"The Expendables" and other late-period stories by A. E. van Vogt

(actualisé le ) by A. E. van Vogt

1. THE EXPENDABLES (1963) A spaceship on an exploration mission encounters crafty and powerful aliens who threaten to take over after they are brought on board – and a ferocious struggle breaks out in parallel among the ship’s leading officers for control of the ship. [1]. (11,400 words)

2. THE REPLICATORS (1965) Steve Matlin is a particularly ornery farmer who comes across a very big alien monster on a back road near his farm, and as he was out on a hunting expedition he shot the thing. So the duplicate copies of this alien visitor decide to go after Steve, but although they can and do replicate everything Steve or anyone else throws their way, our ex-Marine is a tough nut to crack, and there’s a ding-dong battle between the aliens and Steve and his compatriots. [2] (8,150 words)

3. THE ULTRA MAN (1966) On a large and very cosmopolitan United Nations space-station on the moon, a gifted psychologist is explaining to a colleague what people way down on the street below are thinking and saying just by studying the expressions on their faces through field-glasses, when all of a sudden he declares that one of the passers-by is a non-human – who promptly realizes that he has been discovered and opens fire on his detector with a deadly ray gun. [3] (9,200 words)

4. THE PROXY INTELLIGENCE (1968) A space pilot plays a central role in the struggle to ward off deadly and superiorly-intelligent aliens, the Dreeghs, on a far-flung outpost on a meteor near Jupiter, manned by a renowned scientist and his extremely attractive, intelligent and very fiery young daughter. [4] (17,600 words)

5. THE FIRST RULL (1978) Rulls are deadly enemies of mankind who have sent a team of spies to Earth to recover an anti-gravity raft that the humans have recuperated without (so far) realizing the enormous potential of the superior technology it contains. [5] (7,200 words)



e-books of this anthology are available for downloading below.


1. THE EXPENDABLES

1

ONE HUNDRED and nine years after leaving Earth, the spaceship, Hope of Man, went into orbit around Alta III.
The following ’morning’ Captain Browne informed the shipload of fourth and fifth generation colonists that a manned lifeboat would be dropped to the planet’s surface,
’Every member of the crew must consider himself expendable,’ he said earnestly. ’This is the day that our great grandparents, our forefathers, who boldly set out for the new space frontier so long ago, looked forward to with unfaltering courage. We must not fail them.’
He concluded his announcement over the intercom system of the big ship by saying that the names of the crew members of the lifeboat would be given out within the hour. ‘And I know that every real man aboard will want to see his name there.’
John Lesbee, the fifth of his line aboard, had a sinking sensation as he heard those words — and he was not mistaken.
Even as he tried to decide if he should give the signal for a desperate act of rebellion, Captain Browne made the expected announcement.
The commander said, ’And I know you will all join him in his moment of pride and courage when I tell you that John Lesbee will lead the crew that carries the hopes of man in this remote area of space. And now the others —‘
He thereupon named seven of the nine persons with whom Lesbee had been conspiring to seize control of the ship
Since the lifeboat would only hold eight persons, Lesbee recognized that Browne was dispatching as many of his enemies as he could. He listened with a developing dismay. as the commander ordered all persons on the ship to come to the recreation room. ’Here I request that the crew of the lifeboat join me and the other officers on stage. Their instructions are to surrender themselves to any craft which seeks to intercept them. They will be equipped with instruments whereby we here can watch, and determine the stage of scientific attainments of the dominant race on the planet below.’

Lesbee hurried to his room on the technicians’ deck, hoping that perhaps Tellier or Cantlin would seek him out there. He felt himself in need of a council of war, however brief. He waited five minutes, but not one member of his conspiratorial group showed.
Nonetheless, he had time to grow calm. Peculiarly, it was the smell of the ship that soothed him most. From the earliest days of his life, the odor of energy and the scent of metal under stress had been perpetual companions. At the moment, with the ship in orbit, there was a letting up of stress. The smell was of old energies rather than new. But the effect was similar.
He sat in the chair he used for reading, eyes closed, breathing in that complex of odors, product of so many titanic energies. Sitting there, he felt the fear leave his mind and body. He grew brave again, and strong.
Lesbee recognized soberly that his plan to seize power had involved risks. Worse, no one would question Browne’s choice of him, as the leader of the mission. ’I am,’ thought Lesbee, ’probably the most highly trained technician ever to be on this ship.’ Browne Three had taken him when he was ten, and started him on the long grind of learning that led him, one after the other, to master the mechanical skills of all the various technical departments. And Browne Four had continued his training.
He was taught how to repair relay systems. He gradually came to understand the purposes of countless analogs. The time came when he could visualize the entire automation. Long ago, the colossal cobweb of electronic instruments within the walls had become almost an extension of his nervous system.
During those years of work and study, each daily apprenticeship chore left his slim body exhausted. After he came off duty, he sought a brief relaxation and usually retired to an early rest.
He never did find the time to learn the intricate theory that underlay the ship’s many operations.
His father, while he was alive, had made numerous attempts to pass his knowledge on to his son. But it was hard to teach complexities to a tired and sleepy boy, Lesbee even felt slightly relieved when his parent died. It took the pressure off him. Since then, however, he had come to realize that the Browne family, by forcing a lesser skill on the descendant of the original commander of the ship, had won their greatest victory.
As he headed finally for the recreation room, Lesbee found himself wondering: Had the Brownes trained him with the intention of preparing him for such a mission as this?
His eyes widened. If that was true, then his own conspiracy was merely an excuse. The decision to kill him might actually have been made more than a decade ago, and light years away…

As the lifeboat fell toward Alta III, Lesbee and Tellier sat in the twin control chairs and watched on the forward screen the vast, misty atmosphere of the planet.
Tellier was thin and intellectual, a descendant of the physicist De Tellier who had made many speed experiments in the early days of the voyage. It had never been understood why spaceships could not attain even a good fraction of the speed of light, let alone velocities greater than light. When the scientist met his untimely death, there was no one with the training to carry on a testing program.
It was vaguely believed by the trained personnel who succeeded Tellier that the ship had run into one of the paradoxes implicit in the Lorenz-Fitzgerald Contraction theory.
Whatever the explanation, it was never solved.
Watching Tellier, Lesbee wondered if his companion and best friend felt as empty inside as he did. Incredibly, this was the first time he — or anyone — had been outside the big ship. ’We’re actually heading down,’ he thought, ‘to one of those great masses of land and water, a planet.’
As he watched, fascinated, the massive ball grew visibly bigger.
They came in at a slant, a long, swift, angling approach, ready to jet away if any of the natural radiation belts proved too much for their defense systems. But as each stage of radiation registered in turn, the dials showed that the lifeboat machinery made the proper responses automatically.
The silence was shattered suddenly by an alarm bell.
Simultaneously, one of the screens focused on a point of rapidly moving light far below. The light darted toward them.
A missile! Lesbee caught his breath.
But the shining projectile veered off, turned completely around, took up position several miles away, and began to fall with them.
His first thought was: ’They’ll never let us land,’ and he experienced an intense disappointment.
Another signal brrred from the control board, ‘They’re probing us,’ said Tellier, tensely.
An instant after the words were uttered, the lifeboat seemed to shudder and to stiffen under them. It was the unmistakeable feel of a tractor beam. Its field clutched the lifeboat, drew it, held it.
The science of the Alta III inhabitants was already proving itself formidable.
Underneath him the lifeboat continued its movement.
The entire crew gathered around and watched as the point of brightness resolved into an object, which rapidly grew larger. It loomed up close, bigger than they.
There was a metallic bump. The lifeboat shuddered from stern to stern.
Even before the vibrations ceased Tellier said, ’Notice they put our airlock against theirs.’
Behind Lesbee, his companions began that peculiar joking of the threatened. It was a coarse comedy, but it had enough actual humor suddenly to break through his fear. Involuntarily he found himself laughing.
Then, momentarily free of anxiety, aware that Browne was watching and that there was no escape, he said, ’Open the airlock! Let the aliens capture us as ordered.’

2

A few minutes after the outer airlock was opened, the airlock of the alien ship folded back also. Rubberized devices rolled out and contacted the Earth lifeboat, sealing off both entrances from the vacuum of space.
Air hissed into the interlocking passageway between the two craft. In the alien craft’s lock, an inner door opened. Again Lesbee held his breath.
There was a movement in the passageway. A creature ambled into view. The being came forward with complete assurance, and pounded with something he held at the end of one of his four leathery arms on the hull.
The creature had four legs and four arms, and a long thin body held straight up. It had almost no neck, yet the many skin folds between the head and the body indicated great flexibility was possible.
Even as Lesbee noted the details of its appearance, the being turned his head slightly, and its two large expressionless eyes gazed straight at the hidden wall receptor that was photographing the scene, and therefore straight into Lesbee’s eyes.
Lesbee blinked at the creature, then tore his gaze away. swallowed hard, and nodded at Tellier. ’Open up!’ he commanded,
The moment the inner door of the Earth lifeboat opened, six more of the four-legged beings appeared one after another in the passageway, and walked forward in the same confident way as had the first.
All seven creatures entered the open door of the lifeboat,
As they entered, their thoughts came instantly into Lesbee’s mind…

As Dzing and his boarding party trotted from the small Karn ship through the connecting airlock, his chief officer thought a message to him.
’Air pressure and oxygen content are within a tiny percentage of what exists at ground level on Karn. They can certainly live on our planet.’
Dzing moved forward into the Earth ship, and realized that he was in the craft’s control chamber. There, for the first time, he saw the men. He and his crew ceased their forward motion; and the two groups of beings — the humans and the Karn — gazed at each other.
The appearance of the two-legged beings did not surprise Dzing. Pulse viewers had, earlier, penetrated the metal walls of the lifeboat and had accurately photographed the shape and dimension of those aboard.
His first instruction to his crew was designed to test if the strangers were, in fact, surrendering. He commanded: ’Convey to the prisoners that we require them as a precaution to remove their clothing.’
. . . Until that direction was given, Lesbee was still uncertain as to whether or not these beings could receive human thoughts as he was receiving theirs. From the first moment, the aliens had conducted their mental conversations as if they were unaware of the thoughts of the human beings. Now he watched the Karn come forward. One tugged suggestively at his clothing. And there was no doubt.
The mental telepathy was a one-way flow only — from the Karn to the humans.
He was already savoring the implications of that as he hastily undressed . . . It was absolutely vital that Browne do not find it out.
Lesbee removed all his clothes; then, before laying them down, took out his notebook and pen. Standing there naked he wrote hurriedly:
’Don’t let on that we can read the minds of these beings.’
He handed the notebook around, and he felt a lot better as each of the men read it, and nodded at him silently.
Dzing communicated telepathically with someone on the ground. ’These strangers,’ he reported, ‘clearly acted under command to surrender. The problem is, how can we now let them overcome us without arousing their suspicion that this is what we want them to do?’
Lesbee did not receive the answer directly. But he picked it up from Dzing’s mind: ’Start tearing the lifeboat apart. See if that brings a reaction.’

The members of the Karn boarding party went to work at once. Off came the control panels; floor plates were melted and ripped up. Soon instruments, wiring, controls were exposed for examination. Most interesting of all to the aliens were the numerous computers and their accessories.
Browne must have watched the destruction: for now, before the Karn could start wrecking the automatic machinery, his voice interjected: ’Watch out, you men! I’m going to shut your airlock and cause your boat to make a sharp right turn in exactly twenty seconds.’
For Lesbee and Tellier that simply meant sitting down in their chairs, and turning them so that the acceleration pressure would press them against the backs. The other men sank to the ripped-up floor, and braced themselves.
Underneath Dzing, the ship swerved. The turn began slowly, but it propelled him and his fellows over to one wall of the control room. There he grabbed with his numerous hands at some handholds that had suddenly moved out from the smooth metal. By the time the turn grew sharper, he had his four short legs braced, and he took the rest of the wide swing around with every part of his long, sleek body taut. His companions did the same.
Presently, the awful pressure eased up, and he was able to estimate that their new direction was almost at right angles to what it had been.
He had reported what was happening while it was going on. Now, the answer came: ’Keep on destroying. See what they do, and be prepared to succumb to anything that looks like a lethal attack.’
Lesbee wrote quickly in his notebook: ’Our method of capturing them doesn’t have to be subtle. They’ll make it easy for us — so we can’t lose.’
Lesbee waited tensely as the notebook was passed around. It was still hard for him to believe that no one else had noticed what he had about this boarding party.
Tellier added a note of his own: ’It’s obvious now that these beings were also instructed to consider themselves expendable.’
And that settled it for Lesbee. The others hadn’t noticed what he had. He sighed with relief at the false analysis, for it gave him that most perfect of all advantages: that which derived from his special education.
Apparently, he alone knew enough to have analyzed what these creatures were.
The proof was in the immense clarity of their thoughts. Long ago, on earth, it had been established that man had a faltering telepathic ability, which could be utilized consistently only by electronic amplification outside his brain. The amount of energy needed for the step-up process was enough to burn out brain nerves, if applied directly.
Since the Karn were utilizing it directly, they couldn’t be living beings.
Therefore, Dzing and his fellows were an advanced robot type.
The true inhabitants of Alta III were not risking their own skins at all.
Far more important to Lesbee, he could see how he might use these marvelous mechanisms to defeat Browne, take over the Hope of Man, and start the long journey back to Earth.

3

He had been watching the Karn at their work of destruction, while he had these thoughts. Now, he said aloud: ’Hainker, Graves.’
’Yes?’ The two men spoke together.
’In a few moments I’m going to ask Captain Browne to turn the ship again. When he does, use our specimen gas guns!’
The men grinned with relief. ’Consider it done,’ said Hainker.
Lesbee ordered the other four crewmen to be ready to use the specimen-holding devices at top speed. To Tellier he said, ’You take charge if anything happens to me.’
Then he wrote one more message in the notebook: ’These beings will probably continue their mental intercommunication after they are apparently rendered unconscious. Pay no attention, and do not comment on it in any way.’ He felt a lot better when that statement also had been read by the others, and the notebook was once more in his possession. Quickly, he spoke to the screen:
’Captain Browne! Make another turn, just enough to pin them.’
And so they captured Dzing and his crew.
As he had expected, the Karn continued their telepathic conversation. Dzing reported to his ground contact: ’I think we did that rather well.’
There must have been an answering message from below, because he went on, ’Yes, commander. We are now prisoners as per your instructions, and shall await events . . . The imprisoning method? Each of us is pinned down by a machine which has been placed astride us, with the main section adjusted to the contour of our bodies. A series of rigid metal appendages fasten our arms and legs. All these devices are electronically controlled, and we can of course escape at any time. Naturally, such action is for later . . .’
Lesbee was chilled by the analysis; but for expendables there was no turning back.
He ordered his men: ‘Get dressed. Then start repairing the ship. Put all the floor plates back except the section at G-8. They removed some of the analogs, and I’d better make sure myself that it all goes back all right.’
When he had dressed, he reset the course of the lifeboat, and called Browne. The screen lit up after a moment, and there staring back at him was the unhappy countenance of the forty-year-old officer.
Browne said glumly: ’I want to congratulate you and your crew on your accomplishments. It would seem that we have a small scientific superiority over this race, and that we can attempt a limited landing.’
Since there would never be a landing on Alta III, Lesbee simply waited without comment as Browne seemed lost in thought.
The officer stirred finally. He still seemed uncertain. ’Mr Lesbee,’ he said, ’as you must understand, this is an extremely dangerous situation for me — and — he added hastily — ’for this entire expedition.’
What struck Lesbee, as he heard those words, was that Browne was not going to let him back on the ship. But he had to get aboard to accomplish his own purpose. He thought: ’T’ll have to bring this whole conspiracy out into the open, and apparently make a compromise offer.’
He drew a deep breath, gazed straight into the eyes of Browne’s image on the screen and said with the complete courage of a man for whom there is no turning back: ’It seems to me, sir, that we have two alternatives. We can resolve all these personal problems either through a democratic election or by a joint captaincy, you being one of the captains and I being the other.’

To any other person who might have been listening the remark must have seemed a complete non sequitur. Browne, however, understood its relevance. He said with a sneer,
“So you’re out in the open. Well, let me tell you, Mr Lesbee, there was never any talk of elections when the Lesbees were in power. And for a very good reason. A spaceship requires a technical aristocracy to command it. As for a joint captaincy, it wouldn’t work.’
Lesbee urged his lie: ’If we’re going to stay here, we’ll need at least two people of equal authority — one on the ground, one on the ship.’
’I couldn’t trust you on the ship!’ said Browne flatly.
’Then you be on the ship.’ Lesbee proposed. ’All such practical details can be arranged.’
The older man must have been almost beside himself with the intensity of his own feelings on this subject. He flashed, ’Your family has been out of power for over fifty years! How can you still feel that you have any rights?’
Lesbee countered, ’How come you still know what I’m talking about?
Browne said, a grinding rage in his tone, ’The concept of inherited power was introduced by the first Lesbee. It was never planned.’
’But here you are,’ said Lesbee, ’yourself a beneficiary of inherited power.’
Browne said from between clenched teeth: ’It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Earth government which was in power when the ship left — and every member of which has been long dead — should appoint somebody to a command position . . . and that now his descendant think that command post should be his, and his family’s, for all time!’
Lesbee was silent, startled by the dark emotions he had uncovered in the man. He felt even more justified, if that were possible, and advanced his next suggestion without a qualm.
’Captain, this is a crisis. We should postpone our private struggle. Why don’t we bring one of these prisoners aboard so that we can question him by use of films, or play acting? Later, we can discuss your situation and mine.’
He saw from the look on Browne’s face that the reasonableness of the suggestion, and its potentialities, were penetrating.
Browne said quickly, ’Only you come aboard — and with one prisoner only. No one else!’
Lesbee felt a dizzying thrill as the man responded to his bait. He thought: ’It’s like an exercise in logic. He’ll try to murder me as soon as he gets me alone and is satisfied that he can attack without danger to himself. But that very scheme is what will get me aboard. And I’ve got to get on the ship to carry out my plan.’
Browne was frowning. He said in a concerned tone: ’Mr Lesbee, can you think of any reason why we should not bring one of these beings aboard?’
Lesbee shook his head. ’No reason, sir,’ he lied.
Browne seemed to come to a decision. ’Very well. I’ll see you shortly, and we can then discuss additional details.’ Lesbee dared not say another word. He nodded, and broke the connection, shuddering, disturbed, uneasy.
’But,’ he thought, ‘what else can we do?’

He turned his attention to the part of the floor that had been left open for him. Quickly, he bent down and studied the codes on each of the programming units, as if he were seeking exactly the right ones that had originally been in those slots.
He found the series he wanted: an intricate system of cross-connected units that had originally been designed to program a remote-control landing system, an advanced Waldo mechanism capable of landing the craft on a planet and taking off again, all directed on the pulse level of human thought.
He slid each unit of the series into its sequential position and locked it in.
Then, that important task completed, he picked up the remote control attachment for the series and casually put it in his pocket.
He returned to the control board and spent several minutes examining the wiring and comparing it with a wall chart. A number of wires had been tom loose. These he now re-connected, and at the same time he managed with a twist of his pliers to short-circuit a key relay of the remote control pilot.
Lesbee replaced the panel itself loosely. There was no time to connect it properly. And, since he could easily justify his next move, he pulled a cage out of the storeroom. Into this he hoisted Dzing, manacles and all.
Before lowering the lid he rigged into the cage a simple resistor that would prevent the Karn from broadcasting on the human thought level. The device was simple merely in that it was not selective. It had an on-off switch which triggered, or stopped, energy flow in the metal walls on the thought level. When the device was installed, Lesbee slipped the tiny remote control for it into his other pocket. He did not activate the control. Not yet.
From the cage Dzing telepathed: ’It is significant that these beings have selected me for this special attention. We might conclude that it is a matter of mathematical accident, or else that they are very observant and so noticed that I was the one who directed activities. Whatever the reason, it would be foolish to turn back now.’
A bell began to ring. As Lesbee watched, a spot of light appeared high on one of the screens. It moved rapidly toward some crossed lines in the exact center of the screen. Inexorably, then, the Hope of Man, as represented by the light, and the lifeboat moved toward their fateful rendezvous.

4

Browne’s instructions were: ’Come to Control Room Below!’
Lesbee guided his powered dolly with the cage on it out of the big ship’s airlock P — and saw that the man in the control room of the lock was Second Officer Selwyn. Heavy brass for such a routine task. Selwyn waved at him with a twisted smile as Lesbee wheeled his cargo along the silent corridor.
He saw no one else on his route. Other personnel had evidently been cleared from this part of the vessel. A little later, grim and determined, he set the cage down in the center of the big room and anchored it magnetically to the floor.
As Lesbee entered the captain’s office, Browne looked up from one of the two control chairs and stepped down from the rubber-sheathed dais to the same level as Lesbee. He came forward, smiling, and held out his hand. He was a big man, as all the Brownes had been, bigger by a head than Lesbee, good-looking in a clean-cut way. The two men were alone.
*I’m glad you were so frank,’ he said. ’I doubt if I could have spoken so bluntly to you without your initiative as an example.’
But as they shook hands, Lesbee was wary and suspicious. Lesbee thought: ’He’s trying to recover from the insanity of his reaction. I really blew him wide open.’
Browne continued in the same hearty tone: ’T’ve made up my mind. An election is out of the question. The ship is swarming with untrained dissident groups, most of which simply want to go back to Earth.’
Lesbee, who had the same desire, was discreetly silent.
Browne said, ’You’ll be ground captain; I’ll be ship captain. Why don’t we sit down right now and work out a communique on which we can agree and that I can read over the intercom to the others?’
As Lesbee seated himself in the chair beside Browne, he was thinking: ’What can be gained from publicly naming me ground captain?
He concluded finally, cynically, that the older man could gain the confidence of John Lesbee — lull him, lead him on, delude him, destroy him.
Surreptitiously Lesbee examined the room. Control Room Below was a large square chamber adjoining the massive central engines. Its control board was a duplicate of the one on the bridge located at the top of the ship. The great vessel could be guided equally from either board, except that pre-emptive power was on the bridge. The officer of the watch was given the right to make Merit decisions in an emergency.
Lesbee made a quick mental calculation, and deduced that it was First Officer Miller’s watch on the bridge. Miller was a staunch supporter of Browne. The man was probably watching them on one of his screens, ready to come to Browne’s aid at a moment’s notice.

A few minutes later, Lesbee listened thoughtfully as Browne read their joint communique over the intercom, designating him as ground captain. He found himself a little amazed, and considerably dismayed, at the absolute confidence the older man must feel about his own power and position on the ship. It was a big step, naming his chief rival to so high a rank.
Browne’s next act was equally surprising. While they were still on the viewers, Browne reached over, clapped Lesbee affectionately on the shoulders and said to the watching audience:
’As you all know, John is the only direct descendant of the original captain. No one knows exactly what happened half a hundred years ago when my grandfather first took command. But I remember the old man always felt that only he understood how things should be. I doubt if he had any confidence in any young whippersnapper over whom he did not have complete control. I often felt that my father was the victim rather than the beneficiary of my grandfather’s temper and feelings of superiority.’
Browne smiled engagingly. Anyway, good people, though we can’t unbreak the eggs that were broken then, we can certainly start healing the wounds, without —‘ his tone was suddenly firm — ’negating the fact that my own training and experience make me the proper commander of the ship itself.’
He broke off. ’Captain Lesbee and I shall now jointly attempt to communicate with the captured intelligent life form from the planet below. You may watch, though we reserve the right to cut you off for good reason.’ He turned to Lesbee. ‘What do you think we should do first, John?’
Lesbee was in a dilemma. The first large doubt had come to him, the possibility that perhaps the other was sincere. The possibility was especially disturbing because in a few moments a part of his own plan would be revealed.
He sighed, and realized that there was no turning back at this stage. He thought: ’We’ll have to bring the entire madness out into the open, and only then can we begin to consider agreement as real.’
Aloud, he said in a steady voice, ’Why not bring the prisoner out where we can see him?’
As the tractor beam lifted Dzing out of the cage, and thus away from the energies that had suppressed his thought waves, the Karn telepathed to his contact on Alta III:
’Have been held in a confined space, the metal of which was energized against communication. I shall now attempt to perceive and evaluate the condition and performance of this ship —‘
At that point, Browne reached over and clicked off the intercom. Having shut off the audience, he turned accusingly to Lesbee, and said, ’Explain your failure to inform me that these beings communicated by telepathy.’
The tone of his voice was threatening. There was a hint of angry color in his face.
It was the moment of discovery.

Lesbee hesitated, and then simply pointed out how precarious their relationship had been. He finished frankly, ’I thought by keeping it a secret I might be able to stay alive a little longer, which was certainly not what you intended when you sent me out as an expendable.’
Browne snapped, ’But how did you hope to utilize —?’ He stopped. ’Never mind,’ he muttered. Dzing was telepathing again:
*In many ways this is mechanically a very advanced type ship. Atomic energy drives are correctly installed. The automatic machinery performs magnificently. There is massive energy screen equipment, and they can put out a tractor beam to match anything we have that’s mobile. But there is a wrongness in the energy flows of this ship, which I lack the experience to interpret. Let me furnish you some data . . . The data consisted of variable wave measurements, evidently — so Lesbee deduced — the wavelengths of the energy flows involved in the ’wrongness’.
He said in alarm at that point, ‘Better drop him into the cage while we analyze what he could be talking about.’
Browne did so — as Dzing telepathed: ’If what you suggest is true, then these beings are completely at our mercy —
Cut off?
Browne was turning on the intercom. ’Sorry I had to cut you good people off,’ he said. ’You’ll be interested to know that we have managed to tune in on the thought pulses of the prisoner and have intercepted his calls to someone on the planet below. This gives us an advantage.’ He turned to Lesbee. ’Don’t you agree?’
Browne visibly showed no anxiety, whereas Dzing’s final statement flabbergasted Lesbee . . . completely at our mercy . . . surely meant exactly that. He was staggered that Browne could have missed the momentous meaning.
Browne addressed him enthusiastically. ‘I’m excited by this telepathy! It’s a marvelous short-cut to communication, if we could build up our own thought pulses. Maybe we could use the principle of the remote-control landing device which, as you know, can project human thoughts on a simple, gross level, where ordinary energies get confused by the intense field needed for the landing.’
What interested Lesbee in the suggestion was that he had in his pocket a remote control for precisely such mechanically produced thought pulses. Unfortunately, the control was for the lifeboat. It probably would be advisable to tune the control to the ship landing system also. It was a problem he had thought of earlier, and now Browne bad opened the way for an easy solution.
He held his voice steady as he said, ‘Captain, let me program those landing analogs while you prepare the film communication project. That way we can be ready for him either way.’
Browne seemed to be completely trusting, for he agreed at once.
At Browne’s direction, a film projector was wheeled in. It was swiftly mounted on solid connections at one end of the room. The cameraman and Third Officer Mindel — who had come in with him — strapped themselves into two adjoining chairs attached to the projector, and were evidently ready.

While this was going on, Lesbee called various technical personnel. Only one technician protested. ‘But, John,’ he said, ‘that way we have a double control — with the lifeboat control having pre-emption over the ship. That’s very unusual.’
It was unusual. But it was the lifeboat control that was in his pocket where he could reach it quickly: and so he said adamantly, ’Do you want to talk to Captain Browne? Do you want his okay?’
’No, no.’ The technician’s doubts seemed to subside. ’I heard you being named joint captain. You’re the boss. It shall be done.’
Lesbee put down the closed-circuit phone into which he had been talking, and turned. It was then he saw that the film was ready to roll, and that Browne had his fingers on the controls of the tractor beam. The older man stared at him questioningly.
‘Shall I go ahead?’ he asked. At this penultimate moment, Lesbee had a qualm.
Almost immediately he realized that the only alternative to what Browne planned was that he reveal his own secret knowledge.
He hesitated, torn by doubts. Then: ’Will you turn that off?’ He indicated the intercom.
Browne said to the audience, ’We’ll bring you in again on this in a minute, good people.’ He broke the connection and gazed questioningly at Lesbee.
Whereupon Lesbee said in a low voice, ‘Captain, I should inform you that I brought the Karn aboard in the hope of using him against you.’
‘Well, that is a frank and open admission’, the officer replied very softly.
‘I mention this,’ said Lesbee, ’because if you had similar ulterior motives, we should clear the air completely before proceeding with this attempt at communication.’
A blossom of color spread from Browne’s neck over his face. At last he said slowly, ’I don’t know how I can convince you, but I had no schemes.’
Lesbee gazed at Browne’s open countenance, and suddenly he realized that the officer was sincere. Browne had accepted the compromise. The solution of a joint captaincy was agreeable to him.
Sitting there, Lesbee experienced an enormous joy. Seconds went by before he realized what underlay the intense pleasurable excitement. It was simply the discovery that — communication worked. You could tell your truth and get a hearing . . . if it made sense.
It seemed to him that his truth made a lot of sense. He was offering Browne peace aboard the ship. Peace at a price, of course; but still peace. And in this severe emergency Browne recognized the entire validity of the solution.
So it was now evident to Lesbee.
Without further hesitation he told Browne that the creatures who had boarded the lifeboat, were robots — not alive at all.

Browne was nodding thoughtfully. Finally he said: ’But I don’t see how this could be utilized to take over the ship.’
Lesbee said patiently, ’As you know, sir, the remote landing control system includes five principal ideas which are projected very forcibly on the thought level. Three of these are for guidance — up, down and sideways. Intense magnetic fields, any one of which could partially jam a complex robot’s thinking process. The fourth and fifth are instructions to blast either up or down. The force of the blast depends on how far the control is turned on. Since the energy used is overwhelming, those simple commands would take pre-emption over the robot. When that first one came aboard the lifeboat, I had a scan receiver — non-detectable — on him. This registered two power sources, one pointing forward, one backward, from the chest level. That’s why I had him on his back when I brought him in here. But the fact is I could have had him tilted and pointing at a target, and activated either control four or five, thus destroying whatever was in the path of the resulting blast. Naturally, I took all possible precautions to make sure that this did not happen until you had indicated what you intended to do. One of these precautions would enable us to catch this creature’s thoughts without —‘
As he was speaking, he eagerly put his hand into his pocket, intending to show the older man the tiny on-off control device by which — when it was off — they would be able to read Dzing’s thoughts without removing him from the cage.
He stopped short in his explanation, because an ugly expression had come suddenly into Browne’s face.
The big man glanced at Third Officer Mindel. ’Well, Dan,’ he said, ’do you think that’s it?’
Lesbee noticed with shock that Mindel had on sound-amplifying earphones. He must have overheard every word that Browne and he had spoken to each other.
Mindel nodded. ’Yes, Captain,’ he said. ’I very definitely think he has now told us what we wanted to find out.’
Lesbee grew aware that Browne had released himself from his acceleration safety belt and was stepping away from his seat. The officer turned and, standing very straight, said in a formal tone:
‘Technician Lesbee, we have heard your admission of gross dereliction of duty, conspiracy to overthrow the lawful government of this ship, scheme to utilize alien creatures to destroy human beings, and confession of other unspeakable crimes. In this extremely dangerous situation, summary execution without formal trial is justified. I therefore sentence you to death and order Third Officer Dan Mindel to —’
He faltered, and came to a stop.

5

Two things had been happening as he talked. Lesbee squeezed the ’off’ switch of the cage control, an entirely automatic gesture, convulsive, a spasmodic movement, result of his dismay. It was a mindless gesture. So far as he knew consciously, freeing Dzing’s thoughts had no useful possibility for him. His only real hope — as he realized almost immediately — was to get his other hand into his remaining coat pocket and with it manipulate the remote-control landing device, the secret of which he had so naively revealed to Browne.
The second thing that happened was that Dzing, released from mental control, telepathed:
’Free again — and this time of course permanently! I have just now activated by remote control the relays that will in a few moments start the engines of this ship, and I have naturally re-set the mechanism for controlling the rate of acceleration —‘
His thoughts must have impinged progressively on Browne, for it was at that point that the officer paused uncertainly.
Dzing continued: ’I verified your analysis. This vessel does not have the internal energy flows of an interstellar ship. These two-legged beings have therefore failed to achieve the Light Speed Effect which alone makes possible trans-light velocities. I suspect they have taken many generations to make this journey, are far indeed from their home base, and I’m sure I can capture them all.’
Lesbee reached over, tripped on the intercom and yelled at the screen: ’All stations prepare for emergency acceleration! Grab anything!’
To Browne he shouted: ’Get to your seat — quick!’
His actions were automatic responses to danger. Only after the words were spoken did it occur to him that he had no interest in the survival of Captain Browne. And that in fact the only reason the man was in danger was because he had stepped away from his safety belt, so that Mindel’s blaster would kill Lesbee without damaging Browne.
Browne evidently understood his danger. He started toward the control chair from which he had released himself only moments before. His reaching hands were still a foot or more from it when the impact of Acceleration One stopped him. He stood there trembling like a man who had struck an invisible but palpable wall. The next instant Acceleration Two caught him and thrust him on his back to the floor. He began to slide toward the rear of the room, faster and faster, and because he was quick and understanding he pressed the palms of his hands and his rubber shoes hard against the floor and so tried to slow the movement of his body.
Lesbee was picturing other people elsewhere in the ship desperately trying to save themselves. He groaned, for the commander’s failure was probably being duplicated everywhere.
Even as he had that thought, Acceleration Three caught Browne. Like a rock propelled by a catapult he shot toward the rear wall. It was cushioned to protect human beings, and so it reacted like rubber, bouncing him a little. But the stuff had only momentary resilience.
Acceleration Four pinned Browne halfway into the cushioned wall. From its imprisoning depths, he managed a strangled yell.
’Lesbee, put a tractor beam on me! Save me! I’ll make it up to you. I —‘ Acceleration Five choked off the words.
The man’s appeal brought momentary wonder to Lesbee. He was amazed that Browne hoped for mercy . . . after what had happened.
Browne’s anguished words did produce one effect in him. They reminded him that there was something he must do. He forced his hand and his arm to the control board and focussed a tractor beam that firmly captured Third Officer Mindel and the cameraman. His intense effort was barely in time. Acceleration followed acceleration, making movement impossible. The time between each surge of increased speed grew longer. The slow minutes lengthened into what seemed an hour, then many hours. Lesbee was held in his chair as if he were gripped by hands of steel. His eyes felt glassy; his body had long since lost all feeling.
He noticed something.
The rate of acceleration was different from what the original Tellier had prescribed long ago. The actual increase in forward pressure each time was less.
He realized something else. For a long time, no thoughts had come from the Karn.

Suddenly, he felt an odd shift in speed. A physical sensation of slight, very slight, angular movement accompanied the maneuver.
Slowly, the metal-like bands let go of his body. The numb feeling was replaced by the pricking as of thousands of tiny needles. Instead of muscle-compressing acceleration there was only a steady pressure.
It was the pressure that he had in the past equated with gravity.
Lesbee stirred hopefully, and when he felt himself move, realized what had happened. The artificial gravity had been shut off. Simultaneously, the ship had made a half turn within its outer shell. The drive power was now coming from below, a constant one gravity thrust. At this late, late moment, he plunged his hand into the pocket which held the remote control for the pilotless landing mechanism — and activated it.
’That ought to turn on his thoughts,’ he told himself savagely.
But if Dzing was telepathing to his masters, it was no longer on the human thought level. So Lesbee concluded unhappily.
The ether was silent.
He now grew aware of something more. The ship smelled different: better, cleaner, purer.
Lesbee’s gaze snapped over to the speed dials on the control board. The figures registering there were unbelievable. They indicated that the spaceship was traveling at a solid fraction of the speed of light.
Lesbee stared at the numbers incredulously. ‘We didn’t have time!’ he thought. ‘How could we go so fast so quickly — in hours only to near the speed of light!’
Sitting there, breathing hard, fighting to recover from the effects of that prolonged speed-up, he felt the fantastic reality of the universe. During all this slow century of flight through space, the Hope of Man had had the potential for this vastly greater velocity
He visualized the acceleration series so expertly programmed by Dzing as having achieved a shift to a new state of matter in motion. The ’light-speed effect’, the Karn robot had called it.
’And Tellier missed it’, he thought.
All those experiments the physicist had performed so painstakingly, and left a record of, had missed the great discovery.
Missed it! And so a shipload of human beings had wandered for generations through the black deeps of interstellar space.

Across the room Browne was climbing groggily to his feet. He muttered ‘ . . . Better get back to . . . control chair.’

He had taken only a few uncertain steps when a realization seemed to strike him. He looked up then, and stared wildly at Lesbee. ’Oh!’ he said. The sound came from the gut level, a gasp of horrified understanding.
As he slapped a complex of tractor beams on Browne, Lesbee said, That’s right, you’re looking at your enemy. Better start talking. We haven’t much time.’
Browne was pale now. But his mouth had been left free and so he was able to say huskily, ’I did what any lawful government does in an emergency. I dealt with treason summarily, taking time only to find out what it consisted of.’
Lesbee had had another thought, this time about Miller on the bridge. Hastily, he swung Browne over in front of him. ’Hand me your blaster,’ he said. ’Stock first.’
He freed the other’s arm, so that he could reach into the holster and take it out.
Lesbee felt a lot better when he had the weapon. But still another idea had come to him. He said harshly, ’I want to lift you over to the cage, and I don’t want First Officer Miller to interfere. Get that, Mister Miller!’
There was no answer from the screen. Browne said uneasily, ’Why over to the cage?’ Lesbee did not answer right away. Silently he manipulated the tractor beam control until Browne was in position. Having gotten him there, Lesbee hesitated. What bothered him was, why bad the Karn’s thought impulses ceased ? He had an awful feeling that something was very wrong indeed.
He gulped, and said, ’Raise the lid!’
Again, he freed Browne’s arm. The big man reached over gingerly, unfastened the catch, and then drew back and glanced questioningly at Lesbee.
’Look inside! Lesbee commanded.
Browne said scathingly, ’You don’t think for one second that —’ He stopped, for he was peering into the cage. He uttered a cry: ’He’s gone!’

6

Lesbee discussed the disappearance with Browne.
It was an abrupt decision on his part to do so. The question of where Dzing might have got to was not something he should merely turn over in his own head.
He began by pointing at the dials from which the immense speed of the ship could be computed, and then, when that meaning was absorbed by the older man, said simply, ’What happened? Where did he go? And how could we speed up to just under 186,000 miles a second in so short a time?’
He had lowered the big man to the floor, and now be took some of the tension from the tractor beam but did not release the power. Brownie stood in apparent deep thought. Finally, he nodded. ‘All right,’ he said, ’I know what happened.’
‘Tell me.’
Browne changed the subject, said in a deliberate tone, ‘What are you going to do with me?’
Lesbee stared at him for a moment unbelievingly. ‘You’re going to withhold this information?’ he demanded.
Browne spread his hands. ’What else can I do? Till I know my fate, I have nothing to lose.’
Lesbee suppressed a strong impulse to rush over and strike his prisoner. He said finally, ’In your judgment is this delay dangerous?’
Browne was silent, but a bead of sweat trickled down his check. ‘I have nothing to lose,’ he repeated.
The expression in Lesbee’s face must have alarmed him, for he went on quickly. ’Look, there’s no need for you to conspire any more. What you really want is to go home, isn’t it? Don’t you see, with this new method of acceleration, we can make it to Earth in a few months!’
He stopped. He seemed momentarily uncertain. Lesbee snapped angrily, ’Who are you trying to fool? Months! We’re a dozen light years in actual distance from Earth. You mean years, not months.’
Browne hesitated then: ’All right, a few years. But at least not a lifetime. So if you’ll promise not to scheme against me further, I’ll promise —‘
You’ll promise!’ Lesbee spoke savagely. He had been taken aback by Browne’s instant attempt at blackmail. But the momentary sense of defeat was gone. He knew with a stubborn rage that he would stand for no nonsense.
He said in an uncompromising voice, ’Mister Browne, twenty seconds after I stop speaking, you start talking. If you don’t, I’ll batter you against these walls. I mean it!’
Browne was pale. ’Are you going to kill me? That’s all I want to know. Look — his tone was urgent — ’we don’t have to fight any more. We can go home. Don’t you see? The long madness is just about over. Nobody has to die.’
Lesbee hesitated. What the big man said was at least partly true. There was an attempt here to make twelve years sound like twelve days, or at most twelve weeks. But the fact was, it was a short period compared to the century-long journey which, at one time, had been the only possibility.

He thought: ’Am I going to kill him?’
It was hard to believe that he would, under the circumstances. All right. If not death, then what? He sat there uncertain. The vital seconds went by, and he could see no solution. He thought finally, in desperation: ’T’ll have to give in for the moment. Even a minute thinking about this is absolutely crazy.’
He said aloud in utter frustration, ‘I’ll promise you this. If you can figure out how I can feel safe in a ship commanded by you I’ll give your plan consideration. And now, mister, start talking.’
Browne nodded. ’I accept that promise,’ he said. ’What we’ve run into here is the Lorenz-Fitzgerald Contraction Theory. Only it’s not a theory any more. We’re living the reality of it.’
Lesbee argued, ’But it only took us a few hours to get to the speed of light.’
Browne said, ’As we approach light speed, space foreshortens and time compresses. What seemed like a few hours would be days in normal time and space.’
What Browne explained then was different rather than difficult. Lesbee had to blink his mind to shut out the glare of his old ideas and habits of thought, so that the more subtle shades of super-speed phenomena could shine through into his awareness.
The time compression — as Browne explained it — was gradational. The rapid initial series of accelerations were obviously designed to pin down the personnel of the ship. Subsequent increments would be according to what was necessary to attain the ultra-speed finally achieved.
Since the drive was still on, it was clear that some resistance was being encountered, perhaps from the fabric of space itself.
It was no time to discuss technical details. Lesbee accepted the remarkable reality and said quickly, ’Yes, but where is Dzing?’
‘My guess,’ said Browne, ’is that he did not come along.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘The space-time foreshortening did not affect him.’
‘But’ — Lesbee began blankly.
‘Look,’ said Browne harshly, ’don’t ask me how he did it. My picture is, he stayed in the cage till after the acceleration stopped. Then, in a leisurely fashion, he released himself from the electrically locked manacles, climbed out, and went off to some other part of the ship. He wouldn’t have to hurry since by this time he was operating at a rate of, say, five hundred times faster than our living pace.’
Lesbee said, ‘But that means he’s been out there for hours — his time. What’s he been up to?’
Browne admitted that he had no answer for that.
‘But you can see,’ he pointed out anxiously, ‘that I meant what I said about going back to Earth. We have no business in this part of space. These beings are far ahead of us scientifically.’
His purpose was obviously to persuade. Lesbee thought: ’He’s back to our fight. That’s more important to him than any damage the real enemy is causing.’
A vague recollection came of the things he had read about the struggle for power throughout Earth history. How men intrigued for supremacy while vast hordes of the invader battered down the gates. Browne was a true spiritual descendant of all those mad people.
Slowly, Lesbee turned and faced the big board. What was baffling to him was, what could you do against a being who moved five hundred times as fast as you did?

7

He had a sudden sense of awe, a picture . . . At any given instant Dzing was a blur. A spot of light. A movement so rapid that, even as the gaze lighted on him, he was gone to the other end of the ship — and back.
Yet Lesbee knew it took time to traverse the great ship from end to end. Twenty, even twenty-five minutes, was normal walking time for a human being going along the corridor known as Center A.
It would take the Karn a full six seconds there and back. In its way that was a significant span of time, but after Lesbee had considered it for a moment he felt appalled.
What could they do against a creature who had so great a time differential in his favor?
From behind him, Browne said, ‘Why don’t you use against him that remote landing control system that you set up with my permission?’
Lesbee confessed: ’I did that, as soon as the acceleration ceased. But he must have been — back — in the faster time by then.’
‘That wouldn’t make any difference,’ said Browne.
‘Eh!’ Lesbee was startled.
Browne parted his lips evidently intending to explain, and then he closed them again. Finally he said, ’Make sure the intercom is off.’
Lesbee did so. But he was realizing that Browne was up to something again. He said, and there was rage in his tone, ’I don’t get it, and you do. Is that right?’
’Yes,’ said Browne. He spoke deliberately, but he was visibly suppressing excitement. ’I know how to defeat this creature. That puts me in a bargaining position.’
Lesbee’s eyes were narrowed to slits. ’Damn you, no bargain. Tell me, or else!’
Browne said, ‘I’m not really trying to be difficult. You either have to kill me, or come to some agreement. I want to know what that agreement is, because of course I’ll do it.’
Lesbee said, ’I think we ought to have an election.’
‘I agree!’ Browne spoke instantly. ’You set it up.’ He broke off. ’And now release me from these tractors and I’ll show you the neatest space-time trick you’ve ever seen, and that’ll be the end of Dzing.’
Lesbee gazed at the man’s face, saw there the same openness of countenance, the same frank honesty that had preceded the execution order, and he thought, ’What can be do?’
He considered many possibilities, and thought finally, desperately: ’He’s got the advantage over me of superior knowledge — the most undefeatable weapon in the world. The only thing I can really hope to use against it in the final issue is my knowledge of a multitude of technician-level details.’
But — what could Browne do against Lesbee?
He said unhappily to the other, ‘Before I free you, I want to lift you over to Mindel. When I do, you get his blaster for me.’
’Sure,’ said Browne casually.
A few moments later he handed Mindel’s gun over to Lesbee. So that wasn’t it.
Lesbee thought: ‘There’s Miller on the bridge — can it be that Miller flashed him ready signal when my back was turned to the board?’
Perhaps, like Browne. Miller had been temporarily incapacitated during the period of acceleration. It was vital that he find out Miller’s present capability.

Lesbee tripped the intercom between the two boards. The rugged, lined face of the first officer showed large on the screen. Lesbee could see the outlines of the bridge behind the man and, beyond, the starry blackness of space. Lesbee said courteously, ’Mr Miller, how did you make out during the acceleration?’
’It caught me by surprise, Captain. I really got a battering. I think I was out for a while. But I’m all right now.’
‘Good,’ said Lesbee. ‘As you probably heard, Captain Browne and I have come to an agreement, and we are now going to destroy the creature that is loose on the ship. Stand by!’
Cynically, he broke the connection.
Miller was there all right, waiting. But the question was still, what could Miller do? The answer of course was that Miller could pre-empt. And — Lesbee asked himself — what could that do?
Abruptly, it seemed to him, he had the answer.
It was the technician’s answer that he had been mentally straining for.
He now understood Browne’s plan. They were waiting for Lesbee to let down his guard for a moment. Then Miller would pre-empt, cut off the tractor beam from Browne and seize Lesbee with it.
For the two officers it was vital that Lesbee not have time to fire the blaster at Browne. Lesbee thought: ’It’s the only thing they can be worried about. The truth is, there’s nothing else to stop them.’
The solution was, Lesbee realized with a savage glee, to let the two men achieve their desire. But first —
’Mr Browne,’ he said quietly, ’I think you should give your information. If I agree that it is indeed the correct solution, I shall release you and we shall have an election. You and I will stay right here till the election is over.’
Browne said, ’I accept your promise. The speed of light is a constant, and does not change in relation to moving objects. That would also apply to electromagnetic fields.’
Lesbee said, ‘Then Dzing was affected by the remote-control device I turned on.’
’Instantly,’ said Browne. ’He never got a chance to do anything. How much power did you use?’
’Only first stage,’ said Lesbee. ‘But the machine-driven thought pulses in that would interfere with just about every magnetic field in his body. He couldn’t do another coherent thing.’
Brownie said in a hushed tone, ’It’s got to be. He’ll be out of control in one of the corridors, completely at our mercy. He grinned. I told you I knew how to defeat him because, of course, he was already defeated.’
Lesbee considered that for a long moment, eyes narrowed. He realized that he accepted the explanation, but that he had preparations to make, and quickly — before Browne got suspicious of his delay.
He turned to the board and switched on the intercom. ‘People,’ he said, ’strap yourselves in again. Help those who were injured to do the same. We may have another emergency. You have several minutes, I think, but don’t waste any of them.’
He cut off the intercom, and he activated the closed-circuit intercom of the technical stations. He said urgently, Special instruction to Technical personnel. Report anything unusual, particularly if strange thought forms are going through your mind.’
He had an answer to that within moments after he finished speaking. A man’s twangy voice came over: ’I keep thinking I’m somebody named Dzing, and I’m trying to report to my owners. Boy, am I incoherent!’
“Where is this?’
‘D — 4 — 19.’
Lesbee punched the buttons that gave them a TV view of that particular ship location. Almost immediately he spotted a shimmer near the floor.
After a moment’s survey be ordered a heavy-duty mobile blaster brought to the corridor. By the time its colossal energies ceased, Dzing was only a darkened area on the flat surface.

While these events were progressing Lesbee had kept one eye on Browne and Mindel’s blaster firmly gripped in his left hand. Now he said, ’Well, sir, you certainly did what you promised. Wait a moment while I put this gun away, and then I’ll carry out my part of the bargain.’
He started to do so, then, out of pity, paused.
He had been thinking in the back of his mind about what Browne had said earlier: that the trip to Earth might only take a few months. The officer had backed away from that statement, but it had been bothering Lesbee ever since.
If it were true, then it was indeed a fact that nobody need die!
He said quickly, ’What was your reason for saying that the journey home would only take — well — less than a year?’
‘It’s the tremendous time compression,’ Browne explained eagerly. ‘The distance as you pointed out is over 12 light-years. But with a time ratio of 3, 4 or 500 to one, we’ll make it in less than a month. When I first started to say that, I could see that the figures were incomprehensible to you in your tense mood. In fact, I could scarcely believe them myself.’
Lesbee said, staggered, ’We can get back to Earth in a couple of weeks — my God!’ He broke off, said urgently. ’Look, I accept you as commander. We don’t need an election. The status quo is good enough for any short period of time. Do you agree?’
‘Of course,’ said Brownie. ’That’s the point I’ve been trying to make.’
As he spoke, his face was utterly guileless.
Lesbee gazed at that mask of innocence, and he thought hopelessly: ’What’s wrong? Why isn’t he really agreeing? Is it because he doesn’t want to lose his command so quickly?’
Sitting there, unhappily fighting for the other’s life, he tried to place himself mentally in the position of the commander of a vessel, tried to look at the prospect of a return to view. It was hard to picture such a reality. But presently it seemed to him that he understood.
He said gently, feeling his way, ’It would be kind of a shame to return without having made a successful landing anywhere. With this new speed, we could visit a dozen sun systems, and still get home in a year.’
The look that came into Browne’s face for a fleeting moment told Lesbee that he had penetrated to the thought in the man’s mind.
The next instant, Brownie was shaking his head vigorously. ‘This is no time for side excursions,’ he said. ‘We’ll leave explorations of new star systems to future expeditions. The people of this ship have served their term. We go straight home.’
Browne’s face was now completely relaxed. His blue eyes shone with truth and sincerity.
There was nothing further that Lesbee could say. The gulf between Browne and himself could not be bridged.
The commander had to kill his rival, so that he might finally return to Earth and report that the mission of the Hope of Man was accomplished.

8

In the most deliberate fashion Lesbee shoved the blaster into the inner pocket of his coat. Then, as if he were being careful, he used the tractor beam to push Browne about four feet away. There he set him down, released him from the beam, and — with the same deliberateness — drew his hand away from the tractor controls. Thus he made himself completely defenseless.
It was the moment of vulnerability. Browne leaped at him, yelling: ‘Miller — pre-empt!’ First Officer Miller obeyed the command of his captain.
What happened then, only Lesbee, the technician with a thousand bits of detailed knowledge, expected.
For years it had been observed that when Control Room Below took over from Bridge, the ship speeded up slightly. and when Bridge took over from Control Room Below, the ship slowed instantly by the same amount-in each instance, something less then half a mile an hour.
The two boards were not completely synchronized. The technicians often joked about it, and Lesbee had once read an obscure technical explanation for the discrepancy. It had to do with the impossibility of ever getting two metals refined to the same precision of internal structure.
It was the age-old story of no two objects in the universe are alike. But in times past, the differential had meant nothing. It was a technical curiosity, an interesting phenomenon of the science of metallurgy, a practical problem that caused machinists to curse good-naturedly when technicians like Lesbee required them to make a replacement part.
Unfortunately for Browne, the ship was now traveling near the speed of light.
His strong hands, reaching towards Lesbee’s slighter body, were actually touching the latter’s arm when the momentary deceleration occurred as Bridge took over. The sudden slow-down was at a much faster rate than even Lesbee expected. The resistance of space to the forward movement of the ship must be using up more engine power than he had realized; it was taking a lot of thrust to maintain a one gravity acceleration.
The great vessel slowed about 150 miles per hour in the space of a second.
Lesbee took the blow of that deceleration partly against his back, partly against one side — for he had half-turned to defend himself from the bigger man’s attack.
Browne, who had nothing to grab on to, was flung forward at the full 150 miles per hour. He struck the control board with an audible thud, stuck to it as if he were glued there, and then, when the adjustment was over — when the Hope of Man was again speeding along at one gravity-his body slid down the face of the board, and crumpled into a twisted position on the rubberized dais.
His uniform was discolored. As Lesbee watched, blood seeped through and dripped to the floor.

‘Are you going to hold an election?’ Tellier asked.
The big ship had turned back under Lesbee’s command, and had picked up his friends. The lifeboat itself, with the remaining Karn still aboard, was put into an orbit around Alta III and abandoned.
The two young men were sitting now in the Captain’s cabin.
After the question was asked, Lesbee leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes. He didn’t need to examine his total resistance to the suggestion. He had already savored the feeling that command brought.
Almost from the moment of Browne’s death, he had observed himself having the same thoughts that Browne had voiced — among many others, the reasons why elections were not advisable aboard a spaceship. He waited now while
Eleesa, one of his three wives — she being the younger of the two young widows of Browne — poured wine for them, and went softly out. Then he laughed grimly.
’My good friend,’ he said, ’we’re all lucky that time is so compressed at the speed of light. At 500-times compression, any further exploration we do will require only a few months, or years at most. And so I don’t think we can afford to take the chance of defeating at an election the only person who understands the details of the new acceleration method. Until I decide exactly how much exploration we shall do, I shall keep our speed capabilities a secret. But I did, and do, think one other person should know where I have this information documented. Naturally, I selected First Officer Tellier.
‘Thank you, sir,’ the youth said. But he was visibly thoughtful as he sipped his wine. He went on finally, ’Captain, I think you’d feel a lot better if you held an election. I’m sure you could win it.’
Lesbee laughed tolerantly, shook his head. ’I’m afraid you don’t understand the dynamics of government,’ he said. ’There’s no record in history of a person who actually had control, handing it over.’
He finished with the casual confidence of absolute power. ‘I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to fight a precedent like that!’


2. THE REPLICATORS

I

Standing there, after killing the monster, Matlin began to get mad.
In its death throes, the twelve-foot creature had done a violent muscular convulsion and somersaulted over into the dump section of Matlin’s truck.
There it lay now, with its elephantine head and quarter-length trunk twisted to one side, and a huge arm and hand flung up and visible over the rear end. What must have been tons of shiny, black body was squashed limply down in­to the bottom of the cavernous metal carrier . . . creating a problem.
That was all it was to Matlin: a problem.
Steve Matlin was an abysmally suspicious and angry man. His im­pulse now was to dump the beast in the weeds beside the road. Re­luctantly, he decided against that. He had unfortunately been seen driving along this little used lake road by the two officers of a high­way patrol car. If the patrolmen found the creature’s body, they would assume that he had shot it.
This benighted man, Matlin, en­visioned himself as being the person who would have to see to the disposition of the dead monster. As he reasoned it out, if he made the mistake of dumping it in the wrong place, he’d have to hire a crane to get it into his truck again. And if he simply took it home, he’d have the job of digging a hole for it.
"Better take it to the police," he decided gloomily, "and follow their advice like a good little fel­low."
Seething at the nuisance, but re­signed, he drove to the main high­way. There, instead of turning left to his farm, he headed for Minden, the nearest suburb of the city. Ar­rived in town, he drove straight to the police station, braked to a halt, and vigorously honked his horn.
Nobody showed.
The exasperated Matlin was about to lean on his horn and really blast them with sound, when he made an electrifying discovery. The police headquarters was on a side street and, whatever the reason, there wasn’t a car or person in sight.
. . . Hot afternoon, empty street, rare opportunity —
Matlin tripped the lever that started the dump mechanism. A mo­ment later, he felt the beast’s body shift. He simply drove out from un­der it and kept on going, gunning his motor and reversing the dump mechanism.

II

That night before they went to bed, his wife, Cora, said to him, "Did you hear about the crea­ture from space?"
Matlin’s mind leaped to the mem­ory of the beast he had carted into town. He thought scathingly: "Those nuts! Creature from space indeed!" But he said aloud, gruffly, "You watching that junk on TV?"
"It was in the news report," she said defensively. "They found it right there in the street."
So it was the thing he had killed. He felt a sudden glee. He’d got away with it. He thought smugly: "Saved myself twenty-five bucks. Time I had a little luck."
He went silently to bed.
Cora lay for a while, listening to his peaceful breathing, thinking of the monster from space — and thinking of the universe that she knew existed somewhere beyond the narrow world of Steve Matlin. She had once been a teacher. But that was four children and two decades ago. It was a little hard sometimes to realize how far away the real world was these days.
Out there, a creature never be­fore seen on earth had been found lying dead in the street in front of the Minden police station. The TV cameras brought front views, side views and top views into every­body’s living room. No one had any idea how the thing had gotten where it was discovered, and, according to the news commentators, top govern­ment and military officials were be­ginning to gather around the colos­sal corpse like buzzing flies.
Two days went by. A monster-hunting expedition arrived at the Matlin farm — among other places — but Cora shook her head to their questions and denied in a take-it-for-granted tone that Steve was the one who had transported the beast. "After all," she said scathingly, "he would have told me. Surely, you — uh!"
She stopped, thought: "That man! That incredible man! He could have."
The visitors seemed unaware of her sudden confusion. And they also evidently believed that a hus­band would have told his wife. The principal spokesman, a fine looking, soft-voiced man of her own age, who had introduced himself as John Graham — and who was the only person present not in a police or military uniform — said in a kind­ly tone, "Tell your husband there’s quite a reward already, something like a hundred thousand dollars, for anyone who can help us effectively."
The expedition departed in a long line of noisy motorcycles and cars.

It was about mid-morning the next day when Steve Matlin saw the second monster.
He had been following the trail of the first one from the lake road. And suddenly here was another.
He dived into a gully and lay there, breathless.
What he had expected, in coming here by himself, Matlin had never considered clearly. When Cora had told him of the reward money, he had instantly derided her trusting nature.
"Those S.O.B.’s will never split that reward with anyone who hasn’t got his claim staked and ready to fight," he had said.
He had come to stake his claim.
His shock on seeing this second creature was like a multitude of flames burning inside him. He was aware of the heat rising along his spine and searing his brain. Fear! Trembling, he raised his rifle.
As he did so, the creature —which had been bending down —came up with something that glinted in the sun. The next instant, a bullet whistled past Matlin’s head and struck a tree behind him with an impact like a clap of thunder. The ground trembled. An instant later, the sound of an explosion came to Matlin’s ears.
The explosion was loud enough to have come from a small cannon.
Even as he made the mental com­parison from his experience as a Marine in World War II, the dis­tant rifle — it looked like a rifle, though a huge one — spat flame again. This time the bullet struck the rock ten yards in front of Matlin and sprayed him with a shower of rock splinters. His body stung all over, and when he was able to look again — after the second explosion had echoed from the distance —he saw that his hands were covered with dozens of droplets of his blood.
The sight was both terrifying and galvanizing. He slid back, rolled over, half-clawed to his feet and, bending low, ran to the gully’s end, stopping only when he realized that it was becoming too shallow to be a shelter.
What could he do?

Shadowy memories came of war­time risks he had taken. At the time he had felt enforced, compelled by the realities of a war he never ac­cepted — a war that had wasted several years of his life. But he remembered moving, crouching, going forward. He had always thought what a mad thing it was for a sensible person to force himself into enemy territory. Yet under the hated pressure of wartime discipline, he had resignedly gone into the most deadly situations.
Was it possible he would have to do that now — because of his own foolishness in coming here?
As he crouched there, appalled, two more cannonlike shells splatter­ed the rock where he had been seconds before. A cannon against a rifle! Matlin wanted out, wanted away. The angry scheme he had had to get for himself whatever might be at the end of this search had no meaning in the face of the firepower that was seeking, his destruction with each booming shot.
He lay cringing at the shallow end of the gully, not even daring to raise his head.
His own rifle seemed like a mere toy now . . .

The phone rang. When Cora an­swered, it took her several moments to recognize the hoarse voice at the other end as her husband’s.
"I’m calling from a roadside pay phone. Can you find out where that monster-hunting expedition is now?" he said.
"Mamie just called. They were over at her farm. Why?"
"It’s chasing me," he said. "Tell ’em I’m coming toward the high­way from the boathouse. It’s driving a dump truck as big as a house."
"What’s chasing you?" Cora yelled into the mouthpiece. "Where?"
"A second one of the monsters. On that back road to the lake," Mat­lin moaned. And hung up.

III

The battle on the highway be­gan about two o’clock in the afternoon. The creature climbed out of the cab of a dump truck that stood twenty feet high. Crouching behind the vehicle, it fired with a rifle the size of a cannon at any­thing that moved.
The two dozen men with their frail cars and tiny rifles crouched in the underbrush. Lying beside Gra­ham, Matlin heard the man say ur­gently to an army major: "Call again for an air strike!"
It was about ten minutes after that that the first helicopter appear­ed on the horizon. It turned out to be an enterprising TV station’s ve­hicle, with cameras aboard. The fluttering monstrosity of flying ma­chine circled the dump truck, taking pictures of the great being be­side it. At first it did not seem to occur to the creature to look at the sky for the source of the sound. But suddenly it got the idea.
Up came that long rifle. The first bullet smashed through the cockpit. A splinter from somewhere hit the pilot and knocked him un­conscious. The helicopter flew off erratically. As it retreated, another gigantic bullet smashed its tail. The stricken whirlibird fluttered down among the trees on the other side of a low hill.
Worse, when the military heli­copters arrived, they no longer had the advantage of surprise. The can­non-rifle fired at them as they ap­proached. They veered off—but not before three went down, one in flames. With one exception, the oth­ers began to shoot back from a dis­tance.
The exception flew off to the left, disappearing low behind a hill. It reappeared presently to the rear of the monster and, while the other machines kept up a barrage from in front, this lone helicopter came in on the target from behind.
The barrage of bullets that its pilot loosed downward almost tore off the great head of a creature which did not even see where the death came from.
Matlin walked forward with the others, angrily fingering the "claim" he had written out. It in­furiated him that they were not of­fering to honor his rights. Even though he had expected it, the real­ity was hard to take.
Arrived at the truck, he stood im­patiently by while the men examined the creature, the huge vehicle and the rifle. Matlin was drawn abrupt­ly out of his irritated self-absorption with the realization that he had been twice addressed. Graham indicated the ten-foot rifle.
"What do you make of that?"
The question approach, the appeal to him on an equal basis, momentar­ily neutralized the timeless anger in Matlin. "Now!" he thought. He handed Graham his claim with the request, "I’d like you to sign this." Then he bent down beside the huge weapon and examined it.
He commented presently, "Looks like a pump action repeater, much like the one I’ve got, only many times as big. Could have been made by the same company."
It irritated him as he spoke to realize that Graham still held the claim sheet in his hand; had not even glanced at it.
Graham said in an odd tone, "What company?"
"Mine is a Messer," said Matlin.
Graham sighed and shook his head in bewilderment. "Take a look at the nameplate on that big gun," he said.
Matlin bent down. The word, "MESSER-made", stared back at him in indented, black metal lettering.
"And what’s the name of your dump truck?" Graham asked.
Silently, Matlin loped around to the front of the over-sized truck, and peered up at the letters. They were exactly the same as on his own dump truck: FLUG.
When Matlin returned with the identification, Graham nodded, and then handed him back his claim sheet, and said evenly, "If I were to write that claim, Mr. Matlin, it would read: ’As the man who has done the most to prevent the crea­ture from space being traced down, I recognize myself—’ meaning you, Mr. Matlin— ’as the one person least qualified to receive the re­ward.’ "
It was such an unexpected reac­tion, so instantly threatening to his rights, so totally negative, that Mat­lin blanched. But he was stopped by the words only for a moment. Then the anger poured.
"Why, you damned swindler!" he began.
"Wait!" Graham spoke piercingly, raised his hand in a warning ges­ture. His steely gray eyes were cyn­ical as he continued: "Now, if you were to lead us onto the real back­track, help us locate these creatures, I’ll reconsider that judgment. Will you?"

Night came and caught them on the hunt.
As the monster-hunting expedi­tion camped beside the lake, the darkness was shattered by a thun­derous roaring sound. Matlin tum­bled from the back seat of his car, ran to the lake shore, and peered across the dark waters toward the island in the lake’s center. He was aware of other men coming up be­hind and beside him.
It was from the island that the noise came.
"Sounds like a whole battery of jet engines," somebody yelled above the roar, "and it seems to be com­ing this way."
Abruptly, the truth of that was borne out. The jet sound was sud­denly above them. Framed in a patch of dark blue sky, a monstrous sized helicopter was momentarily visible.
It disappeared into a cloud bank. The great roaring receded, became a remote throb.
In the darkness, Graham came up beside Matlin, said, "Didn’t you tell me you had a lakeside cabin near here?"
"Yeh." Matlin said wary.
"Got a boat there?"
Matlin jumped to a horrid con­clusion. "You’re not thinking of go­ing over to the island?" he gulped. "Now!"
Graham said earnestly, "We’ll pay you for the rent of the boat, and guarantee you against damages—in writing. And if that’s the base these creatures operate from, I’ll sign your claim."
Matlin hesitated. The boat and the lakefront property were his one dream. No one, not even Cora, had ever realized how much they meant to him. On the very day that he had killed the first monster, he had taken a load of sand from his farm and dumped it lovingly on the water’s edge.
Standing there, Matlin visualized what the reward money would do for his dream: the rough shoreline fully sanded in, a hunting and fish­ing lodge, and a larger boat, the kind he had often fantasied but never managed to acquire.
"I’ll do it," he said.

On the island, using his flashlight sparingly, Matlin led Graham and two other men to where the ground suddenly felt . . . harder.
When they dug down, they found metal bare inches under the grass.
Graham talked softly by two-way radio to the camp they had left and then held his radio for Matlin and himself to hear the answer: a parachute army would be called by way of the more powerful radio at the camp. By dawn, several hundred seasoned men with tanks, demolition units, and cannon would be down with them.
But, as the radio shut off, they were alone once more in the dark. The reinforcements of the morning were still hours away.
It was Matlin—again—who found the overhang that led into a huge, brightly lighted ship.
He was so intent, and interested, that he was inside the first chamber with the others before he clearly realized how far he had come.
He stopped. He half turned to run. But he didn’t move.
The scene held him.
They were in a circular room about 400 feet in diameter. A num­ber of solidly built metallic extru­sions came up from the floor or down from ceiling. Except for them the room was empty.
Matlin went with the others to where a ramp led down to the next level. Here there were more of the huge, built-in machines—if that was what they were—but this level, also, was deserted.
On the third level, they found two sleeping "children".
Each lay on its back in a long, black, metal, box-like structure. The larger was about half the size of a full-grown alien, the smaller a mere bit of a thing two feet long. Both were stocky of body and were, unmistakably, younger versions of the two creatures that had already been killed.
As the three men—Graham and the two officers—glanced at each other questioningly, Matlin drew out his claim sheet, and held it toward Graham. The government agent gave him a startled look; then, evidently realizing Matlin meant it, he nodded resignedly, took the pen and signed.
The moment he had the claim sheet back in his hands, Matlin head­ed for the ramp.
He was sweating now with fear. Yet he realized he had had no alter­native. He had to have that sig­nature. But now—
. . . Get away from all this stuff that was none of his business!
When he reached the lakeshore, he started the motor of the motor­boat, and headed back toward his boathouse. He locked up the boat, walked stealthily through the dark­ness to his car, and drove off.
As he came out of the line of trees a mile from his farm, he saw the entire yard was on fire. He heard the thunder of gigantic engines—
His house, his barn, his machine shed—all were burning! In the vivid, fitful light from the flames he saw the huge helicopter lift up from the far side and soar up into the night sky.
So that was where it had gone!
It passed by above him somewhat to his right, a colossal sound, the source of which was now completely invisible in the darkness of an over­cast sky.
Matlin found Cora and the son that was not away at school crouch­ing in the field. She mumbled something about the monster having come over and looked down at them. She said wonderingly, "How did it know this was your farm? That’s what I don’t understand."

IV

The fire was dwindling. People were beginning to drive into the yard. Car doors slammed. In the fading brightness, Matlin in a be­mused state carried his son and walked beside Cora to his station wagon.
He was having a different kind of thought. Why hadn’t the creature killed his wife and child? Cora and the boy had been as completely at its mercy as the farm.
A neighbor named Dan Gray touched his arm and said, "How about you and Cora and the boy staying at my place tonight, Steve?"
By the time they got over on the Gray farm, a man was on TV de­scribing how Steve Matlin had left three men at the mercy of the re­turning alien.
He named Matlin.
Matlin recognized the man who was talking as a member of the monster-hunting expedition.
He glanced around, saw that Gray, Gray’s wife—a tall, thin woman—and Cora were staring at him. Cora said in horror: "Steve, you didn’t!"
Matlin was amazed. "I’m going to sue that fellow for libel!" he yelled.
"Then it isn’t true," Cora wailed. "What an awful thing for them to say such a lie!"
Matlin was outraged at her mis­understanding. "It’s not a lie, just a bunch of baloney. Why should I stay on that island? If they want to be crazy, that’s their business."
He saw from their faces that his perfectly obvious truth was not ob­vious to them. He became grim. "Okay, I can see I’m no longer wel­come. Come along, Cora."
Mrs. Gray said, tightlipped, "Cora and the boy can stay."
Matlin was quite willing, already at peace with their foolishness. "I’ll pick you up in the morning," he said to his wife.
Cora did not reply.
Gray accompanied Matlin to his car. When he came back into the living room, he was shaking his head. He said to Cora, "One thing about that husband of yours. He lets you know where he stands."
Cora said stiffly, "He’s let me know once too often. Imagine leav­ing those men!" There were tears in her eyes.
"He says they lured him over to the island."
"Nobody lures Steve. His own scheming got him over there."
"He says he suddenly realized the generals had done it again—got a private into the front line. And since this was not his war—"
"If it isn’t his war, whose is it? He fired the first shot."
"Well, anyway, the generals are on the firing line, and no one could care less than Steve. I can tell you that."
"’That’s the astonishing thing," said Cora, wonderingly. "He thinks World War II was a conspiracy to waste his time. He lives entirely in his own private world. Nothing can shake him, as you just saw."

Matlin drove back to his farm and slept there in the back of his car.
When he returned to the Gray farm in the morning, Dan Gray came out to meet him. He was grin­ning. He said, "Well, Steve, it’s finally going to be your war."
Matlin stared at the knowing smile on the somewhat heavy face of his neighbor, but the words seemed meaningless. So he made no reply but simply got out of his car and walked into the house.
The two women were watching the TV. Matlin did not even glance at the picture.
"Ready, Cora?" he said.
Both women turned and looked at him strangely. Finally, Mrs. Gray said breathlessly, "You’re taking it very calmly."
"Taking what calmly?"
Mrs. Gray looked helplessly at Cora. "I can’t tell him," she almost whispered.
Matlin glanced questioningly at his wife. She said, "You might as well hear it. The creature came back and found Mr. Graham and his two companions on the island. And it talked to them through some kind of mechanical translation device. It said it was going to leave earth but that first it was going to accomplish one thing. It said—it said—"
Matlin said impatiently, "For Pete’s sake, Cora, let’s go. You can tell me on the way."
Cora said, "It said—it was going to kill you first."
For once Matlin was speechless.
At last he stammered: "Me!" Af­ter a moment, he added, incredulous, "That’s ridiculous. I haven’t anything to do with this business."
"It says you’re the only one on earth who made it your business."

The shock was growing on Matlin. He could not speak, could not deny the charge in words. Inside his head, he protested silently. "But that first beast was coming toward me. How was I supposed to know?"
Cora was continuing in a grief-filled voice: "It says that on all the planets it’s visited, no one has ever before killed without warning, with­out asking any questions."
Matlin stared at her with hope­less eyes. He felt battered, defeated, ultimately threatened. For a moment, again, he could scarcely believe. He thought: "I only want to be left alone!"
The thought stopped. Because he knew suddenly that all these years he had been maintaining an un­truth: that what went on elsewhere was none of his affair.
He had pretended so hard, gone into such instant rages, that other people simply glanced at each other significantly and fell silent, and thereafter never brought up the sub­ject again. He had always thought with satisfaction, "By damn, they’d better not say anything but—" con­temptuously— "let them think what they want."
And now, he was the only human being that a visitor from another planet felt motivated to kill . . .
He grew aware once more of Dan Gray’s smile. The man spread his hands helplessly. "I can’t help it, Steve. Believe it or not, I like you. I even think I understand you. But —forgive me, Cora—this seems to me to be a case of poetic justice. I can’t think of anyone else who’s had something like this coming to him for so long."
Matlin turned and walked out of the room. He was aware of Cora following him hastily. "Just a min­ute, Steve," she said, "I have some­thing for you."
Matlin turned. They were alone in the hallway. He grew aware that she was tugging at her wed­ding ring. "Here," she said, "I should have given you this nineteen years ago, but I let the coming of our first child stop me."
She opened his palm, placed the ring in it, and closed his fingers over it. "You’re on your own, Steve. After twenty years of being the most selfish, self-centered man in the world, you can face this as you should, by yourself."
Matlin scowled down at the ring, then: "Bah! When you look at me, you see the human race as it really is. I’ve never gone in for the shams, that’s all."
He slipped the ring into his pocket.
"I’m going to keep this and give it back to you when you get over this foolish feeling. My feeling for you was never a sham."
He turned and walked out of the room and out of the house.

A car was pulling up in front of the Gray house. John Graham was inside it. He climbed out and walked over to where Matlin was about to get into his station wagon, said, "I came over to see you."
"Make it quick!" said Matlin.
"I have three messages for you."
"Shoot!"
"Obviously," said Graham, "the U.S. government will not allow one of its citizens to be casually exterminated."
Accordingly—he continued for­mally—all of the armed forces would be interposed between Steve Matlin and the alien.
Matlin stared at him with uncom­promising hostility. "He can dupli­cate anything we’ve got, so those are just big words."
Graham said in the same formal way that the ability of the creature to duplicate, first, the rifle, then the truck, and then the helicopter, had been taken note of by the military.
Matlin’s curt laugh dismissed as asinine the notion that the generals would know what to do with such information. "C’mon, c’mon," he said roughly, "what’s the second message?"
"It’s personal," said Graham.
He stepped forward. His fist came up, connected perfectly with Matlin’s jaw. Mifflin was knocked back against his car. He sank to the ground, sat there rubbing his jaw and looking up at Graham. He said in an even tone: "Just about every­body seems to agree I had that com­ing to me, so I’ll take it. What’s the last message?"
Graham, who had evidently ex­pected a battle, stepped back. His savage mood softened. He shook his head wonderingly. "Steve," he said, "you amaze me. Maybe I even re­spect you."
Matlin said nothing. He just sat there, elbows on knees.
After a moment, Graham contin­ued: "The way the generals figure it, there’s got to be another reason why the creature wants to kill you. Maybe you know something." His gray eyes watched Matlin closely. "Have you been holding anything back?"
Matlin shook his head but he was interested. He climbed slowly to his feet, frowning, thoughtful as he dusted himself off.
Graham persisted. "It is proposed that its ability to duplicate is based upon a kind of perception that human beings don’t have."
"Hey!" said Matlin, eyes wide. "You mean like the homing pigeon, or birds flying south, or salmon coming back to their little pool where they were born?"
"The reasoning is," said Graham, "that you got some feedback on whatever it is, and so the creature wants to kill you before you can pass on to anybody else what you know."
Matlin was shaking his head. "They’re off their rocker. I don’t know a thing."

Graham watched him a moment longer. Then, clearly satisfied, he said, "Anyway, the military feel that they can’t take a chance with a creature that has made a death threat against an American citizen. So they’re going to drop an atomic bomb on it and end the matter once and for all."
For some reason, Matlin felt an instant alarm. "Just a minute," he said doubtfully. "Suppose it dupli­cates that? Then it’ll have everything we’ve got, and we still won’t have seen a thing it’s got."
Graham was tolerant. "Oh, come now, Steve. The bomb will be a small one but the right size to pul­verize that spaceship. I personally feel strong regrets about this but I have no doubt of the outcome. Once the bomb drops, it’ll have nothing to duplicate with—and it won’t be around to do any duplicating."
Matlin said, "Better tell them to hold that bomb till they’ve thought about it some more."
Graham was looking at his watch. "I’m afraid it’s a little late for that, Steve. Because they figured you might have some telepathic connec­tion with this creature, I’ve been holding back the fact that the bomb is being dropped—right—now!"
As he spoke, there was a sound of distant thunder.
Involuntarily, the two men ducked. Then they straightened and looked over the near farms, past the trees in the distance, beyond the low hills. A small but familiar and sin­ister mushroom was rising from the other side of the horizon.
"Well," said Graham, "that does it. Too bad. But it shouldn’t have made that threat against you."
"What about the other ship?" Matlin asked.
"What other ship?" said Graham.
They had both spoken involuntar­ily. Now, they stared at each other.
’Graham broke the silence. "Oh, my God!" he said.

V

There were stubborn people at G.H.Q.
For two decisive days, they re­jected the idea that there might be another ship.
Then, late in the afternoon of the third day, radar reported a small ob­ject high above field H from which the atomic plane had taken off to destroy the spaceship on the island.
Control tower challenged the ap­proaching airborne machine. When there was no response, somebody became anxious and sounded a bomb alarm. Then he dived down a chute that took him head first into a shel­ter far below.
His quick action made him one of about 800 fast-reflex people who survived.
Seconds after he made his dive to safety, an atomic bomb demolished field H.
About the same time, a TV heli­copter was hovering above the island in Matlin’s lake, taking pictures of the bomb crater there. Suddenly a spaceship came silently down from great height and landed.
The helicopter did not tarry. It look rear view pictures as it was fleeing the scene.
Graham went to see Cora, look­ing for Matlin.
But she could only shake her head. "Steve said he was going on the road till this whole thing blew over. He said he figured he’d better not be sitting still when that creature came looking for him."
They put Matlin’s photo on TV,
On the fourth day after that, Graham interviewed four sullen young men who had tried to seize Matlin, their intention being to de­liver him to the monster. As their spokesman put it, "By handing over the one guy who was really involved in this business, the rest of us could have gone back to our daily affairs."
They filed out, one on crutches, two with arms in slings, all ban­daged in some way, groaning a little.
The following day, Graham in­terrogated two people who claimed to have witnessed a duel on an open stretch of highway between Matlin in a station wagon and the monster flying an enormous jet plane. Matlin had had a bazooka and the beast had finally beat a retreat.
General Maxwell Day, who was with Graham, wondered aloud if Matlin might not be the man who had raided a Marine armory and taken a 3.5 rocket launcher and a quarter of a ton of ammunition for it.
Graham phoned Cora. "I’m checking a report," he said. "Would Steve have thought of utilizing Marine equipment?"
Cora answered carefully: "That weapon belonged to the people of the U.S., didn’t it?"
"Yes."
"Well, then, I think Steve would regard himself as part owner, as a citizen, and without any guilt since he would consider either that he paid for it with taxes or earned it in World War II."
Graham put his hand over the mouthpiece, said, "I gather he would have thought of such a thing."
The Marine officer held his hand out for the phone. "Let me talk to her," he said. A moment later: "Mrs. Matlin?"
"Yes?"
"May I ask you some very per­sonal questions about your hus­band?"
"You may."
"Now, Mrs. Matlin, Mr. Graham here has the highest respect for your opinions, so think carefully about this one: Is your husband intelli­gent?"
Cora hesitated; then: "I know ex­actly what you mean. On some lev­els, no; on others, extremely intelligent."
"Is he brave?"
"To hear him talk, no. But my feeling is, totally. I think you’d have to engage his interest, though."
"What does he think of generals?"
"They’re idiots?
"Is he an honest man?"
"We-1-l-l-l, that depends. For ex­ample, he had that rifle along that first day in the hope that he’d be able to kill a deer illegally."
"I mean is he responsible for his debts?"
"If I may quote him—he wouldn’t give the so and so’s the satisfaction of owing them money."
General Day smiled. "Now, Mrs. Matlin, would you take your hus­band back if I made a sergeant out of him?"
"Why not a captain?"
"I’m sorry, Mrs. Matlin, if you’ll think a little bit, you’ll realize that he’d never sink that low."
"Oh, I don’t have to think. You’re right. Well—yes, I might take him back. B-but he’s not in the Marines anymore."
"He will be, Mrs. Matlin. Good-by."
He hung up.
An hour later it was announced on TV, radio and the newspapers that Matlin had been re-inducted in­to the Marines, and that he was or­dered to report to the nearest Marine station.

About midnight that night a jet, with Graham and several officers aboard, flew down to the Marine base where Matlin was re­signedly waiting for them. They se­cured a Marine private’s uniform. As the grim, unshaved man reluc­tantly donned it, they interrogated him. They were interested in any thought whatsoever that may have flitted through Matlin’s mind for any reason.
Matlin objected: "That’s crazy. I don’t know anything special—ex­cept the thing is out to get me."
"We think you do."
"But that’s a lot of—"
"Private Matlin! That’s an order!"
Glumly—but thoroughly—Matlin complied with the orders. He told them everything that had passed through his mind about the creature in the past few days. And there had been things, many things, things that had seemed crazy and distorted to him, until he thought he was be­ginning to lose his mind. Visions of a home on a planet of another star. Visions of long, long years of travel. Visions of the buried ship at the lake, where thousands of atomic bombs were in process of being dup­licated.
His listeners turned pale, but Gra­ham urged, "Go on."
Matlin continued: There was only one creature, but it had brought with it a number of spare bodies and could grow even more.
Then he stopped. "Damn it," he growled, "I don’t like to say this stuff! Why do you want to hear it, anyway? It’s just crazy dreams."
Graham glanced at the Marine commander, then at Matlin. He said, "Matlin, we don’t think it’s dreams at all. We think that you are in re­sonance—somehow!—with the crea­ture’s mind. And we need to know what it has in its mind—so, for heaven’s sake, go on!"

The story, by the time Matlin got through piecing it together, made a pattern:
The alien had arrived in the solar system in two ships, with its bodies in various growth stages and evenly distributed between the two vessels. When one ship—and its cargo of bodies—was later destroyed, it made a duplicate, and now again had two.
As body after body was de­stroyed, the next in line was trig­gered into rapid growth and awak­ened to full adulthood in about two days. Each new body had the com­plete "memory" of what had hap­pened to the ones that preceded it; it automatically recorded by ESP everything that happened to its pre­ceding self.
On arrival, the first body had awakened in a state of total recep­tiveness. It had wanted to be able to duplicate the thoughts and feelings of the inhabitants of this newly found planet.
—Be like them, think like them know their language—
It was in this helpless, blank con­dition, when it stumbled on Steve Matlin.
And that was the story. The crea­ture had been imprinted with the personality of Matlin.
Graham said, "Steve, do you real­ize that this being got all these de­structive ideas from you?"
Matlin blinked. "Huh!"
Graham, remembering some things that Cora had told him, said, "Do you have any friends, Steve? Anybody you like? Anybody any­where?"
Matlin could think of no one. Ex­cept, of course, Cora and the kids. But his feelings about them were not unmixed. She had insisted on sending the three older children to school in town. But he did feel a genuine affection for her, and them, at some level.
Graham said tensely, "That’s why she’s alive. That’s why the creature didn’t kill her the day it burned your farm."
"B-but—" Matlin protested, "why destroy the farm?"
"You hate the damn place, don’t you?"
Matlin was silent. He’d said it a thousand times.
"What do you think we ought to do with about half the people in this country, Steve?"
"I think we ought to wipe the human race off the map and start over again," said Matlin automat­ically.
"What do you think we ought to do with the Russians?"
"If I had my way," said Matlin, "we’d go over there and plaster the whole of Asia with atomic bombs."
After a little, Graham said softly, "Like to change any of those ideas, Steve?"
Matlin, who had finished dress­ing, scowled into a mirror. "Look," he said finally, "you’ve got me where I can’t hit back. And I’m ready to be loused up by what the idiot generals have got in their crazy noodles. So tell me what you want me to do."

At that precise moment, That ceased its feverish duplication of man’s atomic bombs . . . and became itself.
Its compulsive mental tie with Matlin was severed.
Shuddering, That made a report, on an instantaneous relay-wave transmitter whose receiver was light-years away:
"What we always feared would happen on one of these blank mind approaches to a new planet finally happened to me. While I was enor­mously receptive to any thought, my first body was destroyed by a two-legged inhabitant of this system, a being with the most incredible ideas —which are apparently due to some early mistreatment. This inability to slough off early shock conditioning seems to be a unique phenomenon of the people of this planet.
"Realizing how trapped I was while he remained alive, I made sev­eral attempts to kill him. I was unsuccessful in this because he turned out to be unexpectedly resourceful. But he has now put on a suit called a uniform, and this has immediately turned him into a peaceful person.
"Thus I was able to free myself. Naturally, I can still sense where he is, but he can no longer receive my thoughts nor I his. However, I must report that I am pinned down here by an air fleet. My image as a good­will visitor has been completely nul­lified by what has happened. Ob­viously, I won’t use any weapons against them; so perhaps this expedi­tion is doomed."
A team of astronauts was sent up. The team successfully boarded That’s second spaceship, reporting that it was occupied by four bodies in various growth stages.
Even as they blew up the ship in its silent orbit, on earth Matlin was driven to the edge of the lake. There, a government launch was provided him. While Graham and General Day watched through binoculars, Matlin drove the $30,000 craft right onto the beach of the island, careless of any damage to it.
"I think he smashed the launch," said Graham.
"Good."
"Good?"
"My whole theory about him would collapse if he treated government property with the same care that he gave his own possessions. It reassures me that he’s exactly the man I thought."
Matlin came to where the second alien ship lay at the bottom of the blast pit. Water had filtered down into the clay. Having his orders, Matlin dutifully slid down into the goo. He held his rifle high, cursed, and started for the entrance.

VI

Graham, General Day, and an ar­tillery major watched Matlin’s progress on a portable TV. The pic­ture was coming from a ship some 70,000 feet above the island. The scene below was crystal clear. Through the marvelous telescopic lens, Matlin actually looked like a tiny human being walking.
"But why send anyone?" Graham protested. "Why not just blast it? As you’ve already pointed out, we’ve got enough power up there—" he indicated the sky above — "to ex­terminate him."
General Day explained that he now favored Graham’s earlier view. The alien might be able to defend itself.
"But it’s too late for caution," Graham interjected. "We’ve burned our bridges."
It would be unwise, the Marine officer explained, to provoke the creature further until a confronta­tion had taken place.
"A confrontation between a super-being — and Matlin!"
"Who else should we send? Some poor devil? No, Matlin is oriented to this. Seeing the creature face on is not a new experience to him as it would be to some other lower ranks."
"Why not send you? Me?"
Day answered in a steady voice that such decisions as were re­quired here should not be made by people who reasoned on the basis of official attitudes.
"How do you think I got to be a general? When in doubt, I listened to what the men thought. They have a basic canniness that trans­cends intellect."
With an effort, Graham recover­ed. "You heard Matlin’s basic truth," he said. "His opinion of the human race —"
General Day gave him a surprised look. "You mean to tell me that isn’t your opinion also?"
"No."
"You don’t think that human be­ings are absolutely impossible?"
"No, I think they’re pretty terri­fic," said Graham.
"Boy, are you far gone," said the general in a tolerant voice. "I can see that we Marines have an understanding of human behavior that beats all you brain-washed people." He broke off. "Matlin was badly handled in World War II."
"What?" Graham groped.
"You ask, what has that got to do with it? Plenty. You see, Mr. Graham, you have to understand that a true Marine is a king. Now, Matlin is the true Marine type. But he was treated like an ordinary private. He never got over it; so he’s been seething for 20 years, waiting for recognition. I’m giving it to him. A king Marine, Mr. Graham, can direct a war, take com­mand of a city, or negotiate with a foreign power like a government. Marines who get to be generals are considered sub-level versions of this species. All Marines understand this perfectly. It will not occur to Matlin to consult me, or you, or the U.S. Government. He’ll size up the situ­ation, make a decision, and I shall back him up."
He turned to the major, com­manded, "All right, start firing!"
"Firing!" Graham yelled.
Day explained patiently as to a child that it was necessary in this extreme emergency to reindoctrinate this particular Marine, and grind in the simple truth — to him — that generals always loused things up. "A quick reminder, that’s all, Mr. Graham."

Matlin was still skidding around in the mud when the first shell landed to his left. It sprayed him with fine droplets of wet dirt. The second shell landed to his right. The debris from it missed him en­tirely, but he was now in such state of rage that he didn’t notice.
By the time the shelling ceased, his anger was gone and he was in that peculiar state of mind which can only be described with one word: Marine.
The man who presently entered the alien ship knew that life was tough, that other people could not be trusted, that no one cared about him. It was a truth he had always fought with bitterness and rage.
But there was no longer any doubt in his mind. People were what they were. They would shoot you in the back if they couldn’t get you from in front.
Understanding this, you could be friendly with them, shake their hands. enjoy their company — and be completely free of any need to judge them or condemn them.
But you were on your own, day and night, year in and out.
As he saw the creature, Matlin used his gun for the purpose that he had brought it. Deliberately, he tossed.it down. It struck the metal floor with a clatter.
The echoes of the sound faded —and there was silence. Alien and human stood there staring.
Matlin waited.

Suddenly, the hoped-for voice came from a speaker in the ceiling:
"I am talking to you through a computer, which is translating my thoughts into your language. It will do the same for yours. Why have they sent you to me — the one man I threatened to kill?"
That added: "I no longer plan to kill you. So you may talk freely."
Matlin said bluntly, "We’re trying to decide what to do with you. Do you have any suggestions?"
"I wish to leave the planet for­ever. Can you arrange it?"
Matlin was practical. Could the creature leave whether human be­ings like it or not? "No."
The simple negative took Matlin slightly aback. "You have no special weapons from — from where you come from?"
"None," admitted the alien.
That admission also startled Mat­lin. "You mean to tell me we can do what we want with you? You can’t stop us?"
"Yes, except —"
Matlin wanted to know except what?
The great eyes blinked at him, its black, fold-like eyelids rolling up and down in a skin and muscle complex unlike that of any creature Matlin had ever seen before.
"Except that it will do you no good to kill me."
"You’d better make damn clear what you mean," Matlin said.
Watching him, That gave its ex­planation.
And Matlin realized that what That said was true. For once in the history of the human race, killing an enemy would solve nothing.

Matlin’s boat was almost water­logged by the time he success­fully beached it near where Graham and the others were waiting.
He came up to them and saluted. General Day returned the salute smartly, and said: "Your report."
"I told him he could go," said Matlin. "He’ll be leaving when I signal."
"What?" That was Graham, his voice sounding shrill and amazed in his own ears. "But why?"
"Never mind why," said General Day. "That’s the way it’s going to be."
He spoke into his mike: "Men, this alien ship is going to lift from here in a few minutes. Let it go through. A duly authorized person has negotiated this solution."
The language was not clear to Matlin. "Is it okay?" he asked ques­tioningly.
For an instant, it seemed to Graham, Day hesitated. Graham said urgently into that instant: "At least, you’re going to find out what made him agree?"
Day seemed to have come to a decision; his momentary hesitation ended. "Okay!" he said to Matlin. "Okay, sergeant."
Matlin raised his rifle, and fired it into the air.
To Graham, Day said, "I’ve never lost a bet on a king Marine, and I don’t expect to now."
The interchange ended. For on the island, the ship was lifting.
Silent, jetless, rocketless power drove it up on a slant.
It passed over their heads, gather­ing speed. It grew small and, as they watched, became a dot and vanished.
Aboard it, the creature to which Matlin had talked performed the preliminaries necessary to an inter­stellar voyage, and then retired to one of the sleep boxes. Soon it was in a state of suspended animation . . .
Thereupon happened what the monster had told Matlin — the un­derlying reality, which made it useless, unnecessary, even dangerous, to destroy it and its vessel.
On a planet many light-years away, the real That stirred, awakened and sat up.


3. THE ULTRA MAN


I

THE SIGN on the door glittered quietly. It read:

RICHARD CARR, PH. D.
Psychologist
Moon Station

Inside the office, Carr—a chubby young man—was at one of the two windows of his inner sanctum, gazing with a pair of binoculars down at the fourth level. A microphone was suspended from a black cord around his neck. From his lips came a steady stream of comments. "—Now, that man is thinking about some technical matter. He wants to get back to it. But all he says to her is, ’Let’s hurry!’ Surprisingly, because of a reason I can’t read, she wants to get away, too. But she can’t let him go that easy. So she’s saying: ’Let’s walk a little and talk about the future.’ The man says, ’I don’t see much of a future—’ " Carr broke off. "Colonel, that conversation just became very personal. Let’s move to someone else."
Colonel Wentworth, at the other window, said, "Any idea what language they’re talking?"
"Not really. A Slav language. East Europe. The way the lines in their faces shift as they talk reminds me of—all right, Polish."
Wentworth reached over and shut off the recorder, with which through a pick-up device he had recorded the actual words spoken by the people below.
He was a man about six feet tall, thirty-eight years of age, deceptively slim of build, with gray eyes whose calmness partially concealed an alert intelligence. He had been eight years attached to the moon station security staff, but he still had his stiff British manner. Since the American psychologist—Carr—was a newcomer on the moon, the two men had not previously met.
Wentworth now grasped the snooper and peered through its sighting device at the people below. He knew what Carr apparently did not, that what they were doing was probably slightly illegal here on this lunar city, where so many nationalities lived together by international agreements—which did not include anyone having the right to spy on their thoughts as revealed by the expressions on their faces.
Nonetheless, keeping his own face averted from the other —there were thoughts on it that he didn’t wish Carr to know about at this stage—Wentworth now said noncommittally to the psychologist:
"We’ve been going at this for ten minutes. So let’s just do one more. See that redheaded woman and the small man?"
Carr did not reply at once. He seemed to be very intent on something below. Suddenly, he said in an amazed tone,
"Colonel, that man down there! That tall, gaunt fellow with the headdress— that man is not a human being!"
Wentworth was taken by surprise. "What are you talking about?"
He grabbed for his own binoculars, as Carr continued in a high-pitched voice, "Oh, my God, he’s become aware of me!
He’s going to kill me! Watch out!"
Instinctively, Wentworth ducked down and back. The next instant there was a glare of light, brighter than the day out­side. Glass shattered. And then there was the rattle of plaster falling.
Silence settled.
Wentworth had been vaguely aware that Carr had also flung himself to the floor. He presumed the man was all right. He wasted no time, but raised himself, crawled to the desk, got the phone down and moments later was sounding the alarm.

II

Boris Denovich, M.D., psychiatrist, newly-arrived head of the psychiatric section, listened with a faint frown through the translation machine to what he realized presently was an unacceptable story.
He adjusted his tiny earphone, then spoke into the translation microphone in his thick Russian.
"Are you trying to tell me," he interrupted Colonel Wentworth, "that this young American claims to read thoughts from the expressions on the faces of people? Surely, Colonel, you mean mental telepathy?"
Wentworth stared at the intense, middle-aged man thought­fully. He knew something that neither Carr nor Denovich was aware of. The other’s reaction was what he had expected. But he’d had to be sure.
Denovich continued: "You’ve already checked it? Languages and all?"
Wentworth had decided it was vital to give the time to a check-out. So he had spent twenty important minutes in the translation department. He said now, "The languages of the various people I taped were Polish, German, Greek and Japanese."
"And what Carr says they were saying matches the translations?"
"Not word for word, no. But he was certainly getting it straight."
The psychiatrist’s thin face seemed to grow thinner. He took it for granted that the security officer had been made the victim of a staged deception by the American psychologist. How, or why, didn’t matter now.
Colonel Wentworth was speaking again. "You’d better hear the end of the tape."
Denovich replied patiently, "It’s not necessary. I presume he was successful." He frowned. "Colonel, I hope this Amer­ican isn’t just an expert lip-reader, and a linguist."
The security officer directed the broad-faced secretary,
"Roll it over to that little slip of white paper." To Denovich, he said, "You’ve got to hear this, Doctor."
The first voice on the tape, when it started again, was that of Colonel Wentworth. He was directing Carr’s attention to another couple. There was a pause. Then Carr’s voice made the arresting statement that had, earlier, electrified and galvanized Wentworth.
Denovich sat bolt upright in his chair, as the crash of glass and the explosion sounded from the speaker. He was vaguely conscious of the security officer shutting off the recorder. Then he heard his own high-pitched voice say, "What was that? What happened?"
By the time Wentworth had explained, Denovich was re­covered. "This has to be a hoax," he said. He broke off. "Did you look out of the window? What did you see?"
"I was taken by surprise," Wentworth confessed. "I’d thrown myself flat on the floor. By the time the plaster had settled, two or three minutes may have gone by."
"So you didn’t see any tall, gaunt, non-human man?" Deno­vich said satirically.
Wentworth agreed that by the time he returned to the window there was no person on any level below who answered to such a description.
The Soviet psychiatrist leaned back, striving for calm. He realized he was over-stimulated in an unpleasant fashion. It was the closest he had been to anger in a long time. His negative feeling was directed exclusively against Dr. Richard D. Carr, the American psychologist.
Nevertheless, he presently controlled himself and said, "Why don’t we just let him experiment with his so-called ability? I’ll provide him with facilities. That’ll give me a chance to size him up, give him a chance to prove himself—and we can go on from there." A grim smile played around his thin lips. "I’d like to give him the chance to read my thoughts on my face."
He appeared to be completely satisfied with his proposal and seemed unaware that the matter was more urgent than that to Wentworth. The security officer bit his lips, then said, "I’ll get Dr. Carr. We can talk about it."
Wentworth walked to the elevator to meet Carr. As the psychologist came out, Wentworth was standing with his back to the elevator door. When the other greeted him, he glanced over his shoulder in a quick acknowledgment; then he said, "This way, Doctor."
During the walk back to the Russian psychiatrist’s office, he not only kept inches ahead of Carr but also held his head so that his face was slightly averted.

As they entered, first Carr, then Wentworth, Denovich hurried forward. His ear-piece was fitted for walking and his translation microphone was pinned into one lapel.
On Earth, he had had a technique for greeting people he didn’t want 1 associate with: keep them moving, dismiss them in an offhand fashion as soon as possible, preferably some distance from an exit.
His first glimpse of the plump, unhealthy looking American, and the softness of the pudgy hand which Carr placed limply in his muscular fingers, brought no reason for a change of mind. The Russian indicated the hall. "This way," he said.
Carr did not move. He stood, a faint, tolerant smile on his heavy face. Denovich, who had pulled the door open and was holding it ajar, looked back.
Carr said softly, "We’ll have to have a better understand­ing than that, Doctor."
Denovich was instantly cynical. "I forgot," he said. "You read faces and you must be reading mine. What do you see?"
Still with that faint smile, Carr said, "Doctor, would you really like me to say out loud?"
The psychiatrist felt himself to be completely in con­trol. "I’ll be glad to let you off that hook," he said good-naturedly.
At this point, Wentworth—who had been anxiously wait­ing for the barest minimum of the initial confrontation to run its course—decided that it had. He thereupon ex­plained firmly that Carr’s ability could be tested as well in a practical as in an experimental circumstance. He finished: "So I’d like you both to accompany me to the Port of Entry—"
Wentworth had spoken the words, while still partly facing away from Carr. He was aware of the psychologist turning and staring at him.
The American said slowly, "Until now, I’ve respected what I believed to be your personal desire for privacy. But I’ve had a glimpse or two through that British stiffness in your cheeks, and in spite of all your evasiveness, I detect some thought about me. You know something about my special ability; something—" He stopped, frowning, then said chal­lengingly, "This is not new to you, what I’m doing! Some­body’s done it before."
Still facing away, Wentworth said diplomatically, "You’re close. Look, I’ll tell you both the whole story as soon as possible. Right now we’ve got work to do. All right?"

As he led the way out of the office, Wentworth continued to believe that Carr’s ability might still be useful in connec­tion with the alien. But time was of the essence, if he hoped to gain any value from the man’s marvelous power.
What neither Carr nor Denovich knew was that, from the beginning of the moon station, a few persons had experienced a sudden, remarkable buildup of ESP [6] or PSI [7] ability. The ability of one person was always different from that of another. This was the first time that the skill had been to read faces. Each time an ability showed, it seemed to re­flect an interest that the person had previously had, but now it was intensified to a perfect state. Yet often it seemed so natural to the possessor that he did not immediately re­port it or even consider it unusual.
The first stage of the ability lasted about two days.
At the end of that time, it faded rapidly and disappeared entirely for several hours. The person even forgot that he had had the ability.
Then—abruptly—the ESP power appeared again, but in a twisted form. In this form it was a fantastic thing, a highly energized but different version of the original ability.
Wentworth had once described it: "Like an animal in its death throes, achieving briefly the most herculean effort of its entire lifetime, we have in this twist a view of an ESP ability in the nth degree. Perhaps, for a few hours, we actually have a glimpse of some incredible ability that man will attain in the far future of his evolution."
The finale now came rapidly. After a few brief hours, the twisted version faded also, and that was the end. The ability never reappeared.
What bothered Wentworth was that he knew Carr had been on the moon approximately forty-eight hours. He sus­pected the psychologist had been able to read thoughts on faces for the full tune. Therefore, the two-day first phase would end at any moment.
. . . No time to waste! Stop not a minute, now that the necessary preliminaries were done! Do not allow Carr to become confused and distracted by a sudden discovery of the truth, and so therefore keep his own face averted; permit no reading of his thoughts!

III

They headed down to cross-station transport and were quickly whisked to the underground port below the spaceship landing field. As they emerged from the little monorail ma­chine, a man in the uniform of a port officer emerged from a doorway and came along the corridor toward them.
Wentworth recognized him as an old-timer on the moon and nodded greeting. The man acknowledged with a wave of his hand and walked on. Wentworth motioned his two com­panions to go in the direction from which the port official had come. Denovich complied at once. Carr took several steps, and then he stopped and looked back.
"Colonel," he said, "may I speak to that officer?"
"Who?" Wentworth had already forgotten the chance meeting.
"That port officer who just passed us."
"Peterson? Oh, sure!" He turned. "Hey, Pete," Wentworth called.
But Carr was loping along the hallway. By the time Denovich became aware that something was wrong and faced about, Carr and Peterson were already talking. The man in uniform nodded twice and then abruptly laughed hysterically.
The sound of laughter came unexpectedly loud. Some people who had come out of the baggage room stopped and stared.
As Denovich watched, astounded, Peterson burst into tears. Denovich, acutely aware of how tense his thin body felt, walked back to within a few feet of the two men. He was vaguely aware of Wentworth joining him.
The port aide was bawling noisily and at the same time trying to control himself.
He sobbed. "What did you say? I didn’t catch your words. .. . Say, what’s happened to me? I never did a thing like this."
He gulped, made a tremendous effort—and was instantly in a rage. "You so-and-so!" he snarled. "What did you do to me?"
"Somebody came through here yesterday afternoon and took control of your mind," said Carr. "Tell us about it."
"Wel-l-11!" Peterson seemed to forget his rage. "Oh, you mean those Negroes. Three of them. One was kind of odd-looking—hollow-cheeked, you know—and so I asked him to remove his headdress."
He stopped, blinked at Carr, his jaw lax, face almost stupid looking in his puzzlement.
Carr urged, "What did he do to you?"
"Why-uh!" The man’s eyes widened. "He shot a light beam at me—right out of that thing on the top of his—"
Once again he stopped, looking blank. Then: "What am I talking about? I must be dreaming!"
Denovich walked forward. There was no longer any question in his mind as to what Carr could do. He had wit­nessed—it seemed to him—the fastest hypnotic induction of his experience.
He said in a low, angry voice, "Dr. Carr, get away from that man!"
Carr half-turned, startled. Denovich almost felt the other’s eyes search his face. Carr said, "Oh!" Then firmly: "One moment, Doctor?"
He turned back to the port official. "Go to your quarters and lie down. If you don’t feel better in an hour, come and see me in my office." He handed Peterson a card.
Carr faced Wentworth. "I think we’d better talk to the Chief of Port of Entry," he said.

The Chief of Port of Entry was considerably heavier looking than Carr. He was an Italian, good-natured, efficient, subjective. His name was Carlo Pontine. He ignored Denovich’s translator and instead spoke into his own personal translation microphone.
"Those three Africans arrived from Vastuland." He put up his hands in the gesture of helplessness. "So you have your problems, gentlemen."
Wentworth, who had already called out the black con­tingent of Security, knew what he meant. The alien had either been very clever or very lucky to arrive as a Negro, for normally that would give him the protection of race ten­sion. Their main hope was that Carr’s ability would by­pass such barriers.
Pontine had photographs of the three Vastulanders; and there, unmistakably, was a gaunt figure with a headdress. The appearance was of an unusually elaborate Mohammedan-style head decoration. The cloth came down low over the forehead, and the face—it was dismally plain to see—was only superficially human.
Blown up on a large screen in the projection room, the black pigmentation showed plainly. Underneath was a scaly skin.
Moments later, an uneasy Wentworth was showing the photo on the security band of the port’s TV intercom. Hav­ing given his tense account, he turned his special TV key to its second position. One by one the lights on the key went out until only two remained blinking. Which was pretty fair emergency coverage.
Wentworth visualized the scene out there. In dozens of sectors of the great moon station, his men were stepping out into corridors, glancing into departmental offices, survey­ing their territory. More important, if one of them had pre­viously observed the wanted person, he would now be check­ing if he was where he ought to be.
Even as he had the thought, a buzzer sounded softly and a light came back on. Carr pressed the button and found himself staring at a clean-shaven young man—Ledoux in the French section.
"Colonel Wentworth."
"Yes?"
"That man was assigned an apartment in this sector yes­terday afternoon. However, he went out an hour ago, and I haven’t seen him since."
By the time that message was completed, another light was blinking. That message was:
"Saw him about thirty-five minutes ago, walking rapidly into R-1."

Wentworth groaned inwardly. R-1 was the main residence complex for visitors. It had fifteen hundred and forty-four apartments, most of which were at the moment unoccu­pied. But an imaginative artist had originally designed it to be futuristic; and a committee untroubled by knowledge of security had authorized its construction. With its innumera­ble corridors, back stairways, patios, its three dozen restaurants, its four theaters, sunken gardens and lovers’ nooks and moon surface transport cars—it was a veritable sieve with hundreds of openings.
R-1 was easily the safest hideaway in Moon City; and it was their misfortune that the alien had located it and had taken refuge in it. Gloomily, Wentworth turned the TV control key back to its One position and called for General Alarm H.
The instant that was done, he turned, grabbed Carr’s arm, beckoned Denovich and—face still averted—said breath­lessly, "Come along!" He led the way back to the elevator.
His first and best hope was a swift search, using every means. Carr’s ability—which had already proved itself—was one of those means. What made it a possible hope was that, because their part of the moon was turned away from the sun, only thirty-eight of the apartments in R-1 were occupied. Wentworth personally preferred the moon during its night period with its magnificent view of Earth. But it was their good luck at this decisive moment that tourists did not share his opinion.
Briefly, Wentworth explained what he had in mind. The pattern was: when the door opened, Carr was to read the face of the person who answered while Wentworth asked questions.
As it worked out, usually before the individual could reply, Carr said, "Nope." The instant he did that, a security aide took over; and Carr, Denovich, Wentworth and their ac­companying squad raced on to the next occupied apartment.
The idea was that someone would have seen the alien.
The door of the seventh apartment was opened by a small woman who stared at them questioningly. She wore a prim, black dress, and how anyone had ever persuaded her to make the dramatic tourist trip to the moon, Wentworth would never know. But then he was often amazed at the types that showed up.
He saw that Carr was hesitating. The psychologist seemed momentarily confused. Then: "He’s inside," he said.

Somebody grabbed the woman and jerked her out of the door, instantly covered her mouth, stifling all but a faint squeal. Seconds later, at a signal from Wentworth, the men in the mobile unit rolled up on their silent rubber wheels. Without pausing, they went straight on into the apartment.
As he crouched beside the door, waiting, Wentworth was vaguely uneasy about the order he had given: to strike and strike hard. The thought that was suddenly in his mind was that here was a representative of another race, the first ever to show up in the solar system. Ought he to be killed out of hand?
After a moment’s consideration, he allowed his doubts to fade. The alien had instantly tried to kill Carr, when he was discovered; and, equally culpable, he had come secretly into the moon station. The creature’s approach was hostile and must be dealt with in the same way.
His thought ended in a horrid thrill of excitement, as he suddenly felt the peculiar crawling sensation in his skin that came from the mobile unit’s electric vibration mechanism. It was a full-charge feeling.
As Wentworth was silently congratulating himself, the hall­way suddenly lit up to a dazzling brightness. The doorway blazed with a direct sunlight brilliance.
The blinding light ended as suddenly as it had begun. A minute went by. There was the sound of debris falling but no movement. Pale, concerned, taut, Wentworth waited.

IV

What had happened was, a few minutes earlier Xilmer had realized that the moment of confrontation could be at hand—if he wished. He thereupon sent a message by way of the device in his headpiece to the giyn—battleship—in orbit far out beyond the moon. In asking for instructions, he said:
"Only one thing bothers me about this spy visit of mine. Somebody detected me from a room high up in one of the building structures an hour ago. His ability to do so suggests that there are two types of beings in the moon station. One group—the main mass of people—is unimportant. However, the second type of being—one of whom spotted me, and from a distance at that—could be a more powerful life form. So I think I should escape through a wall of this apartment and attempt by all possible means to make my way to the room from which that superior type observed me. I really believe I should size him up before any irreversible decisions are made."
The reply was grim: "Twenty-four hours from now, the fleet will risk one minute of sub-space communication. We must be ready to tell them to come here, or go elsewhere."
Xilmer protested, "I plan to proceed cautiously, breaking through walls and so on, to avoid corridors. And before I leave, I’ll try to erase the memory of my presence from important personnel here. Even at worst, that should all only take a few hours."
"Nonetheless, why not test their weaponry for just a few seconds? See what they’ve got in such a situation?"
"Very well."

Wentworth gazed around at the shambles with a sinking sensation. Then he turned to the two dazed men who had scrambled out of the wrecked mobile unit.
"What happened?" he asked.
Surprisingly, they weren’t sure. They had seen the man-like figure, as the unit drove into the living room of the apartment.
Sergeant Gojinski shook his head, as if to clear the mists from his mind. Then he spoke in a shaky voice through his own translation microphone: "There he was. I saw him look­ing us over, and he wasn’t afraid. I pointed the lightning rod at him—you know—uh—"
It was a slang term for the mobile unit’s aiming device. Wentworth nodded, urgently.
"So then I said, ’Fire!’ " continued Sergeant Gojinski. "I saw the vibration bolt reach out to him. And then something bright hit the unit—us. I guess I was stunned. When I could see, again, there was the hole in the wall, and he was gone."
The other man, who was from South America, had had the same experience.
Listening to the accounts, Wentworth felt a chill. There was an implication here of casual weapon superiority. Un­decided, he walked over to the gaping hole in the wall. The interior steel construction had been cleanly sliced through. He held his geiger counter toward it, but it remained as silent as it had throughout.
Here was evidence of incredible power without radiation.
Slowly, Wentworth braced himself. The moon station had a dozen mobile units stored against an unnamed emergency, but they would have to be charged up; which would take somewhat over an hour.
He explained his plan quietly to the men around him.
"We’ll use several mobile units with each search crew."
He used his TV key on the nearest communicator and issued a specific order: "All observers stay at your posts.
As soon as the supplementary mobile units are ready, call me at—"
He hesitated, then he gave Dr. Denovich’s address.
He was aware of Carr coming up beside him. Without looking at the plump man, Wentworth said, "Doctor, I want you to remain well in the rear of future action. Let’s remember that when this being spotted you observing him, he immediately tried to kill you. Apparently, he has not considered it worthwhile to attempt to exterminate anyone else. That’s got to be significant."
Carr said in a nervous tone, "You don’t think he was just surprised into striking at me?"
It was, of course, possible. But Wentworth was not prepared to take the risk.
Beside him, Carr continued uneasily. "There’s something I should report. When I first looked at that little woman’s face, just for a second it seemed as if I couldn’t read it. Do you think that alien had some way of scrambling her thoughts, so that her face didn’t display them?"
Wentworth felt sorry for the plump man, for obviously the partial failure meant that the ESP ability was coming to the end of its initial stage. It was a cruel prank of fate, but—equally obviously—the time had come for Carr to understand his situation.
Deliberately, he faced the psychologist and said gently, "Why don’t you read me, Doctor?"
Carr gave him a quick look. Then he frowned, and then some of the color drained from his cheeks.
He said at last, unhappily, I’m having difficulty, and it’s a pretty complicated thought. You’re thinking that my ability to read faces is a—a—"
He shook his head, bewildered. "I don’t get it—a common stereotype? That doesn’t seem right."
The near miss established once more for Wentworth that the marvelous ability was beginning to disappear. Aloud, he said, "Let’s go to Dr. Denovich’s office. I’m sure I now have time to tell you both the whole story."

An hour later, there was still no call to indicate that additional mobile units were ready; and he had finished his account.
Carr’s face had a blotched look, and his lips twitched. He had the appearance of a man confronting an unpleasant truth. He mumbled, "It all seemed so natural. I’ve thought about people’s expressions for years."
"When did the ability actually start?" asked Wentworth.
"Well," Can muttered, "it was when I was studying the faces of the other passengers on my way to the moon two days ago that the pieces started to fall into place. When we landed, I had the entire system worked out on a practical application basis."
"So it was just a few hours short of the two days when you finally called me. And so the ability is now in its fading stage; and the twist will show up in a few hours."
Carr grew even paler, if that were possible.
He said thickly, "But what form could such an intensification of face-reading take? I can’t imagine anything more complete than what I have been able to do."
Denovich, thin face taut, thin body tense as he leaned forward, interrupted harshly, "I feel outraged by all this secrecy. Why was I not briefed on arrival? Why has there been no previous publicity on this important matter?"
The English security officer pointed out stiffly that the moon station in its present form was now only eight years old. Space travel was still new. People were easily alarmed. Such a freak happening might have been a great setback. However, the information blackout was now going to be ended. A joint paper had been prepared by their predecessors. This was to be given to the world press after it had been cleared by the U.N. Security Council.
"And," Wentworth continued, "as for briefing you and Dr. Carr—I intended to do that after you had guessed that one of you would be—uh—a victim of the condition?"
Under the circumstances it had seemed credible that it might be a genuine system, as worked out by an expert.
Wentworth smiled his faint smile. "I hope, Dr. Carr, that you kept records."
"I have complete notes," replied Carr glumly.
"It will be the first time," said Wentworth. "So we have a win."
Having made the comment, he spread his hands almost helplessly. "And there’s your story."
He stood up. "I think I’d better go and see what prog­ress is being made on those mobile units." He addressed himself to Dr. Denovich. "Keep an eye on your colleague, sir."
The psychiatrist nodded curtly.

When the two men were alone, Dr. Denovich gazed at the plump American with a hint in his manner of personal concern.
"This seems to have been quite a shock to you, Dr. Carr.
Why don’t I give you a mild sleep potion, so that you can be in a relaxed state while the ability is fading?"
Carr studied the older man’s face with narrowing eyes.
"My ability may be fading," he said, "but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for what I think you’re thinking."
Denovich protested. "I’m sure you’re reading me wrong."
"You intended to get my notes while I slept," the psychologist accused.
"I thought of your notes," admitted the Russian, "and realized how important they were. It did not occur to me that you were not planning to share them."
Carr muttered, "I guess what I saw could have meant that." He broke off. "I apologize. Look, we’re both on edge. So let’s take a look at the situation."
As he analyzed it, here were two experts confronted by phenomena. Why didn’t they sit down, and keep a moment-by-moment record of the fading of the special ability?
"Perhaps," he concluded, "by continual discussion and restatement, we can prevent my memory from fading."
It was an excellent idea, and the two men settled down. For two and a half hours, the plan seemed to work, in that there was no apparent memory fading.
Then the phone rang.
It was Wentworth, reporting that the search parties had finally been augmented by additional mobile units. The security officer asked "I wondered if you cared to come along?"
Denovich explained that what Carr and he were doing was too important to leave.
When he turned from the phone, he was startled to see that the psychologist was leaning back with eyes closed. What was startling was that his body seemed limp. Denovich bent over the man, shook him, but there was no quickening of wakefulness. A swift examination established a sleeping man’s pulse, the slow, deep breathing of sleep.
Dr. Denovich wasted no time. He prepared a syringe and injected a sleep potion in the American’s arm. Then he dispatched his secretary on a research errand that would keep her away from the office for the rest of the day. Quickly he searched the unconscious man, found his key ring; then, picking up his copying camera, he headed along the hall and up the elevator to Carr’s office in the American section.
He had no sense of guilt. "This is not a moment to he squeamish," he told himself. National interests—paramount.
He found the notes almost at once. They were unexpected­ly voluminous. Expertly, he set about his task. Half an hour later, he was still intently copying one sheet after another—when he heard a faint sound behind him.
Denovich was not to be rattled. He turned slowly. And then a thrill of fear struck through him.
A figure stood there.

How the creature could ever have been taken for human was not clear to the startled Russian. The gauntness of the body was unnatural; the face, blackened as it was, did have something human in it. But the legs under the long gown showed . . . wrong—the way the cloth lay against them and outlined them! His physician’s eye recorded the details in a single, flashing look.
The next instant a voice from the headpiece said in Rus­sian, "Where is"—hesitation—"Dr. Carr?"
Denovich had not in his entire life had a single desire to be a martyr and he had none now. But, as in the past, he faced the Communist dilemma. Party doctrine required that he do what was necessary "for the people" in any sit­uation, regardless of personal danger. Failure to do so meant that he would have to attend a self-criticism meeting and explained his dereliction.
He had long ago solved the problem by a simple, quick analysis on the spot by one yardstick: the chances of discovery.
No chance of that here, he decided. But he deduced in a single, continuing evaluation that his only way of escape from this baleful being was total collaboration, and he had but one anguished hope: Maybe he’ll let me live.
"Eleven floors down, the Russian section—my office—422-N." He spoke hoarsely.
The creature gazed at him somberly. Then, contemptuously: "Don’t worry. We’re not after people. And, in view of the secret computation you just made, I’ll leave you your memory."
A flash of indescribably bright light from the headpiece struck the psychiatrist’s forehead.
Blackout!

V

It took a while for Xilmer, by his careful method, to reach 422-N. But presently he stood over the man lying on the couch and sent a message, describing Carr’s unconscious state.
"So far as I can see, I could destroy him without him or anyone else being able to prevent it."
"Wait!"
There was a silence of several minutes, then: "Tell us exactly how his unconsciousness came about."
Xilmer dutifully reported what he had perceived in the psychiatrist’s mind about the special ESP aspect, and how Denovich had injected Carr with a strong sedative. "It is this sedative that puts his body at our mercy."
He concluded, "He seems completely helpless, and I strongly urge that he not be allowed to awaken. Who knows what the ESP twist would be?"
"Wait!"
Again the receiving unit on his head stilled; finally: "According to our calculations," came the message, "this hu­man being has had time to go into the advanced ESP state, which apparently is a part of his cycle. So before you do anything, examine what is going on in the lower brain."
"I have already done so."
"With what result?"
"Despite his unconscious condition, something inside the brain is observing me and, I would say, is monitoring this conversation."
. . . But there were no energy connections strong enough to control power flows. So Carr could not fight back. Whatever the twist was, it was not in itself a weapon capable of causing an impact."
Xilmer concluded grimly, "I think we can safely say that, if we do not permit this man to awaken, the inhabitants of this star system cannot defend themselves."
"Too bad!" was the laconic, unsympathetic reply.
They grinned at each other mentally through the head mechanism, and enjoyed the feeling of total superiority.
"What is the recommendation?" Xilmer asked, routinely now.
"Kill him!"

When Denovich came to, he was lying on the carpeted floor. He raised himself and looked around. He was greatly relieved when he saw no sign of the alien. Trembling, he stood up and went to the outer door; peered out. Nothing. Not a soul in sight.
Fighting panic, he collected his equipment, but hesitated as he realized that his copying task was not completed. After a moment’s thought, he picked up all the psychologist’s notes, including those he had previously photographed.
As he hurried along the hallway, he glanced at his watch for the first time. It was two hours since he had been ren­dered unconscious. That was briefly startling. He thought, shocked: The creature has had all that time to find Carr in my office.
He expected to find his quarters damaged. But at first look, everything was in order. Hastily he locked up the stolen notes, then went through the door to the treatment room, where he had left Carr sleeping.
There was no one on the couch.
Denovich was about to turn away, when he saw the ob­ject lying half hidden on the far side of the little cot. He walked over and looked down at Xilmer’s turban. The cloth was disarrayed and stained by a bluish fluid, and a metal structure was visible through the folds of the silk-like stuff.
After a moment, he saw that the blue carpeting was heavily encrusted by more of the dark blue liquid.
As he stood there, undecided, voices sounded in his outer office. He recognized Wentworth’s British baritone, and then Carr’s softer voice. Denovich turned and faced the entrance. Seconds later the two men entered.
The Soviet psychiatrist was aware of several other men crowding the doorway, but they stopped short of it. He had seen only one of them before—recognized him as a Russian member of the security police. Their gazes met, held for an instant, significantly, then separated.
Wentworth said, "Oh, here you are, Doctor."
Denovich said nothing. He was gazing tensely at the face of the plump American, thinking: Right now, this instant, he’s in this super-state.
And, if Carr had been able to read thoughts on faces before, what he could do now must be so far in advance that his—Denovich’s—every act of the past few hours was as plainly visible to the other as a picture on a screen.
The Soviet psychiatrist cringed, then braced himself. Denials rushed to the tip of his tongue and waited there, ready to be spoken.
Wentworth was continuing: "Dr. Carr is puzzled, sir. When he came to he was lying on this couch, and he had no idea how he had got here. But that"—he indicated Xilmer’s turban—"was lying right there. As he went out, he saw your name on the door. That’s how he knows you, because, of course, he has no memory of the first stage of the ESP. What happened?"
Even as Wentworth was talking, Denovich’s mind began to race around seeking a plausible explanation for his own whereabouts. But he knew better than to make a quick answer. And so, as the English officer ceased speaking, Denovich addressed Carr.
"Are you all right, Doctor?"
Carr gave him, perhaps, too long a look before answering, but when he spoke he said simply, "Yes."
"You’re not hurt?"
"No. Should I be?" His eyes were, of all things, shifty, uneasy, puzzled.
"What about the, uh, twist?" Denovich said.
"The what?"

Denovich was thunderstruck. What he had expected, he didn’t know. But not this— this ordinary person, with ordinary, everyday responses. And no memory.
"You mean," he said, "you have no awareness of anything unusual?"
Carr shook his head. "Really, Doctor, I think you have more information on this matter than I. How did I get into your quarters? Have I been ill?"
Denovich turned and stared helplessly at Wentworth. He had his own story ready now, but he felt too bewildered even to offer it.
"Colonel," he said, "if you will fill me in, I’ll do the same for you."
Wentworth did so succinctly. After the phone conversation, he had accompanied one of the parties scouting for Xilmer. A few minutes ago, Dr. Carr had been seen wandering along a corridor; and since people had been forbidden to leave their apartments, Wentworth had been called to deal with the situation. He had come at once.
"Naturally, knowing where he had last been, I asked him what had happened, and of course, discovered only that he had awakened and seen this turban and all that sticky stuff."
He bent down, touched the bluish liquid gingerly with the tip of a finger, and when apparently it did not hurt him, raised it to his nose and sniffed. He made a face.
"Must be the blood of this race," he said. "Quite a strong odor."
"What race?" Carr asked. "And, look, gentlemen, what—" That was as far as he got. At that moment a voice spoke from Xilmer’s headpiece in English.
"We have been monitoring this conversation, and it would appear that an accident has befallen our agent."
Wentworth stepped forward quickly. "You can hear me?" he said.
The voice continued, "Give us an exact description of the present condition of our agent."
Wentworth replied firmly, "We’re quite willing to do so. But in return we would like some information from you."
"We’re only about three hundred thousand miles away. You’ll see us in slightly less than an hour, and unless your explanations are satisfactory, we shall blast your entire station out of existence. Now, quick!"
The threat was chilling, and instantly convincing. One of the men at the door said, "My God!"
Wentworth, after a long, tense moment, described in an even tone exactly what was left of Xilmer.
When he had finished, the voice said, "Wait!"
At least three minutes went by; then: "We must know exactly what happened. Interrogate Dr. Carr."
"Me?" said Carr, his voice scarcely more than a croak.
Wentworth made a ssssh gesture, then silently waved the men in the open door away, and then nodded at Denovich and Carr.
"Get it out of him!" he commanded Dr. Denovich; then he tiptoed from the room and headed for the phone in the psychiatrist’s private office.

As the Russian faced Carr, he was aware of the English­man’s muffled but earnest voice sounding the alarm. Consciously, he shut out the other’s voice and gazed at Carr.
"Doctor," he said, "what is your last recollection?"
The American psychologist swallowed, as if something unpalatable was in his throat; it was that much of a grimace. Then he countered: "How long have I been at the moon station?"
Dazzling lights of understanding blazed through the psychiatrist’s mind. Of course, he thought, he really doesn’t remember anything after he got that first ESP on his actual journey to the moon.
His recollection flashed to a question Carr had asked a few minutes before, about being ill. Of course," Denovich thought again. He must think he’s mentally ill!
He stood then, trembling with the possibilities of his lightning analysis, and he tried to visualize how he himself might feel in Carr’s place.
Instantly he realized the other’s problem. An American psychologist confessing to his Soviet colleague that he believed himself to be mad!
Denovich said gently, "Doctor, in what way do you think you’re crazy?"
When Carr hesitated, the psychiatrist urged: "Our lives are at stake. You must not hold back."
Carr sighed. "I have paranoid symptoms," he said. And he sounded suddenly tearful.
"Details! Hurry!"
Carr smiled wanly. "It’s really very extreme. When I awakened, I became aware of signals."
"Signals?"
"Everything means something."
"Oh, that one!" said Denovich. He added. "For example?"
"Well, I look at you, and you’re just one mass of—well—meaningful signals. Even the way you stand is a message."
Denovich was baffled. What Carr seemed to be describing was certainly only a variation of a routine paranoid stereotype.
Was this the famous second stage of the ESP cycle, which —he had to admit it—had been so convincing in its initial stage?
He caught himself. "Explain further," he urged.
"Well—" Carr paused, his pudgy face showed helplessness. "Well, your pulsations!"
As he haltingly explained it, Denovich’s body was like a large mass of energy circuits that gave off a set of signals.
Carr looked at the man, and at the surface signals in the exposed part of the body. And through the skin to the atomic structure inside: tiny golden balls in stacks of billions to each cubic millimeter, pulsing and signaling—and connected . . .
Connected by quadrillions of force lines to distant stars, to the near universe, already stretching out, shiningly tenuous, to other people on the moon station.
But the overwhelming majority of the lines curved off through the walls and across to the Earth . . . A solid mass of connections with other people and with all the places Denovich had ever been.
The signals that pulsed along some of the lines were intense; Carr followed one of the more powerful com­plexes to an earlier year in Denovich’s life, to a young woman, with tears streaming down her face.
The thoughts that came along that set of lines were: "I trusted you and you betrayed me!"
"Now, Natasha—" said that younger Denovich.
"You—see—" said Carr, helplessly. He stopped. "What’s the matter?"
The Russian psychiatrist wondered if his face looked as bloodless as he felt.
"What? W-what?" he gasped. He was stunned. Natasha was a girl he had got pregnant in his younger days and she had died in childbirth. With an effort, he controlled himself. "Can you do anything with it?"
"Well—yes, I guess so."
As he spoke uncertainly, Carr did something that cut the bundle that connected with the girl and watched the lines recoil back upon Denovich like a rubber band, suddenly released.
Denovich uttered a cry; he couldn’t help it. It was a caterwauling sound, with a bass, throaty yowl in it, that brought Wentworth out of the other office on the double.
By this time, Denovich was trying to reach the couch. But his knees buckled. He fell to the floor and lay there, at first writhing and moaning. But all at once he began a mad screaming.
The Russian agent pressed into the room behind Wentworth and stood there with bulging eyes. After a moment, Wentworth returned to the phone and called Medical Emergency.
The two men who came injected the insanely screaming body with a sedative. The screaming died down to a sobbing sound and then silence. They carried the unconscious man out on a stretcher to a small, mobile unit, called an ambulette and rode off with him.
The machine in Xilmer’s helmet spoke: "We absolutely require that Dr. Carr explain what he did to Dr. Denovich."
Carr gazed helplessly at Wentworth. "I just cut the lines. I’m guessing that, instantly, all the barriers he had between himself and that girl went down. I think that what we saw was the effect of total guilt suddenly breaking through."
"Wait!" said the voice from the Xilmer turban machine.
Wentworth, who could not forget that Xilmer’s headpiece had energy weaponry in it, silently waved everybody out of the room. He himself backed into position beyond the door jamb.
One minute. Two. Then the voice spoke: "Unquestionably a powerful mental force exists in Dr. Carr. The analysis of Xilmer’s death was that the unconscious mind of Dr. Carr defended itself from him by cutting the energy lines involving the execution intent of Xilmer. Hence, a reversal was induced, whereby he promptly used his mirt—a weapon in his headpiece—to commit suicide. The condition of his body indicated that almost total dissolution occurred."
Wentworth turned to Carr. "Any comment about that?" he whispered slowly.
Carr shook his head.
"No memory of it?"
Again, the head shake.
The voice was continuing, sarcastically, "Naturally, we shall wait until this man’s remarkable mental gift runs through its cycle, a few hours from now. You shall hear from us then."
Silence.

VI

Two hours; perhaps less.
Other men came. There were tense conferences. Carr sat off to one side. Presently, as the voices grew more urgent, he slipped away into the room where Xilmer’s turban lay and stood with eyes closed, gazing at a universe of count­less—signals.
Billions of these—pulsations—still lingered around the ma­chine in Xilmer’s headpiece. Quadrillions of lines were fo­cused on it from somewhere out in space.
Carr glanced along the lines with a casual ability. Now that he was no longer disturbed by the mental phenomenon itself, he was aware that there was a faculty in his mind that could understand the meaning of millions of lines at once.
He saw with total clarity that signals and pulsations were merely a surface activity of the basic universe structure. Underneath was—truth.
Between the signals and what they represented was an intricate feedback, an interchange of the surface meaning with the colossal fact below.
He was aware of Wentworth coming up beside him. "Dr. Carr," the security officer said softly, "our discussions have led us to the launching of nuclear missiles from the U.N. Space Station hovering over the Atlantic. These will be available close to here in about five hours, but in the final issue our real hope comes back to you and what you can do. What can you do?"
"I can—experiment," Carr answered, "with signals."
Wentworth experienced an intense disappointment. For signals, it seemed to him, were a part of communication, and not of weaponry. And that, he realized bitterly, was obviously logical. Beginning with the reading of thoughts on faces, the American psychologist had now, in the twist, come to some ultimate ability to understand and manipulate communication.
It was a great gift, but it was not what was needed in this fantastic emergency.
"What kind of experiment?" Wentworth asked.
"Like this!" said Carr.
And he disappeared.
Wentworth stood tense. Then, aware of Xilmer’s turban and the importance of the enemy not finding out what had happened, he tiptoed from the room. Hurrying to the nearest hall communicator, he inserted his key and asked his agents to make a quick search for Carr.
In ten minutes it was fairly well established that the plump psychologist was not in the moon station. As the reports trickled in confirming this improbable fact, Wentworth put out a call to leading scientists in the station, and soon there were men and women of several nationalities standing around him, speaking into their translation microphones, giving him their concepts of the situation.
But the sum total of the scientific speculations added up to a question: what could be done by one individual to thousands?
And that, in terms of Carr’s ability, came down to: what was the smallest number of lines that needed to be cut to defeat the invader?
As Wentworth stood by, glancing from face to face, it became clear that none of these trained people had any idea what the answer was.

For Carr, after he arrived on the giyn, there was a period of—not confusion, for he was totally aware of the problem—but of immense . . . violence.
He had—selected—an unoccupied room to arrive in; and there he was in what seemed to be a laboratory. Instruments. Tables. Machines. All these stood silently around him, unattended and unthreatening.
His problem derived from the fact that the giyn was pro­grammed to resist the presence of unregistered life forms. That defense system, being quiescent, had no visible lines until his appearance triggered the mechanism. The result of that triggering created the violence.
At the instant of his appearance in the room, the walls, the ceiling and the floor focused their weapons on him. Lines of force sprang out from every side, spun a web of energy around him; tried to hold him.
And that was but the first of four progressively more des­tructive attack systems. The energy trap was succeeded by an elementary mirt discharge, designed to stun; then came a primary mirt, consisting of murderous impact energies; and, finally, there was a nuclear reaction pattern, as strong as it could be in a confined space.
To the faculty in Carr’s brain, it was all signals, ob­served, correlated, defeated at source. Each attack was a cycle that ran its programmed measure. All cycles completed. Silence settled.
Pause.
Abruptly, somewhere aboard, a living mind took note. And an astonished voice spoke into Carr’s brain:
"Who are you?"
Carr did not reply.
The immense number of signals that had been flooding in on him from other levels told him that he was inside a ship twenty miles long, five miles wide and four miles thick. There were eighty thousand Gizdans aboard, each of whom now tuned in on the alarm that had alerted the entire ship.
For a few moments, they had the same general thought; the same conditioning responded, the same attention focused on the intruder. Like so many iron filings abruptly magnetized, the pulsations of alignment made a pattern. It was the pattern that made them manageable.
Carr in a single, comprehensive glance isolated the tiny portion of significant lines—and cut them.
Then, with equal unerring skill, he selected a mass of lines that interrelated and interacted with Basic Truth, drew them to him, intertwined himself with them—and stepped through an energy vacuum into the room on the moon station where Denovich lay asleep under sedation. He had a feeling that very little time remained for the "twist" ability.

Hastily, he repaired the lines he had cut earlier and watched the massive, internal armor of the psychiatrist re­align. Whereupon Dr. Carr walked out of the room, out of the hospital sector, to the nearest phone booth. He called Wentworth.
When the security officer finally came on the line, he said, "Doctor, what happened?
"They’ve left," said Carr simply.
"B-but—" Wentworth’s voice poised at a peak of puzzlement. But he caught hold of himself and said more calmly, "Doctor, we figured out here that there was probably a smallest decisive group of lines to cut—"
"That’s what I did."
"But what could that be? What could be the lowest common denominator for so many persons?"
Carr told him.
Wentworth said, admiringly, "Well, I’ll be . . . Of course. Congratulations, Doctor."

Hours later, when the ESP twist was already faded, at a time when the giyn was nearing the remote end of the solar system and still accelerating, it made its sub-space contact with the great Gizdan fleet cruising in another part of space.
"Got anything for us?" said the fleet commander.
"No!" said the captain of the giyn.
"We understood you were approaching an inhabited system that looked easy."
"I don’t know how you could have got such an impression. There’s nothing here at all."
"Okay. Break contact."
As the captain of the giyn complied, for an instant he had a fleeting impression, like a dream, as if there was something he ought to know about the sun system through which the giyn had passed.
Had he been able to be aware of such things, he would have noticed that all lines relating to Earth and the moon were cut and coiled back into a tiny corner of his brain.
The feeling of something known and understood . . . faded. And was gone.
Forever.


4. THE PROXY INTELLIGENCE


I

Take a sentient being —

Even Steve Hanardy could fit that description. He was a short, stocky man, with the look about him of someone who had lived too close to the animal stage. His eyes were perpetually narrowed, as if he were peering against a bright light. His face was broad and fleshy. But he was human. He could think and act, and he was a giver and not a taker.
Put this sentient person in a solar system surrounded by a two billion light-year ocean of virtual nothingness beyond which, apparently, is more nothingness —
Hanardy, a product of Earth’s migration to the moon and to the planets of the solar system, was born on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, before the educational system caught up to the colonists. He grew up an incoherent roustabout and a spacehand on the freighters and passenger liners that sped about among the immense amount of debris — from moons to habitable meteorites — that sur­rounded the massive Jupiter. It was a rich and ever-growing trade area, and so presently even the stolid, unimaginative Hanardy had a freighter of his own. Almost from the beginning, his most fruitful journeys were occasional trips to the meteorite where a scientist, Professor Ungarn, lived with his daughter, Patricia. For years, it was a lucrative, routine voyage, without incident.
Confront this sentient indi­vidual with this enigma of be­ing
The last voyage had been dif­ferent.
To begin with, he accepted a passenger — a reporter named Wil­liam Leigh, who ostensibly wanted to write up the lonely route for his news syndicate. But almost as soon as the freighter reached the Un­garn meteorite and entered the airlock, the meteorite was attacked by strange space vessels, which were capable of far greater speeds than anything Hanardy had ever seen. And William Leigh was not who he seemed.
It was hard to know just who he was. What actually happened as far as Hanardy was concerned, was quite simple: One of the de­fensive energy screens had gone down before the attack of the strange ships; and Professor Un­garn sent Hanardy to machine a new part for the screen’s drive unit. While he was engaged in this, Leigh came upon him by surprise, attacked him, and tied him up.

Lying there on the floor, bound hand and foot, Hanardy thought in anguish: "If I ever get loose, I’m gonna hightail it out of here!"
He tested the rope that held him and groaned at its unyielding toughness. He lay, then, for a while, accepting the confinement of the bonds, but underneath was a great grief and a great fear.
He suspected that Professor Un­garn and the professor’s daughter, Patricia, were equally helpless, or they would have tried during the past hour to find out what had happened to him.
He listened again, intently, holding himself still. But only the steady throbbing of the distant dynamos was audible. No footsteps approached; there was no other movement.
He was still listening when he felt an odd tugging inside his body.
Shivering a little, Hanardy shook his head as if to clear it of men­tal fog — and climbed to his feet.
He didn’t notice that the cords that had bound him fell away.
Out in the corridor, he paused tensely. The place looked deserted, empty. Except for the vague vibration from the dynamos, a great silence pressed in upon him. The place had the look and feel of being on a planet. The artificial grav­ity made him somewhat lighter than on Earth, but he was used to such changes. It was hard to grasp that he was inside a meteorite, hun­dreds of thousands of miles from the nearest moon or inhabited planet. Being here was like being inside a big building, on an upper floor.
Hanardy headed for the nearest elevator shaft. He thought: I’d bet­ter untie Miss Pat, then her pop, and then get.
It was an automatic decision, to go to the girl first. Despite her sharp tongue, he admired her. He had seen her use weapons to in­jure, but that didn’t change his feeling. He guessed that she’d be very angry — very possibly she’d blame him for the whole mess.
Presently he was knocking hesi­tantly on the door to Patricia’s apartment. Hesitantly, because he was certain that she was not in a position to answer.
When, after a reasonable pause, there was no reply, he pressed gently on the latch. The door swung open.
He entered pure enchantment.

The apartment was a physical delight. There were French-type windows that opened onto a sun­lit window. The French doors were open, and the sound of birds singing wafted in through them. There were other doors leading to the inner world of the girl’s home, and Hanardy, who had occasional­ly been in the other rooms to do minor repair work, knew that there also everything was as costly as it was here in this large room that he could see.
Then he saw the girl. She was ly­ing on the floor, half-hidden be­hind her favorite chair, and she was bound hand and foot with wire.
Hanardy walked toward her un­happily. It was he who had brought William Leigh, and he wasn’t quite sure just how he would argue himself out of any accusation she might make about that. His guilt showed in the way he held his thick-set body, in the shuffling of his legs, in the awkward way he knelt beside her. He began gingerly to deal with the thin wire that enlaced and interlaced her limbs.
The girl was patient. She waited till he had taken all the wire off her and then, without moving from the floor, began to rub the circulation back into her wrists and ankles.
She looked up at him and made her first comment: "How did you avoid being tied up?"
"I didn’t. He got me, too," said Hanardy. He spoke eagerly, anxious to be one of the injured, along with her. He already felt better. She didn’t seem to be angry.
"Then how did you get free?" Patricia Ungarn asked.
"Why, I just — " Hanardy be­gan.
He stopped, thunderstruck. He thought back, then over what had happened. He had been lying there, tied. And then . . . and then . . .
What?
He stood blank, scarcely daring to think. Realizing that an answer was expected, he began apologeti­cally, "I guess be didn’t tie me up so good, and I was in a kind of a hurry, figuring you were here, and so I just —"
Even as he spoke, his whole be­ing rocked with the remembrance of how tough those ropes had been a few minutes before he freed him­self.
He stopped his mumbling expla­nation because the girl wasn’t lis­tening, wasn’t even looking. She had climbed to her feet, and she was continuing to rub her hands. She was small of build and good-looking in a bitter way. Her lips were pressed too tightly together; her eyes were slightly narrowed with a kind of permanent anxiety. Except for that, she looked like a girl in her teens, but cleverer and more sophisticated than most girls her age.
Even as Hanardy, in his heavy way, was aware of the complexity of her, she faced him again. She said with an un-girl-like decisive­ness, "Tell me everything that hap­pened to you."

Hanardy was glad to let go of the unsatisfactory recollection of his own escape. He said, "First thing I know, this guy comes in there while I’m working at the lathe. And is he strong, and is he fast! I never would’ve thought he had that kind of muscle and that fast way of moving. I’m pretty chunky, y’understand — "
"What then?" She was patient, but there was a pointedness about her question that channeled his at­tention back to the main line of events.
"Then he ties me up, and then he goes out, and then he takes those Dreeghs from the spaceship and disappears into space." Han­ardy shook his head, wonderingly. "That’s what gets me. How did he do that?"
He paused, in a brown study; but he came from the distance of his thought back into the room, to re­alize guiltily that the girl had spoken to him twice.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I was thinking about how he did that, and it’s kind of hard to get the idea." He finished, almost accus­ingly: "Do you know what he does?"
The girl looked at him, a star­tled expression on her face. Han­ardy thought she was angry at his inattention and said hastily: "I didn’t hear what you wanted me to do. Tell me again, huh!"
She seemed unaware that he had spoken. "What does he do, Steve?" "Why, he just — "
At that point, Hanardy stopped short and glanced back mentally over the glib words he had been using. It was such a fantastic dia­logue, that he could feel the blood draining from his cheeks.
"Huh!" he said.
"What does he do, Steve?" He saw that she was looking at him, as if she understood something that he didn’t. It irritated him.
He said unhappily: "I’d better go and untie your father before that last bunch of Dreegs shows up."
Having spoken, he stopped again, his mouth open in amaze­ment. He thought: "I must be nuts. What am I saying?"
He turned and started for the door.
"Come back here!"
Her voice, sharp and commanding, cut into him. Defensively, he put up between himself and her the thick barrier of stolidity which had served him for so many years in his relations with other people. He swung awkwardly around to face her again. Before he could speak, she said with intensity: "How did he do it, Steve?"
The question ran up against a great stubbornness in him. He had no feeling of deliberately resisting her. But the mental fog seemed to settle down upon his being, and he said: "Do what, Miss?"
"Leave?"
"Who?" He felt stupid before her questions, but he felt even more stupid for having had meaning­less thoughts and said meaning­less things.
"Leigh — you fool! That’s who."
"I thought he took that space-boat of yours that looks like an automobile."

There was a long pause. The girl clenched and unclenched her hands. Now she seemed very unchildlike indeed. Hanardy, who had seen her angry before, cringed and waited for the thunder and lightning of her rage to lash out at him. Instead, the tenseness faded. She seemed suddenly thoughtful and said with unexpect­ed gentleness: "After that, Steve? After he got out there!"
She swung her arm and pointed at the aviary, where the sunlight glinted beyond the French win­dows. Hanardy saw birds fluttering among the trees. Their musical cries gave the scene a homey touch, as if it really were a garden. As he watched, the tree leaves stir­red; and he knew that hidden fans were blowing an artificial breeze. It was like a summer afternoon, ex­cept that just beyond the glasslike wall was the blackness of space.
It was a cosmic night outside, dis­turbed here and there by an atom of matter — a planet hidden from sight by its own relative smallness and distance from anything else; a sun, a point of light and energy, quickly lost in darkness so vast that presently its light would fade, and become one grain in a misty bright cloud that obscured the blackness for a moment of universe time and occupied an inch of space, or so it seemed. . . .
Hanardy contemplated that star­tling vista. He was only vaguely aware that his present intensity of interest was quite different from similar thoughts he had had in the past. On his long journeys, such ideas had slipped into and out of his mind. He recalled having had a thought about it just a few months before. He had been look­ing out of a porthole, and — just for an instant — the mystery of the empty immensity had touched him. And he’d thought: "What the heck is behind all this? How does a guy like me rate being alive?"
Aloud, Hanardy muttered: "I’d better get your father free, Miss Pat." He finished under his breath: "And then beat it out of here — fast."

II

He turned, and this time, though she called after him angrily, he stumbled out into the corridor and went down to the depths of the meteorite, where the dynamos hummed and throbbed; and where, presently, he had Pro­fessor Ungarn untied.
The older man was quite cheer­ful. "Well, Steve, we’re not dead yet. I don’t know why they didn’t jump in on us, but the screens are still holding, I see."
He was a gaunt man with deep-set eyes and the unhappiest face Hanardy have ever seen. He stood, rubbing the circulation back into his arms. Strength of intellect shone from his face, along with the melancholy. He had defended the me­teorite in such a calm, practical way from the attacking Dreeghs that it was suddenly easy to re­alize that this sad-faced man was actually the hitherto unsuspected observer of the solar system for a vast galactic culture, which includ­ed at its top echelon the Great Ga­lactic — who had been William Leigh — and at the bottom, Pro­fessor Ungarn and his lovely daugh­ter.
The thoughts about that seeped into Hanardy’s fore-conscious. He realized that the scientist was pri­marily a protector. He and this station were here to prevent con­tact between Earth and the galaxy. Man and his earth-born civilization were still too low on the scale of development to be admitted to awareness that a gigantic galac­tic culture existed. Interstellar ships of other low-echelon cultures which had been admitted to the galactic union were warned away from the solar system whenever they came too close. Accidentally, the hunted, lawless Dreeghs had wandered into this forbidden sec­tor of space. In their lust for blood and life energy they had avidly concentrated here in the hope of gaining such a quantity of blood, and so great a supply of life ener­gy, that they would be freed for endless years from their terrible search.
It had been quite a trap, which had enabled the Great Galactic to capture so many of them. But now another shipload of Dreeghs was due; and this time there was no trap.
Professor Ungarn was speaking: "Did you get that part machined before Leigh tied you up?" He broke off: "What’s the matter, Steve?"
"Huh! Nothing." Hanardy came out of a depth of wonderment: "I’d better get onto that job. It’ll take a half hour, maybe."
Professor Ungarn nodded and said matter-of-factly: "I’ll feel better when we get that additional screen up. There’s quite a gang out there."
Hanardy parted his lips to say that that particular "gang" was no longer a problem, but that another super-ship, a late arrival, would shortly appear on the scene. He stopped the words, unspoken; and now he was consciously dismayed. "What’s going on?" he wondered. "Am I nuts?"
Almost blank, he headed down to the machine shop. As he entered, he saw the ropes that had bound him, lying on the floor. He walk­ed over in a haze of interest and stooped to pick up one of the short sections.
It came apart in his fingers, breaking into a fine, powdery stuff, some of which drifted into his nos­trils. He sneezed noisily.

The rope, he discovered, was all like that. He could hardly get over it. He kept picking up the pieces, just so that he could feel them crumble. When he had noth­ing but a scattering of dust, he stood up and started on the lathe job. He thought absently: "If that next batch of Dreeghs arrives, then maybe I can start believing all this stuff."
He paused and for the first time thought: "Now, where did I get that name, Dreegh?"
Instantly, he was trembling so violently that he had to stop work. Because — if he could get the pro­fessor to admit that that was what they were — Dreeghs — then. . . .
Then what?
"Why, it’d prove everything," he thought. "Just that one thing!"
Already, the crumbled rope, and whatever it proved, was fading into the background of his recollection, no longer quite real, needing to be reinforced by some new miracle. As it happened, he asked the question under optimum circum­stances. He handed the part to the scientist and managed to ask about the Dreeghs as the older man was turning away. Ungarn be­gan immediately with an obvious urgency to work on the shattered section of the energy screen drive. It was from there, intent on what he was doing, and in an absent-minded tone, that he answered Hanardy’s question.
"Yes, yes," he muttered. "Dreeghs. Vampires, in the worst sense of the word . . . but they look just like us."
At that point he seemed to real­ize to whom he was talking. He stopped what he was doing and swung around and stared at Han­ardy.
He said at last very slowly, "Steve, don’t repeat everything you hear around this place. The uni­verse is a bigger territory than you might think but people will ridi­cule if you try to tell them. They will say you’re crazy.
Hanardy did not move. He was thinking: "He just don’t realize. I gotta know. All this stuff happen­ing — "
But the idea of not telling was easy to grasp. At Spaceport, on the moon, Europa, at the bars that he frequented, he was accepted by certain hangers-on as a boon com­panion. Some of the people were sharp, even educated, but they were cynical, and often witty, and were particularly scathing of serious ideas.
Hanardy visualized himself telling any one of them that there was more to space than the solar system — more life, more intelli­gence — and he could imagine the ridiculing discussion that would be­gin.
Though they usually treated him with tolerance — it sure wouldn’t do any good to tell them.

Hanardy started for the door. "I gotta know," he thought again. "And right now I’d better get on my ship and beat it before that Dreegh comes along pretend­ing that he’s Pat’s future hus­band."
And he’d better leave on the sly. The professor and the girl wouldn’t like him to go away now. But defending this meteorite was their job, not his. They couldn’t expect him to deal with the Dreegh who had captured, and murdered, Pat’s boy friend.
Hanardy stopped in the doorway, and felt blank. "Huh!" he said aloud.
He thought: Maybe I should tell them. They won’t be able to deal with the Dreegh if they think he’s somebody else.
"Steve!" It was Professor Un­garn.
Hanardy turned. "Yeah, boss?" he began.
"Finish unloading your cargo."
"Okay, boss."
He walked off heavily along the corridor, tired and glad that he had been told to go and relieved that the decision to tell them could not be put into effect immediately. He thought wearily: First thing I’d better do is take a nap.

III

Hanardy walked slowly up the ramp into his own ship, and so to his own cabin. Before lying down for the sleep he needed, he paused to stare at his reflection in the mirror-bright metal wall of the room. He saw a short, muscular man in greasy, gray dungarees, and a dirty yellow shirt. A stubble of beard emphasized a coarseness of features that he had seen be­fore, but somehow never so clearly, never with such a conviction that he was a low-grade human being. Hanardy groaned and stretched out in the bunk. He thought: I sure got my eyes open all of a sudden to what kind of a lug I am.
He took a quick look back along the track of years, and groaned again. It was a picture of a man who had down-graded himself as a human being, seeking escape in a lonely space job from the need to compete as an individual.
"Nobody will believe a word I say," he thought. "All that other junk was only in my noodle — it didn’t happen out where you could prove anything. I’d better just keep my mouth shut and stop thinking I understand what’s going on."
He closed his eyes — and look­ed with a clear inner vision at the universe.
He opened his eyes to realize that he had slept.
He realized something else. The screens were down; a Dreegh in a spaceboat was coming into an air­lock at the extreme lower side of the meteorite.
The vampire was primarily in­tent on information, but he would destroy everyone in the meteorite as soon as he felt it was safe.
Sweating Hanardy tumbled out of the bunk and hurried out of his ship, and so into the meteorite. He raced along the corridor that led to the other airlock. At the entrance he met the professor and Patricia. They were smiling and excited.
The scientist said, "Great news, Steve. Pat’s fiancé has just ar­rived. He’s here sooner than we expected; but we were getting wor­ried that we hadn’t received some communication."
Hanardy muttered something, feeling immensely foolish. To have been so wrong! To have thought: Dreegh! — when the reality was Klugg . . . the girl’s long-awaited fiancé, Thadled Madro.
But the identification of the new arrival made all his fantasies just that — unreal vaporings, figments of an unsettled mind.

Hanardy watched gloomily as Madro came down the ramp from the lifeboat. The girl’s lover was a very tall, slim man in his thirties, with deep-set eyes. He had an intensity about him that was impressive, commanding — and re­pellent. Instantly repellent.
Hanardy realized ruefully that his reaction was over-critical. Hanardy couldn’t decide what had twisted this man. But he was reminded of the degraded people who were his principal buddies at spaceport, on Europa. Smart, many of them were — almost too smart. But they gave off this same ema­nation of an overloaded personality.
Hanardy was a little surprised to realize that the girl was not rushing forward to greet the gaunt-bodied visitor. It was Professor Ungarn, who approached the man and bowed courteously. Madro bow­ed in return and then stood look­ing at the girl who waited stiffly near Hanardy. The scientist glanced at his daughter and then smiled at the newcomer apologet­ically. He said, Thadled Madro, this is my daughter, Patricia —who has suddenly become very shy."
Madro bowed. Patricia inclined her head. Her father turned to her, and said, "My dear, I realize that this is an unfortunate way of mar­rying and giving in marriage — to entrust yourself to a man whom neither of us has ever seen before. But let us remember his courage in coming here at all and resolve to offer him communication and the opportunity to show us what he is."
Madro bowed to the girl. "On those terms, I greet you, Patricia." He straightened. "About communi­cation — I am baffled by the mes­sage I received en route. Will you please give me further informa­tion?"
Professor Ungarn told him of the Dreegh attack and of its abrupt cessation; he told him of William Leigh, the Great Galactic. He finished: "We have our report as to what happened from a mem­ber of the race of this system — who was somehow infected by the mere presence of this mighty be­ing, and who apparently acquired the ability to see at a distance, and to be aware of some of the thoughts of some people, temporarily at least."
There was a faint smile on Un­garn’s tired face. Hanardy shriv­eled a little inside, feeling that he was being made fun of. He looked unhappily at the girl. She must have told her father what he had said.
Patricia Ungarn caught his gaze on her and shrugged. "You said it, Steve," she stated matter-of-factly. "Why not tell us everything you felt?"
The newcomer stared somberly and intently at Hanardy; so in­tently that it was almost as if he also were reading minds. He turn­ed slowly to the girl. Can you give me a swift summary?" he asked. "If there’s action to be taken, I’d like to have some basis for it."
There was a hard note in his voice that chilled Hanardy, who had been thinking for many min­utes over and over: They don’t re­ally know him! They don’t know him. . . . He had a mental picture of the real Madro’s ship being in­tercepted, Madro captured and drained of information and then murdered by the vampire method. The rest was skillful makeup, good enough apparently to pass the in­spection of the professor and his perceptive daughter. Which meant that, before killing the real Madro, the Dreegh had learned passwords, secret codes and enough back his­tory to be convincing.
Within minutes, this creature could decide that it was safe to take action.

Hanardy had no illusions, no hope. It had taken an un­bounded being to defeat these mighty Dreeghs. And now, by a trick, a late arrival had achieved what his fellows en masse had not been able to do — he had gotten into the meteorite fortress of the galactic watcher of the solar sys­tem; and his whole manner indi­cated that his fears had nothing to do with either the professor or his daughter, or Hanardy.
He wanted to know what had happened. For a little while he might be forbearing, in the belief that he could learn more as an ap­parent ally than as a revealed en­emy.
"We have to put him off," Han­ardy thought in agony. "We have to hold back, or maybe give him what he wants." Somehow, the lat­ter seemed preferable.
He grew aware that the girl was talking. While Hanardy listened, she gave the essential picture of what he had said. It was all there, surprisingly sharp in detail. It even penetrated some of the blur that had settled over his own memory.
When she had finished, Madro frowned and nodded. His slim body seemed unnaturally tense. He said, almost to himself: "So they were almost all captured — " He paused and, turning, looked at Hanardy. "You have the feeling there will be one more ship?"
Hanardy nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"How many Dreeghs are there aboard this one ship?" Madro ask­ed.
This time there was no escaping a verbal reply. "Nine," said Han­ardy.
He hadn’t thought about the ex­act number before. But he knew the figure was correct. Just for a moment, he knew it.
Madro said in an odd tone, "You get it that clearly? Then you must already know many other things as well."
His dark eyes gazed directly in­to Hanardy’s. The unspoken mean­ing that was in them seemed to be: "Then you already know who I am?"
There was such a hypnotic qual­ity in the other’s look that Han­ardy had to wage an inner fight against admitting that he knew.
Madro spoke again. "Were these —this first group of Dreeghs — all killed?"
"Why, I —" Hanardy stopped, amazed. "Gee, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to them. But he intended to kill them; up to a certain moment, he intended to; and then — "
"And then what, Steve?" That was Pat, her voice urging him.
"I don’t know. He noticed some­thing."
"Who noticed something?" asked Pat.
"Leigh. You know — him. But I don’t know what he did after that."
"But where could they be now?" the girl asked, bewildered.
Hanardy remained blank, vague­ly guilty, as if somehow he was failing her by not knowing.
He grew aware that Madro was turning away. "There is apparently more to discover here," the Dreegh said quietly. "It is evident that we must re-assess our entire situation; and I might even guess that we Kluggs could through the chance perceptive stimulation of this man achieve so great a knowledge of the universe that, here and now, we might be able to take the next step of development for our kind."

The comment seemed to indicate that the Dreegh was still un­decided. Hanardy followed along behind the others. For a few des­perate seconds he thought of jerk­ing out his gun, in the hope that he might be able to fire before the Dreegh could defend himself.
But already doubt was upon him. For this suspicion was just in his head. He had no proof other than the steady stream of pictures in his mind; and that was like a mad­ness having no relation to any­thing that had been said and done before his eyes. Crazy people might act on such inner pictures, but not stolid, unimaginative Steve Han­ardy.
"Gotta keep my feet on the ground!" Hanardy muttered to himself.
Ahead, Professor Ungarn said in a conversational voice: "I’ve got to give you credit, Thadled. You have already said something that has shocked Pat and myself. You have used the hateful word "Klugg" just as if it doesn’t bother you."
"It’s just a word," said Madro.
And that was all that was said while they walked. They came to the power room. The girl sank in­to a chair, while her father and the visitor walked over to the pow­er control board. "The screens are working beautifully," said Professor Ungarn with satisfaction. "I just opened them for the few sec­onds it took for you to get through them. We’ve got time to decide what to do, in case this last Dreegh ship attacks us."
Madro walked over near the girl, and settled into a chair. He address­ed Professor Ungarn, "What you said a moment ago, about the word and the identification of Klugg —you’re right. It doesn’t bother me."
The scientist said grimly, "Aren’t you fooling yourself a little? Of all the races that know of the galactic civilization, we’re the lowest on the scale. We do the hard work. We’re like the day laborers on planets such as Earth. Why, when Pat found out, she nearly went mad with self-negation, Galactic mo­rons!" He shuddered.
Madro laughed in a relaxed way; and Hanardy had to admire the easiness of him. If Madro was a Dreegh, then for all Madro knew this, also, was a trap set by the Great Galactic; and yet he seemed unworried. If, on the other hand, he was actually a Klugg, then somehow he had made inferiority right within himself. "I could use some of that," Hanardy thought gloomily. "If these guys are galactic morons, what does that make me?"
Madro was speaking: "We’re what we are," he said simply. "It’s not really a matter of too much dif­ference in intelligence. It’s an en­ergy difference. There’s a way here, somewhere, of utilizing energy in a very superior fashion. But you’ve got to have the energy, and you’ve got to get it from somewhere. That’s what makes the case of this fellow Leigh interest­ing. If we could backtrack on what he did here, we might really get at the heart of a lot of things."
Patricia and her father said noth­ing. But their eyes glistened, as they waited for the man to con­tinue. Madro turned to Hanardy. "That question she asked you be­fore — " he indicated the girl —"when you first untied her. How did he leave the solar system after capturing those — Dreeghs?" He hesitated the slightest bit before using the name.
Hanardy said simply, "He didn’t exactly leave. It’s more like . . . he was somewhere else. And he took them with him." He fumbled for words. "You see, things aren’t the way they seem. They’re — " He stopped, unhappy.
He realized that the two men and the girl were waiting. Hanardy waved his arms aimlessly, indi­cating things beyond the safe­guarding of the meteorite. "All that — that’s not real."

Madro turned towards his com­panions. "It’s the concept of a universe of illusion. An old idea; but maybe we should take another look at it."
Professor Ungarn murmured, "It would take complex techniques to make it work."
Hanardy said straining for meaning, "You just keep putting it out there. As if you’re doing it, even though you’re not. That tunes you in."
"Put what out, Steve?" It was the girl, her voice as strained as his.
"The world. The universe . . . the whole deal."
"Oh!"
Hanardy went on, "And then, for a moment, you don’t put any­thing there. That’s when you do something I don’t understand."
"What’s that?" The girls’ voice almost emotionless, led him forward.
"You stop everything," said Hanardy wonderingly. "You let the nothingness rush in. And then —you become the real you . . . for as long as you have energy."
He stared at the three people, through them, unseeing. As from a distance, Madro’s voice came to him:
"You see — it’s a matter of en­ergy," the man said calmly. "Han­ardy?"
He came back into the room, mentally as well as physically. "Yeah?"
"Where did he get his energy?" Madro asked.
"Uh," said Hanardy, "he got most of it out where it was stored — a kind of dark room."
It was a new thought; a picture came with it of how the energy had been put there by somebody else, not by Leigh. Before Han­ardy could speak another word, Madro was over there beside him.
"Show us!" he said, and his voice was like a fire, burning a path of action, demanding counter-action.
Hanardy led the way, his heavy body trembling. He had the feel­ing that he had made an admission that spelled victory for the Dreegh. But there was no turning back. If this creature was a Dreegh, then resistance was useless. He knew that intuitively.
"If I could only be sure," Han­ardy thought miserably.
And the stupid thing was that he was sure. As sure, it seemed to him, as he could ever be. But he wasn’t sure enough even to make the attempt to save his own life. As things stood, he’d have to go through with this farce until the Dreegh — satisfied that all was well — destroyed them all in his own good time.

IV

It was twenty minutes later.
. . . After they had found the little black room to be merely a drab closet where the professor had always kept certain tools, but oth­erwise empty.
"Where was it stored?" Madro demanded of Hanardy. "I mean the energy that Leigh got."
Hanardy pointed unhappily at the metal wall inside the closet.
"Are you saying the energy was in the wall?"
The question once more disturb­ed Hanardy’s sense of the reality of his own thoughts, and so he simply stood there, shaken, as Pat and Professor Ungarn pressed for­ward and with a portable instru­ment tested the wall.
Madro did not join them, nor did he again look into the little room. Hanardy felt an inner tre­mor as the Dreegh, ignoring what the father and daughter were do­ing, turned and strode toward him.
"Steve," he said, "I want to talk to you."
He glanced back, raised his voice, "I’m going to take Han­ardy for a little private question­ing."
"All right!" That was Pat. But neither she nor her father turned. Madro had not waited. His fingers gripped Hanardy’s arm firmly at the elbow. Shrinking, Hanardy re­alized the other’s intent.
A test!
To determine how vulnerable he was.
To the death — if he were that weak.
Even as Hanardy had these awarenesses, Madro drew him away from the storeroom and around a corner. Hanardy kept looking back, not daring to call for help but yet hoping that the professor and his daughter would be motivated to follow.
His final view of them showed them still inside the closet, and the professor was saying, "A series of tests on this wall should—"
Hanardy wondered what they would think when they found him gone — and dead.
Madro drew Hanardy along the side corridor and into a room. He closed the door, and they were alone. Hanardy still not resisting.
Madro stood there for a few mo­ments, tall, lean, smiling.
"Let’s settle this once and for all," he said softly. "Myself —against whatever ability you were endowed with."
And because Hanardy had begun to have fantasies, had nurtured a tiny hope that maybe it was true, that maybe something great had rubbed off on him — as Professor Ungarn had implied — for a few seconds, Hanardy actually waited for that something inside him to handle this situation.

That was all the time he had —seconds. The speed of Madro’s attack, and the total violent intent of it, instantly defeated that wait­ing reaction.
He was lifted effortlessly, grab­bed by one foot, held like a rag doll, and incredibly was about to have his head dashed against the near wall — when, with a primi­tive survival spasm of effort, Han­ardy kicked with his other foot, kicked hard against the wrist of the hand by which Madro held him.
For that moment, for that one attack, it was resistance enough. The Dreegh let him go. Hanardy fell — the slow-motion fall of less than Earth gravity. Far too slow for the speed of Madro’s second attack.
In his awkward, muscle-bound way, only one of Hanardy’s drag­ging legs actually struck the floor. The next moment he was caught again by fingers that were like granite biting into his clothes and body — Madro obviously neither heeding nor caring which.
And there was no longer any doubt in Hanardy’s mind. He had no special ability by which he might defeat the Dreegh’s deadly intent.
He had no inner resources. No visions. He was helpless. His hard muscles were like putty in the steely grip of a man whose strength overwhelmingly transcended his own.
Hanardy ceased his writhing and yelled desperately, "For Pete’s sake, why all this murder when there’s only five women Dreeghs and four men left? Why don’t you Dreeghs change, try once more to become normal?"

As swiftly as it had started, the violence ended.
Madro let him go, stepped back and stared at him. "A message!" he said. "So that’s your role."
Hanardy did not immediately realize that the threat was ended. He had fallen to the floor. From that begging position he continued his appeal. "You don’t have to kill me! I’ll keep my mouth shut. Who’d believe me, anyway?"
"What’s normal?" The Dreegh’s voice was cold and demanding. The radiation from him — unclean­ness — was stronger.
"Me," said Hanardy.
"You!" Incredulous tone.
"Yeah, me." Hanardy spoke ur­gently. "What ails me is that I’m a low-lifer, somehow. But I’m a normal lug. Things balance out in me — that’s the key. I take a drink, but not because I have to. It doesn’t affect me particularly. When I was in my teens once I tried taking drugs. Hell, I just felt it didn’t fit in my body. I just threw it off. That’s normal. You can’t do that with what you’ve got."
"What’s normal?" Madro was cold, steady, remote.
"You’re sick," said Hanardy. "All that blood and life energy. It’s abnormal. Not really necessary. You can be cured."
Having spoken the strange words, Hanardy realized their strangeness. He blinked.
"I didn’t know I was going to say that," he mumbled.
The Dreegh’s expression was changing as he listened. Suddenly he nodded and said aloud, "I ac­tually believe we’ve been given a communication from the Great Galactic. A twelfth-hour, last-chance offer."
"What will you do with me?" Hanardy mumbled.
"The question," came the steely reply, "is what is the best way to neutralize you? I choose this way!"
A metallic something glittered in the Dreegh’s hand. From its muz­zle a shimmering line of light reached toward Hanardy’s head.
The spaceman flinched, tried to duck, had the cringing thought that this was death and stood there expecting at the very least a ter­rible shock.
He felt nothing. The light hit his face; and it was as if a pencil beam from a bright flashlight had briefly glared into his eyes. Then the light went, and there he stood blinking a little, but unhurt so far as he could determine.
He was still standing there when the Dreegh said, "What you and I are going to do now is that you’re going to come with me and show me all the places on this meteorite where there are armaments or small arms of any kind."

Hanardy walked ahead, kept glancing back; and there, each time he looked, was the long body with its grim face.
The resemblance to Thadled Madro was visibly fading, as if the other had actually twisted his fea­tures into a duplication of the young male Klugg’s face, not using makeup at all, and now he was re­laxing.
They came to where the Ungarns waited. Father and daughter said nothing at all. To Hanardy they seemed subdued; the girl was strangely pale. He thought: "They do know!"
The overt revelation came as the four of them arrived in the main living quarters. Professor Un­garn sighed, turned and — ignoring Hanardy — said, "Well, Mr. Dreegh, my daughter and I are wondering why the delay in our execution?"
"Hanardy!" was the reply.
Having uttered the name, as if Hanardy himself were not pres­ent, the Dreegh stood for a long moment, eyes narrowed, lips slight­ly parted, even white teeth clamp­ed together. The result was a kind of a snarling smile.
"He seems to be under your control. Is he?" That was Pat Un­garn, in a small voice. The moment she had spoken, and thus attracted the Dreegh’s attention, she shrank, actually retreated a few steps, as he looked at her.
Sween-Madro’s tense body relax­ed. But his smile was as grim as ever. And still he ignored Hanar­dy’s presence.
"I gave Steve a special type of energy charge that will nullify for the time being what was done to him."
Professor Ungarn laughed curt­ly. "Do you really believe that you can defeat this — this being — William Leigh . . . defeat him with what you have done to Steve? Af­ter all, he’s your real opponent, not Hanardy. This is a shadow battle. One of the fighters has left a pup­pet to strike his blows for him."
Sween-Madro said in an even tone, "It’s not as dangerous as it seems. Puppets are notoriously poor fighters."
The professor argued, "any in­dividual of the race known to less­er races as Great Galactics — which was obviously not their real name — must be presumed to have taken all such possibilities into ac­count. What can you gain by de­lay?"
Sween-Madro hesitated, then: "Steve mentioned a possible cure for our condition." His voice held an edge in it.
There was a sudden silence. It settled over the room and seemed to permeate the four people in it.
The soundless time was broken by a curt laugh from Sween-Madro. He said, "I sensed that for a few seconds I seemed — "
"Human," said Pat Ungarn. "As if you had feelings and hopes and desires like us."
"Don’t count on it." The Dreegh’s voice was harsh.
Professor Ungarn said slowly, "I suspect that you analyzed Steve has a memory of mental contact with a supreme, perhaps even an ultimate, intelligence. Now, these earth people when awake are in that peculiar, perennially confused state that makes them unaccept­able for galactic citizenship. So that the very best way to defend yourself from Steve’s memory is to keep him awake. I therefore deduce that the energy charge you fired at him was designed to maintain in continuous stimulation the wak­ing center in the brain stern.
"But that is only a temporary defense. In four or five days, ex­haustion in Hanardy would reach an extreme state, and something in the body would have to give. What will you have then that you don’t have now?"
The Dreegh seemed surprisingly willing to answer, as if by utter­ing his explanations aloud he could listen to them himself, and so judge them.
He said, "My colleagues will have arrived by then."
"So then you’re all in the trap," said Professor Ungarn. "I think your safest bet would be to kill Pat and me right now. As for Steve — "
Hanardy had been listening to the interchange with a growing conviction that this melancholy old man was arguing them all into being immediately executed.
"Hey!" he interrupted urgently. "What are you trying to do?"
The scientist waved at him impatiently. "Shut up. Steve. Surely you realize that this Dreegh will kill without mercy. I’m trying to find out why he’s holding off. It doesn’t fit with what I consider to be good sense."
He broke off, "Don’t worry about him killing you. He doesn’t dare. You’re safe."
Hanardy felt extremely unsafe. Nevertheless, he had a long his­tory of accepting orders from this man; so he remained dutifully si­lent.
The Dreegh, who had listened to the brief interchange thoughtfully, said in an even tone that when his companions arrived, he, Hanardy and Pat Ungarn would go to Eu­ropa. He believed Pat was needed on such a journey. So no one would be killed until it was over.
"I’m remembering," Sween-Madro continued, "what Steve said about the Great Galactic no­ticing something. I deduce that what he noticed had to do with Steve himself. So we’ll go to Space­port and study Steve’s past beha­vior there. Right now, let’s disarm the entire place for my peace of mind."
Clearly, it would not be for anyone else’s.

From room to room, and along each corridor, silently the three prisoners accompanied their powerful conqueror.
And presently every weapon in the meteorite was neutralized or disposed of. Even energy sources that might be converted were seal­ed off. Thus, the meteorite screens were actually de-energized and the machinery to operate them, wreck­ed.
The Dreegh next cut off escape possibilities by dismantling several tiny space boats. The last place they went, first Hanardy, then the professor, then Pat, and finally Sween-Madro, was Hanardy’s space freighter. There also, all the weapons were eliminated, and the Dreegh had Hanardy dismantle the control board. From the parts that were presently lying over the floor, the gaunt man, with unerring understanding, selected key items. With these in hand, he paused in the doorway. His baleful gaze caught Hanardy’s shifting eyes. "Steve!" he said. "You’ll stay right here."
"You mean, inside my ship?"
"Yes. If you leave here for any reason, I’ll kill you. Do you understand?"
Hanardy glanced helplessly to­ward Professor Ungarn and then back at the Dreegh. He said, "There’s some work the professor wanted me to do."
"Professor Ungarn — " it was the vampire’s harsh voice cutting across Hanardy’s uncertain protest — "tell him how unimportant such work is."
Hanardy was briefly aware of the old man’s wan smile. The sci­entist said wearily, "Pat and I will be killed as soon as we have served our purpose. What he will eventually do with you, we don’t know."
"So you’ll stay right here. You two come with me," Sween-Madro ordered the professor and his daughter.
They went as silently as they had come. The airlock door clang­ed. Hanardy could hear the inter­locking steel bolts wheeze into po­sition. After that, no sound came.
The potentially most intelligent man in the solar system was alone — and wide awake.

V

Sitting, or lying down, waiting posed no problems for Hanar­dy. His years alone in space had prepared him for the ordeal that now began. There was a difference.
As he presently discovered when he lay down in his narrow cot, he couldn’t sleep.
Twenty-four earth hours ticked by.
Not a thinking man, Steve Han­ardy; nor a reader. The four books on board were repair manuals. He had thumbed through them a hun­dred times, but now he got them out and examined them again. Ev­ery page was, as he had expected, dully familiar. After a slow hour he used up their possibilities.
Another day, and still he was wide-eyed and unsleeping, but there was a developing restlessness in him, and exhaustion.
As a spaceman, Hanardy had re­ceived indoctrination in the dangers of sleeplessness. He knew of the mind’s tendency to dream while awake, the hallucinatory experi­ences, the normal effects of the un­ending strain of wakefulness.
Nothing like that happened.
He did not know that the sleep center in his brain was timelessly depressed and the wake center timelessly stimulated. The former could not turn on, the latter could not turn off. So between them there could be none of the usual interplay with its twilight states.
But he could become more ex­hausted.
Though he was lying down al­most continuously now, he became continually more exhausted.
On the fourth "morning" he had the thought for the first time: this is going to drive me crazy!
Such a fear had never before in his whole life passed through his mind. By late afternoon of that day, Hanardy was scared and diz­zy and hopeless, in a severe dwin­dling spiral of decreasing sanity. What he would have done had he remained alone was not at that time brought to a test.
For late on that fourth "day" Pat Ungarn came through the air­lock, found him cowering in his bunk and said, "Steve, come with me. It’s time we took action."

Hanardy stumbled to his feet. He was actually heading after her when he remembered Sween-Madro’s orders to him, and he stopped.
"What’s the matter?" she de­manded.
He mumbled simply, "He told me not to leave my ship. He’ll kill me if I do."
The girl was instantly impatient. "Steve, stop this nonsense." Her sharp words were like blows strik­ing his mind. "You haven’t any more to lose than we have. So come along!"
And she started back through the airlock. Hanardy stood, stun­ned and shaking. In a single sen­tence, spoken in her preemptory fashion, she challenged his man­hood by implication, recognized that the dumb love he felt for her made him her slave and so re-es­tablished her absolute ascendency.
Silently, tensely, he shuffled across the metal floor of the air­lock and moments later was in the forbidden meteorite.
Feeling doomed.
The girl led the way to what was, in effect, the engine room of the meteorite.
As Steve trailed reluctantly be­hind her, Professor Ungarn rose up from a chair and came forward, smiling his infinitely tired smile.
His greeting was, "Pat wants to tell you about intelligence. Do you know what your I.Q. is?"
The question barely reached the outer ramparts of Hanardy’s at­tention. Following the girl along one corridor after another, a fear­ful vision had been in his mind, of Sween-Madro suddenly rounding the next corner and striking him dead. That vision remained, but along with it was a growing won­der: Where was the Dreegh?
The professor snapped, "Steve do you hear me?"
Forced to look at him, Hanardy was able to remember proudly that he belonged in the 55th per­centile of the human race, intelli­gence-wise, and that his I.Q. had been tested at 104.
"The tester told me that I was above average," Hanardy said in a tone of pleasure. Then, apologetic again, he added, "Of course, beside you guys I’m nothing."
The old man said, "On the Klugg I.Q. scale you would probably rate higher than 104. We take into ac­count more factors. Your mechan­ical ability and spatial relations skill would not be tested correctly by any human I.Q. test that I have examined."
He continued, "Now, Steve, I’m trying to explain this all to you in a great hurry, because some time in the next week you’re going to be, in flashes, the most intelligent man in the entire solar system, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it except help you use it. I want to prepare you."
Hanardy, who had anxiously sta­tioned himself so that he could keep one eye on the open door — and who kept expecting the mighty Dreegh to walk in on the little con­spiratorial group of lesser beings —shook his head hopelessly.
"You don’t know what’s already happened. I can be killed. Easy. I’ve got no defenses."
He glumly described his en­counter with the Dreegh and told how helpless he had been. "There I was on my knees, begging, until I just happened to say something that made him stop. Boy, he sure didn’t think I was unkillable."

Pat came forward, stood in front of him, and grabbed his shoul­ders with both hands.
"Steve," she said in an urgent voice, "above a certain point of I.Q. mind actually is over mat­ter. A being above that intelli­gence level cannot be killed. Not by bullets, nor by any circum­stance involving matter. Nov lis­ten: in you is a memory of such an intelligence level. In manhandling you, the Dreegh was trying to see what limited stress would do. He found out. He got the message from the Great Galactic out of you.
"Steve, after that he didn’t dare put a bullet into you, or fire a death-level energy beam. Because that would force this memory to the surface!"
In her intense purposefulness she tried to move him with her hands. But that only made Hanardy aware of what a girlish body she had. So little body, so much imperious woman — it startled him, for she could barely budge him, let alone shake him.
She said breathlessly, "Don’t you see, Steve? You’re going to be king! Try to act accordingly."
"Look — " Hanardy began, stol­idly.
Rage flashed into her face. Her voice leaped past his interjection. "And if you don’t stop all this re­sistance, in the final issue I’ll put a bullet into your brain myself, and then you’ll see."
Hanardy gazed into her blue eyes, so abruptly furious. He had a sinking conviction that she would do exactly what she threatened. In alarm, he said, "For Pete’s sake, what do you want me to do?"
"Listen to what dad has to say!" she commanded. "And stop looking the other way. You need a high-speed education, and we haven’t got much time."
That last seemed like a total understatement to Hanardy. His feeling was that he had no time at all.
Awareness saved him, then. There was the room with its ma­chinery, and the old man and his daughter; and there was he with his mind jumping with the new fear of her threat. Hanardy had a flit­ting picture of the three of them lost forever inside this remote me­teorite that was just one tiny part of Jupiter’s colossal family of small, speeding particles of matter — a meaningless universe that visibly had no morality or justice, because it included without a qualm crea­tures like the Dreeghs.
As his skittering thought reached that dark depth, it suddenly occur­red to Hanardy that Pat couldn’t shoot him. She didn’t have a gun. He opened his mouth to tell her of her helplessness. Then closed it again.
Because an opportunity might open up for her to obtain a weapon. So the threat remained, receded in time . . . but not to be dismissed. Nonetheless, he grew calmer. He still felt compelled, and jittery. But he stayed there and listened, then, to a tiny summary of the story of human intelligence and the attempts that had been made to measure it.

It seemed human intelligence tests were based on a curve where the average was 100. Each test Professor Ungarn had seen reveal­ed an uncertainty about what constituted an intelligence factor, and what did not. Was the ability to tell left from right important to in­telligence? One test included it.
Should an individual be able to solve brain twisters? Many test­ers considered this trait of great importance. And almost all psy­chologists insisted on a subtle un­derstanding of the meaning of words and many of them. Skill at arithmetic was a universal require­ment. Quick observation of a va­riety of geometric shapes and forms was included. Even a general knowledge of world conditions and history was a requirement in a few tests.
"Now, we Kluggs," continued the professor in his melancholy voice, "have gone a step beyond that."
The words droned on through Hanardy’s mind. Kluggs were the­ory-operating people . . . theories based on primary and not second­ary abilities. Another race, "higher" than the Kluggs — called the Len­nels — operated on Certainty . . . a high harmonic of Authority.
"Certainty, with the Lennels," said the old man, "is of course a system and not an open channel. But even so it makes them as pow­erful as the Dreeghs."
On an I.Q. curve that would in­clude humans, Kluggs, Lennels and Dreeghs, the respective averages would be 100, 220, 380, and 450. The Dreeghs had an open channel on control of physical movement.
"Even a Great Galactic can only move as fast as — he cannot move faster than — a Dreegh," Profes­sor Ungarn commented and explained, "Such open channels are pathways in the individual to a much greater ability than his stand­ard I.Q. permits."
Musical, mathematical, artistic, or any special physical, mental or emotional ability was an open channel that operated outside the normal human, Klugg, or even the Dreegh curve. By definition, a Great Galactic was a person whose I.Q. curve included only open channels.
It had been reported that the open channel curve began at about 80. And, though no one among the lesser races had ever seen any­thing higher than 3,000 — the lim­its of the space phenomenon — it was believed that the Great Galac­tic I.Q. curve ascended by types to about 10,000.
"It is impossible," said the Pro­fessor’s melancholy voice, "to im­agine what kind of an open chan­nel that would be. An example of an 800 open channel is Pat. She can deceive. She can get away with a sleight of hand, a feint, a diversion "
The old man stopped suddenly. His gaze flicked past Hanardy’s right shoulder and fastened on something behind him that Han­ardy couldn’t see.

VI

The spaceman froze with the sudden terrified conviction that the worst had happened, and that the Dreegh Sween-Madro was behind him.
But it couldn’t be, he realized. Professor Ungarn was looking at the control board of the meteorite. There was no door there.
Hanardy allowed himself to turn around. He saw that on the big instrument panel a viewplate had lighted, showing a scene of space.
It was a familiar part of the starry heavens looking out toward interstellar space, away from the sun. Near the center of the scene a light was blinking.
Even as Hanardy watched, the viewplate picture shifted slightly, centering exactly on the blinking light.
Behind Hanardy, there was a gasp from the girl, "Dad," she whispered, "is it — ?"
Professor Ungarn had walked to­ward the viewplate, past Hanardy and so into the latter’s range of vision. The old man nodded with an air of utter weariness.
"Yes, I’m afraid it is, my dear. The other eight Dreeghs have ar­rived."
He glanced hopelessly at Han­ardy. "My daughter had some kind of idea of using you against Sween-Madro before they got here."
Hanardy said blankly, "Using me?"
The meaning of that brought him with a jar out of his own bodily exhaustion.
The old man was shrugging. "Whatever the merit of her plan, of course, now it’s too late."
He finished dully, "Now we’ll learn our fate."
The tableau of dejection held for seconds only. A sound, a high-pitched human voice, broke through the silence and the dark emotion that filled the room.
"How far away are they?" It was the girl’s voice, from behind Hanardy, strained but recogniz­able. "Exactly how long till they get here?"
Hanardy’s mind stirred from its thrall as Professor Ungarn said dully, "Less than two hours would be my guess. Notice — "
He thereupon started a technical comment to her about the speed with which the view plate had cen­tered on the ship, implying — he said — the enormous velocity of its approach.
His explanation was never com­pleted. In the middle of it, the girl uttered a screech and then, to Hanardy’s amazement, she raced past him and flung herself, arms flailing, at the old man.
She kept striking at his face then, yelling the most bloodcur­dling curses in a furious soprano voice. A long moment went by be­fore Hanardy was able to make out what she was saying:
" — You stupid old man! What do you mean, only two hours? Two hours is all we need, damn you!

At that point Hanardy emerged from his surprise. Awkwardly, he jumped over her, grabbed her, pulled her away. "For Pete’s sake!" he cried.
The girl tried to turn on him, her struggling body writhing in his grip. But he held her, uttering apologies the while. Finally, she realized that his strength was too much for her. She ceased her ef­forts, and with an attempt at con­trol said grimly, "Steve, this crazy old fool who is my father has twice now accepted defeat — when it wasn’t necessary!"
She broke off, addressed the old man. Her voice went up a whole octave as she said, "Show Steve what you showed me only a few minutes before I went to get him."
Professor Ungarn was white and haggard. "I’m sorry, my dear," he mumbled. He nodded to Hanardy. "I’m sure you can let her go now."
Hanardy released the girl. She stood straightening her clothes, but her eyes still flashed. "Show him, damn it," she snapped, "and make it quick."
Professor Ungarn took Hanardy’s arm and drew him toward the control board, speaking in apol­ogetic tones. "I failed my daugh­ter. But the truth is I’m over three hundred years old. That’s just about it for a Klugg; so I keep forgetting how younger people might feel."
Pat — he went on — was a product of a late-life marriage. Her mother had flatly refused to go along on his assignment as a galac­tic watcher. In bringing the girl with him, he had hoped to shield her from the early shock of dis­covering that she was a member of a servant race. But isolation had not, in fact, saved her feelings. And now, their very remoteness from the safeguarding military strength of associated lower-level races had brought a horrifying threat of death from which he had decided there was no escape.
"So it didn’t even occur to me to tell her — "
"Show him," the girl’s voice came shrilly from the rear, "what you didn’t bother to tell me."
Professor Ungarn made a few control adjustments, and there ap­peared on the viewplate first a picture of a room and then of a bed in one corner with an almost naked man lying on it.
The bed came into full focus, filled the viewplate. Hanardy drew in his breath with a sharp hiss of disbelief. It was the Dreegh.

The man who lay there, seemingly unconscious, bore almost no resemblance to the tall, vital being who had come aboard in the guise of Pat’s fiancé. The body on the bed was unnaturally thin; the rib cage showed. His face, where it had been full-cheeked, was sunk­en and hollow.
"They need other people’s blood and life energy to survive, and they need it almost continuously," the old man whispered. "That’s what I wanted to show you, Steve." Her tone grew scathing, as she continued, "My father didn’t let me see that until a few minutes ago. Imagine! Here we are under sentence of death, and on the day, almost on the hour that the other Dreeghs are due to arrive, he fi­nally reveals it — something he had watched developing for days."
The old man shut off the scene on the viewplate and sighed.
"I’m afraid it never occurred to me that a Klugg could challenge a Dreegh. Anyway, I imagine Sween-Madro originally arrived here expecting to use us as a source of blood and life force. And then when you showed all that Great Galactic programming, he changed his mind and decided to await the coming of his colleagues. So there he is — at our mercy, Pat thinks."
Hanardy had spent his years of association with this couple defer­ring to them. So he waited now, pa­tiently, for the scientist to tell him what to do about the opportunity.
The old man said, with a sigh, "Pat thinks if we make a bold at­tack at this stage, we can kill him."
Hanardy was instantly skeptical, but he had never been able to influence this father and daughter in any way, and he was about to follow the old, withdrawing pattern, when he remembered again that there were no weapons around to make any kind of attack whatsoever.
He pointed out that fact and was still talking when he felt something cold touch his hand.
Startled, he glanced down and back — and saw that the girl was pushing a metal bar about one and a half feet long, at his palm. Involuntarily, still not thinking, he closed his fingers over it. As soon as he had it firmly in one chunky hand, Hanardy recognized by its feel that it was a special aluminum alloy, hard, light, and tough.
The girl spoke. "And just in case that dumb look on your face means what I think it does," she said, "here are your orders: take that bar, go where the Dreegh is and beat him to death with it."
Hanardy turned slowly, not quite sure that it was he who was being addressed. "Me?" he said. And then, after a long pause, "Hey!"
"And you’d better get started," said the girl, "there isn’t much time."
"Hey!" repeated Hanardy, blankly.

VII


Slowly, the room swung back into a kind of balance. And Hanardy grew aware that the girl was speaking again:
"I’ll go in through the door facing the bed," she stated. "If he can awaken at all in his condition, I want to ask him some questions. I must know about the nature of super-intelligence."
For a brain in as dulled state as Hanardy’s, the words were con­fusing. He had been striving to ad­just to the idea that he was the one who was supposed to go in to the Dreegh, and simultaneously he was bracing himself against what she wanted him to do.
With so many thoughts already in his mind, it was hard to get the picture that this slip of a girl in­tended to confront the Dreegh by herself.
Pat was speaking again, in an ad­monishing tone, "You stand just in­side the other door, Steve. Now listen carefully. Do your best not to attract his attention, which I hope will be on me. The informa­tion I want is for your benefit. But when I yell, ’Come!’ don’t delay. You come and you kill, understand?"
Hanardy had had a thought of his own. A sudden stark realiza­tion. The realization was that in this deadly dangerous situation there was ultimately a solution.
He could cast off in his own spacecraft!
But that meant he would have to obtain the key equipment Sween-Madro had taken from his ship. Obtain it, repair the control board, get away!
To obtain it he’d have to go to where it was — into the Dreegh’s bedroom. At least apparently, he would have to do exactly what Pat wanted.
Fear dimmed before that obvi­ous purpose, yielded to the feeling that there was no other way.
Thinking thus, Hanardy abrupt­ly uttered agreement. "Yep," he said, "I understand."
The girl had started toward the door. At the tone of his voice, she paused, turned back and gazed at him suspiciously. "Now, don’t you go having any plans of your own!" She spoke accusingly.
Hanardy was instantly guilty, instantly confused. "For Pete’s sake," he said, "I don’t like what you want to do — going in there and waking this guy. I don’t see any good in my listening to a lec­ture on intelligence. I’m not smart enough to understand it! So, my vote is if we’re going in let’s just kill him right off."
The girl had turned away. She did not glance back as she walked out of the room. Hanardy grim­aced at Professor Ungarn. Moments later he was through the door, fol­lowing her, weary, hopeless, men­tally shut down, but resigned.
Pat heard him stumbling along behind her. Without looking around she said, "You’re a weapon, Steve. I have to figure out how to fire that weapon and escape. Basically, that’s all we need to do! Get away from the Dreeghs and hide. Under­stand?"
He was a man stumbling along metal and rock corridors in a re­mote part of the solar system, his normal stolidness made worse now by an immense weariness. So he heard the words she uttered; even understood their surface meaning.
It was enough awareness for him to be able to mumble, "Yeah — yeah!”
Otherwise — she went on when he had acknowledged — he might go off like a firecracker, discharging whatever energy homo-galactic had endowed him with in a series of meaningless explosions aimed at nothing and accomplishing noth­ing.
So the question was: What kind of weapon was he?
"As I see it," she finished, "that information we can only hope to gain from the Dreegh. That’s why we have to talk to him."
"Yeah," mumbled Hanardy, hoarsely. "Yeah."

They came all too quickly to their destination. At the girl’s nod Hanardy broke into an uneven lope and ran around to the far corridor. He fumbled the door open and stepped inside.
At this point Pat had already been through her door for fifteen seconds. Hanardy entered upon a strange scene, indeed.
On the bed, the almost naked body was stirring. The eyes opened and stared at the girl, and she said breathlessly, "That! What you just now did — becoming aware of me. How do you do that?"
From where he stood, Hanardy could not see the Dreegh’s head. He was aware only that the Dreegh did not answer.
"’What," asked Pat Ungarn, "is the nature of the intelligence of a Great Galactic?"
The Dreegh spoke. "Pat," he said, "you have no future, so why are you making this inquiry?"
"I have a few days."
"True," said Sween-Madro.
He seemed unaware that there was a second person in the room. So he can’t read minds! Hanardy exulted. For the first time he had hope.
"I have a feeling," Pat was con­tinuing, "that you’re at least slightly vulnerable in your present condition. So answer my question! Or — "
She left the threat and the sen­tence unfinished.
Again the body on the bed shift­ed position. Then:
"All right, my dear, if it’s in­formation you want, I’ll give you more than you bargained for."
"What do you mean?"
"There are no Great Galactics," said the Dreegh. "No such beings exist, as a race. To ask about their intelligence is — not meaningless, but complex."
"That’s ridiculous!" Pat’s tone was scathing. "We saw him!"
She half-glanced at Hanardy for confirmation, and Hanardy found himself nodding his head in full agreement with her words. Boy, he sure knew there was a great Ga­lactic.
On the bed, Sween-Madro sat up.
"The Great Galactic is a sport! Just a member of some lesser race who was released by a chance stim­ulus so that he temporarily became a super-being. The method?" The Dreegh smiled coldly. "Every once in a while, accidentally, enough energy accumulates to make such a stimulus possible. The lucky individual, in his super-state, realized the whole situation. When the ener­gy had been transformed by his own body and used up as far as he himself was concerned, he stored the transformed life-energy where it could eventually be used by someone else. The next person would be able to utilize the ener­gy in its converted form. Having gone through the energy, each re­cipient in turn sank back to some lower state.
"Thus William Leigh, earth re­porter, had for a few brief hours been the only Great Galactic in this area of space. By now his super-ability is gone forever. And there is no one to replace him.
"And that, of course," said the Dreegh, "is the problem with Hanardy. To use his memory of intelligence in its full possibility, he’ll need life energy in enormous quantities. Where will he get it? He won’t! If we’re careful, and investigate his background cautiously, we should be able to prevent Steve getting to any source, known or unknown."
Hanardy had listened to the ac­count with a developing empty feeling from the pit of his stom­ach. He saw that the color had drained from the girl’s face.
"I don’t believe it," she faltered. "That’s just a — "

She got no further, because in that split instant the Dreegh was beside her. The sheer speed of his movement was amazing. Han­ardy, watching, had no clear mem­ory of the vampire actually getting off the bed.
But now, belatedly, he realized what the Dreegh’s movements on the bed must have been — maneu­verings, re-balancings. The crea­ture-man had been surprised —had been caught in a prone, help­less position, but used the talk to brace himself for attack.
Hanardy was miserably aware that Pat Ungarn was equally tak­en by surprise. Sween-Madro’s fin­gers snatched at her shoulder. With effortless strength, he spun her around to face him. His lank body towered above her, as he spoke.
"Hanardy has a memory of some­thing, Pat. That’s all. And that is all there is. That’s all that’s left of the Great Galactics."
Pat gasped, "If it’s nothing, why are you scared?"
"It’s not quite nothing," Sween-Madro replied patiently. "There is a — potential. One chance in a mil­lion. I don’t want him to have any chance to use it, though of course we’ll presently have to take a chance with him and put him into a state of sleep."
He released her and stepped back. “No, no, my dear, there’s no possible chance of you making use of some special ability in Hanardy — because I know he’s over there by the door. And he can’t move fast enough to get over here and hit me with that metal bar."
The tense Hanardy sagged. And Pat Ungarn seemed frozen, glaring at the creature. She came back to life, abruptly. "I know you don’t dare shoot Steve. So why don’t you shoot me?" Her tone was up in pitch, challenging.
"Hey!" said Hanardy. "Careful!"
"Don’t worry, Steve," she an­swered gaily without turning around. "It’s not because I have any I.Q. potentialities. But he won’t touch me either. He knows you like me. You might have a bad thought about him at a key moment, later. Isn’t that right, Mr. Dreegh? I’ve got your little dilemma figured out, haven’t I, even though I’ve only got a Klugg brain."
Her words seemed suicidal to Hanardy. But Sween-Madro just stood gazing at her, swaying a lit­tle, saying nothing — a naked scarecrow of a man from the waist up, and below, wearing knee-length dungarees over bone-thin legs.
Yet there was no belief in Han­ardy that the Dreegh was vulner­able. He remembered the other’s high speed movements — that seemingly instantaneous transition from one location in space to an­other . . . from the bed to Pat, at invisible speed. Fantastic!
Once more Pat’s voice broke the si­lence, mockingly: "What’s this? An I.Q. of 400 or 500 baffled? Doesn’t know what to do? Remember, no matter what action you take, he can’t stay awake much longer. It’s only a matter of time before some­thing has to give."
At that point, another sharp anx­iety struck through Hanardy. He thought: She’s wasting time. Ev­ery minute those other Dreeghs are getting closer!
The thought was so urgent in his mind, he spoke it aloud, "For Pete’s sake, Miss Pat, those other Dreeghs’ll be here any second—"
"Shut up, you fool!"
Instantly shrill, hysterical, terri­fied — that was her totally unex­pected reaction.
She said something else in that same high-pitched tone, but Hanardy did not hear it clearly. For in that moment between his own words and hers, the Dreegh turned. And his arm moved. That was all that was visible. Where did it move to? The super-speed of the move­ment blurred that. It could only, logically, have been toward the pocket of his dungarees, but noth­ing like that was visible.
A weapon glittered; a beam of light touched Hanardy’s face.
As blackness swept over him, he realized what else it was the girl had said: "Steve, he’ll put you to sleep while that thought about the Dreegh’s coming quickly is in your mind. . . . "

VIII

How swiftly can transition be­tween wakefulness and sleep take place?
As long as it requires for the wakefulness center to shut off and the sleep center to turn on.
So there is no apparent conscious time lag. If you live a dull, human existence, it seems brief enough.
To Hanardy, who was normally duller than most, it seemed no time at all.
He started forward, his lips part­ed to speak — and he was already asleep . . . so far as he — the self — was aware. He did have a vague feeling of starting to fall.
Consciously, nothing more oc­curred.
Below the conscious, there was a measurable lapse of time.
During that time, the particles inside the atoms of his body did millions of millions of separate ac­tions. And molecules by the quad­rillion maneuvered in the twilight zone of matter. Because of the thought that had been in Hanardy’s mind, at some level of his brain he noticed exact spots of space, saw and identified the other-ness of the Dreeghs in the approaching. Dreegh ship, estimated their other-whereness, computed the mathe­matics of change. It was simple in the virtual emptiness of space, dif­ficult where matter was dense. But never impossible.
As he did so, the Dreegh ship with its eight Dreeghs changed location from one spot to another exact spot in space, bridging the gap through a lattice-work of related spots.
In the bedroom in the meteorite, the visible event was that Hanardy fell. A twisting fall, it was, where­by he sprawled on his side, the arm with the metal bar in it partly un­der him.
As Hanardy collapsed to the floor, the Dreegh walked past Pat toward the open door behind it. Reaching it, he clutched at it, seem­ingly for support.
Pat stared at him. After what had happened she didn’t quite dare to believe that his apparent weakness was as great as she saw it to be.
Yet after a little, she ventured,
"May I ask my father a question?"
There was no answer. The Dreegh stood at the door, and he seemed to be clinging to it.
Excitement leaped through the girl.
Suddenly she dared to accept the reality of the exhaustion that was here. The Dreegh’s one mighty ef­fort had depleted him, it seemed.
She whirled and raced over to Hanardy, looking for the metal bar. She saw at once that he was lying on top of it and tried to roll him over. She couldn’t. He seemed to be solidly imbedded in the floor in that awkward position.
But there was no time to waste! Breathing hard, she reached un­der him for the metal weapon, found it, tugged at it.
It wouldn’t budge.
Pull at it, twist it, exert all her strength — it was no use. Hanardy had a vice-like grip on the bar, and his body weight reinforced that grip. Nothing she could do could move it, or him.
Pat believed the position, the im­movability, was no accident. Dismayed, she thought the Dreegh caused him to fall like that.
She felt momentarily awed. What an amazing prediction ability Sween-Madro had had — to have re­alized the nature of the danger against him and taken an exact defense against it.
It was a maneuver designed to defeat, exactly and precisely, a small Klugg woman, whose ability at duplication could not lighten the weight of a body like Han­ardy’s enough to matter and whose ability to solve problems did not include the ability to unravel a muscularly knotted hand grip.

But — she was on her feet, infinitely determined—it would do him no good!
The Dreegh also had a weapon. His only hope must be that she wouldn’t dare come near him.
Instants later, she was daring. Her trembling fingers fumbled over his dungarees, seeking openings.
They found nothing.
But he had a weapon, she told herself, bewildered. He fired it at Steve. I saw him!
Again, more frantically, she searched all the possibilities of the one garment he wore — in vain.
She remembered, finally, in her desperation, that her father must have been watching this room. He might have seen where it was.
"Dad!" she called anxiously.
"Yes, my dear?" The reply from the intercom came at once, reassur­ingly calm.
Watching the Dreegh warily, she asked, "Do you have any advice on how to kill him?"
The old man, sitting in the con­trol room of the meteorite, sighed. From his viewpoint, he could on one viewplate see the girl, Hanardy’s unconscious body and Sween-Madro; on another he observed gloom­ily that the Dreegh ship had ar­rived and had attached to an air­lock. As he watched that second viewplate, three men and five wom­en came out of the ship and into a corridor of the meteorite. It was obvious that killing Sween-Madro was no longer of value.
The girl’s voice cut across his awareness. "He must have used the super-speed again without my noticing and hidden his weapon. Did you see what he did with it?"
What Professor Ungarn was see­ing was that the newly arrived Dreeghs, though in no hurry, were heading directly toward Madro and Pat.
Watching them, the professor thought, Pat was right. Sween-Madro had been vulnerable. He could have been killed. But it was too late.
Sick with self-recrimination he abandoned the control room and hurried to join his daughter.

By the time he arrived, Sween-Madro was back in the bed, and Hanardy had been lifted onto a powered dolly which had been wheeled alongside a machine that had evidently been brought from the Dreegh ship.
The machine was a simple de­vice with a pair of bulbous, trans­parent cups and a suction system. A needle was inserted into a blood vessel on Hanardy’s right arm.
Swiftly, a turgid bluish-red liquid rose in one of the bulbous cups; about a quart, Professor Ungarn estimated to his daughter in a whisper.
One by one, wordlessly, the Dreeghs went to the machine. An­other needle was used. And into each a tiny drain of blood siphoned from the red stuff in the bulbous cup. It seemed as if about half of it was taken.
Still without anyone speaking, the needle was inserted into Sween-Madro’s arm; and the rest of the blood from the cup flowed into him.
Pat stared at the dreadful be­ings with avid curiosity. All her life she had heard of, and been warned against, these creatures; and here they were from all those distances of years and miles. Four men and five women.
Three of the five women were brunette, one was a blonde; the fifth was a redhead.
The women were, every one, tall and willowy. The men were uniformly six feet four or five and gaunt of build. Was height a part of the Dreegh illness? Pat won­dered, seeing them together like this. Did Dreegh bones grow as a result of their disease? She could only wonder.
The figure on the bed moved. Sween-Madro opened eyes and sat up.
He seemed shaky and unsure.
Again, there was silent action. The Dreegh men did not move, but the women one by one went over and lightly kissed Sween-Madro on the lips.
At each touch of lips there was a faint bluish light, a flash of brightness, like a spark. Invariably, the blue spark leaped from the woman to the man.
And with each flash he grew more alive. His body became vis­ibly larger. His eyes grew bright.
Pat, who had been watching with total fascination, suddenly felt two pairs of hands grab her. She had time to let out a shriek as two Dreegh men carried her over to Sween and held her above him, her face over his.
At the final moment, she ceased her futile struggle and froze.
She was aware of Sween’s sar­donic eyes gazing up at her. Then, with a deliberate movement he raised his head and brushed her lips with his.
She expected to die.
Deep inside the back of her head, a fire started. The heat of it seem­ed instantly unbearable; instantly there was a flash of blue flame from her lips to his.
Then she was back on the floor, dizzy, but — as she realized pres­ently — recovering. And still alive.
Sween-Madro swung his feet over the edge of the bed and said,
"The existence of such brother‑and-sister energy flows, Pat — which you have now experienced - and the Dreegh ability to use them make it likely that we could become the most powerful beings in the galaxy on a continuing basis. If we can defeat Hanardy. We only took about ten percent from you. We don’t want you damaged — yet."
He stood up, walked over and looked down at the unconscious spaceman. Presently he beckoned Pat and Professor Ungarn; fa­ther and daughter came at once.
The Dreegh said, "I’m still not well. Can you detect any change in him?" He did not wait for a reply, but said in relief, "I guess nothing happened. He looks as low-grade a human as you could ever not want to meet or deal with in any way, and that’s the way he was before — don’t you agree?"
Pat said quickly, "I don’t un­derstand. What did you expect?"
"Hopefully, nothing," was the reply. "But that remark about how near our ship was the first un-programmed use of his ability. A spatial relationship action like that comes in the Great Galactic intelligence curve at about I.Q. 1200."
"But what did you fear?" Pat persisted.
"That it would feed back through his nervous system!"
"What would that do?"
The Dreegh merely stared at her, sardonically. It was Professor Ungarn’s voice that finally broke the silence. "My dear, the Dreeghs are actually acting as if their only enemy is a programmed Hanardy."
"Then you believe their analy­sis of the nature of the Great Ga­lactics?"
"They believe it; so I believe it."
"Then there’s no hope?"
The old man pointed at Han­ardy. "There’s Steve."
"But he’s just a bum. That’s why we selected him to be our drayhorse, remember?" She spoke accus­ingly. "Because he was the dumb­est, most honest jerk in the solar system — remember?"
The old man nodded, suddenly looking gloomy. Pat became aware that the Dreeghs were watching them, as if they were listening.
It was one of the dark-haired women who spoke. "My name is Rilke," she said. She went on, in a low, husky voice, "What you’ve just described — a man as unim­portant as this one — is one of the reasons why we want to go to Europa. We must find out what did the Great Galactic see in this strange little man. We should know because for our blood stor­age tanks and energy pool we need the blood and life force of a mil­lion people from this otherwise un­defended planetary system. And we dare not kill a single one of those million until the riddle of Hanardy is resolved."

IX

Take a sentient being
Everyone aboard the Dreegh super-ship that flew to the moon Europa in thirty hours (instead of many weeks) fitted that descrip­tion: the Dreeghs, Pat, Professor Ungarn, and the sleeping Hanardy.
They had brought along Hanar­dy’s freighter to be their landing craft. They came down without in­cident into Hanardy’s permanent spaceship berth in Spaceport, the large moon’s principal city.
Consider any sentient person
That includes a man asleep . . . like Hanardy.
There he lies, helpless. In that fourth sleep stage that Hanardy was in — the deep delta-wave stage — push at him, hit him, roll him over. It is enormously difficult to awaken him. Yet it is in this state that a person can act out a sleepwalker’s strange goal.
Force this sentient individual to interact with a grossly vast uni­verse
"We’re taking no chances," said the Dreegh brunette woman, Ril­ke. "We’re going to bring him into motion on the somnambulistic level."
It was Sween who directed a bright light at Hanardy’s face; af­ter mere seconds, he shut it off.
There was a measurable passage of time. Then the body on the bed stirred.
A second woman — the blonde — without glancing up from the instrument she was monitoring, made a gesture and said hurriedly, "The somnambulistic purpose is in the delta-wave band 3-10-13B."
It was a private nomenclature that meant nothing to Pat. But the words caused an unexpected flut­ter of excitement among the Dreeghs.
Sween-Madro turned to Pat. "Have you any idea why Hanar­dy should want to visit with, and have a feeling of affection for, thirteen people in Spaceport?"
Pat shrugged. "He associates with certain space bums around town," she said contemptuously. "Typical hangers-on of the kind you find out in space. I wouldn’t waste a minute on them."
Sween said coldly, "We take no chances, Pat. The ideal solution would be to kill all thirteen. But if we do, Hanardy might have puni­tive dreams about us as he awak­ens — which awakening will hap­pen very soon now, one way or another. So — " the long gaunt face cracked into a grimace of a smile — "we’ll render them useless to him."
"Ssssh!" said the blonde woman. She motioned toward the figure on the bed.
The somnambulistic Hanardy had opened his eyes.
Pat was aware, then, of the Dreeghs watching alertly. Involuntarily, briefly, she held her breath and waited.

Hanardy did not glance at her or at the Dreeghs, showed no awareness of anyone else being in the room.
Without a word, he got out of bed and removed his pajamas. Then he went into his bathroom and shaved and combed his hair. He came out again into the bed­room and began to dress, putting on his dirty pants, a shirt and a pair of boots.
As Hanardy walked out of the room, Rilke shoved at Pat. "Re­main near the sleepwalker," she commanded.
Pat was aware that Rilke and Sween-Madro stayed close behind her. The others had slipped some­where out of sight.
The somnambulistic Hanardy opened the airlock and headed down the gangplank.
Sween-Madro gestured with his head for Pat to follow.
The girl had hesitated at the top of the spidery "plank." And now she stood for a moment gazing out at the city of Spaceport.
The airlock of Hanardy’s freight­er was located about fifty feet above the heavy lower scaffolding that held the vessel. There was a space of about five feet between the opening and the upper scaf­folding which actually constituted a part of the dock.
Almost straight ahead of her Pat could see the first building of the city. It was hard for her to re­alize that the entire populace of the port, with all their available equipment, had no chance against the Dreeghs. There was no protection here for her, or Hanardy, or anyone.
Awe came. The decisive factor was the intelligence of the Dreeghs.
She thought: and what’s in Steve’s memory of intelligence is all that stands between these vampires and their victims.
Minutes later she found herself walking beside Hanardy. She stole a glance at his blank face, so stolid and unintellectual. He seemed like a small hope, indeed.
The Dreeghs and she followed Hanardy along a street, into a ho­tel, up an elevator and along a corridor to a door numbered 517. Hanardy pressed a little button, and after a little the door opened. A middle-aged woman shuffled in­to view. She was dumpy and bleary-eyed, but her face brightened into a welcoming smirk as she saw Han­ardy.
"Hi, there, Han!" she yelled.
Having spoken, she must have realized that the Dreeghs and Pat were with the spaceman. If she had any defensive thought, it was too late. Sween made her helpless with his mechanical light-flash hypno­tism, about which he commented casually after they were inside and the door shut, "Nothing more complex is needed for human be­ings, or—" he shrugged—"Kluggs. Sorry, Pat," he apologized to the girl, "but the fact is that, like the people of this system, you also have a vague idea that hypnotism and other non-conscious phenomena were invented by hypnotists and similar unscrupulous people."
He added ruefully, "You’ll never surprise a Lennel, or a Medder, or a Hulak with any control method short of — " He broke off. "Never mind!"

He turned to the woman. Pres­ently, under his guidance she was speaking enforced truths about her real relationship with Hanardy.
From the time they had met, Hanardy had given her money.
"What does he really get for it?" asked Rilke.
"Nothing."
Since their method evoked only truth, Rilke frowned at Sween, "It couldn’t be altruism. Not on his low level?"
It was visibly an unexpected de­velopment. Pat said scathingly, "If altruism is an I.Q. factor, you Dreeghs probably come in below idiot."
The man did not reply. The next instant his preternaturally long body was bending over the bloated female whom they had so briefly interrogated. There was a flash of blue as his lips touched hers. Half a dozen times he repeat­ed that caricature of a kiss. Each time, the woman grew visibly small­er, like a sick person fading away on a hospital bed.
Finally, a bright light was flash­ed into the tired eyes, excising all memory of her degradation. But when they departed, the shriveled being on the bed was still alive.
The next person that the som­nambulistic Hanardy led them to was a man. And this time it was Rilke who took the glancing kiss, and it was into her nervous sys­tem that the blue fire was drawn.
They drained all thirteen of Hanardy’s friends in the same way; and then they decided to kill Han­ardy.
Grinning, Sween explained. "If we blow him up with you, the woman for whom he feels a dumb devotion, standing beside him in his home port — the only home he knows — he’ll be busy protecting those he loves. And then we, who will be out in space while this is going on, will probably survive the few instants that it will take for him to awaken."
As she heard those words, Pat felt a hardening of her own re­solve, a conviction that she had nothing to lose.
They had started up the metal gangplank that led to the airlock of Hanardy’s ship. Hanardy walk­ed blankly in front, behind him was the girl, then Rilke, and, bringing up the rear, Sween. And they reached the final few feet, Pat braced herself and spoke aloud.
"It seems wrong, —" she said.
And leaped forward. She put her hands against Hanardy and shov­ed him over the side of the plank.
As she expected, the Dreeghs were quick. Hanardy was still tee­tering over the fifty-foot drop from the narrow walk when both the man and woman were beside him. As one person, they reached over the low handrail, reached out, reached down. That swiftly they had him.
In pushing at Hanardy, Pat found herself automatically pro­pelled by the effort of her thrust away from Hanardy and over the other edge of the plank.
As she fell, she completed in her mind the sentence she had be­gun: It seems wrong . . . not to put that dumb love to the utter­most test!"

X

Spaceport, on Europa, like other similar communities in the solar system, was not at all like an ordinary little town of four thou­sand human beings. If anything, it resembled an old-style naval re­fueling station in the South Pacific, with its military establishment and garrison. Except that the "garrison" of Spaceport consisted of technical experts who worked in complex mechanical systems for the repair and servicing of spaceships. In addition, Spaceport was a min­ing post, where small craft brought their meteorite ore, gigantic plants separated the precious from the debris, and the resultant refined materials were transshipped to Earth.
The similarity to a South Pacific port was borne out in one other respect. Exactly as each little is­land post of Earth’s Pacific Ocean gradually accumulated a satura­tion of human flotsam and jetsam, so on Spaceport there had gather­ed a strange tribe of space bums. The tribe consisted of men and women in almost equal numbers, the size of the group being vari­able. Currently, it consisted of thirteen persons. They were not ex­actly honest people, but they were not criminals. That was impossible. In space, a person convicted of one of the basic crimes was automati­cally sent back to Earth and not allowed out again. However, there was a great tolerance among enforcement officials as to what con­stituted a crime. Not drunkenness, certainly, and not dope addiction, for either men or women. Any de­gree of normal sex, paid for or not, was never the subject of investiga­tion.
There was a reason for this lati­tude. The majority of the persons involved — men and women — were technically trained. They were bums because they couldn’t hold a steady job, but during rush periods, a personnel officer of the pressured company could often be found down in the bars on Front Street looking for a particular in­dividual, or group. The bums thus located might then earn good money for a week or two, or perhaps even three.
It was exactly such a personnel officer looking for exactly such lost souls who discovered all thirteen of the people he wanted — four wom­en and nine men — were sick in their hotel rooms.
Naturally, he called the port au­thorities. After an examination, the M.D. who was brought in stated that all thirteen showed extreme weakness. They seemed to be, as he so succinctly put it, "only marginally alive."
The report evoked an alarm reaction from the Port Authority. The Director had visions of some kind of epidemic sweeping up from these dregs of people and decimating his little kingdom.
He was still considering a course of action when reports from private doctors indicated that the illness, whatever it was, had affected a large number of affluent citizens of Spaceport in addition to the bums.
The total in the final count came to a hundred and ninety-three per­sons sick with the same loss of energy and near-death apathy.

XI

At some mind level, Hanardy became aware that Patricia Un­garn was falling to her death.
To save her, he had to get en­ergy from somewhere.
He knew immediately where the energy would have to come from.
For a cosmic moment, as his som­nambulism was disrupted and replaced by the dreaming state that precedes awakening, he was held by rigidities of his personality.
There was a split instant, then, as some aware part of him gazed in amazement and horror at a life­time of being a sloppy Joe.
That one glance of kaleidoscopic insight was all that was necessary. The barriers went down.
Time ceased. For him, all parti­cle flows ended.
In that forever state, Hanardy was aware of himself as being at a location.
Around him were 193 other lo­cations. He observed at once that thirteen of the locations were ex­tremely wavery. He immediately excluded the thirteen from his pur­pose.
To the remaining 180 locations, he made a postulate. He postulated that the 180 would be glad to make immediate payment.
Each of the 180 thereupon will­ingly gave to Hanardy seven-tenths of all the available life-energy in their 180 locations.
As that energy flowed in Hanardy, time resumed for him.

The living universe that was Steve Hanardy expanded out to what appeared to be a great primeval dark. In that dark were blacker blobs, nine of them — the Dreeghs. At the very heart of the black excrescences ran a fine, wormlike thread of silvery bright­ness: the Dreegh disease, shining, twisting, ugly.
As Hanardy noticed that utterly criminal distortion, he became aware of a red streak in the sinis­ter silver.
He thought, in immense aston­ishment, "Why, that’s my blood!"
He realized, then, with profound interest that this was the blood the Dreeghs had taken from him when they first arrived at the Un­garn meteorite.
They had given Sween most of it. But the others had each eager­ly taken a little of the fresh stuff for themselves.
Hanardy realized that that was what the Great Galactic had no­ticed about him. He was a catalyst! In his presence by one means or another people got well . . . in many ways.
In a few days longer, his blood in them would enable the Dreeghs to cure their disease.
The Dreeghs would discover the cure belatedly — too late to change their forcing methods.
For Hanardy, the scene altered.
The nine black blobs were no longer shaped by their disease, as he saw them next. He found himself respecting the nine as members of the only race that had achieved immortality.
The cure of them was important.
Again, for Hanardy, there was a change. He was aware of long lines of energy that were straight and white flowing at him from some greater darkness beyond. In the near distance was a single point of light. As his attention focused there, all the numerous lines, ex­cept from that light-point, van­ished.
It occurred to Hanardy that that was the Dreegh ship and that, in relation to earth, it would eventu­ally be in a specific direction. The thin, thin, white line was like a pointer from the ship to him. Han­ardy glanced along that line. And because he was open — oh, so open! — he did the touching. Then he touched other places and did a balancing thing between them and the Dreegh ship.
He oriented himself in space.
Oriented it!
As he completed that touching, he realized that the Dreegh ship was now slightly over six thousand light-years away.
That was far enough, he decided.
Having made that decision, he allowed particle flow to resume for the Dreeghs. And so —

As time began again, the Dreeghs found themselves in their own spaceship. There they were, all nine of them. They gazed uneasily at each other and then made a study of their surroundings. They saw unfamiliar star configurations. Their unhappiness grew. It was not a pleasant thing to be lost in space, as they knew from previous experience.
After a while, when nothing further happened, it became ap­parent that — though they would probably never again be able to find the Earth’s solar system —they were safe . . .
Pat’s first consciousness of change was that she was no longer falling. But no longer on Europa. As she caught her balance, she saw that she was in a familiar room.
She shook her head to clear away the fuzziness from her eyes. And then she realized it was a room in the Ungarn meteorite, her home. She heard a faint sound and swung about — and paused, balancing on one heel, as she saw her father.
There was an expression of relief on his face. "You had me worried," he said. "I’ve been here for more than an hour. My dear, all is well! Our screens are back to working; everything is the way it was . . . before. We’re safe."
"B-but," said the girl, where’s Steve?"
. . . It was earlier. Hanardy had the impression that he was remembering a forgotten experience on the Ungarn meteorite — a time before the arrival of Sween-Madro and the second group of Dreeghs.
The Great Galactic of that ear­lier time, he who had been William Leigh, bent over Hanardy where he lay on the floor.
He said with a friendly, serious smile, "You and that girl make quite a combination. You with so much owed to you, and she with that high ability for foolhardiness. We’re going to have another look at such energy debts. Maybe that way we’ll find our salvation."
He broke off. "Steve, there are billions of open channels in the solar system. Awareness of the genius in them is the next step up for intelligence. Because you’ve had some feedback, if you take that to heart you might even get the girl."
Leigh’s words ended abruptly. For at that instant he touched the spaceman’s shoulder.
The memory faded —

XII

It was several weeks later.
On the desk of the Port Au­thority lay the report on the ill­ness which had suddenly affected 193 persons. Among other data, the report stated:
It develops that these people were all individuals who during the past fifteen years have taken ad­vantage of a certain low I.Q. person named Steve Hanardy. As al­most everyone in Spaceport is aware, Hanardy — who shows many evidences of mental retardation —has year after year been by his own simple-minded connivance swindled out of his entire income from the space freighter, ECTON-66 (a type classification) — which he owns and operates.
In this manner so much money has been filched from Hanardy that, first one person, then anoth­er, then many, set themselves up in business at their victim’s expense. And as soon as they were se­cure, each person in turn discarded the benefactor. For years now, while one human leech after anoth­er climbed from poverty to afflu­ence, Hanardy himself has remain­ed at the lowest level.
The afflicted are slowly recov­ering, and most are in a surprisingly cheerful frame of mind. One man. even said to me that he had a dream that he was paying a debt by becoming ill; and in the dream he was greatly relieved.
There’s some story around that Hanardy has married the daughter of Professor Ungarn. But to accept that would be like believing that everything that has happened has been a mere background to a love story.
I prefer to discount that rumor and prefer to say only that it is not known exactly where Hanardy is at present.


5. THE FIRST RULL

AS HE SAW the photographic plate, the Rull, who reflected the human appearance of a man called Zebner whom he had killed, found himself in a losing battle with an impulse.
No, you’ve got more important things to do. A bigger fish to catch.
His thought was actually that colloquial, a product of his enormous effort since his arrival on earth to project not only the dead Zebner’s body image but also his verbal and mental mannerisms.
Outwardly, the Zebner body made no apparent move; did not turn, seemed not to be concerned if anyone else was around. But, in fact, the Rull perceptive system made a lightning survey of the big university laboratory, peering with more than just ordinary intensity and awareness through the energy screen from behind which he operated with a tireless vigilance. What he saw seemed incredible. Emptiness. Not a soul in sight. Hard to accept, but after a moment he realized why.
– This is Saturday afternoon. Nobody here but us saboteurs ... One saboteur only, of course. Himself.
Again, poised there, the Rull argued against his desire to take advantage of his accidental noticing of the photographic plate. He realized fully what a fantastic, neglectful thing somebody had done. He recognized the plate as one of a recent series brought back from a distant space experiment costing in the millions, which he could nullify totally by simply appearing to put out one human hand ‑
He manipulated the human image so that the hand and arm seemed to reach out.
– Picking up the plate.
A Rull feeler grasped the plate, though the human hand appeared to be doing the lifting and holding. And dropping it forcefully into the empty, metal wastepaper basket, and applying energy.
It dropped, propelled by a hard shove from the feeler.
The crash, as the negative shattered into dozens of pieces, was like a signal. A girl entered the door farthest away and started along one of the aisles heading in the general direction of the Rull spy.
Furious, the Rull swerved and walked rapidly off toward an opposite door. As he hurried down a back stairs, then outside, then close to a wall, then other roundabouts, his human face reflected nothing of the self-reproach he was experiencing. On the face was a smile.
But the thought was Unwise. A foolish action. Now, there would have to be cover-up acts. And alibis, most likely.

Still thinking thus a few minutes later, he knocked at the door of Peter Gilstrap. The small man who answered the knock hesitated as he saw who it was, then reluctantly stepped aside. The creature entered, giving Zebner’s heartiest hello, and sat down beside a desk that had textbooks and notebooks spread out on it.
Carefully imitating Zebner’s somewhat harsh voice, he explained that he had not recently noticed Gilstrap, and was everything all right? As he completed the question, it occurred to the Rull that the words had an unfortunate connotation. There was an implication that he was seeing Gilstrap for the first time in a long period. A wrong admission.
Mentally, he retraced his words. He analyzed that his approach should have been more casual. No mention of time. Perhaps even assume that they had daily contact ... The Rull emerged from his self-absorption with the awareness that Gilstrap had said something, and he had no idea what.
Act as if he had, of course. Move verbally forward, past the human being’s remark. ’How’s the homework coming?’ The Zebner imitation voice boomed in the small room. The image of Zebner’s hand motioned at the desk, where the books were.
The reply to that should have been, and was, ordinary enough. Gilstrap was getting along all right in everything except physics. Dr. Lowery was a difficult teacher; fortunately, not impossibly so.
They had discussed the subject before, and the Rull had always been careful not to reveal his growing hatred of the physics professor. Rull science was in every way superior to human, and yet a master of that science was on the verge of being flunked by an Earth college teacher.
The recollection seemed to take its mind off into a corner – for moments only. Yet, when he came to awareness, it was to the sound of the Zebner voice raging, ’That stupid fool. The science of physics is a thousand years old, but finally there comes Herman Lowery, the teacher who alone knows how it should be. And nothing else will do but that we must learn it with his special imprint. The way of atoms and molecule complexes -’ he finished scathingly, ’strained through his sickly, egotistical brain.’
He stopped the ranting because there was an expression of surprise on Gilstrap’s somewhat heavy countenance. The Rull forced the smile back on Zebner’s face. Before he could apologize, the little man said, ’What other way is there to teach physics?’
Nothing, of course, to say to that. He should never have allowed his emotion to show. These students were experiencing physics for the first time. They couldn’t make a comparison as could a Rull science master.
Again, an error. Striving for recovery, the Rull glanced at the image of a human-made wrist watch, consulted his own inner time sense in relation to Earth, made the Zebner face frown and the Zebner voice say, ’Oh, my gosh, it’s nearly three –’
It was actually after three. But if he could put over that he had been here ... earlier ... during the event in the lab –
He was on his feet. As he strode - that was the appearance - to the door, he called over his shoulder loudly, ’Great to see you, old man. Glad all is well. But it’s back to homework for both of us. Dr. Lowery is a fierce tyrant of the classroom, as you may have guessed from my loud and painful squealing.’
Outside, still reacting to his unanticipated outburst of rage, the Rull headed down the street to his own quarters. He laid the powerful wormlike body on the bed, put the Zebner image into the appearance of sleep, and considered the problem he had created for himself.
Final decision: since it was still weekend, he could very likely sneak back into the lab, carry the wastebasket to a trash receptacle and thus dispose of the shattered photographic plate before anyone found it and discovered that the tough material had been subjected to a specific energy flow.
Solution not too satisfactory. But, still, it was weekend, that period of time when all student life flowed past the classrooms instead of into them. In fact, one of the difficulties was that he might be one of only a few in the gigantic network of corridors and buildings.
It was a chance that would have to be taken. Tomorrow, Sunday ... Having made the decision, he got up and forced himself to sit down to do his homework. He did it carefully, trying to remember the exact format of presentation required by that mad genius, Dr. Lowery. For a time – a dangerously long time – he had resisted the method until he had aroused in the older (than Zebner) man’s paranoid instruc­tional brain the antagonism that had now twice earned him a D-minus.
... Really ridiculous. Naturally, the Rull high command had sent a very special science master on this first exploratory trip to Earth.
Sunday came. The Zebner image entered the laboratory door which was partly open. He went boldly into the museum-like unoccupied vastness straight to the wastebasket, bent over it to pick it up, and saw that the basket was empty.
Dismay. Momentarily came the wonder Wrong basket? The Rull calmed his inner disturbance while he hastily measured distances and sized up his surroundings. On such details his perceptive system was infallible. This was the one. Unquestionably.

He made his way unseen back to his room and he was, he told himself, pleased. To have gone and looked was right.
Two possibilities, it seemed to the Rull, existed for the disappearance of the plate. The girl who had entered Saturday had seen, at a distance, somebody demolish it, and had rescued the destroyed object and transported it to some unknown receptacle. Or else the university maintenance department had, in the course of routine disposition of the contents of wastebaskets, disposed of those fragments, also.
Both possibilities had encouraging elements for a saboteur. If it was the girl, she had not recognized Zebner, else the police would already have been to his rooms. The other possibility, the emptying of the basket by the men in white, offered no problems at all.
During the rest of Sunday afternoon and evening, the alien being allowed himself an occasional moment of relaxed mind and body as these reassurances repeated in his mind. The good feeling collapsed during the first Monday class, when the English instructor handed him a sealed letter, which, when opened, revealed a note from Dr. Lowery requesting ’Mr. Zebner’ to report to the doctor’s private office during his lunch hour.
That had never happened before.
As he entered the office, the Rull saw the angular, seated Dr. Lowery, and beyond him, seeming quite nervous, a pretty senior student named Eileen Davis. She was a girl who was in two of Zebner’s classes, and she had, in the past, always avoided him.
During his initial investigation into the back­grounds of all of the class members of his various classes, he had discovered that she belonged to a student commune. Moreover, on instructions of her commune leader, she occasionally – about once a month – slept with Professor Lowery. Also, she had other sexual activities going forward on a regular basis.
It was actually a lucky activity for her. Because the Zebner-Rull had toyed with the possibility of duplicating the image of one of the young women, and his first impulse, when he detected her instant dislike of him, had been to duplicate her . . . Impossible, of course, the moment he realized how many intimate associations the girl had.
Eileen did not really care for the duty stint with the physics professor, but it was part of the commune’s con on behalf of those of its members who were in Lowery’s class. She was the good guy who got everybody good grades. On that basis, she was glad to do the job that no other girl wanted. But her face was now pale, and she was gazing steadily off to one side.
The gangling professor, with the streaks of raw, purple-red color in his cheeks, must have motioned Zebner into a chair on the opposite side of the desk, because that was where he was suddenly sitting. From that unhappy position, he was able to observe Dr. Lowery and to realize that all was not well.
The older man was in a severe state. His lower lip trembled. When he picked up a pen, which he did for a doodling, not a rational, reason, his fingers couldn’t seem to grasp it firmly. He held the pen awkwardly, as a small child might.
Strong, regressive tendencies, thought the Rull.
Instantly, he felt a strain. He had, by now, seen several people who had had their defenses broken down. And all his experiences with such persons had been unpleasant.
With a visible grimace, the older man seemed to recover. ’Mr. Zebner,’ he began, ’a valuable photo­graphic plate was destroyed in the laboratory on Saturday, and Miss Davis says that she saw you destroy it. That is a very serious offense, and I am going to be compelled to call the authorities unless you can quickly explain the circumstances of the destruction.’
It was attack, the direct approach. Typical of the stubborn, stupid fellow. In fact, it was so direct that the Rull, though he had been bracing himself all morning, flinched.
Nevertheless, after a moment he managed to say his prepared first reaction, ’What did you say I did?’
Lowery repeated his accusation . . . and Eileen Davis changed the direction of her stare. Some of the white of her cheeks yielded to a touch of color. Abruptly, she seemed doubtful.
The Rull noticed, and said firmly, ’But, sir, I was not in this building on Saturday.’
’Miss Davis says she saw you.’
’That’s impossible,’ Zebner’s voice was positive. ’I’m sure I can prove that I was somewhere, though right off I don’t recall all my movements.’ He frowned. ’When was this?’
Thus, the dialogue proceeded along the channels that he had laid down for himself.
Just where Miss Davis interrupted, the Rull was not afterwards quite clear. But she made a sound. It was a sound without direct meaning. Inarticulate. Yet somehow it was a statement.
The Rull had been observing the girl with his wide-range perception. At this moment, an amazing complex of energy waves emitted from her. Seen on the level of Zebner’s limited vision, her face was brick red. But at the other levels came an additional message: she was showing awareness of her dislike of Zebner. And she was thinking – a whole band of infra­red frequencies showed it – that she had allowed personal animosity to lead her to a positive identification in an area where she had merely jumped to a conclusion.
The fact that her identification of Zebner in that single, distant glance, was correct was no help to her in this moment of her agonizing doubt.
As these side reactions occurred, the Rull arrived verbally at the point where, suddenly, he considered it convenient to remember where he had been Saturday afternoon:
’Oh, yes, I dropped in and chatted with my fellow student, Gilstrap, who lives down the street from me. Now, I remember –’
After these words, there was little more to say. Dr. Lowery formally dismissed Zebner, murmuring something about checking into the matter further.
As the Rull walked out the door, the girl was still sitting in the chair beside the professor’s desk. Since he would see them both in his last class of the day, the physics class, the alien did not linger. With his insides like stinging jelly, he flowed toward his first afternoon class.

What bothered the Rull as he retreated was that he should have known. The professor had, by his colossal need to subordinate physics to his own ego and make it a sort of sub-branch of the super-science of Lowery-ology, had, by that continuous madness, actually made visible the severity of his mental state to anyone who could detect such things.
And I let his conceit hurt my feelings ... He had taken it for granted that he would be an A-student, somehow recognized by the instructor as a peer – you stupid fool! The Rull raged at himself.
During Lowery’s class, the Rull studiously avoided the glances Eileen sent in Zebner’s direction. But he had his own intuition that her tattling on Zebner had achieved for him and her a relationship – temporary, yes, but definite.
So, as the class adjourned, he intercepted her and asked her in a low voice, a neutral, non-antagonistic tone, ’What happened after I left?’
She gave him her first warmth, a direct look which had in it gratitude that he was not angry, an anxiety to communicate conciliatory information. ’I told him I must have been mistaken,’ she said.
Having thus wiped away her sin, she brightened and said in a friendly voice, ’Dan would like to know if you’d care to join our group?’
The Rull happened to know that Dan was the leader of her commune, and so this was a victory of sorts of which, of course, he could not take immediate advantage. Later, he thought, the intimacy that is being offered will give me an opportunity to consume this girl. But at the moment, her offer seemed like another way to confuse Professor Lowery, so his outward response was a Zebner smile, instant acceptance, and the words, ’Can you come to my rooms tonight and get acquainted?’
The girl’s color was high. It was clearly hard for her to accept Zebner even in a love-everybody commune situation. But she said, ’What time?’
’Oh, about 10 o’clock.’
She arrived on time, and she had evidently braced herself. She was bright, cheerful, smiling. Her black hair gleamed. She said, ’You stay here, and I’ll call you!’ and she marched straight into his bedroom and closed the door.
It took awhile, but presently her voice came with a lilting sweetness in it. When the disguised Rull entered, there she was in his bed, with a thin sheet pulled up as far as her waist. Her nude body was tanned, and so far as the alien could make out, was a good example of human female pulchritude. ’I’ve got a lot of homework still to do tonight. So let’s get this first time over with. Okay?’
The Rull sat down across the room from her and had the Zebner face smile at her. ’I just thought we’d get acquainted tonight,’ the Zebner voice said.
It actually took several minutes to convince the unbelieving girl. Finally, swallowing, she said, ’Can I use your phone? I want to call my commune leader.’
She talked briefly to ’Dan’ and then laid the instrument down on the bed. ’Dan wants to talk to you,’ she said. As the Rull came over, she slipped out of the far side of the bed and began to get dressed.
Dan’s voice was a soft baritone. He said, ’Zeb, I told Eileen to include you in her harem, and she agreed. So what’s the problem?’
The Rull was at ease and instantly responded to the intimacy of tone. ’Look, Dan,’ he said, ’this girl doesn’t like me. So I’d rather take a little extra time, not rush her, and get her over this feeling that I’m a – whatever. And maybe, presently, get a real response from her.’
There was silence at the other end when those words had been spoken. Then a slow whistle. Finally, Okay, Zeb, put her back on.’
The conversation between Dan and Eileen was brief. They seemed to agree that it was an odd reaction, but not wrong.
Zebner went downstairs with her and walked her to her car. When she had driven off, he went across the street to another car. At his approach, Dr. Lowery raised himself up from the fiat position to which he had ducked when Eileen and Zebner emerged. The expression on his face, as seen in the half-light, was not easy to evaluate.
Nevertheless, the Rull repeated the brilliant idea that had provided such a perfect explanation for Eileen Davis’s naming him as the destroyer of the photographic plate, and which had motivated him to phone Dr. Lowery as soon as he realized the girl was actually going to come over to his apartment.
’And to think,’ he concluded, ’that I thought my little sweetheart was too naive for me. Immediately on my rejecting her, she goes to you and makes this wild accusation. So I thought I’d better win her back as you saw, until I find out what’s going on.’
’And what did she tell you?’ asked Dr. Lowery.
’Alas, womanlike, she refused to discuss the matter. I dared not press her this first after-time. So may I ask a question?’
If Dr. Lowery indicated yes or no, the Rull did not hear it or see it, so he rushed on without waiting, ’What is the history of that photo plate being in that lab and not in its proper protective vault?’
The dim figure in the car seemed to stiffen. From the darkness of the car, Dr. Lowery said in a formal tone, ’All information about a classified matter is itself classified, Mister Zebner.’
’But,’ Zebner protested anxiously, ’since I’ve been accused, I should be allowed some clue -’
He was cut off. ’For an intimate friend,’ said the older man scathingly, ’Miss Davis doesn’t seem to have communicated very intimately with you.’
’You mean, she knows something? –’
The Zebner-Rull stopped because he had detected an odd note in Dr. Lowery’s voice. Jealous, he thought. I’ll be damned. He would have liked to have been in that bed tonight with Eileen . . . He swallowed a deep breath, then said in his best sly voice, ’Now, sir, as one man to another, you must know from your own marital and extra-marital associations that a woman will never admit anything that puts her in the wrong.’
Dr. Lowery was silent. He sat for a long moment in the shadowy depths of his car there under the tree, and then he leaned forward. The Ishmael engine, with its systematic opposites - molecule against molecule purred. The machine leaped against the brake.
The Rull was suddenly frantic. He had the despairing feeling that he had not achieved the final ending of the affair that he had hoped for. He yelled, ’Is there anything more I can do, any help I can give?’
The motor was roaring, a shuddering sound - the brake was still on. Above that roar he thought he heard the words, ’We’ll check further into your story and then call you -’
With a lurch, the automobile surged forward, breaking Zebner’s hold on the front door. Helpless, he watched the entire configuration of moving vehicle, with its headlights probing the night street and its rear lights receding.
Silently, he cursed his impulse to destroy a mere multi-million dollar program. By doing so, he had jeopardized his mission to this planet, the final act of which was intended to be the recovery of a lost Rull space vehicle.

The Zebner-Rull arose at six next morning. He had remembered what Dr. Lowery had said the previous night, ’Check further!’ And he was realizing that the only place they could check was Gilstrap.
Seen in retrospect, his attempt to achieve an alibi looked more blatant than it had appeared to be at the time. More obviously a scheme. At the time, of course, he had simply tried to make it appear that he was casually stopping in at Gilstrap’s quarters.
He had actually cultivated Gilstrap for some such purpose, but he had not had enough spare moments to cultivate him properly. Instead, Dr. Lowery’s study requirements had kept him in his own room, hard at work into the wee hours translating the truth of science into the twisted presentation method that Lowery’s distorted ego had devised for his students.
With a grimace of Zebner’s heavy face, he shifted his mind away from the instant rage that surged. Again he realized, it was a dangerous alibi, and perhaps the only thing that remained against him.
Unfortunately, there was not time to plan a subtle accident. The act of killing had to be tough and direct, and before they checked Gilstrap’s story.
In a way, of course, it was not a severe problem. A dozen human beings had already died in this exploratory mission to Earth. The dead included the original Zebner, whom he had simply eaten, bones and all. Rulls had a high metabolism and were hungry almost all the time. Thus, he had disposed of Zebner in four days, and later he gobbled several other victims in the same way. But there was no time for that today. And, besides, he had become dutifully cautious and now ate beef and other purchasable items.
As he waited for Gilstrap, the scene was pleasantly anonymous at the campus level. An uncountable number of students had, minutes before, emerged from their classrooms. They were now walking, jogging, running, hurrying to what, for each individual, was undoubtedly a destination. But the details of that goal for each were available in the minds of a small number of persons - the student himself, and a few classmates, and was available also in administrative files. Nowhere else.
Report said that accepted registration totaled over 24,000, and that was a comfortable figure to contemplate. The largeness of the number was like a concealment of a special type. It equated with a dark night where, unseen, unnoticed assailants could attack without fear of being observed or afterwards recognized.
There’s Gilstrap!
The little man emerged from the corridor exactly on schedule. His class ended, he was heading with 24,000 others to some logical place.
’Hi, there, Gil.’ Zebner spoke heartily. ’May I have a word with you?’
He didn’t wait for permission, but fell in step with the little guy and, as the other hesitated, caught his arm and said, ’Just thirty seconds!’ Whereupon, Gilstrap relaxed and allowed himself to be guided into the selected death area.
’This way,’ said the Rull triumphantly.
The victim was so unsuspecting that he even permitted himself to be turned away from the gun, which was now discharged into his left side.
The explosion was, of course, like the thunder of all guns. But Zebner trusted to the darkness of numbers, and, as Gilstrap staggered and fell, he swerved back the way he had come.
As he came swiftly to the entrance, a figure of a man loomed up in front of him. It was a young man. He stood there just inside the otherwise deserted alcove. His face was distorted with shock. His eyes were wide and staring.
’Hey!’ he blurted, ’that was murder. What? –’
The Rull darted past him, whirled into a door, ran along a corridor past several students who did not even glance at him, out of another door, across a patio, down some steps, another patio, up some steps, into a second door, across to a distant exit, and there, breathing hard, he slowed, emerging at a walk in time to go into his next class.
After he had sat down in his careful fashion – it had to be careful because, of course, he actually had to get the Rull body into the seat while maintaining Zebner’s image – he tried to recall what the witness had looked like. When he couldn’t, he felt reassured.
Near the end of the third period, a messenger came to the door and handed a note to the instructor who, as the class ended, discreetly slipped it to Zebner. The shock of seeing the white envelope was relieved only by the Rull’s argument to himself that it couldn’t be anything important.
If they’re after me, really, they’ll come with guns he told himself. And thus calmed after leaving the room, he examined the envelope.
It had the words, Administrative Office, printed on the back flaps. That was shaking. And when he manipulated it open, the little note inside requested that he report to a Mr. Andrew Josephs during the lunch hour.
Mr. Josephs turned out to be a man with stiff body and grave manner. The Rull could not recall ever having seen him before, so he was relieved and courteously introduced himself, then waited with an outward air of equally courteous interest.
The big man stroked his jaw. ’I have two or three important pieces of news for you, Mr. Zebner. One of them is very sad. You may be interested to know that Miss Eileen Davis has definitely withdrawn her accusation against you. She is now convinced that you are not the person she saw.’
The Rull had the feeling that if the Zebner image so much as moved a muscle, the spell would be broken and he would find himself back in a world where people didn’t alter their stories; where they did remember the truth, and told it fearlessly.
Mr. Josephs was continuing, ’Also, this morning we questioned your friend, Gilstrap and, of course, he verified your story of having been to his quarters on Saturday before three o’clock which, of course, is the decisive time.’
’He did?’ said the Rull. But he said it deep inside the Zebner image field.
’Now, comes the sad part,’ the man went on. ’This morning, after his first class, I have to tell you, this friend of yours was assassinated.’
It was evidently a very disturbing thing for him to report for he took out a large white handkerchief and blew his nose. Then he said, earnestly, ’Mr. Zebner, somebody has tried very hard to pin this unpleasant matter on you. And, of course, the police will now make a full investigation. But I want to assure you that we all exceedingly regret the inconveniences this has caused you.’
Whereupon, he held out his hand.
Naturally, the Rull pretended not to see it. After all, the untouchability of the original Zebner, the almost outcast status, was what had made the man his chosen victim. Close contact he dared not have, so he said, ’I’d better eat, sir, and get ready for my next class.’
’Yes, yes,’ agreed Mr. Josephs, lowering his outstretched hand. He went on, ’We’re baffled by the motive for these crimes, Mr. Zebner. What is puzzling us is that no secret work is being done at this college.’ He concluded, ’When the police are ready, you will be called -’
The Rull went out into the corridor with those words echoing unhappily inside him. No question. He’d have to wind up his mission without having completed his study of human beings. It was time to make major decisions.
Along with several other Rulls, he had been sent to Earth for two reasons. One, who are these two-legged beings that we Rulls have suddenly become aware of as we encroached on this new area of space? And, more important, what is the state of their technology? Purpose Two was the result of an unfortunate accident. On a remote solar meteorite, a human exploratory scientific group had found a lost Rull antigravity raft. Men still didn’t know what a treasure they had. Fortunately, its damaged control box had been triggered when it was moved into the Earth spaceship. The fantastic machine had, of course, automatically transmitted a signal to its remote mother ship, reporting its position. Stunned Rull engineers traced its movements as it was taken to Earth.
The raft had been assigned to this university’s physics department for research purposes, so the Rull had discovered, and a Professor Dr. Herman Lowery had succeeded in having the research on it assigned to him during his next vacation period, now slightly less than two months away.
Thus, after a careful survey of the physics department students, the Rull agent had chosen to imitate Zebner, a lackluster individual without friends.
Alas, Zebner was now a marked person.
The Rull skipped his afternoon classes and left the campus. Shortly before dusk, he headed for a designated rendezvous. At a certain hour every day, one of his Rull colleagues was supposed to come there in case of need.
The second Rull arrived on schedule, displaying the image of a very plain, unkempt human being; exactly the type of person that people would normally avoid. The two Rulls talked in their human voices, and the Zebner-Rull’s decision was affirmed.

Tonight – act!
The Zebner-Rull thereupon returned to his apart­ment to get the equipment he had stored in his bedroom clothes closet for the time of destruction. He was intent. He was thinking about how he would transport it down to the garage, and so he was not wary. As he opened the door to the flat he sensed, for the first time, another presence in the interior. Instant attempt to pull back. Too late.
The voice of Professor Lowery said, ’I’ve got you covered. Get in here!’
Reluctantly, the Zebner image moved through the door and inside. His tentative plan was Maybe as soon as I get across the threshold, I can move sideways into the blackness at Rull speed.
’Careful!’ came the inexorable voice. ’Reach over slowly and push the light switch.’
No choice. He deduced he was being watched through night-vision glasses.
The light revealed a Dr. Lowery with the night-vision glasses, watery eyes behind them, and a tormented face.
The instructor’s heat-prod urged the Rull over to the breakfast nook. When he arrived there, the older man’s hand indicated a paper that lay on the table. ’That,’ he said harshly, ’is a confession. Sign it!’
Zebner was genuinely curious. ’What am I confessing to?’
’The truth. Sign it!’
Not so fast thought the Rull. A t this moment you need my signature ... Until he inscribed his name, he could count on that fact to exercise a small restraint on Lowery’s trigger finger.
While he considered what he should do with Lowery, and without waiting for permission, he moved over, bent over, and read the paper:

I, Phillip Zebner, having made up my mind to commit suicide, wish to rectify the harm I have caused. My most severe guilt concerns a very able person, my physics professor, Dr. Herman Lowery. Because of an emotional involvement with another student, Eileen Davis, and after a quarrel with her, I destroyed a certain photo­graphic plate knowing it had been given into her care by Dr. Lowery –

At that point, having absorbed the import of the thing, the Rull said, ’Tell me why you entrusted Miss Davis with the photo plate.’
’I didn’t know –,’ mumblingly, ’that the person she wanted it for was one of her boy friends. I agreed he could do his B.A. thesis on the set. The fool carelessly laid one of the plates on another table off to one side. And so, when Eileen brought them back to me, that one was missing. That’s when she returned to get it. I thought –’ Lowery stopped, a sudden vagueness in his manner.
The Rull correctly interpreted that the unfinished sentence was not related to the explanation. ’You thought she was only fornicating with you?’
’Yes,’ sighed the older man. He seemed bewildered.
The Rull asked quickly, ’How many people do you have to pass to have her?’
’When she finally admitted her situation to me,’ Lowery sighed, ’it turned out that her commune leader, Dan, is so busy with his commune duties – I’m giving him an A.’ He broke off, bitterly. ’They didn’t take the breaking of the photo plate seriously.’
That’s it! thought Zebner. He’d been listening every instant for something to grab onto and twist to his own purposes. ’Listen,’ his human voice box spoke the thought, ’I’ll admit that Eileen was my girl friend, but that she destroyed the plate –’ He rushed on, ’The commune will assign you another one of their whores, but she’s got to take the blame. I’ll leave immediately and go back where I came from, and you send me an A rating there.’
’You’ll get an A, don’t worry. You’re actually a good student, Zebner.’
Now, he tells me!
’Get me a sheet of paper from my work desk over there!’ the Rull commanded.
Professor Lowery got the paper.
’Now, stand back!’ That was because even in his overheated state, Lowery might notice how peculiarly Zebner wrote.
The confession, when completed, was as he had outlined it to Lowery but, of course, contained no suicide clause.
A considerably unglued, but grateful, Dr. Lowery accepted it and staggered out of the apartment. Zebner waited only until the man had had time to leave the building, then he boldly carried his equipment down the back elevator and into his car. He met no one, and he was relieved when he had driven safely out onto the street and was on his way, intending never to return.
Still later, when darkness had already settled over the great campus and enormous hive-like patterns of light brightened every building, the Rull drove into the parking lot of the research center. His companion was waiting for him there.
Darkness was probing everywhere when the two Rulls waylaid the stocky, baldheaded man who drove into the lot a few minutes later. They were remorselessly bold, killing him with energy flows from their own true bodies. There were bright flashes of light in that far corner of the lot where the guard had put his car and apparently no one saw. It would have made no difference. On this night they were prepared to kill all witnesses.
Hurriedly, the two aliens stuffed the dead body into the trunk of the guard’s own car, and then the second Rull did his image duplication of the man. He walked into the lobby and took over from the man on the previous shift. That individual departed at once.
There was now a quick examination of the sign-in book. It turned out there were eight people in the building. They locked the outer doors, then went from room to room and killed all eight with body energy discharges.
Still operating at top speed, the two experts brought in Zebner’s destruct equipment and set it up where it would ignite the building best.
First, of course, they examined the disabled Rull anti-gravity raft. As expected, the problem was minor. The computer which, during power-on, reeducated the atoms, had decided that it required maintenance and had shut itself off. It turned on again immediately, on manual control, and was then good for many hours of trans-light operation. Enough.
In his physics class, the Rull had discovered that Earth science was just beginning to be aware that there were ways of modifying the behavior of particles. Earth had an anti-gravity technique based on simple, colossal power. It was not a system to be despised. By its means, great ships could lift routinely from the surfaces of ordinary planets, and with additional power-unit attachments, could also depart heavier planets.
It was pretty good, but not in the same class as the Rull method. Long ago it had been discovered that atoms could be ’persuaded’ to ’believe’ that nearby masses (like a planet) did not exist. Accordingly, it and its fellow ’student’ atoms were trained to ignore large bodies in space at the push of a button, to whatever degree was desired.
With the two Rulls aboard, the anti-gravity ’raft’ floated up from the roof of the research center into the night sky. As soon as they were at a safe distance, the Zebner-Rull triggered the destruct system down inside the building, waited the exact number of seconds, and –
Nothing happened!
’That girl,’ he analyzed finally, ’when she went into my bedroom to undress yesterday . He should have realized when it took her so long. She must have searched the place, and, being a physics student herself, realized what was in the closet and removed the interior connectors.
He explained to his companion, ’I’ll go back to my apartment and phone her to come over. Act as if I’m ready to have my affair with her. We’ll take her along and eat her.’
It was important. There should be no clear evidence that the raft was missing. A fiery inferno would leave hundreds of metal hulks, sufficient to confuse a search for missing objects. And the girl’s body, with the two already aboard ... food!
Down they went, onto the roof of his apartment building. From that roof, the Zebner-Rull made his way down a dark staircase to the upper inhabited level, and then down to his own apartment.
First, he thought, I’ll search the clothes closet ... Hard to believe that he could have been so careless as to leave anything behind. But, still, check that. And then phone Eileen.
As he opened the door a minute later, pushed it wide and entered, at the final split-instant he had the horrifying realization that he had done it again. Impossible, but true! A Rull caught twice by the same situation.
At the moment of opening the door, the apartment was pitch dark. Then, as he stepped across the threshold, all the lights went on.
Now, when it was too late, his perception was swift. But it succeeded only in establishing at high speed that there were in the room five young men and one girl. The girl was Eileen, and three of the five young men held weapons. The weapons were the type that operated by induction. Near a wire, through which current was flowing, an electrical flow could also be induced in the little devices by pulling a trigger which merely made a connection between two plates. The induced current, thereupon, instantly discharged into whatever the instrument pointed at within 25 feet. The shock from one such weapon could jar a horse. And from three could kill a human being - and probably a Rull.
Deadly was the word. And so, reluctantly, he came further into the room. And then, at the command of a handsome young man with blond hair, pushed the door shut.
The blond man spoke again. ’I’m Dan,’ he said. ’We’ve been checking into your background, Zeb. You’re from one of the Sirius planet colonies?’
That was certainly the fact for the true Philip Zebner, and so there was no problem about admitting that.
’Zeb,’ continued Dan, ’the destruction of that photographic plate ruined an $8,500,000 particle experiment. Eileen, after being sure it was you who destroyed it, decided she wasn’t sure. So we want you to sign a confession.’
The realization had already come to the Rull that these people also felt threatened by the destruction of the plate. And so, now again, that fateful act of his was once more feeding back trouble and confusion.
’Zeb,’ continued the blond man, take awhile before all this is settled. Meanwhile, if you leave the planet right away, we’ll persuade Lowery to see that you get a degree. You can be safe in Sirius before there are any repercussions.
’I guess I have no choice,’ agreed the Rull.
’Too bad in a way. I got kind of interested in you for our group when Eileen reported all that equipment you had in your closet. We can maybe use a guy with a bunch of destruct stuff, particularly now that we have all the connectors. Yeah,’ he grinned, ’it won’t work as it is. Where’d you take it? We looked, and it was gone.’
He could have blasted them all with his body energy. But there was a chance that one of them might have time to squeeze the transforming trigger.
The Rull said, ’Let’s get the confession signed. That other stuff I hid when I discovered the connectors were missing. Forget about it!’
They were instantly accepting. And, after the new confession was signed, they trooped out in a friendly fashion. ’Goodbye, Zeb.’ Have a good trip, Zeb!’
In a minute, he was alone. And beginning to feel better, himself. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t remain to see what would happen when the two confessions were presented to the authorities. And unfortunate, in a way, that Lowery might lose his job. The man was a Rull asset, with his twisted method of teaching. Given the opportunity, and more time, he might successfully damage thousands more students of physics.
But the truth was, there were probably other Lowery types. And other communes getting passing grades for their members. This was the human race in daily life action.
The Zebner-Rull was back on the raft, as he had these thoughts. He was resigned now, to the human beings discovering that the raft was missing, but it no longer seemed like a menacing thing.
He had a prescient thought - that nobody on earth would guess that the mighty Rull enemy had come to their chief planet. Looked them over. And departed safely.

And that, in due course, the Rull would be back. In force.


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Footnotes

[1The Expendables was the cover story in the September 1963 issue of IF Science Fiction.
- It was the first science-fiction story that A. E. van Vogt wrote when he resumed his writing career after having devoted almost fifteen years to "making a study of human behavior" (i.e – Dianetics, aka Scientology), as he declared in a forward to a later edition of the story in the collection The Best of A. E. van Vogt.

[2The Replicators was first published in the February 1965 issue of IF Science Fiction.

[3The Ultra Man was first published in the May 1966 edition of Worlds of Tomorrow.

[4The Proxy Intelligence was first published in the October 1968 issue of WORLDS OF IF.
- It’s a sequel to the 1942 story Asylum that can be seen elsewhere on this site.

[5The First Rull was first published in van Vogt’s 1978 anthology Pendulum.
- it’s a sequel to the two stories about Rulls written some thirty years earlier: Co-Operate Or Else! (1942) and The Rull (1948).

[6ESP = Extra-Sensory Perception (editor’s note).

[7PSI or psi = "the unknown factor in extrasensory perception and psychokinetic experiences that is not explained by known physical or biological mechanisms" (editor’s note).