"The Star-Saint" (1951) by A. E. van Vogt

(actualisé le ) by A. E. van Vogt

A shipload of colonists is about to land on the far-away and beautiful planet of Ariel when their captain announces that they will be left there on their own – he has to rush off because time is money – to investigate just what happened to the previous 1000-strong colony there which has been somehow completely annihilated.

Fortunately for them a rather special person has just arrived on board somehow (he really is special!), who will play such an important role in guiding them through the dangers posed by the incredibly powerful Intelligence that controls all of the matter on this planet that all of the women in the colony – especially the wife of the colony’s somewhat naive leader through whose eyes the tale unfolds – soon have just one idea about what they want to do with him.

First published in the March 1951 issue of the quite splendid Planet Stories bi-monthly magazine, this was one of van Vogt’s last golden-age stories – and a rather good one – before he took an extended leave from the world of writing to investigate other interesting areas like the dianetics movement of his friend L. Ron Hubbard.

With the original and splendidly expressive Planet illustrations by Orban.

Kindle and ePub formats are available for downloading below.


AS HE PASSED THE TWO women in the corridor of the spaceship COLONIST 12, Leonard Hanley heard one of them say:
"He was on the far side of the galaxy, and came here when he heard about our trouble. He doesn’t need spaceships to travel, you know . . ."
Hanley walked on, cynical and annoyed. As leader of the colonists, he’d been advised two hours before by Captain Cranston that Mark Rogan had arrived. The commanding officer’s memo had stated, among other things:
"Since we will reach the planet Ariel, our destination, within half an Earth-day, we are fortunate that the Space Patrol’s great alien communications expert was available to help us. Mr. Rogan’s presence means that you and your people can make your landing at once, regardless of what may have happened to the first settlement . . . and the ship can leave."
The reference to the ship departing immediately made Hanley grim. "Oh, no, you don’t, Captain," he thought. "You’re not leaving till we found out what’s happened down there”.
He continued along the corridor to the radio room, looked in through the window, and saw that the operator on duty was a young man named Farde. «Anything new? » Hanley asked.
The operator turned lazily. His manner had just enough insolence in it to be irritating, and just enough deference to make it difficult to take offense.
« Same old repetition of our messages, » he said.

HANLEY hesitated. Time had been when he had tried to break down this barrier between crew and passengers. He’d felt that, in a long, two-year voyage, there shouldn’t be constraint or hostility. Yet, in the end, he’d given up. To the crew members, the eight hundred colonists— men, women and children—were "emigrants." They had no lower term applicable to human beings.
Hanley, who was an engineer, and who had been a university professor, had often thought the crew members were not a prepossessing lot.
Once more, he hesitated, remembering the two women who had gossiped in the corridor about the mysterious Mark Rogan. He said casually : "We were lucky to get hold of Mark Rogan."
"When," asked Hanley, "did he first get in touch with you?"
"Oh, that wouldn’t be through here, sir."
"How do you mean?" Sharply. "Don’t you get all radio messages here?"
"Well—yes, in a sense." The operator hesitated. "Fact is, Mr. Rogan doesn’t answer regular calls. You broadcast your problem. He comes only if he’s interested."
"He just arrives, is that it?"
"That’s correct."
"Thanks," said Hanley in a subdued voice.
He was quietly furious as he walked on. The set-up shrieked of the phoniness of a man who allowed people to believe that he was supernormal. So he didn’t use spaceships to travel through space! And he helped only if something interested him!
Hanley’s anger subsided abruptly. It struck him with a shock that Rogan’s coming had sinister significance. Because he had come.
Hanley reached his own apartment; and Eleanora, his wife, was serving lunch to himself and the two children when a wall communicator switched on, and a voice announced:
"Attention, all passengers and crew. We are entering the atmosphere of Ariel. Captain Cranston has called a meeting in the auditorium for one hour from now to discuss the landing."

HANLEY sat awkwardly in a chair on the auditorium platform, and uneasily watched the angry colonists. It seemed hard to believe right now that they had elected him their leader. For he realized they must land regardless of the danger on the planet below; and that was a reality that most of the colonists did not seem to be facing.
They were shouting furiously, shaking their fists at Captain Cranston, who stood at the front of the platform. The roar of their voices filled the small room, and echoed from the halls beyond, where other people crowded, listening to the loudspeaker.
Despite his own tension, Hanley kept being distracted by the stranger who sat in the chair beside him. Rogan, he guessed. It could be no other on this ship, where everyone knew everyone else.
Even without his foreknowledge, there would have been reasons for noticing the man. Rogan was slim of build, about five feet ten inches tall; and Hanley had heard him say something to Captain Cranston in a voice so soft, so gentle, that he had felt a thickening of dislike in his throat. The stranger had eyes as green as emeralds, an unusual color for a human being.
With a faint distaste, Hanley turned away from the man and studied the viewing plate at the rear of the platform. It was quite a large plate, and a sizable area of the ground below was visible on it.
The picture was not clear at this height, yet it was sharp enough to show green vegetation. To the left was the silvery gleam of a winding river. To the right were the ruins of the first human settlement on the planet Ariel.
Hanley studied the scene unhappily. As a scientist and administrator, he felt no personal fear at anything that might develop below. But when he thought of Eleanora and the children, his feelings about the landing became mixed up.
The audience quieted at last. At the front of the stage, Captain Cranston said: "I admit an unfortunate situation has arisen. I cannot explain how, on an apparently uninhabited planet, a human colony has been destroyed. But I must land you. We haven’t enough food to take back such a large group. I regret it, but here you are and here you must remain. But now—" he half turned— "I want to introduce you to a man who came aboard ship today. Mark Rogan, one of the great men of the Space Patrol, is here to help you. Mr. Rogan, will you come over here to be introduced. And you, also, Mr. Hanley."
As Rogan came up, the officer said, "Mr. Rogan, please say a few words to these unhappy people."
Rogan looked at them, for a moment, then smiled, and said in the same gentle voice Hanley had already heard:
"Folks, everything will be all right. Have no fear. I’ve listened to these radio repetitions, and I feel confident that in a day or so I’ll be able to give you the signal that means safe landings."

HE STEPPED BACK. There was a dead silence; and then all over the auditorium women sighed. Hanley, who had listened in amazement to the sugary reassurance, stared at the audience, baffled. Anxious, too. He had heard Mark Rogan had an unsavory reputation where women were concerned.
Captain Cranston was speaking again, conversationally: "Len, I want you to meet Mark Rogan." To Rogan, he said: "Mr. Hanley is leader of the colonists."
The vividly green eyes seemed to study Hanley’s face. Rogan smiled finally, and held out a slender hand. Hanley grasped it grudgingly, and instinctively squeezed hard on the long, tapering fingers.
Rogan’s smile sharpened slightly, and he returned the pressure. Hanley felt as though his hand had been caught in a vise. He turned pale with the pain of it. In agony, he let go. Instantly, the other’s grip relaxed also. Momentarily, thoughtfully now, the green eyes examined him again. Hanley had the unhappy conviction that his enmity had been evaluated, and that he had lost the first round.
Captain Cranston was facing the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, the exploratory landings will be made by armed craft under the joint command of Mr. Rogan and Mr. Hanley. There’s still time for a descent today, so let’s make our preparations."

* * *

Into the crewboat Hanley loaded a walkie-talkie, a Geiger-counter, a ground radar instrument, and a gadget that could make vibrations all the way from sound waves through the ultra-sonic range on up to short wave radio.
From the corner of one eye, he saw Rogan coming along the corridor. He turned away hastily, then—as quickly—looked again. And his first impression was right. The man wore slacks and a shirt that was open at the neck. His pockets did not bulge with gadgets. His hands were empty. He carried no visible equipment.
Rogan nodded a greeting which Hanley curtly acknowledged. As Rogan stepped into the crewboat, Hanley thought satirically:
"At least he’s condescending to travel by ordinary transportation.”
It was about ten minutes later that the small craft came to rest in the middle of the desolation that had been a settlement of one thousand people.
As Hanley climbed shakily to the ground, one of the crew members said: "The place looks as if it’d been worked over by a bulldozer."
Hanley had to swallow as he stared at the shambles. Somebody, or something, had gone to a lot of trouble. The buildings, which had been made of fieldstone, were so thoroughly demolished that even the individual stones had been scattered. Here and there, grass was beginning to grow again. Except for that, and except for a few large trees, as far as he could see, the land had been ploughed raw as if by a gigantic scraper.

HANLEY strode forward, stumbled over something, looked down, and drew back hastily. He had stepped on what was left of a human being. The flesh and bone had been ground into the soil.
He saw now that there were bodies all over among the wreckage. It was not always easy to make them out. Many of them seemed a part of the ground, so completely had they been smashed, and pushed in, and covered with dirt.
Frank Stratton, a young colonist, came over and stood beside him. Hanley turned and called to Rogan:
"I think we should take a quick look over this territory, Mr. Rogan. How about you and me walking down by the river, while Mr. Stratton and—" he named a colonist technician— "go into those hills. The others can pair up to suit themselves. No directives to anyone. Just report what you see, and turn back in two hours or less."
Hanley didn’t wait for agreement, but hurried over to the crewboat. It would be unusual for the two leaders of a group to go off together, but he was determined to see an alien communications expert at work. In the back of his mind he had already decided to try to solve the problem himself, without help from the "expert."
He lifted his pack of instruments out of the boat, and slung it over his shoulder. The weight of the load made him stagger, but he leaned into it; and presently Rogan and he were walking away from the shattered remnants of the settlement. Hanley was surprised that the other had yielded so readily to his suggestion. He noticed that Rogan kept looking into the sky, and only once or twice paused to study the ground.
The hard, gravelly soil gave way to smooth, lawn-like grass. The stones and boulders that had been everywhere around the destroyed village, disappeared. They came to the first considerable grove of trees. Some bore fruit. Others were blossom-filled. A sweet fragrance permeated the clear, warm air.
They reached the river, a wide stream that flowed with an oily slickness suggesting depth and speed. They followed a natural pathway along the foot of an ever-steeper shore till finally the bank was a hundred foot high overhanging cliff. From ahead, now, came the roaring sound of water tumbling over falls.
Rogan, who was slightly ahead, paused; and Hanley chose the opportunity to lower his heavy pack and set up his instruments. The Geiger-counter had not clicked once, so he laid it on the ground out of the way. He spoke briefly into the walkie-talkie, and it roared back at him a babble of signals.
It was not a pleasant feeling, listening to that confusion of calls. Aboard ship, the effect had been eerie. Here several miles from the village, it gave Hanley a queasy sensation.
He was suddenly dissatisfied with their position. "Mr. Rogan," he called, "don’t you think we’re in a rather vulnerable spot?"
Rogan did not turn, nor did he show in any way that he had heard the question. Hanley flushed and, abruptly furious, walked over to him. "We’ll have this out right now!" he thought.

AS HE CAME UP, he saw that the other was staring down at a small area of sand. It reminded Hanley that Rogan had paused twice previously, and both times had looked at similar patches of sand.
The discovery briefly drained Hanley’s anger. He had been looking for a pattern in Rogan’s activity: and here it was. He stopped, and studied the area. It looked like ordinary sand, a grayish yellow-brown in color, quite unassuming, and about as unlikely a source of life as anything he had ever seen.
Hanley hesitated. He wanted to ask questions, but the man was so discourteous that he hesitated to expose himself to further insults. He half-turned away—and then saw that Rogan was looking at him. Rogan said in his soft voice:
"Mr. Hanley, I sense in your attitude that you spoke to me a short time ago, and that you are incensed because I did not answer. Is that correct?"
Hanley nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The wording seemed to imply—he couldn’t decide, but it re-stimulated his anger. "Sense in your attitude," indeed. Was Rogan trying to suggest that he had not heard the words? Hanley waited, fuming.
Rogan went on, "I find myself in this situation so often that, for the most part, I do not bother to explain it any more." His green eyes glowed as with a light of their own. "However, since it may be necessary for us to cooperate in the coming crisis, I ask you to believe me when I say that I do not hear when I am concentrating. I shut off all extraneous phenomena." He finished gently, "If that statement violates your sense of reality, I’m sorry."
Hanley said grudgingly, "I’ve heard of such things. Hypnosis."
"If you need a label," said Rogan, and his tone was almost indifferent, "that’s as good as any. But, actually, it is not the answer."
Belatedly, it struck Hanley that the other had made an effort to be friendly. He said quickly, "Thank you, Mr. Rogan, I appreciate the explanation. But would you mind telling me, what are you looking for in that sand ?"
"Life." Rogan was turning away. "Life in so simple a state that it is generally not even thought of as such. You see, Mr. Hanley, every planet has its own initial life-process, the state where inorganic matter and organic are almost indistinguishable. This process goes on continuously; and it is the building block of all subsequent life on that particular world. I cannot prove this to you. There is no instrument I know of except my own brain for detecting its existence. You will not immediately realize to what extent that fact rules my actions. And so, I suggest that you do not start feeling friendly toward me because I have made this rather involved explanation. You’ll probably regret it."
Hanley, who was already disposed to be more friendly, felt uneasy. It seemed clear that Rogan meant exactly what he had said.
He saw that the man was looking at the sand. Hanley turned, and strode back to his instruments. He thought "After all, I ought to be able to locate the larger life forms without knowing anything about the building blocks—and in that department mechanical equipment may be very useful."
He set up his ground radar device, and began to send signals straight down. He aimed the signals in various directions and, once, obtained a reaction which indicated the existence of a tiny cave—it was a mere pocket, and unimportant.
He repacked the radar instrument, and began to tune the vibration machine. The response needle leaped suddenly. There was a shout from Rogan: "Hanley—jump —this way!"
Hanley heard a crashing sound above him, and involuntarily looked up. He yelled hoarsely as he saw the rock, only feet away. He tried to duck—and there was a stunning blow, an instant of unbearable pain, and blackness.

PAIN. His head ached and ached. With a groan, Hanley opened his eyes. He was lying beneath the overhanging edge of the rocky cliff, a few feet from where he had been when the rock struck him.
The sound of the nearby waterfall was loud in his ears. Instinctively, before he remembered that it was still out of sight, he strained to locate it. He succeeded only in getting a better view of the visible part of the ledge, where Rogan had been before the rock struck him.
Rogan was not in sight.
Hanley climbed to his feet. His equipment was lying to his left, the radar device on its side, smashed. Ignoring it, he walked along the ledge past it to where there was a sharp turn. That gave him a view of nearly a mile of the river’s curving bank. There was not a movement anywhere that he could see.
Puzzled, and beginning to be angry, Hanley walked in the other direction nearly two hundred yards. He saw the falls suddenly around a bend. The water dropped more than a hundred feet to the beginning of a great valley. A forest came down to the river’s edge, and stretched away into the distance, a green and brown vista.
Nowhere was there a sign of Rogan.
Hanley returned to get his things, undecided as to what his next move should be. He felt impelled to go on. And yet, unquestionably, the rock had missed killing him by millimeters. There was caked blood on the side of his head, and his cheek burned where the skin had been scraped off.
He was momentarily relieved to discover a note stuck in the handle of the Geiger-counter. "The guy’s human after all," he thought.
Then he read the note. It said: "Go back to the ship! I’ll be gone for a day or two."
Hanley compressed his lips, and the flush that mounted to his cheeks was not all fever from his wound. Yet, once more, his anger died away. Rogan was not responsible for him; and his job on this planet did not require that he look after injured people.
Hanley switched on the walkie-talkie; The earphones were alive with sound. His own voice, in jumbled messages that he’d sent from the ship more than a week before, was part of the crescendo of noise. Half a dozen times, he tried to send an S. O. S., giving his position. The appeal was taken up, and lost among the rest.
There was nothing to do but start along the trail back . . . He reached the village just before dark, and was immediately taken up to the ship. Both doctors insisted that he spend the night in the hospital ward, though they reported reassuringly that he would probably be all right in the morning.
Hanley slept fitfully. Once, he waked up and thought: "At least he’s a courageous man. He’s down there alone, at night."
It justified to some extent his own lie to the others. He had told them that Rogan had gone on only after assuring himself that Hanley was not seriously hurt. Rogan had done nothing of the kind. But it was essential that the colonists continue to trust him.
Some time during the night Hanley’s strength and energy came back. About dawn, he opened his eyes in tense excitement. That rock! Its fall had been no accident. Somebody or something had shoved it down upon him.
"I’ll go out there in the morning," he decided.

HE WAS DRESSING when his wife came in, about nine o’clock. She walked over to a chair, and sank into it. Her fine gray eyes looked tired. Her long blonde hair had not been properly arranged. There were lines in her face.
"I’ve been worried," she said drably.
"I’m all right." Hanley spoke reassuringly. "I was only bruised a little, and shaken."
She seemed not to hear. "When I think of him down there with the fate of the whole colony depending on his remaining alive—"
Briefly, it shocked Hanley to realize that her anxiety was for Rogan, not himself. She looked up unhappily.
"Len, do you think it was wise of you to let him go on alone?"
Hanley stared at her In amazement but made no reply. It seemed to him that there was no adequate comment to make to that. Nevertheless, as he ate breakfast, he felt more determined than ever to solve this problem before Rogan.
A few minutes later, with Frank Stratton at the controls of the crewboat, he set out once more for the river. His plan of action was simplicity itself: If there was life here, it would show itself in some way. An observant man should be able to find it without having a special type of brain.

* * *

They came down in a meadow half a mile from the river and about a mile from the waterfall. It seemed a sufficiently central position from which to examine the rock-throwing episode.
Young Stratton, who had been silent during the flight, said suddenly, "Pretty country—if it weren’t for the stones."
Hanley nodded absently. He climbed down to the ground, and then paused for another survey of the countryside. Trees, miles of green grass, gaily colored flowers, the silvery gleam of the waterfall, and the great forested valley beyond it—here was natural beauty in abundance.
True, as Stratton had pointed out, there were small rocks in plenty, but they could be removed. Hanley walked to the nearest one, and picked it up. It was about the size of a large melon, and unexpectedly light in weight. He stood holding it, watching the sunlight flash over its surface.
At first glance, it seemed to be granite, the bright reflecting surfaces suggesting mica specks. On closer examination, Hanley wasn’t so sure. He saw that his fingers were already stained yellow. Sulphur, he guessed. And in rather free form.
Behind him, Stratton said sullenly, "This fellow, Rogan—who is he? I mean, is there some special reason why the women have to go silly over him? Dorothy kept me awake half the night worrying about his being down here alone."
Intent though he had been on the stone, Hanley recalled the similar reaction of Eleanora, and half turned. "He’s the only one of his kind," he began, "except for—" He stopped. For the rest was rumor only. He went on slowly, "According to reports, his parents were wrecked on some uninhabited planet, and he was born there while they were repairing the ship. He was still a child when they took him away, and by the time they began to suspect he was different, it was too late."
"Too late for what?"
"They had no idea where the planet was on which they’d been wrecked."
“Oh!" The blonde youth was silent. Hanley was about to return his attention to the stone when Stratton said, "What’s this story about his having children all over the galaxy?"
"Another rumor."
Hanley spoke curtly. It gave him no pleasure to defend Mark Rogan, especially when his own mind was uneasy with the same suspicions as Stratton was experiencing,
"What’s he trying to do?" asked the young man grimly. "Produce a bunch of freaks like himself?"
That was so exactly the way he had originally heard it that Hanley swallowed. In spite of himself, he said sarcastically, "Maybe he believes his wild talent for dealing with non-human races should be spread as widely as possible. Particularly, I imagine, he feels that when his services have been called for, the women of the new colony should be only too willing to provide perceptive children and so secure the future of the human race on that planet. It—"
He came to an abrupt stop, startled. He had intended to be ironic, but abruptly the notion sounded plausible. And necessary.
"My God!" he thought, "if he ever comes near Eleanora, I’ll—"
In abrupt tension, he raised the rock in his hands above his head, and flung it down upon another one nearby. There was loud, cracking sound. Both stones shattered, and a chance wind blew a cloud of yellowish dust into his face. The smell of sulphur was momentarily unbearably strong. Hanley coughed, almost choked, and then he had backed out into fresher air.
He was about to bend down over the broken pieces of the two stones, when Stratton let out a yell. "Mr. Hanley—the rocks—they’re moving!"

IN THAT FIRST MOMENT of mental confusion, Hanley had several fantastic impressions. Unquestionably, stones all over the meadow were beginning to roll towards them, slowly, as if they were not exactly sure of their direction—but they were rolling. Simultaneously, the wind that had been merely a series of gusts until then, began to blow at gale proportions. Dead leaves whirled into his face. Small pieces of grit stung his cheeks.
Hanley’s eyes began to water. Through a blur, he made his way to the crewboat, and fumbled for the steps that led to the deck. The wind was so strong now that he had to bend into it to remain on his feet. From above him, young Stratton yelled: "This way—quick!"
A hand caught Hanley’s shoulder, guiding him. A moment later he was scrambling up the steps, and had flung himself prostrate beside his companion. He lay there for a minute, gasping. Then he saw Stratton wriggling towards the controls.
Hanley shouted at him, "Frank—wait!"
The blonde youth turned, and said earnestly: "Mr. Hanley, we’d better get out of here. We might be blown over on our side."
His words were tossed by the wind, dis¬torted, and delivered finally half-faded, but still comprehensible. Hanley shook his head stubbornly.
"Can’t you see?" he shouted. "These stones are the life-form! We’ve got to stay and find out things about them. If we can get enough information we won’t need Rogan.’’
It stopped the young man. He turned a contorted face towards Hanley. "By heaven," he said, "We’ll show that—"
His whole body twisted with eagerness. Hanley called to him, "Turn on the radio! Let’s see what’s coming over."
The radio was alive with voices. Wherever Stratton turned the dial, he produced uproar that was loud and continuous. Hanley listened grimly for a minute, and then glanced over the side of the boat.
He winced as he saw that the stones were piling up against the side of the small vessel, one on top of the other. The pile, at its highest point, was about three feet from the ground. It sloped back to a thin line of pebbles some twelve to fifteen feet from the bigger stones at the front. Hanley estimated that there were several hundred stones already in the pile.
More were coming. He flinched, but kept on looking. As far as he could see over that wind-swept meadow, stones were rolling towards the crewboat. Their speed seemed to vary according to their size. He judged that the medium-sized ones were traveling two or three miles per hour, whereas several that were almost two feet in diameter were moving at nearer five miles per hour.
The pile grew even as he watched. Hanley turned uneasily toward Stratton. And saw that the young man was pushing with a stick at something that seemed to be threatening him from the other side of the small craft.
Stratton turned, "The stones!" he yelled hoarsely. They’ve piled up. They’ll be spilling on top of us in a minute."
Hanley hesitated. It seemed to him that by remaining they had learned how the enemy attacked. Perhaps, if they stayed just a bit longer—
His thought was interrupted by another shout from young Stratton: "Mr. Hanley—look!"

HANLEY followed the young man’s pointing hand. A giant rock was lifting itself out of the ground a hundred feet away. It was at least ten feet in diameter, and it was poising now, turning, as if trying by means of some alien senses to decide its direction. In a moment it would be bearing down on them.
Hanley gulped, and then in a loud yet calm voice said, "All right—lift her up!"’
As Stratton manipulated the drive control lever, there was a surge of power that sent a vibratory impulse through the rigid, metals of the ship. The deck throbbed under Hanley, and he could almost feel the engines straining to lift the craft.
"Mr. Hanley, something is holding us down!"
Hanley thought blankly "We’ll have to get out and run. But where to?"
He was about to say, "Try again!" when he saw that the huge rock was starting to move. Straight at the ship it came, gathering speed each time it turned over.
Hanley shouted, "Frank—the big rock —come this way!"
He didn’t wait to see if the young man obeyed. With a convulsive effort, he flung himself far out over the side of the craft. He landed on the rock he had aimed at, and, using it as a springboard, leaped again.
Behind him, there was a crash, a squealing of metal and the shriek of a human being in mortal agony,
And silence.

* * *

He was running, with a dying wind lending wings to his feet. Hanley finally slowed from exhaustion, and looked back. He had gone about two hundred and fifty yards; and there were several trees and much shrubbery between him and the crewboat. But he could see that the rock was still lying on top of the smashed craft. He noticed no movement anywhere. Even the stones were still.
The great wind blew in gusts only now. It was spent. Already, the incident had a dream-like quality. It seemed incredible that Frank Stratton was lying dead or desperately injured in the wreck of the boat. Hanley thought distractedly: "I’ve got to go back."
A hundred feet from him, a small stone stirred, lifted itself out of its hole, and started hesitantly toward him. Simultaneously, there was other movement. Scores of stones began to move in his direction.
Hanley retreated. He had an empty feeling about what had happened to his companion. But far more important was the fact that he had found the hostile life-form on this planet. He had to get back to the ship with that vital information.
He headed on a course parallel to the river toward the village, which he judged was three or four miles away. In a few minutes he had outdistanced the moving stones. "They’re slow," he thought exultantly. "It takes a little while for them to decide that somebody is around."
He began to picture the life of the colonists on this frontier planet. They’d have to clear rocks from whole areas. Ato-guns with their thousand-unit explosive charges to a loading would be standard equipment for men and women alike. It was even possible to visualize a time when the curious rock-life would be of museum interest only. They must have a very slow growth, and so could probably be eliminated from all except the most remote territories in a measurable time.
He was still considering the possibilities he saw a solid glitter of stones ahead.

HANLEY STOPPED, chilled. Hastily, he turned from the river. And stopped again. The stony glitter was in that direction, also.
Swallowing, he headed for the river.
His eyes searched for stones in that direction. A few moving objects were visible among the shrubbery, but there was so much brush and scrubwood that it seemed evident that small rocks would have difficulty in making progress. That became his hope, instantly.
He hurried past several large trees, sizing them up for girth as he went by. The largest tree in the vicinity he found less than two hundred feet from the cliff’s edge.
One section of its huge trunk sloped up from the ground at so gradual a slant that he’d be able to run up it swiftly, scramble up to another thick branch, and from there go almost to the top of the main trunk which towered majestically above any other tree in the neighborhood.
Hanley hurried to the edge of the cliff overlooking the river. The water was nearly fifty feet below, and the wall of the cliff ran sheerly down. It even slanted inward slightly; and there was no possibility of climbing down with a ladder. One look convinced Hanley that the river did not offer a way of escape.
As he headed back toward the tree, he saw uneasily that more than a score of stones had rolled between him and the safety of the trunk. He walked straight toward one of them. It kept rolling in the same direction after he had stepped over it, and did not stop until he had gone past two more of the blind things. Then it halted, and began hesitantly to move towards him again.
His fear faded even more. He took a quick look around to make sure that he was not being hemmed in. Then he waited for the stone to come up to him. As it approached, he studied it anxiously for a sign of intelligence. There was nothing but the smoothly porous, rock-like substance.
It rolled right up against his foot, touched his boot—and attached itself.
He kicked at it, but it clung as if it were glued to the boot. It weighed at least five pounds, and when he moved his foot he felt the drag of it, the need to strain his muscles in order to lift it, the sharp fear that he wouldn’t be able to get rid of it.
Other stones were approaching him.
Alarmed, Hanley retreated to the tree trunk, and, bending down, removed the boot to which the rock had attached itself. He shook the boot, vainly. With abrupt determination, he raised it above his head, and flung it, boot and stone together, straight down on another stone.
The two rocks dissolved; there was a gust of wind that blew the sulphurous dust into his face. Hanley coughed furiously. When he could see again through his tear-filled eyes, he was first attracted to a gleaming crystal that lay in the pile of debris. He studied it, then hastily he recovered his boot, and started up the trunk.
It was time. As far as the eye could see, the land glittered with the movement of stones converging towards him.
His day in the tree passed uneventfully.
Just before dark, Hanley climbed to a higher branch and found himself a reasonably comfortable crotch for the night. He spent the early hours of darkness wide awake, alert to sounds below. About midnight, he dozed.
He awakened with a start. The sun was just coming up over the horizon—and a crewboat was speeding toward him, following the course of the river. He jumped hastily to his feet, almost fell out of the tree as a thick branch broke like so much dead wood. And then, safely balanced again, he tore off his coat and shirt.
He began to wave the shirt frantically . . .

AS ELEANORA served him breakfast Hanley learned that Mark Rogan had returned to the ship the evening before, spent the night aboard, and departed at dawn. He stopped eating, and considered the news. Finally:
"Did he have anything to say? Had he solved the problem?"
He waited, jealous of his own discovery, anxious not to have been out-done. Eleanora sighed; then:
"I don’t think so. Of course, he talked mostly to the men. Perhaps he gave them, private information."
Hanley doubted it. And so, by the simple process of going out and looking, an ordinary man had bested the famous communications expert.
He was about to resume eating when the odd tone in which his wife had spoken made him look up. "He talked mostly to the men?" he echoed.
There was a flush on her face. She said, "I had him to dinner." She added quickly, "I expected you back. It didn’t occur to me that you—"
She sounded so defensive that he felt compelled to interrupt: "It’s all right, my dear. I understand. I understand."
He wasn’t sure that he did. As he continued to eat, he studied her unobtrusively, shaken by his thoughts. Once he almost said: "Are you sure that he didn’t also spend night?” The insult of the thought was so outrageous that he cringed, and felt angry at himself.
But it decided him. He had been intending to wait, and learn what Rogan had discovered; the problem of dealing with the rock-life was by no means solved. But he found himself suddenly less amenable to that kind of reasoning.
He discovered that the other leaders, once they heard the detailed account of his experience, were equally reluctant to wait.
"Our women have gone crazy about that man," one individual said angrily. "Do you know what my wife suggested when she heard that Frank Stratton was dead? She thought his widow ought to marry Rogan right away, before he went away. Of course, from all accounts, he’s not the marrying kind. But just imagine having such an idea instantly."
"It’s a survival instinct," said another man. "History is full of stories of women who have wanted their children to be fathered by famous men. In this case, with Rogan’s special ability—"
"Not so special," somebody interrupted. "Our own leader, Leonard Hanley, discovered the enemy without any help from the famous man."
Hanley ended the somewhat heated discussion finally by saying, "It will take us most of today to get our main equipment down. If Mr. Rogan condescends to turn up before we’re ready to disembark the women and children, he can offer his views at that time. Otherwise—"
Mark Rogan, as it happened, did not condescend to turn up.

THE LANDINGS were made in open areas along the river bank in the forested valley below the falls. By noon, everybody was on the ground. Hanley had a final consultation with Captain Cranston, and was informed that the COLONIST 12 would leave immediately.
"We’ve already been far too long on this trip," the officer said in justification. "The owners will be furious."
Hanley could feel no sympathy for the gentlemen, but he recognized that he and the others would experience the grimmer effects of that commercialism. He tried to thing of something that would delay the ship’s departure, but all that occurred to him finally was:
"What about Mr. Rogan? Aren’t you going to wait for him?"
Captain Cranston shrugged. "A patrol ship will probably pick him up. Well, good-bye."
As they shook hands, Hanley thought cynically that there was no suggestion now that Rogan could travel through space without spaceships. It seemed amazing that anyone could have believed such nonsense.

Midafternoon. Out of the corner of one eye, Hanley saw Eleanora—who had been working beside the tent—snatch a compact from a pocket of her slacks, and hastily start to powder her face. Hanley glanced in the direction she had been gazing, and winced. Mark Rogan was coming toward him along the river bank.
The Patrolman said nothing until he was less than half a dozen feet from Hanley. Then: "Where’s the ship? Mr. Hanley, did you order this landing?"
His voice was as soft as it had always been, but there was an edge of suppressed anger in it that chilled Hanley despite his confidence. The thought came: "Have I possibly made a mistake?"
Aloud, he said, "Yes, I ordered the landing. It lust happens, Mr. Rogan—" he was beginning to feel sure of himself again— "that I discovered the nature of the hostile life on this planet, and we have taken all necessary precautions."
Twice, Rogan seemed about to speak, but finally he stepped back. There was an enigmatic smile on his face as he looked around at the busy colonists. Several trees had been chopped down, and they were now in the process of being converted to plastic.
Silently, Rogan walked over to the complex machinery, and watched the bubbling up of the sap in the wood as it was sawed, and then the swift chemical action that neutralized the resinous substance.
He came back to Hanley, and his vividly green eyes seemed to glow with irony, as he said, "What did you discover?"
He listened with his head slightly tilted to one side, as if he were hearing more than the words. And his eyes had a faraway look in them; he seemed to be gazing at a scene that was in his mind. He said finally, "You think then that the crystal you saw in the rock after you had smashed it was possibly the ’brain’?"
Hanley hesitated; then defensively, "The piezoelectric crystal is the heart of radio and television engineering, and in a certain sense crystals grow, and—"
He got no further. Eleanora had run forward and grasped Rogan by the arm. "Please," she begged, "what’s wrong? What’s the matter?"
Rogan released himself gently from her fingers. "Mrs. Hanley," he said quietly, "your husband has made a deadly dangerous error. The stone activity is merely a product of the scientific control which the ruling intelligence of this planet exercises over its environment."
He turned, to the stricken Hanley. "Was there a strong wind at any time while you were being attacked?"
Hanley nodded mutely.
Rogan said, "Another manifestation."
He looked at his watch, and said, "It’s a little more than two hours till dark. If we take only essentials, we can be out of this valley before the sun sets."
He paused. His green eyes fixed on Hanley’s wavering gaze with a bleak intensity. He said curtly, "Give the command!"
"B-but—" Hanley stammered his reaction, then pulled himself together, "It’s impossible. Besides, we’ve got to make our stand somewhere. We—"
He stopped hopelessly, already convinced, but too miserable to go on.
Rogan said, "Give the order, and I’ll explain—"

Metal screeched . . . men shrieked in dismayed agony . . .

SHORTLY after night fell, a gale wind sprang up. It blew for an hour, sand-filled, stinging their faces as they walked behind the long rows of caterpillar tractors. All the younger children were taken up in the six crewboats. When the storm was past, several of the healthier children were brought down, and their places in the boats taken by women who could no longer remain awake.
About midnight, the attack of the stones began. Rocks twenty and thirty feet in diameter thundered out of the darkness into the range of the groping searchlight beams, which were mounted on the tractors. Before the extent of the assault could be gauged, two of the tractors were crushed. Metal screeched, men shrieked in dismayed agony—and mounted ato-guns pulverized the rocks before any more damage could be done.
Several people had to be rescued from small stones that attached themselves to shoes and boots, and prevented all except the most awkward movement. When that was over, Hanley had to walk among the weary men and women, and insist that Rogan’s directive to "keep moving" be obeyed.
Just before dawn, the ground under them began to heave and shake. Great fissures opened, and individuals had terrifying experiences before they were pulled to safety out of suddenly created abysses.
As the faint light of day broke through the blackness of the horizon, Hanley mumbled to Rogan, "You mean—they can cause sustained earthquakes of that proportion?"
Rogan said, "I don’t think that will happen very often. I think it requires great courage for them to penetrate hot rock areas where such phenomena can be stirred up.”
He broke off, thoughtfully: "I see this as an ally arrangement, with the onus being on man to prove that he can be helpful. Of course, it will take a while—after this unfortunate beginning—to persuade the Intelligence to consider such an arrangement.
It doesn’t think in human terms."
Hanley was intent. "Let me get this clear. You’re taking us to a flat plain north of here. You want us to build concrete huts there while we wait for you to persuade the Intelligence that we mean no harm. Is that right?"
Rogan said, "It’d be better if you kept moving. But of course that would be very difficult . . . with women . . . children." He seemed to be arguing with himself.
Hanley persisted, "But we’ll be reasonably safe on such a barren plain?"
"Safe!" Rogan stared at him. "Man, you don’t seem to understand. Despite the similarity to Earth appearance, this planet has a different life process. You’re going to learn what that means."

HANLEY felt too humble to ask any more questions. An hour later, he watched as Rogan commandeered one of the crewboats, and flew off into the morning mists. About noon, Hanley dispatched the other crewboats to rescue some of the equipment they had abandoned the night before.
The boats came back about dark with a weird report. A barrel of salt meat had rolled away from them, and had evaded all their efforts to capture it. An atomic jet proved a hazard. It would start up, and lift itself into the air, and then shut off and fall back to the ground, only to repeat the process. It almost wrecked a crewboat before a magnetic crane mounted on another boat lifted it permanently clear of the ground. Thereafter it remained lifeless.
Hanley guessed unhappily: "Tentative experiments."
The colony spent the night on a level grassy plain. Guards patrolled the perimeter of the encampment. Tractor motors hummed and pulsed. Searchlights peered into the darkness, and all the grown-ups took turns at performing some necessary duty.
Hanley was awakened shortly after midnight by Eleanora. "Len—my shoes."
He examined them sleepily. The surface was all bumpy, with tiny knobs protruding through the polish. Hanley felt a grisly thrill as he realized that they were growing. He asked, "Where did you keep them?"
“Beside me.”
“On the ground?"
"You should have kept them on," said Hanley, "the way I did mine."
"Leonard Hanley, I wouldn’t wear shoes while I’m sleeping if it’s the last—" She stopped, said in a subdued tone, "I’ll put them on, see if they still fit."
Later, at breakfast, he saw her limping around, tears in her eyes, but without complaint.

THAT AFTERNOON one of the tractors exploded without warning, killing its driver. A flying segment tore off the arm of a five-year-old boy nearby. The women cried. The doctors eased the pain with drugs, and kept him alive. There were angry mutterings among the men. One man came over to Hanley.
"We’re not going to stand for this much 1onger," he said. "We’ve got a right to fight back."
Rogan turned up just before dark, and listened in silence to the account of what had happened. He said finally, "There’ll be more."
Hanley said grimly, "I can’t understand why we don’t set fire to every forest in this part of the planet, and clear the damned things from this whole area."
Rogan, who had been turning away, faced slowly about. His eyes were almost yellow in the fading light. He said, "Damn you, Hanley, you talk like so many scamps I’ve run into in my business. I tell you, you can’t defeat this tree intelligence with fire, even though fire is the one thing it’s afraid of. Its fear and its partial vulnerability is man’s opportunity, not to destroy, but to help.”
Hanley said helplessly, "But how does it operate? How does it control stones, and make winds and—"
“Those phenomena," said Rogan, “derive from the fact that its life-energy flows many times faster than ours. A nerve impulse in you and me moves approximately 300 feet a second. On this planet, it’s just under 400,000. And so, even rocks have a primitive life-possibility.
Crystals form easily, and can be stimulated to imitate any vibrations that affect them. Far more important, there is a constant flow of life-energy through the ground itself. The result is that everything can be affected and controlled to some extent. Divert the energy to the ground surface through grass-roots and sand; and great winds rush in to cool off the ’hot’ surfaces. Divert it through one of our tractors and—"
"But," said Hanley, who had been frowning, "why didn’t that tree I was on for a whole day and night—why didn’t it try to kill me?"
"And call attention to itself!" said Rogan with that tight smile of his. "It might have tried something against you that would appear accidental—like the breaking of a branch that could make you fall—but nothing overt."
He broke off, firmly, "Mr. Hanley, there is no method but cooperation. Here is what you’ll probably have to be prepared to do."
He outlined the steps, coolly, succinctly. No encroachment for several years on an area where there were trees. Definitely no use of lumber for any purpose, except such dying wood as Rogan might, by arrangement with the forest, assign to be cut. Establishment of fire-fighting equipment to help all forests in the vicinity of the colony against spontaneous fires, the pattern later to be extended over the entire planet.
When Rogan had finished, Hanley considered the plan, and found one flaw in it. He protested, "What I’d like to know is, how are we going to maintain contact with this Intelligence after you’re gone?"
As he finished speaking, he saw that Eleanora had come up beside him. In the fading light, it seemed to Hanley that she was bending forward, as if straining for Rogan’s answer.
Rogan shrugged. "Time alone," he said, "can resolve that problem."

THEY BUILT the village of New Earth beside a brook. There were no trees anywhere in sight. According to Rogan, the small shrubs that lined the banks of the stream were but distantly related to the greater tree-life, and could be used for any purpose.
There were no less than eighteen rock attacks during the next eleven days. In one of them, a stone one hundred and ninety feet in diameter roared across the plain toward them. It smashed two houses, plunged on for a mile across the plain, and then turned back. Crewboats with ato-guns successfully exploded it before it was able to return to the village.
And then one night nothing at all happened. At dawn, Mark Rogan turned up, pale and weary looking, but smiling. "It’s all right," he said. "You get your chance."
Men cheered hoarsely. Women wept and tried to touch his hand. Hanley stood back, and thought: "It’s too soon to tell."
But the days passed, and there were no more manifestations. The guards began to sleep at their posts, and finally were no longer posted. At dusk on the eighth straight day of peace, there was a knock on the door of Hanley’s house. Eleanora answered, and Hanley heard her talking to someone in a low tone. The softness of the other voice made him abruptly suspicious, and he was about to get up from his chair, when the door shut, and Eleanora came back in. She was breathless.
"He’s leaving!" she said.
Hanley didn’t ask who. He hurried outside, and saw that Rogan was already at the outskirts of the village, a vague figure in the gathering darkness. A week later, there was still no sign of him. Among the rank and file of the colonists, the whisper was that he had gone in his fashion to some other part of the galaxy. Hanley ridiculed the story, but when he heard it soberly stated in a gathering of technicians, he realized gloomily that the legend of Mark Rogan would survive all his denials.
Two months passed. Hanley awoke one morning to find that Eleanora had slipped into the bed beside him. "I wish to report to my lord and master," she said airily, "that there’s going to be an addition to the Hanley clan."
After he had kissed her, Hanley lay silent, thinking: "If it has green eyes and jet black hair, I’ll—I’ll—"
He couldn’t imagine what he’d do. He groaned inwardly in his terrible jealousy. But already at the back of his mind was the realization that the race of man would survive on one more alien planet.

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