creatures seemed to be waiting for something, McCray thought; if indeed they were creatures and not machines or⁠—or whatever one might expect to find, in the impossible event of being cast away on an improbable planet of an unexplored sun. He touched the woman’s helmet reassuringly and walked toward the aliens, raising his arms.

“Hello,” he said. “I am Herrell McCray.”

He waited.

He half turned; the woman watching him. “I don’t know what to do next,” he confessed.

“Sit down,” she said suddenly. He stared. “No, you must! They want you to sit down.”

“I didn’t hear⁠—” he began, then shrugged. He sat down.

“Now lie stretched out and open your face mask.”

Here? Listen⁠—Ann⁠—Miss Mei-Ling, whatever you said your name was! Don’t you feel the heat? If I crack my mask⁠—”

“But you must.” She spoke very confidently. “It is s’in fo⁠—what do you call it⁠—telepathy, I think. But I can hear them. They want you to open your mask. No, it won’t kill you. They understand what they are doing.”

She hesitated, then said, with less assurance, “They need us, McCray. There is something⁠ ⁠… I am not sure, but something bad. They need help, and think you can give it to them. So open your helmet as they wish, please.”

McCray closed his eyes and grimaced; but there was no help for it, he had no better ideas. And anyway, he thought, he could close it again quickly enough if these things had guessed wrong.

The creatures moved purposefully toward McCray, and he found himself the prisoner of a dozen unattached arms. Surprised, he struggled, but helplessly; no, he would not be able to close the plate again!⁠ ⁠… But the heat was no worse. Somehow they were shielding him.

A tiny member, like one of the unattached arms but much smaller, writhed through the air toward him, hesitated over his eyes and released something tinier still, something so small and so close that McCray could not focus his eyes upon it. It moved deliberately toward his face.

The woman was saying, as if to herself, “The thing they fear is⁠—far away, but⁠—oh, no! My God!”

There was a terrible loud scream, but McCray was not quite sure he heard it. It might have been his own, he thought crazily; for that tiny floating thing had found his face and was burrowing deep inside; and the pain was beyond belief.


The pain was incredible. It was worse than anything he had ever felt, and it grew⁠ ⁠… and then it was gone.

What it was that the spheroidal aliens had done to his mind McCray had no way of learning. He could only know that a door had been open. An opaque screen was removed. He was free of his body.

He was more than free, he was extended⁠—increased⁠—enlarged. He was inside the body of an alien, and the alien was in him. He was also outside both, looking at them.

McCray had never felt anything like it in his life. It was a situation without even a close analogue. He had had a woman in his arms, he had been part of a family, he had shared the youthful sense of exploration that comes in small, eager groups: These were the comparisons that came to his mind. This was so much more than any of these things. He and the alien⁠—he and, he began to perceive, a number of aliens⁠—were almost inextricably mingled. Yet they were separate, as one strand of colored thread in a ball of yarn is looped and knotted and intertwined with every other strand, although it retains its own integrity. He was in and among many minds, and outside them all. McCray thought: This is how a god must feel.


Hatcher would have laughed⁠—if he had lips, larynx or mouth to laugh with. He would have laughed in pure exultation, and, indeed, his second in command recognized the marionette quivering of his detached limbs as a shout of glee. “We’ve done it,” cried the assistant, catching his delight. “We’ve made the project work!”

“We’ve done a great deal more than that,” exulted Hatcher. “Go to the supervisors, report to them. Pass on the word to the Central Masses probe. Maintain for the alien the pressure and temperature value he needs⁠—”

“And you, Hatcher?”

“I’m going with him⁠—out in the open! I’m going to show him what we need!”


Hatcher. McCray recognized that this was a name⁠—the name of the entity closest to himself, the one that had somehow manipulated his forebrain and released the mind from the prison of the skull. “Hatcher” was not a word but an image, and in the image he saw a creature whose physical shape was unpleasant, but whose instincts and hopes were enough like his own to provide common ground.

He saw more than that. This Hatcher was trying to persuade him to move. To venture farther. To come with him.⁠ ⁠…

McCray allowed himself to be led and at once he was outside not only of his own body but of all bodies. He was free in space.

The entity that had been born of Herrell McCray was now larger than a sun. He could see, all around him, the wonder and beauty of the great gas cloud in which his body rested, on one tiny planet of one trivial star. His sense of time was not changed from what it had been⁠—he could count the pulses of his own body, still thudding in what, however remote, was his ear⁠—but he could see things that were terribly slow and vast. He could see the friction of the streamers of gas in the cloud as light-pressure drove them outward. He could hear the subtle emanations of ion clashing with hurtling ion. He could see the great blue new suns tunneling through the cloud, building their strength out of the diffuse contaminated hydrogen that made the Orion nebula, leaving relatively clear “holes” behind them. He could see into the gas and through it. He could perceive each star and gassy comet; and he could behold the ordered magnificence of the galaxy of stars, and the universe of galaxies, beyond.

The presence beside him was urging him to look beyond, into a denser, richer region of suns. McCray, unsure of his powers, stretched toward it⁠—and recoiled.

There was something there which was terrifying, something cold and restless that watched him come toward it with the eyes of a crouched panther awaiting a deer.

The presence beside him felt the same terror, McCray knew. He was grateful when Hatcher allowed him to look away from the central clusters and return to the immediate neighborhood of his body.

Like a child’s toy in a diminishing glass, McCray could see the planet he had left.

But it was no planet. It was not a planet, but a great irregular sphere of metal, honeycombed and warrened. He would have thought it a ship, though huge, if it had had engines or instruments.⁠ ⁠… No. It was a ship. Hatcher beside him was proof that these creatures needed neither, not in any Earthly sense, at least. They themselves were engines, with their power to move matter apart from the intervention of other matter. They themselves were instruments, through the sensing of force, that was now within his own power.

A moment’s hesitant practice, and McCray had the “planet” in the palm of his hand⁠—not a real palm, not a real hand; but it was there for his inspection. He looked at it and within it and saw the interior nests of Hatcher’s folk, found the room where he had been brought, traced his course to the surface, saw his own body in its spacesuit, saw beside it the flaccid suit that had held the strange woman’s body.⁠ ⁠…

The suit was empty.

The suit was empty, and in the moment of that discovery McCray heard a terrible wailing cry⁠—not in his ears, in his mind⁠—from the aliens around him. The suit was empty. They discovered it the same moment as he. It was wrong and it was dangerous; they were terrified. The companion presence beside him receded into emptiness. In a moment McCray was back in his own body, and the gathering members let him free.

V

Some hundreds of light-years away, the Jodrell Bank was making up lost time on its Betelgeuse run.

Herrell McCray swept the long line from Sol to Betelgeuse, with his perceptions that were not his eyes and his touch that was not of matter, until he found it. The giant ship, fastest and hugest of mankind’s star vessels, was to him a lumbering tiny beetle.

It held friends and something else⁠—something his body needed⁠—air and water and food. McCray did not know what would happen to him if, while his mind was out in the stars, his body died. But he was not anxious to find out.

McCray had not tried moving his physical body, but with what had been done to his brain he could now do anything within the powers of Hatcher’s people. As they had swept him from ship to planet, so he could now hurl his body back from planet to ship. He flexed muscles of his mind that had never been used before, and in a moment his body was slumped on the floor of the Jodrell Bank’s observation bubble. In another moment he was in his body, opening his eyes and looking out into the astonished face of Chris Stoerer, his junior navigator. “God in heaven,” whispered Stoerer. “It’s you!”

“It is,” said McCray hoarsely, through lips that were parched and cracked, sitting up and trying the muscles of the body. It ached. He was bone-weary. “Give me a hand getting out of this suit, will you?”

It was not easy to be a mind in a body again, McCray discovered. Time had stopped for him. He had been soaring the starlanes in his released mind for hours; but while his mind had been liberated, his body, back on Hatcher’s “planet,” had continued its slow metabolism, its steady devouring of its tissues, its inevitable progress toward death. When he had returned to it he found its pulse erratic and its breathing ragged. A grinding knot of hunger seethed in its stomach. Its muscles ached.

Whatever might become of his mind, it was clear that his body would die if it were left unfed and uncared-for much longer. So he had brought it back to the Jodrell Bank. He stood up and avoided Chris’s questions. “Let me get something to eat, and then get cleaned up a little.” (He had discovered that his body stank.) “Then I’ll tell you everything you want to know⁠—you and the captain, and anybody else who wants to listen. And we’ll have to send a dispatch to Earth, too, because this is important.⁠ ⁠… But, please, I only want to tell it once.” Because⁠—he did not say⁠—I may not have time to tell it again.

For those cold and murderous presences in the clustered inner suns had reached out as casually as a bear flicking a salmon out of a run and snatched the unknown woman from Hatcher’s planet. They could reach anywhere in the galaxy their thoughts roamed.

They might easily follow him here.


It was good to be human again, and McCray howled with pain and joy as the icy needle-spray of the showers cleansed his body. He devoured the enormous plates of steak and potatoes the ship’s galley shoved before him, and drank chilled milk and steaming black coffee in alternate pint mugs. McCray let the ship’s surgeon look him over, and laughed at the expression in the man’s eyes. “I know I’m a little wobbly,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, Doc. You can put me in the sickbay as long as you like, as soon as I’ve talked to the captain. I won’t mind a bit. You see, I won’t be there⁠—” and he laughed louder, and would not explain.

An hour later, with food in his belly and something from the surgeon’s hypospray in his bloodstream to clear his brain, he was in the captain’s cabin, trying to spell out in words that made sense the incredible story of (he discovered) eight days since he had been abducted from the ship.

Looking at the ship’s officers, good friends, companions on a dozen planetside leaves, McCray started to speak, stumbled and was for a moment without words. It was too incredible to tell. How could he make them understand?

They would have to understand. Insane or not, the insane facts had to be explained to them. However queerly they might stare, they were intelligent men. They would resist but ultimately they would see.

He settled his problem by telling them baldly and plainly, without looking at their faces and without waiting for their questions, everything that had happened. He told them about Hatcher and about the room in which he had come to. He told them about the pinkish light that showed only what he concentrated on⁠—and explained it to them, as he had not understood it at first; about Hatcher’s people, and how their entire sense-world was built up of what humans called E.S.P., the “light” being only the focusing of thought, which sees no material objects that it is not fixed on. He told them of the woman from the other ship and the cruel, surgical touch on his brain that had opened a universe to him. He promised that that universe would open for them as well. He told them of the deadly, unknowable danger to Hatcher’s people⁠—and to themselves⁠—that lay at the galaxy’s core. He told them how the woman had disappeared, and told them she was dead⁠—at the hands of the Old Ones from the Central Masses⁠—a blessing to her, McCray explained, and a blessing to all of them; for although her mind would yield some of its secrets even in death, if she were alive it would be their guide, and the Old Ones would be upon them.

He did not wait for them to react.

He turned to the ship’s surgeon. “Doc, I’m all yours now, body and soul⁠ ⁠… cancel that. Just body!”

And he left them, to swim once more in space.


In so short a time McCray had come to think of this as life, and a sort of interregnum. He swept up and out, glancing back only to see the ship’s surgeon leaping forward to catch his unconscious body as it fell and then he was in space between the stars once more.

Here, ’twixt Sol and Betelgeuse, space was clear, hard and cold, no diffuse gas cloud, no new, growing suns. He “looked” toward Hatcher’s world, but hesitated and considered.

First or last, he would have to look once more upon the inimical presences that had peered out at him from the Central Masses. It might as well be now.

His perceptions alert, he plunged toward the heart of the galaxy.

Thought speeds where light plods. The mind of Herrell McCray covered light-millenia in a moment. It skipped the drifty void between spiral arms, threaded dust clouds, entered the compact central galactic sphere to which our Earth’s sector of the galaxy is only a remote and unimportant appendage. Here a great globular cluster of suns massed around a common center of gravity. McCray shrank himself to the perspective of a human body and stared in wonder. Mankind’s Sol lies in a tenuous, stretched-out arm, thinly populated by stellar standards: if Earth had circled one of these dense-clustered suns, what a different picture of the sky would have greeted the early shepherds! Where Man’s Earthbound eyes are fortunate to count a thousand stars in a winter sky, here were tens of thousands, bright enough to be a Sirius or a Capella at the bottom of a sink of atmosphere like Earth’s⁠—tens of billions of stars in all, whirling close to each other, so that star greets star over distances that are hardly more than planetary. Sol’s nearest neighbor star is four light-years away. No single sun in this dense, gyrating central mass was as much as one light-year from its fellows.

Here were suns that had been blazing with mature, steady light when Sol was a mere contracting mass of hydrogen⁠—whose planets had cooled and spawned life before Earth’s hollows cupped the first scalding droplets that were the beginnings of seas.

On these ancient worlds life existed.

McCray had not understood all of what Hatcher had tried to communicate to him, but he had caught the terror in Hatcher’s thoughts. Hatcher’s people had fled from these ancients many millenia before⁠—fled and hidden in the heart of the Orion gas cloud, their world and all. Yet even there they were not safe. They knew that in time the Old Ones would find them. And it was this fear that had led them to kidnap humans, seeking allies in the war that could not forever be deferred.

Hatcher’s people were creatures of thought. Man was the wielder of physical forces⁠—“paranormal” to Hatcher, as teleportation and mind-seeing were “paranormal” to McCray. The Old Ones had mastered both.

McCray paused at the fringe of the cluster, waiting for the touch of contemptuous hate. It came and he recoiled a thousand light-years before he could stop.

To battle the Old Ones would be no easy match⁠—yet time might work for the human race. Already they controlled the electromagnetic spectrum, and hydrogen fusion could exert the force of suns. With Hatcher’s help⁠—and his own⁠—Man would free his mind as well; and perhaps the Old Ones would find themselves against an opponent as mighty as themselves.

He drew back from the Central Masses, no longer afraid, and swept out to see Hatcher’s planet.

It was gone.

In the great gas cloud the tunneling blue suns swept up their graze of hydrogen, untroubled by planets. Themselves too young to have solid satellites, Hatcher’s adopted world removed again, they were alone.

Gone!

It was for a moment, a panicky thought. McCray realized what they had done. Hatcher’s greatest hope had been to find another race to stand between his people and the Old Ones. And they had found it!

Now Hatcher’s world could hide again and wait until the battle had been fought for them.

With a face light-years across, with a brain made up of patterns in the ether, McCray grinned wryly.

“Maybe they made the right choice,” he thought, considering. “Maybe they’d only be in the way when the showdown comes.” And he sought out Jodrell Bank and his body once more, preparing to return to being human⁠ ⁠… and to teach his fellow-humans to be gods.

Colophon

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Short Fiction
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