* * *
Garlock finally broke away from the lonesome Inspector and the Pleiades started down.
"That's the most utterly horrible thing I ever heard of in my life!" Lola burst out. "Like wasps—only worse—people aren't bugs! Why don't all the planets get together and develop something to kill every Ozobe in every system of the group?"
"That one has got too many bones in it for me to answer," James said.
"I'm going to get hold of that Engineer as soon as we land," Lola said, darkly, "and stick a pin into him."
They found the Engineering Office easily enough, in a snug camp well outside a large city. They grounded the starship and went out on foot; enjoying contact with solid ground. The Head Engineer was an Arpalone, too—Engineers were not a separate race, but dwellers on a planet of extremely high technology—but he did know anything about space-drives. His specialty was rehabilitation; he was top boss of a rehab crew....
* * *
Then Lola pushed Garlock aside. Yes, the Ozobes came from space. He was sure of it. Yes, they laid eggs in human bodies. Yes, they probably stayed alive quite a while—or might, except for the rehab crew. No, he didn't know what would hatch out—he'd never let one live that long, but what the hell else could hatch except Ozobes? No, not one. Not one single damn one. If just one ever did, on any world where he bossed the job, he'd lose his job as boss and go to the mines for half a year....
"Ridiculous!" Lola snapped. "If Ozobes hatched, they couldn't possibly have come from space. If they did come from space, the adult form would have to be something able to get back into space, some way or other. That is simple elementary biology. Don't you see that?"
He didn't see it. He didn't give a damn, either. It was none of his business; he was a rehab man.
Lola ran back to the ship in disgust.
"Something else is even more ridiculous, and is your business," James told the Head Engineer. "Garlock and I are both engineers—top ones. We know definitely that a one-hundred-percent clean-up on such a job as this—millions—simply can't be done. Ever. Under any conditions. Are you lying in your teeth or are you dumb enough to believe it yourself?"
"Neither one," the Engineer insisted, stubbornly. "I've wondered, myself, at how I could get 'em all, but I always do—every time so far. That's why they give me the big job. I'm good at it."
"Oh—Lola's right, Jim," Garlock said. "It's the adult form that hatches; something so different they don't even recognize it. Something able to get into space. Enough survivors to produce the next generation."
"Sure. I'll tell Brownie—she'll be tickled."
"She'll be more than tickled—she'll want to hunt up somebody around here with three brain cells working and give 'em an earful." Then, to the Engineer, "Do you know how they rehab a planet that's been leveled flat by the golop?"
"You've seen one? I never have, but of course I've studied it. Slow, but not too difficult. After killing, the stuff weathers down in a few years—wonderful soil it makes—what makes it slow is that you have to wait fifty or a hundred years for the mountains to get built up again and for the earthquakes to quit...."
"Excuse me, please—I've got a call—we have to leave, right now."
The call was from the Inspector. The nearest planet, Clamer, was being invaded by the Ozobes and needed all the help they could get.
* * *
In seconds the Pleiades was at the Port of Entry.
"Where is this Clamer?" Garlock asked.
The Inspector pointed a thought; all four followed it.
"Let's go, Jim. Maybe...."
"Just a minute!" Lola snapped. She was breathing hard, her eyes were almost shooting sparks as she turned to the old Arpalone and drove a thought so forcibly that he winced.
"Do you so-called 'Guardians of Humanity' care at all about the humanity you're supposed to be protecting?" she demanded viciously, the thought boring in and twisting, "or are you just loafing on the job and doing as little as you possibly can without getting fired?"
Belle and Garlock looked at each other and grinned. James was surprised and shocked. This woman blowing her top was no Brownie Montandon any of them knew.
"We do everything we possibly can," the Inspector was not only shocked, but injured and abused. "If there's any one possible thing we haven't done, even the tiniest...."
"There's plenty!" she snapped. "Plain, dumb stupidity, then, it must be. There must be somebody around here who has been at least exposed to elementary biology! You should have exterminated these Ozobe vermin ages ago. All you have to do is find out what its life cycle is. How many stages and what they are. How the adults get into space and where they go," and she went on, in flashing thoughts, to explain in full detail.
"Are you smart enough to understand that?"
"Oh, yes. Your thought may be the truth, at that."
"And are you interested enough to find out whose business it would be, and follow through on it?"
"Yes, of course. If it works, I'll be quite famous for suggesting it. I'll give you part of the credit...."
"Keep the credit—just see to it that it gets done!" She whirled on James. "This loss of human life is so appallingly unnecessary! This time we're going to Clamer, and nowhere else. Push the button, Jim."
"All I can do is set up for it, pet. Whether we...."
"We'll get there!" she blazed. "It's high time we got a break. Punch it! This time the ship's going to Clamer, if we have to all get out and push it there! Now punch that button!"
James pushed the button, glanced into his scanner, and froze; eyes staring. He did not even whistle. Belle, however, did; with ear-shattering volume. Garlock's mouth fell open in the biggest surprise of his life. They were in the same galaxy!
All three had studied charts of nebular configurations so long and so intensely that recognition of a full-sphere identity was automatic and instantaneous.
Lola, head buried in scanner, had already checked in with the Port Inspector.
"It is Clamer!" she shrieked aloud. "I told you it was time for our luck to change, if we pulled hard enough! They are being invaded by Ozobes and they did call for help and they didn't think we could possibly get here this fast and we don't need to be inspected because we're compatible or we couldn't have landed on Groobe!"
For five long minutes Garlock held the starship motionless while he studied the entire situation. Then he drove a probe through the mental shield of the general in charge of the whole defense operation.
"Battle-Cruiser Pleiades, Captain Garlock commanding, reporting for duty in response to your S.O.S. received on Groobe."
The general, furiously busy as he was, dropped all other business. "But you're human! You can't fight!"
"Watch us. You don't know, apparently, that the Ozobe bases are on the far side of your moon. They're bringing their fighters in most of the way in transports."
"Why, they can't be! They're coming in from all directions from deep space!"
"That's what they want you to think. They're built to stand many hours of zero pressure and almost absolute zero cold. Question: if we destroy all their transport, say in three hours, can you handle all the fighters who will be in the air or in nearby space at that time?"
"Very easily. They've hardly started yet. I appoint you Admiral-pro-tem Garlock, in command of Space Operations, and will refer to you any other space-fighters who may come. I thank you, sir. Good luck."
The general returned his attention to his boiling office. His mind was seething with questions as to what these not-human beings were, how or if they knew so much, and so on; but he forced them out of his mind and went, fast and efficient, back to work. James shot the Pleiades up to within a thousand miles or so of the moon.
"How long does it take to learn this bombing business, Jim?" Lola asked.
"About fifteen seconds. All you have to do is want to. Do you, really?"
"I really do. If I don't do something to help these people," it did not occur to her that she had already done a tremendous job, "I'll never forgive myself."
James showed her; and, much to her surprise, she found it very easy to do.
* * *
The vessels transporting the invading forces were huge, spherical shells equipped with short-range drives—and with nothing else. No accommodations, no facilities, no food, no water, not even any air. Each transport, when filled to the bursting-point with as-yet-docile cargo, darted away; swinging around to approach Clamer from some previously-assigned direction. It did not, however, approach the planet's surface. At about two thousand miles out, great ports opened and the load was dumped out into space, to fall the rest of the way by gravity. Then the empty shell, with only its one pilot aboard, rushed back for another load.
"How heavy shots, Clee?" James asked. He and Lola were getting into their scanners. "Wouldn't take as much as a kiloton equivalent, would it?"
"Half a kilo is plenty, but no use being too fussy about precision out here."
* * *
Garlock and Belle were already bombing; James and Lola began. Slow and awkward at first, Lola soon picked up the technique and was firing blast for blast with the others. No more loaded transport vessels left the moon. No empty one, returning toward the moon, reached there. In much less than the three hours Garlock had mentioned, every Ozobian transport craft had been destroyed.
"And now the real job begins," Garlock said, as James dropped the starship down to within a few miles of the moon's surface.
That surface was cratered and jagged, exactly like that of the half always facing Clamer. No sign of activity could be seen by eye, nor anything unusual. Even the immense trap-doors, all closed now, matched exactly their surroundings. Underground, however, activity was violently intense; and, now, confused in the extreme.
"Why, there isn't a single adult anywhere!" Lola exclaimed. "I thought the whole place would be full of 'em!"
"So did I," Belle said. "However, by hindsight, it's plain enough. Their job done, they were killed and eaten. Last meal, perhaps."
"I'm afraid so. Whatever they were, they had hands and brains. Just look at those shops and machines!"
"What do we do, boss?" James asked. "Run a search pattern first?"
"We'll have to, I guess, before we can lay the job out."
It was run and Garlock frowned in thought. "Almost half the moon covered—honeycombed. We'll have to fine-tooth it. Around the periphery first, then spiral into the center. This moon isn't very big, but even so this is going to be a hell of a long job. Any suggestions, anybody? Jim?"
"The only way, I guess. You can't do it hit-or-miss. I'm damn glad we've got plenty of stuff in our Op field and plenty of hydride for the engines. The horses will all know they've been at work before they get the field filled up again."
"So will you, Junior, believe me.... Ready, all? Start blasting."
Then, for three hours, the Pleiades moved slowly—for her—along a plotted and automatically-controlled course. It was very easy to tell where she had been; the sharply-cut, evenly-spaced, symmetrical pits left by the Galaxian's full-conversion blasts were entirely different from the irregularly-cratered, ages-old original surface.
"Knock off, Brownie," Garlock said then. "Go eat all you can hold and get some sleep. Come back in three hours. Jim, cut our speed to seventy-five percent."
Lola shed her scanner, heaved a tremendous sigh of relief, and disappeared.
Three silent hours later—all three were too intensely busy to think of anything except the work in hand—Lola came back.
"Take Belle's swath, Brownie. Okay, Belle, you can lay off. Three hours."
"I'll stay," Belle declared. "Go yourself; or send Jim."
"Don't be any more of a damn fool than you have to. I said beat it."
"And I said I wouldn't. I'm just as good...."
"Chop it off!" Garlock snapped. "It isn't a case of being just as good as. It's a matter of physical reserves. Jim and I have more to draw on for the long shifts than you have. So get the hell out of here or I'll stop the ship and slap you even sillier than you are now."
Belle threw up her head, tossing her shoulder-length green mop in her characteristic gesture of defiance; but after holding Garlock's hard stare for a moment she relaxed and smiled.
"Okay, Clee—and thanks for the kind words."
She disappeared and the work went on.
And finally, when all four were so groggy that they could scarcely think, the job was done and checked. Clamer's moon was as devoid of life as any moon had ever been.
* * *
Lola pitched her scanner at its rack and threw herself face-down on a davenport, sobbing uncontrollably. James sat down beside her and soothed her until she quieted down.
"You'd better eat something, sweetheart, and then for a good, long sleep."
"Eat? Why, I couldn't, Jim, not possibly."
"Let her sleep first, I think, Jim," Belle said, and followed with her eyes as Jim picked his wife up and carried her into the corridor.
"We'd better eat something, I suppose," Belle said, thoughtfully. "I don't feel like eating, either, but I never realized until this minute just how much this has taken out of me and I'd better start putting it back in.... She did a wonderful job, Clee, even if she couldn't take it full shift toward the last."
"I'll say she did. I hated like the devil to let her work that way, but ... you knew I was scared witless every second until we topped off."
Exhausted and haggard as she was, Belle laughed. "I know damn-blasted well you weren't; but I know what you mean. Fighting something you don't know anything about, and can't guess what may happen next, is tough. Seconds count." Side by side, they strolled toward the alcove.
"I simply didn't think she had it in her," Belle marveled.
"She didn't. She hasn't. It'll take her a week to get back into shape."
"Right. She was going on pure nerve at the last—nothing else ... but she did a job, and she's so sweet and fine.... I wonder, Clee, if ... if I've been missing the boat...."
"You have not." Garlock sent the thought so solidly that Belle jumped. "If you'd just let yourself be, you'd be worth a million of her, just as you stand."
"Yes? You lie in your teeth, Cleander, but I love it.... Oh, I don't know what I want to eat—if anything."
"I'll think up yours, too, along with mine."
"Please. Something light, and just a little."
"Yeah. Sit down. Just a light snack—a two-pound steak, rare; a bowl of mushrooms fried in butter; French fries, french dips, salad, and a quart of coffee. The same for me, except more of each. Here we are."
"Why, Clee, I couldn't possibly eat half of that...." Then, after a quarter of it was gone, "I am hungry, at that—simply ravenous. I could eat a horse and saddle, and chase the rider."
"That's what I thought. I knew I could, and figured you accordingly."
* * *
They ate those tremendous meals slowly, enjoying every bite and sip; in an atmosphere of friendliness and good fellowship; chatting on a wide variety of subjects as they ate. Neither was aware of the fact that this was the first time they had ever been on really friendly terms. And finally every dish and container was empty, almost polished clean.
"One hundred percent capacity—can chew but can't swallow," Garlock said then, lighting two cigarettes and giving Belle one. "How's that for a masterly job of calibration?"
"Me, too. It'll pass." Belle sighed in repletion. "Your ability to estimate the exact capacity of containers is exceeded only by your good looks and by the size of your feet. And now to hit the good old sack for an indefinite but very long period of time."
"You chirped it, birdie." Still eminently friendly, the two walked together to their doors. Belle put up a solid block and paused, irresolute, twisting the toe of one slipper into the carpet.
"Clee, I ... I wonder ... if...." Her voice died away.
"I know what you mean." He put his arms around her gently, tenderly, and looked deep into her eyes. "I want to tell you something, Belle. You're a woman, not in seven thousand million women, but in that many planets full of women. What it takes, you very definitely and very abundantly have got. And you aren't the only one that's pooped. I don't need company tonight, either. I'm going to sleep until I wake up, if it takes all day. Or say, if you wake up first, why not punch me and we'll have breakfast together?"
"That's a thought. Do the same for me. Good night, Clee."
"Good night, ace." He kissed her, as gently as he had been holding her, opened her door, closed it after her, and stepped across the corridor into his own room.
"What a man!" Belle breathed to herself, behind the solid screens of her room. "He thought I was too tired, not just scared to death too. What a man! Belle Bellamy, you ought to be kicked from here to Tellus...." Then she threw back her head, drove a hard little fist into a pillow, and spoke aloud through clenched teeth. "No, damn and blast it, I won't give in. I won't love him. I'll take the Project away from him if it's the last thing I ever do in this life!"
* * *
She woke up the next morning—not morning, either, since it was well after noon—a little before Garlock did, but not much. When she went into his room he was shaved and fully dressed except for one shoe, which he was putting on.
"Hi, boss! Better we eat, huh? Not only am I starving by inches, but if we don't eat pretty quick we'll get only one meal today instead of three. Did you eat your candy bar?"
"I sure did, ace."
"Oh, I'm still 'ace'? You can kiss me, then," and she raised her face toward his.
He kissed her, still tenderly, and they strolled to and through the Main and into the alcove. James and Lola, the latter looking terribly strained and worn, had already eaten, but joined them in their after-breakfast coffee and cigarettes.
"You've checked, of course," Garlock said. "Everything on the beam?"
"Dead center. Even to Lola and her biologists. Everybody's full of joy and gratitude and stuff—as well as information. And we managed to pry ourselves loose without waking you two trumpet-of-doom sleepers up. So we're ready to jump again. I wonder where in hell we'll wind up this time."
"I'm glad you said that, Jim." Garlock said. "It gives me the nerve to spring a thing on you that I've been mulling around in my mind ever since we landed here."
"Nerve? You?" James asked, incredulously. "Pass the coffee-pot around again, Brownie. If that character there said what I heard him say, this'll make your hair stand straight up on end."
"On our jumps we've had altogether too much power and no control whatever...." Garlock paused in thought.
"Like a rookie pitcher," Belle suggested.
"Uh-uh," Lola objected. "It couldn't be that wild. He'd have to stand with his back to the plate and pitch the ball over the center-field stands and seven blocks down-town."
"Cut the persiflage, you two," Garlock ordered. "Consider three things. First, as you all know, I've been trying to figure out a generator that would give us intrinsic control, but I haven't got any farther with it than we did back on Tellus. Second, consider all the jumps we've made except this last one. Every time we've taken off, none of us has had his shield really up. You, Jim, were concentrating on the drive, and so were wide open to it. The rest of us were at least thinking about it, and so were more or less open to it. Not one of us has ever ordered it to take us to any definite place; in fact, I don't believe that anyone of us has ever even suggested a destination. Each one of us has been thinking, at the instant of energization of the fields, exactly what you just said, and with exactly the same emphasis.
"Third, consider this last jump all by itself. It's the first time we've ever stayed in the same galaxy. It's the first time we've ever gone where we wanted to. And it's the first time—here's the crux, as I see it—that any of us has been concentrating on any destination at the moment of firing the charge. Brownie was willing the Pleiades to this planet so hard that we all could taste it. The rest of us, if not really pushing to get here, were at least not opposed to the idea. Check?"
"Check." "That's right." "Yes, I was pushing with all my might," came from the three listeners, and James went on:
"Are you saying the damn thing's alive?"
"No. I'm saying I don't believe in miracles. I don't believe in coincidence—that concept is as meaningless as that of paradox. I certainly do not believe that we hit this planet by chance against odds of almost infinity to one. So I've been looking for a reason. I found one. It goes against my grain—against everything I've ever believed—but, since it's the only possible explanation, it must be true. The only possible director of the Gunther Drive must be the mind."
"Hell's blowtorches—Now you're insisting that the damn thing's alive."
"Far from it. It's Brownie who's alive. It was Brownie who got us here. Nothing else—repeat, nothing else—makes sense."
James pondered for a full minute. "I wouldn't buy it except for one thing. If you, the hardest-boiled skeptic that ever went unhung, can feed yourself the whole bowl of such a mess as that, I can at least take a taste of it. Shoot."
"Okay. You know that we don't know anything really fundamental about either teleportation or the drive. I'm sure now that the drive is simply mechanical teleportation. If you tried to 'port yourself without any idea of where you wanted to go, where do you think you'd land?"
"You might scatter yourself all over space—no, you wouldn't. You wouldn't move, because it wouldn't be teleportation at all. Destination is an integral part of the concept."
"Exactly so—but only because you've been conditioned to it all your life. This thing hasn't been conditioned to anything."
"Like a new-born baby," Lola suggested.
"Life again," James said. "I can't see it—too many bones in it. Pure luck, even at those odds, makes a lot more sense."
"And to make matters worse," Garlock went on as though neither of them had spoken. "Just suppose that a man had four minds instead of one and they weren't working together. Then where would he go?"
This time, James simply whistled; the girls stared, speechless.
"I think we've proved that my school of mathematics was right—the thing was built to operate purely at random. Fotheringham was wrong. However, I missed the point that if control is possible, the controller must be a mind. Such a possibility never occurred to me or anyone working with me. Or to Fotheringham or to anybody else."
"I can't say I'm sold, but it's easy to test and the results can't be any worse. Let's go."
"How would you test it?"
"Same way you would. Only way. First, each one of us alone. Then pairs and threes. Then all four together. Fifteen tests in all. No. Three destinations for each set-up; near, medium, and far. Except Tellus, of course; we'd better save that shot until we learn all we can find out. Everybody not in the set should screen up as solidly as they can set their blocks—eyes shut, even, and concentrating on something else. Check?"
James did not express the thought that Tellus must by now be so far away that no possible effort could reach it; but he could not repress the implication.
"Check. I'll concentrate on a series of transfinite numbers. Belle, you work on the possible number of shades of the color green. Lola, on how many different perfumes you can identify by smell. Jim, hit the button."
Since the tests took much time, and were strictly routine in nature, there is no need to go into them in detail. At their conclusion, Garlock said:
"First: either Jim alone, or Lola alone, or Jim and Lola together, can hit any destination within any galaxy, but can't go from one galaxy to another.
"Second: either Belle or I, or any combination containing either of us without the other, has no control at all.
"Third: Belle and I together, or any combination containing both of us, can go intergalactic under control.
"In spite of confession being supposed to be good for the soul, I don't like to admit that we've put gravel in the gear-box—do you, Belle?" Garlock's smile was both rueful and forced.
"You can play that in spades." Belle licked her lips; for the first time since boarding the starship she was acutely embarrassed. "We'll have to, of course. It was all my fault—it makes me look like a damned stupid juvenile delinquent."
"Not by nineteen thousand kilocycles, since neither of us had any idea. I'll be glad to settle for half the blame."
* * *
"Will you please stop talking Sanskrit?" James asked. "Or lep it, so we two innocent bystanders can understand it?"
"Will do," and Garlock went on in thought. "Remember what I said about this drive not being conditioned to anything? I was wrong. Belle and I have conditioned it, but badly. We've been fighting so much that something or other in that mess down there has become conditioned to her; something else to me. My part will play along with anyone except Belle; hers with anybody except me. Anti-conditioning, you might call it. Anyway, they lay back their ears and balk."
"Oh, hell!" James snorted. "Talk about gobbledygook! You are still saying that that conglomeration of copper and silver and steel and insulation that we built ourselves has got intelligence, and I still won't buy it."
"By no means. Remember, Jim, that this concept of mechanical teleportation, and that the mind is the only possible controller, are absolutely new. We've got to throw out all previous ideas and start new from scratch. I postulate, as a working hypothesis drawn from original data as modified by these tests, that that particular conglomeration of materials generates at least two fields about the properties of which we know nothing at all. That one of those properties is the tendency to become preferentially resonant with one mind and preferentially non-resonant with another. Clear so far?"
"As mud. It's a mighty tough blueprint to read." James scowled in thought. "However, it's no harder to swallow than Sanderson's Theory of Teleportation. Or, for that matter, the actual basic coupling between mind and ordinary muscular action. Does that mean we'll have to rebuild half a million credits' worth of ... no, you and Belle can work it, together."
"I don't know." Garlock paced the floor. "I simply can't see any possible. mechanism of coupling."
"Subconscious, perhaps," Belle suggested.
"For my money that whole concept is invalid," Garlock said. "It merely changes 'I don't know' to 'I can't know' and I don't want any part of that. However, 'unconscious' could be the answer ... if so, we may have a lever.... Belle, are you willing to bury your hatchet for about five minutes—work with me like a partner ought to?"
"I certainly am, Clee. Honestly. Screens down flat, if you say so."
"Half-way's enough, I think—you'll know when we get down there." Her mind joined his and he went on, "Ignore the machines themselves completely. Consider only the fields. Feel around with me—keep tuned!—see if there's anything at all here that we can grab hold of and manipulate, like an Op field except probably very much finer. I'll be completely damned if I can see how this type of Gunther generator can put out a manipulable field, but it must. That's the only—O-W-R-C-H-H!"
This last was a yell of pure mental agony. Both hands flew to his head, his face turned white, sweat poured, and he slumped down unconscious.
He came to, however, as the other three were stretching him out on a davenport. Belle was mopping his face with a handkerchief.
"What happened, Clee?" All three were exclaiming at once.
"I found my manipulable field, but a bomb went off in my brain when I straightened it out." He searched his mind anxiously, then smiled. "But no damage done—just the opposite. It opened up a Gunther cell I didn't know I had. Didn't it sock you, too, Belle?"
"Uh-uh," she said, more than half bitterly. "I must not have one. That makes you a Super-Prime, if I may name a new classification."
"Nonsense! Of course you've got it. Unconscious, of course, like me, but without it you couldn't have conditioned the field. But why.... Oh, what bit me was the one conditioned to me."
"Oh, nice!" Belle exclaimed. "Come on, Clee—let's go get mine!"
"Do you want a bit of knowledge that badly, Belle?" Lola asked. "Besides, wait, he isn't strong enough yet."
"Of course he's strong enough. A little knock like that? Want it! I'd give my right leg and ... and almost anything for it. It didn't kill him, so it won't kill me."
"There may be an easier way," Garlock said. "I wouldn't wish a jolt like that onto my worst enemy. But that had two hundred kilovolts and four hundred kilogunts behind it. Since I know now where and what the cell is, I think I can open it up for you without being quite so rough."
"Oh, lovely. Come in, quick! I'm ready now."
* * *
Garlock went in; and wrought. It took longer—half an hour, in fact—but it was very much easier to take.
"What did it feel like, Belle?" Lola asked, eagerly. "You winced like he was drilling teeth and struck a couple of nerves."
"Uh-uh. More like being stretched all out of shape. Like having a child, maybe, in a small way. Let's go, Clee!"
They joined up and went.
"Ha, there you are, you cantankerous little fabrication of nothings!" Belle said aloud, in a low, throaty, gloating voice. "Take that—and that! And now behave yourself. If you don't, mama spank—but good!" Then, breaking connection, "Thanks a million, Clee; you're tall, solid gold. Do you want to run some more tests, to see which of us is the intergalactic transporter?"
"Not unless you do."
"Who, me? I'll be tickled to death not to; just like I'd swallowed an ostrich feather. Back to Tellus, then?"
"Tellus, here we come," Garlock said. "Jim, what are the Tellurian figures for exactly five hundred miles up?"
"I'll punch 'em—got 'em in my head." James did so. "Shall Brownie and I set our blocks?"
"No," Belle said. "Nothing can interfere with us now."
"Ready." Garlock sat down in the pilot's seat. "Cluster 'round, chum."
* * *
Belle leaned against the back of the chair and put both arms around Garlock's neck. "I'm clustered."
"The spot we're shooting at is exactly over the exact center of the middle blast-pit at Port Gunther. In sync?"
"To a skillionth of a whillionth of a microphase. I'm exactly on and locked. Shoot."
"Now, you sheet-iron bucket of nuts and bolts, jump!" and Garlock snapped the red switch.
Earth lay beneath them. So did Port Gunther.
"Hu-u-u-uh!" Garlock's huge sigh held much more of relief than of triumph.
"They did it! We're home!" Lola shrieked; and, breaking into unashamed and unrestrained tears, went into her husband's extended arms.
"Cry ahead, sweet. I'd bawl myself if Garlock wasn't looking. Maybe I will, anyway," James said. Then, extending his right arm to Garlock and to Belle, "I was scared to death you couldn't make it except by back tracking. Good going, you two Primes," but his thoughts said vastly more than his words.
Belle's eyes, too, were wet; Garlock's own were not quite dry.
"You weren't as sure as you looked, then, that we could do it the hard way," Belle said. "All inside, I was one quivering mass of jelly."
"Afterward, you mean. You were solid as Gibraltar when I fired the charge. You're the kind of woman a man wants with him when the going's tough. Slide around here a little, so I can get hold of you."
Garlock released Belle—finally—and turned to the pilot, who was just pulling a data-sheet from Compy the Computer. "How far did we miss target, Jim?"
* * *
James held up his right hand, thumb and forefinger forming a circle. "You're one point eight seven inches high, and off center point five three inches to the north northeast by east. I hereby award each of you the bronze medal of Marksman First. Shall I take her down now or do you want to check in from here first?"
"Neither ... I think. What do you think, Belle?"
"Right. Not until you-know-what."
"Check. Until we decide whether or not to let them know just yet that we can handle the ship. If we do, how many of our taped reports we turn in and how many we toss down the chute."
"I get it!" James exclaimed, with a spreading grin. "That, my dear people, is something I never expected to live long enough to see—our straight-laced Doctor Garlock applying the Bugger Factor to a research problem!"
"I prefer the term 'Monk's Coefficient,' myself," Garlock said, "from the standpoint of mathematical rigor."
"At Polytech we called it 'Finagle's Formula'," Belle commented. "The most widely applicable operator known."
"Have you three lost your minds?" Lola demanded. "That's nothing to joke about—you wouldn't destroy official reports! All that astronomy and anthropology that nobody ever even dreamed of before? You couldn't! Not possibly!"
"Each of us knows just as well as you do how much data we have, exactly how new and startling it is; but we've thought ahead farther than you have. None of us likes the idea of destroying it a bit better than you do. We won't, either, without your full, unreserved, wholehearted consent, nor without your fixed, iron-clad, unshakable determination never to reveal any least bit of it."
"That language is far too strong for me. I'd like to be able to go along with you, but on those terms, I simply can't."
"I think you can, when you've thought it through. You've met Alonzo P. Ferber, haven't you? Read him?"
"One glimpse; that was all I could stand. He pawed me mentally and wanted to paw me physically, the first time I ever saw him."
"Check. So I'm going to ask you two questions, which you may answer as an anthropologist, as Lola Montandon, as Mrs. James James James the Ninth, as a member of our team, or as any other character you choose to assume. Remembering that Ferber's a Gunther First—and pretends to be an Operator whenever he can get away with it—should he, or anyone like him, ever be allowed to visit Hodell? Second question: if there is any possible way for him to get there, can he be made to stay away?"
"Oh ... Grand Lady Neldine and that perfectly stunning Grand Lady Lemphi they picked out for Jim ... they're such nice people ... and the Gunther genes...." As Lola thought on, her expressive face showed a variety of conflicting emotions before it hardened into decision. "The answer to both questions—the only possible answer—is no. I subscribe; on the exact terms you stipulated. And you don't believe, Clee, that my thesis had anything to do with my holding out at first?"
"Certainly I don't. Besides...."
"What thesis?" Belle asked.
* * *
"For my Ph.D. in anthropology. I thought I had it made, but it just went down the chute. And I don't know if any of you realize just how nearly impossible it is to make a really worthwhile original contribution to science in that field."
"As I started to tell you, Brownie," Garlock said, "I don't think you've lost a thing. There's a bigger and better one coming up."
"Sh-h-h-h," Belle stage-whispered. "He's got a theory—such a weirdie that he won't talk about it to anybody."
"It isn't a theory yet—at least, not ripe enough to pick—but it's something more than a hunch," Garlock said.
"But what could possibly make as good a thesis as those extra-galactic tapes?" Lola wailed. "They would have made my thesis a summer breeze."
"More like a hurricane—the hottest thing since doctorate disputations first started," Garlock said. "However, as I started to say twice before, it still will be. Intra-galactic tapes will be just as good. In this case, better."
"W-e-l-l ... possibly. But we haven't any."
"That is what this conference is about. We can't destroy the stuff we have unless we can replace it with something better. My idea is that we should visit a few—say fifty—Tellus-type planets in this galaxy; the ones closest to Tellus. I'm pretty sure they'll be inhabited by Homo Sapiens. There's a chance, of course, that they'll be like Hodell and the others we've seen; in which case I don't see how we can keep Gunther genes confined to Earth. However, I'm pretty sure in my own mind that we'll find them all very much like Tellus, Gunther and all. What would you think of that for a thesis, Lola?"
"Okay. Now to get back to whether we want to check in or not. I don't like to duck out without letting them know we can handle this heap—after a fashion, that is; they don't need to know we can really handle it—but we've got nothing we can report and Fatso will blow his stack—Oh-oh! Should've remembered Tellus isn't Hodell; the tri-di's setting up! Belle, you take it. She'd give me Fatso, because he wants to chew me out, but she won't put him on for you. Cut her throat, but good! Brownie, hide somewhere! Jim, set up for Beta Centauri—not Alpha, but Beta—and fast! Give her hell, Belle!" Garlock sent this last thought from behind a davenport, from which hiding-place he could see the tri-di screen and both Belle and James; but anyone on the screen could not see him.
* * *
Miss Foster's likeness appeared upon the screen. Chancellor Ferber's secretary was a big woman, but not fat; middle-aged, gray-haired, wearing consciously the aura and the domineering, overbearing expression of a woman who has great power and an even greater drive to exert her authority.
"Why haven't you reported in?" Miss Foster snapped, with a glare that was pure frost. "You arrived thirteen minutes ago. Such delay is inexcusable. Get Garlock."
"Captain Garlock is off-watch; asleep. I, Commander Bellamy, am in command." Standing stiffly at attention, Belle paused to exchange glares with the woman across the big desk. If Miss Foster's was frost, Commander Bellamy's was helium ice.
"Ready to go, Jim?" Belle flashed the thought.
"Half a minute yet."
"Any time after I sign off. Pick your own spot." Then aloud into the screen: "I will report to Chancellor Ferber. I will not report to Chancellor Ferber's secretary."
"Doctor James!" Miss Foster's voice was neither as cold nor as steady as it had been. "Bring that ship down at once!"
James made no sign that he had heard the order. Belle stood changelessly stiff. She had not for an instant taken her coldly competent eyes from those of the woman on the ground. Her emotionless, ultra-refrigerated voice went, as ever, directly into the screen.
"I trust that this conversation is being recorded?"
"It certainly is!"
"Good. I want it on record that we, the personnel of the starship Pleiades, are not subject to the verbal orders of the Chancellor's secretary. You will now connect me with Chancellor Ferber, please."
"The Chancellor is in conference and is not to be disturbed. I have authority to act for him. You will report to me, and do it right now." Foster's voice rose almost to a scream.
"That ground has been covered. Since you have taken it upon yourself to exceed your authority to such an extent as to refuse to connect the officer in command of the Pleiades with the Chancellor, I cannot report to him either the reasons why we are not landing at this time or when we expect to return to Tellus. You are advised that we may leave at any instant, just like that!" Belle snapped her finger under the imaged nose. "You may inform the Chancellor, or not inform him if you prefer, that our control of the starship Pleiades is something less than perfect. I do not know exactly how many seconds longer we will be here. Commander Bellamy signing off. Over and out."
"Commander Bellamy, indeed! Commander my left foot!" Miss Foster was screaming now, in thwarted fury. "You're no more a commander than my lowest office-girl is! Just wait 'till you get down here, you green-haired hussy, you shameless notor...." The set went instantaneously from full volume to zero sound as James drove the red button home.
"Belle, you honey!" Garlock scrambled out from behind the davenport, seized her around the waist, and swung her, feet high in air, through four full circles before he let her down and kissed her vigorously. "You little sweetheart! You're the first living human being ever to really pull Foster's cork!"
"What a goat-getting!" James applauded. "That will go down in history as the star-spangled act of the century."
* * *
Belle was, however, unusually diffident. "I stuck my neck out a mile—worse, Clee's. I'm sorry, Clee. I had to have some weight to throw around, and I had only a second to think, and that was the first thing I thought of, and after half a minute she made me so damn mad that I went entirely too far."
"Uh-uh. Just far enough. That was a perfect job."
"But she'll never forget that, and she'll crucify you, as well as me, when we land. She knows I'm not a commander."
"She just thinks you ain't. The official log will show, though, that after only one day out I discovered that we should all be officers—one captain and three commanders—with pay and perquisites of rank. I'll think up good and sufficient reasons for it between now and when I make up the log."
"But you can't! Or can you, really?"
"Well, nobody told me I couldn't, so I assumed the right. Besides, you didn't tell her commander of what, so I'll make it stick, too—see if I don't. Or else I'll tear two or three offices apart finding out why I can't. You can be sure of that."
"All that may not be necessary," Lola said. "That tape will never be heard. I'll bet she's erased it already."
"Perhaps; but ours isn't going to be erased—it will be heard exactly where it will do the most good."
"I'm awfully glad you don't think we're on the hook. All that's left, then, is that second-in-command business. Both of you know, of course, that that was just window-dressing."
"You were telling the truth and didn't know it," James said, cheerfully. "You have actually been second-in-command ever since the drive tests."
"I haven't, and I won't. Surely you don't think I'm enough of a heel, Jim, to step on your toes like that?"
"Nothing like that involved. You tell her, Clee."
"Gunther ability is what counts. You're a Prime, Jim's an Operator; so, now that we can handle the heap, you'll have to be second-in-command whether you like it or not. Any time you can out-Gunther me we'll trade places. And you won't have to take the job away from me—I'll give it to you."
"But ... no hard feelings, Jim? No reservations? Screens down?"
"None whatever. In fact, I'm relieved. I'm Gunthered for this board here—for that one I'm not. Come in and look; and shake on it."
* * *
Belle looked; and while they were shaking hands, she flashed a thought at Lola. "Do you know that we've got two of the finest men that ever lived?"
"I've known that for a long time," Lola flashed back, "but you've hardly started to realize what they really are."
"Well, shall we start earning our pay and perquisites by getting to work on this planet, that we haven't even looked—wait a minute! We're just about to open up the galaxy, aren't we?"
"Then there'll have to be some kind of a unifying and correlating authority—a Galactic Council or something—and the quicker it's set up the better; the less confusion and turmoil and jockeying-for-position there will be. Question: should this authority be political?"
"It should not!" James declared. "It takes United Worlds seven solid days of debate to decide whether or not to buy one lead pencil."
"Military—or naval, I suppose it'd be—that's what Clee's driving at," Belle said. "You're wonderful, Clee—simply priceless! We're officers of the brand-new Galactic Navy. Subject to civilian control, of course, but the civilians will be the United Galaxian Societies of the Galaxy, and nobody else. Beautiful, Clee! There are ten Operators, Jim. Right?"
* * *
"Check. Brownie and I are here; the other eight are running the Galaxian Society under Clee. And the whole Society eats out of his hand."
"I don't know about that, but Belle and I together could swing it, I think."
"I'll say we could," Belle breathed. "And I simply can't wait to see you kick Fatso's teeth in with this one!"
"I don't like the word 'Navy'," Garlock said. "It's tied definitely to warfare. How about calling it the 'Galactic Service'? Applicable to either war or peace. Brass Hats will think of us in terms of war, even though we will actually work for peace. Any objections?"
There were no objections.
"About the uniforms," Lola said, eagerly. "Space-black and star-white, with chromium comets and things on the shoulders...."
"To hell with uniforms," Garlock broke in. "Why do women have to go off the deep end on clothes?"
"She's right—you're wrong, Clee," James said. "Without a uniform you won't get off the ground, not even with the Society. And you'll be talking to Top Planetary Brass. Also, they're Gunthered plenty—you can feel their Op field clear out here."
"Could be," Garlock conceded. "Okay, you girls dope it out to suit yourselves. But think you can stand it, Belle, to wear more than twelve square inches of clothes?"
"Wait 'til you see it, chum. I've been designing a uniform for myself for positively years."
"I can't wait. And you're a captain, of course."
"Huh? You can't have two cap.... Oh, I see. Primes. I appreciate that, Clee. Thanks."
"Hold on, both of you," James said. "You haven't thought this through far enough. Suppose we meet forces already organized? Better start high than low. You've got to be top admiral, Clee."
"Rocket-oil! Suppose we don't find anything at all?"
"You're right, Jim," Belle said. "Clee, you talk like a man with a paper nose. It's you who's been yowling for two solid years about being ready for anything. We've got to do just that."
"Correction accepted. Brief me."
"Ranks should be different from those of United Worlds. They should be descriptive, but impressive. Tops could be Galactic Admiral. That's you. Vice Galactic Admiral; me...."
"Galactic Vice Admiral would be better," Lola said.
"Accepted. Those two we'll make stick come hell or space-warps. Right?"
Garlock did not reply immediately. "Up to either one of two points," he agreed, finally.
"War, or being out-Gunthered. Top Gunther takes top place; man, woman, bird, beast, fish, or bug-eyed monster."
"Oh." Belle was staggered for a moment. "No war, of course. As to the other ... I hadn't thought of that."
"There are a lot of things none of us has thought of, but as amended I'll buy it."
"Then several Regional Admirals, each with his Regional Vice Admiral. Then System Admirals and Vices, and World or Planetary—naming the planet, you know—Admirals and Vices. Let the various Galaxian Societies take over from there down. How do you like them potatoes, Buster?"
"Nice. And formal address, intra-ship, will be Mister and Miss. Jim and Brownie?"
They liked it. "Where do we fit in?" James asked.
"Pick your own spots," Garlock said.
"If we stick to the Solar System we aren't so apt to get bumped by Primes. So make me Solar System Admiral and Brownie my Vice."
"Okay. How long will it take you, Belle, to materialize those uniforms?"
"Fifteen seconds longer than it takes the converter to scan us. Lola's color scheme is right, and I've got everything else down to the last curlicue of chrome. Let's go."
* * *
They went: and came back into the Main in uniform. Belle had really done a job.
That of the men, while something on the spectacular side, was more or less conventional, with stiff-visored, screened, heavily-chromed caps; but the women's! Slippers, overseas caps, shorts and jackets—but what jackets!
"Well...." Garlock said, after examining the two girls speechlessly for a good half minute. "It doesn't look exactly like a spray-on job; but if you ever take a deep breath it'll split from here to there. Fly off—leave you naked as a jay-bird."
"Oh, no. The fabric stretches a little. See? Nothing like a sweater, but a similar effect—perhaps a bit more so."
"Quite a bit more so, I'd say. However, since Operators and Primes are automatically stacked like Tennick Towers, I don't suppose your recruits will be unduly perturbed at, or will squawk too much about, overexposure. Are we finally ready to go down and get to work?"
"I am," James said. "How do you want to handle it?"
"Run a search pattern. Belle and I will center their Op field and check on Ops and Primes. You two probe at will."
Around and around the planet, in brief bursts of completely incomprehensible speed, the huge ship darted; the biggest, solidest, yet most elusive and fantastic "flying saucer" ever to visit that world. The tremendous oceans and six great continents were traversed; the ice-caps; the frigid, the temperate, and the torrid zones. Wherever she went, powerful and efficient radar scanned and tracked her; wherever she went, excitement seethed.
"Beta Centauri Five," Garlock reported, after a few minutes. "Margonia, they call it. Biggest continent and nation named Nargoda. Capital city Margon; Margon Base on coast nearby. Lots of Gunther Firsts. All the real Gunther, though, is clear across the continent. They're building a starship. Fourteen Ops and two Primes—man and woman. Deggi Delcamp's a big bruiser, with a God-awful lot of stuff. Ugly as hell, though. He's a bossy type."
"I'm amazed," James played it straight. "I thought all male Primes would be just like you. Timorous Timmies."
"Huh? Oh...." Garlock was taken slightly aback, but went on quickly, "What do you think of your opposite number, Belle?" He whistled a wolf-call and made hour-glass motions with his hands. "I'd thought of trading you in on a new model, but Fao Talaho is no bargain, either—and nobody's push-over."
"Trade! You tomcat!" Belle's nostrils flared. "You know what that bleached-blonde tried to do? High-hat me!"
"I noticed. When we four get down to business, face to face, there should be some interesting by-products."
"You chirped it, boss. Primes seem to be such nice people." James rolled his eyes upward and steepled his hands. "If you've got all the dope, no use finishing this search pattern."
"Go ahead. Window dressing. The Brass hasn't any idea of what's going on, any more than ours did."
The search went on until, "This is it," James reported. "Where? Over Margon Base?"
"Check. Kick us over there, ten or twelve hundred miles up."
"On the way, boss. Looks like your theory is about ready to pick."
"It isn't much of a theory yet; just that cultural and evolutionary patterns should be more or less homogeneous within galaxies. Until it can explain why so many out-galaxies are just alike it doesn't amount to much. By the way, I'm glad you people insisted on organization and rank and uniforms. The Brass is going to take a certain amount of convincing. Take over, Brownie—this is your dish."
"I was afraid of that."
The others watched Lola drive her probe—a diamond-clear, razor-sharp bolt of thought that no Gunther First could possibly either wield or stop—down into the innermost private office of that immense and far-flung base. Through Lola's inner eyes they saw a tall, trim, handsome, fiftyish man in a resplendent uniform of purple and gold; they watched her brush aside that officer's hard-held mental block.
* * *
"I greet you, Supreme Grand Marshal Entlore, Highest Commander of the Armed Forces of Nargoda. This is the starship Pleiades, of System Sol, Planet Tellus. I am Sol-System Vice-Admiral Lola Montandon. I have with me as guests three of my superior officers of the Galactic Service, including the Galactic Admiral himself. We are making a good-will tour of the Tellus-Type planets of this region of space. I request permission to land and information as to your landing conventions. The landing pad—bottom—of the Pleiades is flat; sixty feet wide by one hundred twenty feet long. Area loading is approximately eight tons per square foot. Solid, dry ground is perfectly satisfactory. While we land vertically, with little or no shock impact, I prefer not to risk damaging your pavement."
They all felt the Marshal's thoughts race. "Starship! Tellus—Sol, that insignificant Type G dwarf! Interstellar travel a commonplace! A ship that size and weight—an organized, uniformed, functioning Galaxy-wide Navy and they don't want to damage my pavement! My God!"
"Good going, Brownie! Kiss her for me, Jim." Garlock flashed the thought.
Entlore, realizing that his every thought was being read, pulled himself together. "I admit that I was shocked, Admiral Montandon. But landing—really, I have nothing to do with landings. They are handled by...."
"I realize that, sir; but you realize that no underling could possibly authorize my landing. That is why I always start at the top. Besides, I do not like to waste time on officers of much lower rank than my own, and," Lola allowed a strong tinge of good humor to creep into her thought, "the bigger they are, the less apt they are to pass the well-known buck."
"You have had experience, I see," the Marshal laughed. He did have a sense of humor. "While landing here is forbidden—top secret, you know—would my refusal mean much to you?"
"Having made satisfactory contact, I introduce you to Galactic Admiral Garlock. Take over, sir, please."
* * *
Entlore winced, for the probe Garlock used then compared to Lola's very much as a diamond drill compares to a piece of soft brass pipe.
"It would mean everything to us," Garlock assured him. "Our mission is a perfectly friendly one. We will have a friendly visit or none. If you do not care for our friendship, another nation will."
"That wouldn't do, either, of course." Entlore paused in thought. "It boils down to this: I must either welcome you or destroy you."
"You may try." Garlock grinned in frankly self-satisfied amusement. "However, the best you can do is lithium-hydride fusion missiles in the hundreds-of-megatons range. Firecrackers. Every once in a while a planet has to try a few such things on us before it will believe that we are powerful as well as friendly. Would you like to test our defenses? If so, I will neither take offense nor retaliate."
Supreme Grand Marshal Entlore was floored. "Why ... er ... not at all. I read in your mind...." He broke off, to quell an invasion into his own private office. "Damn it, keep still!" all four "heard" him yell. "I know they ran a search pattern. I know that, too. I know everything about it, I tell you! I'm in full rapport with their Supreme Grand Admiral. There's only the one ship, they're friendly, and I'm inviting them to land here on Margon Base. Give that to the press. Say also that entrance restrictions to Margon Base will not be relaxed at present. Grand Marshal Holson and ComOff Flurnoy, stay here and tune in. The rest of you get out and stay out! Throw all reports about any alien vessel or flying saucer or what-have-you into the waste-basket!"
"Resume command, please, Miss Montandon," Garlock directed; and withdrew his probe from Entlore's mind.
"I thank you, Supreme Grand Marshal Entlore, for your welcome," Lola sent. "I'm sorry that our visits cause so much disturbance, but I suppose it can't be helped. Our Gunther blocks are down. Would you and your two assistants like to teleport out here to us, and con us down yourselves?" Lola knew instantly that they could not, and covered deftly for them. "But of course you can't, without knowing a focus spot here in the Main. Shall I teleport you aboard?"
* * *
ComOff Flurnoy's face—she was an attractive, nicely-built red-head wearing throat-mike, earphone, and recorder—turned so pale that a faint line of freckles stood out across the bridge of her nose. She very evidently wanted to scream a protest, but would not. Both men, strangely enough, were eager to go. Instantly all three were standing in line on the deep-piled rug of the Main, facing the four Tellurians. Seven bodies came rigidly to attention, seven right hands snapped into two varieties of formal salute. Standing thus, each party studied the other for a couple of seconds.
There was no doubt at all as to which two of the visitors the two Nargodian men were studying; but neither of them could quite make up his mind as to which of the black-and-white-clad women to study first or most. The red-head's glance, too, flickered between Belle and Garlock—incredulous envy and equally incredulous admiration lit her eyes.
"At rest, please, fellow-officers," Garlock said, and Lola performed the necessary introductions, adding, "We do not, however, use titles aboard ship. Mister and Miss are customary and sufficient."
Behind each row of officers a long davenport appeared; between them a table loaded with sandwiches, olives, pickles, relishes, fruits, nuts, soft drinks, cigars, and cigarettes.
"Help yourselves," Garlock invited. "We serve neither intoxicants nor drugs, but you should find something there to your taste."
"Indeed we shall, and thank you," Entlore said. "Is there any objection, Mr. Garlock, to Miss Flurnoy transmitting information of this meeting and of this ship to our base?"
"None whatever. Send as you please, Miss Flurnoy, or as Mr. Entlore directs."
"I'm glad I didn't quite scare myself out of coming up here," the Communications Officer said. "This is the biggest and nicest thrill I ever had. Such a thrill that I don't know just where to begin." She cocked an eyebrow at her commanding officer.
"As usual. Whatever you think should be sent." Entlore sent her a steadying thought. Then, as the girl settled back with a sandwich in one hand and a tall glass of ginger-ale in the other, he went on, to Garlock, "She is a very fine and very strong telepath—by our standards, at least."
"By galactic standards also." Garlock had of course been checking. "Accurate, sharp, wide-range, clear-thinking, and fast. Not one of us four could do it any better."
"I thank you, Mr. Garlock," the girl said, with a blush of pleasure—and with scarcely a perceptible pause in her work.
* * *
A tour of the ship followed; and as it progressed, the more confused and dismayed the two Nargodian commanders became.
"But no crew at all?" Holson demanded incredulously. "How can a thing like this possibly work?"
"It's fully Gunthered," Lola explained. "It works itself. That is, almost all the time. Whenever we land on any planet for the first time, one of us has to control it. Or for any other special job not in its memory banks. When you're ready for us to land I'll show you—it's my turn to work."
"Miss Flurnoy, have they cleared the air over Pylon Six?"
"Yes, sir. Clearance came through five minutes ago. They are holding it clear for us."
"Thank you. Miss Montandon, you may land at your convenience."
"Thank you, sir." Lola took the pilot's chair. "This is the scanner. I pull it over my face and head, so. Since I am always in tune with the field...."
"What does that mean?" Entlore asked, dark foreboding in his mind.
"I was afraid of that. You can't feel an Operator Field. I'm sorry, sir, but that means you can't handle these forces and never will be able to. Certain Gunther areas of your brain are inoperative. On our scale you are a Gunther First...."
"On ours, I'm an Esper Ten, the highest rating in the world—except for a few theoretical crackpots who.... Excuse me, please, I shouldn't have said that, in view of what I see happening here."
"No offense taken, sir. Those who developed the Gunther Drive were crackpots until they got the first starship out into space. But with this scanner on, I think of where I want to look and I can see it. I then think the ship a few miles sidewise—so—and we are now directly over your Pylon Six. I'm starting down, but I won't go into free fall."
Apparent weight grew less and less, until: "This is about enough for you, Miss Flurnoy?"
"Just," the ComOff agreed, with a gulp. "One pound less and I'm afraid I'll upchuck that lovely lunch I just ate."
"We're going fast enough now. Everyone sitting down? Brace yourselves, please. You'll be about fifty percent overweight for a while."
* * *
As bodies settled deeper into cushions Entlore sent Garlock a thought. "We three weigh about five hundred pounds. You lifted us—instantaneously or nearly so, but I'll pass the question of acceleration for the moment—eleven hundred miles straight up. How did you repeal the Law of Conservation?"
"We didn't. We have fusion engines of twenty million horsepower. Our Operator Field, which has a radius of fifteen thousand miles and is charged to an electrogravitic potential of one hundred thousand gunts, stores energy. Its action is not exactly like that of an electrical condenser or of a storage battery, but is more or less analogous to both. Thus, the energy required to lift you three came from the field, but the amount was so small that it did not lower the potential of the field by any measurable amount. Setting this ship down—call it sixty thousand tons for a thousand miles at one gravity—will increase the field's potential by approximately one-tenth of one gunt. Have you studied paraphysics?"
"It wasn't practical, eh?" Garlock smiled. "Then I can't make even a stab at explaining instantaneous translation to you. I'll just say that there is no acceleration involved, no time lapse. There is no violation of the Law of Conservation since departure and arrival points are equi-Guntherial. But what I am really interested in is that small group of high espers you mentioned."
"Yes, I inferred that from Miss Montandon's comments." Entlore fell silent and Garlock watched his somber thoughts picture Margon Base and his nation's capital being attacked and destroyed by a fleet of invincible and invulnerable starships like this Pleiades.
"You are wrong, sir," Garlock put in, quietly. "The Galactic Service has not had, does not and will not have, anything to do with intra-planetary affairs. We have no connection with, and no responsibility to, any world or any group of worlds. We are an arm of the United Galaxian Societies of the Galaxy. Our function is to control space. To forbid, to prevent, to rectify any interplanetary or interstellar aggression. Above all, to prevent, by means of procedures up to and including total destruction of planets if necessary, any attempt whatever to form any multi-world empire."
The three Nargodians gasped as one, as much at the scope of the thing as at the calmly cold certainty of ability carried by the thought.
"You are transmitting this precisely, Miss Flurnoy?" Entlore asked.
"Precisely, sir; including background, fringes, connotations, and implications; just as he is giving it to us."
"Let us assume that your Nargodian government decides to conquer all the other nations of your planet Margonia. Assume farther that it succeeds. We will not object; in fact, we will, as a usual thing, not even be informed of it. If then, however, your government decides that one world is not enough for it to rule and prepares to conquer, or take aggressive action against, any other world, we will be informed and we will step in. First, warning will be given. Second, any and all vessels dispatched on such a mission will be annihilated. Third, if the offense is continued or repeated, trial will be held before the Galactic Council and any sentence imposed will be carried out."
In spite of Garlock's manner and message, both marshals were highly relieved. "You're in plenty of time, with us, sir," Entlore said. "We have just sent our first rocket to our nearer moon ... that is, unless that group of—of espers gets their ship off the ground."
"How far along are they?"
"The ship itself is built, but they are having trouble with their drive. The hull is spherical, and much smaller than this one. It has atomic engines, but no blasts or ion-plates ... but neither has this one!"
"Exactly; they may be pretty well along. I'd like to get in touch with them as soon as possible. May I borrow a 'talker' like Miss Flurnoy for a few days? You have others, I suppose?"
"Yes, but I'll let you have her; it is of the essence that you have the best one available. Miss Flurnoy?"
"Yes, sir?" Besides reporting, she had been conversing busily with James and Belle.
"Would you like to be assigned to Mr. Garlock for the duration of his stay on Margonia?"
"Oh, yes, sir!" she replied, excitedly.
"You are so assigned. Take orders from him or from any designate as though I myself were issuing them."
"Thank you, sir ... but what limits? And do I transmit to and/or record for you, sir?"
"No limit. These four Galaxians are hereby granted nation-wide top clearance. Transmit as usual whatever is permitted."
"Full reporting is not only permitted, but urged," Garlock said. "There is nothing secret about our mission."
* * *
As the Pleiades landed: "If you will give us your focus spot, Mr. Entlore, we can all 'port to your office and save calling staff cars."
"And cause a revolution?" Entlore laughed. "Apparently you haven't been checking outside."
"Afraid I haven't. I've been thinking."
"Take a look. I got orders from the Cabinet to put guards wherever people absolutely must not go, and open everything else to the public. I hope there are enough guards to keep a lane open for us, but I wouldn't bet on it." Garlock was very glad that the military men's stiff formality had disappeared. "You Galaxians took this whole planet by storm while you were still above the stratosphere."
* * *
There is no need to go into detail concerning the reception and celebration. On Earth, one inauguration of a president and one coronation of a monarch were each almost as well covered by broadcasters, if not as turbulently and enthusiastically prolonged. From the Pleiades they went to the Administration Building, where an informal reception was held. Thence to the Capitol, where the reception was very formal indeed. Thence to the Grand Ballroom of the city's largest hotel, where a tremendous—and long-winded—banquet was served.
At Garlock's request, all sixteen members of the "crackpot" group—the most active members of the Deep Space Club—had been invited to the banquet. And, even though Garlock was a very busy man, his talker tuned in to each one of the sixteen, tuned them all to the Galactic Admiral, and in odd moments a great deal of business was done.
After being told most of the story—in tight-beamed thoughts that ComOff Flurnoy could not receive—the whole group was wildly enthusiastic. They would change the name of their club forthwith to The Galaxian Society Of Margonia. They laid plans for a world-wide organization which would have tremendous prestige and tremendous income. They already had a field—Garlock knew about their ship—they wanted the Pleiades to move over to it as soon as possible—Yes, Garlock thought he could do it the following day—if not, as soon as he could....
* * *
The Pleiades had landed at ten o'clock in the forenoon, local time; the banquet did not come to an end until long after midnight. Throughout all this time the four Galaxians carried on, without a slip, the act that all this was, to them, old stuff.
It was just a little before daylight when they returned, exhausted, to the ship. ComOff Flurnoy went with them. She was still agog at the wonder of it all as Belle and Brownie showed her to her quarters.
Since everyone, including the ebullient ComOff, slept late the following morning, they all had brunch instead of breakfast and lunch. All during the meal Garlock was preoccupied and stern.
"Hold everything for a while, Jim," he said, when everyone had eaten. "Before we move, Belle and I have got to have a conference."
"Not a Fatso Ferber nine-o'clock type, I hope." James frowned in mock reproach and ComOff Flurnoy cocked an eyebrow in surprise. "Monkey-business on company time is only for Big Shots like him; not for small fry such as you."
"Well, it won't be exclusively monkey-business, anyway. While we're gone you might clear with the control tower and take us up into take-off position. Come on, Belle." He took her by one elbow and led her away.
"Why, Doctor Garlock." Mincing along beside him, pretending high reluctance, she looked up at him wide-eyed. "I'm surprised, I really am. I'm shocked, too. I'm not that kind of a girl, and if I wasn't afraid of losing my job I would scream. I never even suspected that you would use your position as my boss to force your unwelcome attentions on a poor and young and innocent and suffering...."
Inside his room Garlock, who had been grinning, sobered down and checked every Gunther block—a most unusual proceeding.
* * *
Belle stopped joking in the middle of the sentence.
"Yeah, how you suffer," he said. "I was just checking to be sure we're prime-proof. I'm not ready for Deggi Delcamp yet. That guy, Belle, as you probably noticed, has got one God-awful load of stuff."
"Not as much as you have, Clee. Nor as much push behind what he has got. And his shield wouldn't make patches for yours."
"Huh? How sure are you of that?"
"I'm positive. I'm the one who is going to get bumped, I'm afraid. That Fao Talaho is a hard-hitting, hard-boiled hellcat on wheels."
"I'll be damned. You're wrong. I checked her from stem to gudgeon and you lay over her like a circus tent. What's the answer?"
"Oh? Do I? I'm mighty glad ... funny, both of us being wrong ... it must be, Clee, that it's sex-based differences. We're used to each other, but neither of us has ever felt a Prime of the same sex before, and there must be more difference between Ops and Primes than we realized. Suppose?"
"Could be—I hope. But that doesn't change the fact that we aren't ready. We haven't got enough data. If we start out with this grandiose Galactic Service thing and find only two or three planets Gunthered, we make jackasses of ourselves. On the other hand, if we start out with a small organization or none, and find a lot of planets, it'll be one continuous cat-fight. On the third hand...."
"Three hands, Clee? What are you, an octopussy or an Arpalone?"
"Keep your beautiful trap shut a minute. On the third hand, we've got to start somewhere. Any ideas?"
"I never thought of it that way.... Hm-m-m-m ... I see." She thought for a minute, then went on, "We'll have to start without starting, then ... quite a trick.... But how about this? Suppose we take a fast tour, with you and I taking quick peeks, without the peekees ever knowing we've been peeking?"
"That's using the brain, Belle. Let's go." Then, out in the Main, "Jim, we want to hit a few high spots, as far out as you can reach without losing orientation. Beta Centauri here is pretty bright, Rigel and Canopus are real lanterns. With those three as a grid, you could reach fifteen hundred or two thousand light-years, couldn't you?"
"More than that. That many parsecs, at least."
"Good. Belle and I want to make a fast, random-sampling check of Primes and Ops around here. We'll need five minutes at each planet—quite a ways out. So set up as big a globe as you can and still be dead sure of your locations; then sample it."
"Not enough data. How many samples do you want?"
"As many as we can get in the rest of today. Six or seven hours, say—eight hours max."
"Call it seven.... Brownie on the guns, me on Compy.... Five minutes for you.... I should be able to lock down the next shot in five ... one minute extra, say, for safety factor ... that'd be ten an hour. Seventy planets enough?"
"That'll be fine."
"Okay. We're practically at Number One now," and James and Lola donned their scanners, ready for the job.
* * *
"Miss Flurnoy," Garlock said, "you might tell Mr. Entlore that we're...."
"Oh, I already have, sir."
"You don't have to come along, of course, if you'd rather stay here."
"Stay here, sir? Why, he'd kill me! I'm off the air for a minute," this last thought was a conspiratorial whisper. "Besides, do you think I'd miss a chance to be the first person—and just a girl, too—of a whole world to see other planets of other suns? Unless, of course, you invite Mr. Entlore and Mr. Holson along. They're both simply dying to go, I know, but of course won't admit it."
"You'd be just as well pleased if I didn't?"
"What do you think, sir?"
"We'll be working at top speed and they'd be very much in the way, so they'll get theirs later—after you've licked the cream off the top of the...."
"Ready to roll, Clee," James announced.
"Why, I lost contact!" Miss Flurnoy exclaimed.
"Naturally," Garlock said. "Did you expect to cover a distance it takes light thousands of years to cross? You can record anything you see in the plates. You can talk to Jim or Lola any time they'll let you. Don't bother Miss Bellamy or me from now on."
Garlock and Belle went to work. All four Galaxians worked all day, with half an hour off for lunch. They visited seventy planets and got back to Margonia in time for a very late dinner. ComOff Flurnoy had less than a quarter of one roll of recorder-tape left unused, and the Primes had enough information to start the project they had in mind.
And shortly after dinner, all five retired.
"In one way, Clee, I'm relieved," Belle pondered, "but I can't figure out why all the Primes—the grown-up ones, I mean—on all the worlds are just about the same cantankerous, you-be-damned, out-and-out stinkers as you and I are. How does that fit into your theory?"
"It doesn't. Too fine a detail. My guess is—at least it seems to me to make sense—it's because we haven't had any competition strong enough to smack us down and make Christians out of us. I don't know what a psychologist would say...."
"And I know exactly what you'd think of whatever he did say, so you don't need to tell me." Belle laughed and presented her lips to be kissed. "Good night, Clee."
"Good night, ace."
* * *
And the next morning, early, Garlock and Belle teleported themselves—by arrangement and appointment, of course—across almost the full width of a nation and into the private office in which Deggi Delcamp and Fao Talaho awaited them.
For a time which would not have been considered polite in Tellurian social circles the four Primes stood still, each couple facing the other with blocks set tight, studying each other with their eyes. Delcamp was, as Garlock had said, a big bruiser. He was shorter and heavier than the Tellurian. Heavily muscled, splendidly proportioned, he was a man of tremendous physical as well as mental strength. His hair, clipped close all over his head, was blonde; his eyes were a clear, keen, cold dark blue.
Fao Talaho was a couple of inches shorter than Belle; and a good fifteen pounds heavier. She was in no sense fat, however, or even plump—actually, she was almost lean. She was wider and thicker than was the Earthwoman; with heavier bones forming a wider and deeper frame. She, too, was beautifully—yes, spectacularly—built. Her hair, fully as thick as Belle's own and worn in a free-falling bob three or four inches longer than Belle's, was bleached almost white. Her eyes were not really speckled, nor really mottled, but were regularly patterned in lighter and darker shades of hazel. She was, Garlock decided, a really remarkable hunk of woman.
Both Nargodians wore sandals without either socks or stockings. Both were dressed—insofar as they were dressed at all—in yellow. Fao's single garment was of a thin, closely-knitted fabric, elastic and sleek. Above the waist it was neckless, backless, and almost frontless; below, it was a very short, very tight and clinging skirt. Delcamp wore a sleeveless jersey and a pair of almost legless shorts.
Garlock lowered his shield enough to send and to receive a thin layer of superficial thought; Delcamp did the same.
"So far, I like what I see," Garlock said then. "We are well ahead of you, hence I can help you a lot if you want me to and if you want to be friendly about it. If you don't, on either count, we leave now. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough. I, too, like what I have seen so far. We need help, and I appreciate your offer. Thanks, immensely. I can promise full cooperation and friendship for myself and for most of our group; and I assure you that I can and will handle any non-cooperation that may come up."
"Nicely put, Deggi." Garlock smiled broadly and let his guard down to a comfortable lepping level. "I was going to bring that up—the faster it's cleared the better. Belle and I are paired. Some day—unless we kill each other first—we may marry. However, I'm no bargain and she's one-third wildcat, one-third vixen, and one-third cobra. How do you two stand?"
"You took the thought right out of my own mind. Your custom of pairing is not what you call 'urbane' on this world. Nevertheless, Fao and I are paired. We had to. No one else has ever interested either of us; no one else ever will. We should not fight, but we do, furiously. But no matter how vigorously we fly apart, we inevitably fly together again just as fast. No one understands it, but you two are pretty much the same."
"Check. Just one more condition, then, and we can pull those women of ours apart." Belle and Fao were still staring at each other, both still sealed tight. "The first time Fao Talaho starts throwing her weight at me, I'm not going to wait for you to take care of her—I'm going to give her the surprise of her life."
"It'd tickle me silly if it could be done," Delcamp smiled and was perfectly frank, "But the man doesn't live that can do it. How would you go about trying it?"
"Set your block solid."
Delcamp did so, and through that block—the supposedly impenetrable shield of a Prime Operator—Garlock insinuated a probe. He did not crack the screen or break it down by force; he neutralized and counter-phased, painlessly and almost imperceptibly, its every component and layer.
* * *
"Like this," Garlock said, in the depths of the Margonian's mind.
"My God! You can do that?"
"If I tell her, this deep, to play ball or else, do you think she'd need two treatments?"
"She certainly oughtn't to. This makes you Galactic Admiral, no question. I'd thought, of course, of trying you out for Top Gunther, but this settles that. We will support you, sir, wholeheartedly—and my heartfelt thanks for coming here."
"I have your permission, then, to give Fao a little discipline when she starts rocking the boat?"
"I wish you would, sir. I'm not too easy to get along with, I admit, but I've tried to meet her a lot more than half-way. She's just too damned cocky for anybody's good."
"Check. I wish somebody would come along who could knock hell out of Belle." Then, aloud, "Belle, Delcamp and I have the thing going. Do you want in on it?"
Delcamp spoke to Fao, and the two women slowly, reluctantly, lowered their shields to match those of the men.
"Your Galaxian shaking of the hands—handshake, I mean—is very good," Delcamp said, and he and Garlock shook vigorously.
Then the crossed pairs, and lastly the two girls—although neither put much effort into the gesture.
"Snap out of it, Belle!" Garlock sent a tight-beamed thought. "She isn't going to bite you!"
"She's been trying to, damn her, and I'm going to bite her right back—see if I don't."
* * *
Garlock called the meeting to order and all four sat down. The Tellurians lighted cigarettes and the others—who, to the Earthlings' surprise, also smoked—assembled and lit two peculiar-looking things half-way between pipe and cigarette. And both pairs of smokers, after a few tentative tests, agreed in not liking at all the other's taste in tobacco.
"You know, of course, of the trip we took yesterday?" Garlock asked.
"Yes," Delcamp admitted. "We read ComOff Flurnoy. We know of the seventy planets, but nothing of what you found."
"Okay. Of the seventy planets, all have Op fields and all have two or more Operators; one planet has forty-four of them. Only sixty-one of the planets, however, have Primes old enough for us to detect. Each of these worlds has two, and only two, Primes—one male and one female—and on each world the two Primes are of approximately the same age. On fifteen of these worlds the Primes are not yet adult. On the forty-six remaining worlds, the Primes are young adults, from pretty much like us four down to considerably younger. None of these couples is married-for-family. None of the girls has as yet had a child or is now pregnant.
"Now as to the information circulating all over this planet about us. Part of it is false. Part of it is misleading—to impress the military mind. Thus, the fact is that the Pleiades, as far as we know, is the only starship in the whole galaxy. Also, the information is very incomplete, especially as to the all-important fact that we were lost in space for some time before we discovered that the only possible controller of the Gunther Drive is the human mind...."
"What!!!!" and argument raged until Garlock stopped it by declaring that he would prove it in the Margonians' own ship.
Then Garlock and Belle together went on to explain and to describe—not even hinting, of course, that they had ever been outside the galaxy or had even thought of trying to do so—their concept of what the Galaxian Societies of the Galaxy would and should do; or what the Galaxian Service could, should, and would become—the Service to which they both intended to devote their lives. It wasn't even in existence yet, of course. Fao and Deggi were the only other Primes they had ever talked to in their lives. That was why they were so eager to help the Margonians get their ship built. The more starships there were at work, the faster the Service would grow into a really tremendous....
"Fao's getting ready to blow her top," Delcamp flashed Garlock a tight-beamed thought. "If I were doing it I'd have to start right now."
* * *
"I'll let her work up a full head of steam, then smack her bow-legged."
"Cheers, brother! I hope you can handle her!"
... organization. Then, when enough ships were working and enough Galaxian Societies were rolling, there would be the Regional organizations and the Galactic Council....
"So, on a one-planet basis and right out of your own little fat head," Fao sneered, "you have set yourself up as Grand High Chief Mogul, and all the rest of us are to crawl up to you on our bellies and kiss your feet?"
"If that's the way you want to express it, yes. However, I don't know how long I personally will be in the pilot's bucket. As I told you, I will enforce the basic tenet that top Gunther is top boss—man, woman, snake, fish, or monster."
"Top Gunther be damned!" Fao blazed. "I don't and won't take orders from any man—in hell or in heaven or on this Earth or on any planet of any...."
"Fao!" Delcamp exclaimed, "Please keep still—please!"
"Let her rave," Garlock said, coldly. "This is just a three-year-old baby's tantrum. If she keeps it up, I'll give her the damnedest jolt she ever got in all her spoiled life."