More of A. E. van Vogt’s best late-period stories

by A. E. van Vogt

1. RESEARCH ALPHA (1965) [1] A ruthless doctor in a research lab secretly tries out his new serum for accelerating evolutionary development on two unsuspecting office workers, with variable but amazing results, astounding even the superiorly-intelligent aliens who are monitoring the lab’s results — and mankind’s progress in general — from behind the scenes.
Written in collaboration with James H. Schmitz. Illustrated by Gaughan. (21,000 words)

2.CARTHING (1970) [2]. This modern-sounding micro-story features a big brassy Buick cruising around that starts chasing a perky little Citroen that however makes a nifty escape, so he then turns his attentions to a svelte Chevrolet that all of a sudden starts mounting a big buck truck! (383 words)

3. THE REFLECTED MEN (1971) [3] Edith works in a small-town library where people start showing up asking for a special crystal in the library’s rock collection. It turns out that this crystal’s a relic of a far-off future world that activates innumerable versions of everyone involved, and it threatens to annihilate all but the most perfect versions of those various individuals, such as Edith herself. (20,700 words)

4. FOOTPRINT FARM (1978) [4] A couple quarrel about the effect the father’s farm might or might not be having on their daughter. Yes, aliens do get involved. (4,100 words)

5. LIVING WITH JANE (1978) [5] Robots have made such progress that robot servants look exactly like the people they replace for housekeeping missions like taking care of Jane. But there is a plot afoot for them to take over the world... (11,400 words)

6. PENDULUM (1978) [6] A deep-sea mining operation revives many ancient, intelligent and very gifted beings who can communicate only with the engineer of the ship that revived them. (11,500 words)

7. THE NON-ARISTOTELIAN DETECTIVE (1978) [7] The non-A approach, as any Van Vogt reader knows, enables its practitioners to know (for example) what people are like from their expressions and the way they talk. So a non-A detective can rally help the police detectives in this story reolve a long-unresolved mystery.
Written in collaboration with Harlan Ellison. (3,200 words)

8. THE PANDORA PRINCIPLE (1984) [8] A scientific experiment has gotten out of hand and several leading scientists involved in the experiments have been killed by their appalling creation, as an enterprising newspaper reporter starts to find out as he follows around the very beautiful and very rich daughter of one of the scientists who is searching for clues as to what in the world has been going on.
Written in collaboration with Brinkie Stevens [9]. (5,400 words)

9. THE BRAIN (1985) [10] The greatest intellect of his age and perhaps of all ages sees the shadowy figure of Death bending over his sickbed but refuses to leave with him because he has big plans for extending his vast empire. Death leave the sick man and comes back regularly to try again as the great man-mind faces up to other crucial crises over the years. (2,700 words)

10. PROLOGUE TO FREEDOM (1986) [11] Proposition 18 has been passed in California, dividing the state into Communist in the north and Capitalist in the south, where proponents of each system can choose to live and even migrate to the other side. The college students and intellectuals who have been promoting Proposition 18 become overnight the administrators and enforcers of the new regime in the north, while a massive population exchange takes place as the moneyed classes move south and the poor from the LA region go north to occupy abandoned properties there. (8,900 words)


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1. RESEARCH ALPHA

The aim of the experiment was only to make a superhuman. It succeeded far beyond that goal!

I

Darbara Ellington felt the touch as she straightened up from the water cooler. It was the lightest of touches, but quite startling — a momentary, tiny flick of something ice-cold against the muscle of her right arm at the shoulder.
She twisted quickly and rather awkwardly around from the cooler, then stared in confusion at the small well-dressed, bald-headed man who stood a few feet behind her, evidently awaiting his turn for a drink.
“Why, good afternoon, Barbara," he said pleasantly.
Barbara was now feeling embarrassment. "I..." she began incoherently. "I didn’t know anyone else was near, Dr. Gloge. I’m finished now!"
She picked up the briefcase she had set against the wall when she stopped for a drink and went on along the bright-lit corridor. She was a tall, lean-bodied girl — perhaps a little too tall but, with her serious face and smooth, brown hair, not unattractive. At the moment, her cheeks burned. She knew she walked with wooden, self-conscious stiffness, wondering if Dr. Gloge was peering after her, puzzled by her odd behavior at the water cooler.
"But something did touch me," she thought.
At the turn of the corridor, she glanced back. Dr. Gloge had had his drink, and was walking off unhurriedly in the opposite direction. Nobody else was in sight.
After she’d turned the corner, Barbara reached up with her left hand and rubbed the area of her upper arm where she had felt that tiny, momentary needle of ice. Had Dr. Gloge been responsible for — well, for whatever it had been? She frowned and shook her head. She’d worked in Gloge’s office for two weeks immediately after she’d been employed here. And Dr. Henry Gloge, head of the biology section at Research Alpha, while invariably polite, even courteous, was a cold, quiet, withdrawn character, completely devoted to his work.
He was not at all the kind of man who would consider it humorous to play a prank on a stenographer.

And it hadn’t, in fact, been a prank.
From Dr. Henry Gloge’s point of view, the encounter with Barbara Ellington in the fifth floor hallway that afternoon had been a very fortunate accident. A few weeks earlier he had selected her to be one of two unwitting subjects for Point Omega Stimulation.
His careful plans had included a visit to her bedroom apartment when she wasn’t there. He had installed equipment that might be of value later in his experiment. And it was not until these preliminaries were accomplished that he had headed for the steno pool, only to find that Barbara had been transferred out of the department.
Gloge dared not risk inquiring about her. For if the experiment had undesirable results, no one must suspect a connection between a lowly typist and himself. And even if it were successful, secrecy might continue to be necessary.
Gloge chafed at the delay. When on the fourth day of his search for her he suddenly recognized her walking along a hallway fifty feet ahead of him, it seemed as if fate was on his side after all.
As the girl paused at a water cooler, he came up behind her. Quickly, he made sure that no one else was in view. Then he drew the needle jet gun and aimed it at her shoulder muscles. The gun carried a gaseous compound of the Omega serum, and the only sign of a discharge, when he fired it, was a thin line of mist from the needle end to her skin.
His task then accomplished, Gloge hastily slipped the instrument into the holster inside his coat and buttoned his coat.

Barbara, still carrying her briefcase, presently came to the offices of John Hammond, special assistant to the president of Research Alpha, which lay on the fifth floor of what was generally considered the most important laboratory complex on Earth. Alex Sloan, the president, was on the floor above.
Barbara paused before the massive black door with Hammond’s name on it. She gazed possessively at the words Scientific Liaison and Investigation lettered on the panel. Then she took a small key from her briefcase, slipped it into the door lock and pressed to the right.
The door swung silently back. Barbara stepped through into the outer office, heard the faint click as the door closed behind her.
There was no one in sight. The desk of Helen Wendell, Hammond’s secretary, stood across the room with a number of papers on it. The door to the short hall which led to Hammond’s private office was open. From it Barbara heard Helen’s voice speaking quietly.
Barbara Ellington had been assigned to Hammond — actually, to Helen Wendell — only ten days before. Aside from the salary increase, part of her interest in the position had been the intriguing if somewhat alarming figure of John Hammond himself, and an expectation that she would find herself in the center of the behind-the-scene operations of Scientific Liaison and Investigation. In that, she had so far been disappointed.
Barbara walked over to Helen Wendell’s desk, took some papers from her briefcase, and was putting them into a basket when her eye caught the name of Dr. Henry Gloge on a note in the adjoining basket. Entirely on impulse — because she had seen the man only minutes before — she bent over the paper.
The note was attached to a report. It was a reminder to Hammond that he was to see Dr. Gloge today at three-thirty in connection with Gloge’s Omega project. Barbara glanced automatically at her watch; it was now five minutes to three.
Unlike most of the material she handled, this item was at least partly understandable. It referred to a biological project, “Point Omega Stimulation." Barbara couldn’t remember having heard of such a project while she was working under Dr. Gloge. But that was hardly surprising — the biological section was one of the largest in Research Alpha. From what she was reading, the project had to do with "the acceleration of evolutionary processes" in several species of animals, and the only real information in the report seemed to be that a number of test animals had died and been disposed of.
Was the great John Hammond spending his time on this sort of thing?
Disappointed, Barbara put the report back into the basket and went on to her own office.

As she sat down at her desk, Barbara noticed a stack of papers which hadn’t been there when she had left on her errand. Attached to them was a note in Helen’s large, clear handwriting. The note said:

Barbara,
This came in unexpectedly and must be typed today. It obviously will require several hours of overtime. If you have made special arrangements for the evening, let me know and I’ll have a typist sent up from the pool to do this extra work.

Barbara felt an instant pang of possessive jealousy. This was her job, her office! She definitely did not want some other girl coming in.
Unfortunately, she did have a date. But to keep an intruder from taking her place in John Hammond’s office, even if only for a few hours, was the more important matter. That was her instant decision, needing no second thought. But she sat still a moment, biting her lip; for that moment she was a woman considering how to put off a male who had a quick temper and no patience. Then she picked up the telephone and dialed a number.
For some months now, Barbara had settled her hopes for the future on Vince Strather, a technician in the photo lab. When his voice came on the telephone, she told him what had happened, finished contritely, "I’m afraid I can’t get out of it very well, Vince, so soon after starting here."
She could almost feel Vince absorbing the impact of the denial she was communicating; she had discovered quickly in their brief romance that he was trying to move her towards premarital intimacy, a step she was wholly determined not to take.
She was relieved now, when he accepted her explanation. She replaced the receiver, feeling very warm toward him. "I really do love him!" she thought.
It was a few moments later that she suddenly felt dizzy.

The feeling was peculiar, not like her usual headaches. She could feel it build up, a giddy, light swirling which seemed both within and without her, as if she were weightless, about to drift out of the chair, turning slowly over and over.
Almost simultaneously, she became aware of a curious exhilaration, a sense of strength and wellbeing, quite unlike anything she could remember. The sensations continued for perhaps twenty seconds ... then they faded and were gone, almost as abruptly as they had come.
Confused and somewhat shaken, Barbara straightened up in her chair. For a moment she considered taking aspirin. But there seemed no reason for that. She didn’t feel ill. It even seemed to her that she felt more awake and alert.
She was about to return to her typing when she became aware of a movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked up and saw that John Hammond had paused in the doorway of her little office.
Barbara froze, as she always did in his presence, then slowly she turned to face him.
Hammond stood there, staring at her thoughtfully. He was a man about six feet tall, with dark brown hair and steel gray eyes. He seemed to be about forty years old and he was built like an athlete. Yet it was not his appearance of physical strength but the fine intelligence of his face and eyes that had always impressed her during the ten days since she had been assigned to his office. She thought now, not for the first time: “This is what really great people are like.”
“Are you all right, Barbara?" Hammond asked. “For a moment, I thought you were going to fall out of your chair.”
It was highly disturbing to Barbara to realize that her dizzy spell had been observed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hammond," she murmured shyly. “I must have been daydreaming."
He gazed at her a moment longer, then nodded, turned and walked off.

II

On leaving Barbara, Gloge went down several floors and stationed himself behind a pile of shipping crates. These were in a passage across from the locked door of the main photo lab storeroom. On the dot of 3:15, a door farther along the passage opened. A lanky scowling, redheaded young man wearing a stained white smock over his street clothes, pushing a loaded hand-truck ahead of him, appeared and turned down the passage towards Gloge and the laboratory storeroom.
It was the end of the lab shift. Gloge had discovered that one of the regular duties of Vincent Strather, Barbara Ellington’s boyfriend, was to return certain materials to the storeroom at this hour.
Peering through the slats of a erate, Dr. Gloge watched Strather’s approach. He was, he realized, much more tense and nervous now than he had been when he had given Barbara the injection. Of himself, Vincent Strather was not the kind of subject Dr. Gloge would have chosen — the young man was too angry, too bitter. But the fact that he was Barbara’s friend and that they spent their spare time together should be useful in the further steps of the experiment — so it seemed to Dr. Gloge.
Sliding his hand under his coat where the jet gun rested, he moved quickly out into the passage and across it toward Vince Strather ....
Even as he pressed the trigger, he knew his nervousness had betrayed him.
The needle tip of the gun had been too far away from Strather; a foot, almost two feet too far. At that greater distance the jet stream, emerging from the needle at nearly a thousand miles an hour, had time to spread and slow down. It caught Strather high up on the shoulder blade and tugged at his skin as it entered. For Strather, the sensation must have been that of a sharp impact. He jumped and cried out, then stood shuddering, as if in shock — long enough for Gloge to slip the little gun back into its holster and close up his coat.
But that was all. Vince Strather whirled. His hands caught Gloge by the arms, and his angry face glared down into the Doctor’s.
"You damn jerk!” he shouted. "What did you hit me with just now? Who the hell are you, anyway?"
For a moment, Dr. Gloge felt appalled. Then he tried to twist out of Strather’s hard grip. "I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he said breathlessly.
He stopped. He saw that Vince was gazing past his shoulder. The young man’s grip relaxed suddenly, and Gloge was able to free himself. He turned and looked behind him. He felt a stunned, incredulous dismay.

John Hammond was coming along the passage, gray eyes fastened questioningly upon them. Gloge could only hope desperately that he had not been in sight when the gun was being fired.
Hammond came up and said in a tone of easy authority: "Dr. Gloge, what’s going on here?”
"Doctor!" Vince Strather repeated, in a startled voice.
Gloge put puzzled indignation in his tone: "This young man appears to be under the impression that I struck him just now. Needless to say, I did nothing of the kind and don’t understand what gave him such an idea."
He looked frowningly back at Strather. Strather’s gaze shifted uncertainly between them. He was obviously abashed by John Hammond’s presence and Gloge’s title but not yet over his anger.
He said sullenly, "Well, something hit me. At least it felt that way! When I looked around, he was standing there. So I thought he’d done it.”
"I was passing you,” Dr. Gloge corrected him. "You exclaimed something and I stopped." He shrugged, smiled. "And that’s all I did, young man! I certainly had no reason to strike you."
Strather said grudgingly, "I guess I was mistaken."
Dr. Gloge said promptly, "Then let’s call it an error and forget it!” He held out his hand.
Strather reached out reluctantly and shook it, then looked at Hammond. When Hammond remained silent, he turned away in obvious relief, took one of the boxes from the truck and disappeared into the storeroom with it.
Hammond said, “I was on my way to your office, Doctor, where I expect to have an interview with you in a few minutes on the Omega project. I presume you were heading in that direction."
“Yes, yes.” Gloge fell into step beside the bigger man. He was thinking: "Did he see anything?"
His companion gave no sign.

A few minutes later, as he gazed A across the gleaming desk of his private office at John Hammond, Gloge had the uneasy feeling of a criminal confronted by the law. It had always amazed him that this man — Hammond — could make him feel at very least like a small boy.
Yet the discussion that now developed began with a reassuring statement from the bigger man:
"This is a completely informal conversation, Doctor. I am not representing President Sloan at the moment — even less the Board of Regents. That has been deliberately arranged. It will make it possible for both of us to speak quite frankly."
Dr. Gloge said, "Have there been complaints about my work here?"
Hammond nodded. "You can’t have remained entirely unaware of it, Doctor. You’ve been asked to amplify your project reports, make them more detailed and specific, three times within the last two months alone.”
Gloge was reluctantly deciding that he would have to tell some of his data.
He said with apparent openness, "My reluctance to communicate has been due to a strictly scientific dilemma. Things were happening in the experiment but their meaning was not clear to me until very recently."
"There is a feeling," said Hammond in his steady voice, "that your project is failing."
Dr. Gloge said sharply, “The accusation is unworthy!”
Hammond looked at him, said, "No accusations have been made — as yet. That’s why I’m here today. You have reported no successes within the past six months, you know.”
"Mr. Hammond, there have been many failures. Within the limited framework of the present stages of the project experiments, that is exactly what should be expected."
"Limited in what way?"
"Limited to the lower, less complicated forms of animal life."
"That,” said Hammond mildly, "is a limitation you yourself have imposed on the project."
Dr. Gloge agreed. “True. The conclusions I’ve been able to form at such lower levels have been invaluable. And the fact that the results of the experiments have been almost invariably negative, in the sense that as a usual result the subject animals evolved into nonviable forms, is completely unimportant."
"As a usual result,” Hammond repeated. “Then not all of them died quickly?"
Gloge bit his lip. That was not an admission he had intended to make at this initial stage in the discussion.
He said, reluctantly, "In a respectable percentage of the cases, the subject animals survived the first injection."
"And the second?"
Gloge hesitated. But there was no turning back. "The survival percentage drops very sharply at that point,” he said. "I don’t recall the exact figures."
"And the third?”

He was really being forced to make revelations. Dr. Gloge said, "To date, three animals have survived the third injection. All three were of the same species — Cryptobranchus."
"The hellbender," said Hammond. "Well! A large salamander ... Now, the third injection, according to your theory, should advance an animal along the evolutionary line stimulated in it to a point which might be reached through half a million years of natural evolution. Would you say such a result was achieved in these three cases?"
Dr. Gloge said, "Since Cryptobranchus might be considered with some reason to be a species in which evolutionary development is at a practical standstill, I should say that much more was achieved."
"What were the observable changes?"
Gloge had been bracing himself as he made one admission after another. He was striving to decide exactly when he could start resisting the interrogation.
Now! he thought.
He said aloud, trying to appear frank, "Mr. Hammond, I’m beginning to realize that I was in error in not making more positive reports. I can’t believe that you are really interested in these superficial accounts. Why not let me summarize my observations for you?"
Hammond’s gray eyes were clam and steady. “Go ahead," he said in an even tone.
Gloge outlined his conclusions, then. The interesting features were two-fold, probably equally important.
One of these was that there remained in all life forms a wide evolutionary choice. For reasons that were not yet clear, the Omega serum stimulated one of these potential developments and no subsequent stimulation could alter the mutational direction. Most of these developments led to extinction.
"The second feature," said Gloge, "is that the chances for success increase as the life form becomes more highly evolved."
Hammond said, interested, “What you’re saying is that when you finally start working with the more active mammals and eventually monkeys, you expect more and better results?”
“I have no doubt about it," said Dr. Gloge, firmly.
A secondary aspect — Gloge continued — was that brain areas which controlled the inhibition of simple reflexes often seemed to be the source of new neural growth and of sensory extension. The serum apparently intensified these effort points, increasing their operational flexibility. What went wrong was that all too often such one-sided inhibitory amplification ended in nonsurvival.
However, in Cryptobranchus the roof of the mouth developed small functional gills. The hide thickened into segmented, horny armor. Short, grooved fangs were acquired and connected to glands that produced a mild hematoxic venom. The eyes disappeared, but areas in the skin developed sight-level sensitivity to light.
Gloge shrugged, finished: "There were other changes, but these would seem the most dramatic ones."
"They sound sufficiently dramatic," said Hammond, "What happened to the two specimens which were not dissected?"
Dr. Gloge realized that his diversion had not worked. "They were given the fourth injection, of course," he said resignedly.

“The one,” Hammond asked, "which was to advance them to a point a million years along the evolutionary line they were following —“
"Or," Dr. Gloge said, "to the peak-point of that evolutionary line, The equating of the four stages of the stimulation process to the passing of specific periods of normal evolutionary development — twenty thousand years, fifty thousand, five hundred thousand, and one million years is, of course, hypothetical and generalized. My calculations indicate that in many species of which we have knowledge in that area the two points might be approximately the same."
Hammond nodded. "I understand, Doctor. And what happened after your evolved Cryptobranchus received the fourth injection?"
"I cannot give you a precise answer to that, Mr. Hammond. In appearance it was a very rapid breakdown of the entire structure. Within two hours, both specimens literally dissolved," Gloge answered tensely.
"In other words," Hammond said, "Point Omega Stimulation directs Cryptobranchus and, in fact, every species to which it has been applied into one of the many blind alleys of evolution."
Dr. Gloge said curtly, "So far it has done that."
Hammond was silent, then: "One more point," he said. "It’s been suggested that you might consider taking on a sufficiently qualified assistant in this work. Research Alpha probably could obtain Sir Hubert Roland for a project of such interest."
Dr. Gloge said coldly, "With all due respect for Sir Hubert Roland’s accomplishments, I would regard him as a meddler here! If the attempt is made to force him on me, I shall resist it."
"Well," Hammond said easily, "let’s not make any unalterable decisions at the moment. As I mentioned, this has been a completely informal discussion." He glanced at his watch. "I’m afraid we’ll have to terminate it now. Would you have time to see me in my office one week from today at ten o’clock, Doctor? I wish to carry this matter a little further, and that will be my first free time."
Dr. Gloge had difficulty restraining his feeling of triumph. Today was Wednesday. He had selected it as his starting time because he had wanted his subjects to be away from their place of work over the weekend.
Between now and Saturday, he could undoubtedly accomplish the first two injections on the young couple.
By the following Wednesday, the third, perhaps even the fourth shot would have been administered and all strong reactions either taken care of or the experiment terminated.
To cover up his elation, Gloge said in the tone of one making a concession, "As you wish, Mr. Hammond.”

III

Dr. Henry Gloge was awake much of the night, vacillating between hopes and fears of what he would find when he went to check on the first results of Point Omega Stimulation in human beings. If they were obviously negative, he would have only one choice.
It could be called murder.
Dr. Gloge approached that subject in a detached, undisturbed frame of mind. He had several times in his work secretly carried on a more advanced experiment while, ostensibly, following the step-by-step scientific method. Thus fortified by special knowledge, he had in the past been able to plan lower-step work with the sometimes intuitive insights gained from his unpublicized private investigation.
The importance of the Omega project to him justified a similar expedient. Objectively considered, in the light of such a goal, the lives of the two young people he had chosen for the experiment were of no value. Their destruction, if it became necessary, would be in the same category as the slaughter of other experimental subjects.
With human beings there was, of course, an element of personal risk involved for himself. It was that realization that troubled him, now that he had made the first injection. Time and again, Dr. Gloge awakened out of a nightmare-riddled half-sleep, to quail anew at the knowledge and to lie sweating with anxiety until he slid back into exhausted slumber.
When four o’clock came, it was almost with relief that he arose, fortified himself with several tablets of a powerful stimulant, made a last check of his preparations, and set out across town toward the house where the Ellington girl had a room.
He drove in a black panel truck that he had bought and equipped for his experiment.
He arrived at his destination about a quarter past five. It was a quiet residential street, a tree-lined avenue in one of the older sections of the city, approximately eight miles west of the Research Alpha complex. Two hundred yards from the house, Dr. Gloge pulled the small truck up to the curb on the opposite side of the street and shut off the motor.

For the past week, a miniature audio pickup-recorder, inserted under the bark of a sycamore tree across the street from the house, had been trained on Barbara Ellington’s second-floor room, its protruding head cunningly painted to resemble a rusty nail. Dr. Gloge now took the other part of the two-piece instrument from the dashboard compartment of the truck, inserted the plug in his ear, and switched it on.
After perhaps half a minute of twisting the tuning dial back and forth, he felt his face whiten. He had tested the instrument at night on two occasions during the past week. It was quite sensitive enough to pick up the sounds of breathing and even the heartbeat of anyone in the room; and so he knew with absolute certainty that Barbara Ellington’s room had no living occupant at this moment.
Quickly, he attached the recording playback mechanism to the little device, turned it back one hour, and put the plug into his ear again.
Almost at once, he relaxed.
Barbara Ellington had been in that room, asleep, an hour ago, breath even and undisturbed, heartbeat strong and slow. Dr. Gloge had listened to similar recordings of too many experimental animals to have the slightest doubt. This subject had moved up successfully, unharmed, to the first stage of Point Omega Stimulation!
The impact of his triumph after the ghastly fears of the night was very strong. Dr. Gloge needed several minutes to compose himself. Finally, he was able to move the recorder by ten-minute steps to a point where the Ellington girl obviously was awake and moving about the room. He listened with absorbed fascination, feeling almost able to visualize from moment to moment exactly what she was doing. At one point, she stood still for some seconds and then uttered a low, warm laugh which sent thrills of delight through the listening scientist. Perhaps a minute later, he heard a door being closed. After that, there was only the empty, lifeless silence which had startled him so badly.

Barbara Ellington had awakened that Thursday morning with a thought she had never had before. It was: "Life doesn’t have to be serious!"
She was contemplating this frivolous notion with the beginning of amazement when a second thought came which she had also never had in her entire previous existence. "What is this mad drive to enslave myself to a man?"
The thought seemed natural and obviously true. It had no general rejection of men in it. She still — it seemed to her loved Vince... but differently.
Thought of Vince brought a smile. She had already noted in one of numerous, quick, darting glances around the room that it was nearly two hours before her usual rising time. The sun was peering through her bedroom window at that almost horizontal angle which, in the past, had seemed to her a horrifying threat that she would be robbed of precious sleep.
Now, it struck her: "Why don’t I call Vince and we’ll go for a drive before I have to go to work?"
She reached for the phone, then considered and drew back. Let the poor man sleep a little longer.
She dressed swiftly, but with more than usual care. When she glanced at the mirror, it occurred to her that she was better looking than she had realized.
... Very much better looking! she decided an instant later. Intrigued, for a moment amazed, she went up to the mirror, studied the face in it. Her face, familiar. But also the face of a radiant stranger. Another awareness came and the bright, glowing, blue mirror-eyes holding hers seemed to widen.
"I feel twice as alive as I ever have before!"
Surprise ... pleasure ... and suddenly: "Shouldn’t I wonder why?"
The mirror-face frowned slightly, then laughed at her.
There had been a change, a wonderful one, and the change was not yet complete. There was a sense of shifting deep inside her, of flows of brightness along the edges of her mind. Curiosity had stirred, but it was light, not urgent or anxious. "When I want to know, I will know!" Barbara told herself ... and, with that, the trace of curiosity was dismissed.
"And now.”
She glanced once more around the little room. For over a year, it had held her, contained her, sheltered her. But she didn’t want shelter now. The room couldn’t hold her today!
She decided, smiling, "I’ll go and wake up Vince."

She rang Vince’s doorbell five w times before she heard him stirring inside. Then his voice called harshly, thickly, "Who is that?"
Barbara laughed. "It’s me!"
"Good God!"
The lock clicked back and the door opened. Vince stood staring at her with bloodshot eyes. He’d pulled a robe on over his pajamas; his bony face was flushed and his red hair tangled.
"What are you doing up at this hour?" he demanded as Barbara stepped past him into the apartment. "It’s half-past five!”
"It’s a wonderful morning. I couldn’t stay in bed. I thought I’d get you to go for a drive with me before I went to work.”
Vince pulled the door shut, blinked at her incredulously. "Go for a drive!” he repeated.
Barbara asked, "Aren’t you feeling well, Vince? You look almost as if you’re running a fever."
Vince shook his head. "I don’t feel feverish, but I sure don’t feel well either. I don’t know what’s the matter. Come on and sit down. Want some coffee?"
"Not especially. I’ll make some for you, if you like."
"Nah, don’t bother. I’m sort of nauseated right now.” Vince sat down on the couch of the little living room, fished cigarettes and matches from a pocket of his robe, lit a cigarette and grimaced. “That doesn’t taste too good either!" He scowled at Barbara. “Something pretty damn funny happened yesterday! And I’m not sure — "
He hesitated. "Not sure of what, Vince?"
"That that isn’t why I’m feeling this way." Vince paused again, shook his head, muttered, "Sounds crazy, I guess. You know that Dr. Gloge you worked for once?"
It seemed to Barbara as if whole sections of her mind lit up in brilliance at that instant. She heard Vince start to tell his story. But — except for John Hammond’s intervention — it was something she already knew.
Part of a much bigger story ...
She thought: Why, that impudent little man! What a wild, wonderful, terrific thing to do!
Excitement raced through her. The paper she had seen lying on Helen Wendell’s desk flashed into her mind, every word sharp and distinct — and not only the words!
Now she understood. What they meant, what they implied, the possibilities concealed behind them — for herself, for Vince.
Another feeling awoke. Sharp wariness.
There was danger somewhere here! John Hammond ... Helen ... the hundreds of little impressions she’d received all suddenly flowed together into a picture clear but puzzling — of something supra-normal, she decided, amazed.
Who were they? What were they doing? In a dozen different ways, they didn’t really fit in an organization like Research Alpha. But they had virtually complete control.
Not that it mattered immediately. Yet she was certain of one thing. They were opposed to what Dr. Gloge was attempting through Point Omega Stimulation, would stop it if they could.
"But they can’t!" she told herself. What Dr. Gloge had begun was right. She could feel the rightness of it like a song of triumph in every aspect of her being. She would have to make sure that it wasn’t stopped at this point.
But she would need to be careful — and act quickly! It was incredibly bad luck that John Hammond had arrived almost while Dr. Gloge was giving Vince his first shot.
"Do you think I should report it?” Vince asked.
"You’d look a little foolish if it turned out that you were coming down with the flu, wouldn’t you?" Barbara said lightly.
"Yeah." He sounded hesitant.
"What does it feel like, aside from the nausea?"
Vince described his symptoms. Not unlike her own — and she’d had a few bad moments before she went to sleep last night. Vince was going through an initial reaction period more prolonged and somewhat more severe than hers.
She was aware of a fond impulse to reassure him. But she decided it would be unwise to tell him what she knew. Until he came out of his physical distress, such information might disturb him dangerously.
She said urgently, “Look, you don’t have to go to work until tonight. So the best thing for you is to get a few more hours of sleep. If you start feeling worse, and would like me to take you to a doctor, give me a call and I’ll come and get you. Otherwise, I’ll phone at ten."
Vince agreed immediately. "I’m really awfully groggy. That’s a big part of it. I’ll just stretch out on the couch instead of going back to bed.”
When Barbara left a few minutes later, her thoughts quickly turned away from Vince. She began to consider various methods she might use to approach Dr. Gloge this very day.

Gloge reached the street where Vincent Strather lived and was looking for a parking place, when suddenly he saw Barbara Ellington emerge from the area of the apartment building and start across the street ahead of him.
The girl was perhaps a hundred yards away. Dr. Gloge braked the panel truck hastily, pulled it in to the curb, rolled up behind another car parked there and stopped. He sat there, breathing hard at the narrow margin by which he had avoided being seen.
Barbara had hesitated, glancing in the direction of the approaching truck, but now she was continuing across the street. Watching her swift, lithe stride, the proudly erect carriage of her body — comparing that picture with the frozen awkwardness he had observed in all her movements the day before — Dr. Gloge felt his last doubts resolve.
It was in the human species that Point Omega Stimulation would achieve its purpose.
His only regret now was that he had not arrived even as much as ten minutes earlier. The girl obviously had come to see Strather, had been with him until now. If he had found them together examination on a comparison basis could have been made of them simultaneously.
The thought did not in the least diminish the tingling excitement that filled him as he watched Barbara’s brown car pull out into the street and move away. He waited until her car was out of sight, then drove the truck down to the alley beside the apartment building and turned in to it. His intention was to give Strather a careful physical examination.
A few minutes later, Dr. Gloge watched a pointer in the small instrument he was holding drop to the zero mark on the dial. Pulling off the respirator clamped over his mouth and nose, he stood looking down at the body of Vincent Strather sprawled on the living room couch.
Vincent Strather’s appearance was much less satisfactory than he had expected. Of course, the young man’s reddened face and bloodshot eyes might be due to the paralyzing gas Dr. Gloge had released into the apartment as he edged open the back door. But there were other signs of disturbance; tension, distended blood vessels, skin discoloration. By comparison with Barbara Ellington’s vigor and high spirits, Strather looked drab and unimpressive.
Nevertheless, he had survived the first shot.
Gloge straightened, studied the motionless figure again, then went about the apartment quietly closing the window he had opened exactly one minute after releasing the instantly effective gas. The gas had dissipated now. When its effect on Strather wore off an hour or so from now, there would be nothing to tell the subject that anything had occurred here after Barbara Ellington had left.
Tomorrow he would return and give Strather the second shot.
As he locked the back door behind him and walked over to the panel truck, Dr. Gloge decided that he would have to come back and check both his subjects that night.
He felt extremely confident. It seemed to him that before anyone found out that it had been started, the Point Omega Stimulation experiment on human beings would have run its course.

IV

Hammond heard the bell sound as he was shaving in the bathroom of his living quarters which were located behind his office. He paused, then deliberately put down his razor and activated a hidden microphone in the wall.
"Yes, John?” Helen’s voice came. "Who came in?"
"Why — only Barbara.” She sounded surprised. "What makes you ask?"
"The life range indicator just now registered an over-six read."
"On Barbara!” Helen sounded incredulous.
"On somebody," said Hammond. "Better have Special Servicing check the indicator out. Nobody else came in?"
"No."
"Well — check it." He broke the connection and finished shaving.
The buzzer sounded in Barbara’s office a little later — the signal that she was to report with her notebook to Hammond’s office. She went, curious, wondering if he would notice any change in her. Much more important was her own desire to take a closer look at this strange, powerful man who was her boss.
She walked into Hammond’s office and was about to sit in the chair he motioned her to, when something in his manner warned her. Barbara made an apologetic gesture.
"Oh, Mr. Hammond — excuse me a moment."
She hurried out of the office and down the hall to the washroom. The moment she was inside, she closed her eyes and mentally re-lived her exact feelings at the instant she had sensed — whatever it was.
Not Hammond at all, she realized. It was the chair that had given forth some kind of energy flow. Eyes still closed, she strove to perceive what within herself had been affected. There seemed to be an exact spot in her brain that responded each time she reviewed the moment she had started to sit down.
She couldn’t decide what the response was. But she thought: "I don’t have to let it be affected now that I know."
Relieved, she returned to Hammond’s office, seated herself in the chair and smiled at Hammond where he sat behind his great, gleaming, mahogany desk.
"I’m sorry," she said. "But I’m ready now."

During the half hour that followed, she took shorthand with a tiny portion of her mind, and with the rest fought off a steady, progressively more aware battle against the energy pressure that flowed up at her in rhythmic waves from the chair.
She had by now decided it was a nerve center that reacted to hypnotic suggestion, and so when Hammond said suddenly, “Close your eyes, Barbara!” she complied at once.
"Raise your right hand!” he commanded.
Up came her right hand, with the pen in it.
He told her to place it back in her lap; and then swiftly put her through several tests — which she recognized as being of a more important kind.
What interested her even more was that she could let the center respond and monitor the parts of the body that he named — without losing control. So that when he commanded her hand to be numb and suddenly reached over and stuck a needle into it, she felt no sensation; and so she did not react.
Hammond seemed satisfied. After normalizing the feeling in her hand, he commanded: "In just a moment, I’m going to tell you to forget the tests we’ve just been doing, but you will remain completely under my control and answer truthfully any questions I ask you. Understand?"
"Yes, Mr. Hammond."
"Very well, forget everything we’ve done and said since I first asked you to close your eyes. When the memory has completely faded, open your eyes.”
Barbara waited about ten seconds. She was thinking: "What roused his suspicions so quickly? And why would he care?” She suppressed an excited conviction that she was about to discover something of the secret life that went on in this office. She had never heard of a hypnotizing chair.
She opened her eyes.
She swayed — an act — then caught herself. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Hammond."
Hammond’s gray eyes regarded her with deceptive friendliness. "You seem to be having problems this morning, Barbara."
"I really feel very well,” Barbara protested.
"If there’s anything in your life that has changed recently,” he said quietly, "I want you to confide in me."
That was the beginning of an intensive questioning into her past history. Barbara answered freely.
Apparently Hammond was finally convinced, for he presently politely thanked her for the conversation and sent her off to type the letters he had dictated.
As she sat at her desk a few minutes later, Barbara glanced up through the glass and saw Helen Wendell walking along the hall toward Hammond’s office and disappear into it.

Hammond greeted Helen: "All the time I talked to Barbara, the life range indicator showed eight-four, above the hypnotizable range. And she told me nothing."
"How is it registering on me?" Helen asked.
He glanced down at his right to the instrument in an open desk drawer.
"Your usual eleven-three." "And you?" "My twelve point seven.”
"Perhaps only the middle ranges are out of order," Helen said, and added, "Special Servicing will make their check after day-time office hours. All right?"
Hammond hesitated, then agreed that there seemed to be no reason for breaking the rules of caution by which they operated.
During the lunch hour, Barbara experienced a brief return of the dizziness. But she was alert now to the possibilities. Instead of simply letting it happen, she tried to be aware of every nuance of the feeling.
There was a — shifting — taking place inside her.
She sensed a flow of energy particles from various points in her body to other points. A specific spot in her brain seemed to be monitoring the flow.
When the pulsations ceased — as abruptly as they had started — she thought: "That was more change taking place. I grew in some way in that minute."
She sat very still there in the restaurant, striving to evaluate what had changed. But she couldn’t decide.
Nonetheless, she was content. Her impulse had been to seek out Dr. Gloge some time during the day in the hope that he would be wanting to give her a second injection. That ended. Obviously, all the changes from the first shot had not yet taken place.
She returned to Scientific Investigation and Liaison.
The bell sound, as Barbara entered, caused Hammond to glance at the indicator. He stared at it for a long moment, then buzzed Helen Wendell.
"Barbara now reads nine point two!” he said softly.
Helen came to the door of his office. "You mean her reading has gone up?" She smiled. "Well, that settles it. It is the instrument."
"What makes you say that?" Hammond seemed strangely unsure.
"In all my experience," Helen said, "T’ve never seen anyone change for the better. There’s the slow drop as they grow older, but — " she stopped.
The strong face was relaxing. Yet after a moment Hammond said, "Still — we never take chances, so I think I’ll keep her with me tonight. Do you mind?”
"It’s a nuisance," she said, "but all right.”
"I’ll give her the conditioning that overwhelms twelve point and higher. She’ll never know what hit her."

V

It was shortly after dark when Dr. Henry Gloge parked his black van near Barbara’s home. He promptly tuned in on the audio device attached to the tree and adjusted the volume for pickup.
After thirty seconds of silence, he began to frown. “Not again!" he thought; then, wearily, "Well, maybe she’s over at her boyfriend’s."
He started the motor and presently drew up at the curb opposite Strather’s apartment. A quick check established that the lanky redhead was there — but alone.
The young man was awake and in an angry state. As Gloge listened in, Vince savagely picked up the phone and dialed what must have been Barbara’s number, for presently he slammed the receiver down and muttered, “Doesn’t she know I’ve got to go to work tonight? Where can that girl be?"
That, in rising alarm, was a question which Gloge asked himself as the evening wore on. He returned to the vicinity of Barbara’s boarding house. Until eleven P.M. the phone in her room rang periodically, testifying to Vince’s concern.
When it had not rung for an hour, Gloge presumed that Strather had gone off to night duty. It was not a fact that could be left to surmise. He drove back to Vince’s apartment. No sounds came from it.
Gloge accordingly returned to the street where Barbara lived.
He was tired now, so he rigged up an alarm system that would buzz him if Barbara entered her room; then, wearily, he crawled onto the cot in the back of the van and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Earlier, as Barbara sat in her office a few minutes before closing time, she swayed and almost blacked out.
Greatly alarmed, she emerged from her office and reported the feeling to Helen Wendell. She did not question the logic of seeking the help of Hammond’s blonde aide.
The secretary was sympathetic, and promptly took her in to John Hammond. By this time Barbara had experienced several more brief blackouts. So she was grateful when Hammond unlocked the door behind his desk, led her through a luxurious living room and into what he called the "spare bedroom.”
She undressed, slipped under the sheets and promptly went to sleep. Thus, subtly, she was captured.
During the evening, Hammond and Helen Wendell took turns looking in on her.
At midnight, the Special Servicing expert reported that the life range indicator was working properly and he himself checked the body of the sleeping girl. “I get nine two," he said. "Who is she? New arrival?”
The silence that greeted his remark abruptly startled him. "You mean she’s an Earther?"
"At least," said Helen Wendell after the man had departed, "there’s been no further change."
Hammond said, "Too bad she’s above the hypnotizable stage. Mere conditioning is actually a sorry substitute for what we need here — truth."
"What are you going to do?"
Hammond did not make up his mind about that until after daybreak.
"Since nine two is no real threat to us," he said then, "we merely return to routine and keep aware that maybe somebody is doing something that we don’t know about. Perhaps we might even use a little ESP on her occasionally."
"Here — at Alpha?"
Hammond stared thoughtfully at his beautiful aide. Normally, he trusted her reactions in such matters.
She must have sensed what he was thinking, for she said quickly, "The last time we used extended perception, about 1800 Earthers tuned in on us. Of course, they thought of it merely as their imagination, but some of them compared notes. It was talked about for weeks, and some awfully important things were close to being revealed."
"We-l-l-l, okay, let’s be aware of her then."
"All right. On that basis I’ll wake her up."

As soon as she was in her office, Barbara phoned Vince. There was no answer. Which was not surprising. If he had worked the night shift, he would be dead to the world. She hung up and checked with the photo lab, and was much relieved when the night work list showed that Vince had signed in and out.
As she sat at her desk that morning, Barbara felt extremely grateful to Hammond and his secretary for having been so helpful to her. But she was also slightly guilty. She suspected that she had been affected again by the injection that Gloge had given her.
It was disconcerting to have been so strongly affected. "But I feel all right now!” she thought as she typed away at the pile of work Helen Wendell had put in her basket. Yet her mind was astir with plans. At ten o’clock, Helen sent her out, with the usual morning briefcase full of memos and reports.
Elsewhere —
Gloge had awakened shortly after seven. Still no Barbara. Baffled, he shaved with his electric razor, drove to a nearby business thoroughfare and ate breakfast.
He next went back to the street where Strather lived. A quick check established that the man was home. Gloge triggered his second charge of gas — and a few minutes later was in the apartment.
The young man had changed again to his pajamas, and he lay stretched out once more on the settee in his living room. If anything, the angry expression on his face was more pronounced.
Gloge, needle in hand, hesitated. He was not happy with this subject. Yet he realized that there was no turning back at this stage. Without further pause holding the point almost against Strather’s body, he squeezed the trigger. .
There was no visible reaction.
As he headed for his office at Research Alpha, Gloge’s thought was on the girl. Her absence was unfortunate. He had hoped to inject the serum into his two subjects at approximately the same time. Evidently that was not going to happen.

VI

A few minutes after he returned A to his office, Dr. Gloge’s phone rang. His door was open, and he heard his secretary answer. The woman looked up over the receiver.
"It’s for you, Doctor. That girl who worked here for a while — Barbara Ellington."
The shock that went through Gloge must have shown as disapproval, for the woman said hastily, "Shall I tell her you’re not in?”
Gloge quivered with uncertainty. "No." He paused; then, “I’ll take the call in here."
When he heard the clear, bell-like voice of the girl, Dr. Gloge felt tensely ready for anything.
"What is it, Barbara?” he asked.
"I’m supposed to bring some papers over to you," her voice trilled in its alive, vital way. "I’m to give them to you only, so I wanted to make sure you would be there."
... Opportunity!
It seemed to Gloge that he couldn’t have asked for a more favorable turn. His other subject would now come to his office where he could fire the second injection into her and deal personally with any reaction.
As it developed, there was no reaction that he could detect. She had turned away after delivering the papers to him, and that was when he fired the needle gun. It was a perfect shot. The girl neither jumped nor swung about; she simply kept going toward the door, opened it, and went through.
Barbara did not return to Hammond’s office. She expected a strong physiological disturbance from the second injection, and she wanted to be in the privacy of her own room when it happened. It had cost her an effort not to react in front of Gloge.
So she stayed in her bedroom, waited as long as she thought wise, and then phoned and told Helen Wendell that she was not well.
Helen said sympathetically, "Well, I suppose it was to be expected after the bad night you had."
Barbara answered quickly, "I began to have dizzy spells and nausea. I panicked and rushed home.”
"You’re home now?"
"Yes."
"I’ll tell Mr. Hammond."
Barbara hung up, unhappy with those final words. But there was no way to stop his learning about her condition. She had a feeling she was in danger of losing her job. And it was too soon. Later, after the experiment, it wouldn’t matter, she thought uneasily.
Perhaps she had better take the "normal" precautions of an employee. "After all," she thought, "I probably show symptoms." She called her doctor and made an appointment for the following day. Barbara replaced the receiver feeling a strange glee. "I ought to be in foul shape by tomorrow," she though!, "from the second injection."
What Hammond did when he returned to his office late that afternoon was to sit in thought for a while after Helen reported to him Barbara’s situation,
Then:
"It doesn’t add up. Helen. I should have asked you before. Have you examined her file?”
The blonde young woman smiled gravely. "I can tell you everything that’s in it, right from the top of my head. After all, I securitychecked her. What do you want to know?"
"You mean there’s nothing?”
"Nothing that I could find."
Hammond hesitated no longer. He was accustomed to trusting Helen Wendell. Abruptly he threw up his hands. "All right. She’s got the whole weekend to be sick in. Call me when she comes in to work again. Did that report arrive from New Brasilia?”
"It was sent to Manila Center."
"Are you serious? Let me talk to Ramon. There must be a reason!" Quickly he was absorbed in his new tasks.

Barbara slept. When she awakened her clock said twelve after seven.
It was daylight, early morning. She found that out in a sensational fashion. She went outside and looked ... without moving from the bed!
There she was lying in her bedroom; and there she was out in the street.
Simultaneously.
Involuntarily, she held her breath. Slowly, the outside scene faded, and she was back in the bed, wholly indoors.
With a gasp, she started breathing again.
By cautious experimentation, she discovered that her perception extended about a hundred yards.
And that was all she learned. Something in her brain acted like an invisible eye stalk that could reach through walls and bring back visual images to the light-interpretation centers. The ability remained completely stable.
Presently she became aware that a small black van was parked down the street and that Dr. Gloge was in it. She realized that he had an instrument with an earplug with which he seemed to be listening in on her.
His face was intent, his small eyes narrowed. Something of the determination of this little, baldheaded scientist seeped through to her, and Barbara suddenly felt uneasy. She sensed remorselessness, an impersonal quality that was entirely different from her own light-hearted participation in his experiment.
To Gloge — she realized suddenly — his subjects were like inanimate objects.
In human terms the viciousness of it was infinite.
As she continued to perceive him, Gloge shut off his instruments, started the motor of his car and drove off.
Since Vince was again on the night shift, presumably Gloge was heading home.
She phoned Vince’s apartment to make sure; when there was no answer, she called the photo lab.
"No, Strather didn’t come in last night," the administrative assistant of that department told her.
Barbara replaced the receiver unhappily, recalling that Vince had not responded well to the first shot. She suspected the biologist had given him his second shot also, and that he was not responding favorably to it either.
She dressed and drove over to his apartment. As she came near, she could see him inside, so when he showed no sign of replying to her ring, she let herself in with her key — and found him on the living room couch, tossing and turning. He looked feverish. She felt his forehead; it was dry and hot to the touch.
He stirred and opened his eyes, looked up with his sick brown eyes into her bright blue ones. She thought unhappily: "I’m so well and he’s so ill. What can be wrong?"
Aloud, anxiously, she said, "You need a doctor, Vince. What’s the name of that man who gave you a checkup. last year?"
"I’ll be all right,” he mumbled. He sank back to sleep.
Sitting there on the settee beside him, Barbara felt something in her lungs. Her instant, amazed thought was: “Gas!" But she was too slow.

She must have blacked out instantly — because her next awareness was of lying on the floor, and of Gloge bending over her.
The scientist was calm, efficient, seemed satisfied. Barbara caught his thought: "She’ll be all right."
She realized that he was stepping past her to Vince. "Hmmm!” Gloge seemed critical and unhappy. "Still not good. Let’s see if tranquillizer will help him."
He made the injection, then straightened, and there was a strange, hard thought in his mind: "By Monday night, it’ll be time for the third injection and I’ll have to decide what to do."
So clear was the thought that came from him, it was almost as if he spoke aloud. What his thought said was that he intended to kill them both, if either failed to develop as he desired.
Shocked, Barbara held herself very still; and at that moment an entirely different growth process occurred in her.
It began with a veritable flood of suppressed information suddenly rising to the surface of her mind ... About the reality of what people were like ... the dupes, the malingerers and the weaklings on the one hand, and, on the other, the angry and the distorted, the worldly wise and the cynics. She recognized that there were well-meaning people in the world who were strong, but she was more aware of the destructive at this instant ... by the million, the swindlers and betrayers — all self-justified, she saw now. But she realized also that they had misread their own bitter experiences. Because they were greedy and lustful and had lost their fear of punishment, earthly or unearthly; because they resented being thwarted in their slightest whim; because —
A forgotten scene flashed into her mind from her own past, of a minor executive in her first job, who had fired her when she refused to come up to his apartment.
All her life, she had been taught and she had tried not to be aware of such things. But now, at some level of neural computation, she permitted all that data to be calculated into the main stream of her awareness.
The process was still going on a few minutes later when Gloge departed as silently as he had come.
After he had left, Barbara tried to get up and was surprised that she could not even open her eyes. The realization that her body was still unconscious presently enthralled her.
What a marvelous ability!
As time passed, it began to be disconcerting. She thought: "I’m really quite helpless." It was early afternoon before she was finally able to move. She got up, subdued and thoughtful, warmed a can of soup for Vince and herself and forced him to drink it from a cup.
Immediately after, he stretched out again on the couch and fell asleep. Barbara left the apartment to keep her appointment with her own doctor.
As she drove, she could feel a stirring inside her. More change? She decided it was. Perhaps there would be many such between now and Monday. Yet her intuition was that she would not be able to dominate this situation with the changes from the first and second shots only.
"Somehow,” she thought, "I’ve got to get that third shot."

VII

At noon Monday, after he had dictated some letters to a girl from the steno pool, Hammond came out of his office.
"What’s the word from Nine-two?"
Helen looked up with her flashing smile. "Barbara?"
"Yes."
"Her doctor called in this morning at her request. He said he saw her Saturday. She appears to have a mild temperature, is subject to dizzy spells, and a variety of unmentionable ailments like diarrhea. However, there’s one unexpected thing, the doctor said — evidently his own comment. Interested?"
"Of course."
"He said that in his opinion Barbara has had a major personality change since he last checked her about a year ago."
Hammond shook his head slowly. "Merely confirms our own observation. Well, keep me in touch."
But about four o’clock, when the long distance screen was finally silent, he buzzed Helen Wendell. "I can’t get that girl out of my mind. It’s premonition-level stuff, so I can’t ignore it. Phone Barbara."
She called to him a minute later: "Sorry, there’s no answer."
"Bring her file to me," said Hammond. "I’ve got to assure myself I’m not missing something in this unusual matter."
As he scanned the typed pages a few minutes later, he came presently to the photograph of Vince Strather. He uttered an exclamation.
"What is it?" Helen asked. He told her what had happened the previous week between Dr. Gloge and Vince Strather.
He finished, "Of course, I didn’t connect Barbara with that young man. But this is his picture. Get Gloge’s file."

“Apparently the change started when his sister died two months ago," Helen Wendell said presently. “One of those sudden and dangerous shifts in personal motivation.” She added ruefully, "I should have watched him on that. The death of a near relative has often proved important."
She was seated in the main room of Hammond’s living quarters at Research Alpha. The door to Hammond’s private office behind them was closed. Across the room, a large wall safe had been opened, revealing a wide double row of thin, metal-bound files. Two of the files — Henry Gloge’s and Barbara Ellington’s — lay on the table before Helen. Hammond stood beside her.
He said now, "What about that trip he made back east early in the month?"
"He spent three days in his home town, purportedly to make arrangements to sell his sister’s and his property there. They had a house, complete with private laboratory, untenanted, on the grounds of an old farm. The perfect location for unsupervised experimentation. On primates? Not likely. They’re not easy to obtain secretly and, except for the smaller gibbons, they should make potentially quite dangerous subjects for Dr. Gloge’s project. So it must be humans he planned to work on."
Hammond nodded.
There was an almost sick expression on his face.
The woman looked up at him. "You seem very anxious. Presumably, Barbara and Vince have now had two injections each. That will take them to 50,000 years from now on some level. It doesn’t seem desperately serious to me."
The man smiled tautly. "Don’t forget that we’re dealing with one of the seed races."
“Yes — but only 50,000 years so far.”
He stared at her sympathetically. "You and I," he said, "are still far down on the ladder. So it’s hard for us to conceive of the evolutionary potential of the Genus homo galacticus."
She laughed. "I’m content with my lowly lot —“
"Good conditioning," he murmured.
"— but I’m willing to accept your analysis. What do you intend to do with Gloge?"
Hammond straightened decisively. “This experiment on humans has to be stopped at once. Call Ames and have him put special security men at every exit. For the next hour, don’t let Gloge out of this building.
And if Vince or Barbara try to enter the complex, tell him to hold them. When you’ve done that, start cancelling my appointments for the rest of the day and evening."
He disappeared into his bedroom, came out presently dressed for the street.
Helen Wendell greeted him with: "I called Ames, and he says ’Check! But I also phoned Gloge’s office. He left about an hour ago, his secretary says."
Hammond said quickly, "Sound a standby alert. Tell Ames to throw a guard around the homes of both of those young people!"
"You’re going where?”
“First Barbara, then Vince. I only hope I’m in time."
A look must have come into Helen’s face, because he smiled tensely and said, “Your expression says I’m getting too involved."
The beautiful blonde woman smiled with understanding, said, "Every day on this planet thousands of people are murdered, hundreds of thousands are robbed and countless minor acts of violence occur. People are struck, choked, yelled at, degraded, cheated — I could go on. If we ever opened ourselves to that, we’d shrivel away."
"I kind of like Barbara," Hammond confessed.
Helen was calm. "So do I. What do you think is happening?”
"As I see it, Gloge gave them the first injection last Wednesday and the second on Friday. That means the third one should be given today. That I’ve got to stop."
He departed hastily.

VIII

Gloge had become nervous. As Monday wore on, he kept thinking of his two specimens; and what bothered him was that he did not have them under observation on this last day.
What a ridiculous situation, he told himself. The greatest experiment in human history — and no scientific person watching it through to a conclusion of the key second injection.
There was another feeling, also.
Fear!
He couldn’t help but remember the young man. It seemed to Gloge that he had seen too many animals show in their fashion the symptoms he had observed in Vince. Failure to respond well to the serum, the signs of internal malaise, the sick appearance, the struggle of the cells visibly reflecting defeat in the efforts and chemistry at the surface of the skin.
And there was — he had to admit it — a further anxiety. Many of the unsuccessful animal specimens had developed tough fight-back characteristics. It would be wise to be prepared for emergencies of that nature.
He thought grimly: "No use fooling myself. I’d better drop everything and take another look at those two."
That was when he left his office.
He took it for granted that Barbara was all right. So he drove to Vince’s apartment, and first checked with his audio pickups to make sure he was there and alone.
He detected at once movements; the sound of labored breathing, an occasional squeak of the springs of the couch. These noises came screeching through the hyper-sensitive receiver, but Gloge had the volume on them turned down so that they were not actually painful in his ears.
Gloge’s spirits had already dropped even more, for the sounds he was hearing confirmed his fears.
Suddenly, all the justified scientific attitude that had motivated him until now came hard against the reality of the failure that was here.
By his previous reasoning, he would now have to kill Vince.
And that meant, of course, that he would also have to dispose of Barbara.
His state of funk yielded after what must have been many minutes to a strictly scientific thought: Mere sounds were not enough data for so basic a decision, it seemed to him.
He felt intense disappointment.
Now, he must go and make his decision from an actual meeting with Vince. It would be improper to dispose of his two human subjects without a face to face interrogation.

As Gloge climbed out of his car and headed for the apartment building, Vince had a dream.
He dreamed that the man — what was his name? — Gloge, with whom he had quarreled a few days before in the corridor at Research Alpha, was coming here to his apartment, with the intention of killing him. At some deep of his being, anger began. But he did not awaken.
The dream — product of his own disturbed, strange evolutionary development — continued.
From some vantage point, he watched Gloge approach his back door. He felt no surprise when the small, bald-headed man produced a key. Tense with fear, Vince watched as Gloge stealthily inserted the key into the lock, slowly turned it and quietly opened the door.
At that point, Vince’s body was impelled by his extreme anxiety to defensive action. Millions of tiny, shining, cream-colored energy bundles were emitted by his nervous system. They resembled very short straight lines. And they passed through the wall that separated the living room from the kitchen, and they struck Gloge.
Great masses of the energy units unerringly sought out nerve ends in Gloge’s body and darted in their scintillating fashion up to the man’s brain.
The energy units were not the result of conscious analytical thought. They were brought into being solely by fright and carried pressor messages. They pushed at Gloge mentally, urging him to leave, to go back to where he had come from —
Dr. Gloge came to his senses with a start. He was back in his van. He remembered running in precipitant flight. He had a vague recollection of complete panic.
He sat now, trembling, breathing hard, trying to recover from the most disgraceful act of fear that he had ever experienced in his whole life.
And he knew that he had to go back.
Twice more, the sleeping Vince emitted enough energy bundles to compel Gloge to run. Each time the power available was less and Gloge retreated a shorter distance before stopping and forcing himself to go back again to the apartment.
On Gloge’s fourth approach, the brain mechanism in Vince was able to manufacture only a small energy discharge. Gloge felt the fear rise in him, but he fought it — successfully.
He moved silently across the kitchen floor toward the door of the living room.
He still did not realize that the sleeping body and he had fought a battle — which he had now won.

Moments later, Gloge looked down at the exhausted form of his male subject. The sleeping body had perspired excessively. It trembled and moaned, and, as Gloge watched, jerked fitfully.
Unmistakably — Gloge decided — a failed experiment.
He wasted no time. He had come prepared. He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, carefully slipped one over Vince’s farthest away arm and softly clicked it shut. He lifted the arm as carefully toward the other wrist and clicked that handcuff on also.
Gloge next successfully tied Vince’s legs together, and then lashed together the hands and feet.
The victim continued his restless, feverish sleep.
Gloge brought out a gag. As he had anticipated, forcing it into the closed mouth was more disturbing. Under him, the body grew rigid. Wild eyes flicked open and glared up at him.
In a single, convulsive effort Vince tried to bring up his arms and simultaneously struggled to get to his feet.
But Gloge had done his preliminary work well. The victim’s intense effort subsided. Dr. Gloge realized that his control of this situation was complete. He removed the gag and said: "What I want to know is, how do you feel?”
The half-crazy, rage-filled eyes snapped with the impulse to violence. Vince cursed in a shrill voice. He kept this up for several minutes. Then he seemed to realize something.
"Y-you did something to me last week.”
Gloge nodded. "I injected you twice with a serum designed to accelerate cellular evolution, and I’ve come here to find out how you are."
His gray eyes were steady, his bald head gleamed in the reflection of the light he had turned on. His face was serious. "Why not tell me exactly how you feel?” he asked earnestly.
This time Vince’s cursing subsided after about a minute. He lay, then, staring at his captor, and something about the pale, tense face of the scientist must have convinced him. "I feel — awful,” he said uneasily.
"Exactly how?" Gloge persisted.
Slowly, by dint of determined questioning, he drew from his reluctant victim the fact that he felt weak, exhausted and numb.
It was the fateful combination that had so often shown in the animals; and Gloge knew that it was decisive.
Without another word, he bent down and started to force the gag into Vince’s mouth. Vince twisted, wiggled, turned his head, and several times tried to bite. But inexorably Gloge pushed the gag all the way into the other’s mouth and knotted it firmly behind his head.
He now went outside and drove the van into the driveway opposite the back door of Vince’s apartment. Wrapping the young man’s body in a blanket, he carried him boldly outside and into the van.
A few minutes later he was heading for the home of one of his subordinates. The man was on loan to an eastern laboratory and his house and yard were unoccupied.
If he had paused, if he had stopped moving, if he had even taken his foot off the accelerator, Gloge might have faltered in his grisly plan. But his only slowdown was when he finally brought the car to a stop at his destination. And that, in its real meaning, was a continuation of the plan.
Its final moments.

Laboriously, he dragged the gagged, handcuffed and bound Vince across the sidewalk, through a gate, and over to the deep end of the swimming pool. And still without pausing he shoved the tense body over the edge and into the water.
He straightened from his terrible act, stood there gasping for breath, exhausted, watching the trail of bubbles that roiled the dark surface. Abruptly terrified that he might be seen, he turned and staggered away.
As he half-fell, half-crawled into his car, the first opposing thought came, as much a feeling of horror as an idea: “My God, what have I done?"
But there was no opposing motion in that reaction. He did not go back. Instead, he sat there, bracing to the realization that a few feet away a man was still in process of drowning.
When there was no longer any doubt; when the subject of his experiment was by all laws of life dead, Gloge sighed, and stirred. There was no turning back. One gone, one to go.
Next — the girl!
From a phone booth a few blocks away, Gloge dialed Barbara Ellington’s boarding house. The voice of an elderly woman answered and told him Barbara had gone out.
The voice added, "She certainly is a popular girl today.”
Gloge said uneasily, "How do you mean?"
"Several men came by a little while ago and asked for her, but of course I had to tell them also that she wasn’t here."
A sharp fear struck through Gloge. "Did they give their names?" he asked.
"A Mr. Hammond," was the reply.
Hammond! The chill of that froze Gloge. “Thank you," he gulped, and hung up.
He returned shakily to his car, torn between two impulses. He had intended to return after dark to the pool, fish Vince’s body out of it, take off all the bindings and dispose of it. He had a strong feeling now that he should do that at once. On the other hand, he had a desperate conviction that he must return to his office and remove the rest of the serum from the safe there.
That last suddenly seemed the more important thing to do, and the safest at this hour. The sun had gone down below the western hills, but the sky was still bright blue. The dying day had too much light in it for the gruesome task of getting rid of a dead body.

IX

At ten minutes past seven, Dr. Gloge unlocked the door that led directly from the corridor to his office in the biology section of Research Alpha. He went in, closed the door behind him, walked quickly around the big, bare desk in the center of the room, and stooped down to unlock the desk drawer where he kept a key to one of the safes.
"Good evening, Dr. Gloge," a woman’s voice said behind him.
For an instant Dr. Gloge seemed unable to move. The words, the tone, sent an electrifying hope through him. He could scarcely beLieve his luck: that the second person he had to dispose of had come to where he could best deal with her.
He straightened slowly, turned around.
Barbara Ellington stood in the open door to the adjoining library, watching him, face serious and alert.
At no time in what followed did Gloge have any other conscious awareness than that this was Barbara Ellington.
But the very instant that he saw the girl, at some depth of his being neural readjustments took place. Millions of them. And from that instant, subconsciously, she was his dead sister. But she was not dead any more. She was reassuringly alive in the person of Barbara.
A look passed between them. It was one of complete understanding. It occurred to Gloge that it was scientifically wrong to kill this successful experimental victim. He even had a feeling that she was on his side and would cooperate with him. He suppressed a fleeting impulse to pretend not to know why she was here.
He said, matter-of-factly, "How did you get in?"
"Through the specimen room."
"Did any of the night workers see you?”
"No." Barbara smiled slightly.
Gloge was examining her with quick evaluative looks. He noted the way she stood, almost motionless but lightly and strongly balanced — a pose of contained, absolutely prepared energy. He saw in her eyes bright, quick intelligence.
The thought came to him: Nothing quite like this was ever on Earth before!
Barbara said suddenly, "You took a long chance on us, didn’t you?"
The words that burst from Dr. Gloge surprised him: "I had to do
it.”
"Yes, I know.” Again she spoke matter-of-factly, moved forward into the room. Dr. Gloge felt a surge of alarm, a sharp, cold prickling of the skin. But she turned from him to the left, and he watched silently as she sat down in a chair against the wall and placed the brown purse she carried on the armrest of the chair. She spoke first.
"You must give me the third injection of the serum immediately," she told him. "I’ll watch you do it. Then I’ll take the instrument and a supply of the serum to Vince. He —”
She paused; blue eyes kindling with abrupt comprehension, as she studied Dr. Gloge’s expression. "So you’ve drowned him!” she said. She sat there, thoughtful, then: "He’s not dead. I sense him to be still alive. Now, what is the instrument you use? You must still have it with you."
"I do,” Dr. Gloge admitted hoarsely. “But," he went on quickly, “it is advisable to wait till morning before administering the third shot. The — chances of a further favorable development would be increased by doing it. And you must stay here! Nobody should see you as you are. There should be tests ... you will tell me …"

He halted, realizing he was stammering. Barbara’s eyes hadn’t turned from his face. And in the same way that her knowledge of Vince’s fate had not disturbed him — somehow, he took it for granted that she realized and appreciated why and what he had done — so now her expression reassured him.
She said quietly, "Dr. Gloge, there are several things you don’t understand. I know I can assimilate the serum. So give me the shot — and the serum — at once."
Barbara Ellington arose and started over toward him. She said nothing, and her face revealed no emotion, but his next awareness was of holding the jet gun out to her on his open palm as she came up.
"There’s only one charge left."
She took the gun from his palm without touching him, turned it over, studied it, laid it back in his hand. "Where is your supply of the serum?"
Dr. Gloge nodded at the entrance to the library behind her. "The larger of the two safes in there."
Her head had turned in the direction he indicated. Now she remained still for a moment, gaze remote, lips parted, in an attitude of intent listening; then she looked back at him.
"Give me the injection," she told him. "Some men are coming.”
Dr. Gloge lifted the gun, put the point against her shoulder, pulled the trigger. Barbara drew her breath in sharply, took the gun from him, opened her purse, dropped the gun inside and snapped the purse shut. Her eyes shifted to the office door.
"Listen!” she said.
After a moment, Dr. Gloge heard footsteps coming along the narrow corridor from the main laboratory.
"Who is it?" he asked anxiously.
"Hammond," she said. "Three other men.”
Dr. Gloge made a stifled sound of despair. "We’ve got to get away. He mustn’t find either of us here. Quick — through there.” He waved toward the library.
Barbara shook her head. "This place is surrounded. All passages are guarded." She frowned. "Hammond must think he has all the evidence he needs against you — but don’t help him in any way! Admit nothing! Let’s see what I can do with my — " As she spoke she moved back to the chair on which she had been sitting. She settled into it, her face composed. "Maybe I can handle him," she said confidently.
The footsteps had reached the door. There came a knock.
Gloge glanced at Barbara. His thoughts were whirling. She nodded, smiled.
"Come in!" Dr. Gloge said harshly, too loudly.
Hammond entered the room. "Why, Mr. Hammond!” Barbara exclaimed. Her face was flushed, she looked embarrassed and confused.
Hammond had stopped, as he caught sight of her. He sensed a mental probing. His brain put up a barrier, and the probing ceased.
Their eyes met; and there was a flicker of consternation in hers. Hammond smiled ironically. Then he said in a steely voice:
"Stay where you are, Barbara. I’ll talk to you later." His voice went up. "Come on in, Ames!” he called.
There was threat in his tone; and Dr. Gloge sent a quick, desperate, appealing glance at Barbara. She gave him an uncertain smile. The look of earnest, fumbling innocence with which she had greeted Hammond had left her face, leaving it resigned but alert.
Hammond gave no sign of being aware of the change.
"Ames," he said to the first of the three men who came in through the library from the specimen room — Dr. Gloge recognized Wesley Ames, the chief of Research Alpha’s security staff — "this is Barbara Ellington. Take charge of that handbag she’s holding. Allow no one to enter this office. Miss Ellington is not to leave and is not to be permitted to touch any object in this room. She is to stay in that chair until I return with Dr. Gloge."
Wesley Ames nodded. "Understood, Mr. Hammond!” He glanced at his men, one of whom went to the office door and locked it while Ames turned to Barbara. She handed him her purse without comment.
“Doctor, come with me," Hammond said curtly.

Dr. Gloge followed him into the library. Hammond closed the door behind them.
"Where’s Vince?" he said in an inexorable voice.
"Really, Mr. Hammond," Gloge protested. “I don’t — "
Hammond stepped toward him abruptly. The movement seemed a threat. Dr. Gloge cringed, expecting to be manhandled. Instead, the bigger man firmly caught his arm and pressed a tiny metal object against his bare wrist.
"Tell me where Vince is!" Hammond commanded.
Gloge parted his lips to deny any knowledge of Barbara’s boyfriend. Instead, the confession of what he had done poured forth from him. As he realized what he was admitting, Gloge tried desperately to stop himself from talking. He had already divined that the metal touching his skin was some kind of a hypnotic device, and so he tried to pull his arm from Hammond’s grasp.
It was a vain effort.
“How long ago did you drown him?" Hammond asked.
"About an hour ago,” said Dr. Gloge, hopelessly.
At that instant shouts came from the adjoining office. The door was pulled open. Wesley Ames stood there, ashen-faced.
"Mr. Hammond — she’s gone!"
Hammond darted past him into the office. Dr. Gloge hurried after, legs trembling. As he reached the door, Hammond already was coming back into the office with one of the security men from the hall on the other side. Ames and the other men stood in the center of the office, looking about with stupefied expressions.

Hammond closed the door, said to Ames, "Quickly, now! What happened?"
Ames threw his hands up in a gesture of furious frustration.
"Mr. Hammond, I don’t know. We were watching her. She was there in the chair ... then she was not there, that’s all. He —" he indicated one of the men — "was standing with his back to the door. When we saw she was gone, he was sitting on the floor next to the door!
The door was open. We ran into the hall, but she wasn’t there. Then I called you."
"How long had you been watching her?" Hammond asked sharply.
"How long?" Ames gave him a dazed look. "I had just taken my mother down the hall to the elevator — "
He stopped, blinked. "Mr. Hammond, what am I saying? My mother’s been dead for eight years!"
Hammond said softly, "So that’s her little trick. She reached to that deep of the heart where the pure, unsullied dead are enshrined. And I thought she was only trying to read my mind!”
He broke off, said in a clear, commanding voice:
"Wake up, Ames! You three have been gone from the world for a couple of minutes. Don’t worry about how Miss Ellington did it. Get her description to the exits. If she’s seen approaching by a guard, tell him to keep her at a distance at gun point."
As the three hurried from the office, he indicated a chair to Dr. Gloge. Gloge sat down, senses swimming, as Hammond took a pencil-shaped device from his pocket, pressed it, and stood waiting.
On the fifth floor of the Research Alpha complex, Helen Wendell picked up the small private phone at the side of her desk, said, "Go ahead, John."
"Switch all defense and trap screens on immediately!" Hammond’s voice told her. "Gloge’s drowned Strather — as an experimental failure. But the other one’s awake and functioning. It’s hard to know what she’ll do next, but she may find it necessary to get to my office as a way of getting out of this building fast."
Helen pressed a button. "Not this way she won’t!” she said. "The screens are on.”

X

Outside, it grew darker on that tense Monday night. At eight-eighteen, Helen Wendell again picked up the small phone purring at the side of her desk in the Research Alpha complex, glanced over at the closed office door, and said into the receiver, “Go ahead, John."
"I’m here at the pool," John Hammond’s voice told her. "We’ve just fished his body out. Helen, the fellow is alive. Some reflex prevented any intake of water. But we’ll need an oxygen tent."
Helen’s left hand reached for another telephone. "You want the ambulance?" she asked, starting to dial.
"Yes. You have the street number. Tell them to pull up at the side gate. We have to act swiftly."
"Police uniforms, also?” Helen asked.
“Yes. But tell them to stay in the cab unless needed. We’re out of sight, behind a high fence. And it’s dark. I’ll come back with them. Has Barbara been apprehended?"
"No," Helen said.
“I really didn’t expect she would be," Hammond said. "I’ll question the guards when I get there.”

Barbara had allowed Ames to escort her to the nearest elevator, while she continued to have him think that she was his mother.
Once in the elevator she pushed the up-button and came out presently on the roof. As she had already perceived, a helicopter was scheduled to take off. And, though she was not an authorized passenger, the pilot took her along believing her to be his girl friend. Her sudden arrival seemed perfectly logical to him.
A little later, he set her down on the roof of another building. And that, also, seemed the most natural act to him, her reason for going there obvious.
He flew off and promptly forgot the episode.
The hasty landing was an urgent necessity for Barbara. She could feel the new injection beginning to work. So in her scanning of the buildings flitting by below, she perceived one in which the upper floors were unoccupied.
"I’ll try to make it down to some office," she thought.
But she didn’t get beyond the top floor. She actually began to stagger as she went down the first steps from the roof. And there was no mistaking the out-of-control state of her body. To her left, a door opened into a warehouse-like loft. She weaved through it, closed it behind her, and bolted it. Then she half-lowered herself, half-fell to the floor.
During that evening and night she never quite lost consciousness. Blackout was no longer possible for her. But she could feel her body changing, changing, changing —
The energy flows inside her took on a different meaning. They were separate from her. Presently they would be controllable again, but in another fashion entirely.
Something of Barbara seemed to disappear with that awareness.
"I’m still me!" the entity thought as it lay there on the floor. “Flesh, feeling, desire —"
But she had the distinct realization that "me" even in these early stages of the five hundred thousand year transformations was ME PLUS.
Exactly how the self was becoming something more was not yet clear. The slow night dragged by.

XI

Tuesday.
Shortly before noon, Helen Wendell came along the hallway that led from John Hammond’s quarters to the main office. Hammond was sitting at the far side of her desk. He glanced up at her as she approached.
"How are the patients?” he asked.
"Gloge is role-perfect,” Helen said. "I even allowed him to spend part of the morning talking to his assistants here. He’s already had two conversations by Telstar with Sir Hubert about his new task overseas. I’ve put him to sleep again, but he’s available. When did you come in?"
"Just now. How’s Strather?”
Helen tapped the recorder. "I checked with the MD machine on to him twenty minutes ago," she said.
"It gave me its opinion in detail. I took it all down. Do you want to hear it?"
"Sum it up for me."
Helen pursed her lips; then: "The MD verifies that he didn’t swallow any water, that some newly developed brain mechanism shut off breathing and kept him in a state of suspended animation. Vince himself has no conscious memory of the experience, so it was evidently a survival act of the lower brain. MD reports other developments are taking place in Vince, regards them as freakish in nature. It’s too soon to tell whether or not he can survive a third injection. He’s under sedation."
Hammond looked dissatisfied. "All right," he said after a moment. “What else do you have for me?"
"A number of transmitter messages,” Helen said.
"About Gloge?"
"Yes. New Brasilia and Manila agree with you that there are too many chances of a revealing slip-up if Dr. Gloge remains at Research Alpha any longer than is absolutely necessary.”
"You said Gloge is role-perfect."
Helen nodded. "At the moment. But he is a highly recalcitrant subject and naturally I can’t give him the kind of final conditioning he’d get at Paris center. That’s where they want him. The courier, Arnold, will take him aboard the Paris-jet at 5:10 tonight."
"No!" Hammond shook his head. "That’s too early! Gloge is our bait to catch Barbara. His experiments indicate that she won’t be able to function until some time this evening. I calculate that somewhere around 9 o’clock will be a good time to let Gloge out from behind the defense screens."
Helen was silent a moment, then said, “There seems to be a general feeling, John, that you’re over-estimating the possibilities of any really dangerous evolutionary developments in Barbara Ellington."
Hammond smiled tautly. “I’ve seen her. They haven’t. Mind you, for all I know, she may be dead or dying of the effects of the third shot by now. But if she’s capable of coming, I think she’ll come. She’ll want that fourth injection. She may start any time looking for the man who can produce the serum for her."

By Tuesday, a new awareness had come to Barbara.
She had developed brain mechanisms that could do things with space — do them on an automatic level, without her conscious mind knowing what, or how. Fantastic things ...
As she lay there, a new nerve center in her brain reached out and scanned a volume of space 500 light-years in diameter. It touched and comprehended clouds of neutral hydrogen and bright young O-type stars, measured the swing of binaries, took a census of comets and ice asteroids. Far out in the constellation of Ophiuchus a blue-white giant was going nova, and the new, strange linkage in Barbara’s mind observed its frantic heaving of spheres of radiant gas. A black dwarf emitted its last spray of infra-red light and sank into the radiation-less pit of dead stars.
Barbara’s mind encompassed it all, and reached farther ... reached out effortlessly until it touched a specific Something ... and withdrew.
Brimming with ecstasy, Barbara cried out in her mind, What did I touch?
She knew it had been something the brain mechanism was programmed to search for. But no conscious perception was involved. All she could be sure of was that the nerve center seemed satisfied, and ceased its scanning.
But she sensed, in an intensely happy way, that it remained aware of What it had contacted.
She was still savoring the joy a while later when she became aware that the shifting energy flows inside her had resumed.
Gradually, then, she permitted her body and mind to sink into a receptive state.
Midsummer heat built up over the city throughout the day. In the locked room on the vacant top floor of the multi-storied building three miles from Research Alpha, the heat grew stifling as the sun shifted overhead, began to beat in through closed, unshaded windows. Barbara, curled on her side on the dusty floor, did not move. Now and then she uttered a moaning sound. Sweat ran from her for a long, long time, as the heat increased; then the skin of her face dried and turned dirty white. She made no more sounds. Even a close study would not have been able to prove that she still breathed.
By four o’clock, the sunblaze had shifted past the windows, and the locked room lay in shadows. But it was another hour before the temperature in it gradually began to drop. About six, the curled figure moved for the first time.
She straightened her legs slowly, then, with a sudden, convulsive motion, rolled over on her back, lay flat, arms flung loosely to the sides.
The right half of her face was smeared grotesquely with thick dust caked in drying sweat. She breathed — lay quiet again. Several minutes later, her eyelids lifted. The eyes were a deep, brilliant blue, seemed oddly awake and alert, though they remained unfocused and did not shift about the room. After a while, the lids slowly closed and remained closed.

The day darkened; the city’s lights awoke. The empty warehouse stood silent. More than an hour passed before the figure in the room on the top floor moved again.
This time, it was motion of a different order. She rose suddenly and quickly to her feet, went to the nearest window and stood looking out through the dirt-stained glass.
The towering Research Alpha complex was a glow of white light to the west. The watcher’s eyes turned toward it ...
A second of time went by. Then the mind that directed the eyes moved on an entirely new level of extended perception.
Night-shift activities in the research complex were not essentially different from those of the day; but there were fewer people around as the awareness that was Barbara drifted along familiar, lighted hallways, about corners, dropped suddenly to a sublevel which contained the biology section. Here she flicked through the main laboratory and up a narrow corridor, pausing before the door to Dr. Gloge’s office.
She moved through the door, paused in the dark and silent office, then moved on into the library. She remained a minute or two above the big safe in a corner of the library. Then she knew.
The safe was empty — and trapped.
The awareness flicked out of the library, shifted to the fifth floor of the complex, drifted toward a great, black door showing the words: Scientific Liaison and Investigation. She stopped before it.
Minutes passed as she slowly and carefully scanned the outer walls of John Hammond’s offices and living quarters. Here was something new ... something that seemed very dangerous. Within the walls and doors, above the ceiling, below the flooring of this section, strange energies curled and crawled like twisting smoke.
She could not pass through that barrier.
But though she could not enter, her perceptions might, to some extent.
She must avoid, she decided, both the front entry door and the secret elevator which led directly to Hammond’s living quarters in the rear of the section. As the most obvious points for an intruder to consider, they were also the most formidably shielded.
She shifted back along the hall to a point some twenty feet away from the massive black door, well back from the wall between her and the front office. She waited. Gradually a picture began to form ...
This was an unfamiliar room, the inner office of the section. There was no one in it, nothing of interest except a closed door across from the one which opened on the corridor.
The inner office disappeared ... and what came next was no picture, but a surge of savage, demanding hunger.
Startled, shocked, already feeling the pull that in a moment would hurl her into the murderous barriers about the section, the searching awareness instantly broke the thread of visual perception, went inactive to allow herself to stabilize.
Nevertheless, she now knew where the serum was — in a strongroom of Hammond’s quarters, heavily screened, seemingly inaccessible.
Perception cautiously opened again. Another section of the living quarters appeared, hazy with hostile energies. The other — the male counterpart — was here. Alive.
Here, but helpless. Here, but unconscious, in a cage of dark force which permitted no more than barest identification by the searcher. She was very glad he had been rescued.

Minutes later, she knew there was no one else in Hammond’s locked quarters. She withdrew visual perception from there, and let the picture of the main office develop. The blurred image of a woman — Helen Wendell — now seemed to be speaking into an instrument connected with the apparatus before her.
A second band of perception opened, and voices became indistinctly audible.
Ganin Arnold, the New Brasilia courier, was making his final call from the city jetport, nine miles south of the Research Alpha complex.
"The doors are being secured," he said. He was speaking into a disguised microphone clamped over his mouth and nose, which had the appearance of the tranquilizing respirators many of the other jet passengers were using now in the last moments before lift-off. Even to anyone within inches of him, his voice would have remained completely inaudible. In John Hammond’s office, it emerged clearly from the device on Helen Wendell’s desk.
“Lift-off for the nonstop jet to Paris," Arnold went on, "will follow — " he glanced at the watch on his wrist — "in two minutes and thirty seconds. All passengers and every member of the crew have passed at least once through the measurement radius. Nothing which may have preceded or followed myself and our biologist aboard registers life energy levels significantly above the standard Earther range — that is, of course, below six.
"To sum it up, we definitely are not being accompanied to Paris by any abnormally high human evolutionary form. Dr. Gloge’s behavior has been excellent. His tranquilizer has begun to take effect and he is showing signs of drowsiness. Undoubtedly, he will sleep soundly throughout the trip."
Arnold paused, apparently waiting for comment. When there was none, he resumed, “As soon as the liftfield goes on, communication by this means, of course, will be impossible. Since nothing is likely to go wrong from this moment on, I suggest, if it’s satisfactory to Mr. Hammond, that I end my report now.”
Helen Wendell’s voice, seeming to speak from a point just within the left side of the courier’s skull, told him pleasantly, “Mr. Hammond prefers you to remain alert and available for final instructions until the lift has begun."

XII

In the locked room on the top floor of the empty warehouse a few miles east of Research Alpha, the woman-shape standing at the window stirred suddenly out of the tranced immobility it had maintained for the past minutes. The head lifted, gaze sweeping the softly glowing night sky above the city. A hand moved, touching the thick windowpane probingly. The glass fell away like a big drop of melting ice.
Dust swirled as cool air rushed in.
Barbara waited, then moved closer to the opening.
Her gaze swung to the west again, remained there. She listened. The myriad noises of the city were clear and distinct now. Overlying them was a thin fountain of sky-sound as, every thirty seconds at this hour — a jet lifted vertically from the city port, cut in its engines and vanished up into the night with a whistling shriek. Her head shifted quickly briefly following the changing pattern of the sound. Then it steadied.
Her gaze rose slowly, slanting to the north, following a moving, distant point in the night, eyes narrowed with intentness.
On board the Paris jet which had left the city port a few minutes before, Dr. Henry Gloge now had a very curious experience. Drowsily, almost on the verge of sleep, he had been contemplating the pleasant significance of his assignment today to Sir Hubert Roland’s Paris Project. Suddenly, then, there was a sensation of coming partly awake.
He gazed around him with a rising sense of alarm, looking first of all at his seat companion.
The fellow was big, heavily built. He looked like a police detective, and Gloge knew that the man was his guard. The curious thing was that he was slumped back in the seat, head lolling forward, eyes closed ... typical indications of a tranquilized stupor.
Gloge thought: "Why is he asleep?" He had a strong conviction that it was he who should be unconscious. There was a clear memory of a device — an instrument totally unfamiliar to him — which the Wendell woman had used to implant a complete, compelling set of delusions in his mind. He had come willingly aboard the jet. And he had, at the suggestion of his guard, inhaled enough tranquilizing gas from the seat respirator to have kept him somnolent until the jet touched down in Paris.
Instead, minutes later, he had come awake, the delusions of the day slipping from his mind!
There must be an explanation for these apparently contradictory. events.
The thought ended. A feeling of blankness held him for a moment. Then came a churning wave of terror.
Somewhere a voice had said:
"Yes, Dr. Gloge — there is an explanation for this!"
Slowly, against his every inclination but completely unable to withstand the impulse, Dr. Gloge turned, looked back. There was someone in the seat behind him.
For an instant, it seemed to be a complete stranger. Then the eyes opened. They fixed on him, glowing brilliant demon-blue, even in the muted light of the jet.
The woman spoke, and it was the voice of Barbara Ellington. "We have a problem, Dr. Gloge. There seems to be a group of extra-terrestrials on this planet, and I still do not have any clear idea of what they are doing here. That’s our immediate task — to find out."

“You are where?" Helen Wendell said sharply. Her hand flicked to the right, snapped a switch. A small viewscreen on the right side of the desk lit up. She said, "John — quick!"
In the inner office, John Hammond turned, saw the lit screen on the desk behind him. An instant later he was listening to the words tumbling hoarsely from the telephone speaker on his left. He said to Helen’s tense, pale profile in the screen to the right, "Where is he?"
"At the Des Moines jetport! The Paris jet put down for emergency repairs. Now nobody seems to understand just what was wrong with it or what repairs are needed. But the passengers have been disembarked, are to be transferred to another jet. Arnold’s in a state of confusion and shock. Listen to him!”
"—there was a woman with him," the courier’s voice babbled. "At the time, I thought it was one of the passengers who had come off the jet with us. Now I’m not sure. But I simply stood there and watched the two of them walk out of the hall together. It never occurred to me to ask myself why this woman was with Gloge, or to stop them, or even to wonder where they were going ..."
Hammond twisted a dial, dimming the voice. He spoke to Helen Wendell. “When did the jet come down?"
"From what Arnold said first," Helen told him, "it must have been over half an hour ago! As he puts it, it didn’t occur to him to call us about it until now."
"Half an hour!” Hammond came to his feet. "Helen, drop everything you’re doing! I want an off-planet observer sitting in on this, preferably within minutes.
She gave him a startled look. "What are you expecting?"
"I don’t know what to expect."
She hesitated, began: "The Wardens...”
"Whatever can be done here," Hammond said, "I can do myself. I don’t need anyone else for that. The defense screens on the northern side will go off for exactly forty seconds. Now move!" He snapped off the screen, reached under the desk, threw over another switch.

In the main office, Helen Wendell stared at the blank screen for a moment. Then she jumped to her feet, ran across the room to the entry door, pulled it open and slipped out into the hall. The door swung shut behind her.
Some moments later, John Hammond entered the room behind his private office where Vincent Strather lay enclosed by a trap screen. Hammond went to the wall, turned the trap controls there halfway to the off point.
The screen faded into smoky near-invisibility, and he stared for a few seconds at the shape stretched out on the couch within it. He asked aloud, “There have been no further internal changes?"
"None within the past two hours," the MD machine’s voice said from the wall.
“This form is viable?"
“Yes."
"He would awaken if I released the screen?”
"Yes. Immediately."
Hammond was silent a moment, then asked, "You have calculated the effects of a fourth injection of the serum?"
"Yes," the machine said from the wall.
"In general, what are they?"
"In general," the machine said, "there would be pronounced changes and at an again greatly accelerated rate. The evolutionary trend remains the same, but would be very much advanced. The resultant form would stabilize within twenty minutes. It would again be a viable one."
Hammond turned the trap screen controls full over to the left. The screen darkened once more into a dense, concealing shroud.
It was too soon to make the decision to give the fourth shot. Perhaps — mercifully — it could be avoided altogether.

XIII

At half past ten, the long-distance signal sounded from the telephone screen. Hammond glanced around from the portable control box on the desk, simultaneously pressed the answer button and the stud which would leave him unseen if the caller’s instrument was equipped with a viewscreen, and said, "Go ahead!"
The screen remained dark, but somebody made a gasping sound of relief. “Mr. Hammond!" It was a reedy, quavering voice, but it was distinctly the voice of Dr. Gloge.
There were two sharp clicks from one of the instruments lying on the desk — a signal from Helen Wendell, in the observer boat standing off Earth, that she was recording the conversation.
"Where are you, Doctor?"
"Mr. Hammond ... something terrible ... that creature ... Barbara Ellington —”
"She took you off the jet, I know," Hammond said. “Where are you now?"
"My home — in Pennsylvania."
"She went there with you?"
"Yes. There was nothing I could do."
"Of course not,” Hammond said. "She’s gone now?"
"I don’t know where she is. I took the chance of phoning. Mr. Hammond, there was something I didn’t know, didn’t remember. But she knew. I..."
"You had some Omega serum in that farm laboratory?" Hammond asked.
"I didn’t think of it as that,” Dr. Gloge’s voice told him. “It was an earlier experimental variant — one with impurities which produce a dangerously erratic reaction. I was under the impression I had destroyed my entire stock. But this being knew better! It brought me here, forced me to give it what was left of the serum. The quantity was small —"
"But enough for a standard fourth shot of the series?" Hammond said.
“Yes, yes, it was sufficient for the fourth injection."
"And she has now taken it as an injection?"
Dr. Gloge hesitated, then he said, "Yes. However there is reason to hope that instead of impelling the evolutionary process in what I now regard as a monstrous creature on to its next stage, the imperfect serum will result in its prompt destruction.”
"Perhaps," said Hammond. "But almost since you first launched Barbara Ellington into this process, she appears to have been aware of what was possible to her. I can’t believe she’s made a mistake now."
"I..." Dr. Gloge paused again, went on: "Mr. Hammond, I realize the enormity of what I’ve done. If, in any way, I can help avert the worst consequences, I shall cooperate to the fullest extent. I — "
There was a sharp click as the connection was broken, a pause, then Helen Wendell’s voice whispered into Hammond’s ear, "Do you think Barbara let him make that call, then cut him off?"
"Of course."
Helen made no further comment, simply waited; and presently, softly, Hammond continued: "I think she wants us to know that she’s coming here."
"I think she’s there now," said Helen. “Good-by.”

XIV

John Hammond glanced at the control box on the desk, and saw the flickering indicators. He also saw a wholly unexpected reaction: A condition of non-energy that actually canceled energy.
"Helen," he said. “This woman has gone up somewhere out of our reach! What you’re seeing is energy trying to maintain itself against anti-energy. I received recognition drilling on such things, but I’ve never seen it before in an actual situation."
Helen Wendell, eyes fixed on a duplicate check screen in the distant observer boat, did not reply. A shifting electronic storm was blazing through the check-screen indicators; it showed that the defensive forces enclosing Hammond’s office and living quarters were coming under a swiftly varying pattern of attack... presently that they were being tested almost to the limit.
It held that way for over a minute — every reading almost impossibility high, barely shifting.
"John Hammond!" the desk top said softly to Hammond.
He jerked slightly away, eyes flicking down to it.
"John Hammond!” the chair whispered beside him.
"John Hammond!" "John Hammond!" "John Hammond!" "John Hammond ..."
His name sprang at him from every part of the office, in a swirling, encircling pattern. Because of his special supervisory position, Hammond knew the pattern and its danger. It had never been considered probable, but nevertheless they had taken the possibility into account and so he had outside power available to deal with this emergency.
He looked hurriedly about on the desk for an instrument he had laid down among the others there. For an instant, he seemed unable to recognize it, and there was an icy touch of panic. Then he realized he already held it in his hand. He ran a knob up along its side with his thumb, locked it into place, laid the instrument back on the desk.
A rasping came from it. Not only a sound, but a vibration, a rough, hard shuddering of the nerves. The voice-ghosts sank to a whisper, flowed from the room. Helen Wendell’s tiny, distant voice stabbed at Hammond’s ear like a needle:
"The check screen! She’s leaving!” Hopefully.
"You’re certain?"
"Not really." Alarm whipped at him through Helen’s voice. "What does your screen show?"
"A subjective blur at the moment. It’s clearing.”
"What happened?”
"I think she felt above us and so she took it for granted that she could walk all over us. Accordingly, she’s just had the surprise of her brief existence as a sub-galactic super-woman. She didn’t realize we represent the Great Ones.”
"Is she damaged?”
"Oh, I wouldn’t say that. She’s learned too much. But... details later." Hammond blinked at the check screen, swung around toward the door of the adjoining room, pulled it open.

“Administer the final injection to the subject!” he said sharply into the room. "Acknowledge!"
"The fourth and final injection of the Omega Stimulation series will be administered to the subject,” the machine replied.
"Immediately!"
"Immediately."
Helen’s voice reached Hammond again as he drew the door shut and came back to the desk. "At moments," she said, "the anti-energies were holding the ninety-six point of overload. Within four of the theoretical limit. Did she get to you at the energy balance?"
“Very nearly," Hammond told her. "A very high-energy, pseudo-hypno trick that didn’t quite work. And she’ll be back. I still have something she wants!”
On his desk, the telephone screen blurred. When he turned it on, the voice of Dr. Gloge sounded in his ears.
"We were cut off earlier, Mr. Hammond." The biologist’s voice was strongly even and controlled.
"What happened?" Hammond asked warily.
"Mr. Hammond, I have finally analyzed what evolution really is. The universe is a spectrum. It needs energies in motion at all levels. This is why those at the higher levels do not interfere directly with individual activities at the lower. But this is also why they are concerned when a race reaches the point where it can begin to manipulate large forces."
Hammond said steadily, "Barbara, if the purpose of this call is to find out if I’ll let you in, yes, I will."
A pause, then a click. Then there was a tiny, momentary flickering in one of the check screen indicators. Then, in a different section, another.
"What’s happening?" Helen asked tautly.
Hammond said, "She’s coming through the screens, with my permission."
“Do you think it’s a trick?"
"In a way. For some reason, she hasn’t let herself reach that theoretical, final million-year point on Dr. Gloge’s evolutionary scale. That may come a little later."
"And you’re actually letting her in, believing that?"
"Of course." Helen did not answer him.
A minute went past in silence. Hammond shifted so that he faced the door, moved a few steps away from the control box and the desk, and stood waiting.
A small light burned red in a corner of the check screen. Something had come into the main office.
The heavy silence continued for some seconds. Then, on the hard flooring at the far end of the corridor, Hammond heard footsteps.

He couldn’t have said what he had been expecting ... but certainly nothing so commonplace as the sound of a woman’s high-heeled shoes coming briskly toward the inner office.
She appeared in the doorway, stopped there, looking at him. Hammond said nothing. All outer indications were that this was the Barbara Ellington he had seen sitting in a chair in Dr. Gloge’s office the night before. Nothing had changed either in her looks or in her clothing; even the brown purse she held in one hand seemed the same. Except for the air of radiant vitality, the alertness of her stance, the keen intelligence in her face, this also was, in fact, the awkward, overanxious, lean girl who had worked in the outer office for less than two weeks.
And therefore, Hammond thought it was a phantom! Not a delusion; he was protected now against any attempt to tamper with his mind in that manner by barriers which would break only if he died. The shape standing in the door was real. The instruments recorded it. But it was a shape created for this meeting — not that of Barbara Ellington as she was at this hour.
He was unsure of her intention in assuming it. Perhaps it was designed to throw him off guard.
She came into the room, smiling faintly, and glanced about. Hammond knew then that he hadn’t been mistaken. Something had come in with her ... something oppressive, spine-tingling; a sense of heat, a sense of power.
The curiously brilliant, blue eyes turned toward him; and the smile deepened.
"I’m going to have to test why you’re still here," she said carelessly. “So defend yourself!"
There was no sound; but a cloud of white light filled the air between them, enveloping them; faded; flared silently; faded again. Both stood unmoving, each watching the other. Nothing in the office had changed.
"Excellent!" the woman said. "The mystery behind you begins to reveal itself. I know the quality of your race now, John Hammond. Your science could never control the order of energies that are shielding you mentally and physically here!
"There should be other indications then that in extreme necessity you are permitted to employ devices created by beings greater than yourself — devices which you do not yourself understand. And where would such devices be found at the moment?... Over there, I believe!"
She turned toward the door of the adjoining room, took three steps, and halted. A rose-glowing haze had appeared before the door and the surrounding sections of wall and flooring
“Yes," she said. "That comes from the same source! And here —"
She turned, moved quickly toward the control box on the desk, checked again. A rose haze also enveloped the box now.
"The three points you must consider vital here!” she said nodding. "Yourself, the being in that room and the controls of the section. You may safeguard these at the expense of revealing a secret you would otherwise least want to reveal. Now I think it is time for us to exchange information."
She came back to Hammond, stopped before him.
"I discovered suddenly, John Hammond, that your kind are not native to Earth. You are superior to Earth’s humanity, but not sufficiently superior to explain why you are here. You have an organization on this world. But it is a curious organization. It does not appear to serve the purposes of conqueror or exploiter ... But let’s leave it at that. Don’t try to explain it. It doesn’t matter. You are to release the human male who was to have received the series of serum injections with me. You and the other members of your race stationed here will then remove yourselves promptly from this planet. We have no further use for you."
Hammond shook his head.

We might be forced off the planet,” he said. "But that would make Earth an active danger spot. The Great Galactics whom I represent do have servant races who carry out military assignments for them. It would not be to your advantage if such a race were to occupy or quarantine Earth to make sure that the seedling race here continues to receive the necessary degree of supervision."
"John Hammond," the woman-shape said, "whether the Great Galactics send military servants to Earth or come here themselves is a matter that does not concern me in the least. It would be very unwise of them to do either. Within hours from now, the Omega serum will be available in limitless quantities. Within days, every man, woman, and child of Earth will have gone through the full evolutionary sequence. Do you think Earth’s new humanity could still be supervised by any other race?”
"The Omega serum will never be used again," Hammond said. "I’ll show you why ..."
Hammond turned, went to the control box on the desk. The rose haze faded before him, appeared behind him again. He threw a switch and the haze vanished. He turned away from the controls. “The energy fields that kept you out of that room are being shut off," he said. "In a moment, the door will open. So see for yourself — the barriers are off.”
Except for the blazing blue of the eyes, her face was a cold mask. Hammond thought she must already know what was there. But she turned, went to the open door, and stood looking into the room. Hammond moved to the side of the desk where he could look past her...
The energy trap enclosing the couch in the room had vanished. The dark thing on the couch was just sitting up. It shook its head dazedly, rolled over and came up on all fours.
Its huge, dull-black eyes stared at them for an instant; then it straightened, rose to its full height ...
To a full height of twenty-two inches! It swayed unsteadily on the couch — a hairy little figure with a wide-mouthed, huge-eyed goblin head.
Its eyes blinked in vague recognition. The mouth opened. It cried in a thin, bleating voice:
"Bar-ba-ra!"

XV

The woman wheeled, turning away. She did not look back at the grotesque little figure. But a faint smile touched her lips as she gazed at Hammond. "All right," she said, "there goes my last tie with earth. I accept what you said. I gather that the Omega serum is a unique development and that it hasn’t shown up elsewhere in the galaxy."
“That is not a literal truth," said Hammond.
She nodded toward the adjoining room. "Then perhaps you can tell me what went wrong."
Hammond told her Gloge’s twofold theory: that at this stage of man’s evolution many possibilities remained for evolvement, and that apparently the serum stimulated one of these and thereafter was bound by natural law to follow that line of development.
As he talked, he was watching her, and he was thinking: "This problem isn’t resolved. How are we going to deal with her?"
He sensed an almost incredible strength, an actual, palpable force. It poured from her in a steady stream of power.
He continued tensely: "The Great Galactics, when planting their seed on a new planet, have never interfered with the basic characteristics of the various races that live there. They interject selected bundles of their own genes by grafting into thousands of men and women on every continent. As the generations go by, these bundles intermix by chance with those that are native to the people of the planet. Apparently, the Omega serum stimulates one of these mixtures and carries it forward to whatever it is capable of, which, because of the singularity factor, usually leads to a dead end."
"The singularity factor —?" Her words were a question.
Men, Hammond explained, were born of the union of a man and a woman. No one person carried more than a portion of mankind’s genes. As time passed, the interaction and interrelation of all the genes occurred; the race progressed because billions of chance intermixings of different bundles took place.
In Vince, one such bundle had been stirred, been whipped up to its ultimate point by repeated Omega Stimulation — but evidently that particular bundle had strictly limited possibilities, as would always be the case when a single person was bred, so to speak, with himself ... the singularity factor.
And that was what had happened to Vince and herself. They were products of the most fantastic inbreeding ever attempted — life surviving through one line, a kind of incest carried to some ultimate sterility, fantastic, interesting, freakish.

"You are wrong," said the woman-shape softly. "I am not a freak. So what has happened here is even more improbable than I have realized. In myself, it was the galactic seedling bundle of genes that was stimulated. Now, I understand what it was I contacted out in space. One of them. And he let me. He understood instantly."
She added, "One more question, John Hammond. Omega is an unusual term. What does it mean?”
”... When man becomes one with the ultimate, that is Point Omega."
It seemed to Hammond that, even as he finished speaking, she was growing remote, withdrawing from him. Or was it that it was he who was withdrawing? Not only from her but from everything — drifting away, not in any spatial sense, but, in some curious fashion, away from the reality of the entire universe? The brief thought came that this should be an alarming and disturbing experience. Then the thought itself was forgotten.
"There is something occurring," her voice was telling him. "In the small thing behind the door, the Omega evolutionary process is completed, in its fashion. In me, it is not completed — not quite.
"But it is being completed now …"

He was nowhere and nothing. New word-impressions, new thought impressions came suddenly and swept through him like the patter of rain.
The impressions took form. It was later in time. He seemed to be standing in the small room next to his office, looking down at the lanky, redheaded young man sitting groggily on the edge of the couch holding his head.
"Coming out of it, Vince?" Hammond asked.
Vincent Strather glanced uncertainly up at him, ran his hand over the jagged rent in the sleeve of his jacket.
"I guess so, Mr. Hammond," he muttered. "I... what happened?"
"You went for a drive tonight," Hammond told him, "with a girl named Barbara Ellington. You’d both been drinking. She was driving ... driving too fast. The car went off a highway embankment, turned over several times. Witnesses dragged you to safety minutes before the car burst into flames. The girl was dead. They didn’t attempt to save her body. When the police informed me of the accident, I had you brought here to Research Alpha."
As he spoke, he had the stunning realization that everything he was saying was true. The accident had happened late that evening, in exactly that manner.
"Well..." Vince began. He broke off, sighed, shook his head. "Barbara was an odd girl. A wild one! I was pretty fond of her once, Mr. Hammond. Lately, I’ve been trying to break off with her."
Hammond received the impression that much more had happened. Automatically, he looked back through the open door as the private telephone in the inner office signaled. “Excuse me,” he said to Vince.
As he flicked on the instrument, Helen Wendell’s face appeared on the phone screen. She gave him a brief smile, asked, "How is Strather?"
Hammond didn’t reply at once. He looked at her, feeling cold, eerie crawlings over his scalp. Helen was seated at her desk in the outer office. She was not in a spaceboat standing off the planet.
He heard himself say, "He’s all right. There is very little emotional shock ... How about you?"
"I’m disturbed by Barbara’s death," Helen admitted. “But now I have Dr. Gloge on the phone. He’s quite anxious to talk to you."
Hammond said, "All right. Put him on."
"Mr. Hammond,” Dr. Gloge’s voice said a moment later, "this is in connection with the Point Omega Stimulation project. I’ve been going over all my notes and conclusions on these experiments, and I’m convinced that once you understand the extraordinary dangers which might result if the details of my experiments became known, you will agree that the project should be closed out and any records referring to it destroyed at once."
After switching off the phone, he remained for a while at the desk.

So that part of the problem also had been solved! The last traces of the Omega serum were being wiped out, would soon linger only in his mind.
And for how long there? Perhaps no more than two or three hours, John Hammond decided. The memory pictures were paling; he had a feeling that sections of them already had vanished. And there was an odd, trembling uncertainty about what was left... thin, colored mind-canvas being tugged by a wind which presently would carry it off —
He had no objections, Hammond told himself. He had seen one of the Great Ones, and it was not a memory that it was good for a lesser being to have.
Somehow, it hurt to be so much less.
He must have slept. For he awoke suddenly. He felt vaguely bewildered, for no reason that he could imagine.
Helen came in, smiling. "Don’t you think it’s time we closed up for the night. You’re working too long hours again."
"You’re right," Hammond nodded.
He got up and went into the room next to the office to tell Vincent Strather he was free to go home.


2. CARTHING

Carthing was not one of your neurotic kind. He was not always asking, “Who am I? Where do I come from? What is life?"
Carthing was simply what he was, a big male Buick who could think and feel and who was always looking for an opportunity.
As he drove along on this particular afternoon, he saw a dainty, perky Citroen on the street ahead. Instantly stimulated, Carthing blew his horn at her and accelerated. But the smaller car made a quick left turn, as the light changed, and was gone.
Carthing, who had come to a screeching halt, sat with huge motor tugging against the power brake. But he was cynical now. “These foreign makes,” he thought, "want the American way of life, but they cling to their quick, darting European attitudes.”
And so, as the light turned green, instead of pursuing the Citroen, Carthing in his disillusionment with unAmerican-ism, drove straight forward.
He saw the Chevrolet, as it was backing out of a huge door. Carthing could not help but observe its over-sized, luxury, leadership look. In a flash, he noted that there was a huge male truck parked at the curb, so placed that it would block the smaller machine from getting by easily.
Carthing tooted his horn defiantly, accelerated to the near corner, and made a U-turn. He had eagerly anticipated that this maneuver would bring him headlight to headlight with the radiant Chevy.
Instead, to his shocked dismay, he saw that she was climbing right up onto the big truck.
It was too much for Carthing’s simple philosophy: “God, let me be the one that wins!"
In a moment of blinding jealousy, he stepped all the way down on the gas ... He struck at 80 miles an hour …

The man who had started loading Chevrolets onto a trailer truck stared at the shiny wreck and then called his supervisor.
“Just came out of nowhere,” he said, "and crashed head-on into the nose of Big Joe here.” He indicated the gigantic truck with a wave of his thumb.
"And there was no one in it?”
"Not a soul.”
"Well—” said the supervisor, after a moment’s thought, “it’s well known that these eager, fun-loving new Buicks practically drive themselves. I guess one of them finally believed it."


3. THE REFLECTED MEN

I

Time, 5:10 P.M.
The crystal was less than fifteen minutes from reactivation.

To Edith Price, the well-dressed young man, who came into her library was typical of the summer visitors to Harkdale. They lived apart from the townspeople, of whom she was now one. She wrote down his name — Seth Mitchell. And, assuming he wanted a temporary library card, she pushed the application form across the counter toward him.
It was only when he thrust it back, impatiently, that she actually for the first time listened to what he was saying.
Then she said, ’Oh, what you want is a piece of crystal!’
’Exactly,’ he said. I want returned to me a small stone which I presented to the museum part of the library some years ago.’
Edith shook her head. ’I’m sorry. The museum room is being reorganized. It’s closed to the public. I’m sure no action will be taken about anything in it until the job is done, and even then Miss Davis, the librarian, will have to authorize it. And it’s her day off today, so you can’t even talk to her.’
’How long will it take — to reorganize?’
’Oh, several weeks,’ said Edith casually.
The effect of her words on the man — so clean-cut, so typical of the well-dressed, successful men she had known in New York — startled her. He became very pale, mumbled something indistinguishable, and when he turned away, it was as if some of the life had gone out of him.
Staring at the retreating figures of library patrons was not something Edith was normally motivated to do. But his reaction was so extreme that she watched him as he walked unsteadily off toward the main entrance of the library. At the door a squat, thick-built man joined him. The two men conversed briefly, then went out together. Moments later Edith caught a glimpse of them through a window, getting into a brand-new Cadillac. Seth Mitchell slid in behind the wheel.
The costly automobile, and the fact that another man was involved, gave importance to an otherwise minor incident. Edith slipped off her stool, making suitable gestures to Miss Tilsit. Very openly she secured the key to the women’s rest room as she covertly palmed the key to the museum room —and went off.
A few moments later she was examining the display of stones.

There were about thirty altogether. According to the sign beside them, they had long ago been the result of a drive among local boys to find valuable minerals and gems. Edith had no difficulty in locating the one the young man had wanted. It was the one under which a faded card announced: `Donated by Seth Mitchell and Billy Bingham’.
She slid back the side of the case, reached in carefully, and took it out. It was obvious to her that very little discrimination had been used in the selection. The forces that had fashioned this stone seemed to have been too impatient. The craftsmanship was uneven. The result was a stone about two and a half inches long by one and a half inches wide at its thickest; a brownish, rocklike stuff which, though faceted, did not reflect light well. It was by far the dullest-looking of the stones in the display.
Gazing down at the drab, worthless stone, Edith thought: Why don’t I just take it to his hotel after work tonight, and bypass all the red tape?
Meaning Miss Davis, her enemy.
Decisively, she removed the names of the two donors from the case. After all these years, the label was stuck on poorly, and the yellowed paper tore to shreds. She was about to slip the stone into her pocket, when she sadly realized she was wearing that dress — the one without pockets.
Oh, damn! she thought cheerfully.
Since the stone was too big to conceal in her hand, she carried it through the back corridors, and was about to toss it into the special wastebasket which was used for heavy debris, when she noticed that a broken flowerpot half full of dirt was also in the basket. Beside the dirt was a paper bag.
It required only seconds to slip the crystal into the bag, empty the dirt on top of it, and shove the bag down into the basket. She usually had the job of locking up the build­ing, so it would be no problem to pick up the bag at that time and take it with her.
Edith returned to her desk....
And the stone began at once to utilize the sand in the dirt on top of it, thus resuming a pattern that had been suspended for twenty-five years. During the rest of the evening, and in fact all through that night, all the possible Seth Mitchells on earth remembered their childhood. The majority merely smiled, or shrugged, or stirred in their sleep. Most of those who lived outside the Western Hemisphere in distant time zones presently resumed their normal activities.
But a few, everywhere, recalling the crystal, could not quite let the memory go.

At the first slack period after filching the stone, Edith leaned over and asked Miss Tilsit, ’Who is Seth Mitchell?’
Tilsit was a tall, too-thin blond with horn-rimmed glasses behind which gleamed unusually small but very alert gray eyes. Edith had discovered that Tilsit had a vast, even though superficial, knowledge of everything that had ever happened in Harkdale.
’There were two of them,’ said Tilsit. ’Two boys, Billy Bingham and Seth Mitchell.’
Thereupon, with visible relish, Tilsit told the story of the disappearance of Billy twenty-five years before, when he and his chum, Seth Mitchell, were only twelve years old.
Tilsit finished, ’Seth claimed they had been fighting over a piece of bright stone that they had found. And he swore that they were at least fifty feet from the cliff that overlooks the lake at that point, and so he always insisted Billy didn’t drown — which is what everyone else believed. What confused the situation was that Billy’s body was never recovered.’
As she listened to the account, Edith tried to put together the past and the present. She couldn’t imagine why an adult Seth Mitchell would want a reminder of such an unhappy experience. Still, men were funny. That she knew, after wait­ing five years for a worthwhile male to come along and find her. So far she seemed to be as well hidden and unsearched for in Harkdale as she had been in New York.
Tilsit was speaking again. ’Kind of odd, what happens to people. Seth Mitchell was so crushed by his friend’s death that he just became a sort of shadow human being. He’s got a farm out toward Abbotsville.’
Edith said sharply, ’You mean Seth Mitchell became a farmer?’
’That’s the story.’
Edith said nothing more, but made a mental note that perhaps Tilsit was not as good a source of local information as she had formerly believed. Whatever Mitchell was, he hadn’t looked like a farmer!
She had to go and check out some books at that point, and so the thought and the conversation ended.

II

A few minutes after nine-thirty, Edith parked her car across the street from the entrance to the motel in which — after some cruising around — she had spotted Seth Mitchell’s distinctive gold Cadillac.
It was quite dark under the tree where she waited, and that was greatly relieving. But even in the secure darkness, she could feel her heart thumping and the hot flush in her cheeks. She asked herself, ’What am I doing this for?’
She had the self-critical belief that she was hoping this would end up in a summer romance. Which was pretty ridicu­lous for a woman twenty-seven years old, who — if she shifted her tactic from waiting to pursuing — ought to concentrate on genuine husband material.
Her thought ended abruptly. From where she sat, she could see the door of the cabin beside which the Cadillac was parked. The door had opened. Silhouetted in the light from the interior was the short, squat man she had seen with Mitchell that afternoon. As Edith involuntarily held her breath, the man came out and closed the door behind him.
He emerged from the main motel entrance, stood for a moment, and then walked rapidly off toward the business section of Harkdale, only minutes away.
And only minutes back, she thought glumly.
Watching him, her motivation dimmed. Somehow, she had not considered the short, heavy-set man as being really associated with Seth Mitchell.
Defeated, she started her motor. As she drove home, she suddenly felt degraded, not by what she had done, but by what she suspected she had intended to do.
What her future path should be was not clear to her. But not this way, she told herself firmly.
Arrived at her apartment, Edith shoved the bag containing the crystal into the cupboard under her sink, ate apathetically, and went to bed.

And in the motel, the squat man returned, scowling. ’The stone wasn’t there. I searched the whole museum,’ he told Seth Mitchell, who lay on one of the beds, gagged and bound hand and foot.
Seth Mitchell watched uneasily as the other untied his feet. The man said impatiently, ’I’ve been thinking about you. Maybe the best thing is just to drive you back to New York. Once I get away, the police’ll never find me again.’
He removed the gag. The younger man drew a deep breath. ’Look,’ he protested, ’I won’t even go near the police.’
He stopped, blank and afraid, and choked back a surge of grief. The possibility that he might be killed was an idea that his brain could contemplate only for a few moments. Not Seth Mitchell, who had all those good things going for him, finally, after years of finagling around the edges of success!
The squat man had come up to him in his office parking lot at noon that day, smiling deceptively, a short man — not more than five-feet-four — and stocky. He looked, in his gray­ness, like an Arab. A well-dressed Arab in an American business suit. As he came up, he said, ’Where is the crystal you and Billy Bingham found?’
What might have happened if Seth had instantly answered was, of course, now impossible to analyze. But he did not immediately remember the crystal, so he had shaken his head.
Whereupon the man took his hand out of his coat pocket. A pistol glittered in it. Under the threat of that gun, Seth had driven to Harkdale, had shown the stranger the ledge beside Lake Naragang where he and Billy had fought. And it was there, on the spot, that he recalled the crystal; and so he had reluctantly gone to the library, aware of the weapon behind him all the time that he talked to the young woman at the desk.
Abruptly remembering that conversation, Seth said desper­ately, ’Maybe that woman librarian — ’
’Maybe!’ said the other noncommittally.
He untied Seth’s hands, and then stepped back, motioning with the gun. They went out to the car and drove off.
As they came opposite the lake, the man said, Pull over!’ After Seth complied, the shot rang out, and the murder was done.
The killer dragged the body to a cliff overlooking the lake, tied rocks to it, and dumped it into the deep water below.
He actually drove on to New York, left the car in Seth’s parking lot, and after spending the night in New York, prepared to return to Harkdale.
During that night Edith slept restlessly, and dreamed that all possible Edith Prices marched past her bed. Only half a dozen of those Ediths were married, and even in her dream that shocked her.
Worse, there was a long line of Edith Prices who ranged from fat to blowsy to downright shifty-eyed and mentally ill. However, several of the Ediths had a remarkable high-energy look, and that was reassuring.
Edith woke to the sound of the phone ringing. It was the library caretaker. ’Hey, Miss Price, better get down here. Somebody broke in last night.’
Edith had a strange, unreal feeling. ’Broke into the library?’ she asked.
`Yep. Biggest mess is in the museum. Whoever it was musta thought some of the stones in there were the real stuff, because they’re scattered all over the floor.’

III

To Edith Price, the lean young man in overalls was just another inarticulate farmer.
She wrote down his name — Seth Mitchell. A moment went by, and then the name hit her. She looked up, startled.
The haunted face that stared back at her was sun- and wind-burned, with gaunt cheeks and sick eyes. Nevertheless, the man bore a sensational resemblance to the Seth Mitchell of yesterday, it seemed to Edith.
She thought, a light dawning: This is the Seth Mitchell that Tilsit knew about! There must be a Mitchell clan, with cousins and such, who were lookalikes.
Her mind was still fumbling over the possibilities when she realized the import of the words he had mumbled. Edith echoed, ’A stone! A crystal that you presented to the library museum twenty-five years ago!’
He nodded.
Edith, compressing her lips, thought: All right, let’s get to the bottom of this!
During the moments of her confusion, the man had gotten a bill out of his billfold. As he held it out to her, she saw that it was twenty dollars.
She had recovered her self-control, and said now, con­versationally, ’That’s a lot of money for a worthless rock.’
’It’s the one I want,’ he muttered. She didn’t hear several of the words that followed, but then he said clearly, ’. . . the time Billy disappeared.’
There was silence while Edith absorbed the impact of the notion that here indeed was the original Seth Mitchell.
She encouraged him, finally, ’I’ve heard about Billy A very unusual incident.’
Seth Mitchell said, ’I yelled at him to get away, and he vanished.’ He spoke tautly. His eyes were an odd, discolored gray from remembered shock. He spoke, again: ’We both grabbed at it. Then he was gone.’
He seemed only dimly aware of her presence. He went on, and it was as if he were half-talking to himself, ’It was so shiny. Not like it became later. It went all drab, and nobody would believe me.’
He paused. Then, intently, ’All these years I’ve been think­ing. I’ve been awful slow to see the truth. But last night it came to me. What else could have made Billy disappear when I called him? What else but the stone?’
Edith decided uneasily that this was a problem for a psychiatrist, not a librarian. It struck her that the simplest solution would be to give this Seth Mitchell the worthless rock he wanted.
But of course that would have to be carefully done. Her one indiscretion so far had been her questioning of Tilsit the day before — asking about Seth Mitchell. Throughout the police investigation of the breaking and entering of the library museum, she had maintained a careful silence about her own involvement.
So the sooner she got rid of the stone in her kitchen, the better.
’If you’ll give me your address,’ she requested gently, ’I’ll ask the head librarian, and perhaps she’ll get in touch with you.’
The address he reluctantly gave her was a rural route out of Abbotsville.
She watched him then, wondering a little, as she shuffled off to the door and outside.
On her way home that night, Edith drove by way of the motel. The gold Cadillac was gone.
So that little madness was over, she thought, relieved.

She had her usual late dinner. Then, after making sure the apartment door was locked, she took the paper bag from under the sink — and noticed at once, uneasily, that there was less dirt in the bag.
A momentary fear came that the stone would be gone. She spread a newspaper and hastily emptied the bag, dirt and all, onto it. As the earth tumbled out, a brilliance of color flashed at her.
Wonderingly, she picked up the beautiful gem.
’But it’s impossible,’ she whispered. ’That was dull. This is — beautiful!’
It glittered in her hand. The purple color was all alive, as if thousands of moving parts turned and twisted inside it. Here and there in its depths a finger of light stirred up a nest of scarlet fire. The crisscross of color and flame flickered so brightly that Edith felt visually stunned.
She held it up against the light — and saw that there was a design inside.
Somebody had cut a relief map of the solar system into the interior of the stone, and had colored it. It was quite a good example — it seemed to Edith — of the cutter’s art. The purple-­and-red overall effect seemed to derive from the play of light through the coloring of the tiny ’sun’ and its family of planets.
She took the stone back to the sink. There was a fantasy in her mind, she realized, in which she pictured the jewel as having magical powers. Remembering what the farmer Seth Mitchell had said, about yelling at Billy Bingham in the presence of the stone . . . maybe the sound of a human voice would have an effect . . .
She tried that right away, speaking words.
Nothing happened. The picture remained unchanged. She spelled words, articulating each letter.
Nothing.
She ran the gamut of sounds possible in her own voice from a low contralto to a ridiculously piercing soprano — nothing!
Once more, she noticed the design inside, and held the stone up against the light to see it better. And she was visually tracing the outline of the solar system in the crystal when she had a sudden thought and, with abrupt determination, said in a clear voice: ’Billy Bingham — the boy — I want him back ... now!’
After she had spoken, during the silent moments that followed, she felt progressively foolish.
Of the long-missing Billy, there was no sign.
Thank God! she thought, breathless.

Edith rose early the next morning; her mind was made up. It was time she got rid of something that was threatening to undermine her good sense.
As she looked at the crystal, she saw that the interior scene had changed. It was now a human body outlined in purple and red points of light.
The outline, she saw presently, was actually extremely detailed, showing the bone structure and the principal organs. There was even a faint flow which suffused the shape, suggest­ing a fine mask of nerves and blood vessels.
She was examining it, absorbed, when abruptly she realized what she was doing.
Firmly, she put the stone into a small box, filled it with new soil — crystals, she had read, needed nutrients — wrapped it, and addressed it to Seth Mitchell, Rural Route 4, Abbots-vine.
Shortly, she was driving to the post office. It was not until after she had mailed the package that her first realization came that she had done it again. Once more she had acted on impulse.
Too late, the cautioning thought came: Suppose Seth Mitchell wrote the library a note of thanks. Unhappily, she contemplated Miss Davis’ joy at the discomfiture of the college graduate who had been forced upon her by the library board. It would be impossible to explain how the flame of romantic compulsion had motivated her to steal the crystal . . . and how once that possibility faded, her only desire had been to dispose of the evidence; which she had now done.
Edith had a sudden grieving thought: Why don’t I just get on the next bus to New York and leave this crazy little town forever?
It was an extremely depressing moment. The feeling she had was of an endless series of similar wrong decisions in her life. She sat there in her car at the curb, and thought of that first young man at college. A long-hidden memory burst into view, of how she had actually lost him through an impulse, she had been caught by the God-is-dead-so-now­-you’re-God movement, in which what you did to other people no longer mattered; you didn’t have to feel guilty.
In her self-pitying mood, it struck her with abrupt anguish: If I hadn’t joined the guilt-free generation, right now I would be Mrs Richard Staples.
The realization reminded her of her dream, and that unique remembrance escalated her out of her apathy. What an odd concept. Involuntarily, she laughed, and thought: Sending the crystal to the least of all possible Seth Mitchells had not been good sense.
Thinking about that, her fear faded. How funny! And what an odd dream to have had.
How could one ever know what way was best, what deci­sion, what philosophy, how much exercise? And, best for what?

Edith was already at her desk in the library when Tilsit came in with the look on her face. In her six months in Harkdale, Edith had come to recognize Tilsit’s expression of `I’ve-got-­special-information’.
’Did you see the paper?’ Tilsit asked triumphantly.
Edith presumed the paper referred to was the Harkdale Inquirer, a daily of four pages. She herself still read the Times, though she loyally subscribed to the local sheet.
’Remember you asking me the other day about a man called Seth Mitchell?’ Tilsit asked.
Edith remembered only too well, but she put on a blank face.
Tilsit unfolded the paper in her hands and held it up. The headline was: BILLY BINGHAM FOUND?
Edith reached automatically, and Tilsit handed the paper to her. Edith read:

’A twelve-year-old boy staggered out of the brush near Lake Naragang shortly after ten o’clock last night and tried to enter the house where Billy Bingham lived twenty-five years ago. The present tenant, John Hildeck, a carpenter, took the bewildered youngster to the police station. From there he was transported to the hospital.

That was as far as Edith read. Her body bent to one side, her arms flopped limply. She stooped over, and the floor crashed into her.
When she came out of her faint on the cot in the rest room, the remembrance was still there, bright and hard and improbable, of how she had commanded the crystal to bring back Billy Bingham, somewhere between nine and ten the previous night,

IV

In Miami.
The Seth Mitchell in that singing city had a private vocabulary in which he called God (or, as he sometimes thought of Him, Nature or Fate) the ’Musician’. In this exclusive terminology, his life had been tuneful, and the music a symphony, or at least a concerto.
Somebody up there evidently regarded him as a suitable instrument.
For he had money, girl friends, a fabulous career as a gambler on the edge of the underworld — all without restric­tions, for his orchestra was well disciplined and responsive to his baton. Not bad for a small-town boy who had not learned the melodies of city life till he was over twenty.
But now, suddenly, the Musician had sounded a sour note.
Mitchell had in his hand the Harkdale Inquirer, in which was the account of the return of Billy Bingham.
He studied the newspaper’s photograph of a frightened-looking boy who did seem to be about twelve years old. It looked like Billy Bingham, and it didn’t. Mitchell was sur­prised that he wasn’t sure. The Inquirer apologized for having lost its photocut of the real Billy, and explained that Billy’s parents had moved to Texas — it was believed. No one knew where.
The news story concluded: ’The only other person who could likely identify the claimant is Seth Mitchell, Billy’s boyhood chum. Mitchell’s present address is unknown.’
Mitchell though, sarcastically: The Inquirer ought to examine its out-of-state subscription list.

The next day.
As he walked into room 312 of the Harkdale hospital, he saw that the youngster in the bed to the right of him was putting down his magazine, and looking frightened. Mitchell said with a reassuring smile, ’Billy, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m here as your friend.’
The boy said uneasily, ’That’s what the big man told me, and then he got nasty.’
Mitchell didn’t ask who the big man was. There was a chair near the bed. He drew it up, and said gently, ’Billy, what seems to have happened to you is almost like a fairy story. But the most important thing is that you mustn’t worry.’
Billy bit his lip, and a tear rolled down his cheek. ’They’re treating me as if I’m lying. The big man said I’d be put in jail if I didn’t tell the truth.’
Mitchell’s mind leaped back to the days when he had been questioned by just such impatient individuals about the disappearance of Billy. His lips tightened. He said, ’Nothing is going to happen if I can help it. But I’d like to ask you a few questions that maybe nobody else thought of. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. How does that strike you?’
’Okay.’
Mitchell took that for a go-ahead signal. ’What kind of clothes was Seth wearing?’
’Brown corduroy pants and a gray shirt.’
The reality gave Mitchell his first disappointment. He had hoped the description would jog his memory. It didn’t. Of all the reality of that distant day, he had not been able to recall what particular pair of ragged trousers he had had on.
’You wore corduroys also?’ It was a shot in the dark. ’They’re in there.’ The boy pointed at the chest in one corner.
Mitchell stood up, opened the indicated drawer, and lifted out a skimpy pair of cheap corduroys. He examined them shamefacedly, but with an eye to detail. He put them back, finally, disappointed. The identifying label had been torn off. He couldn’t remember ever having seen them before.
Twenty-five years, he thought drearily. The time was like a thick veil with a few tattered holes in it. Through the holes, he could catch glimpses of his past, mere instants out of his life, each one illuminated because of a particular momentary impact, and none actually fully visible.
’Billy.’ Mitchell was back in the chair, intent. ’You men­tioned trying to grab a shining stone. Where did you first see it?’
’On the ledge. There’s a path that come up from the lake.’
’Had you come up that way before?’
The other shook his head. ’A few times, when it was cold, Usually Seth and I liked to stay near the water.’
Mitchell nodded. He remembered that. ’This bright stone you saw — how big was it?’
’Oh, it was big.’
’An inch?’
’Bigger. Five inches, I’ll betcha.’ Billy’s face was bright with certainty.
Mitchell paused to argue out the error of that with himself. The stone had been roughly two and a half inches at its longest, and somewhat narrower and thinner. A boy who had had only a glimpse would not be the best judge of its size.
The reasoning made Mitchell uneasy. He was making excuses where there should be none allowed. He hesitated. He wanted to find out if Billy had actually touched the crystal, but he didn’t quite know how he should lead up to the question. He began, ’According to what you told the paper, you admitted that your chum — what’s his name?’ He waited.
’Seth. Seth Mitchell.’
’— Seth Mitchell saw the stone first. But you still tried to get it, didn’t you?’
The boy swallowed. ’I didn’t mean any harm.’
Mitchell had not intended to imply moral disapproval. He said hastily, ’It’s all right, Billy. When I was a boy, it was the guy who got a thing that owned it. None of this seeing-first stuff for us.’ He smiled.
Billy said, ’I only wanted to be the one who gave it to the museum.’
The thunder of that vibrated through Mitchell’s mind. ’Of course,’ he thought, ’now I remember.’
He even realized why he had forgotten. The museum-library had accepted the stone, which had become dull during the days he had carried it in his pocket, with reluctance. The librarian had murmured something about not discouraging small boys. With those words she had discouraged him so completely that he had needed an actual naming of the fact to remember it.
It was hard to believe an impostor would have such detailed recollections. And yet, that meant that Billy Bingham, when he disappeared, had —
His brain poised, stopped by the impossibility of this situation. His own doctor had already told him that mental disturbances, such as this boy had, were usually traced to an overactive imagination.
Mitchell drew a deep breath. ’All right. Now, two more questions. What time of day was it?’
’Seth and I went swimming after school,’ said Billy. `So it was late afternoon.’
’Okay. According to the paper, it wasn’t until nearly ten when you got back to your house. Where were you from four-thirty in the afternoon till ten o’clock at night?’
’I wasn’t anywhere,’ said Billy. ’Seth and I were fighting over the stone. I fell. And when I picked myself up, it was pitch dark.’ He was suddenly tearful. ’I don’t know what happened. I guess he just left me lying there, somehow.’
Mitchell climbed to his feet, thinking suddenly: This is ridiculous. I ought to have my head examined.
Nevertheless, he paused at the door and flung one more question toward the bed, ’Has anyone else called you — besides the police, I mean, and the big man, and me?’
’Just a woman from the library.’
’Library?’ Mitchell echoed blankly.
’She wanted to know the exact time I woke up beside the lake. Her name is Edith Price, and she works in the library. Of course, I didn’t know.’
It seemed meaningless. Mitchell said quickly, simulating a friendliness he no longer felt, ’Well, Billy, I guess I’d better let you get back to your comic book. Thanks a lot.’
He went out of the room and out of the hospital. He paid his bill at the hotel, got into his rented car, drove to the airport, and flew back to Miami. But the time the plane landed, the old, disturbing music from his childhood had faded from his mind.
It seemed to Mitchell that the Musician had let him down. To ensure that it never happened again, he resolved to cancel his subscription to the Harkdale Inquirer,

In Chicago.
Seth Mitchell (of the Seth Mitchell Detective Agency) stared at the man who had just walked into his office as if he was seeing a hallucination. Finally he blinked and said: ’Am I crazy?’
The stranger, a well-set-up young man in his mid-thirties, sat down in the visitor’s chair, and said with an enigmatic smile, ’The resemblance is remarkable, isn’t it?’
He spoke in a firm baritone; and except that Mitchell knew better, he would have sworn it was his own voice.
In fact, afterward, in telling Marge Aikens about the visitor, he confessed, ’I keep feeling that it was me sitting there.’
But what did he want?’ Marge asked. She was a slim blond, taking her first look at thirty, and taking it well; Mitchell intended to marry her someday when he could find another associate as efficient. ’What did he look like?’
"Me. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. He was my spitting image. He even wore a suit that reminded me of one I’ve got at home.’ He pleaded uneasily, ’Don’t be too hard on me, Marge. I went to pieces. It’s all vague.’
’Did he give you his address?’
Mitchell looked down unhappily at the interview sheet; ’It’s not written down!’
’Did he say if he intended to come to the office again?’
’No, but he gave me this thousand dollars in bills, and I gave him a receipt. So we’re committed.’
’To what?’
’That’s the silliest part of it. He wants me to find an onyx crystal. He says he saw it quite a while back in a small-town museum south of New York. He can’t remember just where.’
’That’s going to be either very hard or very easy.’ Marge was thoughtful; she seemed to be considering the problem involved.
’Let me finish,’ said Mitchell grimly. ’I know where that crystal is. Just think of what I said. I know, that region like a book. I was born there, remember?’
’It had slipped my mind,’ said Marge. ’You think you can locate the crystal because—’
Mitchell said, ’It’s in the museum annex of the public library in the town of Harkdale, where I was born. And now — get this. I presented that crystal to the library, and, what’s even more amazing, I dreamed about that stone the other night.’
Marge did not let him get off the subject. ’And he came to you? Out of the scores of detective agencies in Chicago, he came to the one man in the world who looks like him and who knows where that crystal is?’
’He came to me.’
Marge was pursing her beautiful lips. ’Seth, this is fantastic. You shouldn’t have let him get away. You’re usually so sharp.’
’Thanks.’ Dryly.
’Why didn’t you tell him where it is?’
’And lose a thousand dollars? My dear, a detective is some­times like a doctor. People pay him for information he already has.’
Marge held out her hand. ’Let me see that interview sheet.’ As she read it, she said without looking up, ’What are you going to do?’
’Well, I told him the truth, that I’ve got several days of workload to get rid of; and then —’
He fell silent, and the silence grew so long, the woman finally looked up. She was relieved at the expression she saw on his face, for it was the shrewd, reasoning look that was always there when he was at his detective best.
He caught her glance, said, ’It would be a mistake to appear in Harkdale until three or four mysteries have been cleared up. Like, how come there’s two of us.’
’You have no relations?’
’Some cousins.’
’Ever see them?’
He shook his head. ’Not since I was around nineteen, when my mother died.’ He smiled grimly. ’Harkdale is not a town one goes back to. But scotch that thought you’ve got. None of my cousins looked like me.’ He shuddered. ’Ugh, no.’
Marge said firmly, ’I think when you do finally go, you ought to be disguised.’
’You may count on it!’ was the steely reply. ’This calls for all our ingenuity.’

Elsewhere on earth, about two dozen of the total of 1,811 Seth Mitchells — among whom was the best of all possible Seth Mitchells — also considered the crystal, remembered their dreams of a few nights earlier, and had a strange, tense conviction of an imminent crisis.
As the Seth Mitchell in Montreal, Canada, described it to his French-Canadian wife, ’I can’t get over the feeling that I’m going to have to measure up. Remember, I mentioned that to you when I awakened the other morning.’
His wife, a pretty blond who had a French-Canadian woman’s practical contempt for such fantasies, remembered it well, and wanted to know, measure up to what?
Her husband said unhappily, ’I have a feeling I could have made better decisions, made more of myself. I am not the man I could have been.’
’So what?’ she wanted to know, Who is? And what of it?’
’Kaput. That’s what’s of it.’
’How do you mean?’ sharply.
’Kaput.’ He shrugged. `I’m sorry to be so negative, my dear. But that’s the feeling. Since I didn’t measure up, I’m through.’
His wife sighed. ’My mother warned me that all men get crazy ideas as they approach forty. And here you are.’
’I should have been braver, or something,’ he moaned.
`What’s wrong with being a tax consultant?’ she demanded: Her husband seemed not to hear, ’I have a feeling I ought to visit my hometown.’ He spoke in an anxious tone.
She grabbed his arm. ’You’re going straight to Dr Ledoux,’ she said. ’You need a checkup.’
Dr Ledoux could find nothing wrong. ’In fact, you seem to be in exceptionally good health.’
The Seth Mitchell of Montreal had to concede that his sudden alarm was pretty ridiculous.
But he decided to visit Harkdale as soon as he cleared up certain business.

V

The man’s voice came suddenly, with a slight foreign accent, `Miss Price, I want to talk to you.’
In the darkness, Edith saw the speaker, and saw that he stood in the shadows between the garage and the rooming house where she lived, barring her way,
Seeing him, she stopped short.
Before she could speak, the voice continued, ’What did you do with the crystal?’
’I — don’t — understand.’
She spoke the words automatically. She could see her interrogator more clearly now, He was short and broad of build. Abruptly, she recognized him as the man who had been with the Seth Mitchell look-alike in the gold Cadillac.
’Miss Price, you removed that crystal from the display cabinet. Either give it to me or tell me what you did with it, and that’ll be the end of the matter.’
Edith had the tense feeling of a person who has acted unwisely and who therefore cannot possibly make any admis­sions, not even to a stranger.
’I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she half-whispered.
’Look, Miss Price.’ The man stepped out of the shadows. His tone was conciliatory. ’Let’s go into your apartment and talk this over.’
His proposal was relieving. For her apartment was only a little suite in a rooming house in which the other tenants were never more than a wall away,
Incredibly — afterward she thought of it as incredible she was instantly trusting, and started past him, unsuspecting, And so the surprise as he grabbed her was total. One of his arms engulfed both her arms and body. Simultaneously, he put a hard, unyielding palm over her mouth and whispered, ’I’ve got a gun!’
Half-paralyzed by that threat, she was aware of her captor carrying her toward the back alley. And she allowed him to shove her into a car that was parked against a fence.
He climbed in beside her, and sat there in the almost dark of the night, gazing at her. It was too dark to see the expres­sion on his face. But as the seconds went by, and he made no threatening move, her heart slowed in its rapid beating, and she finally gasped, ’Who are you? What do you want?’
The man chuckled satirically and said, ’I’m the worst of all possible Athtars from the thirty-fifth century: He chuckled again, more grimly. ’But I turned out to have a high survival faculty.’
His voice tightened. ’Where I come from, I’m a physicist. I sensed my danger, and I analyzed a key aspect of the nature of the crystal in record time. In dealing with human beings, it operates on the vibrations a body puts forth from all its cells. In re-creating that vibration, it creates the person. Conversely, in canceling the vibration, it uncreates him. Recog­nizing this — and since I was not its orientation in my era — I simply put up a barrier on the total vibration level of my own body, and thus saved my life when it uncreated all the lesser Athtars.’
The man added somberly, But evidently, by defeating it, I remained attached to it on some other level. As it fell back through time to the twentieth century, I fell with it. Not — unfortunately — to where and when it went. Instead, I arrived last week beside that ledge overlooking Lake Naragang.’
He finished in a wondering tone, ’What a remarkable, intricate internal energy-flow system it must have. Imagine! In passing through time it must have detected this twenty-five-year inactive period, and its reawakening, and dropped me off within days of its own reactivation.’
The voice became silent; and there was the darkness again. Edith ventured a small movement; she changed her position on the seat to ease a growing discomfort in one leg. When there was no countermovement from him, she whispered, ’Why are you telling me this? It all sounds perfectly mad!’
Even as she uttered the stereotype, she realized that a quality of equal madness in herself believed every word that he had spoken. She thought in a spasm of self-criticism: I really must be one of the lesser Edith Prices. She had to fight to suppress an outburst of hysterical laughter.
’From you,’ said the worst of all possible Athtars, ’I want information.’
’I don’t know anything about a crystal.’
’The information I want,’ said the man in an inexorable voice, ’is this: At any time recently have you had a thought about wishing you had taken a different path in life instead of ending up in Harkdale as a librarian?’
Edith’s mind flashed back to her series of impulses after she had mailed the crystal — and back farther to some of the times she had thought about in that moment. ’Why, yes,’ she breathed.
’Tell me about one of them,’ said the man.
She told him of the thoughts she had had of just getting on a bus or train and leaving.
In the darkness the man leaned back in the seat. He seemed surprisingly relaxed. He said with a chuckle, ’Are you the best of all possible Edith Prices?’
Edith made no reply. She was beginning to have the feeling that perhaps she could confide in this man; should tell him where the crystal was.
Athtar was speaking again: ’I have a conviction that the Edith Price who is the twentieth-century orientation for the crystal is on that bus, or is heading for safety somewhere else. And that therefore you are under the same threat as I am — of being uncreated as soon as the crystal selects the perfect Edith Price.’
For Edith, terror began at that moment.
During the minutes that followed, she was only vaguely aware of words mumbling out of her mouth.
Listening to her revelation, Athtar suppressed an impulse to murder her out of hand. He played it cautiously, thinking that if anything went wrong, this Edith was all he had to help him to trace the other Ediths.
So he spoke reassuring words, put her out of the car, and watched her as she staggered off . . . safe . . . she thought.

VI

The note read: `He wasn’t there. It wasn’t there. The farm was deserted. Did you lie to me? Athtar.’
Edith felt a chill the first time she read the words; parti­cularly she reacted to the last line with fear. But on her tenth of twelfth reading, she was more determined. She thought: If this whole crazy business is real, I’d better — what? Be brave? Consider the problem? Act with decisiveness?
It was Saturday.
Before going to work, she bought a small Browning auto­matic at the Harkdale Hardware. She had often gone target-practicing with the second of her two college boyfriends, the one who had a gay philosophy that God was dead, and that therefore one need only avoid jail — and otherwise do anything one pleased. Eventually, he departed without marrying her, presumably feeling guiltless about having lured her away from a man who might have offered her a wedding ring,
But this man did show her how to shoot an automatic firearm, and so she put the little pistol into her purse — and felt a hardening of her conviction that it was time this Edith started measuring up.
One doubt remained: Was willingness to shoot in self-defense a step forward, or a step away, from being the best of all possible Edith Prices?
At the library that day, Tilsit was waiting for her with another news item:

YOUNG FARMER MISSING
Seth Mitchell, Abbotsville farmer, has not been at his farm for several days. A neighbor, Carey Grayson, who called on Mitchell yesterday to buy seed grain, found his cows unmilked, a horse in the stable starving, chickens unfed, and no sign of life around the house. Grayson fed the animals, then contacted Mitchell’s cousin in a neigh­boring county and notified the sheriff’s office, An investiga­tion is under way.

Edith handed the paper back with a meaningless comment. But she was thinking: So that’s what Athtar had discovered.
In spite of her resolve, she trembled. It seemed to her that there was no turning back; she must carry forward inexorably with all the thoughts that she had had.

Sunday.
She had driven to New York and parked two blocks from the little hotel for women only where she had formerly lived. Surely, she told herself, that was where at least one Edith duplicate would have gone.
From a phone booth she called the hotel and asked for Edith Price. There was a pause, then, ’I’m ringing,’ said the woman desk clerk’s voice.
Instantly breathless, Edith hung up. She sagged limply inside the booth, eyes closed. It was not clear to her even now what she had expected. But the only hopeful thought in her mind was: Can it be that I’m the only Edith who knows that there are others? And does that give me an ad­vantage over the unknowing ones?
Or was there already somewhere an Edith Price who had naturally become the best of them all?
Her thought ended. She realized that a short, stocky man was standing beside the booth, partly out of her line of vision. There was something familiar about him.
The familiarity instantly grew sensational. She straightened and she turned.
Athtar!
The Edith Price who stepped out of the phone booth was still shaky and still not brave. But in two days fear and threat and gulps of terror had transformed her. She had been a vaguely sad, wish-my-mistakes-won’t-doom-me young woman. Now, at times she trembled with anxiety, but at other times she compressed her lips and had thoughts that were tough and realistic.
The sight of Athtar caromed her into anxiety.
Which was just as well, the tough part of her analyzed realistically. She didn’t trust the worst of all possible Athtars. And he would feel safer with a frightened Edith, she was sure.
Seen close in broad daylight on a deserted New York street on Sunday morning, Athtar — short, broad, with a thick face and gray cheeks — was surprisingly as she remem­bered him. Totally unprepossessing.
He said softly, ’Why don’t you let me talk to her?’
Edith scarcely heard. The first question of her forty-­eight-hour, stop-only-for-sleep, stream of consciousness siphoned through her voice. ’Are you really from the thirty-fifth century?’
He gave her a quick, shrewd look, must have realized how wound up she was, and said receptively, ’Yes.’
’Are they all like you? Your height, your complexion?’
’It was decided,’ said Athtar in a formal tone, ’that a body built thicker and closer to the ground has more utility.
That was several hundred years before I was born. And so, yes. No one is over 167 centimeters, That is, five feet, six inches.’
’How do you know you’re the worst of all possible Athtars?’
’In my time,’ was the reply, ’it is a felony for anyone but a member of the Scientists’ Guild to have a weapon. Hence, political and economic power is part of the prize of the struggle for position in the Guild. On my way to becoming a tougher member, I wished many times to be there, relatively safe, among the faceless, unarmed masses. And the crystal, in creating other Athtars, solidified those wishes.’
There was an implication here that getting tougher was not the answer; not the way. Edith sighed her disappoint­ment, and remembered her other questions. She told him, then, about the two pictures she had seen in the crystal, the one of the solar system and the other of the outline of a Inman, body. Did he know what the pictures meant?
’When I first saw it,’ said Athtar, ’the scene inside was of our galaxy. Later, it became the solar system. So what you saw was probably a carry-over from my time, where we occupy all the planets. And what I saw must derive from a time when man has moved out to the galaxy. It could mean that the crystal adjusts to the era in which it finds itself. Though why a human being, instead of the planet Earth in this era, is not obvious. Was the outline that of a woman or a man?’
Edith couldn’t remember it that clearly.
Standing there in the bright, sunny day and on the dirty, narrow street, Athtar shook his head. There was awe in his ugly face. He said wonderingly, ’Such a small object; such a comprehensive ability.’ He added, half to himself, ’It’s got to be potential flow patterns. There are not enough atoms in such a crystal to act as a control board for so much.’
He had already, by implication, answered her next ques­tion, but she asked it anyway.
Athtar sighed, ’No, the crystal is definitely not from the thirty-fifth century. It appeared suddenly. I picture it as having fallen backward through time from some future era in drops of fifteen hundred years.’
’But why would they have sent it back?’ Edith asked, bewildered. ’What are they after?
The chunky little man gave her a startled look. ’The idea of the crystal having been sent back for a purpose had not previously occurred to me. It’s such a colossally valuable machine, we assumed it got away from them accidentally,’ he said. He was silent; then, filially: ’Why don’t you let me go and see this second Edith Price? And you go back to Harkdale? If I find the crystal, I’ll report with it to you there.’
The implication seemed to be that he planned to cooperate with her. What he meant was that the crystal would be no good to him until he had found and murdered the Edith to whom it was oriented.
The tough part of Edith hesitated at the idea of trusting this man. But it occurred to her that he might have thirty-­fifth-century weapons and that therefore he was being gener­ous from a position of total strength in offering to cooperate.
With such fear thoughts in her mind, and having no plans of her own, she agreed.
She watched him get into a shining new automobile and drive off down the narrow street. It was a middle-sized car, she noted absently. She had never been one who kept track of auto designs, so by the time she wondered what make it was, it was too late. Equally belatedly, it struck her that she ought to have looked at the license-plate numbers.
She stood there, and she thought sarcastically: What a third-rate Edith Price I am!
She was vaguely aware of a car pulling up at the near­by curb. A young woman climbed out of it and casually walked toward her as if to go into the phone booth.
She stopped suddenly, stepped over beside Edith, and said, ’You’re Miss Price?’
Edith turned.
The other woman was a bright, alert, thirty-year-old blond, and Edith had never seen her before. She had no sense of being threatened, but involuntarily she backed away several steps.
’Y-yes,’ she said.
The woman turned toward the car and called, ’Okay, Seth.’
Seth Mitchell climbed from the car and came rapidly toward them. He was well dressed, like the Seth Mitchell in the gold Cadillac, but there was a subtle difference. His face had a firmer, more determined expression,
He said, ’I’m a detective. Who is that man you were talking to?’
And thus the story, as well as Edith knew it, was presently shared.

They had gone into a coffee shop for their tense discus­sion. To Edith it was both relieving and disturbing to realize that these detectives had been in Harkdale for two days and had traced her down as a result of her call to the hospital, inquiring about Billy Bingham. Having thus spotted her, they had become aware that the squat man was also keeping track of her movements. And so that morning, not one but three cars had headed for New York — Edith’s, Athtar’s, and theirs.
The exchange of information took time and several cups of coffee — though Edith rejected the final cup, with the sudden realization that coffee was probably not good for people, and that the crystal might judge her on it at some later time. She smiled wanly at how many restraints she was placing on herself. Exactly as if God was no longer dead.
When they came out of the restaurant, Seth Mitchell phoned the other Edith Price. He emerged from the phone booth uneasy.
’The switchboard operator says that Miss Price went with a man about twenty minutes ago. I’m afraid we’re too late.’
From Edith’s description, he had already come to the conclusion that Athtar was a dangerous man. They decided to wait for the second Edith to return. But though they remained in New York until after eleven that night, the young woman did not come back to her hotel.

She never would return. For some hours, a bullet in her brain, her body, weighed down by stones, had been lying at the bottom of the East River.
And Athtar had the crystal.
To his intense disappointment, that Edith was not the crystal’s orientation.
Accordingly, he spent the evening and a portion of the night fitting together parts in the construction of a special weapon. He had a peculiar prescience that he would need its superfine power the following day against the Edith who, he believed, was back in Harkdale.

VII

Since it was late, and since, after all, they could phone the second Edith again by long distance, in the morning — shortly after eleven — the three of them, Edith and the detectives, set out for Harkdale in the two cars. Seth Mitchell, at Edith’s request, drove her car. Marge Aikens followed in the larger machine.
En route, Detective Mitchell told Edith that he believed she was the original Edith, and that it was to her that the crystal was still oriented. He considered also that her analysis of Seth Mitchell, the farmer, as the worst Seth, had doomed that unfortunate Mitchell duplicate. The crystal accepted her judgment and probably uncreated Seth, the farmer, when the package with the crystal addressed to him had barely been deposited in the post office.
Edith was taken aback by the detective’s logic. ’But,’ she stammered, ’I didn’t mean it that way.’ Tears streamed down her cheeks. ’Oh, that poor man!’
’Of course you didn’t mean it,’ was the reply. ’And so just to make sure that I heard you correctly, tell me again in what sequence that judgment of yours came. Was it before or after your various impulses to leave Harkdale?’
’Oh, after.’
’And did I hear you correctly, that you thought of going into the post office, and asking for the package you had mailed to be returned to you?’
’Yes, I had that thought.’ She added, ’But I didn’t do it.’
’I would analyze that at least one other Edith did go back in,’ said Mitchell.
’But it’s all so complicated,’ Edith said. ’How would any Edith just go, leaving clothes, money, car?’
’I’ve been thinking of my own background on that,’ said Mitchell. ’Evidently the crystal can excise all confusions like that. For example, I never again even thought of going back to Harkdale. It didn’t even cross my mind.’
He broke off. ’But there are no blanks like that in your mind?’
’None that I can think of.’
Seth Mitchell nodded. ’That’s what I heard. So I think I’ve got the solution to this whole crazy business — and we don’t even have to know where the crystal is.’

What he analyzed was simple. In bringing back Billy Bing­ham at her command, the crystal had deposited the boy nearly two miles away. True, at the time, she had been hold­ing the crystal in her hand. But that didn’t apply to her negative thought about farmer Seth Mitchell, which had occurred after she had mailed the crystal and was approxi­mately a hundred yards from the post office.
So if she had indeed uncreated the mentally ill farmer, then the distance of the crystal’s human orientation — in this instance one of the Edith Prices — from the crystal was not a factor.
When he had finished, Edith did not speak at once. ’You don’t agree?’ said the detective.
’I’m thinking,’ Edith said. ’Maybe I’m not really the orientation.’
’We’ll test that tomorrow.’
’What about Athtar?’ Edith asked. ’I keep feeling he may have special weapons. And besides, the crystal cannot affect him. What about that?’
’Let me think about Athtar,’ said the man.
While she waited, Edith was reminded of what Athtar had asked about the figure in the crystal: Was it of a man or a woman?
It was her first time for trying to remember, and so she sat there in the darkness next to the man, and was aware of two separate lines of thought in her mind.
The first: She attempted to visualize the human design in the crystal.
The second —

VIII

She watched his profile, as he drove in silence. And she thought: How brilliant he is! Yet surely a mere detective, no matter how keen his logic, cannot be the best of all possible Seth Mitchells. A man in such a profession has got to be somewhere in the middle — which in this competition is the same as the worst.
And he disappeared.
For many seconds after she had that thought, the suddenly driverless car held to its straight direction. Its speed, which had been around seventy, naturally started to let up the instant there was no longer a foot on the accelerator.
The only error was when Edith uttered a scream, and grabbed at the wheel, turning it. The machine careened wildly. The next second she grasped it in a more steadying way; and, holding it, slid along the seat into a position where presently she could apply the brake. She pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. She sat there, dazed.
The detective’s aide, Marge, had slowed as soon as she saw that there was a problem. She now drew up behind Edith, got out of the car, and walked to the driver’s side of the other machine.
’Seth,’ she began, ’what —’
Edith pushed the door open and climbed, trembling, out onto the road. She had a mad impulse to run somewhere. Her body felt strange, her mind encased in a blank anguish. She was vaguely aware of herself babbling about what had happened.
It must have taken a while for the incoherent words to reach through to the blond woman. But suddenly Marge gasped, and Edith felt herself grabbed by the shoulders. She was being shaken; a breathless voice was yelling at her, ’You stupid fool! You stupid fool!’
Edith tried to pull away, but Marge’s fingers seemed em­bedded in the shoulders of her dress.
The shaking became pain. Her neck hurt, then her arms. Edith thought for the first time: I must be careful. I mustn’t do or say anything that will affect her.
With that thought, sanity returned. For the first time she saw that Marge was in a state of hysteria. The shaking was actually an automatic act of a person almost out of her mind with grief.
Pity came. She was able to free herself by a simple action. She slapped Marge lightly on the cheek, once, twice, three times. The third time, the woman let go of her and leaned against the car, sobbing. ’Oh, my God!’ she said.
A wind was blowing out of the darkness from the west. Car headlights kept glaring past them, lighting the scene briefly. The two women were now in a relatively normal state, and they discussed the problem. Edith tried to recreate Marge’s employer with the same command that she had used for Billy Bingham.
`Seth Mitchell, the detective, back here, now!’
She had had a feeling that it wouldn’t work — the Seth Mitchells were undoubtedly due to be eliminated one by one — and it didn’t. The minutes ticked by. Though she yelled the command in many variations into the night, there was no sign of the vanished Seth, whose presence had for a long half-day brought to the whole situation the reassurance that derives from a highly intelligent and determined mind.
In the end, defeated, the two women in their separate cars drove on to Harkdale. Since Marge had a room re­served at the Harkdale Hotel, she went there, and Edith drove wearily to the rooming house where she lived.
It was nearly four o’clock when she finally limped into her little suite. She lay down without undressing. As she was drifting off to sleep, she had a tense fear: Would the best of all possible Ediths be this sloppy about personal cleanliness?
Literally hurting with exhaustion, she rolled off the bed, undressed, bathed, brushed her teeth, combed her hair, changed the linens and climbed into a clean pair of pajamas.
She awakened with a horrible start shortly after 5:30 with the thought that conformism might not be it. Such toiletry amenities as she had performed were products of early training and did not necessarily have anything to do with life and living as it should be.
She fell asleep imagining a series of rebel Ediths, each one of whom had some special characteristic that was noble and worthy.
The next time she awakened, it was light outside. It occurred to her that all of her concepts, so compulsively visualized, where probably being created somewhere by the crystal. And so undoubtedly there were already beatnik and hippie Ediths as well as rougher, tougher types.
For the first time she realized what a mad whirl of possi­bilities she had considered in the previous thirty-six hours. Ediths who were hard-boiled and could coldly shoot to kill, or, conversely, were super-feminine, sweet, tantalizing temptresses.
’And it’s all unnecessary,’ she whispered, lying there. ’The decision will probably be made as arbitrarily as my own impulsive condemnation of the inarticulate farmer and the courageous — but presumably not perfect — detective.’
Having no standards that applied to the twentieth cen­tury, the crystal had uncreated a powerful and good man on the passing judgment of the person to whom it had by chance become oriented. Accordingly, the future looked grim for all Seth Mitchells and Edith Prices, including the original.
When she next awakened, it was time to get up and go to work — and think some more about what the perfect Edith would be like.
As she dressed, she looked out of her window with its distant view of the blue waters of Lake Naragang, and the nearby downtown section that at one place, opposite the Harkdale Hotel, crowded the water’s edge. Pretty little town, Harkdale. She remembered that on her arrival she had thought that at least here she could be more casual in her dress than in New York.
Edith gave a curt, rueful laugh as that thought struck her. She had come full circle during the night, back to the notion that appearance would count. Trying to think feminine — ’After all, I am a woman’ — she put on her frilliest dress.
Yet in some back closet of her brain there was a fearful conviction that all this was in vain. The crisis was imminent; she might be dead — uncreated — before this day was out.
It seemed ridiculous to go to work on the day you were going to die. But she went.
As she moved about her duties, Edith was conscious of her subdued manner. Twice, when she unthinkingly looked into the rest-room mirror, she was startled by the pale face and sick eyes that looked back at her.
’This is not really me,’ she told herself. ’I can’t be judged on this.’
Surely the crystal wouldn’t reject her because she was in a daze. Every passing minute, fleeting images of other Ediths passed before her mind’s eye; each one had in it the momentary hope that maybe it held the key to the best. There was an Edith living out her life as a nun; another chaste Edith, married but holding sex to a minimum, placing all her attention on her children; and an Edith who was a follower of Zen Buddhism.
She had, earlier, put through a call to Marge Aiken at the Harkdale Hotel. About two o’clock Marge called back. She reported that she had phoned New York and discovered that the second Edith had not returned to her hotel at all the previous night.
After imparting this grim news, Marge said, ’And so, if Athtar contacts you, don’t be alone with him under any circumstances until he produces the Seth Mitchell in the gold Cadillac and the Edith in New York.’
After that call, more images, mostly of saintly and good­hearted, unsophisticated Ediths, now haunted her. Some­how, they stemmed from her childhood conditioning, against which she had rebelled in college, as seen through a child’s unnoticing eyes.
Into this haze of thoughts, Tilsit’s voice suddenly in­truded: ’Phone call for you, Edith.’
As she picked up the phone, Edith was vaguely aware of Miss Davis’ disapproving face in the background. Though it was the first day she had received personal calls in her six months in the library, the chief librarian had the out­raged expression of an employer whose patience has been tried beyond reason.
Edith forgot that as she heard the familiar voice on the phone — Athtar’s.
The man said, ’I want to see you right after work.’
Edith said, in a suddenly faint voice, ’At the Harkdale Hotel — in the lobby.’

IX

Athtar stepped out of the phone booth from which he had called. A cruel smile twisted his broad face. For him there were two possibilities of victory, now that he had the crystal.
The first solution was to kill its current orientation — Edith. He intended to take no chances with that. She would never, he was resolved, reach the Harkdale Hotel.
However, murder of his only Edith had one unpleasant possibility. Though he had analyzed that she was the orienta­tion, if it should happen that she was not, then, in destroying her he would remove his source of information for tracing other Ediths.
It was a chance he was resolved to take. But, as a pre­caution, he had already removed the crystal from the nutrient soil on which it fed. He was not certain how long it would be before the stone was deactivated by starvation, but he deduced not more than two weeks. Whereupon it would orient to whoever reactivated it. To himself, of course.
Now that he had a special barrier-penetrating weapon, he firmly believed that before this day was over he would be in sole possession of the most remarkable machine of all time and space — the crystal.

The Harkdale Hotel was a summer-resort hostelry. Its prices were high, and as a result it had made money. Wisely, some of the money had been spent on decoration, fine furniture, and a sophisticated staff.
The clerk on day duty had his own definition of a sophisti­cated desk clerk: a person with a memory so good that he can forget with discretion.
He was such a clerk. He described himself as an import from fine hotels. His name, he said, was Derek Slade. He had — he always explained — asked for an assignment to a small resort town, because he had a certain childhood nostalgia for village life. So discreet, however, was Derek, that on this fateful day he allowed four Seth Mitchells to register. Each time he believed it was the same man but with a different woman; and he was just beginning, he told himself, to enjoy the situation, when Seth Mitchell arrived for the fifth time; only this time he had no woman with him.
Yet it took Derek only a moment to figure it out. This smooth male, Seth Mitchell, had four women in different rooms, and evidently he wanted a separate room for him­self. Why? Derek didn’t try to analyze the matter further. Life — he had often said — was full of surprises. He would observe the fact, not speculate about it.
Derek spoke in a low tone, ’You may count on my discre­tion, Mr Mitchell.’
The Seth Mitchell across the desk from him raised his eyebrows, then nodded with a faint smile.
Derek was pleased. The remark ought to be good for a twenty-dollar tip.
He was still congratulating himself when the elevator door opened and another Seth Mitchell stepped out and walked toward the desk. As he came up, the Seth Mitchell who had just registered turned to follow the bellboy carry­ing his bags to the elevator.
The two Seth Mitchells almost bumped into each other. Both took evasive action. Both murmured polite nothings, and were about to pass each other when Derek recovered.
It was one of his perfect moments. He raised his voice, spoke with that exact right note of authority: ’Mister Mitchell.’
The two Seth Mitchells were already in a mildly con­fused state. Their name, uttered in that peremptory tone, stopped them.
Derek said, ’Mr Seth Mitchell, I want you to meet Mr Seth Mitchell. Gentlemen, please wait there a moment.’
He let them kill their own time — one of them seemed to recover quickly, the other remaining bewildered — while he phoned the rooms of the previously registered Seth Mitchells. He had to call all four rooms, but presently there in front of him stood five Seth Mitchells.
Of all the people present, the one most completely unnoticed was Derek Slade. He wouldn’t have had it any other way, for he could watch.
Four of the five Seths were gulping and stuttering at each other. The fifth had stepped off to one side with a faint smile. Almost as one, the four suddenly became em­barrassed, and so Derek’s cool voice caught them again at the right moment: ’Gentlemen, why don’t you go into the conference room over here and talk this whole matter over?’
As they started for the conference room, Marge Aiken entered the hotel — in time to catch a profile view of the last Seth Mitchell to enter the room. She became very pale and then rushed forward.
’Seth!’ she cried out tearfully. ’For God’s sake, I thought you were dead!’
She stopped. She had grabbed the nearest man by the arm. He turned, and the something different about him flustered her.

Afterward, when everybody had been told what Marge knew, and after they had heard about Edith, the woman detective suggested that she call Edith at the library and have her come over at once, instead of later.
Three of the Seth Mitchells objected. Listening to each in turn, Marge glanced along the line of sensationally familiar faces, and saw in all but one man’s eyes a haunting apprehen­sion. Yet there was in all of them the same bright intelligence that she had seen so often in her own employer.
The Seth from Montreal said, ’Our first act must be to protect ourselves from that young woman’s automatic judg­ments, such as she rendered on farmer Mitchell and detective Mitchell.’
A second, slightly deeper-voiced Seth was concerned about Athtar. ’In killing Edith Price Number Two, Athtar must have got the crystal, and then discovered that the dead Edith was not the orientation. Therefore,’ he said, ’our initial act must be to protect the Edith who is the orientation.’
So the first real problem was getting her safely to the hotel, not what she would do when she got here.
The third Seth said the problem was not so much Edith’s judgment of men; it was her stereotyped thoughts about how a woman should be. Presumably, the crystal had duti­fully created a long list of Edith Prices who were simply ordinary human beings with varying moral standards, or with slightly different beliefs about how to get along in the drab world of the twentieth century.
’As an example of how differently I would want her to handle her control of the crystal, one of the first Edith Prices I wish her to create is one that has ESP. Why? So that she can understand this whole situation and what to do about it.’
His words brought a hopeful reaction. It was an obviously good idea — if it could be done.
A fourth Seth, who had sat gray and silent, now spoke up: ’It would be interesting if such ESP ability included being able to spot the Seth Mitchell who’ — he nodded at Marge — ’paid your boss a thousand dollars to locate the crystal.’
The Seth who had arrived at the hotel without a wife —and who had reflected none of the fear that the others felt — stirred, and smiled cheerfully. ’You need look no further. I’m he.’
When the chorus of questions and excitement finally died down, he continued, ’To answer your basic question, I also dreamed, as you all did. And just as the worst Athtar found himself with the address of one of the Seth Mitchells in his mind, in the same way the morning after the dream the address of detective Mitchell was in mine.’
’But why didn’t you come for the crystal yourself? Why pay a thousand dollars?’
The bachelor Mitchell smiled again. ’I hate to tell you people this, and it is to your advantage not to let Miss Price know, but according to the thoughts I had after my dream, I am the best of all possible Seth Mitchells.’
Many minutes chattered by before his audience was again calmed down, and he was able to answer the substance of all the words they had projected: ’I don’t know why I’m best. But I hired someone to come here in my place because I sensed danger, and I came here today believing that this was the crisis. I can’t tell you what I’ll do about it. I don’t even have the feeling that my role is decisive. I simply believe that something will present itself, and I’ll do it.’
He finished simply, ’I don’t think we should devote any more time to me. We have many vital things to do, and only until Edith Price comes off the job to do them. Let’s get started.’
They were law-abiding people; so they now contacted the police, who checked the motel where the Seth Mitchell of the gold Cadillac had registered. Then they phoned his office in New York on the basis of his license-plate number and found that the car was there, the man missing for many days. A warrant was accordingly issued against a squat man whose only known name was Athtar.

Since the police of Harkdale were few in number, after dark Athtar was able to drive into town and into the library park­ing lot without being observed. He had timed his arrival for about a minute after the library officially closed.
Dimness. A lingering twilight that had barely transformed into night. A few library patrons were still maneuvering in the library parking lot when Edith emerged from the rear door.
She noted with a vague surprise that a town fire truck, engine running, was standing near the door. But she was already having qualms about the forthcoming journey to the hotel — so far away, it seemed to her suddenly. And so the sight of the big truck was reassuring instead of astonish­ing.
To get to her own car, she had to go around the fire truck. As she started forward to do so, the big machine surged into motion with a gigantic thunder of its engine. Edith stopped, teetered, then leapt back out of the way — barely in time.
As it came abreast of her, the truck jammed on its brakes and screeched to a halt directly in front of her.
Somewhere beyond the big machine, a purple flash lighted the sky.

X

Though Edith did not see it, the purple light had its origin in one of the maneuvering cars. Like a tracer bullet, the light flashed from the auto to the fire truck. As it hit, it made a sound of a pitch never before heard on earth: a deep, sustained, continuing spat of chemical bonds by the quad­rillion snapping in metal.
The tiny bullet penetrated the thick steel frame of the fire truck, and reformed itself a micro-millimeter at a time from the steel molecules. It did not slow as it passed through the heavy machine. Indeed, there was no thickness of metal of the twentieth century that could have held it back by even one foot a minute of its forward speed. Not the armor plate of a battleship, nor the solid mass of the earth itself.
It was a rifle bullet, and so its path was straight — through air and through metal. It also would have been straight through Edith, except that its speed was that of a bullet, immense but finite.
And so it transited the fire truck while the truck was still in motion. The bullet carried along inside the moving vehicle during a measurable time of several split seconds and missed Edith by twenty inches.
Unchecked, it struck the library wall, moved on through, emerged from the far side, and zipped off into the night. Its kinetic energy being a precise quality, it bored forward another hundred yards, and then rapidly fell.
Moments later, two plainclothes police officers discharged their rifles at the figure that was dimly visible inside the car from which the purple-glowing bullet had been fired.
The screech of bullets striking his own machine, startled Athtar. But he had a molecular reinforcing unit putting out a field that hardened the glass and the metal of the auto; and so the bullets failed to penetrate.
What bothered him was that he had only a few bullets, and in the dark he couldn’t gauge the extent of the trap that had been set for him. So now, hastily, he put his car into drive, stepped on the gas, and drove rapidly out of the parking lot.
A police car fell in behind him, flashing its red lights at him. Though it or its weapons were no danger to him, he feared a roadblock. He turned up several side streets, and in only a few minutes of driving lured the police car onto a street near the lake on the far side of the Harkdale Hotel, an approach that he had thoroughly explored on foot earlier.
Satisfied, he opened the car window on the driver’s side, slowed, leaned out, looked back, took quick aim at the engine of the other machine, and put a purple-glowing bullet through the crankcase. There was a shattering crash. The stricken motor almost tore itself apart, screaming metallically. The auto itself came to a bumpy halt.
Athtar hurriedly circled back to the Harkdale Hotel. A first queasy doubt had come that for a reason that was not clear his time was running out. Yet it still seemed true to him that all he need do was sneak into the hotel and dis­charge a single bullet at one, and only one, beating heart.
Minutes later, after squeezing through a kitchen window of the hotel, he found himself in a shadowy storeroom on a concrete floor. As he fumbled his way to a door, he had a fleeting mental image of his colleagues of the great Science Guild viewing him in such a lowly action. Of course, Athtar told himself scornfully, what they thought would not matter after he got control of the crystal. There would be dramatic changes after he got back to his own time: a few hundred Guild members were scheduled for extermination.
Cautiously he pulled open the door. It was as he started through the hallway beyond that he became aware of a faint sound behind him. He spun around and jerked up his gun.
Instant, unbearable pain in his arm forced the gun back down and his finger away from the trigger. Almost at once the gun dropped from his nerveless hand, clattering to the floor. Even as he recognized that thirty-fifth-century tech­nology was being used against him, he saw that a short, squat man was standing in the doorway of the storeroom from which he himself had just emerged.
Athtar’s arm and hand were now inexorably forced by intolerable pain to reach into his inside breast pocket, take out the crystal, and hold it out to the other man.
The second Athtar did not speak. He drew the door behind him shut, accepted the crystal, and bending down, picked the gun up from the floor. Then he edged past his prisoner, stepped through the door beyond, and closed it behind him also.
At once, all the muscle pressures let go of the worst Athtar. Instantly desperate, he tried to jerk open the storeroom door, intending to escape by the same window he had entered. The door was locked, and it had an unnervingly solid feel to it. Athtar whirled toward the other door.
When he found it locked also, and with that same solid resistance to his tug, he now finally recognized that he was trapped by molecular forces from his own era. There was nothing to do, as the minutes lengthened, but to sit down on the concrete floor and wait.
Sitting there, he had the partly mixed reaction that the drama of the crystal would now play on without him. What seemed good about it was the distinct conviction that perhaps he was well out of it; perhaps this was a more dangerous situation than he had let himself be aware of. Would it have been dangerous for him? The intuition wasn’t that definite.
He had recognized his assailant as the best of all possible Athtars. So now he told himself he was glad it was the best Athtar and not himself who would be present while these twentieth-century human beings tried to save themselves.
The Price woman was being cleverer than he had antici­pated. Which meant that the automatic programming of the crystal to uncreate all but the best would force her to the most desperate actions. Or so it seemed to the worst Athtar.
Better not to be around when such extreme events were transpiring.

The best of all possible Athtars walked through the hotel lobby to the conference room. The five Seth Mitchells were grouped outside the door, out of the line of vision of Edith, who was inside. Athtar gave the agreed-on signal and handed the worst Athtar’s automatic pistol to one of the Seths. They were thorough. They searched him, and then passed him on to Marge Aikens, who stood in the doorway.
To Marge, Athtar gave another agreed-on signal. Having thus established his identity as the friendly Athtar, whom Edith had re-created as a first step, he was now admitted inside the room.
Athtar placed the crystal on the conference table in front of Edith. As her fingers automatically reached toward it, he placed a restraining hand on her wrist.
’I have a feeling,’ he admonished, ’that this time when you pick it up — when the true orientation, you, picks it up — that will be the moment of crisis.’
His voice, and his words, seemed far away. She had — it seemed to her — considered those thoughts, and had those feelings, in approaching the decision to re-create him — the best Athtar. That, also, had been a crisis.
As she nevertheless hesitated out of respect for his know­ledge and awareness, Edith noticed two impulses within her­self. One was to go into a kind of exhaustion, in which she would act on the basis that she was too tired to think all that through again.
The second impulse was a clearer, sharper awareness, which had come to her suddenly at the library after she realized that the worst Athtar had tried to kill her.
Abruptly, then, the problems that had disturbed her earlier faded. Whether it was better to be tough and be able to shoot, or be soft and feminine, had no meaning. The real solution was infinite flexibility, backed by unvarying intention.
One handled situations. That was all there was to it.
As she remembered that perfect thought, the impulse toward exhaustion went away. She turned to Marge and said matter-of-factly, ’Shall I tell him what we discussed while he was down in the storeroom?’
Marge nodded tensely.
Athtar listened with what appeared to be an expression of doubt, then said, ’Having the crystal re-create one of its makers could be exactly what those makers are waiting for you to do.’
’That’s exactly what we thought,’ said Edith. And still she felt no fear. She explained, ’Our thought is that, since the crystal is programmed to find the best of each person, and the best Athtar turned out to be a reasonable person and not a criminal, then the makers of the crystal understand the difference. We may therefore assume that the society of the future is normal and will not harm us.’
She added, ’That’s why we re-created you — as a check.’
’Good reasoning,’ said Athtar, cautioning, ’but I sense there’s something wrong with it.’
’But you have no specific thought?’ she asked.
’No.’ He hesitated, then shrugged. ’As a start,’ he said, `why not pick up the crystal — just pick it up — and see if my feeling about that being sufficient has any substance?’ He explained, ’If I’m wrong there, then we can dismiss my doubts.’
’You don’t want me to look at the design?’
The Seths had discovered that that was the key to her control of the stone. By questioning her closely, by eliciting from her the thoughts she had had on the three occasions that it had performed its miracle for her, it had become apparent that when she mentally or visually traced the interior picture and gave a command, it happened — literally.
Athtar answered, ’No, I sense that they’re ready.’
His words, the implication of ultra-perception that reached over, perhaps, thousands of years, startled Edith, and held her unmoving, but only momentarily.
’The truth is,’ said Edith aloud, completing her thought, ’we all feel that we have no alternative.’
Without any further delay, she reached forward and picked up the crystal.
Then she gasped.
The man who walked out of the corner of the room, where he had materialized, was a giant. Seven, eight, nine feet — her mind kept reassessing the height, as she strove to adjust to the enormous reality.
The size, the blue harness clothing — like a Roman cen­turion guard in summer uniform — the bronze body, the large face with eyes as black as coal, unsmiling and firm; and in his bearing, conscious power unqualified by doubt or fear.
He said in a bass voice, in English, ’I am Shalil, the best of all possible.’

XI

For a long moment Edith waited for him to complete the sentence. She presumed that the final word would be his name. At last, with a shock, she realized the sentence was finished. The crystal makers had sent the most qualified individual of their entire race to handle this situation.
In the doorway, Marge cringed away from the monster with a moan. At the sound, two of the Seth Mitchells leaped into view from where they had been standing. As they caught the blonde woman’s half-fainting body, they also saw the apparition, and froze with glaring eyes. That brought the other three Seths crowding into the doorway.
As of one accord, obviously unwisely and therefore — as Edith realized later — under unnoticed control, they moved into the room, bringing Marge with them. The Seth who brought up the rear pulled the door shut behind him.
And there they were, as the best Athtar stirred and said in a sharp tone, ’Miss Price — uncreate him! He does not mean well.’
The giant grimaced. ’You cannot uncreate men.’ He spoke again a perfect English in the same bass voice. ’Naturally, I, and only I, now control the crystal. The term "mean well" is relative. I mean well for my own time and my own group.’
His eyes, like black pools of dark shiningness, glanced over the five Seths and the two women, and then settled on Athtar. ’Which of you are the biologically original human beings?’ he asked.
There was a speed to him and a purposefulness that was disturbing all by itself. Edith clutched the crystal, and then she glanced uncertainly over at the Seths, silently appealing for suggestions. But they were staring at the giant and seemed unaware of her seeking gaze.
Yet it was one of the Seths who said abruptly, ’Athtar, in what way doesn’t he mean well?’
Athtar shook his head. ’I don’t sense the details,’ he said unhappily. ’It’s a feeling. They sent the crystal back here for their purpose. His question about original human beings points a very significant direction. But don’t answer it — or any other question.’
It seemed a small, useless denial. Even as it was uttered, the huge man strode toward the door. The little group of Seths separated before him automatically. The giant opened the door and peered out into the hotel lobby. After a single, swift survey, he pushed the door shut, and faced about.
’I deduce,’ he said, ’that the people of this era are the originals. That’s who we want for our experiments.’
Athtar said tautly to the Seths, ’One of you has the worst Athtar’s gun. Shoot him!’
The instant the words were spoken, the pistol floated into view, avoided the fingers of the two Seths who tried to grab it, and darted over to Shalil’s palm. He slipped the weapon into a pocket of his simple blue garment.
The best Athtar glanced at Edith. ’Well,’ he said glumly, ’I’ve done my best.’ He faced the monster. What happens to me?’
Those wonderful black eyes studied him again, more care­fully. ’The crystal is communicating data to me,’ he said. ’You and the other Athtar are from an era where the people have already been biologically altered?’
Athtar was silent. The giant grimaced, and thereupon analyzed substantially what the worst Athtar had told Edith in New York, adding only that he had the impression that vast amounts of bodily organ transplants for medical purposes had preceded the first big decision to chance the race itself.
Athtar glanced apologetically at Edith. ’He has it so accurately,’ he said, ’that I see no additional danger in asking him a question.’
Without waiting for a reply he addressed the huge man: ’The decision made in the thirty-first century, nearly four hundred years before my time, was that small, heavy bodies had more survival potentiality than tall, thin ones. I see that in your era a much taller, bigger, more powerful man than any we have even imagined is the norm. What is the rationale?’
’Different problems,’ answered Shall ’In my era, which by your reckoning would correlate to the ninety-third century, we are space people.’ He broke off. ’Since we have no interest in you at present, I propose to send you and the other Athtars back to your own time.’
’Wait!’ The best Athtar spoke urgently. ’What do you intend to do with these people?’ He waved toward Edith and the Seths.
Again there was a grimace on the huge face. ’They are crystal patterns now,’ was the stern reply. ’But all we actually want for our experiments are the best Seth Mitchell and the best Edith Price, The other 1810 Seths and’ — he hesitated, then — ’723 Ediths are free to go. We set the crystal to find the best specimens.’
But why?’
’Something has gone wrong. We need to restudy human origins.’
’Do you need these specific persons, or will you merely have the crystal duplicate them in your own era?’
’There’s only one of each. If any of them is created in any other time, he becomes uncreated here.’
’What will you do? Dissect them?’
’In the end, perhaps. The experimenters will decide.’ Sharply. ’Never mind that. The program is laid our on a crash basis, and the subjects are urgently needed.’ His voice grew imperious. ’Miss Price, give me the crystal. We’re not needlessly cruel, so I wish to send the Athtars home.’
Athtar urged, ’Miss Price, don’t give it to him. His state­ment that he totally controls the crystal may not be true yet, but it may become true the moment he has possession of it. These far-future beings must be persuaded to accept another, less arbitrary solution to their problem.’
Edith had been standing, watching the fantastic giant, listening to the infinite threat that was developing out of his blunt words. Suddenly, what had seemed an utterly desirable goal — to be the best — had become the most undesirable.
But she observed that she was still not afraid. Her mind was clear. And she realized that the millions of tumbling thoughts and feelings of all these days, which had suddenly fallen into an exact order in her mind earlier that night, remained orderly.
Her own reaction was that Athtar was wrong and that she had, in fact, lost control of the crystal.
Obvious that they would have had some preemptive system, by which they could regain its use at a key moment.
But she intended to test that.
She glanced at and into the crystal, and said firmly, ’Who­ever can defeat this giant — be here now!’
Moments after she spoke, the crystal was snatched from her fingers by the same kind of unseen force as had taken the automatic pistol from one of the Seths earlier. She looked up and watched helplessly as it also floated over to the giant’s palm. The huge man’s black eyes gleamed triumphantly at her, as he said: ’That was a good try. But all your allies are in this room. There’s nobody else.’
’In that case,’ said a man’s voice quietly, ’I imagine that, regardless of consequences, my moment has come.’
Whereupon the bachelor Seth Mitchell walked forward and stood in front of the giant.
For some reason the monster man merely regarded him. There was a long pause. Edith had time to gaze at the Seth and to savor the mere humanness that he represented. She saw that he was well dressed in a dark gray suit, that his lean face was firm, his gray eyes calm and fearless. At some deep of her mind, she was proud that at this key moment such a Seth Mitchell existed. Yet, though she was still not afraid herself, she was aware of her hopes sinking.
The silence ended.
The great being from the far future said in a deliberate tone, ’I hope you realize that you are condemning the other Seths in thus forcing your identity on me. In this era the crystal has no alternative but to uncreate them.’
Behind Edith, Marge cried out faintly.
Edith whirled. For several seconds, then, she was blank, not knowing what ailed the young blond woman. Marge seemed to be choking, and after a moment Edith ran over to her, and caught her arm, and put one arm around her waist.
’What’s the matter?’ she cried.
Marge continued to choke, and the words when they finally came were almost inaudible: ’They’re gone, the other Seths!’
Edith looked around, and it was then that the reality finally penetrated her blankness. Where the four Seths had been standing near the doer, there was no one. She had an impulse to run to the door and glance out of it. The feeling was, surely, that they had stepped outside for a moment.
Abruptly, she realized.
They had been uncreated.
’Oh, my God!’ she said, and it was a sob.
She caught herself, for the giant was speaking again: ’Other than that,’ he said, ’the best of all possible Seth Mitchells merely seemed a good specimen, and not dangerous.’
Seth Mitchell spoke in the same quiet tone as before, ’I said, regardless of consequences.’
He glanced back toward the two women. ’Since the Seths remain crystal patterns, they’re no more in danger now than they would be if this creature is able to carry out his threat. That probably even applies to the Seth of the gold Cadillac and the Edith who presumably was killed in New York.’
To Shalil he said, ’I think you’d better put the Athtars up in their own time.’
There was an ever so slight pause; the giant’s eyes changed slightly, as if he were thinking. Then: ’It’s done,’ he said.
Edith glanced to where Athtar had been, with the same automatic second look as before, and the same gasping intake of her breath. . . . And then with a conscious effort she had control once more.
Athtar had disappeared.
With a grimace, Shall surveyed the best of all possible Seth Mitchells, said, ’You really benefited from the crystal, didn’t you?’ He spoke in his softest bass. The intent expres­sion, as if he were listening, came into his face. ’You own . . . one . . . three, four corporations.’
’I stopped when I was worth ten million,’ said the best Seth. He turned to look at Edith apologetically. ’I couldn’t imagine having use for even that much money. But I had set it as a goal, so that’s what I did.’
Without waiting for her reply, he once more faced the gigantic enemy. ’All the Seth Mitchells,’ he said, ’are the results of a boy’s dreams based on what information he had. He undoubtedly observed that there are tax experts, and lawyers, and doctors, and tramps, and policemen. And in a town like Harkdale it would include being aware of summer and resort visitors, many of them highly personable people from New York. And on the level of a boy’s daydreams it would mean that until they were uncreated just now there was a cowboy Seth Mitchell, an African hunter Seth, a sea captain, an airline pilot, and probably even a few glamorous criminals.’
He broke off. ’I have a feeling you wouldn’t understand that, because you don’t have any boys anymore where you are, do you?’
The giant’s eyes did an odd thing. They shifted uncertainly. Then he said, ’We are crystal duplicates. Thus we shall pre­sumably live forever — if we can solve the present tendency of the cells to be tired.’
He added reluctantly, ’What’s a boy?’
’Maybe there’s your problem,’ said Seth Mitchell. ’You’ve forgotten about children. Gene variation.’
The best Seth continued to gaze up at the great being. ’I’m the creation,’ he said gently, ’of a boy who for a long time after Billy Bingham disappeared, was under exceptional adult pressure and criticism, and as a result had many escape fantasies.’
The steady, determined voice went on, ’Picture that boy’s fantasy of total power: somebody who would handle mean adults who acted as if you were lying and who treated you nasty . . . and someday you’d show them all. How? It may not have been clear to the boy Seth who felt that resentment.: But when the time came, you’d just know, and of course you wouldn’t be mean about it the way they had been. There’d be a kind of nobleness about you and your total power.’
The two men, the best of all possible Seth Mitchells from the twentieth century and the best of all possibles from the ninety-third century, were standing within a few feet of each other as these words were spoken.
’Perhaps,’ the best Seth addressed the giant softly, ’you can tell better than I what the crystal would create out of such a command.’
’Since nobleness is involved,’ was the harsh reply, ’I feel that I can safely test that boy’s fantasy to the uttermost limit.’
Whereupon he spoke sharp, commanding words in a strange language.
Edith had listened to the deadly interchange, thinking in a wondering dismay: God really is dead! These far future people had never even heard of Him.
Her thought ended. For the giant’s deep bass tones had suddenly ceased.
Something hit Edith deep inside of her body. Around her the room dimmed. As from a vast distance, she heard Seth Mitchell’s voice say apologetically, ’Only thing I know, Miss Price, is to send you along with him. Seems you’ve got the solution in what you just thought, whatever that was. The crystal will make that real. Hope it works.’
A moment after that she was falling into infinity.

 

XII

The body of Edith lay unconscious on a contour rest-space in one corner of the crystal administrative center. Periodically, a giant walked over to her and routinely checked the instru­ments that both watched over her and monitored the invisible force lines that held her.
A slow night went by. A new day finally dawned. The sunlight that suffused the translucent walls also revealed half a dozen giants, including Shalil, gathered around the slowly breathing — but otherwise unmoving — body of the young woman from the twentieth century,
To wake or not to wake her?
They discussed the problem in low, rumbling voices. Since they were all scientists, capable of appreciating the most subtle nuances of logic, what bothered them was that the small female being presented an improbable paradox.
Outward appearance said she was helpless. At the instant of the best Seth’s command to the crystal, Shalil had been able to put Edith into a coma, and she had arrived in that degraded condition in the ninety-third century.
Or rather, she had been untreated in her own time, and had been re-created by the crystal in their time, already unconscious.
Accordingly, she herself had not for even a split instant had any control of her own destiny.
What disturbed her captors was that there now radiated from her, and had ever since her re-creation, an undefinable power. The power was not merely ordinary. It was total.
Total power! Absolute and unqualified! How could that be?
Once more they gave attention on both hearing and tele­pathic levels, as Shall repeated his accurate account of what had transpired while he was in the twentieth century. The story, already familiar, reiterated the same peak moments: the ordinariness, the unthreatening aspect, of all the people of the past that Shalil had confronted.
Again they were told the climax, when the best Seth assumed that the crystal would evolve an unusual energy configuration out of a boy’s fantasies of power. Clearly — at least, it was clear to the huge men — the crystal’s response to that command established that it had originally been oriented to the best Seth, and its energies mobilized for later expres­sion, when Seth Mitchell was a boy. From that energy response by the crystal alone, the giants reasoned unhappily: `There is more potential in these crystals than we have hitherto analyzed.’
And how could that be?
But there was even worse.
In giving his command to Edith, the best of all possible Seth Mitchells had implied that he had received a feed-back message from her, presumably by way of the crystal, indicat­ing that she would all by herself now be able to defeat the entire science of the ninety-third century.
Once Shall took control of the crystal, such a feedback of information — whether true or false — should not have occurred. And Seth’s command, by any known scientific analysis, was impossible.
True, they did not know all there was to know about the crystals: There were several unexplained areas of phenomena, which were still being researched. But it had long been argued that nothing major remained to be discovered.
Furthermore, they believed that, under strict scientific control, the crystals had created the supreme possibilities of the biologically manipulated beings of their own time period. Every conceivable potentiality of the cells, and of the total gestalt of those cells, had been reasoned through. And the crystal had dutifully created each possibility for them: levi­tation, telepathy, control of distant matter on a thought level, and so on.
The only other implication: Original, unmanipulated human beings might have special qualities that had been lost to their biologically manipulated descendants.
Unquestionably, that cumulative decision had made her the best of all possible Edith Prices. But such a person would have been meaningless in the twentieth century. And since she hadn’t visualized the scene inside the crystal when she made it, that was not the source of her present power:
That was something else. Something fantastic, Unheard of, beyond all their science.

XIII

A giant grunted, ’I think we should kill her.’
A second huge man growled an objection. He argued: ’If the attempt to destroy her brought a reaction from the absolute power that radiated from her, the power would be uncontrolled. Much better to deduce on the basis of Shalil’s report the low-level ways in which her mind functions, awaken her, and inexorably force responses from her.’
Everybody thought that was a good idea. Accordingly, they made their deductions. Each new one added to their growing conviction that they could retain complete mastery of the situation.
’And if something goes wrong,’ one giant bubbled, ’we can always render her unconscious again by instantaneous uncreation and re-creation by the crystal.’
Shall reminded gruffly, ’What about that odd decision she had reached, in her attempt to be the best of all possible Ediths, to handle situations with infinite flexibility?’
A groan of contempt greeted the remark. With her lifetime conditioning,’ one huge scientist rumbled despisingly, ’she couldn’t possibly deal with each situation according to its merits.’
Edith, they criticized, would never even know what the real issues of a situation were.
They completed their increasingly confident consideration by deciding that when Edith awakened she should appear to herself to be completely free . . .

She was lying on grass. It touched her fingers and her face. The fresh smell of it was in her nostrils.
Edith opened her eyes, and simultaneously raised her head.
Wilderness. A primeval forest. A small brown animal with a bushy tail scurried off into the brush, as she climbed hastily to her feet, remembering.
She saw the giant in the act of picking himself up fifteen feet to her left. He seemed to be slow about it, as if he were groggy.
It was a misty day, the sun still high in the sky. To her right, partly visible through foliage, was a great, gray hill of soil, To her left, the land fell away, and the mist was thicker. After a hundred yards it was an almost impenetrable fog.
Almost, but not quite, impenetrable. Vaguely visible in the mist was a building.
Edith barely glanced in that direction. Instead, she faced the giant squarely and said, ’Where are we?’
Shall gazed at her warily. It was hard for him to realize that she did not intuitively know. Almost unacceptable that alongside her infinite power was such nadir thinking.
Yet she continued to stand there, facing him. He sensed her concern. And so, reluctantly, he decided that the analysis by his colleagues and himself continued to apply. They had perceived her to be motivated by unnoticed attitudes and forgotten memories, each psychically as solid as a bar of steel. All her life she had followed rules, gone along with group-think behavior.
To school and to college; these were the early norms, adhered to while she was still under the control of her parents. Basically those norms had been unquestioned.
Shall noticed in her memory an awareness that millions of people had somehow failed to achieve higher education. That was astonishing to him; yet somehow, they had been veered away, by a variety of accidental circumstances.
So in those areas of personal development Edith had gone farther, better, straighter than the average. Yet in college, first time away from her family, she had swiftly been caught up in a group movement of nonconformism. Whatever the motives of the other persons involved, Edith’s had been solely an intense inner need to belong to the group.
So, for her, it had been the beginning of aberration, which her behavior ever afterward reflected. Thus, Shall observed, like a person struggling against invisible force lines, she had fought to return to an inner norm. More study, different jobs, different places to live, association with different men — the confusion was immense, and it was difficult to determine which of these numerous actions represented a real goal.
Adding to the jumble, everything she did was modified by a very large, though finite, number of small, endlessly repeated actions — eating habits, dressing habits, working, sleeping, walking, reacting, communicating, thinking: stereotypes.
What bothered Shalil was that he could not find a single point of entry that would not instantly trigger one of the stereotypes. The others had assumed that something would presently come into view in a conscious mind; they had taken it for granted that he would locate it. His instruction was to uncreate her into unconsciousness if he failed to make such an entry, whereupon there would be another consultation.
The possibility of such a quick failure disturbed ShallL Temporizing, he said aloud, ’This is the Garden of the Crystals in the ninety-third century. Here, in the most virgin wilderness left on our planet, the crystals lie buried in the soil tended by guardian scientists.’
Having spoken, having had that tiny bit of extra time to consider, he decided that the problem she presented would be solvable with a steady pressure of verbal maneuvering by which she was motivated to express one after the other the endless stereotypes that had been detected in her, while he waited alertly for the one through which the crystal — on his command — would divest her of the power with which it had (through a factor that the others and he did not know) invested her.
Her primary concern, he saw, was that she would never get back to her own era. Since he knew she could return at once simply by thinking the correct positive thought, his problem was to keep her worried, negative, unaware, deceived, misled.
Shalil became aware that his anxiety about how to proceed was causing a hasty telepathic consultation among his col­leagues. Moments later the suggestion was made: ’Divert her letting her win some minor victories, and believe that they are gifts from you.’
It seemed like a good idea, and Shalil carried it out as if it were a directive.

XIV

At the Harkdale Hotel, it was another morning. Marge Aikens came downstairs, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. Almost automatically, she walked over and peered into the conference room, The lights in it had been turned off, the drapes were still drawn; and so the dim emptiness of it was an instant weight on her spirits.
Heavy-hearted, she turned away — and became aware that a man had come up beside her. She turned about, and faced him with a start.
The hotel day clerk, Derek Slade, stood there, as usual the very mirror of New York male fashion. ’Madame,’ he said courteously.
He continued to speak, and after a while his meaning penetrated her dulled mind. He thought he had recognized her as the young woman who had late the previous afternoon gone into the conference room with the five Seth Mitchells.
Where — Derek wanted to know — were the four married Seths? The wives had been phoning all night, according to a note on his desk from the night clerk. And a police officer was on the way over, because three Mrs Mitchells had finally called the authorities.
Marge had an impulse to deny that she was the woman he thought he had seen. But his failure to mention the bachelor Seth captured her attention, and she asked about him.
Derek shook his head. ’Not in his room. Went out early, I’m told.’
Marge stood in the doorway, somewhat blankly consider­ing what might have happened to the best Seth. Why would he have gone out when he had said the previous night that he would have breakfast with her? Then she became aware that Derek Slade’s gaze had gone past her shoulder and was seek­ing the darkened interior of the room behind her.
His jaw grew lax, his eyes grew round.
Inside the room, a man’s baritone voice uttered an exclamation.
Marge turned.
The four Seths, who had been uncreated the previous night, were standing near the door. Their backs were to her.
She realized that it was one of the Seths who had exclaimed and that what he had said was, ’Hey, who turned out the lights?’
Marge had an immediate and totally perceptive awareness of the implications of those words. Her mind leaped back to how Billy Bingham had explained the transition in time: no impression at all of time having passed.
This was the same.
Almost involuntarily she reached into the room to the light switch beside the door, and pressed it. As she did so, a fifth Seth walked forward from one corner of the room, where he had suddenly appeared. He seemed bewildered. Many minutes would go by before he was identified as the Seth of the gold Cadillac, somehow re-created without a bullet in his brain or a drop of lake water on his immaculate suit.
At the moment, Marge had only a fleeting glance for him, for a sixth Seth was suddenly standing on the far side of the conference table. The way he held himself, his quick alertness as he looked around the room, saw the other Seths — and then flicked his gaze to her with a relieved recognition ...
Seeing him, and receiving so many familiar signals that identified Detective Seth Mitchell for her, she became emotionally unglued. Without any of her usual discretion, she let out a scream.
’Seth — my darling!’
Exactly how she got to him, and he to her, could un­doubtedly be reasoned out from the fact that they met at the halfway point around the big table, and desisted in their embrace only when Marge grew aware that Edith Price was standing a few feet away, glancing around very timidly.
Close behind Edith, another Seth appeared. He was dressed in work clothes, and Marge surmised that he therefore must be the farmer.
Marge scarcely more than glanced at him. As she released herself from Detective Seth’s embrace, she saw that Edith wore a different dress and had her hair done differently. Despite those swift noticings, it would take a while before Marge clearly, and the others in any way at all, understood that this was the Edith Price who had been murdered in New York by the worst Athtar.
Of the Athtars there was no sign,
And though the minutes fled by — and finally the bachelor Seth walked into the doorway — Edith Price, the crystal orientation, did not reappear.
The best Seth explained that he had gone for a walk, and in thinking over all that had happened, had decided that things would work out. He finished hopefully, ’And here, when I get back, you all are. Each of you is a living proof that Edith has found out something of what she can do. Or’ —he paused — ’someone has, and is willing.’
But what can she do?’ One of the Seths asked that, bewildered.
The bachelor Seth smiled his friendly smile. ’I’m rather fond of that young lady. In a way, a total reflection of our own age, yet she thought her way to some kind of best.’ He broke off, glanced from one to another of the numerous duplicate faces, and said softly, ’You want to know what she can do. I didn’t dare speak of it at the time, but, now, well . . . If God is dead, then what can replace Him?’
’Then you are God,’ parroted Marge. She put her hand over her mouth, exclaimed, ’Oh, my lord — Edith!’
The best Seth said slowly, ’I wonder what the crystal and Edith are doing with that concept?’

Shalil was in deep trouble. The giant had continued to wait for the purely personal, restrictive thought that, he and his colleagues believed, would presently end any control Edith had of the crystal’s future.
But the moments had gone by, and she had kept on utter­ing her idealistic words, so binding on him and his kind in relation to the people of the past. All the Seths and the Ediths re-created. A cooperative solution for the severe threat to the giant human beings of the ninety-third century — between the giants, on the one hand, and the Ediths and Seths on the other.
Edith in an outburst of imagination visualized a time corridor between the twentieth and ninety-third centuries. Thriftily she retained control of that corridor for her own group.
It was as she established that enormous connection, and control, that Shalil — desperate — had her uncreated. He recreated her, unconscious, on the contour rest-place. The huge scientists gathered around her comatose body and gloomily evaluated the extent of their defeat.
One grudged, But let’s face it. We can live with what’s happened so far.’
The problem was that they had made no headway. Edith still radiated total power; somehow, she continued to evoke from the crystal an energy output that no one had ever analyzed to be potential in it.
Shalil had a tremendous insight. ’Perhaps that’s what we need to examine — our own limitations. Perhaps the real problem is that, in our scientific zeal, we have rejected the enigma.’
After he had spoken, there was a dead silence. He saw that they were shaken. The enigma was the forbidden — because unscientific — area of thought: the enigma that is the universe. Why does it exist? Where did it come from?
Since science began, scientists had concentrated on how things worked and what they did.
Never why. Never ever how in the meaning of why.
The thrall of shocked silence ended, as a giant laughed a harsh, determined laugh. ’I don’t know anything about the enigma, and do not plan to,’ he said, ’but as a scientist I do know my duty — our duty. We must bring this small female being to consciousness, inform her of the unqualified extent of her power, and see what she does with it.’
‘B-but she may kill us all,’ protested another. He added, almost plaintively, ’I’ve never been killed.’
’It will be an interesting experience for you,’ replied the first man. ’Quite different from uncreation.’
Shalil interjected matter-of-factly, ’Edith is not a killer.’ He broke off. Shrewdly, ’I think this is an excellent plan. I see it as being totally in our favor.’
They perceived what he meant, and accordingly sanctioned the awakening.
Lying there, Edith was brought awake.
After she had calmed herself — after she was told about her absolute ability, exactly as they had anticipated, she had a first automatic response to the possibility. For prolonged seconds a wild hope suffused her entire being. She wanted, most urgently, to undo the errors of judgment which had led her down the empty road of numerous boyfriends, none of whom took responsibility for her and her capacity to bear children. In a single overwhelm of earnest desire, all the years of frustration since college found their way first to her eyes in the form of quick tears, and then, when she could speak, to the words: ’Aside from what I’ve just told you’ — she spoke the qualifying phrase, which retained for her control of access to the twentieth century without even noticing it — ’all I really want is to be happily married.’
The giants perceived that the person she had in mind for a husband was the bachelor Seth Mitchell.
They accordingly commanded the crystal that the wish she had expressed be carried out forthwith in its exact and limited meaning. And then, safe and relieved, they stood marveling at the difficult concept of marriage.
In an era where everybody lived forever by a process of crystal duplication, they would never, left to themselves, have been able to ask the right question to produce such an answer.
’It is just possible,’ Shall cautiously summed up, ’that the interaction between the unmanipulated human beings of the twentieth century and the manipulated of the ninety-third will actually bring about a lessening of the rigidities of both groups.’
His stern, black gaze dared a denial. After a long moment, he was surprised to realize that no one was offended. Indeed, a colleague murmured reflectively, ’If that should happen, we may even find out what the crystal is.’
But, of course, that was impossible.
The crystal was a space phenomenon. The energy flows in that space, and around it, and out of it, involved individual events, things, persons. But that was a subordinate function —like the motor center of a human brain that moves a muscle in the tip of the little finger.
The muscle should be movable. Unfortunate if it wouldn’t, or couldn’t. Yet truth is, if that muscle were permanently incapacitated, it would be unnoticed by the vast brain on the conscious level.
On the flow level of existence, the patterned interactions in and around and out of the crystal exceeded 10 to the 27,000th power times the number of atoms in the universe — enough interactions for all the life configurations of all the people who ever lived; perhaps enough even for all those who ever would live on Earth.
But, for the crystal, that was minor. As a pattern of time and life flows, it had suspended those flows during twenty-five years in the Harkdale museum. That didn’t matter. That was almost-nothing. As a shape of space, its existence was continuous. As space, it occupied a location, and was related: Though it had no flows during the quarter-century, made no recordings, and had no memory and no doing, it nevertheless knew, it was, it had, and it could.
In finding it and tens of thousands of crystals like it, human beings of the eighth and ninth millennia made use of the interactions and flows; never of the space ability. They discovered the principal ’laws’ — the how and the what — by which the crystals operated, and were determined to find out eventually the rules that would ’explain’ certain unknowns in the wave behavior in and around and out of the crystals.
Someday all the interactions of all life and all time would be evenly divided among the crystals. It would then become its true form: one crystal shape, one space. It would then be complete, its intention achieved.
There was no hurry.
And so it waited. And, waiting, fulfilled other goals than its own, minor, unimportant goals involving flows and inter­actions; reflecting the illusions of motion: events, things, persons, involving nothing, really . . .

In consequence, in Harkdale today there is a one-story build­ing of unusual design. The building stands on the exact spot were Billy Bingham once disappeared, on the shore overlook­ing Lake Naragang. It is a solidly built structure and has a certain beauty. On a gold plaque beside the ornate front door are the words:

CRYSTAL, INC.
Owned and Managed by
SETH MITCHELLS AND EDITH PRICES
Not Open to the Public

Resort visitors who stop to look at the sign are often puzzled by the plural names. And long-time residents, when asked, offer the impression that Crystal, Inc. actually deals in the numerous crystals to be found in the rock formations in and around the hills and lake.
There is a large, pretty house with spacious grounds located near the building. In this house dwell Seth and Edith Mitchell.
To the puzzlement of their neighbors, Mr and Mrs Seth Mitchell (née Edith Price) started their married life by legally adopting a thirteen-year-old boy whom they called Billy Bingham Mitchell.


4. FOOTPRINT FARM

AS THE car topped the hill, Peter Tasker felt the friendliness of the farm flowing up to meet him. He glanced at Evana in the seat beside him, hoping that she sensed it, also. He wanted to say eagerly, ’How does it look after two years?’
He didn’t say it, of course. In the first place, the idea of a farm that reacted emotionally was a game that he played with himself. And in the second, Evana was sitting very straight, with her blue eyes fixed rigidly on the road ahead. Tasker turned to the back seat to see if nine-year-old Tiffy was looking. But she lay curled up, her face pressed against the cushion, apparently asleep. Tasker faced forward again. The judge had awarded Tiff to him for six months of each year, starting April 1. Today.
As they bowled along the fringe of the hill, the farm spread below them, the footprint effect plainly visible. The ’sole,’ a shallow, natural valley curved back to the green knoll of the ‘arch,’ on which stood the two-story farm house and its outbuildings. Beyond it, blurred now in the gathering twilight, was the rocky rim of the "heel,’ where the meteorite had fallen some four hundred years before, according to the testimony of experts he had sought out.
For the thousandth time, at least, Tasker visualized the fiery stone as it must have been on that far day, sweeping in low over the ‘arch’ and crashing into the resisting topsoil to form the heel of that giant footprint. There must have been echoing thunder in all the near valleys. Even a hundred miles away, the air had probably stirred and sighed and shivered as the vibrations of the impact recoiled in all directions simultaneously.

In his deposition for the court, Tasker had written:
’From my wife’s accusations, we are expected to believe that, if Tiffy had continued to dig where those meteorite stones were found on our farm, she would eventually have run into something inimical. What form this — hostility — would take, she carefully refrains from mentioning, for, of course, it is nothing but a figment of her imagination. However, let us pursue her argument logically.’

At that point, supported by statements from scientists, he’d proved that no meteorite had ever contained bacteria, been radioactive, or chemically poisonous.
"Peter!’ Evana’s voice was sharp. Tasker emerged from his reverie and realized she had spoken more than once. He glanced at her quickly. Her color was high, and she was looking at him for the first time today.
‘Peter, we’ve got to decide about me.’
Tasker shifted uneasily in his seat. He had gone to the city the day before, intending to try to persuade Evana to come with him and look after Tiffy during the six-month period. Before he could make the offer, she had said, ’Peter, I’ll do anything if you let me come along.’
He’d started to say, ’But that’s exactly —’
He stopped. There was a look in her face, a pale intensity of expression. Amazed, divining that she was offering a marriage relationship to her divorced husband, he stared at her. ‘Anything?’ he asked finally, wryly.
She nodded, but did not reply. Tasker shook his head wonderingly. ’My dear —’ tenderly – ‘you can come along without any special condition.’
’I’m offering one,’ she had said then, stiffly, ’because I’m making one. Peter, I couldn’t stand it if you let her dig.’
That chilled him. ’Evana,’ he thought, ’it’s only ground, it’s only rock.’ But he had known, even as the voiceless words repeated through his mind, that it would do no good to repeat them aloud. She had hated the farm from the beginning, a city-bred girl who would not, apparently could not, adjust.
As he guided the station wagon through the gate into the yard, he sighed and gave in. ’All right, you win. No digging.’
A minute later, he lifted the sleeping Tiffy out of the rear seat, and silently followed Evana towards the house.
To his surprise, the farm was content that night. ’Sleep! it soothed him. And Tasker slept. When he wakened the next morning, he was astounded to see it was ten minutes after ten.
There was no sound from the other two bedrooms. ’City slickers!’ Tasker murmured affectionately, as he dressed.
He spent the morning polishing small specimens of meteorite. By twelve o’clock his thoughts were elsewhere. Blonde Evana, slim and cheerful-looking in a bright blue gingham dress, looked around as he entered the kitchen. ’Tiffy’s still asleep,’ she said. “I thought I’d let her get a good rest if she needed it.’
‘Probably the change of air,’ said Tasker.
Tasker spent the afternoon seeding the dry hilltop acreage. When he came in for dinner, Tiffy was just finishing her evening meal. It hadn’t occurred to Tasker before that the girl might be fed separately. He wondered if Evana was trying to deny him his daughter’s company.
Tiffy looked up and yawned. ’I don’t know what’s the matter, Daddy. I’m just so sleepy.’
Evana came in from the kitchen. ’She’s going to bed right after dinner, aren’t you dear?’
The explanations relaxed Tasker. The presence of these two warmed the room for him. ’That’s what fresh air can do,’ he said.
After Tiffy had been tucked away upstairs, Evana served dinner and said acidly, “Don’t keep repeating that fresh air gag. It makes you sound like a country hick.’
’Why not?’ Tasker countered. ’That’s what I am.’
‘Don’t be a fool.’ She spoke curtly. She sounded as if it mattered to her.
The next day, also, Tiffy overslept. And the day after that. For the fourth morning, Tasker put an alarm clock in her room and stood by while it rang and rang. He shook her finally, gently at first, then more forcibly.
’Tiffy, wake up!
She rolled loosely at his touch. He leaned closer, and called in her ear. She moved at that, and murmured: ’I’m so tired. Let me sleep.’
That made him choke up, and he had his first thought about taking her to a doctor.
Just before noon, he saw Tiffy out in the yard. She came, lackadaisically, to the workship in answer to his hail, a thin girl, tall for her age, her dark hair done up in bright pink ribbons.
She perked up a little as she gazed into the microscope at a piece of meteorite. ’Gee,’ she said, “it’s all marked up.’
Her response revived Tasker’s hope that he could interest her in his work. Five years before, he had been fired with an ambition to make a scientific study of what he still hoped would someday be recognized as the most unusual and interesting meteorite that had ever fallen on the planet. He explained, now, that the markings were the result of heat from friction, made centuries ago when the stone plunged from space. Tiffy nodded, gazed at several more specimens, and then turned away. ’I guess I’ve seen everything,’ she said listlessly.
Tasker watched her go, uneasily.
A few minutes later, he glanced out of his workshop window and saw Tiffy taking a nap beside her dollhouse near the fence. Trembling, an unpleasant suspicion in his mind, Tasker went over to her.
’Tiffy!’ No answer.
Tenderly, he picked her up and carried her into the house. Evana held the door open for him, and he realized she must have watched the incident from the kitchen.
She led the way upstairs, swaying a little. After she had tucked Tiffy under the sheets, she turned abruptly on Tasker. ’This damned farm!’ she said angrily.
His own suspicion was so all-enveloping now that Tasker felt sick. The bitter words came out before he could hold them back. ’Are you doping her?’
That stopped her fury as if he had struck her. The expression of pain that came into her face made her look like a hurt child. Suddenly, the sea blue of her eyes stirred and became discolored. She started to cry.
Tiffy slept on, her fingers balled into fists, her lank body loose under the quilt. Tasker gazed down at her, a slump in his throat, already convinced that his accusation was false.
“There’s something wrong here,’ he said huskily. ’It’s foolish to believe it has anything to do with the meteorite. B-but I think we ought to take her to see Doctor Merrick — as soon as she wakes up.’

Tiffy danced into the doctor’s private office, pirouetted past her father, and paused in front of the great oak desk. Her eyes shone brightly. She said in a shrill, cheerful voice:
’Doctor Merrick, I remember you.’
Doctor Merrick stood up. He was a well-dressed, alert man of forty, and his wide smile was friendly. ’Goodness,’ he said, ’what a vivacious personality we have here.’
After his examination, he pulled the shining-eyed Tiffy in front of him and took her tightly closed hands in his with a quick, firm movement that startled Tasker because the girl resisted.
Resisted! Her body twisted ungracefully. Her face changed, grimaced, contorted, and her small teeth showed in an animallike snarl. Then, unable to free her hands from the doctor’s tight grip, she dropped to her knees and bit savagely at his fingers.
In just moments, what had seemed a healthy child had transformed into a thing that fought and mewled.
‘Stop it!’ said Tasker weakly.
He caught a glimpse of Evana’s face, and the look on it made him half turn to prevent her from slipping off her chair in a faint. Before he could move to help her, Dr. Merrick’s voice rose sternly above the bedlam.
’Hold the child!’
Tasker jumped forward. His hands, brutally strong with surprise, caught Tiffy by the shoulder and head. She writhed and jerked with astonishing strength, and her young face was twisted into an improbable mask of fury, but he held her.
Inexorably, the doctor forced open her hands. Tiffy screamed and then stood limp, her head drooping. All the resistance was gone from her. She looked suddenly like a very tired little girl.
’I thought so,’ said Dr. Merrick. He gazed angrily at Tasker. ’What’s the idea telling me she hasn’t been doing any digging?’
’But she hasn’t.’ Tasker spoke automatically. ’We’ve kept her under constant —’
He stopped, choking a little. Tears of pity welled up in his eyes. ’Tiffy, darling,’ he said, ’your hands.’
How she had kept them hidden from Evana and himself, Tasker could not even guess. They were raw, and bleeding slightly. There were blisters on both palms that would have made a grown man cringe in agony. As he bandaged those poor, torn hands, the doctor spoke quietly.
’Her reflexes were too slow . . . Outwardly, so bright and peppy, but her nerves and muscles reacted as if she were on the point of exhaustion. And then, fortunately, I caught a glimpse of her right palm. I’d like your wife to take her into the anteroom while you and I have a talk, Mr. Tasker.’
After the door had closed behind mother and daughter, Tasker said, ’I don’t understand it. She was under constant observation.’
‘At night, too?’
“But that’s impossible,’ Tasker said sharply. ’You can’t believe that she would sneak out in the dark and —‘
He stopped in a wondering belief. ’But, of course, that’s why she slept so late.’
He stood up, trembling. Before he could speak, Doctor Merrick said something about taking Tiffy to see a psychiatrist. Other phrases came through. ’Traumatic experience.’
’Compulsion neurosis.’
Tasker’s mind brushed the words aside. To him, the advice was meaningless. He felt himself on the edge of an abyss, but he had no desire to resist the thoughts that came. Evana had been right. How she had guessed the truth was a matter too intricate to be thought about now. Her fears of the meteorite, seen in this new light, showed sensitivity of the first order and more than human awareness of something that was not human. And he had believed he was the logical one.
He said aloud, ’We’ll do that, Doctor. I’ll drive Evana and Tiffy to the city today, and then —’
He stopped. He had a feeling that if he didn’t watch out he’d babble to the physician that he was returning to the farm alone that night — for what? He wasn’t sure. What was it that was buried under the ’heel’ of Footprint Farm? Whatever it was, it was up to him, alone, to find it. No time, now, to start persuading other people. It had taken him nearly five years to realize a truth that Evana had sensed in her first weeks at the farm. He felt unutterably humble before that simple fact.
It was after midnight when, having taken Evana and Tiffy home, he drove back into the farmyard. He went upstairs, and as he crept wearily into bed he was thinking Tomorrow — I’ll go out there and dig — tomorrow —.
He woke blurrily to the sound of the phone ringing, and the thought The farm doesn’t want me to answer that. He was slipping off into slumber again when it struck him how fantastic that was.
’Of course I’ll answer,’ he told himself with a yawn.
’No!’
He yielded, impressed by the tremendousness of his fatigue. But just as he started to sleep, the phone, which had been briefly silent, began to ring again. That woke him. He sat up, blinking, utterly appalled. Full-grown, the truth burst upon him. Something out there is trying to make me sleep. The notion I’ve had all these years of a personified farm wasn’t a game I was playing. It was a game that was being played on me.
The cunning of it was simple enough, but it implied an unhuman danger. Yet, swiftly, he realized that the new development had favorable aspects. The hands of his watch pointed at five minutes after three, and so not too much time had gone by.
Downstairs, the phone was ringing again. Moments later, after a mad dash, Tasker picked up the receiver with trembling fingers, and gasped hello. And heard Evana’s voice at the other end.
’What’s the matter with you?’ She sobbed and talked at the same time. ’I’ve been calling you for hours. Peter, she’s gone. Tiffy, I mean. She must have gone back to the farm with you. She must have hidden herself in all that stuff you have in the back of your station wagon. Is she there? Did you find her? Peter, stop her! Stop her from digging!’
Her incoherent words, when he finally understood them, made him tensely calm.
’Evana, I’ll go out there. I’ll call you back.’
’No, wait, wait! I am not at home. I’m on the road. I’ll be there in three hours.’
He ran out the door and across his porch, and then hesitated because he couldn’t recall if he had hung up the receiver. He actually had to fight that orderliness in him that made him want to go back to make sure. Across the yard he raced, and across the pasture toward the ’heel’. Cautiously, he approached the edge of the steep incline, and then he was gazing over the rim. As he saw the vague movement in the darkness below. He stopped.
She was digging in the night, under a moon that was like an inverted saucer hanging low in the western sky. Digging quietly and steadily, with a spade in a hole that, even in the shadows of that indentation, seemed large and deep.
Kneeling there, Tasker pitied Tiffy, whose mind and body had been taken over by an alien spirit that frantically overstrained her muscles and strength in order to achieve its own purpose.
Tasker started down the hill. Without hesitation, he jumped into the hole beside Tiffy and tenderly took the small spade from her fingers. She offered no resistance. He felt her shiver as he picked her up and carried her back up the hill and towards the house.
Upstairs in the bathroom, he removed the tattered, dirty bandages that Doctor Merrick had put on her hands the previous afternoon. Gently, he washed those tortured hands and gently bound them again. And then he carried her down the stairs and out to the garage and put her into the front seat of the station wagon. He selected a sledge hammer, a pick, and a shovel. A minute later, the headlights were glaring a pathway back to the ’heel’. Tasker was trying to imagine what the thing would be like, and what he would have to do to destroy it, when the little girl said softly, ’What are you intending to do?’
He glanced at her with wide, startled eyes. ’My God,’ he thought, ’it’s talking to me through her.’
He stopped the car. Before he could speak, Tiffy said:
’All these years I’ve wanted only freedom. I tried to persuade every person that came this way to dig me up, but it was too hard to control the bigger ones. So with you, I tried the method of making you want to remain here —’
’While you,’ said Tasker, ’took over the body of a helpless child, and overstrained every muscle in her body. No matter what happens now, she has been permanently damaged.’
’I’m sure you’re wrong. But I tried to be careful. I had her sleep long hours, but I admit I knew nothing about blisters.’
That penetrated. It seemed true. How could so utterly different a being know about human limitations?
’Why didn’t you try to talk to us through her sooner?’
Her secrecy he could understand. Tiffy would not know that she was possessed. She would only be aware that she was doing wrong in going out at night to dig, and so in the secretive way of children, she would keep her own counsel.
"Before she went away, I could only control her in the simplest physical way. She seems to have changed.’
Tasker was trying to think of how to explain about human beings growing older when Tiffy said, ’What are you afraid of?

Her eyes gazed back at him steadily, and in the light from the dashboard they were serene blue in color, calm and with depths unfathomable. And he knew that it did not merely mean afraid, now. The question struck to the roots of his being. It was as if a stone had been dropped into the well of time inside him and the echo had come from a million years, an ancestral sound of many vibrations.
He had a vision of himself as the descendant of a continuous line of ten-thousand parents, from the day that man had climbed to his feet and looked up at the stars and reached for the near sky. With such a background, what was he afraid of?
Why, of the night, and of the unknown! Of darkness and the river, of thunder and lightning, and of the strange gleams of purpose in the eyes of other men. He was afraid of nameless things, and — shameful — afraid of himself.
It did not occur to him to speak again. He slipped the machine into low gear and guided the truck down the steep road he had once used for carting rocks. Twisting down, and then a quick, sharp turn and the emergency brake did the rest. The headlights poured their brightness into the four-foot hole that Tiffy had dug in the hard, rocky earth.
It was an hour later, when the eastern sky was already thick with light, that he struck a piece of rock that clanged almost like metal. He spaded the soil away from its gleaming sides, and was energetically marking off its limits, when his shovel abruptly went through into a deeper hole. As he jerked it back, startled, he knocked loose more of the dirt, making a cavity several inches in diameter.
He was still off-balance, then, as he saw the movement at the bottom of the hole. A shadowy object wiggled up toward the dawn light. Twice it tried to lift itself up, but it was too large for the opening. ’Wait!’ said Tasker shakily. ’Get back!
The uneasy thrill of the first seeing of the thing was fading. The dawn was brighter. The ground felt firm and hard, and gave him a sense of normalcy. He looked down into the darkness of the hole and the unexpectedly small size of the thing that was there made him feel better about his decision to release it.
’Get out of the way!’ he said. ’I’ll enlarge the opening.’
’Quick!’ said Tiffy from just behind him. ’She’s coming.’
’She?’ Tasker echoed, uncomprehendingly.
There was the sound of a car motor from beyond the hill. The sound ceased. A door slammed. A scrambling sound. And then Evana appeared on the rim, silhouetted against the bright sky.
Tasker’s voice rose on the clear air, ’Evana, come down here and get Tiffy. I’m about to let the thing go.’
The woman let out an inarticulate cry and came running, stumbling, down the slope. Twice, she fell. But each time she made it back to her feet almost at once. And then she was down in the excavation, and had snatched Tiffy in her arms.
’Sweetheart, are you all right?’
’Evana,’ said Tasker in a strained voice, ‘please hurry! Go back to the house! I’m sure you don’t want to be around when it comes out.’
Evana released Tiffy slightly. Relaxed her tight grip, was more the way it was. She stared at Tasker and her voice had a puzzled note in it as she said, ’You mean, you’ve actually got something down there.’
At that point, his words must finally have penetrated. Her face drained of color. “Before — it — comes — out,’ she echoed. “Why, you madman, you’ve got to kill it.’
Before he could realize her intent, she lunged at him, her teeth showing and hit him with the full weight of her body. It was so unexpected, it threw him off-balance. And so, as she grabbed the spade, he let go of it.
She couldn’t have had any plan, for her first thrust with the shovel widened the hole to more than a foot. Bare moments after that, Tasker had recovered. And now he did the lunging. She was five feet six, probably a hundred and twenty pounds, and every ounce of that weight seemed to have muscles that squirmed and fought. It was a battle from the instant he grabbed her, and every inch of the way he carried her. But he was strong from years of physical labor. And so, after a minute, he had her out of the pit.
As he literally dumped her to the ground, he said, harshly, ’Take Tiffy to the house! There’s nothing here for you, in your state of mind. This is contact with an alien intelligence; something fantastic and wonderful that lives on meteorites, or in them. Don’t you see?’
He saw that she didn’t. But she did look blank and continued to lie on the ground. Hastily, he turned back to get Tiffy.
She was down in the pit, pulling the shovel out of the hole. She stepped back.
The thing that floated up out of the shadows seemed to be made of dark, opaque glass. Like the eyes of a fly, it presented thousands of surfaces to the light. Its beauty was the beauty of an enormous cut emerald, for as it emerged into the open, it turned green. It shimmered, seemed to hesitate, then floated higher. As it drew near Tiffy, it swerved and momentarily caressed her cheek. She laughed the laughter of a delighted child, and touched the green surface with her bandaged hands.
In the east the sun, though still below the horizon, cast up a pall of red light that lit up the whole sky.
Like a thistledown now, the thing mounted upwards. A hundred feet up, it floated into the rays of the rising sun. It jumped as if it had been struck. Like a shooting star, it darted into the sky. Faster it moved. Brighter it gleamed. It became a tiny, shining thing at the remote edge of vision. It twinkled. And was gone.
Tasker was aware of Evana sobbing softly. ’Oh, Task,’ she said, unconsciously using her old nickname of endearment for him, “it was so beautiful.’
Tiffy, he saw then, had an intent look on her small, up-turned face. ’Daddy — Mum — when it touched me, it said it will . . . come . . . back as soon as — I don’t quite understand — something about the discovery of live things like us on a planet would be a complete surprise to — to —’ She fumbled verbally. ’I don’t quite get it.’
Tasker took three firm steps over to Evana and placed his arm around her unresisting shoulder. He guided her over to Tiffy, and drew her, also unresisting, into the embrace of his left arm.
’Let’s go,’ he said, ". . . home.’


5. LIVING WITH JANE

BY THE time Jane was four and a half, she was explaining to visitors in a tone of voice that showed the subject was of great interest to her: ’That man over there is not really my father. He’s an android — that’s a machine — who looks like my father, and he’s around all the time except when my father visits me. It’s good for a little girl to have either her father or a father-substitute with her day and night. It does something secure for me deep inside.’
She was also given to telling people that her real father and mother were divorced. And then she’d add, ‘What’s divorce?’
By age six, she had evidently been told that divorce resulted when your real parents didn’t like each other enough anymore. And so, one departed but retained visiting rights, and the other remained.
But, of course, these days the departed parent left behind an android who was a look-alike, so that his going wouldn’t bother the issue of the marriage.
’I’m the issue,’ little Jane clarified, in case anyone was in doubt.
’The whole purpose of this,’ she one day told Mrs. Jonathan, her grandmother on her mother’s side, ’is to make sure that I grow up normal and don’t have any trauma about a missing father.’
At age nine, she said to that same over-fond grandparent, ’Of course, it goes much deeper than that. At one time, children were casually denied parental closeness either by the accident of death, or the passion of divorce; or the parents would go out for the evening leaving a baby-sitter to look after the children. In our advanced civilization of today, the baby sitters are two androids, one of whom looks like father and the other like mother. It’s an experiment on a mass scale. The hope is that we’ll grow up with a complete sense of inner security and with ego intact.’
If Jane noticed Grandmother Jonathan’s lips tighten whenever she mentioned her father, she showed no sign. And, of course, the older woman refrained, on stern instructions from her daughter, from ever voicing her negative opinion of a man who had divorced the most perfect girl in the world and deserted his daughter.
Grandmother was equally unhappy with the fact that, since the divorce, Alpha One had continued a secret (from Jane) affair with her ex-husband, giving him, as Mrs. Jonathan did not hesitate to say over and over again, ’all the privileges of marriage and requiring from him none of the responsibilities.’
But there was no question as to when the real father was around. Real mother looked instantly brighter and happier. For Jane, her father’s coming was a mixed pleasure. Fine, okay, he’s fun. He radiates energy. The whole place is more alive. Unfortunately, he would get stuffy every once in awhile. Periodically, he wasted their time together by giving Jane a reeducation in the differences between real people and androids.
Jane’s father was officially employed as a government physicist, assigned to special projects. He understood androids inside out, so to speak. In his educating drills, he had the android duplicate of his ex-wife walk back and forth and up and down in front of Jane and himself, and he would point out with tiresome patience the slight forward tilt by which an android maintained its (her) balance, the hesitancy just before the head turned, and, oh, a half-dozen other nonhuman characteristics which, it seemed to Jane, she knew right up to here.
Next, he had the android take off the stocking of the right foot and lie face down. Using a thin screwdriver, he removed a section of what looked like a flesh-and-blood woman’s heel. And there, revealed, was a tiny electronic switchboard.
The consequent education included what you did to reprogram the android, something which was usually done at the factory.
For some reason the girl was resistant, not to learning programming, but to doing it. As she explained it, ’I like androids. I’ve grown up with them. They’ve given me their time and their full attention always, as long as I wanted it. They read me stories when I was younger, played games with me ever since, and studied with me. In some ways, androids are more wonderful than people, and programming them is wrong, somehow.’
Her father explained patiently that the androids had been programmed to give exactly the kind of attention that Jane was praising.
Jane said she understood that, but that it made no difference in her feeling. ’It tells us what they’re capable of. Human beings are not capable of things like that.’ She finished, ’As for identifying them from humans, that’s not a problem. They don’t think like us, and that shows in many ways.’
On the basis of that remark, which was reported to Dr. Camm, the psychologist tested her for ESP. The traditional tests showed no significant increase in her previous close-to-zero capability.
Jane was glad when that nonsense was over.
For several months there had been no visit from Daddy Dan, a fact which evoked private, acrid comments from Grandmother Jonathan, and distracted, griefy remarks from Alpha to the effect that ‘Dan is engaged on a secret project. He doesn’t want to take any chance of certain persons discovering that he has an ex-family. People have been arrested, and are to be tried.’
That was the year that Jane was fourteen. Alpha arrived home one midmorning to find her mother sitting in the living room with an unconcealed smile of triumph. ’Do you notice any differences around here?’ asked the older woman, with glowing satisfaction.
The young woman with the blonde hair and the face like an angel, glanced around expectantly. Her gaze came to where her husband’s duplicate stood with a faint smile on his face, so familiar, so exactly like Dan.
Exactly.
With a cry, Alpha ran toward him. ’Dan!’
‘Wait!’ It was Mrs. Jonathan’s voice, sharp and commanding, the triumph gone, the smile faded. Alpha stopped.
Dan continued to stand with that engaging grin on his face. Seeing him, a thought flashed visibly into Alpha’s eyes. She went over to a chair and sat down abruptly.
As from a distance, she heard her mother describe, with the tone of satisfaction back in her voice, the details of her purchase of two androids who were so perfect that, Mrs. Jonathan ecstasized, ’it’s impossible to tell which is you and which is the android.’ She finished gleefully, ’And what’s more, I got a good trade-in allowance on the others.’
‘B-but,’ Alpha began. And couldn’t go on.
She sat there, then, in a state of internal disaster. Her mother’s voice went on extolling the benefits of such masterful androids, as Alpha remembered the few remarks her husband had made about the assignment he was on, having to do with superandroids like this who were part of a conspiracy involving an organization called GALS, which was trying to take over the planet from human beings.
This was why he had stayed away — so that these beings would not discover he had a family.
As she cringed there on the settee, a tiny hope kept pushing at her. The hope grew big enough so that she got her voice back. She said, ’Oh, Mother, I think you ought to return them at once. It was a wonderful thought, but they must have cost a fortune.’
If she could treat this in some normal way and not arouse the suspicions of the androids . . . that was her first terrified hope.
Desperately, remembering what a skinflint her mother was, except where her daughter and granddaughter were involved, she prodded at the aspect of cost. ’What was the price?’ she demanded.
It turned out that they had cost eighteen thousand dollars each.
’Mother!’ screamed Alpha, ’you’ve got to take them back!’
But Mrs. Jonathan was not to be swayed. ’If the money your father left,’ she said smugly, ’isn’t for luxuries like this, what is it for?’
Another wild hope was suddenly in Alpha’s mind. ’You forget,’ she said, ’that Jane is part of an experiment in child-raising where the real father is absent a great deal of the time. I can’t allow that experiment to be interfered with, unless Dr. Camm, the supervising psychologist, gives his consent.’
Having spoken the words, she was instantly convinced that she had found her correct argument. She parted her lips to press the point to a determined conclusion, but the older woman spoke first. ‘As you know,’ said Mrs. Jonathan, ’I was never happy with Jane being a guinea pig. But,’ she climbed to her feet, ‘since you insisted, I think I’ve finally supplied what was missing from the experiment.’
She walked over to the patio room door. ‘Jane, will you bring your little friend in here?’
The words conveyed no meaning to Alpha. She had not the slightest inkling of the truth, so the surprise was total.
Jane walked in ... followed by Jane.
’Of course,’ were the first words Alpha heard as the shock waves finally receded, ’normally Jane Two will be in her box in the basement when Jane One is here, and will come out only when Jane is at school. I always did have the feeling that it was just as good for a parent to have the children around as vice versa. And so,’ firmly, ‘that’s another of my contributions to the happiness of this household.’ She held up her hand. ‘Don’t thank me. Don’t say anything until you’ve tried it for a while.’ She walked to the door. ‘I’ll see you all again soon.’
She went out hastily, clearly anxious to escape any further dialogue.
As Alpha heard the outer door close, she swung about and looked at Dan Two. The super-android turned to Jane. He said, "Take Jane Two down and put her in her box, please.’
’Okay, Dan,’ said Jane cheerfully.
When the two Janes had gone, Dan Two said, ’I don’t think you and I need to play games. We, this duplicate family, are here to trap your husband. If you cooperate, nothing will happen to you or the child. Is that clear?’
The blue-gray eyes, so warm a few moments before, gazed at her icily. She didn’t believe him. She believed the entire real family would be murdered. But she said in a voice that did not tremble, ’What’s the point of all this? You know as well as I do that what you’re planning to do is merely something that’s been programmed into you. The moment it’s programmed out, you won’t do it anymore.’
’Who cares how something starts.’
’Even that answer will have to be programmed,’ urged Alpha. ’You know perfectly well that androids need human beings in order to have a meaningful existence by association. They can’t have it without programming.’
‘Androids are naturally superior —’
’Somebody programmed that into you, also.’
‘— And,’ continued Dan Two, as if she had not spoken, ’it isn’t that we object to the presence of human beings. It’s simply that the superior android must rule the world, and the inferior human being accept his inferior role.’
’Somebody,’ said Alpha. ’is using you to achieve control, and then they’ll discard you.’ She clenched her hands in frustration. ’Use your head, Dan, for heaven’s sake. Use all those marvelous thinking abilities for just one split second. I’ll bet you were programmed by a human being while you were in a box somewhere, turned off.’
’I was programmed by an android,’ Dan Two replied.
‘But that only means that that android was programmed by a human being to program you. Isn’t that true?’
’It doesn’t matter where it starts,’ said the android. ’Once you have it, you’re on your way. And we’re on our way.’
He changed the subject in the brisk way that she had seen Dan do many times. ‘I’ve been instructed to inform you that there will be a court hearing this afternoon in which a motion will be made to release Dr. Schneiter and Edward Jarris.’
’That will never happen,’ flashed Alpha. ‘Dan will stop it.’
’He won’t be there,’ was the reply. ’He’s been told about our being here, and that if he attends or opposes the motion in any way, his family will be killed.’
The woman cringed; yet, after a moment, braced herself. ’I don’t see,’ she said, ’how he can let that influence him in the doing of his duty.’
The android smiled triumphantly. ’He has already agreed not to come to the court hearing,’ he said, and continued in Dan’s best matter-of-fact tone, ‘and he has been told that he must visit Dr. Schneiter in jail and find out from him what he must do next. He has agreed to make the visit. Tomorrow, the decision will be made what to do with him. He must cease his opposition to androids taking over the world.’
The words were so mad, and the purpose so impossible, that Alpha was suddenly breathless. It seemed obvious to her that whoever showed up to ’talk’ to Dan would quickly come to the conclusion that extreme measures would be necessary.
’It all seems so simple,’ said Dan Two. ’So, if I were you, I wouldn’t worry. Rationality shall triumph.’
He stood up with the easy agility of muscles made of newly created flesh, younger, less used than a newborn babe’s. Yet his movements were exactly like those of the original Dan. Feeling helpless, Alpha watched him as he strode toward the patio.

Officer Sutter wrote in his diary: ‘July 9, 2288 A.D., 10:32 A.M. Inspector assigned me to a pleasant duty this morning, or so it seemed at first. Picked up Dan Thaler at an agreed-on street corner rendezvous. Six months have gone by since I last had connection with an assignment of his. I should have guessed that something was wrong when he did not have me come to wherever he is living right now. His destination was the roof of the federal prison. And it was quickly apparent that Thaler was preoccupied, even gloomy. Since he did not confide in me, I diverted my attention to my greatest pleasure still — observing the magnificent city below us, all ashine with bright sunshine. It is a scene that never fails to raise me out of my own private concerns. On arriving at our destination, Thaler requested me to return and pick him up in one hour. I waited until he had been admitted inside the barred area, then floated again into the sky . . .’
An elevator took Dan down to one of the lower bowels of the prison. There, he signed the proper spaces at check points in several corridors, and found himself in an interrogation room with a small, brighteyed, middle-aged man. Time and imprisonment had left their marks. But the individual looked sufficiently like the person Dan remembered for him to accept that this was indeed Dr. S. Schneiter, M.D., psychiatrist, and dedicated supporter of the super-android takeover.
Aside from an overall look of distraction, the psychiatrist seemed thinner than when Dan had last seen him. In his days of power and confidence, Dr. Schneiter had radiated a certain joviality. All that was gone. But his dark eyes remained like bright baubles, and they stared unblinkingly as Dan outlined the situation at the home of his former family.
’So you see,’ said Dan, ’there’s only one place now where I know that super-androids exist, and that’s at my former wife’s home.’
’What about the three that your sister’s husband had?
’He got rid of those when my sister stopped doing all the things that made them necessary, and when I checked early this morning with where I had last seen them, they were gone. Accordingly, to get my evidence I must go to my ex-wife’s home. My naturally suspicious mind tells me that someone has worked out a neat little scheme to trap me if I go there. That’s entirely apart from the threats that have already been made of what will happen to little Jane and to Alpha if I testify against you.’
Dr. Schneiter was suddenly less intense. A shadow or two lifted from his face. He said, ’We seem to have you in an ideal predicament — for our purposes.’
Dan was curious. ’Have you even tried to consider, Doctor, that your total — but total — willingness to commit murder on behalf of the super-androids may indicate that your mind has been tampered with?’
The face was suddenly smiling twistedly. ’You have me under terms of severe confinement. In short, I am in prison. Yet you have pressed charges against me as if I were a responsible person in full possession of my faculties.’
It was Dan who smiled now, grimly. ’You walked into that one very nicely, Doctor. I was just trying it on for size, wondering what your plea might be in court if a trial actually occurred. Tut, tut, a psychiatrist pleading insanity. You may ruin your reputation.’
’How would you explain me, then?
’Just sheer stupidity, Doctor.’ Coolly. ’Long before there was any formal psychological understanding, those who had the job of keeping the peace learned that criminals cannot be reasoned with. There are those who pretend, and then when they are picked up again, pretend once more, hoping to deceive. And then there are the so-called hardened types. These people will look you right in the eye, and utter their madness as if it is a truth that justifies what they have done. However,’ he broke off, ’I do believe that you are the unsuspecting dupe of someone.’ He grinned. “How’s that?’
There was no reply. The little man merely sat, gazing at him. And it was obvious from the dedicated expression on his face that there never would be any answer unless a far greater pressure were applied.
Lacking that pressure, Dan’s smile faded, and he said simply, ’Doctor, until my wife and daughter are released safely from their dangerous situation, my own life does not matter to me.’
Schneiter was abruptly more cheerful. ‘You have the right man for that kind of ploy,’ he said briskly, ’so let me tell you the conditions under which they can be released. They do involve your capture, but not necessarily your death. After all, all we want from you is for you to stop, literally, completely. This is to be the end of your mission to save the world from the androids. For your ex-wife and you, automatism, but consciousness and togetherness. For your daughter, freedom.’
"I’ll be like you are pretending to be, is that correct?’ Dan asked.
’It isn’t that bad, is it?’ urged Schneiter. ’From now on, you’re for super-androids instead of against them. Right now, there’s a thought in your mind that says that’s not a good thing. Afterwards, the thought will be that it is a good thing.’
’You are firmly taking the attitude that your brain has been tampered with. This is to be your defense if you are brought to trial?’
’It’s the truth. I remembered when it was done.’ The little man was cheerful. ’When it is done to you, you will also remember it.’
The younger man shrugged. ’Very well. To save my family, I accept. What do I do? Where do I go for the operation?’
"This whole matter of what’s next,’ said the psychiatrist, ’depends on my release this afternoon. I may not be let go until morning, so here’s what you do. Go to your wife’s home tomorrow morning. Phone in advance. Do not resist being tied up when you get there. Take no precautions. If the androids were to become suspicious of some action of yours, they might destroy your family and depart. But if it all works out as now planned, as soon as I’m free I shall join you there. There,’ briskly, ’how’s that?’
Dan said, “I’ll do it, of course.’
‘Of course,’ said Schneiter.

In the basement, the two Janes had come to Jane Two’s box. Jane Two started to climb into it, and Jane One said, “Now, lie down and turn over on your face.’
“What for?’
’I’m going to reprogram you. I intend to make you a free android.’
‘Oh!’ Jane Two became thoughtful. ’I’d like that,’ she said finally, ’but not right now. I’m programmed to do something.’
’I’ve been intending to speak to you about that,’ said the human girl.
’I’m not allowed to tell anyone,’ was the reply.
’I wasn’t asking,’ said Jane with dignity. She continued, ‘After all, I understand androids. So if you’ll think about it for just one minute, you’ll realize you don’t want that programming to go through. What happens to you when the bomb goes off inside you?’
‘I guess that’s the end of me,’ the android girl admitted after a pause.
‘Then I’ll never be able to free you. You won’t be around.’
’I’ll probably be recreated.’
’But it won’t be the same you,’ Jane One pointed out.
Jane Two’s expression showed that she was having difficulty with the concept. ’I suppose that’s true,’ she admitted finally.
“Look,’ urged the human girl, ’the only problem here is that bomb. Right?’
’I guess so.’ Reluctantly.
’So,’ said the human girl, ’I’ll re-program you on that only. Meanwhile, you figure out a bomb substitute that doesn’t blow you to pieces.’
Jane Two was frowning. ’I’m really surprised at whoever did that,’ she said in a critical tone. ’It would be silly to let that bomb go off. I hadn’t thought about it before. I’d better tell Dan Two and Alpha Two.’
She nodded half to herself in a way that Jane One had a habit of doing. “What I’ll do,’ said the android girl, ’is use a gun. We took one out of your mother’s room.’
Jane looked thoughtful. ’I can see,’ she said finally, ’I’m going to have to think some more about androids. I always believed the solution was freeing them, and then paying them salaries like everyone else. Now, you tell me it’s more important for you to kill my father than to be free. And I don’t want my father killed, because I love him dearly.’
’Well-l-ll,’ said Jane Two, ’you’ve got a problem, haven’t you? Sorry I can’t be of more help, but I’m programmed and have to do something. The only thing I can be flexible about is how to do it.’ She finished, ’Good luck with your problem.’
’It’s not exactly a problem.’ Jane spoke slowly, her brows knit. ’What I’ve got to do is make up my mind about you and the others. I think I’d like having you as a sister.’
’When I’m free, I probably won’t stay.’
’You see,’ said the girl. “If I free you, then I lose you. And if I program you to stay, then that doesn’t seem fair to you. It’s taking advantage, somehow, of someone’s condition.’
She nodded as if she had stated the alternatives correctly, and said, ’I don’t see any point in you lying down here turned off. Dan Two sent us down here so he could tell my mother the bad news. And they’re through. Why don’t you come back upstairs and let’s learn some French together?’
The android girl smiled, then shrugged. ’I have sad news for you, Jane. It only takes a minute to educate me on anything. But I’ll be glad to come up and watch the special android channel on TV while you study.’
The human girl was silent on the way back to the upper level of the house. Still pensive, she led the way past her mother and past the android Dan, out to the patio. She was visibly thinking hard, her lips pursed, her eyebrows slanted down and close together, as she settled into the chair in front of her study table.
Finally, ’One minute?’ she asked, ’On anything?’
From where she was settling herself in front of the TV, the other Jane replied that the time involved was probably slightly more than sixty seconds. How long did it take the computer to transfer the information in so many million bits a second! That was how long it took.
’Whole languages?’ asked Jane One, sounding overwhelmed. ‘And sciences like physics and chemistry?’
“Yes.’ She added, "If you wish, I’ll get juiced-up on French, and you can practice on me.’
The human girl was silent. She seemed to be concentrating on a thought. Finally, she said slowly, ‘Yes, get juiced-up. I think I know how I can handle this. You can watch TV later.’
She finished, ’And, oh, yes, don’t under any circumstances tell my mother that the intention is actually to kill my father. She suspects it, but if she knew it, she’d really dissolve.’
A distracted Alpha had suddenly remembered the automatic. Into her bedroom she hurried, with the thought Why don’t I carry it in my pocket? It’s certainly small enough. And then, if I have to act, I can.
Dan had warned her that androids could move much faster than humans, so she’d have to be quick when the time came.
As, moments later, she reached under the slips for the automatic, she was thinking that she couldn’t possibly let herself be the reason for Dan’s capture. It . . .
The thought stopped. The gun wasn’t where she remembered having placed it. During the frantic minute that followed, she ripped out the contents, and scattered them over the floor. In the end, there was no question. It was gone.

Sutter wrote, ’From the prison, my combo-cruiser and I lifted Dan Thaler to another designated building. En route, he allowed me to overhear a dialogue between himself and a Dr. Camm, who is evidently a psychologist conducting an experiment with Jane, the daughter of Dan Thaler and his exwife, Alpha. Now, for the first time, I realized that there had been serious developments in the superandroid matter, and that all was far from well. I set Mr. Thaler down at his new destination at 12:07 P.M., and was instructed to wait for his call. Since it is close to lunchtime, I decided to go home and eat, my dear wife having already called me several times to ask me if I still loved her . . .’
There were five commissioners at the committee meeting. They sat above Dan in a row, like a lineup of judges looking down into a courtroom. Except, of course, no one else was present except Dan.
The key statement came immediately from the heavyset man at the extreme left, Commissioner Albert Rodney:
’Gentlemen, we are meeting here at the urgent request of Mr. Thaler who, six months ago, was instrumental in bringing about the arrest of Dr. Schneiter, M.D., and Edward Jarris, an administrative assistant to the president. The attorneys of the two accused men have finally exhausted all legal obstacles to a trial, and it was scheduled to begin this afternoon. But this morning we each, separately, received messages from Mr. Thaler stating that he would not be able to appear as a witness in the trial. Since he is the principal witness, we have hastily assembled with the hope that this whole case has not been a fantasy created by Mr. Thaler, which he is intending to abandon due to his doubts about the evidence. Proceed, Mr. Thaler.’
It was an attack summation. The tone was dismissing, even deriding, as was the implication of the final sentence. Hey! thought Dan, suddenly hopeful, can it be that the super-androids are holding his family too, and he’s as desperate as I am?
If so, the possibility existed for a solution that he had been toying with for some time, a solution so basic that he had not been able to think of a method for presenting it.
Aloud, he said courteously, ’Sir, I thought I explained in my communication the fact that my former wife and daughter are being held hostage by three or more super-androids.’
Commissioner Rodney half turned to face his colleagues. There was a forced smile on his face as he said, ’It is interesting, gentlemen, that the only locatable super-androids on this planet are now in the home of Mr. Thaler. And even he has not seen them, he only knows they are there.’
Again, it was negation. This time, Dan was anxiously watching the other commissioners, a swift, sweeping glance from one face to another. And, though he couldn’t be sure, was it possible that all four men were relaxing, as if what Rodney was saying fitted a deep-felt need of their own?
The instant corollary, ’Their families are all hostages — it’s that thorough a plan on the part of whoever is behind the super-androids.’
As he had half-expected, his concern with the colleagues of Albert Rodney had played into that individual’s need for further expression. Commissioner Rodney was continuing, ’We have a problem here which may or may not strain the human legal system. The problem is that all super-androids have become invisible, if indeed they ever existed. In a nearby federal court, a trial is about to begin in which several men are accused of illegal acts in connection with these nonexistent special androids. We have all seen a film, which was convincing as long as we believed that super-androids would be produced as evidence at the trial, or trials. But since this is now not going to happen — ’He shrugged and turned to Dan, and said, ’Mr. Thaler, I am puzzled. Since you do not plan, out of fear, to attend the trial of Dr. Schneiter, how do you justify coming here and revealing the situation to us?’
Dan was calm. ’Sir, these super-androids are bound by their programming. The body is flesh and blood, like ours, but the brain is transistorized, with the control system in one foot. That was the closest we could ever come to creating an artificial human being, and so that is what we call ’android,’ meaning, from the Greek roots, manlike. But ’like’ is all it is, despite their aspirations. The androids in my wife’s home were not programmed to penalize me for attending or calling this committee meeting. Schneiter and Jarris are apparently considered key figures. Whoever is behind all this wants them freed. And that, currently, seems to be all there is to it. What else we do doesn’t matter provided we don’t interfere with that.’
’Evidently, you are assuming that we shall not interfere? What’s to prevent us from sending a police task force to rescue your wife and child?’
"Just good sense, sir. Such a task force would find a dead woman and a dead child and three androids programmed to destroy themselves after committing the murders. From the beginning of the android technological explosion, we have treated androids with the full understanding that they are not yet responsible for their actions.’
“Very well.’ Commissioner Rodney seemed also to be relaxing as the simple facts were thus honestly presented. ’What is your solution to this matter, Mr. Thaler?’
’My guess,’ said Dan, ’is that super-androids have not disappeared. Their owners and they are living a tense existence during this hunt and are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the trial.’
Swiftly, he summarized the reasons. The high price of the special androids. Fear of loss without recompense. Often the purpose of the purchase was sexual — a beautiful android girl, a handsome android man.
"And,’ Dan continued, ’for those owners who might be on our side, my guess is that the super-androids they own are programmed to threaten them and prevent them by force from going to the police.’
He concluded, ’Because of the high price, it’s still a minor affair involving a few thousand rich people. Perhaps the government was hasty in prosecuting at all. Recall the early picketing by unions and the early racist parades in the southern part of the country — they were both illegal, to begin with. The solution was to make them legal.’
The man at the extreme right of the bench, Commissioner Samuel Day, spoke for the first time. “What about the situation with your own family? Should we or the police interfere? ’Absolutely not,’ said Dan.
Having spoken, he glanced from face to face. Then he backed toward the door. ’Thank you for listening to me, gentlemen. I’ll leave you to come to your decisions.’
’As Mr. Dan Thaler explained it to me,’ wrote Police Officer A. Sutter in his log a few minutes later, ‘ “We must face each problem as it comes up, and what’s up right now is that my family has to be rescued.’ Mr. Thaler’s feeling was that one man was not really indispensable in the confrontation with the super-androids. Mankind would learn to protect itself. ’Maybe,’ Mr. Thaler concluded, ’I’ve been taking my own role in this matter too seriously.’ My comment to that was that apparently no one else was taking anything about it at all ...

Alpha suddenly realized she had not seen Jane for awhile. She thought, ’Why don’t I just casually wander over to a few places where she might be, and check to see how she is?’
She found the girl in the TV room and was slightly surprised to see that the second Jane was with her and that the two were talking French to each other. One of them spoke with easy fluency, the other hesitated a little before she spoke. Alpha deduced that the latter was the real Jane. But she was impressed, nonetheless. ’When did you learn to speak French?’ she asked. For the moment, her own problem had receded.
Jane was intent, and seemed unaware of her mother’s incredulous tone. ’It’s not quite like that,’ she explained carefully. ’It takes very special attention to noticing.’ She nodded, half to herself, as if agreeing with her own words. ’Yes, it’s hard, and I’m going to have to learn to do it better. But I’m pretty good. Right, Jane Two?’
’She has a problem with pronouncing the words, the android girl acknowledged, but she seems to understand it perfectly.’
’What I do,’ said Jane One, ’is, I have this picture of Jane Two out there,’ she gestured with one hand, ’in front of me. And when she speaks, I see what she does, and I can do it, too.’
Alpha’s attention was beginning to waver badly when, abruptly, Jane fixed her with an accusing stare and said, ’How come nobody ever told me androids could learn whole subjects in a minute?’
’Splendid,’ Alpha said vaguely. She wandered off.
An hour later, when she was lying down on her bed for the third time, she thought What did she say? What did Jane say? If what her daughter had described wasn’t mind reading, then what was it?
Alpha was instantly enormously indignant. For years, she had listened to the concept of noticing and not understood it. In fact, had felt mentally inadequate because she couldn’t seem to grasp the idea. And all the time it really was a form of telepathy.
Grrr, thought Alpha.
She actually sat up, intending to have it out with Jane. And then, memory came. The real problem, momentarily pushed away, rolled back over her and into her. Down she sagged, back onto the bed. All right, she thought wearily, the prisoner could still get overwrought about French lessons on the eve of execution. I suppose if I believed in Karma, it would be a good indicator for my next life.
Her mother had recently taken up the Hindu past- and future-life idea. It was a pleasant prospect to contemplate, but Alpha would have none of it, particularly since Jane’s grandmother had immediately started to talk about having an android duplicate made of her late husband. Alpha was vaguely ashamed of the implication of the older woman’s intention, but she couldn’t for the life of her see how such a down-to-earth purpose could derive from the, to her, unreal philosophy.
That afternoon —
As Alpha passed the kitchen door she heard Jane’s voice say, ’You have to think what would happen to you, personally, if it didn’t work —’
The woman stopped, and thought Is that Jane One or Jane Two? She focused her mind on a dimly seen visualization of the android Jane after the manner the human Jane had described to her. She stared inwardly at the vague mental image, hoping to perceive in it something that would tell her which Jane’s voice she had heard.
As usual, she drew a blank. With a sigh, she pushed the partly open door open another foot. Dan Two and Alpha Two stood with their backs to her. Beyond them, lying face down on the floor, was another android, someone she had never seen before.
Kneeling beside the stranger was Jane. She had a thin screwdriver and she was poking it gingerly in the rear of the prostrate one’s right heel. She was saying, ’If you wish, I’ll free you completely right now.’
’No, no,’ came the muffled baritone voice, I’d better not do that until after your father comes. Just change what we discussed —’
The intent Alpha must have made a sound, for Dan Two and Alpha Two turned simultaneously. ’Excuse me,’ said Alpha, ’I heard Jane’s voice —’ Jane was rising. ’It’s all right, Mother, I’m finished.’
Alpha suppressed her embarrassment at having been caught spying. “What are you doing?’ she asked.
It was Dan Two who answered. ’Your daughter,’ he said, ’brought to our attention that if your husband comes tomorrow in an armed combo, it won’t do any good to shoot at him.’
The words were so deadly that Alpha was suddenly breathless. When she could speak again, she said huskily, ’I thought he was to come over here so that somebody could talk to him.’
Dan Two said in a reassuring tone, ‘Assassinating him was never really considered feasible, since Mr. Thaler is noted for his astuteness.’ The android, who had been lying on the floor, climbed to his feet. He seemed to take it for granted that he had a right to participate in the conversation, for he interjected: ’Jane pointed out that it won’t do any good to fire at him because his combo will be equipped with those automatic bullet-dissolver-inflight machines.’
Alpha had a memory. Something Dr. Camm had once said, ’Your daughter, Mrs. Thaler, is easily the best friend the androids on this planet ever had. She wants to free them all.’
Jane’s voice came matter-of-factly. ’I explained that if Dad came in an armed combo, not only would it have the bullet-dissolver but it would also be equipped with small missiles that seek out rifles and energy weapons the instant they’re discharged. And, of course, that’s the end of whoever is holding the gun.’
’So,’ Jane continued, ’the watchers have been coming in and getting reprogrammed on that aspect.’
Alpha made a small, wordless sound, but dared not say anything coherent.
Jane was going on, ’My point was that whoever had programmed them didn’t seem to care how dangerous it was for them.’
Dan Two added in a critical tone, ’The way this is going to be handled is, first, your husband will be dealt with, and then your daughter will program us to be completely free.’
Alpha flashed, “Why don’t you have Jane reprogram you before my former husband shows up tomorrow?’
Dan Two gave her a startled look. ’But then I’d be free and wouldn’t have to do what my programming now calls for.’ He shook his head unnecessarily. That would be illogical.’
His genuine bewilderment alerted the woman. She said quickly. ’All you’d have to do is make up your mind in advance to carry through on the programming even if it isn’t there.’
‘But then I wouldn’t have to do it.’ He was clearly disturbed, for he repeated, ’Wouldn’t have to.’
’You would if you decided you would,’ the woman urged.
‘No,’ Dan Two shook his head for emphasis. His expression was suddenly stubborn. ’It wouldn’t work,’ he said.
Alpha gave up.
Jane accompanied her mother into her bedroom. She watched as Alpha dragged herself into the bed and then she spoke in a slightly critical voice, ’Mother, I hope you won’t do that again.’
The woman stared blankly at the little girl in the pretty pink dress. She had the distinct feeling she was hearing nonsense words. Finally, ’Do what?’
’Interfere with my tests.’ The girl wiggled her body impatiently. ’We don’t really have that much time.’
’What tests?’ said Alpha.
The girl did not reply immediately. Instead, she went over to a chair, sat down, and closed her eyes.
After a little, she said softly, ’I have an image of Dad, and I’m noticing a thought into it which says, ’What you asked me to do, to persuade the androids to let me free them right away, won’t work. They cannot go that much against their programming. When I persisted, and when Mother came in unexpectedly and tried to persuade them too, the androids became suspicious. I have a feeling the subject can’t be brought up anymore. So what now?’
Over on the bed, Alpha whispered guiltily, ’Why didn’t you warn me in advance?’
Over in the chair, Jane stirred and opened her eyes. Then she got up and came rapidly to the bed, leaned over Alpha and whispered, ’Dr. Camm will come some time this afternoon to evaluate the situation. We must act as if it’s one of his occasional routine visits.’
Alpha whispered back, ’But what does he expect to accomplish?’
‘I’ve told you everything that I noticed in Dad’s image except, of course, that he was in a combocruiser flying over the city and I could feel that he’s very determined, like he always is.’
The woman scarcely heard the final words. She was experiencing indignation. Evaluation—, she thought scathingly. We can evaluate it right here, for heaven’s sake, as being absolutely –
Her thought poised. She hadn’t realized to what abyss it was taking her. All in a moment she was on the brink of the incredible reality. For just an instant, she cast a mental glance ahead at the madness that awaited them the following morning.
Alpha drew back, shuddering. She made an inner effort, then. To her great relief, the curtain came back down over her mind and there was all that lulled feeling again.
By that time, Jane was at the door of her bedroom. Over her shoulder, the girl said, ’See you at dinner, Mom.’
The interview ended like that, with the emotional equivalent of a dull plop. Alpha continued to lie there. Once the phone rang, but she had been warned against answering. She presumed that whoever was phoning was being suavely taken care of by one or other of the androids. Finally, there was a knock on her door, a pause, and then Dan Two came in.
‘Dr. Camm is coming,’ he said. “We want you to stay in here.’
Alpha stirred in spite of herself. Amazingly, the earlier hope came back and she could feel color returning to her cheeks.
’We have no idea what he wants,’ Dan Two went on, ’but your daughter says that he makes periodic visits like this.’
Alpha nodded her agreement, but she dared not speak.
’The way we’re going to handle it,’ said the android, ’is, your daughter and Alpha Two will go out shopping, and Jane Two will talk to the psychologist.’
No matter how many times Alpha ran her thought through that, she couldn’t imagine how it could lead to a proper ’evaluation.’ She realized presently that Dr. Camm had arrived, and after half an hour, when a distant door closed, that he had left. Came another knock, and once more Dan Two entered. ’He’s gone,’ he said. He stood there, lean, handsome, and discontented. “That was an unusual coincidence,’ he said, ’his showing up here today.’
’What happened?’ Alpha’s equally taut voice cut across the android’s uneasiness. “What did he want?’
The perfect duplicate of her ex-husband continued to frown. But he said, “The questions he asked Jane Two — obviously believing he was talking to Jane One — seemed unimportant. School work? Relations with you and us. That’s all.’
It was almost six o’clock when Jane One and Alpha Two returned home.
Jane was already at the dinner table when Alpha entered. The woman said, ’I’m your real mother, in case you’re wondering.’
Her thought was simply to reassure Jane so that she could report freely on the afternoon’s activities to her mother.
Jane gave her a momentarily baffled look, then shrugged and said, ’Who else would you be?’
’Alpha Two.’
’But she’s in the kitchen,’ Jane pointed out.
Alpha said no more. She had spent a griefy afternoon, and Jane was apparently choosing to ignore the fact that androids were now perfect duplicates. Alpha said wearily, ’If you’re ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask.’
’It’s not one of my problems,’ said Jane, with dignity.
All through dinner the girl seemed unusually cheerful. She spoke brightly to Dan Two when he brought the entree, called out compliments to Alpha Two in the kitchen on the tastiness of the food, and was generally very trying.,
Her mood changed suddenly when Dan Two disappeared into the kitchen to get dessert. Then she said in a low voice, ’I was able to notice into the image of Alpha Two a feeling of nothing-wrong if I wandered away from her in the store. So she didn’t worry when I went down an aisle and around a corner where Dad was waiting. He gave me a microphone, which I’m supposed to keep on me tomorrow morning.’
Alpha sat there and grappled with the tiny piece of information. She was normally full of confidence in her ex-husband and could, on occasion, even feel slightly amused by his reason for having divorced her the first year of their marriage — because she had followed her mother’s advice and tried to handle him the way Mrs. Jonathan had controlled Alpha’s father.
(*Any daughter,’ Dan had said when he originally departed, ’who could accept the advice of such a mother even for one minute, cannot be trusted as a wife.’)
’A microphone!’ she thought now. ’It will record whatever happens tomorrow morning and the result of that will, no doubt, be useful as evidence, if the case ever comes to trial.’
She realized she was fighting a strong tendency to be critical of Dan. He had actually had his own daughter out where he could have rescued her. But instead of whisking her to safety, he had allowed her to come back into a trap of unknown deadly potentiality. It seemed to her that no matter what the risk to the older people, surely the child should not be subjected to such stress.
As Alpha reached that point of internal protest, Jane glanced quickly at the kitchen and then whispered, ’So you see, Mom, that what Dad has done plus what I can do solves the whole problem.’
’Uh!’ gaped Alpha. It was her most unladylike moment in many a long year.
Before she could pursue the matter, Dan Two came back in and, simultaneously, Jane stood up briskly. ‘No dessert for me,’ she said. She continued happily, ’I think I’ll have Jane Two juice up on Sanskrit, and I’ll talk with her for a while.’
The male android gazed after her as she went out. ’Where did she learn all those languages?’ he asked. ’Jane Two tells me that your daughter has already talked five languages with her.’
’She’s discovered a knack,’ was all Alpha could trust herself to say.
’For a human being,’ commented Dan Two tolerantly, ’she’s pretty good. But,’ he grew serious, ’there’s something else more important I want to ask you.’
He sank into the chair across the table from Alpha. He regarded her soberly. He said, ’Is there a signal you give her?’
’How do you mean?’ In surprise.
’She knows which is you without uncertainty.’
The woman gazed at the android uneasily. The question somehow threatened ... Jane. Threatened her, now. At once. Not later. Alpha thought tensely, ’If I say the truth, that there’s no signal, will that be against Jane or for her?’
Before she could resolve the complexity, Dan Two seemed to come to a decision. And, in fact, a moment later he said, ’I’ll ask Dr. Schneiter about it in the morning.’
The threat receded as rapidly as it had come. Alpha stood up and excused herself. The new thought was that she must ask Jane about the meeting in the store and the rationale of the optimistic conclusions about it.
Catching Jane turned out to be not simple at all. The first time she glanced into her daughter’s bedroom, she saw an entrancing sight. The two Janes were sitting up on adjoining twin beds. As Alpha entered, both girls waggled their blonde tresses and gazed at her expectantly with duplicate pairs of blue eyes.
One of the duo said, “We’re doing an African dialect, Mother. It’s really something.’
Alpha withdrew hastily, saying, ’See you later.’
But when she approached the door the next time, she could hear what sounded like ancient gypsy music playing. And when she peered in, the two girls were arrayed in blues and reds and dancing wildly, but gracefully.
That did it. As she walked away, Alpha thought Really, it’s much better for her to be doing diverting things than for me to ask her to explain exactly how she thinks this whole problem has been solved when, in fact, I may prove that it isn’t.
She spent the rest of the evening in the same peculiar quandary as she had the afternoon. She would lie down and then start to get up. Then would come the mental admonishment Better lie down again. Conserve your strength. And she would dutifully stretch out once more.
Somewhere in there, she slept.
Alpha woke up and had several almost simultaneous awarenesses.
Bright sunlight was pouring through her view window. Soft music was playing, she recognized one of her favorite classical works. Her bed-end clock showed 7:58 - 8/23/87. Alpha Two stood at the foot of her bed, beyond the clock. And one of the Janes, dressed for outdoors, along with Dan Two similarly arrayed, was standing in her doorway.
The girl said, ’I got up early, Mom, and Dan Two and I went down and watched Dr. Schneiter being released from jail.’
’It was the rational thing to do,’ said Dan Two. ’That way, we established that he was actually released.’
The woman dared not speak right away. She swallowed, felt baffled, had the thought Was this trip necessary?— and then managed, ’He was released?’
’At seven o’clock this morning,’ said Jane cheerfully. ‘Dan and I stood in the background, but I got a perfect image of him.’
The android corrected, ’She means she got a good look at him.’
’I guess that’s what I mean,’ said the girl. She waved. "See you at breakfast, Mom.’
Whereupon, she and Dan walked off out of sight.
As the human woman brought her attention back to her own duplicate, the android who looked and acted like her said in a perfect imitation of Alpha’s musical voice, ’Madam, we think you should get dressed. It’s about to be eight o’clock and your husband is coming.’
Breakfast was served to her and Jane by twobnervous androids who kept glancing through the window toward the street. Abruptly, they must have seen what they were looking for. ’Here he comes!’ The speaker was Alpha Two, and she was visibly upset. Her voice sounded semihysterical.
For a long moment that completely distracted the human woman from the information that the words conveyed, she thought Do I sound like that, ever?
Dan Two was speaking: ’We’ll have to hide from him until Dr. Schneiter arrives,’ he seemed to be pointing the explanation directly at Alpha, ‘so you’ll have to serve yourself.’
With that, the two androids hurried through the alcove that separated the breakfast room from the dining room. Next, they headed through the second alcove to the living room, and they separated. Alpha Two exited by way of the patio door and Dan Two disappeared through the door of the combination music room-library.
As he vanished, the phone rang.
I’ll take it in here,’ Dan Two’s voice came eerily floating out from his hiding place. He added, ’And when Dr. Thaler comes in, tell him to sit down and make no sudden moves. We’ve got you and your daughter covered.’
Alpha wasn’t quite sure how he could both answer the phone and participate in keeping them ’covered.’ But, in a way, she believed him, and she had no intention of testing the claim.
In the distant room, there was a pause. Then Dan Two’s voice, sounding somewhat more subdued but still audible, said ’Yes, Dr. Schneiter, everything is fine. He’ll be entering in a minute, just in time for breakfast, so come over any time —‘
At that point, Alpha happened to glance at Jane. She was startled to see that the girl was leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed.
’What? —’ the woman began vaguely.
A finely shaped hand and arm waved her into silence. ’Ssshh,’ admonished Jane, ’I’m noticing two things at the same time. It’s hard.’
At least a minute went by, and then Jane opened her eyes. ’All right,’ she said, ’that’s done.’
The sun was shining through the dinette window. Out there was cloudless brightness, and the brilliance of it spilled across the finely netted table cloth and the gleaming dishes.
Inside Alpha’s skin was the intense darkness of fear and anticipation of the crisis that, with the coming of her former husband, was now upon them. Her daughter’s words penetrated the psychic blackness like a single ray of light in stygian night.
The woman stirred, as if a warmth had momentarily thawed all the frozen distances within her. She ceased the automatic movements of eating, blinked and said, ’What’s done?’
’I’ve finally figured it all out,’ Jane replied. ’To be like is not to be but to be able.’
Alpha gazed blankly at her daughter, and with each passing moment the words the girl had spoken seemed more meaningless. And yet, in another part of her brain, the meaning made an impression of impact size . . . ’I have just heard,’ decided Alpha, ’one of those deep, deep thoughts with which philosophers confuse all of us poor nitwits with I.Q.’s of a mere 140 or so.’
Her mind poised because . . . the words had come from her fourteen-year-old daughter whom she had always considered smart but not a genius.
’I resemble,’ continued Jane, ’leads to "I can", and not to “I am".’ She waved her left hand vaguely. ’All these years of living with duplicate parents,’ she said, ’finally made me realize —’
Alpha was staring at the girl, blinking several times as she tried to grasp the obscure meanings that were being offered her. Whatever it was obviously couldn’t be explained by the word, "’finally". It must have been a maturing process, the brain constantly completing an identification, sorting out real fathers and mothers from android substitutes.
With that clarification, words came, a basic question. ’But what do you do?’ Alpha virtually breathed.
’I,’ announced Jane triumphantly, ’speak Latin, French, and probably any language I choose. But I have to be with an android who speaks those languages in order to do it.’
’You mean you read their minds?’
Jane made an infinitely resigned negating gesture with her head. ’For heaven’s sake, Mother, I was tested for ESP and I’m zero at that. Didn’t you hear a single word I said?’
Alpha did a mental glance back over the dialogue and swallowed her continuing bafflement. What she wanted most desperately to ask was, ‘But can you do anything that will help us in this awful situation?’
She didn’t say it. Instead, she finally ventured lamely, ’What you get out of this is a new ability to learn?’
’Mother! Didn’t you hear what I said? I haven’t learned anything. At least, not yet. Maybe it will work out that way in the long run. But the method doesn’t require it.’
’What,’ asked Alpha, bracing herself, is the method?’
’It comes from noticing. I’ve described that to you before.’
As she spoke the words, and saw her mother’s expression, Jane One shook her head at the hopelessness of this attempt at communication. She realized, once again, that these explanations were a gosh-awful waste of time.
We really are different, we children brought up with the look-alike android parents ...
Since there were no visible differences between the living human and the duplicate android, from babyhood she had had to find a new way of telling the difference.
In the early grades, when you did most of your school work away from home, you came rushing into the house after school and there was mother — or was it? For a moment, then, you had to notice.
In the brain, the process of noticing differences is normally a single act of long ago. You saw in that first instant thousands of differences between one person and all others. In that initial observation you made your decision as to who this was.
Thereafter, on seeing that individual or thinking about him, it was this decision that you brought into the forefront of your mind, and reaffirmed.
With a look-alike android, you couldn’t make a final decision. So you had to notice each time. Thousands of noticings presently evolved in Jane a permanent projective circuit. There had even been a period when she had fought a silent battle with hallucination . . . she kept seeing androids and their human look-alikes even when they weren’t around.
Actual projections — out there — with three-dimensional reality. So she had to notice that. Presently, by being aware of differences, she gained control over the projections.
She had noticed quite early that the projection of an android look-alike was quite, quite, quite different from the projection of a human being. You could see inside a projection and observe the inner person. After that, she had perfect awareness. She simply looked at the projections fleetingly, almost automatically, whenever she was in the presence of a real human or an android duplicate. And knew.
End of problem? Well, not completely. Jane became weary of explaining the details to her mother. ’It’s just there,’ she would say. ’It’s noticing.’
‘But what do you notice?’
’For Pete’s sake, Mother, I keep trying to tell you —“
As she had so often in the past, Alpha said now, sadly, ’Yes, I suppose you have.’
Far more important, and what seemed unhappily all too clear, was that noticing, or at least the portion of it relating to languages, did not provide any way of defeating the super-androids. ’I suppose,’ she thought wearily, ’T’ll have to leave that up to Dan —’

As he got out of his combo-cruiser and approached his former wife’s residence, Dan Thaler was stimulated, but not surprised, when what seemed to be a thought from his daughter came into his mind. It was a hasty message. ’Dad, Dan Two is talking to Dr. Schneiter. I think you ought to hear what’s being said. I’ll try to let it pass through me, because I’m also noticing the image of Dr. Schneiter himself —’
‘All right,’ the man acknowledged.
He was, he realized, not as calm as he had been in his time. So he couldn’t help but observe that the tension surrounding his personal life was occurring on a perfect morning. The sky was blue. At every level, the silent combo-cruisers like his own were in motion, doing some normal, unthreatened business. He sensed the vast city around him, but did not, as was his custom, try to savor the contentment of being alive on an August day in the wonderful year of 2288 A.D.
He didn’t feel quite that contented. At least, not yet.
He was inside the high fence, and moving past the swimming pool when the next set of thoughts came to him. It was what the android was saying.
Good girl! he thought.
’— No, we won’t tie him until you get here . . . Why not tie him at once? Well, sir, as you know, the procedure was never part of the programming so this morning, when we analyzed this entire situation, we decided to handle it rationally . . . That makes you suspicious. I don’t see why. Androids are perfectly capable of sound reasoning . . . No, it was not suggested to me, and I have not been reprogrammed . . . Yes, there was one visitor. Dr. Camm showed up yesterday for one of his routine interrogations. We handled it very skillfully. Sent the girl out with Alpha Two, and had him talk to Jane Two.’
There was a pause. The human Dan presumed that Dr. Schneiter, at the other end of the phone, was evaluating what had happened to his perfect trap.
Dan continued to move forward. But now he could give more attention to the familiar, two-level house in front of him. He actually felt well-protected by the automatic machinery in his combo, acting through instruments that he carried in his coat. But, nonetheless, he was glad when he saw no shadowy figure at any window, nor was there a movement on the roof or in the shrubbery at the side of the house. Glad, because you could never tell, these days, what new devices existed. He, who knew so many such things, respected the impossibility of any one person ever knowing everything that could be done against a living creature.
But he got safely to the stairs, and he started climbing.
Inside the house, the long silence was suddenly broken. Dan Two called out, ‘Alpha Two, were you separated from Jane in any way while you were out with her? Dr. Schneiter wants to know.’
As the android, Alpha, was yelling that information, the hall door opened, and the real Dan walked in. He came rapidly through the kitchen, into the breakfast room, and sat down. Alpha did a gesture thing with her arm, which was intended to be a welcome. Jane did not move, did not open her eyes, said nothing.
From where he sat, Dan could now also hear the voice of his duplicate, who said, ’I don’t see how that would be a problem. If Alpha Two thought it was all right, then it was. After all, she’s an android, with what that means in terms of superior ability to reason —’
As those words were spoken, Jane One opened her eyes and gave her father a quick smile. ’They really are awfully conceited,’ she whispered.
Dan One whispered back, ’Somebody figured out that that was the way to program them, the idea being they couldn’t be reasoned with by us. So we’re taking full advantage of that.’ He added, ’Of course, in order to do so we needed somebody who can put —’ He stopped, and then finished — ’who can notice thoughts into images of other people and into androids.’
’Ssshh,’ said Jane. Her eyes closed.
Dan Two’s voice came, ‘Yes, Jane Two is here. That’s something we want to talk to you about. Whoever put that bomb into her was not thinking of what could happen to her . . . No, that’s been reprogrammed out. If the extreme act becomes necessary, she had Mrs. Thaler’s gun . . . The whole dilemma is right there. When we analyzed this situation, we discovered there was no clear-cut moment for Jane Two to shoot. So she will remain in hiding until you come over here and have your conversation with Mr. Thaler. And if you don’t come, we’ll set the whole thing up again for tomorrow morning. And so on . . . Yes, I heard him come in. I’ll ask him if he’s willing to talk to you.’
He called, ‘Dan One, would you pick up the phone in the breakfast room? Dr. Schneiter would like to talk to you.’
Dan said, ’It must be understood that my talking to him now will in no way be construed as being the conversation which Doctor Schneiter originally intended to have with me here.’
After Dan Two had communicated that into the phone, he called, ’It is understood.’
Smiling faintly, the man, whose presence was already making Alpha feel better, reached to the little table by the window and picked up the receiver. ’Hello,’ he said, ’that was a pretty rational account, don’t you think?’
’High praise, indeed,’ said Dan Two’s voice out of the receiver, coming from someone like you. I’ll hang up now, gentlemen.’ There was a click.
Dan said, ’Well, Doctor, I gather you’re not going to show up here as you were originally scheduled to do.’
The familiar voice at the other end sounded resigned. ’Mr. Thaler, we seemed to have arrived at an impasse.’
Dan urged, ’You have an edge, since you’re no longer in jail.’
’I don’t know exactly what you did,’ sighed the older man, ‘but as I see it, the situation is a permanent trap for all of us.’
In a few sentences, he thereupon listed the binding elements of their condition. The androids would always hide when Dan was in the house. And one or other would always accompany Alpha or Jane, but would not allow them to go out together. They would only tie up Dan if Schneiter actually entered the house. Which, of course, it would be ridiculous for him to do in view of the weapons that Dr. Camm had undoubtedly brought into the house on his ‘routine’ call, plus whatever Jane had brought back from the store.
’The situation is even more binding than that,’ said Dan. ’They considered all the possibilities as they might apply in future. They will let me leave at 10:30 every morning, but insist I come back next morning by 8, in case that’s the morning you decide to come over. They recognize that this might be inconvenient for me, so they are agreeable to my coming here the night before and remaining all night. But, since it would be an immoral thing for me to stay with my ex-wife, they insist that we remarry.’
There was silence at the other end. When the older man’s voice came again, there was in his tone that cheerfulness which some males feel when another has got himself into a severe female predicament.
’Well, well,’ he said, ’I’m beginning to make my peace with what has happened. I can’t see a married Dan Thaler being as dangerous to my plans as a single one has been. And you will be in that perpetual trap, won’t you?’
He finished almost happily, ’I’ll call from time to time to make sure that nothing has changed.’
There was a click of disconnection.
Jane could have pointed out to the two men that there were several additional consequences. The androids were now forever in a position where they could have their freedom; but, of course, they couldn’t accept. And, therefore, they had to stay, and stay. And, besides —
’The situation,’ she explained, ’is really much better than he said, because I noticed into the image of Dr. Schneiter that all this using of androids wasn’t really worth going to jail for.’
To her mother, she said, ’It’s rather interesting that this method I have of controlling adults by noticing thoughts into their images doesn’t seem to bother my conscience anymore, once I realized that that was the only way I could get a sister.’
The adults stared at her, but said nothing. Jane said ‘Right now, Mother is wondering if we’ve got a little monster on our hands, but she’s not really disturbed — yet. And Dad is thinking in that determined way of his that even you, Mom, are going to have to learn to notice when somebody is putting a thought about going to sleep into your image, like I did yesterday so you wouldn’t worry. He’s also thinking that training a hundred thousand like me is going to take fourteen years, but right now I’m all he’s got against whoever is using the androids to take over the world.’
’He’s wondering if I’ll even things up in that fight. Well,’ she slipped off her chair, ’I think I’ll go and learn another language, or another dance, or another science, or another, or another —‘
’And if I do all of those things in time, Dad, maybe I will.’


6. PENDULUM

‘ALL RIGHT, Hud, that’s it. Stop!’
Hudman had long ago formed the habit of translating all the English spoken at him into Frisian, silently, of course, under his breath, and then answering silently in Frisian and finally translating the Frisian aloud into English. As a consequence of this procedure, he was known as “that slow Dutchman!“
He did the translation automatically as he stopped. Or rather, as he pressed the correct button on the controls there on the deck of the gently tossing vessel — those controls which telegraphed the stop message 241/2 miles down to the massive equipment they had been setting up on the sea bottom for a week. The Frisian words that he undertoned were, ‘Gooet, Hud, dat iss it. Stoppya!’
He grew aware of a tingling in the fingers that touched the button, started to pull away, then let his hand freeze as another set of words boomed in his mind: ‘Booska, Hud, manu fa coor. Yat!
’Glub!’ said a startled Hudman aloud, in English.
Afterwards, he would remember that moment and what followed, and would realize what a fantastic and incredible event it was.
There they were, a hundred men on a ship in a calm, tropical sea. As far as vision could range was a seemingly endless, restless, glittering ocean, reflecting the brilliance of an early afternoon sun.
It was stiflingly hot; yet there was a relieving wetness — not humidity, but a spray — that came up to cool them whenever a large wave slapped hard against their low-lying vessel.
They were remote from the great world of humankind, doing their strange work in water over two miles deep, and suddenly —
He must have made an unusual movement, in some way reacted violently, for his companion on deck said, ’Hey, Hud, what’s matter?’
Hudman remained where he was, vaguely conscious that he was not well, but making no decisions at all. There was an enormous confusion in his brain; pictures, sounds, voices, people, tumbling past his awareness in bits and pieces and flashes. An eye, a finger, a word, a window, a white cloth, a pair of blue pants, a woman’s blonde hair done up in a bun exactly on top of the center of her head, a city in the distance, the glint of a stream — these were among the images that stayed with him long enough to be recognizable. The impression was that thousands, if not millions, of such flitted by his mind’s eye.
Through and beyond that interior madness, Hudman was aware of the chunky Italian climbing off the observer’s chair, and striding over to where he sat at the controls of the winch, swaying. And where, abruptly, without having any personal control, he started to fall. ’Hey, watch it!’ said Sputoni in an alarmed voice.
As the man grabbed him roughly and held him, his leather jacket pressed against the reeling Hudman’s cheek. And one of the things that was good about that was that the jacket was wet and cool from sea spray. And another thing that was good was that the arms were strong.
What the man’s voice said was only partly good. ‘How ya comin’? How ya comin’? Just tell me when you’re okay, and I’ll let go. Hey, you gotta heart attack or sumpin’?
The final question penetrated what seemed like billions of mental images and voices, and brought a spasm of fear. ’Good Lord!’ he thought, and for the first time in years he did not translate from the Frisian. ’Good God, is it possible? Is this what a heart attack is like?’
He was dimly conscious, then, of being half carried and half dragged over to where the helicopter rested in its holding chains and launch gear. And now one of the men had come out and down from the bridge and was helping to hold him. And somebody else’s voice was yelling in the strange echoing way that voices sounded from a distance in sea air, saying, ’We’d better fly him to the island and get him medical help.‘
For a long time after that, he lay on the floor of the helicopter with a pillow under his head. Sputoni sat in a seat beside him, and in his ears was the roar of the driving engines and of the rotor. And in his mind, the realization that he was beginning to feel better. The inner voices seemed to be receding into a remoter background, still there but no longer dominating.
With that increasing separation from the source of confusion, gradually he was again. A kind of normalcy returned then. And stayed.
Once more, he was in a mental condition of being able to decide things for himself, though there seemed to be nothing to decide.
Since he had had that particular obsession from his earliest teens, he thought about it. Soberly. Somehow, it had never previously occurred to him that in a personal physical crisis, a human being really had no choice . . . In what happened back there on the ship. I didn’t have a single say. It was all automatic.
Because he hated automaticity, he tried now, as he lay there, to think of a purpose he might have. After many minutes, all he had come up with was Wait! Wait and find out what was wrong. He waited.
They had been operating for a month in the vicinity (within 500 miles) of Tengu Island, so they had their own landing location at the airport of the principal city, Askara. Nothing fancy. Just a flat, roped-off area and a shred marked U.S. Government - Authorized Personnel Only.
The helicopter squatted down in its noisy, but gentle, fashion. Whereupon, Sputoni went over to the adjoining shed and commandeered a jeep. They were presently driving along the main street of Askara to the office of the officially designated M.D., a Dr. Kyet.
Hudman, at first, sat stolidly beside the Italian. But presently his brows knitted. He wiggled in his seat. He looked around and up and away, showing awareness of his surroundings.
All by itself, that street scene was worth a couple, or three, or four, blinking glances. It was quite narrow, as if its builders had begrudged space for people.
There seemed to be room only for the shops, and for a two-way highway which the prospective customers, if any, shared with the automobile traffic.
Some very special customer types were on that street. After his first look, Hudman wet his lips, puzzled. After his fourth look made its visual survey, he sat up bolt straight. He said, "Hey, Spute, look at all those guys and women in the blue pants and that funny white shirt.’
’Yeah,’ nodded Sputoni, ’I been noticing’ em. Must be a visiting warship in the Harbor.’
Hudman said, ’Oh!’ Then he said, ’Oh, of course.’ Naturally, he thought, who else? He did notice that the way you could tell the girls from the boys was that they had blonde hair done up in a bun on the top of the center of the head. And that was somehow familiar, as if he had seen it before.
The explanation was good enough. And so for the first time since his heart attack — as he now accepted it to have been — he translated again into Frisian. The internal return of normalcy was that complete.
Sputoni accompanied him into the waiting room of the doctor’s office. But he didn’t sit down. Instead, he stood, looking ill at ease, shifting from foot to foot and parting his lips as if he intended to say something, and then didn’t say it. Hudman grinned knowingly up at the chunky little guy, and said finally, ’Hey, Spute, while I’m here in good hands, why don’t you slip over to Little Italy, have a snort, and talk Italian to the barkeep?’
’Yeah — hey, you gotta good thought.’ The thick face looked sheepish, but relieved. Sputoni headed for the door.
Hudman called after him, ’Be back in, say, an hour.’
’Yeah, sure —’
Dr. Kyet turned out to be a handsome, brown-skinned, native islander. He spoke accentless American. After having his brown-skinned nurse make the stereotyped tests, he came in with a little chart in his hand and said, ’If that was a heart attack, there’s no sign of it here. So it wasn’t. You’ve got as good a ticker as I’ve seen in the last year.’
‘Dat iss gooet. Doe bist bedaanked!’ said an almost overwhelmed Hudman under his breath. And, a moment later, translated aloud, ’That’s great. Thanks.’
It was still 20 minutes before Sputoni was due back. Hudman, bouncy now, decided not to wait. Moments later, smiling, relieved, ebullient, he stepped outside briskly — squarely, so to speak, into the center of a group of the blue-trousered men he had noticed on the way over.
Hudman apologized. ’Excuse me, gentlemen, I shouldn’t have barged out like —’
He stopped. They were looking at him. All of them. At him. And they all had purple eyes — bright, large, slightly protruding — and whitish-gray faces. Also (it hit him instantly) there was a peculiar smell.
Hudman didn’t actually connect the smell right away with the people. After all, this was exotic Askara. And just in the flicking of his gaze, there, not too far away, was an overturned garbage can, its gooey contents spilled on the combination sidewalk-road. Swarms of insects attested to the special overripe attractiveness of the yellowish puddle it made. Also, beyond that, a dog was in the act of defecating. And, beyond that, standing beside an electric-light post, one of the blue-trousered types was relieving himself.
That was about as far as Hudman’s perception had time to take him into colorful Askara’s main street.
The very next instant one of the blue-trousered men near him stepped closer, reached forward with a tiny, gleaming, pencil-like object, and touched his hand.
. . . He was walking with the group. Not thinking about it. Not asking himself the sequence of logic that made what he was doing seem like an act of free will.
He still noticed things. Noticed, for example, how odd, really, was the white shirt that these people wore . . . For Pete’s sake, he thought, it’s a big, wide scarf folded in the middle, with a frilled hole at the fold for the neck. The two bottom ends were, respectively, tucked into the front and the back of the blue pants. In between, on either side, whitish-gray skin was visible.
He was led by the young men into a cocktail lounge. Hudman noticed over the entrance the sign: HAGLESTEIN’S BAR — Stop and Wet Your Whistle, Friend. And still he had no resisting thought. Moments later, he was guided to a corner table where a large man in the same type of dress — blue pants and white shawl shirt — sat watching his approach with a pair of large, purple eyes.
The youths paused at the table, and so did Hudman. Since it was the corner, he half turned, and so he saw his captors (which is how he thought of them later) each make a gesture with his hand. Sort of turning the palm smartly. A salute? Hudman wondered.
The big man responded in kind. Then, looking at Hudman, spoke slowly in English: ’S-s-i-i-t-t! He pointed at the empty space across the table.
The gesture, and the word, in a vague way implied a command. And that triggered in Hudman first, a pause, and then a remote wonder about what he was doing here, for Pete’s sake! The seated older man seemed to realize the problem for, after a hesitation of his own, he said, ’Uh, pul-l-l-ee-ee-se.’
It was visibly the right approach to the deep, timeless source of resistance inside Hudman. Without another thought, he sat down in the indicated chair. Simultaneously, the man’s hand gestured at the youths, and they departed.
Absently, Hudman noticed that they paused just outside the door, and waited there. For some reason, that seemed perfectly satisfactory, so he faced forward as the big man said, ’I’m having time —,’ he paused and cocked his head as if listening, then — hard time with English. But I have an interest question. What you doing out there on the water? I . . . not seem to get clear picture from your head. What you put down in the deep sea that stir my tomb?’
Hudman started to echo ‘Tomb’? Abruptly, he realized that the other man had a problem with the English language, so he said, tentatively, ’The water is 2 1/2 miles deep.’
‘Hmmm.’ The purple eyes were thoughtful. ’The earth crust really been pushed there. I wonder how long it take?’
’We’re in the tropics,’ Hudman explained in a baffled voice. ’That means the water on the surface is warm, and the water on the bottom, except for currents here and there, lies cold and unmoving. It’s like a desert. No movement. No life. Forever.’
The man nodded, and spoke another of his enigmatic sentences: ’I sense we there, not forever, but very long time.’
’The surface of the tropical sea is hot,’ Hudman continued doggedly, ’so we put in piping and set up a pumping system for bringing the hot surface water down there. Once that process starts — and we had just started it — convection begins. The warmed water roils upward, stirring bottom nutrients. Life stirs.’
’We stirred,’ the man agreed.
’You’re not the kind of life I mean,’ Hudman said in a severe tone. ’The sea life cycle, where there was none before, starts. Tiny sea life, which brings larger life to eat it, which brings large fish. And where there’s food, breeding can start, and go on as long as the roiling continues. We’re putting down a pump system every 50 miles.’ He finished, ’In a few years, fishing fleets will find in those waters enough edible fish to feed a few billion more people.’
’Good!’ nodded the heavyset man. ’There lot of us. We need all food we can get.’ He paused, frowning. ‘The big problem . . .’ he seemed to be thinking out loud, for his eyes pointed off to one side, ’where we put everybody?’
In Hudman, at that point, came the Big Pause. Even a child can only listen to a limited number of sentences spoken at cross purposes, and he was a man who had noticed each apparently meaningless statement uttered by the other man.
It was full stop. And at least half a dozen double takes. A feeling of — for Pete’s sake! Then, from pursed lips, tentatively, ’How many of you are there?’
Unexpectedly, tears welled into the purple eyes. ’It seem wrong,’ the older man sobbed. ‘Thirty billion people, and not even you have power to bring more than fraction here.’
’How do you mean, me?’ Again, the feeling of being at cross purposes.
The tears were still spurting. ’Doubt we can rescue more than eight,’ wept the man. ’As catalyst, you pretty good, but you only one person.’
’Eight billion?’ said Hudman, faintly.
A measurable number of seconds passed by, at least 11 or 12. Across the table, the tears stopped spilling. Hudman involuntarily braced himself for what was, after another long moment, not clear. He was beginning to feel blank again.
Here was madness, and he was the mild-mannered type who did not attack aberration in others by direct confrontation. Unless, of course, it was aimed at him.
The chunky man was recovering rapidly. A smile suddenly brightened the gray-skinned face. ’My friend,’ said this changed being, ’I want thank you for rescue us. We been wait a long time. My name Lluuan.’
Hudman went through his Frisian ritual, ending with, ’Thanks for what, for Pete’s sake!’
’Who is Pete?’ asked Lluuan, sounding genuinely puzzled. Having spoken, he made a decisive gesture with his left shoulder, pushing it forward. Simultaneously, he straightened in his chair. He said, ’First things have to be first. Listening you talk that funny language, and try to talk it myself make realize what we do first. We shall provide Earth with more basic tongue again. In accidental rescuing me, when you lower heating unit, you be glad know you have made possible transformation back to sane universal language.’
He broke off. ’I gather you always sense that problem yourself. Since you translate English into more understand language. Once you learn the perfect language, you won’t have to go through that labor anymore.’
Hudman heard all the words, and even translated a few of them into Frisian. But it was a moment of shock, on another level. He had accidentally caught a glimpse of his watch.
’Good God!’ he blurted. ’I’ve got to get back to my ship.’
As he stood up, there was in him still no sense of being a prisoner, or of having been one. The first tiny doubt came as he glanced at Lluuan’s face. He had been turning away; now he paused, held by the unhappy expression in the great purple eyes.
Lluuan said, ’I have just sent out takeover order.’ His mouth twisted uneasily. ’I been hesitate. Something in your mind I not quite get.’
"Take over what?’ asked Hudman, frowning.
"The world.’ Lluuan waved vaguely. ’In few minutes my men will have seize the stores, the police station, radio station, docks, airport . . .’
Pause. The strange eyes clouded. ’Where those planes come from? And the ships?’
In the moment, at that precise instant, Lluuan gained a hearer who heard. ’Just a minute,’ said Hudman, ‘are you telling me that when the first hot water hit bottom — that minute when I had my false heart attack — we touched something down there 2 1/2 miles. And that released you and your — these?’ Hudman gestured toward the youths who were waiting outside the bar and, faltering now, finished — ’from some incredibly long sleep?’
’Considering amount of water at that point,’ nodded the big man, ’ “incredible” right word. Depth suggest hundreds of thousand years.’
‘And you’re going to take over the world?’
“We will do great good for everybody,’ said Lluuan. ’Expect great progress.’
Hudman scarcely heard the promise. His attention had leaped to another, more practical thought. "How many soldiers you got?’ he asked.
Momentarily, the meaning seemed to slip by Lluuan. ’Enough,’ he said. Came a hesitation. The face showed irritation. He gestured helplessly. ’Really,’ he said, ’the English language.’ He explained, We don’t call them soldiers. They’re — well — He waggled a hand helplessly ’English!’ He shook his head. ’Gulits, helpers of the —’ He finished, ’It’s actually untranslatable.’
He nodded rapidly, with abrupt determination, half to himself, half at the recalcitrant universe. ’Tomorrow morning in all schools we start teaching sane language.’
Silently, automatically, Hudman translated the exasperated comment into Frisian.
His internal communication was interrupted: ’Your ship, your work,’ said Lluuan, ’is it, uh, not safe?’
The purpose of the question was not clear but there seemed to be a threat in it. As if Lluuan were trying to decide . . . decide . . . (a profound feeling of shock) . . . whether or not he’ll let me go.
The shock grew enormous . . . I’m a prisoner. That guy touched my hand with that — what? — and I walked along with those guys as if I was hypnotized.
It was the instant reaction moment. The total resistance to the idea of anyone even for a minute telling him where he could go or, in this instance, where he couldn’t . . . time.
Hudman bent forward and reached across. Simultaneously, the six-foot-four Frisian frame of his stiffened, and that was all he needed to brace himself for what happened next.
The big man came up in his grip lightly, almost airily, as if he were made of balloon material. The stocky body brushed things off the table as Hudman dragged it across the surface and brought the thick face within inches of his own.
’Listen!’ he snarled at the other’s teeth and nose, ’I don’t know what you’re up to, but don’t mix me in your affairs!’
The purple eyes, so close, stared into his calmly. Lluuan said, ’You must not scare of us. You are catalyst. We need you. I only try find from you what is best place for you right now. Later, you get special treatment. So, you tell me, where should you be?’
It took awhile, but in the end it was the older man’s total lack of fear that soothed the savage feeling that had flared so swiftly and forcefully. Hudman continued to scowl, but he maneuvered Lluuan so that he could stand on his feet, and he was very gentle about it, merely making sure that the other would be able to balance himself. And thereupon released him.
Lluuan walked around the table, settled into his chair and looked up with a faint smile. He said, ’You very strong man, but not dangerous.’
Hudman blinked, and did not quite know how to react to the evaluation.
’Way you grab me,’ the other man continued, ’strength in it, but no violence, no intent to harm. A defensive attack. Interesting, right? So, now, perhaps, you answer my question.’
Hudman said simply, "Catalyst” is a very significant word. So I’ll make it straight. What happens if someone takes a pot shot at me and doesn’t miss?
Lluuan spread his hands helplessly. ’We disappear back to where we came from.’
‘All of you? Almost blankly.
’Every single eight billion,’ nodded the chunky head, glumly.
’Good God!’
’Picture not completely clear,’ Lluuan went on, uneasily. ’Maybe we find us all suddenly back in the tomb, waiting again. Maybe back in the sinking land, the last nightmare of tearing-apart continent. Not definite which.’
It took a few moments. Then, ’I’ve been at sea since I was 16,’ said Hudman. ’Now, I’m 28.’ He elaborated anxiously, ’It’s a big converted freighter. We been doing this job for nearly two years.’
‘Oh!’ Some of the unhappiness was fading from the heavy face. ’When you dock next?’
’We’re due in here next week.’
‘Our problem,’ said Lluuan frankly, how to protect yet not make you mad. So —,’ he nodded, half to himself, ‘maybe back on your ship is safest place. We got big things to do. Get used to what world like now. Take care of trouble. When you dock, come and see me.’
Hudman didn’t pause to argue. Out the door, past the little group of the blue-pants youths, off down the street to the Little Italy bar. Swift relief. Sputoni was still there.
“Hey! he said, “you got me worried. What the doc say?’

It was dark when they came down from a cloudless sky onto the brilliantly lit deck of the super-freighter that was their home.
Hudman chose to eat a fish dinner. Afterwards, he chose to play cards. Got sleepy, and decided not to argue with that.
As he headed for bed, from the room behind the bar where the card tables were, Sputoni called to him from a bar stool, ’Hey, Hud, tell these guys about those sailors we see.’
It took several moments for Hudman to translate that through his Frisian circuitry on to the realization that the ’sailors’ referred to were Lluuan’s people.
Sputoni was continuing, ’Ole Grue here," he indicated the mildly grizzled chief electrician on the adjoining stool, ’say he never hear of any country with sailors dressed like that. But they’re for real, right?’
Hudman, who had spent the late afternoon and evening trying to make unreal Lluuan’s evaluation of him as being ‘not dangerous’ — it meant that any decisions he made didn’t mean anything — kept on walking. But just before he left the room, he flung a single harshly spoken word over his shoulder. ’Yeah,’ he spat.
In the morning, the captain said over the intercom, ’We won’t be putting into Tengu next week. Something odd going on over there — a rebellion, or something.’
The sea has a language, too — burble, splash, murmur, slap, gargle, hiss, whisper — the same sounds endlessly, is the impression. And yet, Hudman had discovered in his years of listening that the language of the ocean, though primitive, never quite repeated itself; yet, paradoxically, told a few simple stories over and over. But it was more like the story in music. It stirred the emotions and the senses, and did not have to be translated into Frisian.
The days went by. He sat at his controls on the deck. He listened to the language of the water. He helped put down one huge heating unit, then another, and others. The routine had a rhythm that was not unpleasant. Gradually, because the sea is remote and unconnected, the meaning and implication of what Lluuan had said began to waver in his head somewhere between reality and fantasy. Only the vaguest sense of threat remained on the eighth day when, about midmorning, the captain’s voice on the intercom commanded the crew to come to the recreation room. When Hudman joined the men already there, he saw that they were gathered in front of the TV, and that what they were all staring at was a blue and white river scene, rather pretty and wild, with rippling blue waters and white foamy waves.
The river was being photographed from a helicopter, and it extended to a remote horizon; not just as far as the eye could see, but as far as the telephoto lens of a TV camera could focus.
Hudman stared, brows knit, frowning. Simultaneously, he tried to fit together two thoughts. The first was the action of the captain in calling him and the others from their work to come and watch television.
The second was that the river, while interesting in its odd, moving aliveness, was not exactly something the crew should be viewing during daytime work hours.
At that point, as Hudman had that critical thought, from the press of men behind him the voice of Sputoni projected a querulous question, ’Hey, where all those people comin’ from?’
People!
Hudman had been standing up. Now, he pushed toward a chair and sat down. Abruptly.
Hudman watched the screen with narrowed eyes, appalled. He was remembering what Lluuan had said: eight billion. E-i-g-h-t b-i-1-l-i-o-n! The figure, the total of them was a threat of mindless proportions to a world that was half-starved with a population of four billion.
On the screen, the view had shifted down to the ground. The camera there appeared to be on a mobile unit, which matched speed exactly with the whitescarfed, blue-pants people, who were at this remote edge of that mass of walkers. Two reporters on foot approached a young woman, whose hair was done up in the familiar bun, and the young man directly behind her. They held up their mikes and attempted to interview, first, the woman, then, the man.
The two did not look at their interrogators, did not talk back, did not turn, or slow, or speed up, but simply walked on like automatons. Those, like Hudman, watching the screen, grew aware that a second man, who walked several layers deep inside that fantastic mass of people, was taking note of the reporters. In fact, in approximately a minute he had pushed his way over to them, and began to speak in the same hesitant English that Hudman remembered from his conversation with Lluuan.
It was this second man, now, who made a series of sensational statements, heard and translated all over the world.
He said, ’I am helper. We are from long ago, how long not certain, but long. I have permission from our Lluuan,’ he used it like a title, ’to give information. In our two groups there are eight billion and several million of us. Our rescue made possible when connecting unit activate by heating box put in ocean by John Hudman. We very advanced scientific and mental civilization. Will help present day to new height. But we immediate need lot of food, which we will quickly increase by our methods. We request quick action from all governments. All available supplies sent quickly to Monterey Peninsula, west coast United States, and to north Holland, Europe. Our people will be out there soon help speed up shipments. We come in friendship. Nobody will hurt nobody. Everybody will benefit, first, by learning basic new universal language. Final comment, Lluuan want ship with John Hudman come quick to San Francisco. John Hudman, if you listening, it time for you talk to Lluuan again, for everybody benefit . . .’
On board the good ship U.S.S. Menasco, all the everybodies of one accord turned and stared at Hudman. It was a total surprise for him, also. He sat there and the sweat poured down from his forehead. An ultimate fear had come; inside him everything let go.
After awhile, after those numerous pairs of eyes had seemingly been accusing him forever, he said hoarsely, “Look, I was up there on deck doing my job. Up there with Sputoni, he doing his job, me doing mine. All I did was my job. Just like the rest of you.’
In answer to puzzled questions from puzzled people, Hudman added defensively, ’Yeah, I had a conversation with this guy in the bar. He talked nutty, so I just kidded him along like I believed what he was saying was real. For Pete’s sake, who’d have thought that a guy in a bar really meant it when he said that would happen.’
As he uttered the word ’that’, he waggled one arm-hand toward the television screen.
At that point, Captain Eli Bjornson, a large red-haired Norwegian, walked forward and took charge. He cleared the big room. At that point, the captain was paged by the radio operator. He went off, and then his voice came on the intercom and instructed Hudman to come to the captain’s cabin.
Hudman came in to find the commander sitting with phone in hand. As Hudman entered, the redhaired one held the instrument out to him, saying, ’The Pentagon wants to talk to you.’
Somewhere inside Hudman, good sense once more began to shut off. ’Slow Dutchmen’ don’t have too much going for them under normal circumstances in an exchange that requires thinking. In a crisis, they tend to go automatic. Early conditioning takes over. For long, far too long, long after they should keep their mouths shut, they’re still innocently, naively, honestly giving forth with the facts. One of Hudman’s conditionings was that your government is fundamentally your friend. And, since he was an employee of the Navy, and knew the penalties for perjury, he accepted the right of the military to any truth that he had.
There was, even in him, a sense of relief, the feeling that now, thank God, he would be under the protection of the authorities.
After a while, the voice on the phone said, ’Put Captain Bjornson back on!’
Hudman handed the instrument over dutifully and, also at Bjornson’s request, left the cabin and returned to his task on the main deck. It was there that he finally, a little late indeed, shut his mouth.
A sound! Hudman blinked and opened his eyes on pitch darkness. It took a moment then, to realize — somebody knocked.
Even as the belated awareness trickled through his sleep-ridden brain, knuckles rapped again on the door of his cabin.
Sleepy blinking, sleepy thoughts, and then, ’Hey!’ he called, ’who’s there?’
’It’s me, Les Reed, radio operator.’
‘Oh, yeah, Les.’ In the darkness, Hudman sat up and groped for the switch on the bed light. ’What’s up, Les?’
’Got a message for you, from General Laroux.’
The light was on now. Hudman was aware of his crumpled pajamas, bare feet on the cold floor, a sweaty sleep smell, and of the clock embedded in his night table. It showed 2:24 A.M.
He also had a rueful realization. His long-time dislike of the ship’s radio chief was now proved to be one of those stupid judgments that people rendered upon their fellow men without evidence. ’Slimy son of a gun!,’ he had once labeled Reed. True, the words were spoken after one drink too many, but they were, in fact, a vociferation of his until-then secret opinion.
Damn nice of the guy to personally bring him a message at this hour of the night.
‘Yeah, just a minute, Les. I’ll be right there, Les.’
One, two, three, four steps. Doorknob cool on palm. Unclick lock with little finger. Turn knob. Move awkwardly out of the way of the door as he swung it open.
The six-foot mustached type, who stood in the hallway, had his right hand behind his back.
‘Hi, Les, what’s the message from this — I never did quite get the name straight when I was talking to him — General La — La —’
‘Laroux,’ said Les Reed. He moved his right hand from behind his back and there was a gun in it. At that final moment, he must have been moved by an unslimy qualm because he muttered, ’Sorry, Hud, General’s orders.’
The next split-instant there was a bright flash and the roar of a pistol, echoing and reverberating in the confined distances of a long corridor.
In Hudman’s brain, a million, billion, jillion images skittered. Oddly, they were like what had happened the first day, when a kind of energy had backed up the winch from two and a half miles down in the ocean. Once more, there were the faces, the strange buildings, cities seen from afar, glowing sunsets, trees, plains, rocky beaches, and people, people, people, all with purple eyes and wearing blue trousers and white shawl shirts.
At the very tail of that visual spectacular, Lluuan’s face came out of the confusion and floated into sharp focus. The purple eyes stared at him calmly. And the remembered voice said, ’Thou art safe, Hud. The Gulits, who to thee reach through my connection with thy mind, offer thee total protection. But we do have a severe problem with this general. When we took over the Pentagon late this past evening, he was gone.’
The voice continued, ’The method used to save thee, an imbalance created in time. The imbalance will, for awhile, continue. Like a pool of water that has had a rock dropped into it. It moves in waves and ripples. In thy circumstances, may on remote shores briefly lap. —’
As he came to the branching corridor with the other arriving seamen and passengers from several ships, Hudman hesitated. His feeling was that he was on the right when he should be on the left.
On the surface, no thought touched his brain. While he paused, the other people moved past him and off to the right. Whereupon, he turned and strode by himself along the leftward passage. As he started to pass three young men in blue pants and white scarfshirts, one reached out and touched him. ’Doe comt dissa vie,’ the youth said in halting Frisian. Lluuan fwar de vaaghtya.’ (Thou come this way. Lluuan for thee waits.)
Hudman seemed to find that instantly satisfactory. Yet, he spoke his original intention, ’Ik praekesaer Ik vol an kaemer seekya, dan vol Ik Lluuan comma varr.’ (I considered I will a room look for, then will I Lluuan come to.)
The youth said firmly, ’Lluuan fwar de vaaghtya, meen hair.’ (Lluuan for thee waits, my lord.)
Hud was driven in a jeep by a blue-trousered, shawl-shirted, gray-complexioned man along familiar streets that swarmed with other blue-trousered people. The streets also swarmed with San Franciscans. And that, of course, meant that here were the inhabitants of one of the three American cities — the other two being New York and New Orleans — with that special character that comes from too many old, dirty buildings and too many people with open minds.
At the fourth stoplight, Hudman, who had been born in the Bay city, could restrain himself no longer. With a single twisting movement, he vaulted off the jeep, calling over his shoulder, ’I’ll be right back.’
Moments later, he was confronting a typical San Franciscan, a well-dressed Japanese gentleman. ’I beg your pardon,’ said Hudman.
As the other paused uncertainly, Hudman explained quickly about having just arrived on a ship, and of having heard of the takeover by way of radio and TV. ’What is it like?’ he asked. ’What’s happening? How is it affecting you?’
’Too many people,’ was the polite reply, ’and not enough food. But one good thing. Fifty or so people who move into my house, all learning old Japanese dialect I spoke in my childhood. Very interesting. I learn their language. They learn mine. Excuse me.’ He stepped past Hudman, and walked on.
A girl, who had a very light version of dark skin, was passing. Hudman fell in step beside her, made his explanation, and asked the same question. She gestured vaguely. “There’re thirty of these people living in the same room with me,’ she said in a distracted tone. ’We sleep in relays. But they’re very courteous. Two girls share my bed, and the others sleep on the floor, and they’re all learning Tagalog, a language I spoke as a child in the Philippines. Goodbye.’ She broke into a run, and quickly disappeared around a corner.
A hand grabbed Hudman’s shoulder from behind. ’White boy,’ gritted a voice in his ear, ’what you do to make that little dark girl run like she’s scared?’
Hudman sighed inwardly, and simultaneously twisted and reached. On such matters he was never slow, and so, in a flash of powerful movement, he found himself face to face and eye to eye with interlocked arms and hands, with a six-foot-four black.
’Hey!’ said this individual, ‘you’re kind of strong, huh. You must be one of those tough guys like the kind that raped my great-great-grandmother.’
Hudman sighed again. This was an aspect of glamorous San Francisco that the invaders had apparently not yet dealt with, so it was up to him. ’How do you know your great-great grandmother was raped?’ he asked wearily.
’Look at me close,’ said the man. ’See all the white blood in my face. Those cheapskate lips and small nose, and the whitey shape of the head.’
’Look,’ said Hudman, flatly, ‘my great-great grandfather didn’t do it. Because I’m a Russian sailor, just arrived in port. Right now, what I’m interested in is all these strange types in blue pants. I keep hearing stories that this is an invasion. How’s it affecting you?’
The black’s face, so close to his, abruptly acquired a disgusted expression. ’I run into more Russians —’he said gloomily. ’Last three white girls I tried to mug, and make ’em pay for my great-great grandmom’s bad experience, were all Russians, expecting to be let off the hook because the great Soviet Socialist Republic secret police would come around here looking for me if I so much as harmed one hair on their heads.’
He broke off. ’Those blue pants arrive in black town, and I hit the streets.’ He showed his teeth and grinned. ’Okay, sailor, you got one thing goin’ for you that’s better’n bein’ Russian, You’re as big as me.’
He started to shove Hudman, and had one fist drawn back for what was evidently intended to be a farewell attempt at removing a tooth or two, or perhaps even an eye.
At that exact instant . . .
. . . Hudman was sitting in an office facing Lluuan. This time, what separated them was not a barroom table but a gleaming executive desk, and they both sat comfortably in large leather chairs, with a huge window behind the chunky man. The scene visible out there was of San Francisco Bay.
So the waves haven’t lapped too far, he thought.
More important, he had already got information that was not available on the U.S.S. Menasco.
Sitting there, gazing at the gray face and strange purple eyes, Hudman began to feel better. Not just a little better, a lot. He could feel the change inside him. Even as he noticed that inner stimulation, the sense of well-being jumped to a higher level.
He realized what part of the feeling was. He actually was being protected on a fantastically high level of superscience.
Even more significant, the implication was that he was a key-figure, indeed. These people did need him, exactly as Lluuan had stated that first day on far Tengu.
With that feeling and that thought brightening him, Hudman indicated the view and said cheerfully, ‘Pretty, eh?’
He was slightly surprised, then, to observe, for the first time, that his host was not cheerful at all. Lluuan was staring at him gloomily. The heavyset man said glumly, ’Nobody could get message into your head. All time you talk to the Pentagon man, different Gulits use my mental connection to you and take turns to say, ’Hud, please shut up!’ ’Hud, don’t say anything!’ ’Hud, keep secret what spoken between Lluuan and you!’
It was not the moment for Hudman to explain about the psychology of a ’slow Dutchman,’ even if he had known what that psychology was — which he didn’t.
Lluuan was continuing. ’Hud, what we going to do with that mad general up there in orbit?’ He gestured vaguely at the ceiling.
Hudman thought Laroux is the general who tried to have me executed —
Tried!?!
Pause. Then was that all that happened?
An ever so faint doubt stirred deep in his mind. It was so faint that he, so to speak, brushed aside the momentary anxiety that came. But the underlying thought diverted his attention.
He felt his brows automatically knit into a frown. ‘Lluuan,’ he said, ’I don’t understand what your Gulits are doing. Suddenly, I’m in San Francisco. Suddenly, I’m sitting here. No transition. Tell me quick what it means before it happens again.’
As he finished speaking, he realized something. His need to know was suddenly so intense that he had forgotten to do his Frisian thing. His words and thought were English all the way.
The chunky man gestured dismissingly. Yet, when he spoke, he seemed to answer the question. ’Many trained minds work together, can twist time,’ he said. ‘But process not easy to stop. Like a pendulum has lot of motion. Take a while to come to full stop.’
Hudman mentally digested that for a few seconds. Finally, uneasily, he said, ’First time it happened, it lasted — my guess — less than thirty minutes. This time, I’ve been sitting here maybe five minutes. Do you think we’ll be able to be here thirty minutes, also?’
He saw that Lluuan was nodding. ’Each time a little longer, with exceptions. We must try not to have one of the exceptions. So, better not right now have anything happen that put you back on that ship. Avoid going back to where it start. That could slow things. On ship, maybe months before next time. And finally end up with twists last fifty years instead of fifty minutes. Way to avoid, not think about. Change subject, yes.’
Somewhere in there Hudman noticed he was no longer feeling quite so great.
After a long moment of blankness, he was able to have a different thought. So different, in fact, and yet apropos, he felt himself grinning.
He said, ’I have a message for you from Sputoni. He wants you to leave the Italian language alone. Particularly, don’t bother an Italian settlement in southern Switzerland where they speak an Italian variation of Rhaeto-Romanic, which Spute claims is very close to ancient Latin. It is called Für Lan.’
On the other side of the gleaming desk, Lluuan looked pained. Then he closed his eyes resignedly. ’Just a minute, Hud,’ he said. Silence, then, ’I getting a telepathic connect-up through a Gulit in Für Lan country.’ His eyes remained closed. He seemed to be listening intently. His lips parted. He spoke slowly, as if he were repeating words he was hearing, and then translating aloud.
“Che devio far?’ (What should I do?) ’Uto famio plazhay?’ (Can you do me a favor?) ’Doliy izza chesso?’ (Where is the washrom?)’
Lluuan shook his head and opened his eyes. He said, ’Pretty language. But like most tongues on earth today, not so good as Uxtagooganazan.’
Across the desk from Hudman the white shawlshirt wiggled as the older man shrugged. “No problem,’ he said. ’We solving language problem. In each situation, we learn their language, they learn ours. Soon, everywhere people speak sane language. Only one problem. Somebody must touch Laroux, so we have control him.’
Hudman’s mind went back to what the Philippine girl and the Japanese man had told him in his brief street interview. He nodded. ’When I get back to the ship,’ he said, ’I’ll tell Spute that you’re being very skillful about the way you’re teaching your language, and —‘
His voice came to a faltering stop. Did it! He thought.Just like that came back to talking about the ship. Next thing you know I’ll start wondering what actually happened when Les fired his gun —‘
And that automatic reaction came to a mental equivalent of a skittering halt as Lluuan said shakily, ‘Hud, don’t think thoughts like that. My Gulits all holding positive feeling for you. The healing process needs lots of positive —’
Time twisted.
. . . Captain Eli Bjornson awoke to the sound of scratching on wood. He opened his eyes . . . Pitch dark.
The strange soun d continued; seemed to be coming from the corridor door. Frowning, the officer turned on his bedside light, slid the automatic pistol from under his pillow, released the safety catch and lurched off the bed. Only seconds later, he had the outer door open and was staring down at the man who sprawled there with one outstretched hand still fumbling at where the door panel had been.
Hud!
It took awhile. Because he had to drag the long body over to his office couch. And with much gasping, had to lift it onto the couch. As the ship’s official medical technician, he recognized shock when he saw it. And, since any severe condition had to have a cause, he undressed the man and examined the body.
He made a puzzling discovery. There was a lot of half-dried blood on the skin. But the two wounds, one in the stomach and one in the back where the bullet had evidently emerged, were both essentially healed.
Bjornson wiped away the blood, cleaned the wound areas, and injected a suitable chemical for extreme shock. Then he pulled up a chair and sat through the wee hours waiting and listening to the mumbling voice on the bed.
Only three times did the commander lean forward and probe for additional information. The first time, he said, ’What did you do to Les Reed?’
It developed presently that Hudman had stepped forward, grabbed the gun, and smashed the radio man over the head with it.
When that information was finally clarified, Captain Bjornson hastily picked up his phone and called the night duty officer. (It later developed that Reed had a concussion, but would survive. But it would take awhile.)
The second time Bjornson evoked a clarification from Hudman, the latter muttered, ’I’m getting mental messages from Lluuan. He wants me to talk to the General.’
‘Well,’ said the commander, ‘are you willing?’
That was the third probe; and the answer was, after much mumbling, in the affirmative.
’Well!’ repeated the red-headed man in his heartiest voice, and added, ’First, you’ll have to get back on your feet. And then, when it’s physically feasible, we’ll have to be careful that the SOB doesn’t get another chance to put a bullet into you....’
The rendezvous, when it finally took place, was on a mountain top in Baja California. The advanced type shuttle lift settled straight down, almost like a shooting star except that its computerized landing mechanism, in the final few hundred feet, slowed the vehicle to a touch stop as it hit the ground. A few minutes later, a helicopter settied nearby. After some cross-signalling, Sputoni and the general climbed out of their respective carriers at about the same moment. The latter patiently submitted to being searched, then allowed his shuttle to be entered by two engineers, who next came forward from the helicopter.
Laroux was vaguely amused. ’These poor nuts!’ he thought. ’They don’t realize that all this means nothing. My position is absolutely impregnable, my power likewise absolute.’
Fifteen minutes went by, and then a second helicopter zoomed over a nearby height and landed on a rocky ledge a hundred feet away. Out of this emerged Hudman. As Hudman walked toward Laroux, Sputoni backed off and eventually took up a position on a height about fifty feet away. He produced a pistol, and waited with it casually in one hand.
All around was nature in the raw, and in front of Hudman stood a slender man in a smart uniform. Face to face, to Hudman’s considerable relief, the shining individual turned out to have the voice that he had heard a month before on the radio-telephone. The officer looked tense, forty, and was awesomely loaded with gold braid and decorations. Slightly overwhelming was the effect, but Hudman braced himself and said, ’Lluuan wants to know what you want, sir.’
Human behavior has a language of its own. Like any other language, it just growed, acquiring its rationality, if any, late, late, late in its development.
That language was as articulate inside General Laroux as it was in Hudman. He was a trained man. And so, when Hudman had originally described the little device with which the purple-eyed man had touched his hand — and instantly hypnotized him — he recognized superior science and anticipated total takeover. Within ten minutes, personnel at Cape Kennedy began maneuvering great rockets into firing position. One by one, the beautiful monsters took off for distant orbits.
So did Laroux — take off. By the time he, also, was safe in an orbit, the whisper of human nature was providing a steady flow of communication inside his skin, down in his groin, and particularly in that special part of the brain which ceaselessly perceives and feeds back unmonitored automaticities.
As a consequence, a basic thought passed up into the conscious level.
It murmured, ’I have tried to do my duty. My first act, in attempting to have this man, Hudman, assassinated, failed through no fault of mine. My second action, in orbiting nuclear weaponry, has a terrible drawback in that, whenever a bomb is dropped on ten million invaders, it will simultaneously kill a million Americans. So, I’m actually in a bargaining position. To begin with, why don’t I, first of all, use that atomic threat to right an ancient wrong?’
Two men standing on a mountain top deciding the fate of the world.
A wind was blowing. It blew from behind Laroux and ruffled his hair. It blew into Hudman’s face, as cool as a sea breeze in the tropics. It made faint, windblowing sounds. And yet Hudman’s impression was of intense silence.
Abruptly, an improbable thing happened. In front of him the lean, stern face of General Laroux relaxed into a grin.
The officer said, ’I shall be glad to tell Lluuan, through you, exactly what we want.’
The grin faded. The voice went on, ’Hud, I want you to recall Shakespeare’s line, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which when taken at the full flood —"
The grin was back. ’Hud, we are the two lucky people in all this. Everything we stand for can now come true.’
Once again, the smile disappeared. Or rather, took on a distinct satiric twist. “You and I make a team, my friend, such as never before existed. You with your telepathic rapport to Lluuan, and me with all that power up there in the sky.’
’Uh!’ agreed Hudman, numbly.
’Before leaving Washington,’ said the general, his voice brisk and bright, ’I got your dossier from the Navy. I noticed that your father was Frisian, and your mother three-quarters Russian and one-quarter Nez Perce Indian.’
’Hey!’ said Hudman.
He was amazed. He hadn’t thought of his mother’s family since the death of his father in his teens.
Hudman drew a large breath. ’General, what are you leading up to?’
The shining creature in front of him seemed to freeze. Then, I’ve been in touch,’ he said simply, ’with the Provençal Separatist Movement.’
Pause. Hudman stared blankly because, amazingly, the older was gulping as if his own words had triggered profound personal emotion.
Abruptly, fantastically, tears splurted. ’When I was a child,’ sobbed General Laroux, ’I spoke Provençal —’ He looked mistily at Hudman, explaining, ’It’s the original French language,’ he said.
’Oh, nodded Hudman, ’a provincial French dialect.’
The face in front of Hudman seemed to be considering the comment. Finally, ’It’s the real French language,’ said the general.
’Oh! said Hudman.
The officer’s face now had a petulant expression, but his eyes stared to one side, as if he were contemplating an inner unpleasantness. Suddenly, his teeth showed. ’Those damned Parisian French!’ he snarled. ’Imagine, the language of the great troubadours of the Middle Ages, the language of the greatest lyric poetry ever written, ignored and degraded by those stupid pragmatists in Paris!’
Hudman, who knew nothing about the past history of other European dialects, other than Frisian, had been watching the awful performance uneasily. His own awful feeling was I’m really looking at myself
First, Lluuan, automatically accepting that the language he had learned as a child would make sense in the hearing centers and voice boxes of two hundred million Americans accustomed to speaking the peculiar Low German version of a Low Dutch dialect called English. Now, here, Laroux, with Provençal, a dialect of an outrageous language — French — in which virtually not one word was pronounced according to the natural sound of the letters by which they were spelled.
’For Pete’s sake, General —” he began.
As he reached that point, he saw that the officer was visibly trying to recover. The man swallowed several times. Then he took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.
Hudman did a little swallowing himself, and then he said with determination, ’General, what you and I have in common is something called race consciousness —‘
The instant that he spoke the fateful words, he had a distinct awareness of the meaning echoing down and down inside him. A startled realization came.
This was the first time he had ever allowed the analysis to surface. Always, in the past, there had been the feeling that if he ever did examine his motives, the underlying ’reality’ would be threatened.
He saw that General Laroux seemed to have recovered from his own repercussions. The man stood now, staring at him. Or rather, studying him thoughtfully.
Hudman forced himself to continue. ’This whole matter of obsession with one’s language of origin has been a big thing the last few decades with millions of people. But each person is obsessed with his own dialect, and not with yours or mine. And so’ — Hudman drew a deep breath — ’here you are with Provencal ...’
‘And,’ the lean face was smiling, ’here you are with Nez Perce.’
Hudman, who had his mouth open, intending to speak further, kept it open for many seconds. Only when spit began to drool out and over his lips did he close them and simultaneously reach for his handkerchief.
General Laroux continued with the same, faint, knowing smile. ’It’s been my experience, Hud, that Americans with Indian blood tend to get interested in their Indian background.’ He urged, ’You did learn Nez Perce, didn’t you?’
Hudman was wiping the drool off his chin. Twice, then, he started to deny the words, and each time couldn’t speak. Couldn’t admit that it was Frisian he had learned. A memory came of himself at his father’s funeral at age 16 1/2. That was when he had made the Big Decision: ’My dear, wonderful dad, so long as I live you will never really be dead. I promise with all my heart to keep alive forever everything that you stood for.’
At sixteen, one tended to get things mixed up. His father had never, in truth, stood for Frisia and Frisian. He was the third generation, product of that period when the melting pot still made sense, when children were still ashamed of their parents’ foreign accents, and when English seemed to be one of the logical international languages to be learned as a matter of simple good sense.
’I — began Hudman, vaguely.
He literally couldn’t go on. The thought: Somehow, General Laroux’ wrong deduction protected his father’s sacred memory, and simultaneously protected his own interest in the Frisian language from ridicule and from whatever might go askew in this whole Uxtagooganazan madness.
With that thought, that need to defend, he was finally able to speak, and even to be devious, for defensive reasons, of course, in what he spoke about.
Hudman said slowly, almost thinking out loud, ’Yeah, I was interested once in Nez Perce. But you can’t really make a large certainty out of being one-eighth of anything.’ The words, the thought, spoken aloud, triggered a memory from long ago. ’Hey, you know something, General?’
The man did not reply; merely stared at him, waited.
Hudman continued, ’There’s a story that comes down that Indian family side. When the white man first came to Oregon, my great, great, etc., grandfather, you know what he said?’
The gray eyes fixed on his blue, and waited again. ’ “There’s got to be an end to them somewhere. There can’t be many more, surely.” General,’ Hudman spread his hands, ‘so far as the Indians were concerned, we whites came out of nowhere, just like these Uxtagooganazans.’
The expression on General Laroux’ face indicated that the comparison left him somewhat less than enthralled. ’The early American settlers,’ he said, ’were individualists. These Uxta— Uxta—’ He paused, looked disgusted, then continued firmly, ‘Uxtans seem to be a singularly regimented race —’
’Who knows,’ interjected Hudman, ’what the early settlers looked like to the Indians.’
‘And, furthermore,’ continued Laroux, as if he had not heard, they don’t hesitate to use their hypnotic gadgetry to regiment everyone they contact. So—’
Abruptly, he did an amazing thing. There he was, standing beside a tall shrub. The ground under him, under them both, was broken rock, and they were high enough so that the view in every direction on that clear, sunny day was sensational — that is, if you liked to see miles and miles of mountain desert from a height. There he was in that remote wilderness, and suddenly he straightened, stood at attention, and spoke in the formal tone of a general addressing an officer-aide.
He said, ’Mr. Hudman, tell King Lluuan that unless he does what I want I shall have those bombs up there —’ he did not point, but he looked up ever so slightly — ’drop one by one on large concentrations of Uxtans.
’What I want,’ Laroux continued, ‘and hear this carefully! In France — the whole of France — the language to be taught in all the schools for all future time will be Provençal, and,’ the formality seemed to sag a little and he smiled a tight smile, ‘here in the United States, the national language will be Nez Perce — forever.’
’Uh!’ said an astounded Hudman.
As he stood there, almost blank, Lluuan’s voice spoke inside his head. ’I have, with my Gulits, in those places where live these people, checked quickly. The Provençal language has many non-French words in it, but enough French-type to make it easy to teach like he want. Nez Perce, name given Indians in Oregon by French, means pierced noses. Language very pure, but simple. Has much meaning about hunting and fishing and animals and wilderness. Not technical. So, easy to teach. Make no real difference anymore. Everybody, by our mind-to-mind method, now speak sane language. So we just add Nez Perce in United States, and Provençal in France. We keep skillful suggest everybody their own language fade. So that soon happen.’
Through the entire mental message, Hudman had his mouth open to explain that his interest was Frisian. Yet, by the time Lluuan was finished, the feeling of resistance had faded. He felt resigned . . . Did it again, he thought, hopelessly.
The real thought was that the nuclear bombs up there were too deadly for him to start arguing against the certainties of General Laroux.
It took a little while, then. General Laroux insisted on back and forth conversation. Clarifications. ’Let me make completely clear,’ he said, ’that in every other part of the world they can teach Uxtan. It’s probably a good thing for there to be a universal language to replace peculiar sounding tongues like Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Hindi — you know, all that junk out there.’ He waved an arm, taking in half the horizon.
Hudman was bracing himself, thinking, ’Somewhere in here I’m going to have to have a talk with Lluuan about leaving the Frisian language alone —’
An odd tension accompanied that half-decision. It occurred to him that the feeling might portend the next Time Twist.
But the seconds went by, and there he still was, so he began to back off. At twenty feet, he yelled ’goodbye’. At forty, he shouted ’yes’ when Laroux called out that the two of them would get together again at a future time.
Presently, safe inside #2, Hudman watched the mountain-top recede and the great mass of land below take on the essentially featureless appearance which characterized the surface of the earth when seen from a great height.
Down on the ground, the process of the original arrival continued its reverse motion. The two engineers emerged from the shuttle and hurried to helicopter #1. Sputoni, thereupon, scrambled down from his high perch, trotted past Laroux, and also climbed aboard #1; at which point, Laroux somewhat hastily reentered the shuttle.
There was, now, a slight variance from the straight reversal condition. The shuttle, which had originally arrived first, was faster and more powerful than the helicopter. It took off abruptly and climbed at a speed that quickly left the whirly-bird behind. The appearance was of an awkward crow competing with a hawk or a falcon.
Within the hour, the U.S.S. Menasco was taking evasive action. It headed rapidly due south, trying to look like just one more large coastal freighter. That was while there was still daylight. As soon as darkness fell, the big ship swerved west.
A disconsolate Hudman sat in his cabin and watched the dark ocean through his porthole. He was gloomily realizing, once more, that what Lluuan had said about the Time Twist thing slowing down if he ever got back on the ship (the starting point) was all too true. He recalled unhappily that Lluuan had even mentioned a time length like fifty years. (But that, as he remembered it, was for a later swing of the pendulum.)
Boy, he thought, what a life I’ve got ahead of me!
And, worst of all, it was ail automatic. Not a single decision, not one moment of choice, nothing for him to make up his own mind about.
The almost-blankness of that realization was still going on when his intercom buzzed. The voice of Captain Bjornson said, ’Hud, would you like to come to my cabin for a chat?’
Hudman knew only too well that he was listening to a command. But the wording fitted perfectly with that poor, defeated part of him that kept saying he had a right to make his own decisions.
’Yeah, Captain!’ he decided out loud, gratefully. ‘Yeah.’
He put on his shoes, walked along the lengthy corridor, up one flight on the elevator, and knocked on the door with the brass metal letters on it spelling the word PRIVATE.
The commander’s muffled voice sounded from beyond the panel, ’Come in, Hud.’
Hudman did so. But after he had shoved the door shut behind him, he stood just inside, uncertain. The cabin’s interior was more dimly lighted than he had ever seen it before. The single lamp on the desk was on. Captain Bjornson sat at the desk, and he now indicated the chair at the side of that desk. When Hudman had shuffled forward and seated himself, Bjornson said, ’I been thinking about this whole business, Hud.’
He stood up, reached over to the locker behind and to one side of Hudman, took out two glasses and a half-full bottle of liquor, poured the glasses full to the brim, set one in front of Hudman and the other on the desk next to his own chair into which he now settled himself again. ’Let’s talk about it, Hud. What we going to do?’
As Hudman took his first sip, the redheaded man, seeming to forget his own liquor, leaned forward earnestly and said, ’My family comes from a part of Norway where they speak a local Norwegian dialect known as Streele. I suppose that’s all going to disappear now.’
Hudman, who was suddenly feeling quite sleepy, nonetheless thought, “For Pete’s sake, another dialect!’
Aloud, he said, ’Is this, uh, Streele just a local accent, like the southern way of speaking English in the United States, or is it a real regional dialect?’
’Genuine dialect,’ was the reply. ’Regular Norwegians can’t make out the meaning at all.’
’There must be a billion different words on this planet,’ mumbled Hudman, ’all sacred. Even Reed,’ he continued, ’turns out was willing to put that bullet in me because his family comes from a part of England where they speak a different accent, which he imitates once in awhile as if he’s joking. But he really isn’t.’
’Yep.’ The answer sounded far away, and the person who spoke it was vaguely visible to Hudman through a blur of sleep. ’So the question becomes, can we really let all this happen?
’I don’t know how you’re going to stop it,’ Hudman replied, ’unless you put another bullet in me, and Lluuan and his Gulits can’t protect me a second time. I have the feeling they’re trying to reach me right now, but I’m too far gone in sleep.’
The equally far-gone voice, that came from the direction of the redhead, said, ’How about poison in your liquor? Can they protect you from that?’
’I was just gonna say,’ said Hudman dully, ’that’s a pretty strong drink you gave me. ’I —’ He stopped, slumped far down in his chair, stared through a dense fog. "Huh!’ he said.
‘And if that doesn’t work,’ said Bjornson, ‘maybe we can chop you up into little bits and pieces.’
’You so-and-so!’ said Hudman, as he slipped off the chair onto the floor.
’Sorry, Hud.’
Hudman lay for a while, eyes closed, only partly awake but thinking that he was on the floor in Captain Bjornson’s cabin.
Suddenly, a different awareness . . . Ground! I’m lying on grass, for Pete’s sake!
He blinked. Then he flicked his eyes open. Then he sat up.
He was on a hillside. In the distance below him, a city stretched to every horizon. There was crystalline glitter in that city’s buildings, and a golden sheen, and silver reflections from a million gleaming points, with great slashes and flashes of purple and red. It was a city different from any Hudman had seen in his numerous voyages.
Exultant realization came. ’Hey!’ He spoke the words aloud in English (Frisian suddenly seemed very far away and unimportant) ’Another time twist!’
Enthralled, he scrambled to his feet. And he had his first glorious thought of where this swing of the time pendulum had taken him. The golden, silver, crystal city — somehow he knew it was so — was in ancient, vast Uxtagooganaza. Before the disaster, before it sank into the colossal depths of what, at some future time, would be the Pacific Ocean.
Up there in the 20th century, he was presumably dead — poisoned or cut up. But good old Lluuan and his Gulits had managed to balance themselves in that time period by precipitating him millions of years back.
How long would it be this time? The worry about that was a remote emotion, as distant as the Frisian inside him had suddenly become.
As he started down the hill, he was like the emigrant to a new country — eager, excited, determined to fit in, with no thought at all about his past, no sense of race consciousness, ready for the melting pot.

It was the great moment of dedicating himself to this new world.


7. THE NON-ARISTOTELIAN DETECTIVE

Detective, using non-Aristotelian methods, will take interesting cases. Particularly want unsolved murders and other major crimes which have baffled police. No charge, fee, or expense of any description, but client must be in position to give me entry into the situation. Find address through telephone number.

DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT Myron Morrison read the advertisement with a choleric amusement. There was a self-confidence about the wording that irritated him. He looked up, finally, at Inspector Codreau, who had brought the want-ad column in to show to him.
’What in blazes,’ he demanded, ‘is a non-Arist —’ He stumbled – ‘Non-Aristlelian detective?
Codreau’s broad face creased into a grin. ’I’m like you,’ he said, ’I can’t even pronounce it.’ He sighed, and shook his head. ’I guess we’re just a couple of outof-date dicks.’
Morrison was studying the advertisement again. ’So he’ll take cases that have baffled the police, will he?’ He was more annoyed than he cared to admit.
‘The word’s not in Webster’s,’ said the inspector. ’I looked it up.’
’What do you want me to do? Check on him?’
“Hmmm. Hadn’t really thought about it. I just saw it in the paper and I thought you’d be interested.’ He broke off. ’Anything else about the ad strike you?’
Morrison read it through slowly. He was about to shake his head, puzzled, when he got it. ‘Well,’ he said, ’no phone number. He grew thoughtful. He leaned back and scratched his head, a big man in a gray suit. He said, ’Say-y-y, to get in touch with him you’ve got to figure out how you’d locate his phone number and address when he doesn’t give either.’
‘The newspaper would give us the information.’
Morrison agreed that undoubtedly it could be as simple as that. Frowning, he studied the advertisement again and then reached for the phone. "’You don’t mind,’ he said to Codreau.
Morrison dialed Information, hesitated, then asked, ’Have you a listing under Non-Aristot-tatelian detective?
Moments later, he had the phone number and was dialing again. This time it was an answering service. He repeated his question, picked up a pencil, grinned at Codreau, and said, ’I want his name and address.’
He hung up moments later, said, ’There we are. Philip Nicer, 721 Glen Oak Crescent. That’s one of those lost streets in the hills, I think.’
’Anyway,’ said the inspector, ’He’s within our jurisdiction.’
’Yes,’ said Morrison grimly, ‘and I know just the case I’ll take along with me. Remember that Mrs. Nina Colton murder five years ago?’
"Vaguely.’ Codreau looked blank, then, ’Good lord, man, you’re not going to —‘
’If he can solve cases that have baffled the police,’ Morrison said placidly, ’we might as well get the benefit of his non-Aristot —’ he gave it up, snarled, ’At least, I’ll learn how to pronounce it and maybe even find out what it means.’
The inspector’s brown eyes were serious. ’Before you let outraged pride carry you off the deep end, why don’t you look over the file record of the Colton case again and then decide if you really want to do this?’
It was an obviously good idea, and Morrison went off. When he came back half an hour later, he said, ’It’s just as I remember it. I’d like your opinion. Do you have time?’
The body of Mrs. Colton had been found in her bedroom, completely nude, a bullet in her heart. Her husband, a real-estate salesman, had been out on a business call and had spent the evening with a couple previously unknown to him, who had vouched for his being with them from about nine o’clock until shortly after eleven.
A scream and the sound of a shot had brought neighbors into the Colton house a few minutes after ten, and there they found Mrs. Colton breathing her last. She died without regaining consciousness as the police were arriving.
After a neighbor of the Coltons reported having once seen him and Mrs. Colton in a significant act — kissing — Ivan Tristrov, the dead woman’s husband’s real-estate associate had confessed having been her lover for about a year. However, he swore that Mrs. Colton had ended the relationship on the grounds that it was her husband she really loved.
Tristrov had spent the entire evening and night of the murder with his wife and another couple. His wife had subsequently divorced him, because of his confessed infidelity. Tristrov took the divorce badly.
Although the gun that had killed Mrs. Colton was her husband’s, and was found lying beside the body, the police were convinced that she had not committed suicide. There were no powder marks on her skin, which indicated that the bullet had been fired from a distance greater than any one person could have managed.
A check back on the couple who had been entertained by the Tristrovs the night of the murder had established the man as being a close friend. In fact, Tristrov had cosigned a note for him a few weeks earlier for a large sum. The woman and Mrs. Tristrov were chums. While the two women prepared sandwiches, the men went out for a short walk, but were not gone more than ten minutes, everybody had sworn.
Friends and neighbors testified to Mr. Colton’s good character. He was not a man who chased women, and seemed to have been unaware of his wife’s affair with his partner.
After Morrison had concluded his summary of the five-year-old murder, Inspector Codreau nodded. ’I remember I always felt Colton was not as unaware of his wife’s infidelity as was made out. And so, in spite of his apparent airtight alibi, I really figured he did it.’
Morrison said, ’At the time, I believed it was Mrs. Tristrov. After all, her only alibi for what she was doing when the two men went out for a walk was her best friend. And everybody knows that a woman will lie into your face without blinking an eye if she thinks it’s a good cause. And what better cause could this friend have than to help another woman against an unfaithful husband’s mistress?’
He continued, ‘Besides, there’s the fact that Mrs. Tristrov was so bitter afterwards, and persisted in divorcing her husband in spite of his pleading. Any woman with that much hatred —’ He stopped. ’Well, that’s my view.’
The inspector had relaxed and his eyes were suddenly twinkling. ’Are you in a position to give Mr. Nicer entry into the situation, as required by the ad?’
The big man frowned. ’Since, naturally, I’ll handle this on my own time, I guess if I tell who the people are, and other details, that’ll be giving him a pretty good in.’
Later that day, as he was finally on his way out of the building, Detective Lieutenant Morrison noticed that two reporters were drooping over a table in the press room. He went in.
’Say,’ he said, “is either of you a college man? I ought to know better than to ask a question like that, but I’m a credulous fellow when it comes to reporters. I just have a feeling sometimes that they know everything.’
What do you want to know?’ That was Carler, a creature of the Lawton Press, sleek, weary-looking, pallid-complexioned.
’Go on!’ scoffed Morrison. ’Not you. You can’t even spell.’
’So help me,’ said Carler, ’I was in for four years. And just because I misspelled your name once —‘
"Okay, okay. What does non-Aristotelian mean? Say —,’ Wonderingly —, ’it sounded right that time.’
’It’s got something to do with semantics,’ said Carler.
With what?’ Morrison was outraged by the introduction of another word that he didn’t know.
Carler spelled it for him. ’Has to do with the meaning of meaning,’ he said. “I remember they were going to introduce it into the English and Psychology classes the year after I left college.’
‘You mean there’s actually something in this business?’ Morrison was disturbed.
Carler said, ‘Lots of colleges teach it now. What’s the gag?’
Morrison considered it inadvisable to tell the truth so he said, ’Remember that Colton woman murder, five years ago. You were on it.’
“Yes. I always figured Tristrov did it. We hear about these hot-blooded Latins, but what about the hotheaded Slavs? I think he killed her for throwing him over.’
The second reporter, Tom James, piped up. “My own feeling was that the police should have accepted the suicide theory. The way Tristrov described it, that woman was ridden by guilt, remorse, and shame. Don’t underestimate true feelings like that.’
Morrison groaned, ’Everybody understands human behavior on the basis of some personal philosophy. No wonder crime goes merrily along. Goodbye.’

Twenty minutes later, as he climbed towards Glen Oak Crescent, Morrison felt his car presently shift into low gear. The street wound steeply upward, finally, grudgingly leveled off. But before he reached the top, a sadness came over Morrison. He recognized the district. It had been built up about twelve years before. It had been an expensive, exclusive development then, and prices had been going up ever since.
Boy, oh, boy, had he ever let himself into the pit. Well, he’d just have to act casual.
The house he wanted was a long-fronted, two-story structure on a deep lot. A young man was backing a brown Cadillac out of an archway at one end of the house. As Morrison parked his own car and climbed out, the big machine came bowling along backward. It turned onto the street, and wheeled toward where the detective lieutenant was standing.
Morrison had a sudden idea that this was his man, and the possibility that he might miss making contact galvanized him. He waved, the driver saw him, drew up at the curb opposite, leaned over, peered through the turned-down window, and said, “Why, hello, Lieutenant Morrison. My name is Nicer. Do you want to see me?’
Morrison was caught off guard. ’How in blazes do you —?’ he began. He stopped, startled. He had been about to ask the how-do-you-know-who-l-am question. He clamped his teeth together. Sherlock Holmes stuff, eh? And he in the role of the mystified, admiring, dumb cop.
He stood, inwardly smoldering at the narrowness of his escape. But after a moment he shrugged. The truth was, he had nothing to lose and he was curious. ’All right, how do you know my name?’
A pair of sardonic gray eyes and a middle-thirties face grinned at him. ’I’ll tell you after I’ve solved your case. I can tell you the cards were heavily stacked in my favor.’
He opened the door of the car. ’I’m on my way down to the boulevard for a minute. Would you care to come along? We can talk en route.’
—An engaging guy, perhaps a little over-confident. But there was a stern look around his eyes. No kid, this.
Morrison climbed in. Then, when they were moving, ’Look, Mr. Nicer, what’s all this nonAristota —?’ He stopped, defeated.
Nicer grinned at him. “That damned word," he said, ’is pronounced NON-arlStoTELian. It derives from Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher of long ago. It means not like Aristotle.’
Morrison couldn’t remember what Aristotle was famous for, and so naturally had no idea what nonAristotle would be. And, particularly, he wanted to know what would a non-Aristotle-type detective do that was different.
Nicer explained that there were many non-Aristotelian systems, but a non-Aristotelian detective would be one who used the seven levels of logic as defined by General Semantics, adhering strictly to a line of reasoning that derived from Korzybski’s Ladder of Abstraction.
’For example,’ said Nicer, ’a criminal is a person who would have a poor method of making the referent fit the territory.’
Morrison considered that unhappily. He was an old-style detective with a high school education and a number of special courses. He was perfectly aware that in today’s big-city police departments, someone like him coming in new would get nowhere. He was not outdated. With his formidable experience, that was not a factor. But along with Codreau, and other aging experts, his type would eventually be retired out of existence.
— What in . . . was a referent, anyway? Reluctantly, he asked the question.
’It’s a map,’ said Nicer, ‘But in the GS — General Semantic — meaning, it’s in the person’s mind. A map, as you know, is an abstraction, a sketch, a summary, a synopsis of a real geographical area, a real object, a creature, or a genuine process in Nature. It is never the area, object, creature, or process. A photograph of a man, however good a likeness, gives only a partial picture of the reality.’
Morrison was minded to say, ’So what? I’ve known that all my life.’ But he didn’t say it. If a hundred or more universities were teaching stuff like that now, the unfavorable reaction of Detective Lieutenant Myron Morrison was unimportant. He shifted in the seat, saw that they were on the main boulevard, hesitated, and then asked the vital question, ‘What has that got to do with finding a murderer?’
Nicer said, “Viewed semantically, every situation is different. So tell me the exact case that you have in mind —‘
Since he had taken the trouble to come, Morrison gave the details of the Colton murder correctly.
By the time the account was finished, Nicer was pulling into a parking lot behind a drug store. He got out. ’Be right back,’ he said.
During the eight minutes that he had to wait, Morrison thought I suppose I could say that this is what a professional gets when he comes to an amateur. But truth was, he was interested. He thought There’s no way out for Nicer.
Incredibly, the younger man had talked himself into the pit . . . He’s got to come through.
Nicer emerged from the store with a package, climbed into the car, started it, and drove back the way he had come. At this point, he asked one question about the Colton case: ’Did any of the principals in this matter ever, that you know of, physically assault either a man or a woman for any reason?’
Morrison told him yes, told him who.
When he had the answer, Nicer was silent. The car wound up the steep hill. Abruptly, he apologized and explained, ’I was just going over the facts again as you gave them to me, and there’s no question: the-map-is-not-the-territory aspect of non-Aristotelian logic fits this particular murder.’
He finished, ’No question, there’s your murderer.’ Morrison hadn’t vaguely expected a solution on the basis of reasoning alone. He had taken it for granted they would revisit the five-year-old scenes, see again Colton, Tristrov and wife as they now were, and the other people. The surprise was so complete that his mind seemed to careen. ’Huh!’ he said, ’you’re kidding!’
He remembered the facile analyses of the two reporters, of Codreau, and of, frankly, himself. He thought gloomily Everybody’s an armchair detective these days.
Before he could speak, the handsome young man said, with a faint, sympathetic smile, ’What you’re listening to is non-Aristotelian reasoning.’
He thereupon enlarged upon his previously stated concept, to the effect that human beings operated on mental maps based on a preconceived emotional rigidity. People became disturbed when the life situation did not fit their mental map. Hence, in a murder, a non-Aristotelian detective must decide which element, or combination of elements, of general semantic logic applied in this instance, the map-territory concept — and then discover whose mental map was sufficiently at variance with reality to cause him to react with the infinite violent intent of a person who was then capable of snuffing out the life of another living person.
’Yes,’ groped Morrison, ’but Tristrov hit his wife because she left him. He went to her sister’s, where she was staying, and beat her up, but good. When we picked him up, he was crying like a baby. He said he’d promised her he’d never misbehave again. But when she wouldn’t listen, he just lost control of himself and started to hit her because she had made him feel so bad. I kind’ve felt sorry for him, because you know the world isn’t like women think —‘
He stopped. ’Hey,’ he said slowly, ’you mean his map was that she ought to forgive him, and when her response didn’t fit his map, he —’
’Exactly,’ said Philip Nicer. ’He went berserk and tried to beat her brains out. Please understand me, not all men who hit women reach the point of murder, but since a murder occurred in that frame —’ He broke off, ’Well, here we are back at your car.’
He drew up behind Morrison’s Chevy. Morrison climbed heavily out of the Cadillac and stood towering beside it. He was thinking hard; it was the most convincing analysis to date. He said, ’All right, let’s say Tristrov did it. But how can we pin it on him? He’d laugh at us if we pulled him in.’
The man in the car smiled grimly. ’Once you have your teeth into a case, I’ve always found that you can reason backwards by ordinary logic. Now, think. The alibi situation in that murder is so great it can’t just have happened. Tristrov had to make preparations. So I’ll simply point out that when Tristrov cosigned his friend’s note, that was the key act. I’ll wager he expected that the man would be satisfied with the cosigning. But put yourself in that man’s place; suddenly you realize that you have been cunningly made an accessory to a murder. End of friendship, right? And so —’
’Tristrov had to pay off the note! Morrison said explosively. ’If that checks out, Mister, then — he finished plaintively, but why did he kill Mrs. Colton?’
’You’ll have to ask him that when you question him,’ said Nicer. ’I think he’ll confess because, remember, when he was confronted with having been seen kissing Mrs. Colton, he admitted having been her lover, which he needn’t have done. So he can lose his head . . . My own belief would be that Mrs. Colton intended to tell her husband about the affair and ask his forgiveness which, of course, would ruin Tristrov across the board. That happened anyway, but the resultant confusion saved him until now. That’s it, Lieutenant. The credit, if any, is all yours. Call me any time during the next month. I’m on leave from the European branch of Military Intelligence, and I’d like to see what other aspects of non-Aristotelian logic show up in major crimes — like to see it in a practice environment where, hopefully, I don’t get killed if I’m wrong.’
’What about — your knowing my name?
Nicer grinned. ’Military Intelligence has a picture gallery of all sergeant-up police officers in the metropolitan area. I looked over the photos of the men in this district. Told you it was stacked.’
It was next day. Inspecter Codreau was waiting for Morrison when he came in. ’That bank phoned while you were out,’ he said. “Tristrov paid off that note. I’m having him brought in for questioning . . .’


8. THE PANDORA PRINCIPLE

A lethargic breeze seemed to push Fletcher from the overcast daylight into the warehouse gloom. Empty crates were piled into corners, and debris lit­tered the cement floor. The entire room smelled of decay and abandonment, as though nothing inside had been touched for years.
Fletcher knew the site had been chosen for his questionable benefit, as if they’d sensed his reluc­tance to enter such remote and unseemly parts of the city. He grudgingly had to admire their unex­pected turn of theatrics. They had shown no such promise six months ago, but the experiment had gotten badly out of hand somewhere along the way, and now the creator found himself in the embarrass­ing position of being threatened by his own creation.
He thought he heard something and jerked around suddenly, squinting at the doorway. Nothing moved. The sound came again, and he realized it was the wind tugging at a condemned property no­tice. His nerves were stretched, but Fletcher re­garded his fear with a somewhat detached fascina­tion. Walking on the edge was a novel sensation, one which could seldom be had within the safe walls of academia.
Think of it as business-as-usual, he reminded himself. They must not suspect this myopic, docile old man capable of betrayal. It was a fool’s errand, but there was nothing to do except blunder on with it until the police could be told of their whereabouts.

A claustrophobic staircase was sunk into the foun­dation, leading to a concrete bunker under the building. Fletcher followed the steps to a metal door and knocked twice before entering.
The room inside was impossibly dark.
"Hello?" he called. They had always shunned the light like a troupe of sinister vampires.
"I’m here," said an androgynous voice. Fletcher recognized it as being Jason’s and idly wondered if the others were present.
"No, just me," said the voice with a smirk.
Fletcher blanketed his thoughts with pretended tolerance.
There was a scuffling in the darkness. "So where’s the evidence?" Jason asked, his footsteps approach­ing the older man.
"I couldn’t find it," he said quickly. "I don’t know where Markus hid it." He steeled himself for a fury he’d seen before.
"Gee, that’s too bad." Jason’s words held sincere disappointment. Fletcher felt an absurd desire to laugh but didn’t.
He fumbled for a cigarette and struck a match. The yellow flame played shadows across the walls and exaggerated Jason’s already prominent deform­ities. Fletcher tried to maintain a polite expression. He had seen Jason and his friends often enough, but he could never get used to the way they looked.
Cranial extrusions, Emmerson had called it, frowning when he had to readjust the stereotaxic apparatus to fit their misshapen skulls. But Emmer­son, bless him, was dead. Markus had been more di­rect in calling them ogres, though he, too, had died. Fletcher took a slow drag off his cigarette and felt in the back of his mind that this was all a ridiculous mis­adventure.
"You have a rotten attitude, Fletcher," Jason said abruptly. They stood in the blackness, listening to the sound of each other’s breathing. "Do you really think you can stop us?" he asked.
"No," Fletcher admitted, regret turning to dread. Footfalls retreated to the far end of the room. "Let there be light," Jason said, activating a neon lantern. The chamber was filled with an eerie blue glow.
"Better?" His smile was anything but reassuring.
Fletcher said nothing, as though his answer might betray him. He wanted to run for the stairs.
"Look at me, Fletcher," Jason commanded in a silky voice.

He could feel the hairs rising on his arms. "I’d rather not," he answered, staring at the door.
Jason walked closer. "Look at me," he repeated, louder this time. Fletcher, powerless to resist, shifted his gaze to the other’s face. It resembled plaster in the pale half-light. Only the eyes burned with an un­natural intensity.
Strange green eyes, he thought; odd how they seemed to focus somewhere behind the retina in­stead of in front of it. He looked deeper, trying to find the point of convergence, and realized in sud­den panic that he was being sucked into Jason’s head.
It was the last place on earth he wanted to be, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn away. Fletcher felt his throat constrict, and he swayed unsteadily. The air was becoming unbearably dense. Jason, his lips curved into a demon-smile, moved towards him like a grim reaper. It was then he lost all hope that his life would be spared.
Before he sank into unconsciousness, Fletcher was aware, with a relief that surpassed despair, that the creatures could no longer use him. He closed his eyes and surrendered to silence.
The cigarette rolled from the dead man’s hand and came to rest at Jason’s feet. He crushed it delib­erately, apparently amused that both had met with the same fate.

It was a slow morning, and Alex Gabriel felt trapped inside it. He re-read the last paragraph on the video display terminal with a pang of disappoint­ment, not wanting to start over. It was all so bloody tedious, he thought, the lines around his blue eyes tightening. The vehemence in his reaction sur­prised him.
His desk was outside the flow of activity in the San Francisco Globe office, shoved into an isolated corner like an afterthought following his latest fall from grace. One more demotion, the editor had warned, and Gabriel would be cast into the pit, oth­erwise known as the Classifieds. He shuddered and tried again to concentrate on the Finance article before him.
A hint of Polo aftershave announced Hank McCallough’s arrival. His head popped over the di­vider like a crazed, red-haired Jack-in-the-box.
"Good Lord, don’t tell me you’re working!" Hank cried. He darted around behind Alex and caught him zigzagging the cursor across the screen. "Whew! You had me worried for a minute."
"I can’t write garbage," he said tiredly.
"I can," Hank beamed. "Call up `MORGUE’." The reporter complied, glad for the diversion. "Next?"
Hank hovered over his shoulder. "Type ’CAL DOC DEAD/ STROKE’."
An entry appeared in green phosphor light. " ’Dr. Karl Fletcher,’ " Alex read aloud, "noted biophysiol­ogist at the UCLA Medical School, was found dead earlier today." He stopped and looked up. "It’s one of your standard obits. So what?"
"Read on," Hank urged.
He continued. "The coroner cited natural causes, although the body had washed up on the beach in a badly decomposed state. Marine organisms had al­ready begun to feast on the rotting flesh —’ " Alex threw back his head and laughed. "Christ, McCal­lough, you’re really sick!"
"I know," he grinned. "Pity they can’t print it."
There was a separate line at the bottom which read, "Query: Do you want previous entires?" Alex hit the return key out of habit and was startled when the next entry came up. It belonged to Donovan Markus.
"I did a feature on him once," he told Hank. "Sci­ence beat — something about a machine he’d in­vented that supposedly increased brain capacity."
"You should have signed up."
"It was discounted," he replied evenly.
"Just as well," McCallough shrugged. "If you had a cup of wisdom, Al, you’d spill it." He smiled, not unkindly, to show that he was joking, but Alex looked as though his peace of mind had been fur­ther disturbed.
"Hey, that reminds me!" Hank snapped a finger at the computer screen. "Donovan Markus apparently had a daughter hidden away in Switzerland. She’s contesting the will, and there’s a probate hearing Fri­day morning in Los Angeles. It might make a nice little story."
Alex shook his head. "Stonewall would never go for it."
"Rumor has it she’s young, beautiful, and soon to be one of the richest women on earth."
"Think it would get me back in Features?" Alex asked hopefully.
"Certainly back to Entertainment," he said, grin­ning. He waved and flew out of the room as quickly as he had come in.
"Call me if you need any help with the girl," he added loudly from the hallway.
"Not bloody likely!" Alex yelled back, absurdly delighted.
"You think I’m crazy, Gabriel? Letting you out on the streets again?" The editor glared at him from across the room.
Alex looked down in irritation. "All right, so I’ve made a few mistakes —"
"Like that libel suit when you were doing Fea­tures? Or the assault-and-battery charge when I put you on city beat?"
"She threw the first punch!" he said angrily. "At least I got the story."
"Sure, you write nice prose," the editor agreed, "but you make people mad. Nobody likes an asshole, Gabriel."
He digested the last remark and wished he were elsewhere.
"Do you know anything at all about Donovan Markus?" Stonewall asked.
"I did an article on him, remember?" He man­aged to look offended, when in truth he couldn’t re­call a word of it.
"Markus was a very, very controversial man," the editor supplied flatly. "He used to invent outrageous weapons and communications devices and then sell them to the highest bidder on the international mar­ket. It didn’t win him any great popularity. Then he got into the brain research stuff, which was discred­ited by the rest of the scientific community. Even his death was surrounded by controversy."
"How so?" Alex asked, thinking about the obituary.
Stonewall laughed without mirth. "You name it, and there was a rumor flying around to fit it. I heard talk of violence, mayhem, enslavement, and weird goings-on up at the ranch. I heard it variously blamed on the CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, any of a dozen foreign governments and espionage agencies, a Black Magic cult, and even on ’astral influences’, whatever the hell that means. Turns out it was natu­ral causes, pure and simple. There’s no story in it, Gabriel."
"But what about his daughter? I could do a ’rich society heiress’ angle on her."
"Any skirt downstairs could handle that," Stone­wall snorted. "I could handle that, and I’m a 60-year old grandmother, for crissakes!"
Alex blinked in wonderment and realized that she was, indeed, a somewhat frail graying woman. He was more inclined to think of her as the Prince of Darkness at moments like this.
Helen Stonewall leaned back in her chair and studied the young reporter. His face still had a boy­ish look of early adolescence, with wide-set blue eyes and sandy hair that curled about his ears. But for a man in his mid-thirties, a career checkered with fail­ures gave little hope for a bright future. Maybe it was Gabriel’s chance to redeem himself, for he really was a very good journalist. She tapped a pencil on the polished teak desktop and considered it.
"I’m giving you a break, Alexander," she said at last, "but don’t blab it around the office. Tell ’em we had a fight or something and you’re going away on extended leave. Just write me an uncomplicated piece about an inheritance, and we’ll see what hap­pens. And call me," she insisted. "I want to hear from you every day. Got it?"
His face lit up with a comical, charming smile. "Thanks, Helen. I promise I’ll be good."
She looked at him doubtfully.
"Honest!" he laughed, blowing her a kiss in his ex­uberance as the door slammed shut behind him.

It was Friday morning in Los Angeles. Tall palm trees stood like sentries outside the white court­house, while inside, where the double-edged sword of justice hung poised, the hearing was already in progress.
Alex slipped noiselessly through the padded doors and took an aisle seat in the spectator gallery. Up front, the renowned probate attorney Aaron Shelden approached the bench like a walking law library, calling forth legal precedents to abet the preservation of kingdoms. The robed judge sat with one finger pressed absently to his lips, his attention seldom leaving the papers and evidence before him.
Listening to it all with intent concentration was Pandora Markus. She was alone at the counsel table, dressed entirely in black from the wicked points on her stiletto heels to the lace veil that barely obscured her face.
Alex had to wonder if she wore the color out of mourning, or because it looked so good on her. Chestnut hair fell across her shoulders like a shim­mering cape, framing an elfin face graced with creamy skin, full red lips, high cheekbones and dark exotic eyes. She looked like a deliberate incarnation of the perfect woman. Alex watched her dreamily, not realizing that he, too, was under observation from another quarter.
What had taken Donovan Markus a lifetime to ac­cumulate changed hands in a matter of moments. Power and empire moved with the swift swing of a gavel. Pandora’s face reflected relief, then smug­ness, as if she’d always known it were hers but had to undergo the formality of a hearing to get it. Aaron Shelden joined her, and they started down the aisle toward the exit.
Before she reached Alex, Pandora stopped abruptly. "Come along, Lonn," she said, her voice low. The next case was being readied in the background. "This has already taken enough of my time."
She was addressing a blond man in the spectator gallery. He had the strong chiseled face of a Gentle­man’s Quarterly model and the build of a defensive end. And from the unmistakable way that he was staring at Alex, he looked like he wanted to kill the quarterback. The reporter pegged him for a body­guard.
Pandora noticed. Her head snapped around as she followed the blond’s gaze and traced it to Alex. For a split second their eyes locked, and she shot him a look as quick and poisonous as a snake’s hiss. Then she turned away and brushed out of the courtroom, leaving Alex with a stunned expression.
Christ, what was that all about? he wondered. That woman had a mood like summer thunder. But the warning signs in her eyes made him even more determined, and he tried to envision the interview he would do with her . . . luxurious surroundings, servants bearing drinks by the pool. His train of thought suddenly derailed when he realized he didn’t know where she was staying.
Alex shook his head to break the spell, but by then it was too late. Shelden’s two-toned blue Bentley was pulling into traffic just as he reached his own rented car, and he lost them at the first stoplight.
He slapped his palm against the steering wheel in frustration. That lovely sylph of a girl was turning into one hell of a challenge to masculine supremacy.
"You were wonderfully efficient, as always." Pan­dora planted a quick kiss on her attorney’s cheek as the Bentley rolled to a stop by the curb. "Imagine, having to prove I was a Markus! Any fool could tell by merely looking."
Aaron had to concede the point. Donovan’s little girl was clearly the result of his wisdom and genes, with the same serious cast of intelligence on her face and that undefinable aura of mystery which seemed to run in the Markus line. In the four years since he’d last seen her, she had matured into a stunning young woman.
"Why are we here?" she asked, peering through the windshield at the ultramodern Beverly Hills bank. "Isn’t this ordeal over yet?"
"Very nearly," Shelden replied, glancing over his shoulder at the backseat. Lonn was sitting in the cor­ner, politely engrossed in a men’s magazine.
"Did you inherit him along with everything else?" he whispered disapprovingly.
"He’s a highly paid professional, rather like your­self," she smiled sweetly. "You can both think of it as job security."
Aaron frowned and removed a sealed envelope from his suit pocket.
"This fits a safety deposit box," he told her, shak­ing a brass key into her hand. "Your father gave it to me less than a week before he died. He said it was an additional part of your legacy."
Pandora held up the small key and regarded it cu­riously. "What could possibly be in the box, Aaron? I’m so bored with stocks and bonds."
"I’m sure you’ll let me know," he answered re­starting the engine. "Call me tonight if there’s any­thing too unsettling in the vault, all right?"
"Of course, darling," she purred.
On the sidewalk, Pandora turned to Lonn. "Find a taxi. I’ll be out momentarily." She bent over to straighten the seams on her stockings, then squared her shoulders and marched into the bank alone.
The bed at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was lit­tered with news clippings, phone directories, orange peels and empty soda cans. Alex Gabriel was sprawled in an ungainly heap atop the clutter, waiting for the phone to ring. He jumped a foot when it did.
"Well?" he asked breathlessly.
Hank’s voice crackled over the bad connection. "Quite well, thanks, and yourself?"
"Did you find out her middle name?"
"Karis, same as her mother’s maiden name. Tell me again why I spent my whole lunch hour in the microfilm lab."
"She didn’t register at any hotel under ’Markus’," Alex repeated. "I hope she’s using this other name. How’s Stonewall?"
"Oh, the same even disposition — always mean. She was asking if I’d heard from you."
"Keep saying no. I want to get my facts straight first."
He hung up and grabbed one of the phone books. Success came with the fourth call.
"Good afternoon, Chateau Marmont," the woman said pleasantly.
"Hello. Has Pandora Karis checked in yet?" There was a lengthy pause. "Yes, I’ll connect you." "No!" he said quickly. "I just wanted to make sure
she’d arrived safely. Thank you."
Alex grinned at his reflection in the dresser mir­ror. Nya ha ha, he thought, twisting an imaginary mustache like a silent film villain.
Two could play her unfathomable game, after all.
From the bank’s glass-and-chrome lobby, a secu­rity guard escorted Pandora through a locked gate to the vault. He removed a medium-sized deposit box and placed it in a private viewing room, closing the door on his way out.
Pandora stood stiffly for a moment, eyeing the container as if it were a Chinese puzzle. She slowly pulled off her black gloves and held it in her bare hands, feeling its weight.
Not substantial, she thought. She shook it. Something slid across the bottom and bumped gently against the metal side.
A bundle of old letters? Or perhaps a stack of yel­lowed photographs of her mother, whom she hardly remembered? Patents and papers from some new invention? She tilted her head quizzically, deter­mined to figure it out.
Pandora pushed all stray thoughts from her mind and closed her eyes. In her hands, the box seemed to become very heavy. An oppressive weight, more psy­chic than physical, came upon her, filling her with a strange sense of dread.
I shouldn’t open it, she thought, but I want to know . . .
Her fingers trembled as she tugged at the lid.
I want to know everything.
She opened the box and looked inside.
It was a tape recorder.
There was nothing inherently sinister about the small machine; it was something a person might carry on the front seat of a car while driving. It had a miniature cassette with ten minutes of play, enclosed in a scuffed leather case with a tote-strap. But when she picked it up, Pandora was hit with another adrenaline rush of anxiety.
She felt watched.
Her gaze swept the room. There were no TV cameras on the ceiling, no dark shapes lurking in the well-lit corners. The door was still tightly closed be­hind her. She shook her head, feeling silly, but the uneasy sensation persisted. Her finger pressed the play-button, and she held her breath.
"Hello, Pandora," her father’s resonant voice filled the cubicle. There was a note of sadness in her greeting.
"You were meant to hear this only in the event of my death. That being the case, I must assume my suspicions were correct, and everything I’ve feared has come to pass. I’ve compiled and hidden certain evidence —"
She stopped the tape.
Weak knees carried her out of the bank to the side­walk, where Lonn was waiting with a taxi. She rode to the hotel in silence, the recorder safely tucked inside her velvet purse and resting on her lap. Lonn, sitting in the back beside her, stole occasional glances in her direction but did not ask questions.
Neither of them noticed the black Cutlass which had followed them from Beverly Hills to the Sunset Strip.
"Get the ’600 out of storage," Pandora’s voice wafted into the high-ceilinged lobby of the Chateau Marmont ahead of her clicking footsteps.
Alex, hidden in an armchair behind a newspaper, dropped one corner and watched the bodyguard de­part. The girl started toward the front desk as if to check for messages, then changed her mind and dis­appeared into an open elevator.
The paper fluttered to the carpet as Alex raced up the stairs in pursuit. He emerged on the first floor and saw that the elevator was still in transit. Ducking back into the stairwell, he ran up another flight and found the dial still moving. Out of breath, he staggered into the hallway on the third floor and was rewarded with the sight of an open lift.
The corridor was empty.
He cursed eloquently and skidded around the nearest corner, catching a glimpse of black fabric as it vanished into one of the suites. Alex gave a thank­ful sigh and collapsed against the wall.
Inside, Pandora closed the curtains and hurriedly slipped out of her dress. With shaking hands, she pulled on a robe and grabbed a pack of Rothman’s cigarettes, then sank down on the bed next to the tape recorder. A loud knock at the door interrupted before she could listen to the message.
"Who is it?" she demanded, her heart pounding. "Room service," a cheerful voice called.
She turned off the lights and opened the door a crack. A young man, well-groomed and not unat­tractive, stood outside in the hallway.
"What do you want?" she asked in her chilliest voice.
"Remember me? We met at the courthouse this morning. I —"
"No, I don’t remember you," she answered. "Alexander Gabriel," he offered a handshake.
The crack did not widen.
"Are you a reporter?"
Alex blinked. "Uh, actually —"
"You’re a reporter," she told him knowingly. "Go blow your horn elsewhere, Gabriel." She started to close the door.
"My, my!" Alex gushed. "Beauty, brains, and charm, as well!"
Pandora hesitated, then eased it open a bit wider. Alex had a clear view of her standing there in a China silk gown the color of nightshade, with a gold scythe embroidered on the left side over her heart. Her eyes met his, and she spoke in a low warning voice.
"If you come near me again, I shall ask my body­guard to remove you. Good day, Mr. Gabriel." She shut the door in his face.
Alex pounded urgently on the thick wood.
"What?" she hissed, flinging it open again.
"My lawyer could beat up your lawyer," he said. She stared in disbelief.
"’Bye!" Alex laughed, skipping down the corridor toward the elevator.
He waited almost an hour for her.
His rented Dodge compact was parked on a tree-lined sidestreet, giving him an uninterrupted vista of the Chateau’s driveway. Shortly before sunset, a magnificent black Mercedes 600 roared up the hill. Across the back, filigreed in fine gold, was the Egyptian symbol of the winged sun; two large painted cobras with golden eyes stared out from the side-panels behind the darkened windows. Lonn emerged from the driver’s side and went into the lobby, then came out a moment later to stand beside the car.
Pandora Markus, looking as self-possessed as ever, strode out to meet him. Lonn’s face remained im­passive as he opened the passenger door for her, but Alex could not hold back a gasp. He had assumed she would change into something more comfort­able, but he did not expect it to border on unlawful. Spike-heeled boots rose to her ankles and left a long expanse of bare leg, topped with an abbreviated pair of black shorts slashed high over each hip. A tight-­fitting gray sweater added further credence to her figure. Alex doubted the effect was to impress any­one, especially Lonn, so she apparently dressed that way to please herself.
The Mercedes left Hollywood, turning north on the Foothill Freeway toward one of the smaller cities that fringed Los Angeles. Alex kept one eye on the road map as he drove, tracing their route through the sleepy town of La Canada and then east along the base of the Angeles Crest mountains. As the traf­fic thinned, he slowed his pace and deliberately lagged behind.
The turn-off came suddenly. It was a washed out dirt road, all but hidden behind a stand of gnarled oaks. A thin cloud of dust was still settling in the twi­light air. Alex gave them a few additional minutes, then followed cautiously. A weathered sign beside the highway announced The Lost Beagle Ranch.
The road snaked through several miles of low scrub-brush hills that afforded no visibility beyond the next bend. When Alex caught sight of a dilapi­dated Victorian tower jutting into the sky, he parked his car and went ahead on foot. The black Mercedes met his eyes first, resting before a two-story farm­house that dated from the turn of the century. It looked as though it had not been painted or re­paired since it was new.
A yellow porch-light gave off a dim glow. Alex tiptoed up to the front door and was surprised to find it ajar. He entered, listening for voices, but there were none. Puzzled, he began a methodical search of each room.
Gradually the reporter pieced together the pic­ture that Donovan Markus had lived here. Clothes were still hung in the closets, and books were stacked haphazardly along shelves in the study. He was convinced he had seen every room in the house, yet Pandora and her bodyguard had vanished without a trace. The idea dawned on him to seek a trapdoor to the cellar, and he returned to the ground floor to start over.
In the basement, Pandora watched Lonn guard­edly from the corner of her eye as she pretended to examine her father’s desk. The man seemed loyal enough, having worked many years for Donovan as his chauffeur and general strongarm, but she trusted no one since hearing the full message. All indications were that her father had been murdered for some vital information he possessed, and she meant to find it. The tape had given her a clue where to look.
"Wait here," Pandora ordered, tapping the desk. "I’m going into the lab. You know about the spi­ders?"
He nodded. Donovan had installed an elaborate security system downstairs, and he had no intention of setting it off. He picked up a dog-eared magazine and seated himself comfortably in the old-fashioned leather chair, prepared to wait all night if necessary.
Satisfied, Pandora left the small office and headed down a dark corridor to a door well-remem­bered from her childhood. It was a portal of mystery and strange magic. On the other side were bizarre inventions which she had watched her father build, sitting at his feet as he had patiently explained their workings to her. He was a modern-day Tesla, equally misunderstood and unappreciated by the world at large, and she regretted his passing.
Her fingers brushed the wall and found a speaker grid with a push-button beneath it. She leaned close, whispering her name and a few nonsensical words to establish a voice-print, then crossed the threshold into the laboratory.
It had all the ambience of a dungeon. Scattered lightbulbs did little to dispel the pervading atmo­sphere of gloom and instead cast ominous shadows on the brickwork. Abandoned machines gleamed under a dull patina of dust. She ignored the sights and walked to the center of the large room. Her eye­lids fluttered closed as she concentrated.
I can’t tell you where I’ve hidden it, Pandora, in case this tape should fall into the wrong hands, but I’ll give you a hint. When you go to the lab, ask Igor for the evidence.
"Igor," she said aloud, frowning. There was no Igor.
She tried again, displacing herself in time to the years she had spent there as a young child. A dialogue began to form in her mind, and she could hear her father’s voice as he spoke to her five-year-old self.
Pandora, darling, did you take daddy’s notepad?
I drew pictures, she grinned, brandishing a crayon.
Yes, but I need to see the formula I wrote on it. Tell me where you hid it.
Ee-gor has it, daddy.
Very fanciful, sweetheart. Who’s Igor?
Eegor,
she lisped pointing to one of the machines.
Pandora’s eyes flew open. Her gaze darted about the lab and landed on a tarp-covered mass near one wall. She ran to it, pulling off the fabric to stare at the electroencephalograph. An EEG machine.
She unlatched the cabinet and removed the paper drum, hearing something move inside the hollow metal cylinder. A roll of notes slid out, measure­ments done in her father’s cramped, meticulous handwriting. Moving over to his old workbench, she pressed the pages flat and scanned them quickly.
Under the heading of Cranial Capacity was a se­ries of numbers for five subjects whose names were not given. She absorbed the data, trying to visualize what the figures meant. It took a while for the full significance to sink in.
"My God, they’re monsters!" she breathed.
The alarms exploded around her.
Pandora yanked open the top drawer and reached inside, feeling the cold handgrip of her father’s modified Walther. Gun raised, she stole quietly into the corridor. Something had invaded the basement, and she would kill it if necessary.

She found Alex backed into a corner, held at bay by a black widow spider the size of a Saint Bernard. He moaned in terror, his eyes flickering between the barrel of her silencer and the spider’s ugly fangs.
"Call it off!" he screamed.
"Why?" she asked simply, folding her arms. She favored him with a bemused smile.
The spider ambled forward.
"Does it bite?" he asked, horribly fascinated.
"Its jaws are laced with a paralyzing neurotoxin," she said conversationally. "It would put you out for a while."
Lonn came running in from the office. The spider noticed him and paused, lifting its mechanical legs delicately as if debating which intruder to attack. Pandora gave a low sigh of disgust and spoke sharply to the robot.
"That’s all. Go away." It obeyed her voice-command and retreated down the hall. She opened a panel and reset the alarm, ending the raucous clamor.
Pandora turned on him, obviously angry. "Who are you working for, Gabriel?"
"The Globe," he answered honestly.
"Who else?"
"No one," he spread his hands helplessly. "I need to write a good story about you. Couldn’t you find it in your heart to cooperate?"
She gave it some thought. "Lonn," Pandora said slowly, "perhaps Mr. Gabriel would like to inspect my father’s cabin up at June Lake. I think you two should take a long drive to the Sierras — in his car — and let me get back to work, hmmm?" She gave Alex an evil grin.
The blond bodyguard took a firm grip on the re­porter’s arm and marched him up the stairs. Alex looked back over his shoulder at the girl and knew that no protest would move her.
"You don’t have a heart," he said instead.
She eyed him coldly and snapped the lock on the basement door after they had gone. Returning to the lab, she again spread the documents out on the workbench, trying to unravel their mystery. Some­thing inhuman had killed her father, making her an awkward target in the whole weird scheme. She had to find out more about them before they found her.
At 10:10 that night, Pandora looked up suddenly from the pencilled notes. SometHing was about to happen ... she could feel her flesh crawl.
The alarms went off a second time.

To Be Continued .... [12]


and here’s the very Californian-style S.M.O.G. cartoon that graced this issue of Weird Tales:


9. THE BRAIN

Jerome J. Blake was, as befitted his great intellect, calm. He lay back on his pillow, and said: "So you’re Death. I’ve often wondered what you looked like." He added firmly, "I’m not ready."
The figure did not speak. It raised a long, white hand, and pointed at Blake’s chest.
The man on the bed stirred fretfully. "I know," he said. "But pneumonia is no longer an inevitable cause of death. We have drugs to fight it now." He peered with failing sight at the wavering, shadowed substance. He said petulantly: "Why pick on me?"
Silently, the shape moved to the side of the bed. He bent over and caught the man’s hot moist hand in his, and gently pulled.
With all his waning strength, the sick man fought free. He lay back, gasping. Then slowly his breathing grew more regular. He said at last, "I have the greatest brain the world has ever seen. For forty years, I’ve accumulated facts for it to work with. It would be stupid of me to die now, when I’ve only just begun to carry out my plans."
It seemed to Blake, then, that a curious change occurred. The figure appeared to stabilize as if it had been in violent agitation, possibly in some other plane of existence, and was now letting itself come further into this one. There was a pause, and then Death spoke for the first time:
"My friend, I’ve called on other great men in their day, and none has yet refused to follow me. Perhaps you overrate yourself."
The great man felt impatient, but prepared to be logical. "My intelligence is of a magnitude you’ve never met before."
Death said drily: "You feel you are superior to Shakespeare, Aristotle, or the incomparable da Vinci?"
The man twisted in the bed. "Great men for their day and age, perhaps. But limited by the limitations of their time."
Death studied him thoughtfully. He had become by now a definitely man-shaped figure, though somehow shadowed still. He said: "Let us suppose that all of life’s a striving upward to perfection. Until that state is attained, all living things must die."
The great man gave a harsh, triumphant laugh. "If it’s philosophy you want, I can tell you—"
"And I," said Death coldly, "can show you." His voice grew dim and faraway. "What is reality? Until the moment that you die, you’ll never know."
"In talking to me of dying," said the man, "you abandon reality in the very use of the word. But I notice you no longer imply that my end is imminent. Well, it’s been pleasant knowing you. But now, goodbye — forever."
As Blake finished speaking, the man-shape began to waver and shimmer. It grew large, then small. It took a hundred different shapes before his startled, weary eyes. Then, suddenly, it was gone.
Blake closed his eyes. And jerked them open at the sound of movement near his bed. A white-coated figure bent over him.
The doctor smiled and said: "How are you this morning, Mr. Blake?"
The great man said, "I feel fine. What happened?"
The doctor was suddenly grave. "You’ve lost a lung, sir, I’m afraid."
Blake pushed himself up on the bed. "Lost a lung!" he rasped. Weakly, he dropped back on his pillows. "But that’s ridiculous. I won —"
The doctor said, "There were complications. We had a hard time for a while — it was a close call."
The great man was himself again. After all, in this day and age, one lung was no great loss.

His strength returned. He could sit up; then walk about his room. He began to gather into his control again the threads of his affairs. He sat in his luxurious apartment penthouse, and while his nurses hovered round him anxiously, he kept phones and secretaries busy. Harassed men with bulging briefcases hurried in, spoke with him briefly, and hurried out again.
The apartment hummed with his activity. And long before he was permitted to go out, he set gigantic enterprises into motion. Mergers occurred, and consolidations. Reorganizations sent his enemies tumbling to disaster. Panic and insecurity swept through the world of business as the tentacles of the giant octopus crept out . . . out . . .
He was a man who had talked back to Death. And it was only logical that a man whose brain had proved invincible should take the reins of power into his hands, bringing to the world a new kind of stability: the rule of an immortal man.

The years passed, and in their passing did not touch the strength and brilliance of his giant mind. Though he had the tooped, emaciated body of a man of ninety-five, his brain worked with the sharp precision it had shown at forty.
They thought he was too old to go by plane. He laughed at them, his high-pitched cackle derisive. He couldn’t tell them that he’d won his bout with Death, so he quoted statistics at them. He pointed out that in ten years there hadn’t been a single crash; that planes were robot-operated and not subject to human errors.
He settled down in his comfortable cabin-lounge grrrumphing impatiently at the fussiness of those who would have stopped him, and fell asleep before the plane had gained its altitude.
It seemed to him that he was falling . . . falling . . .

He opened his eyes, and said: "What the devil—" And got no further. A gigantic shudder shook the ship as it struck the ground, bounced once, then hit again with an impact that ripped the metal monster into pieces.
He lay where he had fallen, half across the couch, half on the floor. A tearing noise above him made him glance up just as a metal plate crashed downward from the ceiling. Oblivion shut off the unbearable pain.
Daylight was fading when he opened his eyes. He saw that he was lying on the ground. A blanket had been flung across him; and fifty yards away was the charred and blackened wreckage of the giant plane. On either side of him, each under its own blanket, lay the bodies of passengers.
He was turning his head when he saw it: A dark and blurry shape, moving slowly along the rows of outstretched bodies. Now it paused, and bent an intent look upon a blanket-covered form; then it glided on, to stop at the next body and lay a long, white hand upon the sleeper’s head.
It stood, at last, beside Blake’s bed, a shadow-figure. Blake was aware then, for the first time, of the wracking torment in his legs and arms.
The figure standing above him put out its hands as though in benediction. Blake saw the black, voluminous garments that it wore flutter as if stirred by the gentlest of breezes. A softly soothing voice said:
"Once more, my friend, I call for you. And this time, I feel sure, you’ll not refuse to come with me."
Blake felt a momentary panic. How could he concentrate the forces of his intellect into a fight for life when his body was being torn apart by pain. With a tremendous effort at calmness, he said, "So you’ve come back for another talk?" He laughed, a little wildly. "What shall it be? Philosophy, science —" He stopped, and said jerkily, "The world can not get along without me."

Death said laconically: "There’s no event to which the world more easily reconciles itself than to the passing of an individual."
Blake lay silent. He said at last, wearily, "What’s happened to me this time? What brought you?"
"I have," said Death, "your legs and arms."
Blake said harshly, "That’s a lie. You’re lying!" He broke off: "Besides, I control the science of the world — I know that they can fix me up. I shall not die!"
Death seemed to regard him keenly, and suddenly — as had happened the first time — he was more human in appearance. He said: "A human being needs legs and arms for wholeness. Surely you, of all the people I have touched, would chafe at such a state of mutilation."
"I have my brain," said Blake. "Mind over matter. The perfection of the one cancels out the imperfections of the other."
Death said: "Philosophy again; and now we have the duality of mind and matter. A theory old in human thinking, but long discarded by your realists. Perhaps you suit your ideology to the situation of the moment?"
"I," said Blake with abrupt resurgence of confidence, "shall fit myself to whatever you may contrive against me. I begin to see what I must do for the future. From now on, I shall take into account every possibility. Techniques will be developed; and of course there will have to be political changes . . ." His voice trailed off. He drifted into sleep.

The Brain sat in his wheel-chair before the great view of his penthouse and looked out over the city that spread to the distant horizon. He thought in satisfaction: "It won’t be long now before it is all mine."
This city with its teeming millions, and the cities beyond it, and the countries beyond them: All would be his property, to do with as he willed.
It had taken time in the accomplishing. He sighed to think how long. This was his birthday. On this day, 300 years before, he had been born into a tumbling shanty on the wrong side of the tracks, a changeling in that poverty-stricken home of people who were mediocre or worse.

And now he sat in luxury, a score of alert secretaries around him, while out there, in all parts of the world, his forces gathered. Tonight, the coup d’etat would occur. Tomorrow, he would be dictator of the world.

He felt nervous and distrait. There was an unpleasant tingling along the nerves of his truncated body. He had not thought the strain would be so hard to bear. His impatience grew. His temper flared, and he lashed viciously at his obsequious lieutenants. Their bowings and scrapings only irritated him now. His face became empurpled; and it seemed to him his body could not stand the rapid pounding of his heart. His vision blurred; then failed completely. Exhausted, he sank limply back among his cushions.
For hours, he lay in a coma, and over all the world messages were going out to the waiting forces: "The zero hour has been postponed. The Brain is sick."
Slowly, Blake fought back to consciousness. His eyelids flickered, drooped, then opened languidly. A blurred, distorted figure stood at the foot of the bed. It seemed to Blake the thing was made of shadow-stuff. He fought to hold it in focus. And what puzzled him, even in his fever, was how the visitor had penetrated into this fortified and guarded building.

The stranger said, with a gentle matter-of-factness: "You’ve been working over-hard, my friend."
Not the words, but the tone, startled Blake. He lay still, staring with straining eyes at his adversary.
The gentle voice went on: "The great weariness is upon you. Do you not feel it deep within yourself?"
The sick man shook off his torpor. "You’re very persistent," he said, "but I’m equally determined. The world of man is about to bow to my sway—"
Death’s tone was patient. "You’re just the kind of man that I most want. Man is not ready yet for immortality. Until he is, my duty is to take him."
Blake said, "We’ve argued this before—and you lost. Today, or tomorrow—as soon as I am well—men will yield sovereignty to me for all time."
Death said softly: "I seem to remember someone else once held a notion much like that. His name was Thomas Hobbes. When I came for him, he tried to deny that he had ever rationalized tyranny. I couldn’t make him understand that until such ideas vanish from human concept, all living things within this world must die."
Blake grew aware that the figure was losing form . . .
He was alone, in bed. No, not in bed. He was lying in a tank, in a liquid that was palely pink. And he was somehow visually aware of the faces above the tank, intent upon him.

A hoarse, unfamiliar voice said: "The brain is definitely unusual. You’d think it had a will to life all of its own. Even after every organ of the body ceased to function, the brain cells went on living. It will be interesting to see just how long they will survive in the solution."
There was, The Brain thought, no great mystery to that. He was at last freed of the limitations of his frail, imperfect body. He would go on. The world was his. But there was yet the stars.

The dome was large, and built, according to his specifications, of time-resistant material. Inside its temperature-controlled interior, The Brain lay in his solution in complacent comfort. And from the safety of its impregnable walls, directed the destiny of the universe.
His thoughts were icily objective, and his lust for power insatiable. He was the well-spring of all human thought, the fountain head that for the little streams that were the minds of human beings.
The science of the Earth he held within his thrall; and all the power and knowledge men had gained across the centuries were channelled to his purpose.
And his purpose was to find the final secret — the origin of life. All else he held within his grasp, but without possession of the ultimate knowledge he could not feel the Godlike satisfaction that he craved.
For generations, the greatest human minds were concentrated on the enterprise. Then came the hour of trial. The scientists flocked round his dome in tense excitement. And in that moment, The Brain himself lost something of his omniscient calm.
Overt movements ceased. A silence settled over the waiting throng. The engineers stood at their stations, alert and ready. Green lights flashed on. There was a thunderous roar beyond anything that human ears could cope with. The earth vibrated like a cosmic tuning fork struck by giant fingers.

Valleys became mountains, and mountains sank from sight. Huge tidal waves swept over all the land. A scorching wind raged day and night. Scalding rain poured down from a sky that seemed to split as thunder rolled across its red and yellow width and lightning flashes lit the scene of desolation with orange fire.
The days passed. A soundless calm enveloped the world. The wind and rain ceased. And gradually, the Brain began to realize that the destruction was complete. The oceans and the watercourses of the world had vanished. The teeming peoples and the verdant soil that they tilled were gone. Nothing remained but barren, rocky wastes as primitive and lifeless as on the day of their creation. And through the swirling mists that covered all the Earth, a blazing sun beat down.
The Brain thought: "I’ve recreated the world. Out of the vapors, primeval life will come, and once more start its upward striving. And this time, I’ll be here to see exactly how life begins."
There would then be no difference between God and himself. They would be — equals.
Years became centuries, and time stretched slowly toward sempiternity. The ravaged Earth spun on under its veil of billowing gas clouds. Aeons passed.

The meteorite struck without warning. The force of its impact shattered the dome that he had thought impregnable. The tank, jarred from its supporting trestles, scattered in a thousand bits and pieces, its precious, life-sustaining nutrient solution spilled in rivulets upon the rock.

Crushed and bruised, the Brain lay in the shallow crevice where he had been flung, agony in all his ultra-sensitive cells. But even in his anguish, he grew aware of the shadowy figure that towered above him.
The Brain said, wretchedly, "I suppose you’ve come for me."
Death asked, in mock surprise:
"What — not ready yet?"
The Brain was bitter. "Does man ever willingly accept oblivion? But since I can no longer argue my perfection, I’ll go with you."
Even as he spoke, the pain began to leave his cells. His perception grew dimmer. Lassitude enveloped him. He rested, quiescent and at peace.

On the sterile, sunbaked rock, the handful of gray matter went through its process of decay.

And one day, in the very center of that little heap of putrefaction, there was a microscopic stirring.


with the S.M.O.G. cartoon by Bruce David that graced this issue of Weird Tales:


10. PROLOGUE TO FREEDOM

A state, I said, arises, as I con­ceive, out of the needs of man­kind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. Can any other origin of a state be imagined?
Plato, 427-347 B.C.

2004 A.D.
For more than two decades ca­pable government advisers had au­thored rules of survival, requiring the most profligate populace on the planet to operate sensibly.
So that, despite the energy shor­tage, planes still flew. Everybody still had his car. A proper diet was available for rich or poor. And this condition of temperate living could have gone on indefinitely, despite the usual multi-millions of sly evasions.
It turned out that the dwellers in paradise were angrier than was realized. In California (where else would it begin but in earth’s only heaven?) in the election of 2004, Proposition 8 passed with a major­ity vote of 67%.
(Only 19% voted against; the re­maining 14% of those who went to the polls simply left that item un­marked.)
The business community, which had fought 8 with the biggest ex­penditure in the history of state elections, was stunned. At once there was a wild scramble to get out of San Francisco.
Actually, the scramble did not include everyone. Ed Clint, TV re­porter from New York, who ques­tioned people in various walks of life, estimated that approximately forty per cent of those who had voted for Proposition 8 didn’t know what it was. ("But something had to be done —" they said.)
Portions of this group and of other segments of the California population expressed a popular reaction: "If the Big Boys are scared of it, then it’s got to be okay."
In the area of intellect where Sam Mebley operated his little grocery store in South San Fran­cisco, there was a mood of nega­tive, uneasy vagueness. Meaning Sam did not have a clear picture of what would happen after the three-month transition time. However, he was not too disturbed. During the pre-election a small group of U.C. students came to each store on his street with reas­suring statements. Sam was not quite sure what it was they said. But the shoe store owner down the street expressed himself as being greatly cheered. As he interpreted the student message for Sam, "All competent small business people will be encouraged to carry on."
Sam, who had more than a quar­ter of a million in hidden funds, had a secret feeling of total compe­tence. And, besides, he rented his building and owed for most of his stock. So what the hell!
He didn’t mention the hidden hoard when he was interviewed by Clint before the election. But he did report what the students had said, and that evening he described his casual, dismissing attitude to Stella, his every-other-night bed companion, adding: "In this world you’ve got to be smarter than the next guy."
For Sam, being smarter meant that each weekend on Sunday night he took the train to Los Angeles. (He could have flown, but for that you had to give your name and attest that it was a necessary trip.)
So after an all-night journey Sam reached his desination Monday morning. His principal task: to rent three or four safety deposit boxes in outlying branches of different banks and place in each a bundle of cash.
By evening he was on the train again, and on his way back to San Francisco.
During the first four weekends there was no problem. But as he was returning on his fifth Monday night, the long passenger train with its puffing steam locomotive rolled to a stop just outside of Bakers­field. A trio of students came aboard Sam’s car. Sam, who had been sleeping with his head against the window, had his first aware­ness of something new when he was shaken awake. It took a little while, then, but basically he was quick and obliging.
"Sure, sure—what’s the prob?"
The interrogation trio told him. Sam nodded. "Oh, yeah, I get it. This is a check-up on who crosses the new border."
Quickly, he gave his name, stated his occupation, and gave his made-up explanation: "Kind’ve running out of supplies. So I thought I’d go down and see if I could get some of the stuff I needed." He added, "Got a few boxes of canned goods up in the express car."
That passed him. But it was ob­vious: his time was running out.
And he still had $113,000 in stashed cash to get to safety de­posit boxes in the second economic area.

’When the words ’mine’ and `thine’ had entered into the world and conflicts arose among citizens concerning ownership of things, and be­tween neighboring peoples over boundaries, it became custom­ary to have recourse to some one who would justly and effectively see that the poor suffered no vio­lence from the rich, or the whole people from their neighbors."
Attributed to
Hubert Languet, 1518-1581

In that first month or so a great deal of information was available from all news media.
It seemed that experts were being brought to San Francisco from the U.S.S.R. as advisors. Their fast task—it was reported—was to gain control of the flow of goods, particularly of the food supply.
As, during the second month, the news rapidly grew less, it became obvious they were also getting con­trol of the flow of information.
The food part, Sam noted early. His credit wholesalers cut him off from new supplies. But goods were still available for cash; and in fact several wholesalers came to him and offered him secret stores that they had if he would pay off in cash for what he owed them. Each man intimated he would accept a sub­stantial discount as payment in full.
It turned out, in the consequent discussion, that some of these people were still hopeful that the government in Washington would interfere against Proposition 8. But a few days later both San Fran­cisco newspapers quoted a govern­ment spokesman. It was a state­ment issued by the White House, and it said:

"All over the world for a genera­tion or more, Capitalism and Com­munism have been confronting each other. Until now, citizens of either group have been able to migrate into the other’s territory only with great difficulty, and seldom with the privilege of returning un­scathed, when and if they desired to do so. But now in what was the great state of California we shall be able to observe in a relatively small arena what happens when there is easy access and easy re­turn by law. It will also be interest­ing to observe if the new dual sys­tem will automatically cure the negative aspects of human nature, as the promoters of Proposition 8 have claimed."

Sam had two reactions to that. First was the sarcastic thought: "Boy, those advisors sure let that item be printed." Belatedly, later in the day, came the second feeling. A puzzlement: "For Pete’s sake, what is this Proposition 8?"
That evening, en route to his own house, he pulled over to a curb in front of a small shack on the same street. Got out. Walked up to the unpainted door. And knocked.
Presently, there was the wrink­led, chunky woman who, daytimes, did housecleaning for people who did not wish to make out employer social security statements about occasional domestic help; and thus—as Sam had learned—since there was no record of her having an income, she was able to collect monthly welfare checks.
Sam said, "I’ve had a rough day, Stella. And though this isn’t our regular time, I’ll need a woman to­night."
Stella peered up at him. Not much up; they were fairly nearly the same height. For many seconds her dark eyes promised nothing. Then: "I’ll see how I feel," she said finally, "and maybe come over."
Sam departed without argu­ment. The plain, little woman gen­erally treated him with compas­sion. Whenever she didn’t "feel" like it she was usually "willing" to take care of him.
As he fully expected, she arrived about eight o’clock; and they had a drink. And somewhere, then, came Sam’s question.
Stella didn’t argue, or express surprise that he didn’t know what it was he had voted for. She was a woman who, as a girl, had looked into a mirror. At which time she had the first of many ego-diminish­ing shocks. So that getting this plump-faced small man had been a better-than-average for a face like hers.
However, like most women she noticed the awesome limitations of her man without—since they were not married—taunting him with his stupidity.
So she explained Proposition 8 being careful the while not to make him feel like an idiot for having paid no attention to the most im­portant election of his, or any Californian’s lifetime.
The proposition split California in two just south of Bakersfield. The southern portion, with Los Angeles as its capital, would have a capitalistic economy. The north­ern half, with San Francisco as the capital, would have a Marxist economy.
Inhabitants of both economic areas would use the same money. They could migrate from one area to the other as many times as they pleased, but would be subject to the laws of whichever section they chose to live in.
When she had finished, Sam sat frowning for a while; then: "This Marxist thing—it’s what they’ve got in Russia, uh, the U.S.S.R.?"
The woman nodded, yes. "The idea," he said, "is that everything is owned by the people." She added, "I don’t quite know how they make sure it’s all evenly split. But that’s the idea."
After a small pause, Sam said, "Oh!" He was thinking of his $113,000 in cash being divided among the fourteen million people who lived in Economic Area Number One. His feeling was nega­tive.
"You going to stay?" Stella asked.
"I’ll have to look the situation over," replied Sam, "and that may take a while. I got most of that 3-month transition period still to go."
It turned out that it didn’t take quite as long as the words, "trans­ition period" had, somehow, im­plied. Or rather, it had not occurred to Sam that he might be a subject for one of the changes made as a part of the transition.

"It is plain, therefore, that the distingushing quality of hu­manity is the faculty or the power of understanding."
Dante, 1265-1321 A.D.

In both papers the following day, the entire front page was an adver­tisement. It requested—the actual phrase used was: "are re­quested"—all college students to register "at once" with the Depart­ment of Transitional Actions.
Elsewhere in the ad was the statement that "qualifying" college graduates would be given the avail­able "higher paying jobs."
Presumably, all those college in­tellectuals would understand that there was nothing coercive in the request; and that the wording merely implied how urgent was the need, as, presumably, was the statement that those who registered first would naturally have the choice of the best positions.
It was the shoe-store owner from down the street who showed Sam the advertisement. He seemed vis­ibly less cheerful. "What they want to do is get the intellectuals on their side. That was what my son said. He’s going down this morn­ing",
Sam said, "You got a college edu­cation, Harry?"
"Well—no. But I put my son through." He added, "I had a living to make."
"Me, too," said Sam.
It was two days after that con­versation that Sam looked up from a small transaction with old Mrs. Spidley. What he noticed was a car with the words PROPOSITION 8 in large letters. And under it, some­what smaller, was Department of Transitional Actions.
The car was in the action of pulling up in front of his door.
As he saw, one after the other, three men get out, Sam uncon­sciously began bracing himself. And, as the men walked towards the entrance of his store and then came inside, he uttered one small sigh of regret. It was mid-after­noon. All through the day, every hour he had taken his cash accru­als for that hour, and had hidden the money in a specific place he had at the back of the small build­ing. What elicited the sigh was that the current hour had just run its course; and he had intended to take care of those accruals in ap­proximately one minute.
One of the three men was quite young: early 20s. He carried a black executive case, and he preceded the other two. The second in line was about fifty, and Number Three was fortyish. All three were Middle Class types.
The youngest placed his case on the counter in front of Sam, and said, "My name is Paul Vakor. Are you Mr. Sam Mebley?"
He didn’t wait for a reply, but went on, "We’ve come to take over your store for the good of the people."
Sam did a special inner bracing job. And said, "Hey, I thought com­petent small business guys would be allowed to continue operat­ing their small businesses in Economic Area One."
As his first answer the youth stepped over in front of his execu­tive case, and opened it. He drew out a folder. "I have here," he said, "your tax reports for the past three years. They all show a loss, and are therefore evidence that you are not competent." Sam said, "Oh!"
It wasn’t that he had forgotten. But actually the competence he had developed in simultaneously making a large profit but never paying income tax, had become such an automatic skill that for a decade he had taken it for granted as a way of life.
At once, there was no point in protesting. But he did say bitterly, "You look like one of those college students who came around before the election to tell me how great everything would be for me."
Off to one side, the oldest of the three men cleared his throat. And, speaking English with a thick, foreign accent, said, "He is college student, yes. But is also dedicated government agent for the people."
Sam gazed grimly into the speaker’s brown eyes. "I heard about your kind," he said grimly. "One of those experts invited over from U.S.S.R. to tell kids like this what to do."
His thumb indicated the "kid."
He grew aware that the Russian was pointing with his thumb at the third man. "Mr. Thompson regis­tered college student," he said. "Big job to do. Will take over, manage your store with competence. Put everything behind glass cases. All profits to the people."
The new "owner" of Mebley’s Grocery Store walked to the end of the counter, and behind it. As he came back up to Sam, he said, "Show me where everything is, Mr. Mebley. I hope you’ll be willing to give me a hand during the first couple of days."
They were all three looking at him. And it seemed to Sam that he got the thought right now. Quickly, he spoke the magic words, "Sure, sure. For the people."

"Law is reason or intelligence unperturbed, and free from the influence of anger, cupidity, hate, or prejudice; nor is it de­flected by tears or threats. Man, on the other hand, however well endowed with reason, is seized and overcome by wrath, ven­geance and other passions."
Vindiciae Contra Tyrannons, 16th century.

Did a faint tendril of doubt ever move through Paul Vakor’s mind? Was there a moment when he won­dered if, perhaps, there was, in fact, any proof that Leninism-Marxism was the ultimate political solution for all problems?
The reality wasn’t quite like that. Paul’s personal struggle was with what he silently described to him­self as the remaining attributes of his capitalist upbringing: ambition. Naturally, he had to conceal that he had any. And he tried to do things that would make him look selfless while he maneuvered for power.
The colossal success of Propos­ition 8, determinedly expected but not actually anticipated, required hundreds of individuals to fight for leadership positions. Yet each indi­vidual had to pretend he was no better than the lowliest worker—except for his dedication, of course.
That became the decisive thought . . . We were up front dur­ing the struggle days—people who jumped aboard the bandwagon after the victory, no matter how well educated, could not be trusted in this beginning period to carry through.
So here was Paul, one of hun­dreds of dedicated students, per­sonally heading a takeover team. Feeling right about it. Convinced that human misbehavior derived only from Capitalism.
The first intimation that all might not be well with him had come a week earlier when he read a jubilant announcement, printed in identical words in both news­papers. It stated that members of the American Communist Party had been invited by the govern­ment of California—the new name of the northern economic area—to come to San Francisco. Their help, and their intimate knowledge of Marxism, apparently, would make certain that everything was done right.
As the days went by, the papers and TV reported an enthusiastic re­sponse to the invitation. Every day, some 30,000 individuals were crossing the border from the other 50-odd states of the union.
It seemed that they could enter merely by showing their ACP mem­bership card. The same card was all they needed to check in at the best hotels, and to obtain entrance to that sancrosanct of inner sanctums where, on the day after the election, the top promoters of 8 had set up the self-appointed gov­ernment of Economic Area One, and started issuing orders "for the people."
Exactly one week after that flow of holders of the card began arriv­ing, Paul Vakor returned from his Sam Mebley takeover and found waiting for him an order to go at once to Work Apportionment.
". . . Why don’t you," said the young woman at the desk in what had been the headquarters of Bank of America, "report to the commis­sar in charge of Central Area Col­lective Farm number twenty-three, which is the process of organiza­tion, and needs dedicated help."
She reached to one side of her desk, which was piled with pam­phlets, took one, and held it out to him.
"Here’s a map on how to get there."
"B-but," protested Paul, "I’m a fourth year college student." He struggled inwardly to find the right words. "I can be more useful on a—" He had been about to say "higher level," and stopped just in time; finished lamely— "a job re­quiring training and education."
"That will come in time," said the woman. "At the moment we need farm workers."
A suspicion had been struggling inside Paul. So at this penultimate moment, when all was lost, he was able to gulp it out: "Uh, who recom­mended me for this?"
The woman looked down at her paper. "It’s signed Tim Frantor," she said.
"Uh," stuttered Paul, "Uh—" But she was motioning to the man at the head of the line ten feet away. "Next," site called out.

"In all well-attempered governments there is nothing which should be more jealously main­tained than the spirit of obedi­ence to law, more especially in small matters; for transgres­sion creeps in unperceived and at last ruins the state."
Aristotle, 364-322 B.C.

There comes an occasional mo­ment hi the life of a 22 year-old when a reluctant memory of par­ents surfaces without being in­stantly shoved back out of sight. Usually, when this rare event oc­curs, it has to do with a need for money.
Such a moment—and such a need—came for Paul Vakor as he emerged from his interview onto the late afternoon street. And so, after stumbling along for a while, he went into a phone booth, put in his two quarters, and made a col­lect call to the Second Economic Area.
At this early moment, no one had got around to "rationalizing"—a word that was being used more and more—the telephone system. And so there, presently, was his father’s voice saying, "Who?" And then, when the computer supplied the name of the caller a second time, the familiar voice said grimly, "Tell that S.O.B. to go to hell. Al­though I paid for his way through college, hoping for the best, I haven’t had a son since he got mixed up with the radical left in his sophomore year."
And with those words completed, bang!—down went the re­ceiver.
The tinkle of his quarters being returned somehow reminded Paul that he had been so zealous all day in pursuit of his studies that he had not talked to Anasia. Or rather, when he’d phoned in the morning, there was no reply. And what with his numerous takeover actions of the day, he had not tried a second time.
He put the quarters back in, and tried again. After the phone had rung half a dozen times he was con­vinced. By then he had had another thought; and he recognized it im­mediately as his inspiration of the day. Instantly, came the feeling: saved!—
. . . Sam Mebley had waited until after dark. Not too early, not too late; so it seemed to him. A mid­night prowler might be reported. But ten o’clock was surely a neu­tral hour.
After a careful survey, he step­ped into the alleyway, and walked to the rear of what, until mid-after­noon, had been his grocery store. In the dark it took a little longer to lift away the camouflage from his hiding place—and to replace it after he removed the money he had hidden there—his hourly accru­als—during the day.
The amount was not large: slightly less than $1,000. But worth a short trip. That was not a matter that Sam argued with himself; his acceptance of what had to be done was automatic.
The biggest shock, then, was when all the rear-of-the-store lights went on. They were flood-bright, he’d had them that way for occa­sions when deliveries arrived after dark.
Sam did not try to run. After that first, stunned moment, he merely stood resigned, as the young col­lege student who had headed the afternoon takeover, emerged from the back door, followed by Thompson, the new storekeeper.
It was the student who searched Sam, found the cash, and placed it in his executive case. As he closed the bag, Paul said to Sam in a sav­age tone, "We will be filing charges against you. But now, get!"
Sam got.
After the ex-owner had de­parted, Paul turned to the blond Thompson, "Thanks for coming to assist in this matter. But now, I’ll take this to headquarters, and you’d better go home and get some sleep."
Both men went through the store. And then, after Thompson had locked up, went their separate ways in two different cars. Paul still had the official black machine with the lettering painted on the side. Fortunately, he was able to return it before midnight to the car pool of the Department of Transi­tional Actions. Which meant that no one would ask questions as to its whereabouts. And he still had a key to his office in the department itself. So he sat there, and spoke into the computer, stating charges against Sam Mebley somewhat different than he had threatened. His accusation was that Sam had filed false income statements, and should be investi­gated by his successor. Hastily, he signed the computer printout, folded it into an envelope, and tossed it into the Work Load chute.
And so he had $903. And the be­lief that it would be a long time before anyone discovered what had happened.
. . . Those S.O.B.s, he thought grimly, giving me a daily allow­ance; so I’d always be broke, and have to come back and do their dirty work. He who had been as dedicated as the next man, was being treated like a nobody who had to take any job they wanted to give. Well, they could all go they knew where!
It was after he counted the money that he phoned Anasia again. When—again—there was no answer, the first worry came. He had been intent all day, doing his job. Truth was, Anasia was an inde­pendent type, who didn’t believe in telling her boy friend everything she did. So he had been merely puzzled. Until now.
He spent the night in one of the big hotels—as a precaution—and phoned occasionally. But in the morning, after eating a hasty breakfast, he took a taxi over to her apartment.

"For we have full experience of the truth of Solon’s saying, that all public matters depend on re­ward and punishment; that where these are wanting, the whole discipline of state totters and falls to pieces."
John Calvin, 1509-1564

There are people who never forget a sharp remark against them. During the heat of the cam­paign for Proposition 8, Paul had spoken sharply to seven fellow stu­dents and to three professors.
That last had the most im­mediate effect. He was failed in three subjects, and was accord­ingly not allowed to graduate.
Tim Frantor was one of the seven students. In the heat of a meeting on tactics, Paul had called Tim an idiot. The words were: "You’re just another nut, Tim. An idiot, if you think anything like that will work."
. . . Paul let himself in to Anasia’s apartment with his key. After checking the place, not sure just what he should look for, he settled down in front of the TV. And waited. The day went by slowly; but watching TV did have some interesting highpoints: the changes that had been made. The soap operas were still there; but they were dramatically changed; and words like Comrade, and terms like duty to the people, abounded. (His impression was that the writ­ers didn’t quite know how it should be; but they were trying.)
During the evening, the phone—that had been silent all day—rang three times. Each time it was a feminine voice. And each time—it turned out—the owner of the voice had not been in touch with Anasia for a week or more.
That reminded Paul. His sweetheart’s best friend was Bella Arne. Bella was in the phone book. And there, after four rings, was Bella’s voice, saying, "Oh, Paul, I’ve been trying to phone you since two nights ago. But there was no reply at your place. Anasia tried to call you before she left."
"Left to where?"
"She phoned me from her bed­room. An "8" team came to her place, and said they had orders to send her to Satellite C.A."
Paul said, "Oh!" with a sinking feeling.
Satellite C.A. was the space fac­tory complex assigned to the orig­inal California—now divided into two economic sections like the land far below.
"B-but," Paul protested, "how can you order somebody to?—" He stopped. Gulped. And asked, "Did she say who gave the order?"
"Somebody called Tim Frantor."
"Oh!" said Paul. Then, mumbling, "Thank you, Bella. I’ll see if I can get in touch with her."
He hung up. And sat there.
The following morning he phoned Tim Frantor’s office. And then again later; and every day two or three times. Every day, he was told by a woman’s voice either that, "Mr. Frantor is in conference." "Mr. Frantor is on another line. Can I have him call you?" Or, "Mr. Frantor is not at his desk." Or, finally, "Mr. Frantor has left the office for the day."
But on the fifth day Frantor came to the phone. His voice had an urgent note in it: "Paul, I need your help. I was ordered confined to my office here this morning, and I haven’t been able to make any calls out through the switchboard. Now listen, I’m on the second floor. So if you’ll come over with one of those extension ladders—" Has­tily, he described the location of his office; ended as hastily, "Don’t let me down, Paul. I’ll make it up to you."
"Wait!" yelled Paul, "don’t hang up." When it was clear that the line was still open, Paul went on, "Be­fore you leave your office, put through an order assigning Anasia back to San Francisco." He added desperately, "If you put that through channels, nobody will notice; you know by now how those things work."
"Oh, sure, sure," came the reply. "And also it’ll show that I’m still on the job. See you. Be quick, for God’s sake."

" . . . I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich."
Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946

No one gave Paul Vakor more than a passing glance or two, as he put up the ladder.
He had rented it and the truck for $83 cash, plus $100 deposit, also cash. The deposit was to be refunded when he returned the equipment.
So, now, he maneuvered the re­latively long, aluminum ladder against the lower window sill; and he had a pail of water standing by, and cloths, and a can of glass clean­ing spray. It was part of his pre­tense that he was a workman doing a routine job.
Frantor must have been waiting with a desperate impatience. Be­cause, as the top of the ladder hit the sill, the window of that ancient building squeaked open. And, rapidly, a frantic, trousered leg poked out. It was swiftly followed by a second trousered leg, and the rear of the whole trousers.
What held up the rescue opera­tion briefly, then, was that the part of Frantor that was still inside seemed to be busy. After nearly twenty seconds, however, the head and shoulders slid out, and one arm and hand emerged holding a large wastepaper basket, while the other hand reached down and grasped the top rung.
Like Paul’s, his was a medium long body that, also, had the strength of a twenty-two year-old. And so, down he half slid, man­ipulating his basket, which, on reaching the sidewalk, he placed in the truck cab.
The two young ex-commissars teamed to unextend the extension ladder back to its short form. They did not, at this time, attempt to fit it into its cradle in the back of the truck; simply tossed it in. And de­parted; the truck, with Paul driving, swerved into the traffic, and then zipped around the first corner.
As they zoomed along, Paul watched the street, and was care­ful not to glance at his hard-breath­ing rider. There would have to be a few confrontations; but that was for later.
As the breathing slowed toward normal, Frantor spoke for the first time: "Don’t worry, Paul. I’ll make it up to you, what I had to do."
It was a good opening line. And it augured well for Paul’s special scheme for their future. Presuma­bly, he would have a willing col­laborator.
Once more, the long-faced youth spoke: "I got two old style automa­tic pistols, two S.D. computers, and the most expensive small office items I could lay my hands on."
Neither man had even a momen­tary thought of the qualm variety, that this was thievery Frantor was describing. Paul was nodding; and he spoke now for the first time: "Best you could do under the cir­cumstances."
The computers and the automa­tics, particularly, could be useful—that seemed to be true in the up­side down world where they now had their being.
They were approaching the truck and ladder rental yard; and so Paul said quickly, "I have an idea I’m going to have a hard time get­ting back my $100 deposit unless we play it tough as a team."
What they did, they entered the small office of the rental company; entered it with Frantor right be­hind Paul. Then they spoke to each other several times to establish that they were together. But Frantor waited at the door while Paul presented his duplicate copy.
The man behind the counter glanced at it. And said at once, "I’m afraid I’m going to have to have that truck checked in our garage for damages. And so you come back tomor—"
It was at that point that his eyes must have caught the movement of Frantor taking the automatic out of his pocket and slipping it into an exposed position at the top front of his trousers.
Pause; then: "Oh, well," came the words, "we have your address."
Whereupon, he counted out the $100.
As soon as they were outside, Paul said, "And now, let me tell you what I think we should do to get some real money."
Whereupon, he described the Sam Mebley incident. Explained: "The guy that’s running the store now—Thompson—told me he took in over $1100 the last half of his first afternoon. True, that’s the busy time; people going home from work do the most shopping. But if you add what I got and what he got, it comes to over $2,000. And that’s for one day. My guess: Sam has been grossing $60,000 a month in that little place. And somehow declaring income tax on only half of that. So—here’s the point—he’s got cash around somewhere; and we have to pry some of it away from him."
And the illegality of that did not seem to disturb Frantor either. It was almost as if they agreed that, during the transitional period, money and goods belonged to any­one who could grab first.
"How," was all Frantor asked, "do you think we should work it?"
"He doesn’t know you," said Paul. "So our job is to keep track of him; and you do all the front work, and any necessary contacts, while I remain out of sight but handy. I have a feeling he’s going to head south. So we’ll need a car. Right now, I’ve got to wait here until Anasia is returned from Satel­lite C.A. And then—"
"Oh, she’ll be back tonight," said Frantor.
"That makes it all simple," was Paul’s relieved reply.

" . . . certain rights can never be granted to the government, but must be kept in the hands of the people."
Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962

Sam and Stella drove down Highway 385—the mountain-de­sert route (by way of Lake Tahoe). In addition to some funds he had in his billfold, Sam had $5,000 hid­den in the trunk. His hope was that the "commies" during this transi­tional stage, hadn’t got around to "setting up shop"—as he put it—"in hot as Hades Mojave."
But there was a bad moment when the computerized car re­sponded to a radar speed warning, and presently rolled to a stop in front of a computer eye-o, which was embedded in a metal roadside communication post.
On the post, a light blinked. So Sam maneuvered the machine by hand control until he could reach over and pick up the receiver.
A man’s voice said, "Our elec­tronic check shows that this car is registered in the name of Sam Meb­ley."
"This is he," replied Sam gloom­ily.
"According to our system report your vehicle was traveling at ex­cessive speed. The fine is $48. Stop at the patrol station automat in Palmdale and pay the full amount before proceeding."
Sam was recovering. "You sure these fines are still legal under the new system?" he asked.
There was no verbal reply. Only a clicking sound, presumably of disconnect.
But he was actually glad to stop. And did, in fact, pay the fine into an automat machine; but all the time thinking happily: "By God, this proves that this is still an open route."
Which meant that before they plugged this loophole he could go up every day, and come back—every day—until those one hundred and eight remaining G’s were safe in G-land.
The rest of the trip was in that very same G-land, now called Angelona—the new name of the second economic area. It was after they had been (safe?) in what had formerly been southern California, for at least an hour, that Stella said, "How are you going to live, Sam? Are you going to ask for public assistance?"
The plump-faced man was too flabbergasted by the question to answer immediately. Long ago, he had made the decision never to tell a woman his true financial situa­tion. His observation: women got awfully big ideas awfully quick. So the chunky little woman knew no­thing of his savings.
What staggered him about her suggestion was that it might be a handy concealment for his situa­tion. At the moment he merely said, "I got a few hundred bucks. That’ll give us a chance to look around, and see what’s what. May be some changes down here, also."
What he had found on each of his previous visits was that Los Angeles was swarming with re­fugees; and according to the pa­pers hotel rooms were hard to get.
As it turned out, there had been an odd, partial solution to that problem.
Essentially, concern for people who asked for, or needed welfare, devolved upon a small percentage of the populance. There were re­ligious workers who dealt with the poor and the sick, and there were the town, city, or government offi­cials who were constantly con­fronted by the problem of what to do with an individual, or a family, without income of any kind.
The rest of the people would rather not see, or have any direct contact with the problem. Or, if they took note, they had a negative reaction.
It was an organized body of this latter group in Angelona who saw the condition of California as an opportunity. More important, indi­viduals among them were suffi­ciently educated so that they knew what had happened in Russia in 1917 and in China in ’48. This group spread the word where it would do the most good, from their point of view.
How quickly does news travel? How soon do people act?
The reaction started the first week.
The poor districts of Los Angeles and San Diego—particularly those two cities—experienced a remarkable upheaval. People began to leave. Social workers reported that ten, twenty, and even thirty year welfare cases simply got up and left their rented houses or apart­ments.
Since there are always observers and tale-bearers, the story was that long lines of old jalopy cars headed north over Interstate 5, 101 and 1 (the coast highway), and even 385 by way of Mojave—headed by all three routes in the general direc­tion of San Francisco. After these various caravans crossed the "bor­der" into Califrania, it wasn’t long before a dozen cars would take this or that off-ramp and, in a manner of speaking, were never seen again.
But there, also, were observers. And so reports came of how they drove into small and large com­munities, to ranches and farm houses, and simply moved in and took over: homes, farms, busines­ses.
In some places signs appeared. They all had the same justified thought printed on them: "This property taken over for the people." The signs were mostly crudely done. Sometimes, they were scrawled on white card­board. Yet here and there was ac­tually carved wood or shaped metal nailed onto a solidly dug-in post.
(Some owners were quick. They had their own signs up, so that when the caravan arrived it looked as if that place had already been seized "for the people.")
But when Ed Clint knocked on the door behind one or another of
these signs, and asked what the thought was, one man said, "When I heard that this is what the poor people did in Russia and China, I realized it was up to me to do my share, and show where I stood."
It turned out that the caravans were a little late for Nob Hill and other fine residential sections in northern Califrania. In those areas, members of the American Com­munist Party had moved their families into all the fancy homes.
Attempts made to interview this level of takeover were mostly re­pulsed. But here and there Clint elicited a reply. One woman came to the door of a 20-room mansion, and said, "We are dedicated per­sons who have the interest of the people at heart. This house was formerly occupied by someone who had no such concern."
Ed Clint pointed out. "The out­ward appearance is that another elite group has taken over. What do you think of the claim of Prop­osition 8 promoters that the two interacting economic areas will solve all these problems of human greed and the negative side of human nature in general?"
There was no verbal answer to the question. At that point the door was slammed in Clint’s face.

"Genuine government
Is but the expression of a nation, good
Or less good—even as all society,
However unequal, monstrous, crazed and cursed
Is but the expression of men’s single lives,
The loud sum of the silent units."

Sonnets from the Portuguese
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-61

Stella’s suggestion, and his reac­tion, had an important immediate effect on Sam: when they arrived in Los Angeles he drove straight down to one of the well-defined welfare areas.
Everywhere they looked there were "to let" signs on small houses. Many of the signs also stated: "Fur­nished."
It was one of these furnished 2-bedroom houses that Sam rented for one month for $2,000. Inflation, that exact measure of the phenomenon known as a Seller’s Market, had moved into Los Angeles, along with two million re­fugees from Califrania.
The following day Sam was still inwardly arguing as to what his best course of action would be—when the phone rang. It was a youthful male voice that rep­resented itself as being from the local office of the Internal Revenue Service. The voice gave the ad­dress of a hotel, and a room number.
"Come by this afternoon. Ask for Mark Armour."
"What time?" asked Sam, gloom­ily.
"Two o’clock."
"Okay, okay. I’ll be there."
"Oh, and by the way—"
"Yes?" Resignedly.
"Don’t be surprised at the ap­pearance of confusion. "There’s hundreds of us down here from the northern economic area. And we’re all in temporary quarters."
As he broke the connection after that call, Sam was bitter. "Those damn computers!" he complained. "If you sign up to live somewhere, instantly your name is recorded; and, boy! they’ve got you."
Stella said nothing. She had been strangely quiet since the previous day. She had accepted the better of the two bedrooms without argu­ment. Accepted a visit from him in the late evening; and made break­fast for him this morning. But now, as she sat on the couch beside him, Sam grew aware of a strange ex­pression on her face.
The chunky little woman seemed to shrink down there be­side him on the couch. Her plain and wrinkled face acquired a timid expression.
Finally, in a small voice she said, "Maybe the time has come for us to get married." She added quickly, "I promise always to treat you just as good as I do now."
Sam did not need her to explain what she meant. There was a time when Sam had married. During the courtship period it had looked like he was involved with a sex maniac. Twice an evening was nothing. Several times a week she would let herself into his house at 6 A.M. and crawl into bed with him. And a number of times she showed up at his store during her lunch hour—she was a secretary in a gov­ernment office. (They went into the back room.)
But within a week after the wedding bells ceased to toll, she de­veloped her first not-tonight headache. And thereafter it was all downhill.
He ended the marriage after two years by simply filing suit for di­vorce; and the two attorneys worked out the financial settle­ment.
Fortunately, she presently re­married. And Sam was off the hook
"What bothers me," said Sam now, "is, I think there’s supposed to be some recompense for ex­propriated property. And I should get, uh, maybe one-fifty for my equity in my place in San Fran­cisco. And maybe if that happens we can get married."
It was the best excuse he could manage on short notice. Truth, he was not entirely opposed to the idea of marrying the little woman. Two pre-Stella associations with considerably better looking females had taught him his final lesson: the fancier a woman looked, the more expensive she was.
That afternoon, 2 P.M.
The confusion at the temporary office of the Internal Revenue Ser­vice wasn’t that great. There were boxes, loaded with what looked like files and stacks of white paper, piled in one corner—Paul and Tim had carted the boxes up a back stairway of the hotel one at a time.
The hotel desk in the room they had hauled over to the window on the other side of the bed. The per­son sitting at the desk was a young man; and he faced the door. There was an extra chair to his right; and he motioned Sam toward it.
As he settled into it Sam noticed that there were the usual IRS pam­phlets spread along one edge; and some invoices with Internal Re­venue Service printed onto them—that had been a hasty Xerox achievement. But, in fact, there was no problem. Sam had no sus­picion as he gazed uneasily at the young man who now said, "I’m Mark Armour. And you?"
"Sam Mebley."
The lean youth looked down at some papers on his desk. Nodded. And drew them closer to him. While still studying them, he explained that the two economic areas were transmitting informa­tion to each other, as required by Proposition Eight. And that, as a result—at that point he looked up and stared balefully into Sam’s eyes.
"Charges have been filed against you," he said.
"By whom?"
"By our San Francisco office."
Since that was the correct loca­tion, Sam braced himself. "What are the charges?"
"That you falsified your income tax reports, and that in fact you made a considerable hidden profit each year of the four years examined."
It was truth. And, oddly, it felt good to have it stated openly. Sam said in a relieved voice, "I can see that whoever filed the charges is not familiar as yet with the prob­lems of operating a grocery store in a poor neighborhood."
"You deny the charges?"
"Totally."
Pause. The young man was straightening in his chair. His ex­pression was grim, as he said, "It turns out, Mr. Mebley, that you’re actually very fortunate. Because of the special situation created by Proposition Eight, we could waste a lot of time discovering the exact amount of your debt. Accordingly, I am authorized to fine you $25,000; and that will be all there is against you. However—"the eyes were baleful— "if the fine is not paid into this office by tomorrow morn­ing you will be subject to Clause Eleven of Proposition Eight."
There was silence while Sam un­happily considered parting with $25,000. Yet, in fact, to a practical person like himself, it had the look of being an easy way out.
"Let me understand you," he said. "If I can, uh, borrow $25,000. from some friends up north, I will be given a release from all IRS claims against me?"
"You will receive a proper re­lease document," was the reply.
"Can I pay it to your office in San Francisco?" Sam asked. "I’ll have to fly up tonight, and borrow the money."
"Let me check on that," said the false Mike Armour, "and I’ll phone you."
When the phone call came an hour later, it developed that Ar­mour had been assigned to ride herd on the situation. "So," his voice came on the phone, I’ll fly up with you, and we’ll settle the matter."
As Sam explained it to Stella, that was obviously a practical sol­ution to the many confusions created by Proposition Eight. "I guess they figure it’s better for me to talk to one guy than keep meet­ing new people who don’t know what’s gone before."
Stella would stay behind and hold onto the rented house.

"Indeed, I thought, slipping the silver into my purse, it is re­markable, remembering the bit­terness of those days, what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about."
Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941

After Sam departed the hotel room, Paul entered from the bed­room. They stood looking at each other; and for a long moment Paul did not notice that his companion­in-in-crime was not smiling jubilantly as he was; and, in fact, he was not smiling at all."
"What’s the matter?" asked Paul.
"We may have to kill the old S.O.B.," said Frantor, "after we get the money."
Paul was astounded. "Whatever for?"
"He may go to the authorities and describe us. You, particularly."
"He’s not going to see me in this situation. And he’ll never see you again. This is a one-shot deal. And, besides—" Paul smiled grimly—"he has to keep a low profile, so no one will suspect how much more cash he’s got."
"Well !!!" The other youth seemed uncertain. "I’m ready to do what has to be done. In this Prop­osition Eight shiftover it’s beginning to look as if it’s every man for himself."
There was a pause. A silence. Paul Vakor stood and Tim Frantor remained seated; and they looked not exactly at each other but slightly off to one side, two young instant criminals, with one of them—Paul—suddenly remem­bering what Frantor had already done against him. Every man for himself . . . I’m going to have to watch out for this so-and-so.
At once he was cunning. "Okay, Tim, count me. We’ll do what has to be done. But I don’t think we have to do that."
"I guess you’re right," was the quick reply from a young man who had suddenly had his own private thought, that the less he confided in anyone, the better.
"Step one," said Paul, "we get the money. Step two, then we decide what to do next. . . ."
The money, they got. That was no problem. Sam had made his peace with the payment of 25 thousand in full in return for an IRS receipt, a xerox version, which Tim signed with the name Mike Ar­mour. By the time he arrived back in Los Angeles, with 12 thousand more of his hidden funds, Sam was feeling quite cheerful. And wonder­ing what his next move should be in the game of life under Proposi­tion 8.
Stella had some puzzling news for him. "The I.R.S. called," she said. "They want you to come and see them. Here’s the number to call."
It was a different number and a different name. And, when he got there it was actually inside a build­ing devoted entirely to government business. No piled boxes. No hotel room confusion. Everything was in order. Neat desks, private rooms; and in one of the latter a big, well-dressed man in his thirties whose name was Warren Tate.
It took a while. Sam explained. Sam showed his receipt. Twice, Warren Tate went out, and twice came back, presumably after con­sulting with someone else. In fact, the second time he returned with a middle-aged woman, who also listened to Sam’s story.
And, evidently, there had been other persons contacted; for a young man came in, and said, "The hotel reports that the room was occupied by a young man named Mike Armour."
The woman asked, "Did they ver­ify his name?"
"Well—" a pause— "it seems that a newly hired night clerk let him in. Maybe a bribe—"
(A bribe it had been: a $200 di­rect payment, not counting the room rent for two days and two nights.)
(No one suspected Paul Vakor. His action in originally filing the charges somehow proved him to be unconnected with what fol­lowed.)
After about ten minutes, the woman came over to Sam, and said, "Proposition Eight has created many confusions that, ap­parently, cannot be easily resolved."
They let him go.
Later, when Ed Clint got onto the story, he found Sam and Stella in their rented house, waiting—as the TV reporter described the situ­ation to the vast audience in the eastern United States—for the gov­ernment of Califrania to reimburse Sam for his expropriated house in South San Francisco, so that he and his lady could get married.
Clint added, "This is just one lit­tle event of many that I have ob­served in bits and pieces as they developed."
The reporter, to whom millions listened every night for an update on the west coast situation, con­cluded:
"It would appear that, although Proposition Eight has not yet pro­duced the morality claimed for it by its proponents, there is a rough justice beginning to show through. Sam Mebley was persuaded by some inner reaction to the new conditions to pay his back taxes without an argument. This was a result that was achieved only when the state took over his small enter­prise. And, equally important, those who stole the money from him will gain thereby only a brief postponement of their personal rendezvous with destiny, prices out here being what they are."
As Clint later observed to his own lady friend, a news media per­son who expected to operate in both Angelona and Califrania, had better learn to notice every favor­able aspect because there were so many unfavorable ones.


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Footnotes

[1Research Alpha was first published in the July 1965 issue of the magazine If.

[2Carthing was first published in the 1970 in the first issue of the quarterly magazine Quark.

[3The Reflected Men was first published in the February 1971 issue of Galaxy Magazine.

[4Footprint Farm was first published in the paperback anthology Pendulum in 1978.

[5Living With Jane was first published in the paperback anthology Pendulum in 1978.

[6Pendulum was first published in the paperback anthology Pendulum in 1978.

[7The Non-Aristotelian Detective was first published in the paperback anthology of previously unpublished van Vogt stories Pendulum in 1978.

[8The Pandora Principle was first published in the Fall 1984 issue of the quarterly magazine Weird Tales.

[9actress, model, screenwriter and author, Brinke Stevens is pictured both on the cover of the Fall 1984 issue of Wierd Tales and in the lead drawing of the story The Pandora Principle, above.

[10The Brain was first published in the Winter 1985 issue of the quarterly magazine Weird Tales.

[11 Prologue to Freedom was first published in the September-November 1986 issue of the magazine Worlds of If.

[12The second part of The Pandora Principle has never been published — editor’s note.