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Talents, Incorporated
by William Fitzgerald Jenkins
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The old man said without reproof, "The First Admiral is indignant. The fields were not ordered on the ground that they're an untested device and that at least once such a field blew out, leaving your ship, the Isis, so helpless that it had to be abandoned."

"True," agreed Bors. He made no defense. The attitude of the First Admiral would have been perfectly logical in ordinary times. Anything like the new intermediate, low-power overdrive field should have been proposed through channels, examined by a duly-appointed commission of officers, reported on, the report evaluated, and then painstaking and lengthy tests made and the report on the tests evaluated. Then it should have been submitted to another commission of officers of higher rank, who would estimate the kind and amount of modification of standard equipment the new device required, its susceptibility to accident and/or obsolescence, the ease of repair, the cost of installation and the length of time in-port required to install it. Somewhere along the line there should also have been a report on the ease with which it could be integrated into other apparatus and standard operational procedures, and there should have been reports on its possible tactical value, the probable number of times it would be useful, the degree of its utility and whether the excessive discomfort of going into and out of overdrive at extremely short intervals would have an adverse effect on crew morale. Under normal circumstances a ship might have been equipped, for testing purposes, in six to ten years, and in ten years more all new ships might be equipped. But it would be well over a generation before its use was general.

The older man said, "Since your resignation's been accepted, you'll be put on the Sylva when it comes back. You won't be taken to Kandar with the fleet."

Bors's hands clenched.

"They'll say I resigned to stay out of the fight!"

"No," said his uncle mildly. "They'll say you resigned to avoid surrender. I'm being evicted with you. I'm to be dumped on the hospitality of your friend, Morgan, too. Humphrey is a very kindly man. Abominably so. But I am tired of being an exile. I'd really rather stay with the fleet. But he stands on his dignity to preserve our lives. I'm not sure what for, in a universe where such things as Mekin can happen."

"They happen," growled Bors, "because we value peace and quiet as much as the Mekinese do power, and much less than freedom. We compromise."

He paced up and down.

"Up to now," he said harshly, "every effort made against Mekin has been defensive. Twenty-two worlds, in turn, have fallen because they only wanted to stop Mekin. It's time for some world to resolve very solidly to smash Mekin, to act with honest anger against a thing that should be hated. It's got to be done!"

"The time for such a resolution," said his uncle, gently, "went by long ago."

There was sudden voice from the compartment speaker.

"Co-o-o-ntact!"

There was the hissing sound of doors closing. The peculiarly-muffled silence of a closed compartment fell. The Pretender said quietly, "If this is the Mekinese fleet, everything is solved. But your friends of Talents, Incorporated will have to be wrong. They insist the grand fleet will not come here."

Bors rasped, "I wish I were in that control room! But at least we've got missiles they can't intercept!"

"Except that they won't be fired, they're a great improvement," the Pretender said mildly.

He sat at ease. Time passed. Presently the tiny compartment air-refresher hummed, bringing down the CO{2} content of the air. It cut off. Bors paced up and down, up and down. He pictured what might be happening outside. It could be that the grand fleet of Mekin had appeared and now drove proudly toward Glamis. It could be that the fleet was offering surrender. There would be near-mutiny on many of its ships. There would be monumental frustration. Junior officers, in particular, would have examined the low-power overdrive tables, and would have studied longingly the reports of Bors's use of low-power overdrive against an enemy squadron off Meriden. They would yearn passionately to have their ships equipped with apparatus by which it could vanish from a place where it was a target to reappear elsewhere, unharmed, and make the enemy its target. Two fleets equipped with the new device might checkmate each other. But one fleet....

The speaker said curtly:

"Captain Bors, a single ship has broken out of overdrive. It identifies itself as the ship Liberty, of Cela. It declares that it has come to place itself under your command."

Bors stared. He had forgotten about the two Cela-built ships which the Deccan rebels told him about—the first of which had gone on a trial run with a Mekinese crew and failed to return, and the second of which, with a Celan crew, had gone off to look for Bors and his marauders.

Somehow, it had found him. It seemed totally improbable. Bors instantly thought of Talents, Incorporated. The Talents on the ship had spread rebellion on worlds unthinkable distances apart. It was conceivable that in some way they'd brought this ship to Glamis.

"Very well," said Bors coldly, in the cabin to which he was confined. "I request to be put on board."

"I'll come with you," said his uncle. He smiled at Bors, who noted, but was not surprised at, the genuineness of the smile. "This is the ship you mentioned as hoping to emulate the Horus. I don't think you'll surrender it. But I've surrendered once and I don't like it. I'd rather not do it again."

Compartment-doors went back to normal, as combat-alert went off. Morgan appeared, agitated and upset.

"What's this?" he demanded. "What's happened?"

Bors told him curtly as much as he knew, all that he'd been told on Deccan. It was the only ship technically in actual rebellion against Mekin. It had heard rumors of Bors, and it wanted his leadership.

"But you can't go now!" insisted Morgan. "You've got to wait until the Sylva gets back! You have to have Talents, Incorporated information to act on! You need my Talents!"

"I'm going to get moving as fast as I can," said Bors. "I don't think we can wait. If the Liberty's what I think, and her crew what I believe, they'll crave action."

There was a space-boat at the flagship's lock. Bors and his uncle entered. Those already in the boat were young men in the nondescript clothing of ship-workers. They grinned proudly at Bors when he took his seat.

"I don't know whether you know, sir," said the young man at the space-boat's controls, "but we heard about your revolt, sir, and we were about at the limit so we—"

"I stopped at Deccan," Bors said briefly. "They told me about you. Do you want action against Mekin?"

"Yes, sir!" It was a chorus.

"You'll get it," said Bors. "I'll try you out on a concentration of Mekin ships that should be turning up at Kandar. How are you equipped for repairs and changes?"

"We left Cela for a test trip, sir," said the young man at the controls. There were grins behind him. He chuckled. "Naturally we had materials to repair anything that went wrong on a trial run!"

"I've got some new settings for missiles," said Bors, "which make them hard to dodge. And we'll want to set up a special overdrive control, which makes it easy to dodge Mekinese ones. We can attend to it on the way to Kandar. How many aboard?"

He asked other curt questions. They answered. What Bors asked was what a commanding officer would need to know about a new ship, and his new followers realized it. They had been exultant and triumphant when he entered the space-boat. In the brief time needed to get to the Liberty they became ardently confident.

His reception was undisciplined but enthusiastic. He made a hurried inspection. The Liberty had started out with a skeleton crew of shipyard workers and no stores or arms. The ranks were now filled with volunteers from Deccan and elsewhere, and its storage-rooms fairly bulged with foodstuffs. Bors, however, really relaxed only once. That was when he saw the filled racks of missiles. On Deccan they'd been lavish in their gifts to the rebel space-ship.

Bors went into the control room, glanced about, and spoke crisply into the all-speaker microphone.

"All hands attention! Bors speaking. A concentration of Mekinese ships is expected at Kandar. We shall head for that planet immediately. On the way I shall arrange for some changes in the settings of the missiles we have on board. We will fix and distribute aiming-tables for their use. We will stop twice on the way for target practice. Much more than your lives or mine depends on how well you do your work. We'll also modify the overdrive to make this ship able to do everything my other ships did—and more. You will work much harder on the way to Kandar than you ever worked before, but we have to accomplish more than usual. That's all."

He stood by while the ship was aimed for Kandar. The young astrogator said enthusiastically, "Prepare for overdrive. Five, four, three—"

A voice out of a speaker:

"Calling Liberty! Calling Liberty! Morgan calling Liberty!"

"Hold it," said Bors.

He answered the call. Morgan's voice, in a high state of agitation, "Bors! The Sylva's just back! Just broke out! The grand fleet will get to Kandar in five days, four hours, twenty minutes! My Talent on the Sylva is sure of it. It's Talents, Incorporated information!"

"We haven't any time to spare, then," said Bors.

"Bors!" panted Morgan's voice. "There were three ships of our fleet hanging about, on watch for Mekinese. They expected one. Twelve came. The observation-ships attacked. They got eleven of the twelve. The last one went into overdrive and got away! Bors! Do you see what that means?"

"It means," said Bors coldly, "that Mekin won't be accepting surrenders this week. Destroying the first division was bad enough. I got one off Meriden. Now that a third squadron's wiped out, Mekin will insist on somebody getting punished—and plenty! All right! We're leaving for Kandar now."

He nodded to the young man at the control board. He noted with approval that he'd kept the Liberty's aim exact while Bors talked to Morgan.

"Proceed," Bors ordered.

The young man said, "Five, four, three, two, one—"

There was the familiar dizzying sensation of going into overdrive. The Liberty wrapped stressed space about itself and went hurtling into invisibility.

This was one voyage in overdrive which was not tedious. Bors had to organize the ship for combat. He had to train launching-crews to work like high-speed machinery. He had to teach the setting of missiles for ranges he had to show how to measure. Once he stopped the ship between stars and all the launching-crews took shots at an inflated metal-foil target. The Pretender of Tralee displayed an unexpected gift for organization. He divided all space outside the ship into sectors, assigning one launcher to each sector. If an order to fire came, the separate crews would cover targets in their own areas first. There would be no waste of missiles on one target.

The Pretender would have made an excellent officer. He was patient with those who did not understand immediately. He had dignity that was not arrogance. In five days the Liberty was a fighting ship and a dedicated one. There were rough edges, of course. Man for man and weapon for weapon the ship would not compare with a longer-trained and more experienced fighting instrument. But the morale on board was superb and the weapons were—to put it mildly—inspiring of hope.

The Liberty broke out of overdrive and the sun of Kandar shone fiery yellow in emptiness. The gas-giant planet had moved in its orbit. It was more evenly in line than before with a direct arrival-path for a fleet from Mekin. Bors was worn out from his unremitting efforts to turn the ship into a smooth-running unit. He looked at a ship's clock.

"The Mekinese," he said over the all-speaker circuit, "will break out in two hours, forty minutes. And we're going to set up a dummy fleet for them to deal with."

His uncle said gently, "I suggest some rest, to be fresh for the handling of the ship. I'll set up the dummy fleet."

Bors resisted the idea, but it was not sensible to humor his own vanity by insisting on his indispensability. He flung himself down on a bunk. He was much better satisfied with the ship and crew than he would have admitted. And he was dead-tired.

Around him, young men of Cela and Deccan prepared target-globes for launching. The Pretender gently pointed out that the formation was to remain perfectly still and in ranks. Therefore, each globe had to be launched with no velocity at all, so it would remain in fixed position with relation to the others, to convincingly appear to be a fleet of ships.

Far away the Sylva hurtled through space with a much-agitated Morgan on board. Gwenlyn, too, was frightened. For the first time, both of them seemed doubtful of the value of Talents, Incorporated information.

Again, far away, the fleet of Kandar rushed through emptiness. On its various ships, junior officers had come threateningly close to mutiny. There was now a sullen, resigned submission to discipline and what orders might be given, but the fleet was fighting angry. The Sylva had brought back news of a third defeat of Mekinese by Kandar ships and hot blood longed to make a full-scale test of its own deadliness. There were few ships of the fleet which did not have a low-power overdrive field unit ready to be spliced into circuit if the occasion arose. If the king could not make acceptable terms for surrender, the junior officers were prepared to make a victory by Mekin a very costly matter.

Stretched out on his bunk, Bors thought of all these things. Finally he slept—and—dreamed. It was odd that anyone so weary should dream. It was more strange that he did not dream of the matters in the forefront of his mind. He dreamed of Gwenlyn. She was crying, in the dream, and it was because she thought he was killed. And Bors was astonished at her grief, and then unbelievably elated. And he moved toward her and she raised her head at some sound he made. The expression of incredulous joy on her face made him put his arms around her with an enormous and unbelieving satisfaction. And he kissed her and the sensation was remarkable.

Half-awake, he blinked at the ceiling of the control room of the Liberty. His uncle was saying amiably to the young man at the control-board, "That's a very pretty fleet-formation, if we do say so ourselves!"

Bors stood up, one-half of his mind still startled by his dream, but the other half reverting instantly to business.

But all matters of business had been attended to. Out the viewports he could see the dummy fleet in an apparently defensive formation. Its ships were only miles apart, and if they had been fighting ships, every one could have launched missiles at any point of attack from the pattern they constituted. At a hundred miles they could be seen only as specks of reflected sunlight. At greater distances a radar would identify them only as dots which must be enemy ships because the radar-blips they made lacked the nimbus of friendly craft.

"Hm," said Bors. He looked at the clock. "The Mekinese should have broken out five minutes ago."

"They did," said his uncle. "They're yonder. They're heading straight for this fleet."

He pointed, not out a port but at a screen where a boiling mass of bright specks showed the Mekinese fleet just out of overdrive and speeding toward the dummy formation, sorting itself into attack formation as it moved.

"The king's not here on time," observed Bors grimly. "We have to play his hand for him, Uncle. We haven't the right to commit Kandar by beginning to fight ourselves. Offer surrender, as he'd wish it to be done. If they accept, he can carry out his part when he arrives. He'll be here!"

The former monarch spoke gently into a beam transmitter.

"Calling Mekinese fleet," he said. "Defending fleet calling Mekinese fleet!"

In seconds a reply came back.

"Mekinese Grand Admiral calling Kandar," the voice answered arrogantly. "What do you want?"

"We will discuss capitulation on behalf of Kandar," said the old man. "Will you give us terms?"

He grimaced, and said, aside, to Bors, "I'm speaking for Humphrey as I know he'd speak. But I am ashamed!"

There was a pause. It took time for the Pretender's voice to reach the enemy and as long for the reply to come back. The reply was ironic and arrogant and amused.

"What terms can you hope for?" it demanded. "You attacked our ships. You indulged in destruction! How can you hope for terms?"

The Pretender scratched his ear thoughtfully. He regarded the radar screen with regret.

"We ask life for the people of our planet," he said steadily. He was annoyed that he had to speak for the tardy King of Kandar. "We ask that they not be punished for our resistance."

The young men in the control room looked astonished. Then they saw Bors's expression, and grinned.

A long pause. The boiling, shifting specks on the radar-screen began to have a definite order. The Mekinese voice, when it came, was triumphant and overbearing.

"We will spare your planet," it said contemptuously, "but not you. You have dared to fight us. Stand and be destroyed, and there will be no punishment for your world. There are no other terms."

The Pretender looked at Bors. He shrugged.

"Now what would the king do?" He looked puzzled.

"What can our dummy fleet do?" asked Bors.

The Pretender nodded. "We will offer no resistance," he said into the transmitter.

There was a long silence. Bors looked at the radar-screen. The mass of bright specks at the edge of the screen seemed to have sent a shining wave before it. It was actually a swarm of missiles. They were so far away that they could not be picked up as individuals on the screen. They were a glow, a shine, a wave of pale luminosity.

"We shift to low-power overdrive readiness," said Bors. "That is an order."

A ship-voice murmured, "Low-power overdrive in circuit, sir."

He watched the screen. The Mekinese missiles accelerated at a terrific rate. They left their parent ships far behind. They were a third of the way to the drone-fleet and the Liberty before Bors spoke again.

"Launch and inflate another target-globe," he ordered drily. "We could speak for the king since he was late. But we won't stay here to be killed as his proxy! Not without fighting first!"

A voice, crisp: "Target globe launched, sir."

"Low-power overdrive toward the gas-giant planet. One-twentieth second. Five, four, three, two, one!"

There was the unbearable double sensation of going into, and breakout from, overdrive simultaneously. The Liberty vanished from its place in the formation of the dummy fleet, but left a metal-foil dummy where it had been. It reappeared a full five thousand miles away.

The rushing missiles now were brighter. They were individual, microscopic specks like stars. They began visibly to converge upon the space occupied by the dummy fleet.

"They'll be counting the ships," said the Pretender mildly, "to make sure that all stay for their execution. This would be a tragic sight if it were Humphrey's real fleet. He is just obstinate enough to let himself be killed, on the word of a treacherous Mekinese!"

The cloud of radar-blips grew bright and came near. The dummy fleet also appeared on the screens in the Liberty's control room. Bors and the others could see the rushing, shining flood of missiles as it poured through space upon the motionless targets.

"There!" Bors pointed. "The king's ship's breaking out! Away over at the edge. I wonder if the Mekinese will notice!"

There were very tiny sparkles off at the side of the radar-screen. They increased in number.

There was a flash, like the sun brought near for the tenth of a second. Another. Yet another. Then an overwhelming spout of brilliance as tens and twenties and fifties of the trajectiles went off together. It was an unbelievable sight against the stars. Missiles flamed and flashed and there seemed to be an actual sun there, now flashing brighter and now fainter, but intolerably hot and shining.

It went out, and left a vague and shining vapor behind. Then, belated missiles entered it and detonated. Their flares ceased. Then there was nothing where there had seemed to be a fleet.

"Which," said Bors, "is that!"

Then a voice spoke coldly from space.

"Connect all speakers for a message in clear," it commanded. "Alert all personnel for a general order."

There was a pause. The voice spoke again.

"Spacemen of Mekin," it said icily. "The fleet of Kandar is now destroyed. Kandar itself will be destroyed also as an example of the consequences of perfidy toward Mekin. But it should be a warning to others who would conspire against our world. Therefore, in part as penalty and in part as a reward to the men of the Grand Fleet, you will be allowed to land during a period of two weeks. You will be armed. You may confiscate, for yourself, anything of value you find. You are not required to exercise restraint in your actions toward the people of Kandar. They will be destroyed with their planet and no protests from such criminals will be listened to. You will be landed in groups, each on a fresh area of the planet. That is all."

There was silence in the control room of the Liberty. After a long time the Pretender said very quietly, "I will not live while such beasts live. From this moment I will kill them until I am killed!"

"I suspect King Humphrey heard that," Bors said, and drew a deep breath. "Combat alert!" he ordered crisply. "We're attacking the Mekinese fleet. Handle your missiles smoothly and don't try to fire while we're in overdrive! We'll be going in and out.... Choose your targets and fire as we come out and while I count down. Overdrive point nine seconds. Five, four, three, two, one!"

The cosmos reeled and stomachs retched when the Liberty came out in nine-tenths of a second. She was in the very midst of a concentration of the Mekinese fleet. Missiles streaked away, furiously, as Bors counted down. "Two-fifths second, five, four, three, two, one!"

More missiles shot away. Bors almost chanted, while with gestures toward the radar-screen he picked out the objects near which breakout should fall.

"Point oh five seconds." The ship went into overdrive and out. It seemed as if the universe dissolved from one appearance to another outside the viewports. "Five, four, three, two, one! Hold fire!"

The Liberty came out a good ten thousand miles from its starting-point and beyond the area occupied by the enemy fleet. Three thousand miles away a flare burst among the distant stars. A second. A third. Six thousand miles away there were flashings in emptiness.

"We're doing very well," said Bors calmly into the all-speaker microphone. "A little more care with the aiming, though. And read your ranges closer! They're not intercepting our missiles. We're not aiming them right. We try it again now...."

The universe seemed to reel and one felt queasy, but there was work to be done, while a voice chanted, "Five, four, three, two, one!" Then it reeled again and the same voice continued to chant. Sometimes the crews saw where missiles hit, but they could never be sure they were their own. Then, suddenly, the number of hits increased. They doubled and tripled and quadrupled.

"All hands!" barked Bors. "The fleet of Kandar is wading into this fight. Be careful to pick your targets! No Kandar ships! Save your missiles for the enemy!"

Someone, man-handling missiles for faster and more long-continued firing than any ship-designer ever expected, gasped, "Come on boys! Missiles for Mekin!"

It became a joke, which seemed excruciatingly funny at the time.

Nobody saw all the battle, or even a considerable part. There was a period when the Liberty, alone, fought like the deadliest of gadflies. It appeared in the middle of a Mekinese sub-formation, loosed missiles and vanished before anything could be intercepted. There was no target for Mekinese bombs to home on when they got to where the Liberty had been.

Then the fleet of Kandar appeared. It broke out in single ships and in pairs, and then in groups of fives and tens. The general order for the Mekinese fleet had been picked up, and the fleet of Kandar seemed to have gone mad.

The flagship tried to fight in orthodox fashion, for a time. It depended on the attraction its missiles had for Mekinese to keep it in space. But presently it was alone, and the battle was raging confusion scattered over light-minutes, and somebody went down in to the engine room and brazed in a low-power overdrive unit—providentially made by a junior officer—and the flagship of the Kandarian fleet waded in erratically, never knowing where it would come out, but rarely failing to find a Mekinese ship to launch at.

The third phase of the battle was much more of an open fight, ship against ship, except that more and more Kandarian ships were using low-power overdrive—clumsily and inefficiently, but to the very great detriment of Mekin's grand fleet. The Mekinese officers could not quite grasp that their antagonists were doing the impossible. They became confused.

The fourth phase of the battle consisted of mopping-up operations in which individual ships were hunted down and destroyed by the simple process of a Kandarian ship seeming to materialize from nowhere a mile or half a mile from an enemy, launching one missile and seeming to dematerialize again and vanish.

Very few Mekinese ships went into overdrive. Probably most of them didn't believe what was happening. Perhaps four ships, out of the entire grand fleet, escaped.

* * * * *

Later, of course, there was embarrassment all around. King Humphrey the Eighth landed on Kandar to assure his people that they were no longer in danger. He was embarrassed because he was a victor in spite of himself. The fleet officers were embarrassed because Bors had been forced out of the fleet, and had literally tricked them into battle.

Bors, too, was embarrassed. There was the admiration displayed by junior officers of the fleet. He had become, very unwillingly, a model for young space-navy officers. They tried to pattern themselves after him in all ways, even to the angle at which they wore their hats. He squirmed when they looked at him with shining-eyed respect.

He was embarrassed, also, by the necessary revelation to the Liberty's crew that he was neither the leader of a rebellion nor in command of a fleet; nor that he had performed quite all the fabulous feats credited to him. He had to explain that he'd only commanded two ships, the Isis and the Horus, one of which had to be destroyed, and that when the Liberty placed itself under his command he'd just been forced to resign his commission from King Humphrey. The young men who'd fought under him were unimpressed.

The fleet was re-supplied with food and missiles, and in one day more the major part of it would take off for Mekin. Other ships would journey, of course, to the twenty-odd, once-subject worlds. There they would—they were calmly confident about it—mop up any surviving Mekinese ships and enforce the surrender of Mekinese garrisons. And they would gather emissaries to be carried to the fleet as it rode in orbit about Mekin. The fleet and the representatives of the twenty-two worlds, together, would firmly rearrange the government and the policies and the ambitions of Mekin.

There was still the matter of Gwenlyn. The Sylva came down on Kandar, of course, where Morgan swaggered happily, pointing out the indispensable help given to Kandar by Talents, Incorporated. Bors reminded King Humphrey that Morgan collected medals, and he was duly invested with sundry glittering decorations, which would have staggered a lesser man.

Gwenlyn found Bors secluded in the palace, waiting until it was time to board ship and head for Mekin. Her father accompanied her.

"I've come to say goodbye," she said gently. "We've done what we came for."

"I still don't understand why you came," said Bors, who would much rather have said something else. "We can't possibly do anything adequate in return. Why did you come?"

He turned to Morgan, who answered blandly, "One of our Talents precognized an event. We had to come here and help it to happen. Gwenlyn was doubtful, but she's come around."

"What was it?"

"It hasn't happened yet," said Morgan. He produced a cigar and lighted it. "Gwenlyn, shall I tell him?"

"Don't you dare!" said Gwenlyn hotly.

Bors said unhappily, "I'm sorry you're going away, Gwenlyn. If things were—different, I—I—"

"You what?" asked Morgan. "By the way! One of our Talents has precognized that your uncle's going back to Tralee as its king again. Largely on your account. You're his heir, aren't you?"

Bors blinked.

"Hero," said Morgan, waving his hand. "Twenty-two planets adoring you, believing you brought Mekin down single-handed. Aching to work with you, follow you, admire you. Naturally, Tralee wants your uncle back. Then they'll have you. Of course," he added complacently, "our Department for Disseminating Truthful Seditious Rumors had something to do with it. But that was necessary wartime propaganda. And you didn't let anybody down." Then he said peevishly, "Not until now!"

Bors gaped. He looked at Gwenlyn. Her cheeks were crimson. Revelation struck Bors like a blow.

"I don't believe it!" he said, staring at her. He said more loudly, "I don't believe it!"

"Damnit," said Morgan indignantly. "She didn't believe it either! She said she'd come here because she was curious, nothing more. But that particular Talent's never missed yet! She just plain knows every time who—"

"Hush!" said Gwenlyn fiercely. "Goodbye."

Bors moved toward her, not to shake hands. She ran out of the door. She ran fast, for a girl. He ran faster.

Morgan puffed contentedly. Presently the completely unreal figure of King Humphrey the Eighth came to where Morgan had surrounded himself with aromatic smoke.

"Where's Bors?" asked the king.

"Yonder," said Morgan. He waved his hand. "Kissing my daughter, I think. D'you know, Majesty, I've known this would happen all along? One of our Talents precognized you opening parliament next year. So I knew things had to come out right."

"Y-yes," said the king, dubiously. "I suppose so. But there had to be efforts, too, to bring it about. Otherwise it wouldn't seem right."

"Naturally!" said Morgan. "When one of my Talents precognized that Gwenlyn was going to marry the heir of the Pretender of Tralee and be Queen of Tralee some day, why, it didn't seem a bit likely. But once I knew about that precognition, I put in a little effort...."

King Humphrey was thoughtful.

"Things look good," said Morgan expansively. "My Talents are precognizing all over the place. They tell me that this planet's going to be a fine place to live. Quiet and peaceful, and serene.... Gwenlyn will be living on Tralee, most likely, and I don't want to be underfoot. I'll probably settle down here. Retire, you know."

"Splendid," said the king, politely, his mind occupied with the prospect of a warless future.

"And as for Gwenlyn and Bors," Morgan added, confidentially, "I'll tell you something. My Talents've been working on her future. I wouldn't tell her all of it. Some of it should be a surprise. But she and Bors are going to be what you call happy ever after! And that's Talents, Incorporated information! You can depend on it!"



TWO MORE AVON S-F HITS YOU'RE SURE TO ENJOY

LITTLE FUZZY

by H. Beam Piper F-118 40c

Zarathustra belonged to the chartered Zarathustra Company as a Class-III uninhabited planet. They owned it lock, stock and barrel; they exploited it without interference from the Colonial Government.

The Company was sitting pretty until Jack Holloway turned up with a family of Fuzzies and the claim that they were not just nice little animals, but human. If he was right and the Fuzzies were declared the 9th extrasolar sapient race, there went the Company, charter and all!

LITTLE FUZZY is our candidate for the most delightful science-fiction book of the year.

* * * * *

THE STAR DWELLERS

by James Blish F-122 40c

They were beautiful creatures, highly intelligent and playful. The inhabitants of Terra nicknamed them "Angels," yet they were awesome—the youngest were 4,000,000 years old and the oldest had been around since the birth of the universe.

Space cadet Jack Loftus was almost overwhelmed when he had to assume the responsibility of negotiating a treaty with them—a treaty which could mean the life or death of earth and mankind.

* * * * *

Available at your local newsdealer. If he cannot supply you, order direct from Avon Book Division, The Hearst Corporation, 250 West 55th Street, New York 19, New York. Enclose price listed plus 10c extra per book to cover cost of wrapping and mailing.



TALENTS, INCORPORATED

Charlatans or Prophets?

At best, the tiny Kandarian Air Fleet would fight until its last ship was blown into infinity. At worst, it would be annihilated without a chance. To young Captain Bors, either course was unthinkable.

The ruthless Dictator of Mekin had already subjugated twenty-two helpless planets. Now he wanted Kandar's unconditional surrender, or his vastly superior forces would blast it out of existence.

It took a lot of guts, and the hope that is frequently born of despair, for a military man like Bors to throw in his lot with TALENTS, INCORPORATED, an untried, unscientific organization. Through peculiar gifts of extra-sensory perception, its personnel could, their leader insisted, out-think and out-guess even the most deadly dictator in the history of mankind. Could it? It just might.

And it just might not.... But there was absolutely nothing to lose, and a free world (and a beautiful girl) to win. Captain Bors made his decision, and the loaded die was cast!

Printed in the U.S.A.

THE END

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