World 3769⁠–⁠37,478,326,894,6, Talso

Wade sat staring moodily at the screen for some time, while Zezdon Afthen, sunk in his own reveries, continued.

“Our race was too highly psychic, and too little mechanically curious. We learned too little of the world about, and too much of our own processes. We are a peaceful race, for, while you and the Ancient Masters learned the rule of existence in a world of strife, where only the fittest, the best fighters survived, we learned life in a carefully tended world, where the Ancient Masters taught us to live, where the one whose social instincts were best developed, where he who would most help the others, and the race, was permitted to live. Is it not natural that our race will not fight among themselves? We are careful to suppress tendencies toward criminality and struggle. The criminal and the maniac, or those who are permanently incurable as determined by careful examination, are ‘removed’ as the Leaders put it. Lethal gas.

“At any rate, we know so pitiably little of natural science. We were hopelessly helpless against an attacking science.”

“I promise you, Afthen, that if Earth survives, Ortol shall survive, for we have given you all the weapons we know of and we will give your people all the weapons we shall learn of.” Morey spoke from the doorway. Arcot was directly behind him.

They talked for a short while, then Wade retired for some needed sleep, while Morey and Arcot started further work on the time fields.

Hour after hour the ship sped on through the dark of space, weirdly distorted, glowing spots of light before them, wheeling suns that moved and flashed as their awesome speed whirled them on.

They had to move slower soon, as the changing stars showed them near the space-marks of certain locating suns. Finally, still moving close to fifteen thousand miles per second, they saw the sun they knew was sun 3769⁠–⁠37,478,-326,894, twice as large as Sol, two and a half times as massive and twenty-six times as brilliant.

Thirteen major planets they counted as they searched the system with their powerful telectroscope, the outermost more than ten billion miles from the parent sun, while planet six, the one indicated by the world number, was at a distance of five hundred million miles, nearly as far from the sun as Jupiter is from ours, yet the giant sun, giving more than twenty-five times as much heat and light in the blue-white range, heated the planet to approximately the same temperature Earth enjoys. Spectroscopy showed that the atmosphere was well supplied with oxygen, and so the inhabitants were evidently oxygen-breathing men, unlike those of the Negrian people who live in an atmosphere of hydrogen.

Arcot threw the ship toward the planet, and as it loomed swiftly larger, he shut off the space-control, and set the coils for full charge, while the ship entered the planet’s atmosphere in a screaming dive, still at a speed of better than a hundred miles a second. But this speed was quickly damped as the ship shot high over broad oceans to the dull green of land ahead in the daylit zone. Observations made from various distances by means of the space-control, thus going back in time, show that the planet had a day of approximately forty hours, the diameter was nearly nine thousand miles, which would probably mean an inconveniently high gravity for the terrestrians and a distressingly high gravity for the Ortolians, used to their world even smaller than Earth, with scarcely 80 percent of Earth’s gravity.

Wade made some volumetric analysis of the atmosphere, and with the aid of a mouse, pronounced it “Q.A.R.” (quite all right) for human beings. It had not killed the mouse, so probably humans would find it quite all right.

“We’ll land at the first city that comes into view,” suggested Arcot. “Afthen, you be the spokesman; you have a very considerable ability with the mental communication, and have a better understanding of the physics we need to explain than has Zezdon Fentes.”

They were over land, a rocky coast that shot behind them as great jagged mountains, tipped with snow, rose beneath. Suddenly, a shining apparition appeared from behind one of the neighboring hills, and drove down at them with an unearthly acceleration. Arcot moved just enough to dodge the blow, and turned to meet the ship. Instantly, now that he had a good view of it he was certain it was a Thessian ship. Waiting no longer to determine that it was not a ship of this world, he shot a molecular beam at it. The beam exploded into a coruscating panoply of pyrotechnics on the Thessian shield. The Thessian replied with all beams he had available, including an induction-beam, an intensely brilliant light-beam, and several molecular cannons with shells loaded with an explosive that was very evidently condensed light. This was no exploration ship, but a full-fledged battleship.

The Ancient Mariner was blinded instantly. None of the occupants were hurt, but the combined pressure of the various beams hurled the ship to one side. The induction beam alone was dangerous. It passed through the outer lux-metal wall unhindered, and the perfectly conducting relux wall absorbed it, and turned it into power. At once, all the metal objects in the ship began to heat up with terrific rapidity. Since there were no metallic conductors on the ship, no damage was done.

Arcot immediately hid behind his perfect shield⁠—the space-distortion.

“That’s no mild dose,” he said in a tense voice, working rapidly. “He’s a real-for-sure battleship. Better get down in the power room, Morey.”

In a few moments the ship was ready again. Opening the shield somewhat, Arcot was able to determine that no rays were being played on it, for no energy fields disclosed as distorting the opened field, other than the field of the sun and planet.

Arcot opened it. The battleship was searching vainly about the mountains, and was now some miles distant. His last view of Arcot’s ship had been a suddenly contracting ship, one that vanished in infinite distance, the infinite distance of another space, though he did not know it.

Arcot turned three powerful heat beams on the Thessian ship, and drove down toward it, accompanying them with molecular rays. The Thessian shield stopped the moleculars, but the heat had already destroyed the eyes of the ship. By some system of magnetic or electrostatic locating devices, the enemy guns and rays replied, and so successfully that Arcot was again blinded.

He had again been driving in a line straight toward the enemy, and now he threw in the entire power of his huge magnetic field-rays. The induction ray disappeared, and the heat, light and cannons stopped.

“Worked again,” grinned Arcot. A new set of eyes was inserted automatically, and the screen again lighted. The Thessian ship was spinning end over end toward the ground. It landed with a tremendous crash. Simultaneously from the rear of the Ancient Mariner came a terrific crash, an explosion that drove the terrestrian ship forward, as though a giant hand had pushed it from behind.

The Ancient Mariner spun like a top, facing the direction of the explosion, though still traveling in the direction it had been pursuing, but backward now. Behind them the air was a gigantic pool of ionization. Tremendous fragments of what obviously had been a ship were drifting down, turning end over end. And those fragments of the wall showed them to be fully four feet of solid relux.

“Enemy got up behind somehow while the eyes were out, and was ready to raise merry hell. Somebody blew them up beautifully. Look at the ground down there⁠—it’s red hot. That’s from the radiated heat of our recent encounter. Heat rays reflected, light bombs turned off, heat escaping from ions⁠—nice little workout⁠—and it didn’t seriously bother our defenses of two-inch relux. Now tell me: what will blow up four-foot relux?” asked Arcot, looking at the fragments. “It seems to me those fellows don’t need any help from us; they may decline it with thanks.”

“But they may be willing to help us,” replied Afthen, “and we certainly need such help.”

“I didn’t expect to come out alive from that battleship there. It was luck. If they knew what we had, they could insulate against it in an hour,” added Arcot.

“Let’s finish those fellows over there⁠—look!” From the wreck of the ship they had downed, a stream of men in glistening relux suits were filing. Any men comparable to humans would have been killed by the fall, but not Thessians. They carried peculiar machines, and as they drove out of the ship in dive that looked as though they had been shot from a cannon, they turned and landed on the ground and proceeded to jump back, leaping at a speed that was bewildering, seemingly impossible in any living creature.

They busied themselves quickly. It took less than thirty seconds, and they had a large relux disc laid under the entire group and machines. Arcot turned a molecular ray down. The rock and soil shot up all about them, even the ship shot up, to fall back into the great pit its ray had formed. But the ionization told of the ray shield over the little group of men. A heat ray reached down, while the men still frantically worked at their stubby projectors. The relux disc now showed its purpose. In an instant the soil about them was white hot, bubbling lava. It was liquid, boiling furiously. But the deep relux disc simply floated on it. The enemy ship began sinking, and in a moment had fallen almost completely beneath the white hot rock.

A fountain of the melted lava sprung up, and under Arcot’s skillful direction, fell in a cloud of molten rock on the men working. The suits protected, and the white hot stuff simply rolled off. But it was sinking their boat. Arcot continued hopefully.

Meanwhile a signaling machine was frantically calling for help and sending out information of their plight and position.

Then all was instantly wiped out in a single terrific jolt of the magnetic beam. The machines jumped a little, despite their weight, and the ray shield apparatus slumped suddenly in blazing white heat, the interior mechanism fused. But the men were still active, and rapidly spreading from the spot, each protected by a ray shield pack.

A brilliant stab of molecular ray shot at each from either of two of the Ancient Mariner’s projectors as Morey aided Arcot. Their little packs flared brilliantly for an instant under the thousands of horsepower of energy lashing at the screen, then flashed away, and the opalescent relux yielded a moment later, and the figure went twisting, hurtling away. Meanwhile Wade was busy with the magnetic apparatus, destroying shield after shield, which either Arcot or Morey picked off. The fall from even so much as half a mile seemed not sufficient to seriously bother these supermen, for an instant later they would be up tearing away in great leaps on their own power as their molecular suits, blown out by the magnetic field, failed them.

It was but a matter of minutes before the last had been chased down either by the rays or the ship. Then, circling back, Arcot slowly settled beside the enemy ship.

“Wait,” called Arcot sharply as Morey started for the door.

“Don’t go out yet. The friends who wrecked that little sweetheart who crept up behind will probably show up. Wait and see what happens.” Hardly had he spoken, when a strange apparition rose from behind a rock scarcely a quarter of a mile away. Immediately Arcot intensified the vision screen covering him. He seemed to leap near. There was one man, and he held what was obviously a sword by the blade, above his head, waving it from side to side.

“There they are⁠—whatever they are. Intelligent all right⁠—what more universally obvious peace sign than a primitive weapon such as a knife held in reverse position? You go with Zezdon Afthen. Try holding a carving knife by the blade.”

Morey grinned as he got into his power suit, on Wade’s OK of the atmosphere. “They may mistake me for the cook out looking for dinner, and I wouldn’t risk my dignity that way. I’ll take the baseball bat and hold it wrong way instead.”

Nevertheless, as he stepped from the ship, with Afthen close behind, he held the long knife by the blade, and Afthen, very awkwardly operating his still rather unfamiliar power suit, followed.

Into the intensely blue sunlight the men stepped. Their skin and clothing took on a peculiar tint under the strange sunlight.

The single stranger was joined by a second, also holding a reversed weapon, and together they threw them down. Morey and Zezdon Afthen followed suit. The two parties advanced toward each other.

The strangers advanced with a swift, light step, jumping from rock to rock, while Morey and Afthen flew part way toward them. The men of this world were totally unlike any intelligent race Morey had conceived of. Their head and brain case was so small as to be almost animalish. The nose was small and well formed, the ears more or less cup-shaped with a remarkable power of motion. Their eyes were seemingly huge, probably no larger than a terrestrian’s, though in the tiny head they were necessarily closely placed, protected by heavy bony ridges that actually projected from the skull to enclose them. Tiny, childlike chins completed the head, running down to a scrawny neck.

They were short, scarcely five feet, yet evidently of tremendous strength for their short, heavy arms, the muscle bulging plainly under the tight rubber-like composition garments, and the short legs whose stocky girth proclaimed equal strength were members of a body in keeping with them. The deep, broad chest, wide, square shoulders, heavy broad hips, combined with the tiny head seemed to indicate a perfect incarnation of brainless, brute strength.

“Strangers from another planet, enemies of our enemies. What brings you here at this time of troubles?” The thoughts came clearly from the stocky individual before them.

“We seek to aid, and to find aid. The menace that you face, attacks not alone your world, but all this star cluster,” replied Zezdon Afthen steadily.

The stranger shook his head with an evident expression of hopelessness. “The menace is even greater than we feared. It was just fortune that permitted us to have our weapon in workable condition at the time your ship was attacked. It will be a day before the machine will again be capable of successful operation. When in condition for use, it is invincible, but⁠—one blow in thirty hours⁠—you can see we are not of great aid.” He shrugged.

An enemy with evident resources of tremendous power, deadly, unknown rays that wiped out entire cities with a single brief sweep⁠—and no defense save this single weapon, good but once a day! Morey could read the utter despair of the man.

“What is the difficulty?” asked Morey eagerly.

“Power, lack of power. Our cities are going without power, while every electric generator on the planet is pouring its output into the accumulators that work these damnable, hopeless things. Invincible with power⁠—helpless without.”

“Ah!” Morey’s face shone with delight⁠—invincible weapon⁠—with power. And the Ancient Mariner could generate unthinkable power.

“What power source do you use⁠—how do you generate your power?”

“Combining oxidizing agent with reducing agents releases heat. Heat used to boil liquid and the vapor runs turbines.”

“We can give you power. What wattage have you available?”

Only Morey’s thoughts had to translate “watts” to “How many man-weights can you lift through your height per time interval, equal to this.” He gave the man some impression of a second, by counting. The man figured rapidly. His answer indicated that approximately a total of two billion kilowatts were available.

“Then the weapon is invincible hereafter, if what you say is true. Our ship alone can easily generate ten thousand times that power.

“Come, get in the ship, accompany us to your capital.”

The men turned, and retreated to their position behind the rocks, while Morey and Zezdon Afthen waited for them. Soon they returned, and entered the ship.

“Our world,” explained the leader rapidly, “is a single unified colony. The capital is ‘Shesto,’ our world we call ‘Talso.’ ” His directions were explicit, and Arcot started for Shesto, on Talso.