Typographic errors have been corrected.
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories March, April and May 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
* * * * *
THE GALAXY PRIMES
By E. E. SMITH
They were four of the greatest minds in the Universe: Two men, two women, lost in an experimental spaceship billions of parsecs from home. And as they mentally charted the Cosmos to find their way back to earth, their own loves and hates were as startling as the worlds they encountered. Here is E. E. Smith's great new novel....
Her hair was a brilliant green. So was her spectacularly filled halter. So were her tight short-shorts, her lipstick, and the lacquer on her finger-and toe-nails. As she strolled into the Main of the starship, followed hesitantly by the other girl, she drove a mental probe at the black-haired, powerfully-built man seated at the instrument-banked console.
Then at the other, slenderer man who was rising to his feet from the pilot's bucket seat. His guard was partially down; he was telepathing a pleasant, if somewhat reserved greeting to both newcomers.
She turned to her companion and spoke aloud. "So these are the system's best." The emphasis was somewhere between condescension and sneer. "Not much to choose between, I'd say ... 'port me a tenth-piece, Clee? Heads, I take the tow-head."
She flipped the coin dexterously. "Heads it is, Lola, so I get Jim—James James James the Ninth himself. You have the honor of pairing with Clee—or should I say His Learnedness Right the Honorable Director Doctor Cleander Simmsworth Garlock, Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Science, Prime Operator, President and First Fellow of the Galaxian Society, First Fellow of the Gunther Society, Fellow of the Institute of Paraphysics, of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, of the College of Mathematics, of the Congress of Psionicists, and of all the other top-bracket brain-gangs you ever heard of? Also, for your information, his men have given him a couple of informal degrees—P.D.Q. and S.O.B."
* * *
The big psionicist's expression of saturnine, almost contemptuous amusement had not changed; his voice came flat and cold. "The less you say, Doctor Bellamy, the better. Obstinate, swell-headed women give me an acute rectal pain. Pitching your curves over all the vizzies in space got you aboard, but it won't get you a thing from here on. And for your information, Doctor Bellamy, one more crack like that and I take you over my knee and blister your fanny."
"Try it, you big, clumsy, muscle-bound gorilla!" she jeered. "That I want to see! Any time you want to get both arms broken at the elbows, just try it!"
"Now's as good a time as any. I like your spirit, babe, but I can't say a thing for your judgment." He got up and started purposefully toward her, but both non-combatants came between.
"Jet back, Clee!" James protested, both hands against the heavier man's chest. "What the hell kind of show is that to put on?" And, simultaneously:
"Belle! Shame on you! Picking a fight already, and with nobody knows how many million people looking on! You know as well as I do that we may have to spend the rest of our lives together, so act like civilized beings—please—both of you! And don't...."
"Nobody's watching this but us," Garlock interrupted. "When pussy there started using her claws I cut the gun."
"That's what you think," James said sharply, "but Fatso and his number one girl friend are coming in on the tight beam."
"Oh?" Garlock whirled toward the hitherto dark and silent three-dimensional communications instrument. The face of a bossy-looking woman was already bright.
"Garlock! How dare you try to cut Chancellor Ferber off?" she demanded. Her voice was deep-pitched, blatant with authority. "Here you are, sir."
The woman's face shifted to one side and a man's appeared—a face to justify in full the nickname "Fatso."
"'Fatso', eh?" Chancellor Ferber snarled. Pale eyes glared from the fat face. "That costs you exactly one thousand credits, James."
"How much will this cost me, Fatso?" Garlock asked.
"Five thousand—and, since nobody can call me that deliberately, demotion three grades and probation for three years. Make a note, Miss Foster."
"Still sure we aren't going anywhere," Garlock said. "What a brain!"
"Sure I'm sure!" Ferber gloated. "In a couple of hours I'm going to buy your precious starship in as junk. In the meantime, whether you like it or not, I'm going to watch your expression while you push all those pretty buttons and nothing happens."
"The trouble with you, Fatso," Garlock said dispassionately, as he opened a drawer and took out a pair of cutting pliers, "is that all your strength is in your glands and none in your alleged brain. There are a lot of things—including a lot of tests—you know nothing about. How much will you see after I've cut one wire?"
"You wouldn't dare!" the fat man shouted. "I'd fire you—blacklist you all over the sys...."
Voice and images died away and Garlock turned to the two women in the Main. He began to smile, but his mental shield did not weaken.
"You've got a point there, Lola," he said, going on as though Ferber's interruption had not occurred. "Not that I blame either Belle or myself. If anything was ever calculated to drive a man nuts, this farce was. As the only female Prime in the system, Belle should have been in automatically—she had no competition. And to anybody with three brain cells working the other place lay between you, Lola, and the other three female Ops in the age group.
"But no. Ferber and the rest of the Board—stupidity uber alles!—think all us Ops and Primes are psycho and that the ship will never even lift. So they made a Grand Circus of it. But they succeeded in one thing—with such abysmal stupidity so rampant I'm getting more and more reconciled to the idea of our not getting back—at least, for a long, long time."
"Why, they said we had a very good chance...." Lola began.
"Yeah, and they said a lot of even bigger damn lies than that one. Have you read any of my papers?"
"I'm sorry. I'm not a mathematician."
"Our motion will be purely at random. If it isn't, I'll eat this whole ship. We won't get back until Jim and I work out something to steer us with. But they must be wondering no end, outside, what the score is, so I'm willing to call it a draw—temporarily—and let 'em in again. How about it, Belle?"
"A draw it is—temporarily." Neither, however, even offered to shake hands.
"Smile pretty, everybody," Garlock said, and pressed a stud.
"... the matter? What's the matter? Oh...." the worried voice of the System's ace newscaster came in. "Power failure already?"
"No," Garlock replied. "I figured we had a couple of minutes of privacy coming, if you can understand the meaning of the word. Now all four of us tell everybody who is watching or listening au revoir or good-bye, whichever it may turn out to be." He reached for the switch.
"Wait a minute!" the newscaster demanded. "Leave it on until the last poss...." His voice broke off sharply.
"Turn it back on!" Belle ordered.
"Scared?" she sneered.
"You chirped it, bird-brain. I'm scared purple. So would you be, if you had three brain cells working in that glory-hound's head of yours. Get set, everybody, and we'll take off."
"Stop it, both of you!" Lola exclaimed. "Where do you want us to sit, and do we strap down?"
"You sit here; Belle at that plate beside Jim. Yes, strap down. There probably won't be any shock, and we should land right side up, but there's no sense in taking chances. Sure your stuff's all aboard?"
"Yes, it's in our rooms."
The four secured themselves; the two men checked, for the dozenth time, their instruments. The pilot donned his scanner. The ship lifted effortlessly, noiselessly. Through the atmosphere; through and far beyond the stratosphere. It stopped.
"Ready, Clee?" James licked his lips.
"As ready as I ever will be, I guess. Shoot!"
The pilot's right hand, forefinger outstretched, moved unenthusiastically toward a red button on his panel ... slowed ... stopped. He stared into his scanner at the Earth so far below.
"Hit it, Jim!" Garlock snapped. "Hit it, for goodness sake, before we all lose our nerve!"
James stabbed convulsively at the button, and in the very instant of contact—instantaneously; without a fractional microsecond of time-lapse—their familiar surroundings disappeared. Or, rather, and without any sensation of motion, of displacement, or of the passage of any time whatsoever, the planet beneath them was no longer their familiar Earth. The plates showed no familiar stars nor patterns of heavenly bodies. The brightly-shining sun was very evidently not their familiar Sol.
"Well—we went somewhere ... but not to Alpha Centauri, not much to our surprise." James gulped twice; then went on, speaking almost jauntily now that the attempt had been made and had failed. "So now it's up to you, Clee, as Director of Project Gunther and captain of the good ship Pleiades, to boss the more-or-less simple—more, I hope—job of getting us back to Tellus."
* * *
Science, both physical and paraphysical, had done its best. Gunther's Theorems, which define the electromagnetic and electrogravitic parameters pertaining to the annihilation of distance, had been studied, tested, and applied to the full. So had the Psionic Corollaries; which, while not having the status of paraphysical laws, do allow computation of the qualities and magnitudes of the stresses required for any given application of the Gunther Effect.
The planning of the starship Pleiades had been difficult in the extreme; its construction almost impossible. While it was practically a foregone conclusion that any man of the requisite caliber would already be a member of the Galaxian Society, the three planets and eight satellites were screened, psionicist by psionicist, to select the two strongest and most versatile of their breed.
These two, Garlock and James, were heads of departments of, and under iron-clad contract to, vast Solar System Enterprises, Inc., the only concern able and willing to attempt the building of the first starship.
Alonzo P. Ferber, Chancellor of SSE, however, would not risk a tenth-piece of the company's money on such a bird-brained scheme. Himself a Gunther First, he believed implicitly that Firsts were in fact tops in Gunther ability; that these few self-styled "Operators" and "Prime Operators" were either charlatans or self-deluded crackpots. Since he could not feel that so-called "Operator Field," no such thing did or could exist. No Gunther starship could ever, possibly, work.
He did loan Garlock and James to the Galaxians, but that was as far as he would go. For salaries and for labor, for research and material, for trials and for errors; the Society paid and paid and paid.
Thus the starship Pleiades had cost the Galaxian Society almost a thousand million credits.
Garlock and James had worked on the ship since its inception. They were to be of the crew; for over a year it had been taken for granted that would be its only crew.
* * *
As the Pleiades neared completion, however, it became clearer and clearer that the displacement-control presented an unsolved, and quite possibly an insoluble, problem. It was mathematically certain that, when the Gunther field went on, the ship would be displaced instantaneously to some location in space having precisely the Gunther coordinates required by that particular field. One impeccably rigorous analysis showed that the ship would shift into the nearest solar system possessing an Earth-type planet; which was believed to be Alpha Centauri and which was close enough to Sol so that orientation would be automatic and the return to Earth a simple matter.
Since the Gunther Effect did in fact annihilate distance, however, another group of mathematicians, led by Garlock and James, proved with equal rigor that the point of destination was no more likely to be any one given Gunther point than any other one of the myriads of billions of equiguntherial points undoubtedly existent throughout the length, breadth, and thickness of our entire normal space-time continuum.
The two men would go anyway, of course. Carefully-calculated pressures would make them go. It was neither necessary nor desirable, however, for them to go alone.
Wherefore the planets and satellites were combed again; this time to select two women—the two most highly-gifted psionicists in the eighteen-to-twenty-five age group. Thus, if the Pleiades returned successfully to Earth, well and good. If she did not, the four selectees would found, upon some far-off world, a race much abler than the humanity of Earth; since eighty-three percent of Earth's dwellers had psionic grades lower than Four.
This search, with its attendant fanfare and studiedly blatant publicity, was so planned and engineered that two selected women did not arrive at the spaceport until a bare fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of take-off. Thus it made no difference whether the women liked the men or not, or vice versa; or whether or not any of them really wanted to make the trip. Pressures were such that each of them had to go, whether he or she wanted to or not.
* * *
"Cut the rope, Jim, and let the old bucket drop," Garlock said. "Not too close. Before we make any kind of contact we'll have to do some organizing. These instruments," he waved at his console, "show that ours is the only Operator Field in this whole region of space. Hence, there are no Operators and no Primes. That means that from now until we get back to Tellus...."
"If we get back to Tellus," Belle corrected, sweetly.
"Until we get back to Tellus there will be no Gunthering aboard this ship...."
"What?" Belle broke in again. "Have you lost your mind?"
"There will be little if any lepping, and nothing else at all. At the table, if we want sugar, we will reach for it or have it passed. We will pick up things, such as cigarettes, with our fingers. We will carry lighters and use them. When we go from place to place, we will walk. Is that clear?"
"You seem to be talking English," Belle sneered, "but the words don't make sense."
"I didn't think you were that stupid." Eyes locked and held. Then Garlock grinned savagely. "Okay. You tell her, Lola, in words of as few syllables as possible."
"Why, to get used to it, of course," Lola explained, while Belle glared at Garlock in frustrated anger. "So as not to reveal anything we don't have to."
"Thank you, Miss Montandon, you may go to the head of the class. All monosyllables except two. That should make it clear, even to Miss Bellamy."
"You ... you beast!" Belle drove a tight-beamed thought. "I was never so insulted in my life!"
"You asked for it. Keep on asking for it and you'll keep on getting it." Then, aloud, to all three, "In emergencies, of course, anything goes. We will now proceed with business." He paused, then went on, bitingly, "If possible."
"One minute, please!" Belle snapped. "Just why, Captain Garlock, are you insisting on oral communication, when lepping is so much faster and better? It's stupid—reactionary. Don't you ever lep?"
"With Jim, on business, yes; with women, no more than I have to. What I think is nobody's business but mine."
"What a way to run a ship! Or a project!"
"Running this project is my business, not yours; and if there's any one thing in the entire universe it does not need, it's a female exhibitionist. Besides your obvious qualifications to be one of the Eves in case of Ultimate Contingency...." he broke off and stared at her, his contemptuous gaze traveling slowly, dissectingly, from her toes to the topmost wave of her hair-do.
"Forty-two, twenty, forty?" he sneered.
"You flatter me." Her glare was an almost tangible force; her voice was controlled fury.
"Thirty-nine, twenty-two, thirty-five. Five seven. One thirty-five. If any of it's any of your business, which it isn't. You should be discussing brains and ability, not vital statistics."
"Brains? You? No, I'll take that back. As a Prime, you have got a brain—one that really works. What do you think you're good for on this project? What can you do?"
"I can do anything any man ever born can do, and do it better!"
"Okay. Compute a Gunther field that will put us two hundred thousand feet directly above the peak of that mountain."
"That isn't fair—not that I expected fairness from you—and you know it. That doesn't take either brains or ability...."
"No. Merely highly specialized training that you know I haven't had. Give me a five-tape course on it and I'll come closer than either you or James; for a hundred credits a shot."
"I'll do just that. Something you are supposed to know, then. How would you go about making first contact?"
* * *
"Well, I wouldn't do it the way you would—by knocking down the first native I saw, putting my foot on his face, and yelling 'Bow down, you stupid, ignorant beasts, and worship me, the Supreme God of the Macrocosmic Universe'!"
"Try again, Belle, that one missed me by...."
"Hold it, both of you!" James broke in. "What the hell are you trying to prove? How about cutting out this cat-and-dog act and getting some work done?"
"You've got a point there," Garlock admitted, holding his temper by a visible effort. "Sorry, Jim. Belle, what were you briefed for?"
"To understudy you." She, too, fought her temper down. "To learn everything about Project Gunther. I have a whole box of tapes in my room, including advanced Gunther math and first-contact techniques. I'm to study them during all my on-watch time unless you assign other duties."
"No matter what your duties may be, you'll have to have time to study. If you don't find what you want in your own tapes—and you probably won't, since Ferber and his Miss Foster ran the selections—use our library. It's good—designed to carry on our civilization. Miss Montandon? No, that's silly, the way we're fixed. Lola?"
"I'm to learn how to be Doctor James'...."
"Jim, please, Lola," James said. "And call him Clee."
"I'd like that." She smiled winningly. "And my friends call me 'Brownie'."
"I see why they would. It fits like a coat of lacquer."
* * *
It did. Her hair was a dark, lustrous brown, as were her eyebrows. Her eyes were brown. Her skin, too—her dark red playsuit left little to the imagination—was a rich and even brown. Originally fairly dark, it had been tanned to a more-than-fashionable depth of color by naked sun-bathing and by practically-naked outdoor sports. A couple of inches shorter than the green-haired girl, she too had a figure to make any sculptor drool.
"I'm to be Dr. Jim's assistant. I have a thousand tapes, more or less, to study, too. It'll be quite a while, I'm afraid, before I can be of much use, but I'll do the best I can."
"If we had hit Alpha Centauri that arrangement would have been good, but as we are, it isn't." Garlock frowned in thought, his heavy black eyebrows almost meeting above his finely-chiseled aquiline nose. "Since neither Jim nor I need an assistant any more than we need tails, it was designed to give you girls something to do. But out here, lost, there's work for a dozen trained specialists and there are only four of us. So we shouldn't duplicate effort. Right? You first, Belle."
"Are you asking me or telling me?" she asked. "And that's a fair question. Don't read anything into it that isn't there. With your attitude, I want information."
"I am asking you," he replied, carefully. "For your information, when I know what should be done, I give orders. When I don't know, as now, I ask advice. If I like it, I follow it. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough. We're apt to need any number of specialists."
"Of course we shouldn't duplicate. What shall I study?"
"That's what we must figure out. We can't do it exactly, of course; all we can do now is to set up a rough scheme. Jim's job is the only one that's definite. He'll have to work full time on nebular configurations. If we hit inhabited planets he'll have to add their star-charts to his own. That leaves three of us to do all the other work of a survey. Ideally, we would cover all the factors that would be of use in getting us back to Tellus, but since we don't know what those factors are.... Found out anything yet, Jim?"
"A little. Tellus-type planet, apparently strictly so. Oceans and continents. Lots of inhabitants—farms, villages, all sizes of cities. Not close enough to say definitely, but inhabitants seem to be humanoid, if not human."
"Hold her here. Besides astronomy, which is all yours, what do we need most?"
"We should have enough to classify planets and inhabitants, so as to chart a space-trend if there is any. I'd say the most important ones would be geology, stratigraphy, paleontology, oceanography, xenology, anthropology, ethnology, vertebrate biology, botany, and at least some ecology."
"That's about the list I was afraid of. But there are only three of us. The fields you mention number much more."
"Each of you will have to be a lot of specialists in one, then. I'd say the best split would be planetology, xenology, and anthropology—each, of course, stretched all out of shape to cover dozens of related and non-related specialties."
"Good enough. Xenology, of course, is mine. Contacts, liaison, politics, correlation, and so on, as well as studying the non-human life forms—including as many lower animals and plants as possible. I'll make a stab at it. Now, Belle, since you're a Prime and Lola's an Operator, you get the next toughest job. Planetography."
"Why not?" Belle smiled and began to act as one of the party. "All I know about it is a hazy idea of what the word means, but I'll start studying as soon as we get squared away."
"Thanks. That leaves anthropology to you, Lola. Besides, that's your line, isn't it?"
"Yes. Sociological Anthropology. I have my M.S. in it, and am—was, I mean—working for my Ph.D. But as Jim said, it isn't only the one specialty. You want me, I take it, to cover humanoid races, too?"
"Check. You and Jim both, then, will know what you're doing, while Belle and I are trying to play ours by ear."
"Where do we draw the line between humanoid and non-human?"
"In case of doubt we'll confer. That covers it as much as we can, I think. Take us down, Jim—and be on your toes to take evasive action fast."
* * *
The ship dropped rapidly toward an airport just outside a fairly large city. Fifty thousand—forty thousand—thirty thousand feet.
"Calling strange spaceship—you must be a spaceship, in spite of your tremendous, hitherto-considered-impossible mass—" a thought impinged on all four Tellurian minds, "do you read me?"
"I read you clearly. This is the Tellurian spaceship Pleiades, Captain Garlock commanding, asking permission to land and information as to landing conventions." He did not have to tell James to stop the ship; James had already done so.
"I was about to ask you to hold position; I thank you for having done so. Hold for inspection and type-test, please. We will not blast unless you fire first. A few minutes, please."
* * *
A group of twelve jet fighters took off practically vertically upward and climbed with fantastic speed. They leveled off a thousand feet below the Pleiades and made a flying circle. Up and into the ring thus formed there lumbered a large, clumsy-looking helicopter.
"We have no record of any planet named 'Tellus'; nor of any such ship as yours. Of such incredible mass and with no visible or detectable means of support or of propulsion. Not from this part of the galaxy, certainly ... could it be that intergalactic travel is actually possible? But excuse me, Captain Garlock, none of that is any of my business; which is to determine whether or not you four Tellurian human beings are compatible with, and thus acceptable to, our humanity of Hodell ... but you do not seem to have a standard televideo testing-box aboard."
"No, sir; only our own tri-di and teevee."
"You must be examined by means of a standard box. I will rise to your level and teleport one across to you. It is self-powered and fully automatic."
"You needn't rise, sir. Just toss the box out of your 'copter into the air. We'll take it from there." Then, to James, "Take it, Jim."
"Oh? You can lift large masses against much gravity?" The alien was all attention. "I have not known that such power existed. I will observe with keen interest."
"I have it," James said. "Here it is."
"Thank you, sir," Garlock said to the alien. Then, to Lola: "You've been reading these—these Hodellians?"
"The officer in the helicopter and those in the fighters, yes. Most of them are Gunther Firsts."
"Good girl. The set's coming to life—watch it."
The likeness of the alien being became clear upon the alien screen; visible from the waist up. While humanoid, the creature was very far indeed from being human. He—at least, it had masculine rudimentary nipples—had double shoulders and four arms. His skin was a vividly intense cobalt blue. His ears were black, long, and highly dirigible. His eyes, a flaming red in color, were large and vertically-slitted, like a cat's. He had no hair at all. His nose was large and Roman; his jaw was square, almost jutting; his bright-yellow teeth were clean and sharp.
After a minute of study the alien said: "Although your vessel is so entirely alien that nothing even remotely like it is on record, you four are completely human and, if of compatible type, acceptable. Are there any other living beings aboard with you?"
"Excepting micro-organisms, none."
"Such life is of no importance. Approach, please, one of you, and grasp with a hand the projecting metal knob."
With a little trepidation, Garlock did so. He felt no unusual sensation at the contact.
"All four of you are compatible and we accept you. This finding is surprising in the extreme, as you are the first human beings of record who grade higher than what you call Gunther Two ... or Gunther Second?"
"Either one; the terms are interchangeable."
"You have minds of tremendous development and power; definitely superior even to my own. However, there is no doubt that physically you are perfectly compatible with our humanity. Your blood will be of great benefit to it. You may land. Goodbye."
"Wait, please. How about landing conventions? And visiting restrictions and so on? And may we keep this box? We will be glad to trade you something for it, if we have anything you would like to have?"
"Ah, I should have realized that your customs would be widely different from ours. Since you have been examined and accepted, there are no restrictions. You will not act against humanity's good. Land where you please, go where you please, do what you please as long as you please. Take up permanent residence or leave as soon as you please. Marry if you like, or simply breed—your unions with this planet's humanity will be fertile. Keep the box without payment. As Guardians of Humanity we Arpalones do whatever small favors we can. Have I made myself clear?"
"Abundantly so. Thank you, sir."
"Now I really must go. Goodbye."
Garlock glanced into his plate. The jets had disappeared, the helicopter was falling rapidly away. He wiped his brow.
"Well, I'll be damned," he said.
* * *
When his amazement subsided he turned to the business at hand. "Lola, do you check me that this planet is named Hodell, that it is populated by creatures exactly like us? Arpalones?"
"Exactly, except they aren't 'creatures'. They are humanoids, and very fine people."
"You'd think so, of course ... correction accepted. Well, let's take advantage of their extraordinarily hospitable invitation and go down. Cut the rope, Jim."
* * *
The airport was very large, and was divided into several sections, each of which was equipped with runways and/or other landing facilities to suit one class of craft—propellor jobs, jets, or helicopters. There were even a few structures that looked like rocket pits.
"Where are you going to sit down, Jim? With the 'copters or over by the blast-pits?"
"With the 'copters, I think. Since I can place her to within a couple of inches. I'll put her squarely into that far corner, where she'll be out of everybody's way."
"No concrete out there," Garlock said. "But the ground seems good and solid."
"We'd better not land on concrete," James grinned. "Unless it's terrific stuff we'd smash it. On bare ground, the worst we can do is sink in a foot or so, and that won't hurt anything."
"Check. A few tons to the square foot, is all. Shall we strap down and hang onto our teeth?"
"Who do you think you're kidding, boss? Even though I've got to do this on manual, I won't tip over a half-piece standing on edge."
James stopped talking, pulled out his scanner, stuck his face into it. The immense starship settled downward toward the selected corner. There was no noise, no blast, no flame, no slightest visible or detectable sign of whatever force it was that was braking the thousands of tons of the vessel's mass in its miles-long, almost-vertical plunge to ground.
When the Pleiades struck ground the impact was scarcely to be felt. When she came to rest, after settling into the ground her allotted "foot or so," there was no jar at all.
"Atmosphere, temperature, and so on, approximately Earth-normal," Garlock said. "Just as our friend said it would be."
James scanned the city and the field. "Our visit is kicking up a lot of excitement. Shall we go out?"
"Not yet!" Belle exclaimed. "I want to see how the women are dressed, first."
"So do I," Lola added, "and some other things besides."
Both women—Lola through her Operator's scanner; Belle by manipulating the ship's tremendous Operator Field by the sheer power of her Prime Operator's mind—stared eagerly at the crowd of people now beginning to stream across the field.
"As an anthropologist," Lola announced, "I'm not only surprised. I am shocked, annoyed, and disgruntled. Why, they're exactly like white Tellurian human beings!"
"But look at their clothes!" Belle insisted. "They're wearing anything and everything, from bikinis to coveralls!"
"Yes, but notice." This was the anthropological scientist speaking now. "Breasts and loins, covered. Faces, uncovered. Heads and feet and hands, either bare or covered. Ditto for legs up to there, backs, arms, necks and shoulders down to here, and torsos clear down to there. We'll not violate any conventions by going out as we are. Not even you, Belle. You first, Chief. Yours the high honor of setting first foot—the biggest foot we've got, too—on alien soil."
"To hell with that. We'll go out together."
"Wait a minute," Lola went on. "There's a funny-looking automobile just coming through the gate. The Press. Three men and two women. Two cameras, one walkie-talkie, and two microphones. The photog in the purple shirt is really a sharpie at lepping. Class Three, at least—possibly a Two."
"How about screens down enough to lep, boss?" Belle suggested. "Faster. We may need it."
"Check. I'm too busy to record, anyway—I'll log this stuff up tonight," and thoughts flew.
"Check me, Jim," Garlock flashed. "Telepathy, very good. On Gunther, the guy was right—no signs at all of any First activity, and very few Seconds."
"Check," James agreed.
"And Lola, those 'Guardians' out there. I thought they were the same as the Arpalone we talked to. They aren't. Not even telepathic. Same color scheme, is all."
"Right. Much more brutish. Much flatter cranium. Long, tearing canine teeth. Carnivorous. I'll call them just 'guardians' until we find out what they really are."
* * *
The press car arrived and the Tellurians disembarked—and, accidentally or not, it was Belle's green slipper that first touched ground. There was a terrific babel of thought, worse, even, than voices in similar case, in being so much faster. The reporters, all of them, wanted to know everything at once. How, what, where, when, and why. Also who. And all about Tellus and the Tellurian solar system. How did the visitors like Hodell? And all about Belle's green hair. And the photographers were prodigal of film, shooting everything from all possible angles.
"Hold it!" Garlock loosed a blast of thought that "silenced" almost the whole field. "We will have order, please. Lola Montandon, our anthropologist, will take charge. Keep it orderly, Lola, if you have to throw half of them off the field. I'm going over to Administration and check in. One of you reporters can come with me, if you like."
The man in the purple shirt got his bid in first. As the two men walked away together, Garlock noted that the man was in fact a Second—his flow of lucid, cogent thought did not interfere at all with the steady stream of speech going into his portable recorder. Garlock also noticed that in any group of more than a dozen people there was always at least one guardian. They paid no attention whatever to the people, who in turn ignored them completely. Garlock wondered briefly. Guardians? The Arpalones, out in space, yes. But these creatures, naked and unarmed on the ground? The Arpalones were non-human people. These things were—what?
At the door of the Field Office the reporter, after turning Garlock over to a startlingly beautiful, leggy, breasty, blonde receptionist-usherette, hurried away.
* * *
He flecked a feeler at her mind and stiffened. How could a Two—a high Two, at that—be working as an usher? And with her guard down clear to the floor? He probed—and saw.
"Lola!" He flashed a tight-beamed thought. "You aren't putting out anything about our sexual customs, family life, and so on."
"Of course not. We must know their mores first."
"Good girl. Keep your shield up."
"Oh, we're so glad to see you, Captain Garlock, sir!" The blonde, who was dressed little more heavily than the cigarette girls in Venusberg's Cartier Room, seized his left hand in both of hers and held it considerably longer than was necessary. Her dazzling smile, her laughing eyes, her flashing white teeth, the many exposed inches of her skin, and her completely unshielded mind; all waved banners of welcome.
"Captain Garlock, sir, Governor Atterlin has been most anxious to see you ever since you were first detected. This way, please, sir." She turned, brushing her bare hip against his leg in the process, and led him by the hand along a hallway. Her thoughts flowed. "I have been, too, sir, and I'm simply delighted to see you close up, and I hope to see a lot more of you. You're a wonderfully pleasant surprise, sir; I've never seen a man like you before. I don't think Hodell ever saw a man like you before, sir. With such a really terrific mind and yet so big and strong and well-built and handsome and clean-looking and blackish. You're wonderful, Captain Garlock, sir. You'll be here a long time, I hope? Here we are, sir."
She opened a door, walked across the room, sat down in an overstuffed chair, and crossed her legs meticulously. Then, still smiling happily, she followed with eager eyes and mind Garlock's every move.
Garlock had been reading Governor Atterlin; knew why it was the governor who was in that office instead of the port manager. He knew that Atterlin had been reading him—as much as he had allowed. They had already discussed many things, and were still discussing.
The room was much more like a library than an office. The governor, a middle-aged, red-headed man a trifle inclined to portliness, had been seated in a huge reclining chair facing a teevee screen, but got up to shake hands.
"Welcome, friend Captain Garlock. Now, to continue. As to exchange. Many ships visiting us have nothing we need or can use. For such, all services are free—or rather, are paid by the city. Our currency is based upon platinum, but gold, silver, and copper are valuable. Certain jewels, also...."
"That's far enough. We will pay our way—we have plenty of metal. What are your ratios of value for the four metals here on Hodell?"
"Today's quotations are...." He glanced at a screen, and his fingers flashed over the keys of a computer beside his chair. "One weight of platinum is equal in value to seven point three four six...."
"Decimals are not necessary, sir."
"Seven plus, then, weights of gold. One of gold to eleven of silver. One of silver to four of copper."
"Thank you. We'll use platinum. I'll bring some bullion tomorrow morning and exchange it for your currency. Shall I bring it here, or to a bank in the city?"
"Either. Or we can have an armored truck visit your ship."
"That would be better yet. Have them bring about five thousand tanes. Thank you very much, Governor Atterlin, and good afternoon to you, sir."
"And good afternoon to you, sir. Until tomorrow, then."
Garlock turned to leave.
"Oh, may I go with you to your ship, sir, to take just a little look at it?" the girl asked, winningly.
"Of course, Grand Lady Neldine, I'd like to have your company."
She seized his elbow and hugged it quickly against her breast. Then, taking his hand, she walked—almost skipped—along beside him. "And I want to see Pilot James close up, too, sir—he's not nearly as wonderful as you are, sir—and I wonder why Planetographer Bellamy's hair is green? Very striking, of course, sir, but I don't think I'd care for it much on me—unless you'd think I should, sir?"
* * *
Belle knew, of course, that they were coming; and Garlock knew that Belle's hackles were very much on the rise. She could not read him, except very superficially, but she was reading the strange girl like a book and was not liking anything she read. Wherefore, when Garlock and his joyous companion reached the great spaceship—
"How come you picked up that little man-eating shark?" she sent, venomously, on a tight band.
"It wasn't a case of picking her up." Garlock grinned. "I haven't been able to find any urbane way of scraping her off. First Contact, you know."
"She wants altogether too much Contact for a First—I'll scrape her off, even if she is one of the nobler class on this world...." Belle changed her tactics even before Garlock began his reprimand. "I shouldn't have said that, Clee, of course." She laughed lightly. "It was just the shock; there wasn't anything in any of my First Contact tapes covering what to do about beautiful and enticing girls who try to seduce our men. She doesn't know, though, of course, that she's supposed to be a bug-eyed monster and not human at all. Won't Xenology be in for a rough ride when we check in? Wow!"
"You can play that in spades, sister." And for the rest of the day Belle played flawlessly the role of perfect hostess.
It was full dark before the Hodellians could be persuaded to leave the Pleiades and the locks were closed.
* * *
"I have refused one hundred seventy-eight invitations," Lola reported then. "All of us, individually and collectively, have been invited to eat everything, everywhere in town. To see shows in a dozen different theaters and eighteen night spots. To dance all night in twenty-one different places, ranging from dives to strictly soup-and-fish. I was nice about it, of course—just begged off because we were dead from our belts both ways from our long, hard trip. My thought, of course, is that we'd better eat our own food and take it slowly at first. Check, Clee?"
"On the beam, dead center. And you weren't lying much, either. I feel as though I'd done a day's work. After supper there's a thing I've got to discuss with all three of you."
Supper was soon over. Then:
"We've got to make a mighty important decision," Garlock began, abruptly. "Grand Lady Neldine—that title isn't exact, but close—wondered why I didn't respond at all, either way. However, she didn't make a point of it, and I let her wonder; but we'll have to decide by tomorrow morning what to do, and it'll have to be airtight. These Hodellians expect Jim and me to impregnate as many as possible of their highest-rated women before we leave. By their Code it's mandatory, since we can't hide the fact that we rate much higher than they do—their highest rating is only Grade Two by our standards—and all the planets hereabouts up-grade themselves with the highest-grade new blood they can find. Ordinarily, they'd expect you two girls to become pregnant by your choices of the top men of the planet; but they know you wouldn't breed down and don't expect you to. But how in all hell can Jim and I refuse to breed them up without dealing out the deadliest insult they know?"
There was a minute of silence. "We can't," James said then. A grin began to spread over his face. "It might not be too bad an idea, at that, come to think of it. That ball of fire they picked out for you would be a blue-ribbon dish in anybody's cook-book. And Grand Lady Lemphi—" He kissed the tips of two fingers and waved them in the air. "Strictly Big League Material; in capital letters."
"Is that nice, you back-alley tomcat?" Belle asked, plaintively; then paused in thought and went on slowly, "I won't pretend to like it, but I won't do any public screaming about it."
"Any anthropologist would say you'll have to," Lola declared without hesitation. "I don't like it, either. I think it's horrible; but it's excellent genetics and we cannot and must not violate systems-wide mores."
"You're all missing the point!" Garlock snapped. He got up, jammed his hands into his pockets, and began to pace the floor. "I didn't think any one of you was that stupid! If that was all there were to it we'd do it as a matter of course. But think, damn it! There's nothing higher than Gunther Two in the humanity of this planet. Telepathy is the only ESP they have. High Gunther uses hitherto unused portions of the brain. It's transmitted through genes, which are dominant, cumulative, and self-multiplying by interaction. Jim and I carry more, stronger, and higher Gunther genes than any other two men known to live. Can we—dare we—plant such genes where none have ever been known before?"
Two full minutes of silence.
"That one has really got a bone in it," James said, unhelpfully.
* * *
Three minutes more of silence.
"It's up to you, Lola," Garlock said then. "It's your field."
"I was afraid of that. There's a way. Personally, I like it less even than the other, but it's the only one I've been able to think up. First, are you absolutely sure that our refusal—Belle's and mine, I mean—to breed down will be valid with them?"
"Then the whole society from which we come will have to be strictly monogamous, in the narrowest, most literal sense of the term. No exceptions whatever. Adultery, anything illicit, has always been not only unimaginable, but in fact impossible. We pair—or marry, or whatever they do here—once only. For life. Desire and potency can exist only within the pair; never outside it. Like eagles. If a man's wife dies, even, he loses all desire and all potency. That would make it physically impossible for you two to follow the Hodellian Code. You'd both be completely impotent with any women whatever except your mates—Belle and me."
"That will work," Belle said. "How it will work!" She paused. Then, suddenly, she whistled; the loud, full-bodied, ear-piercing, tongue-and-teeth whistle which so few women ever master. Her eyes sparkled and she began to laugh with unrestrained glee. "But do you know what you've done, Lola?"
"Nothing, except to suggest a solution. What's so funny about that?"
"You're wonderful, Lola—simply priceless! You've created something brand-new to science—an impotent tomcat! And the more I think about it...." Belle was rocking back and forth with laughter. She could not possibly talk, but her thought flowed on, "I just love you all to pieces! An impotent tomcat, and he'll have to stay true to me—Oh, this is simply killing me—I'll never live through it!"
"It does put us on the spot—especially Jim," came Garlock's thought.
* * *
He, too, began to laugh; and Lola, as soon as she stopped thinking about the thing only as a problem in anthropology, joined in. James, however, did not think it was very funny.
"And that's less than half of it!" Belle went on, still unable to talk. "Think of Clee, Lola. Six two—over two hundred—hard as nails—a perfect hunk of hard red meat—telling this whole damn cockeyed region of space that he's impotent, too! And with a perfectly straight face! And it ties in so beautifully with his making no response, yes or no, when she propositioned him. The poor, innocent, impotent lamb just simply didn't have even the faintest inkling of what she meant! Oh, my...."
"Listen—listen—listen!" James managed finally to break in. "Not that I want to be promiscuous, but...."
"There, there, my precious little impotent tomcat," Belle soothed him aloud, between giggles and snorts. "Us Earth-girls will take care of our lover-boys, see if we don't. You won't need any nasty little...." Belle could not hold the pose, but went off again into whoops of laughter. "What a brain you've got, Lola! I thought I could imagine anything, but to make these two guys of ours—the two absolute tops of the whole Solar System—it's a stroke of genius...."
"Shut up, will you, you human hyena, and listen!" James roared aloud. "There ought to be some better way than that."
"Better? Than sheer perfection?" Belle was still laughing but could now talk coherently.
"If you can think of another way, Jim, the meeting is still open." Garlock was wiping his eyes. "But it'll have to be a dilly. I'm not exactly enamored of Lola's idea, either, but as the answer it's one hundred percent to as many decimal places as you want to take time to write zeroes."
There was more talk, but no improvement could be made upon Lola's idea.
"Well, we've got until morning," Garlock said, finally. "If anybody comes up with anything by then, let me know. If not, it goes into effect the minute we open the locks. The meeting is adjourned."
* * *
Belle and James left the room; and, a few minutes later, Garlock went out. Lola followed him into his room and closed the door behind her. She sat down on the edge of a chair, lighted a cigarette, and began to smoke in short, nervous puffs. She opened her mouth to say something, but shut it without making a sound.
"You're afraid of me, Lola?" he asked, quietly.
"Oh, I don't.... Well, that is...." She wouldn't lie, and she wouldn't admit the truth. "You see, I've never ... I mean, I haven't had very much experience."
"You needn't be afraid of me at all. I'm not going to pair with you."
"You're not?" Her mouth dropped open and the cigarette fell out of it. She took a few seconds to recover it. "Why not? Don't you think I could do a good enough job?"
She stood up and stretched, to show her splendid figure to its best advantage.
Garlock laughed. "Nothing like that, Lola; you have plenty of sex appeal. It's just that I don't like the conditions. I never have paired. I never have had much to do with women, and that little has been urbane, logical, and strictly en passant; on the level of mutual physical desire. Thus, I have never taken a virgin. Pairing with one is very definitely not my idea of urbanity and there's altogether too much obligation to suit me. For all of which good reasons I am not going to pair with you, now or ever."
"How do you know whether I'm a virgin or not? You've never read me that deep. Nobody can. Not even you, unless I let you."
"Reading isn't necessary—you flaunt it like a banner."
"I don't know what you mean.... I certainly don't do it intentionally. But I ought to pair with you, Clee!" Lola had lost all of her nervousness, most of her fear. "It's part of the job I was chosen for. If I'd known, I'd've gone out and got some experience. Really I would have."
"I believe that. I think you would have been silly enough to have done just that. And you have a very high regard for your virginity, too, don't you?"
"Well, I ... I used to. But we'd better go ahead with it. I've got to."
"No such thing. Permissible, but not obligatory."
"But it was assumed. As a matter of course. Anyway ... well, when that girl started making passes at you, I thought you could have just as much fun, or even more—she's charming; a real darling, isn't she?—without pairing with me, and then I had to open my big mouth and be the one to keep you from playing games with anyone except me, and I certainly am not going to let you suffer...."
"Bunk!" Garlock snorted. "Sheer flapdoodle! Pure psychological prop-wash, started and maintained by men who are either too weak to direct and control their drives or who haven't any real work to occupy their minds. It applies to many men, of course, possibly to most. It does not, however, apply to all, and, it lacks one whole hell of a lot of applying to me. Does that make you feel better?"
"Oh, it does ... it does. Thanks, Clee. You know, I like you, a lot."
"Do you? Kiss me."
She did so.
"You tricked me!"
* * *
"I did not. I want you to see the truth and face it. Your idealism is admirable, permanent, and shatter-proof; but your starry-eyed schoolgirl's mawkishness is none of the three. You'll have to grow up, some day. In my opinion, forcing yourself to give up one of your hardest-held ideals—virginity—merely because of the utter bilge that those idiot head-shrinkers stuffed you with, is sheer, plain idiocy. I suppose that makes you like me even less, but I'm laying it right on the line."
"No ... more. I'll argue with you, when we have time, about some of your points, but the last one—if it's valid—has tremendous force. I didn't know men felt that way. But no matter what my feeling for you really is, I'm really grateful to you for the reprieve ... and you know, Clee, I'm pretty sure you're going to get us back home. If anyone can, you can."
"I'm going to try to. Even if I can't, it will be Belle, not you, that I'll take for the long pull. And not because you'd rather have Jim—which you would, of course...."
"To be honest, I think I would."
"Certainly. He's your type. You're not mine; Belle is. Well, that buttons it up, Brownie, except for one thing. To Jim and Belle and everyone else, we're paired."
"Of course. Urbanity, as well as to present a united front to any and all worlds."
"Check. So watch your shield."
"I always do. That stuff is 'way, 'way down. I'm awfully glad you called me 'Brownie,' Clee. I didn't think you ever would."
"I didn't expect to—but I never talked to a woman this way before, either. Maybe it had a mellowing effect."
"You don't need mellowing—I do like you a lot, just exactly as you are."
"If true, I'm very glad of it. But don't strain yourself; and I mean that literally, not as sarcasm."
"I know. I'm not straining a bit, and this'll prove it."
She kissed him again, and this time it was a production.
"That was an eminently convincing demonstration, Brownie, but don't do it too often."
"I won't." She laughed, gayly and happily. "If there's any next time, you'll have to kiss me first."
She paused and sobered. "But remember. If you should change your mind, any time you really want to ... to kiss me, come right in. I won't be as silly and nervous and afraid as I was just now. That's a promise. Good night, Clee."
"Good night, Brownie."
Next morning, Garlock was the last one, by a fraction of a minute, into the Main. "Good morning, all," he said, with a slight smile.
"Huh? How come?" James demanded, as all four started toward the dining nook.
Garlock's smile widened. "Lola. She brought me a pot of coffee and wouldn't let me out until I drank it."
"Yeah. They haven't read their room-tapes yet, so they don't know that room-service is practically unlimited."
"Why didn't I think of that coffee business a couple of years ago?"
"Well, why didn't I think of it myself, ten years ago?"
Belle's eyes had been going from one, man to the other. "Just what are you two talking about? If it's anybody's business except your own?"
"He is an early-morning grouch," James explained, as they sat down at the table. "Not fit to associate with man or beast—not even his own dog, if he had one—when he first gets up. How come you were smart enough to get the answer so quick, Brownie?"
"Oh, the pattern isn't too rare." She shrugged daintily, sweeping the compliment aside. "Especially among men on big jobs who work under tremendous pressure."
"Then how about Jim?" Belle asked.
"Clee's the Big Brain, not me," James said.
"You're a lot Bigger Brain than any of the men Lola's talking about," Belle insisted.
"That's true," Lola agreed, "but Jim probably is—must be—an icebox raider. Eats in the middle of the night. Clee probably doesn't. It's a good bet that he doesn't nibble between meals at all. Check, Clee?"
"Check. But what has an empty stomach got to do with the case?"
"Everything. Nobody knows how. Lots of theories—enzymes, blood sugar, endocrine balance, what have you—but no proof. It isn't always true. However, six or seven hours of empty stomach, in a man who takes his job to bed with him, is very apt to uglify his pre-breakfast disposition."
Breakfast over and out in the Main:
"But when a man's disposition is ugly all the time, how can you tell the difference?" Belle asked, innocently.
"I'll let that pass," Garlock's smile disappeared, "because we've got work to do. Have any of you thought of any improvement on Lola's monogamous society?"
No one had. In fact—
"There may be a loop-hole in it," Lola said, thoughtfully. "Did any of you happen to notice whether they know anything about artificial insemination?"
"D'you think I'd stand for that?" Belle blazed, before Garlock could begin to search his mind. "I'd scratch anybody's eyes out—if you'd thought of that idea as a woman instead of as a near-Ph.D. in anthropology you'd've thrown it into the converter before it even hatched!"
"Invasion of privacy? That covers it, of course, but I didn't think it would bother you a bit." Lola paused, studying the other girl intently. "You're quite a problem yourself. Callous—utterly savage humor—yet very sensitive in some ways—fastidious...."
"I'm not on the table for dissection!" Belle snapped. "Study me all you please, but keep the notes in your notebook. I'd suggest you study Clee."
"Oh, I have been. He baffles me, too. I'm not very good yet, you...."
"That's the unders...."
"Cut it!" Garlock ordered, sharply. "I said we had work to do. Jim, you're hunting up the nearest observatory."
"How about transportation? No teleportation?"
"Out. Rent a car or hire a plane, or both. Fill your wallet—better have too much money than not enough. If you're too far away tonight to make it feasible to come back here, send me a flash. Brownie, you'll work this town first. Belle and I will have to work in the library for a while. We'll all want to compare notes tonight...."
"Yeah," James said into the pause, "I could tune in remote, but I don't know where I'll be, so it might not be so good."
"Check. You can 'port, but be damn sure nobody sees or senses you doing it. That buttons it up, I guess."
* * *
James and Lola left the ship; Garlock and Belle went into the library.
"If I didn't know you were impotent, Clee," Belle shivered affectedly and began to laugh, "I'd be scared to death to be alone with you in this great big spaceship. Lola hasn't realized yet what she really hatched out—the screamingest screamer ever pulled on anybody!"
"It isn't that funny. You have got a savage sense of humor."
"Perhaps." She shrugged her shoulders. "But you were on the receiving end, which makes a big difference. She's a peculiar sort of duck. Brainy, but impersonal—academic. She knows all the words and all their meanings, all the questions and all the answers, but she doesn't apply any of them to herself. She's always the observer, never the participant. Pure egg-head ... pure? That's it. She looks, acts, talks, and thinks like a virgin.... Well, if that's all, she isn't any—or is she? Even though you've started calling her 'Brownie,' like my now-tamed tomcat, you might not...." She stared at him.
"Go ahead. Probe."
"Why waste energy trying to crack a Prime's shield? But just out of curiosity, are you two pairing, or not?"
"Tut-tut; don't be inurbane. Let's talk about Jim instead. I thought he'd be gibbering."
"No, I'm working under double wraps—full dampers. I don't want him in love with me. You want to know why?"
"I think I know why."
"Because having him mooning around underfoot would weaken the team and I want to get back to Tellus."
"I was wrong, then. I thought you were out after bigger game."
Belle's face went stiff and still. "What do you mean by that?"
"Plain enough, I would think. Wherever you are, you've got to be the Boss. You've never been in any kind of a party for fifteen minutes without taking it over. When you snap the whip everybody jumps—or else—and you swing a wicked knife. For your information I don't jump, I am familiar with knives, and you will never run this project or any part of it."
* * *
Belle's face set; her eyes hardened. "While we're putting out information, take note that I'm just as good with actual knives as with figurative ones. If you're still thinking of blistering my fanny, don't try it. You'll find a rawhide haft sticking up out of one of those muscles you're so proud of—clear enough Mr. Garlock."
"Why don't you talk sense, instead of such yak-yak?"
"I know you're a Prime, too, but don't let it go to your head. I've got more stuff than you have, so you can't Gunther me. You weigh one thirty-five to my two seventeen. I'm harder, stronger, and faster than you are. You're probably a bit limberer—not too much—but I've forgotten more judo than you ever will know. So what's the answer?"
Belle was breathing hard. "Then why don't you do it right now?"
"Several reasons. I couldn't brag much about licking anybody I outweigh by eighty-two pounds. I can't figure out your logic—if any—but I'm pretty sure now it wouldn't do either of us any good. Just the opposite."
"From your standpoint, would that be bad?"
"What a hell of a logic! You have got the finest brain of any woman living. You're stronger than Jim is by a lot more than the Prime-to-Operator ratio—you've got more initiative, more drive, more guts. You know as well as I do what your brain may mean before we get back. Why in all hell don't you start using it?"
"You are complimenting me?"
"No. It's the truth, isn't it?"
"What difference does that make? Clee Garlock, I simply can't understand you at all."
"That makes it mutual. I can't understand a geometry in which the crookedest line between any two given points is the best line. Let's get to work, shall we?"
"Uh-huh, let's. One more bit of information, though, first. Any such idea as taking the Project away from you simply never entered my mind!" She gave him a warm and friendly smile as she walked over to the file-cabinets.
For hours, then, they worked; each scanning tape after tape. At mid-day they ate a light lunch. Shortly thereafter, Garlock put away his reader and all his loose tapes. "Are you getting anywhere, Belle? I'm not making any progress."
"Yes, but of course planets are probably pretty much the same everywhere—Tellus-type ones, I mean, of course. Is all the Xenology as cockeyed as I'm afraid it must be?"
"Check. The one basic assumption was that there are no human beings other than Tellurians. From that they derive the secondary assumption that humanoid types will be scarce. From there they scatter out in all directions. So I'll have to roll my own. I've got to see Atterlin, anyway. I'll be back for supper. So long."
* * *
At the Port Office, Grand Lady Neldine met him even more enthusiastically than before; taking both his hands and pressing them against her firm, almost-bare breasts. She tried to hold back as Garlock led her along the corridor.
"I have an explanation, and in a sense an apology, for you, Grand Lady Neldine, and for you, Governor Atterlin," he thought carefully. "I would have explained yesterday, but I had no understanding of the situation here until our anthropologist, Lola Montandon, elucidated it very laboriously to me. She herself, a scientist highly trained in that specialty, could grasp it only by referring back to somewhat similar situations which may have existed in the remote past—so remote a past that the concept is known only to specialists and is more than half mythical, even to them."
He went on to give in detail the sexual customs, obligations, and limitations of Lola's purely imaginary civilization.
"Then it isn't that you don't want to, but you can't?" the lady asked, incredulously.
"Mentally, I can have no desire. Physically, the act is impossible," he assured her.
"What a shame!" Her thought was a peculiar mixture of disappointment and relief: disappointment in that she was not to bear this man's super-child; relief in that, after all, she had not personally failed—if she couldn't have this perfectly wonderful man herself, no other woman except his wife could ever have him, either. But what a shame to waste such a man as that on any one woman! It was really too bad.
"I see ... I see—wonderful!" Atterlin's thought was not at all incredulous, but vastly awed. "It is of course logical that as the power of mind increases, physical matters become less and less important. But you will have much to give us; we may perhaps have some small things to give you. If we could visit your Tellus, perhaps...?"
"That also is impossible. We four in the Pleiades are lost in space. This is the first planet we have visited on our first trial of a new method—new to us, at least—of interstellar travel. We missed our objective, probably by many millions of parsecs, and it is quite possible that we four will never be able to find our way back. We are trying now, by charting the galaxies throughout billions of cubic parsecs of space, to find merely the direction in which our own galaxy lies."
"What a concept! What stupendous minds! But such immense distances, sir ... what can you possibly be using for a space-drive?"
"None, as you understand the term. We travel by instantaneous translation, by means of something we call 'Gunther'.... I am not at all sure that I can explain it to you satisfactorily, but I will try to do so, if you wish."
"Please do so, sir, by all means."
* * *
Garlock opened the highest Gunther cells of his mind. There was nothing as elementary as telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, or the like; it was the pure, raw Gunther of the Gunther Drive, which even he himself made no pretense of understanding fully. He opened those cells and pushed that knowledge at the two Hodellian minds.
The result was just as instantaneous and just as catastrophic as Garlock had expected. Both blocks went up almost instantly.
"Oh, no!" Atterlin exclaimed, his face turning white.
The girl shrieked once, covered her face with her hands, and collapsed on the floor.
"Oh, I'm so sorry ... excuse my ignorance, please!" Garlock implored, as he picked the girl up, carried her across the room to a sofa, and assured himself that she had not been really hurt. She recovered quickly. "I'm very sorry, Grand Lady Neldine and Governor Atterlin, but I didn't know ... that is, I didn't realize...."
"You are trying to break it gently." Atterlin was both shocked and despondent. "This being the first planet you have visited, you simply did not realize how feeble our minds really are."
"Oh, not at all, really, sir and lady." Garlock began deftly to repair the morale he had shattered. "Merely younger. With your system of genetics, so much more logical and efficient than our strict monogamy, your race will undoubtedly make more progress in a few centuries than we made in many millennia. And in a few centuries more you will pass us—will master this only partially-known Gunther Drive.
"Esthetically, Lady Neldine, I would like very much to father you a child." He allowed his coldly unmoved gaze to survey her charms. "I am sorry indeed that it cannot be. I trust that you, Governor Atterlin, will be kind enough to spread word of our physical shortcomings, and so spare us further embarrassment?"
"Not shortcomings, sir, and, I truly hope, no embarrassment," Atterlin protested. "We are immensely glad to have seen you, since your very existence gives us so much hope for the future. I will spread word, and every Hodellian will do whatever he can to help you in your quest."
"Thank you, sir and lady," and Garlock took his leave.
"What an act, my male-looking but impotent darling!" came Belle's clear, incisive thought, bubbling with unrestrained merriment. "For our Doctor Garlock, the Prime Exponent and First Disciple of Truth, what an act! Esthetically, he'd like to father her a child, it says here in fine print—Boy, if she only knew! One tiny grain of truth and she'd chase you from here to Andromeda! Clee, I swear this thing is going to kill me yet!"
"Anything that would do that I'm very much in favor of!" Garlock growled the thought and snapped up his shield.
This one was, quite definitely, Belle's round.
* * *
Garlock took the Hodellian equivalent of a bus to the center of the city, then set out aimlessly to walk. The buildings and their arrangement, he noted—not much to his surprise now—were not too different from those of the cities of Earth.
With his guard down to about the sixth level, highly receptive but not at all selective, he strolled up one street and down another. He was not attentive to detail yet; he was trying to get the broad aspects, the "feel" of this hitherto unknown civilization.
The ether was practically saturated with thought. Apparently this was the afternoon rush hour, as the sidewalks were crowded with people and the streets were full of cars. It did not seem as though anyone, whether in the buildings, on the sidewalks, or in the cars, was doing any blocking at all. If there were any such things as secrets on Hodell, they were scarce. Each person, man, woman, or child, went about his own business, radiating full blast. No one paid any attention to the thoughts of anyone else except in the case of couples or groups, the units of which were engaged in conversation. It reminded Garlock of a big Tellurian party when the punch-bowls were running low—everybody talking at the top of his voice and nobody listening.
This whole gale of thought was blowing over Garlock's receptors like a Great Plains wind over miles-wide fields of corn. He did not address anyone directly; no one addressed him. At first, quite a few young women, at sight of his unusual physique, had sent out tentative feelers of thought; and some men had wondered, in the same tentative and indirect fashion, who he was and where he came from. However, when the information he had given Atterlin spread throughout the city—and it did not take long—no one paid any more attention to him than they did to each other.
Probing into and through various buildings, he learned that groups of people were quitting work at intervals of about fifteen minutes. There were thoughts of tidying up desks; of letting the rest of this junk go until tomorrow; of putting away and/or covering up office machines of various sorts. There were thoughts of powdering noses and of repairing make-up.
He pulled in his receptors and scanned the crowded ways for guardians—he'd have to call them that until either he or Lola found out their real name. Same as at the airport—the more people, the more guardians. What were they? How? And why?
* * *
He probed; carefully but thoroughly. When he had talked to the Arpalone he had read him easily enough, but here there was nothing whatever to read. The creature simply was not thinking at all. But that didn't make sense! Garlock tuned, first down, then up; and finally, at the very top of his range, he found something, but he did not at first know what it was. It seemed to be a mass-detector ... no, two of them, paired and balanced. Oh, that was it! One tuned to humanity, one to the other guardians—balanced across a sort of bridge—that was how they kept the ratio so constant! But why? There seemed to be some wide-range receptors there, too, but nothing seemed to be coming in....
While he was still studying and still baffled, some kind of stimulus, which was so high and so faint and so alien that he could neither identify nor interpret it, touched the Arpalone's far-flung receptors. Instantly the creature jumped, his powerful, widely-bowed legs sending him high above the heads of the crowd and, it seemed to Garlock, directly toward him. Simultaneously there was an insistent, low-pitched, whistling scream, somewhat like the noise made by an airplane in a no-power dive; and Garlock saw, out of the corner of one eye, a yellowish something flashing downward through the air.
At the same moment the woman immediately in front of Garlock stifled a scream and jumped backward, bumping into him and almost knocking him down. He staggered, caught his balance, and automatically put his arm around his assailant, to keep her from falling to the sidewalk.
* * *
In the meantime the guardian, having landed very close to the spot the woman had occupied a moment before, leaped again; this time vertically upward. The thing, whatever it was, was now braking frantically with wings, tail, and body; trying madly to get away. Too late. There was a bone-crushing impact as the two bodies came together in mid-air; a jarring thud as the two creatures, inextricably intertwined, struck the pavement as one.
The thing varied in color, Garlock now saw, shading from bright orange at the head to pale yellow at the tail. It had a savagely-tearing curved beak; tremendously powerful wings; its short, thick legs ended in hawk-like talons.
The guardian's bowed legs had already immobilized the yellow wings by clamping them solidly against the yellow body. His two lower arms were holding the frightful talons out of action. His third hand gripped the orange throat, his fourth was exerting tremendous force against the jointure of neck and body. The neck, originally short, was beginning to stretch.
For several seconds Garlock had been half-conscious that his accidental companion was trying, with more and more energy, to disengage his encircling left arm from her waist. He wrenched his attention away from the spectacular fight—to which no one else, not even the near-victim, had paid the slightest attention—and now saw that he had his arm around the bare waist of a statuesque matron whose entire costume would have made perhaps half of a Tellurian sun-suit. He dropped his arm with a quick and abject apology.
"I should apologize to you instead, Captain Garlock," she thought, with a wide and friendly smile, "for knocking you down, and I thank you for catching me before I fell. I should not have been startled, of course. I would not have been, except that this is the first time that I, personally, have been attacked."
"But what are they?" Garlock blurted.
"I don't know." The woman turned her head and glanced, in complete disinterest, at the two furiously-battling creatures. Garlock knew now that this was the first time, except for that instantly-dismissed thrill of surprise at being the actual target of an attack, that she had thought of either of them. "Orange-yellow? It could be a ... a fumapty, perhaps, but I've no idea, really. You see, such things are none of our business."
She thought at him, a half-shrug, half-grimace of mild distaste—not at the personal contact with the man nor at the savage duel; but at even thinking of either the guardian or the yellow monster—and walked away into the crowd.
Garlock's attention flashed back to the fighters. The yellow thing's neck had been stretched to twice its natural length and the guardian had eaten almost through it. There was a terrific crunch, a couple of smacking, gobbling swallows, and head parted from body. The orange beak still clashed open and shut, however, and the body still thrashed violently.
Shifting his grips, the guardian proceeded to tear a hole into his victim's body, just below its breast-bone. Thrusting two arms into the opening, he yanked out two organs—one of which, Garlock thought, could have been the heart—and ate them both; if not with extreme gusto, at least in a workmanlike and thoroughly competent fashion. He then picked up the head in one hand, grabbed the tip of a wing with another, and marched up the street for half a block, dragging the body behind him.
He lifted a manhole cover with his two unoccupied hands, dropped the remains down the hole thus exposed, and let the cover slam back into place. He then squatted down, licked himself meticulously clean with a long, black, extremely agile tongue, and went on about his enigmatic business quite as though nothing had happened.
Garlock strolled around a few minutes longer, but could not recapture any interest in the doings of the human beings around him. He had filed away every detail of what had just happened, and it had so many bizarre aspects that he could not think of anything else. Wherefore he flagged down a "taxi" and was taken out to the Pleiades. Belle and Lola were in the Main.
* * *
"I saw the damndest thing, Clee!" Lola exclaimed. "I've been gnawing my fingernails off up to the knuckles, waiting for you!"
Lola's experience had been very similar to Garlock's own, except in that her monster was an intense green in color and looked something like a bat about four feet long, with six-inch canine teeth and several stingers....
"Did you find out the name of the thing?" Garlock asked.
"No. I asked half-a-dozen people, but nobody would even listen to me except one half-grown boy, and the best he could do was that it might be something he had heard another boy say somebody had told him might be a 'lemart.' And as to those lower-case Arpalones, the best I could dig out of anybody was just 'guardians.' Did you do any better?"
"No, I didn't do as well," and he told the girls about his own experience.
"But I didn't find any detectors or receptors, Clee," Lola frowned. "Where were they?"
"'Way up—up here," he showed her. "I'll make a full tape tonight on everything I found out about the guardians and the Arpalones—besides my regular report, I mean—since they're yours, and you can make me one about your friend the green bat...."
* * *
"Hey, I like that!" Belle broke in. "That could be taken amiss, you know, by such a sensitive soul as I!"
"Check." Garlock chuckled. "I'll have to file that one, in case I want to use it sometime. How're you coming, Belle?"
"Nice!" Belle's voracious mind had been so busy absorbing new knowledge that she had temporarily forgotten about her fight with her captain. "I'm just about done here. I'll be ready tomorrow, I think, to visit their library and tape up some planetological and planetographical—notice how insouciantly I toss off those two-credit words?—data on this here planet Hodell."
"Good going. You've been listening to this stuff Lola and I were chewing on—does any of it make sense to you?"
"It does not. I never heard anything to compare with it."
"Excuse me for changing the subject," Lola put in, plaintively, "but when, if ever, do we eat? Do we have to wait until that confounded James boy gets back from wherever it was he went?"
"If you're hungry, we'll eat now."
"Hungry? Look!" Lola turned herself sidewise, placed one hand in the small of her back, and pressed hard with the other her flat, taut belly. "See? Only a couple of inches from belt-buckle to backbone—dangerously close to the point of utter collapse."
"You poor, abused little thing!" Garlock laughed and all three crossed the room to the dining alcove. While they were still ordering, James appeared beside them.
"Find out anything?" Garlock asked.
"Yes and no. Yes, in that they have an excellent observatory, with a hundred-eighty-inch reflector, on a mountain only seventy-five miles from here. No, in that I didn't find any duplication of nebulary configurations with the stuff I had with me. However, it was relatively coarse. Tomorrow I'll take a lot of fine stuff along. It'll take some time—a full day, at least."
"I expected that. Good going, Jim!"
All four ate heartily, and, after eating, they taped up the day's reports. Then, tired from their first real day's work in weeks, all went to their rooms.
* * *
A few minutes later, Garlock tapped lightly at Lola's door.
"Come in." She stiffened involuntarily, then relaxed and smiled. "Oh, yes, Clee: of course. You're...."
"No, I'm not. I've been doing a lot of thinking about you since last night, and I may have come up with an answer or two. Also, Belle knows we aren't pairing, and if we don't hide behind a screen at least once in a while, she'll know we aren't going to."
"Screen. Didn't you know these four private rooms are solid? Haven't you read your house-tape yet?"
"No. But do you think Belle would actually peek?"
"Do you think she wouldn't?"
"Well, I don't like her very much, but I wouldn't think she would do anything like that, Clee. It isn't urbane."
"She isn't urbane, either, whenever she thinks it might be advantageous not to be."
"What a terrible thing to say!"
"Take it from me, if Belle Bellamy doesn't know everything that goes on it isn't from lack of trying. You wouldn't know about room service, either, then—better scan that tape before you go to sleep tonight—what'll you have in the line of a drink to while away enough time so she will know we've been playing games?"
"Ginger ale, please."
"I'll have ginger beer. You do it like so." He slid a panel aside, his fingers played briefly on a typewriter-like keyboard. Drinks and ice appeared. "Anything you want—details of the tape."
He lighted two cigarettes, handed her one, stirred his drink. "Now, fair lady—or should I say beauteous dark lady?—we will follow the precept of that immortal Chinese philosopher, Chin On."
"You are a Prime Operator, aren't you?" She laughed, but sobered quickly. "I'm worried. You said I flaunted virginity like a banner, and now Belle.... What am I doing wrong?"
"There's a lot wrong. Not so much what you're doing as what you aren't doing. You're too aloof—detached—egg-headish. You know the score, words and music, but you don't sing. All you do is listen. Belle thinks you're not only a physical virgin, but a psychic-blocked prude. I know better. You're so full of conflict between what you want to do—what you know is right—and what those three-cell-brained nincompoops made you think you ought to do that you have got no more degrees of freedom than a piston-rod. You haven't been yourself for a minute since you came aboard. Check?"
"You have been thinking, haven't you? You may be right; except that it's been longer than that ... ever since the first preliminaries, I think. But what can I do about it, Clee?"
"Contact. Three-quarters full, say; enough for me to give you what I think is the truth."
"But you said you never went screens down with a woman?"
"There's a first time for everything. Come in."
* * *
She did so, held contact for almost a minute, then pulled herself loose.
"Ug-gh-gh." She shivered. "I'm glad I haven't got a mind like that."
"And the same from me to you. Of course the real truth may lie somewhere in between. I may be as far off the beam on one side as you are on the other."
"I hope so. But it cleared things up no end—it untied a million knots. Even that other thing—brotherly love? It's a very nice concept—you see, I never had any brothers."
"That's probably one thing that was the matter with you. Nothing warmer than that, certainly, and never will be."
"And I suppose you got the thought—it must have jumped up and smacked you—" Lola's hot blush was visible even through her heavy tan, "how many times I've felt like running my fingers up and down your ribs and grabbing a handful of those terrific muscles of yours, just to see if they're as hard as they look?"
"I'm glad you brought that up; I don't know whether I would have dared to or not. You've got to stop acting like a Third instead of an Operator; and you've got to stop acting as though you had never been within ten feet of me. Now's as good a time as any." He took off his shirt and struck a strong-man's pose. "Come ahead."
"By golly, I'm going to!" Then, a moment later, "Why, they're even harder! How do you, a scientist, psionicist, and scholar, keep in such hard shape as that?"
"An hour a day in the gym, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Many are better—but a hell of a lot are worse."
"I'll say." She finished her ginger ale, sat down in her chair, leaned back and put her legs up on the bed. "That was a relief of tension if there ever was one. I haven't felt so good since they picked me as home-town candidate—and that was a mighty small town and eight months ago. Bring on your dragons, Clee, and I'll slay 'em far and wide. But I can't actually be like she is...."
"Thank God for that. Deliver me from two such pretzel-benders aboard one ship."
"... but I could have been a pretty good actress, I think."
"Correction, please. 'Outstanding' is the word."
"Thank you, kind sir. And women—men, too, of course—do bring up certain memories, to ... to...."
"To roll 'em around on their tongues and give their taste-buds a treat."
"Exactly. So where I don't have any appropriate actual memories to bring up, I'll make like an actress. Check?"
"Good girl! Now you're rolling—we're in like Flynn. Well, we've been in screen long enough, I guess. Fare thee well, little sister Brownie, until we meet again." He tossed the remains of their refreshments, trays and all, into the chute, picked up his shirt, and started out.
"Put it on, Clee!" she whispered, intensely.
"Why?" He grinned cheerfully. "It'd look still better if I peeled down to the altogether."
"You're incorrigible," she said, but her answering grin was wide and perfectly natural. "You know, if I had had a brother something like you it would have saved me a lot of wear and tear. I'll see you in the morning before breakfast."
* * *
And she did. They strolled together to breakfast; not holding hands, but with hip almost touching hip. Relaxed, friendly, on very cordial and satisfactory terms. Lola punched breakfast orders for them both. Belle drove a probe, which bounced—Lola's screen was tight, although her brown eyes were innocent and bland.
But during the meal, in response to a double-edged, wickedly-barbed remark of Belle's, a memory flashed into being above Lola's shield. It was the veriest flash, instantly suppressed. Her eyes held clear and steady; if she blushed at all it did not show.
Belle caught it, of course, and winked triumphantly at Garlock. She knew, now, what she had wanted to know. And, Prime Operator though he was, it was all he could do to make no sign; for that fleetingly-revealed memory was a perfect job. He would not have—could not have—questioned it himself, except for one highly startling fact. It was of an event that had not happened and never would!
And after breakfast, at some distance from the others, "That is my girl, Brownie! You're firing on all forty barrels. You're an Operator, all right; and it takes a damn good one to lie like that with her mind!"
"Thanks to you, Clee. And thanks a million, really. I'm me again—I think."
Then, since Belle was looking, she took him by both ears, pulled his head down, and kissed him lightly on the lips. The spontaneity and tenderness were perfect at that moment. Clee's appreciation was obvious.
"I know I said you'd have to kiss me next time," Lola said, very low, "but this act needs just this much of an extra touch. Anyway, such little, tiny, sisterly ones as this, and out in public, don't count."
Lola and Garlock went to town in the same taxi. As they were about to separate, Garlock said:
"I don't like those hell-divers, yellow, green, or any other color; and you, Brownie, are very definitely not expendable. Are you any good at mind-bombing?"
"Why, I never heard of such a thing."
"You isolate a little energy in the Op field, remembering of course, that you're handling a hundred thousand gunts. Transpose it into platinum or uranium—anything good and heavy. For one of these monsters you'd need two or three micrograms. For a battleship, up to maybe a gram or so. 'Port it to the exact place you want it to detonate. Reconvert and release instantaneously. One-hundred-percent-conversion atomic bomb, tailored exactly to fit the job. Very effective."
"It would be. My God, Clee, can you do that?"
"Sure—so can you. Any Operator can."
"Well, I won't. I never will. Besides, I'd probably kill too many people, besides the monster. No, I'll 'port back to the Main if anything attacks me. I'm chain lightning at that."
"Do that, then. And if anything very unusual happens give me a flash."
"I'll do that. 'Bye, Clee." She turned to the left. He walked straight on, toward the business center, to resume his study at the point where he had left off the evening before.
For over an hour he wandered aimlessly about the city; receiving, classifying, and filing away information. He saw several duels between guardians and yellow and green-bat monsters, to none of which he paid any more attention than did the people around him. Then a third kind of enemy appeared—two of them at once, flying wing-and-wing—and Garlock stopped and watched.
Vivid, clear-cut stripes of red and black, even on the tremendously long, strong wings. Distinctly feline as to heads, teeth, and claws. While they did not at all closely resemble flying saber-toothed tigers, that was the first impression that leaped into Garlock's mind.
Two bow-legged guardians came leaping as usual, but one of them was a fraction of a second too late. That fraction was enough. While the first guardian was still high in air, grappling with one tiger, the other swung on a dime—the blast of air from his right wing blowing people in the crowd below thither and yon and knocking four of them flat—and took the guardian's head off his body with one savage swipe of a frightfully-armed paw. Disregarding the carcass both attackers whirled sharply at the second guardian, meeting him in such fashion that he could not come to firm grips with either of them, and that battle was very brief indeed. More and more guardians were leaping in from all directions, however, and the two tigers were forced to the ground and slaughtered.