The Galaxy Primes
Next morning, Garlock was the last one, by a fraction of a minute, into the Main. "Good morning, all," he said, with a slight smile.
"Huh? How come?" James demanded, as all four started toward the dining nook.
Garlock's smile widened. "Lola. She brought me a pot of coffee and wouldn't let me out until I drank it."
"Yeah. They haven't read their room-tapes yet, so they don't know that room-service is practically unlimited."
"Why didn't I think of that coffee business a couple of years ago?"
"Well, why didn't I think of it myself, ten years ago?"
Belle's eyes had been going from one, man to the other. "Just what are you two talking about? If it's anybody's business except your own?"
"He is an early-morning grouch," James explained, as they sat down at the table. "Not fit to associate with man or beast--not even his own dog, if he had one--when he first gets up. How come you were smart enough to get the answer so quick, Brownie?"
"Oh, the pattern isn't too rare." She shrugged daintily, sweeping the compliment aside. "Especially among men on big jobs who work under tremendous pressure."
"Then how about Jim?" Belle asked.
"Clee's the Big Brain, not me," James said.
"You're a lot Bigger Brain than any of the men Lola's talking about," Belle insisted.
"That's true," Lola agreed, "but Jim probably is--must be--an icebox raider. Eats in the middle of the night. Clee probably doesn't. It's a good bet that he doesn't nibble between meals at all. Check, Clee?"
"Check. But what has an empty stomach got to do with the case?"
"Everything. Nobody knows how. Lots of theories--enzymes, blood sugar, endocrine balance, what have you--but no proof. It isn't always true. However, six or seven hours of empty stomach, in a man who takes his job to bed with him, is very apt to uglify his pre-breakfast disposition."
Breakfast over and out in the Main:
"But when a man's disposition is ugly all the time, how can you tell the difference?" Belle asked, innocently.
"I'll let that pass," Garlock's smile disappeared, "because we've got work to do. Have any of you thought of any improvement on Lola's monogamous society?"
No one had. In fact--
"There may be a loop-hole in it," Lola said, thoughtfully. "Did any of you happen to notice whether they know anything about artificial insemination?"
"D'you think I'd stand for that?" Belle blazed, before Garlock could begin to search his mind. "I'd scratch anybody's eyes out--if you'd thought of that idea as a woman instead of as a near-Ph.D. in anthropology you'd've thrown it into the converter before it even hatched!"
"Invasion of privacy? That covers it, of course, but I didn't think it would bother you a bit." Lola paused, studying the other girl intently. "You're quite a problem yourself. Callous--utterly savage humor--yet very sensitive in some ways--fastidious..."
"I'm not on the table for dissection!" Belle snapped. "Study me all you please, but keep the notes in your notebook. I'd suggest you study Clee."
"Oh, I have been. He baffles me, too. I'm not very good yet, you..."
"That's the unders..."
"Cut it!" Garlock ordered, sharply. "I said we had work to do. Jim, you're hunting up the nearest observatory."
"How about transportation? No teleportation?"
"Out. Rent a car or hire a plane, or both. Fill your wallet--better have too much money than not enough. If you're too far away tonight to make it feasible to come back here, send me a flash. Brownie, you'll work this town first. Belle and I will have to work in the library for a while. We'll all want to compare notes tonight..."
"Yeah," James said into the pause, "I could tune in remote, but I don't know where I'll be, so it might not be so good."
"Check. You can 'port, but be damn sure nobody sees or senses you doing it. That buttons it up, I guess."
James and Lola left the ship; Garlock and Belle went into the library.
"If I didn't know you were impotent, Clee," Belle shivered affectedly and began to laugh, "I'd be scared to death to be alone with you in this great big spaceship. Lola hasn't realized yet what she really hatched out--the screamingest screamer ever pulled on anybody!"
"It isn't that funny. You have got a savage sense of humor."
"Perhaps." She shrugged her shoulders. "But you were on the receiving end, which makes a big difference. She's a peculiar sort of duck. Brainy, but impersonal--academic. She knows all the words and all their meanings, all the questions and all the answers, but she doesn't apply any of them to herself. She's always the observer, never the participant. Pure egg-head ... pure? That's it. She looks, acts, talks, and thinks like a virgin ... Well, if that's all, she isn't any--or is she? Even though you've started calling her 'Brownie, ' like my now-tamed tomcat, you might not..." She stared at him.
"Go ahead. Probe."
"Why waste energy trying to crack a Prime's shield? But just out of curiosity, are you two pairing, or not?"
"Tut-tut; don't be inurbane. Let's talk about Jim instead. I thought he'd be gibbering."
"No, I'm working under double wraps--full dampers. I don't want him in love with me. You want to know why?"
"I think I know why."
"Because having him mooning around underfoot would weaken the team and I want to get back to Tellus."
"I was wrong, then. I thought you were out after bigger game."
Belle's face went stiff and still. "What do you mean by that?"
"Plain enough, I would think. Wherever you are, you've got to be the Boss. You've never been in any kind of a party for fifteen minutes without taking it over. When you snap the whip everybody jumps--or else--and you swing a wicked knife. For your information I don't jump, I am familiar with knives, and you will never run this project or any part of it."
Belle's face set; her eyes hardened. "While we're putting out information, take note that I'm just as good with actual knives as with figurative ones. If you're still thinking of blistering my fanny, don't try it. You'll find a rawhide haft sticking up out of one of those muscles you're so proud of--clear enough Mr. Garlock."
"Why don't you talk sense, instead of such yak-yak?"
"I know you're a Prime, too, but don't let it go to your head. I've got more stuff than you have, so you can't Gunther me. You weigh one thirty-five to my two seventeen. I'm harder, stronger, and faster than you are. You're probably a bit limberer--not too much--but I've forgotten more judo than you ever will know. So what's the answer?"
Belle was breathing hard. "Then why don't you do it right now?"
"Several reasons. I couldn't brag much about licking anybody I outweigh by eighty-two pounds. I can't figure out your logic--if any--but I'm pretty sure now it wouldn't do either of us any good. Just the opposite."
"From your standpoint, would that be bad?"
"What a hell of a logic! You have got the finest brain of any woman living. You're stronger than Jim is by a lot more than the Prime-to-Operator ratio--you've got more initiative, more drive, more guts. You know as well as I do what your brain may mean before we get back. Why in all hell don't you start using it?"
"You are complimenting me?"
"No. It's the truth, isn't it?"
"What difference does that make? Clee Garlock, I simply can't understand you at all."
"That makes it mutual. I can't understand a geometry in which the crookedest line between any two given points is the best line. Let's get to work, shall we?"
"Uh-huh, let's. One more bit of information, though, first. Any such idea as taking the Project away from you simply never entered my mind!" She gave him a warm and friendly smile as she walked over to the file-cabinets.
For hours, then, they worked; each scanning tape after tape. At mid-day they ate a light lunch. Shortly thereafter, Garlock put away his reader and all his loose tapes. "Are you getting anywhere, Belle? I'm not making any progress."
"Yes, but of course planets are probably pretty much the same everywhere--Tellus-type ones, I mean, of course. Is all the Xenology as cockeyed as I'm afraid it must be?"
"Check. The one basic assumption was that there are no human beings other than Tellurians. From that they derive the secondary assumption that humanoid types will be scarce. From there they scatter out in all directions. So I'll have to roll my own. I've got to see Atterlin, anyway. I'll be back for supper. So long."
At the Port Office, Grand Lady Neldine met him even more enthusiastically than before; taking both his hands and pressing them against her firm, almost-bare breasts. She tried to hold back as Garlock led her along the corridor.
"I have an explanation, and in a sense an apology, for you, Grand Lady Neldine, and for you, Governor Atterlin," he thought carefully. "I would have explained yesterday, but I had no understanding of the situation here until our anthropologist, Lola Montandon, elucidated it very laboriously to me. She herself, a scientist highly trained in that specialty, could grasp it only by referring back to somewhat similar situations which may have existed in the remote past--so remote a past that the concept is known only to specialists and is more than half mythical, even to them."
He went on to give in detail the sexual customs, obligations, and limitations of Lola's purely imaginary civilization.
"Then it isn't that you don't want to, but you can't?" the lady asked, incredulously.
"Mentally, I can have no desire. Physically, the act is impossible," he assured her.
"What a shame!" Her thought was a peculiar mixture of disappointment and relief: disappointment in that she was not to bear this man's super-child; relief in that, after all, she had not personally failed--if she couldn't have this perfectly wonderful man herself, no other woman except his wife could ever have him, either. But what a shame to waste such a man as that on any one woman! It was really too bad.
"I see ... I see--wonderful!" Atterlin's thought was not at all incredulous, but vastly awed. "It is of course logical that as the power of mind increases, physical matters become less and less important. But you will have much to give us; we may perhaps have some small things to give you. If we could visit your Tellus, perhaps... ?"
"That also is impossible. We four in the Pleiades are lost in space. This is the first planet we have visited on our first trial of a new method--new to us, at least--of interstellar travel. We missed our objective, probably by many millions of parsecs, and it is quite possible that we four will never be able to find our way back. We are trying now, by charting the galaxies throughout billions of cubic parsecs of space, to find merely the direction in which our own galaxy lies."
"What a concept! What stupendous minds! But such immense distances, sir ... what can you possibly be using for a space-drive?"
"None, as you understand the term. We travel by instantaneous translation, by means of something we call 'Gunther' ... I am not at all sure that I can explain it to you satisfactorily, but I will try to do so, if you wish."
"Please do so, sir, by all means."
Garlock opened the highest Gunther cells of his mind. There was nothing as elementary as telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, or the like; it was the pure, raw Gunther of the Gunther Drive, which even he himself made no pretense of understanding fully. He opened those cells and pushed that knowledge at the two Hodellian minds.
The result was just as instantaneous and just as catastrophic as Garlock had expected. Both blocks went up almost instantly.
"Oh, no!" Atterlin exclaimed, his face turning white.
The girl shrieked once, covered her face with her hands, and collapsed on the floor.
"Oh, I'm so sorry ... excuse my ignorance, please!" Garlock implored, as he picked the girl up, carried her across the room to a sofa, and assured himself that she had not been really hurt. She recovered quickly. "I'm very sorry, Grand Lady Neldine and Governor Atterlin, but I didn't know ... that is, I didn't realize..."
"You are trying to break it gently." Atterlin was both shocked and despondent. "This being the first planet you have visited, you simply did not realize how feeble our minds really are."
"Oh, not at all, really, sir and lady." Garlock began deftly to repair the morale he had shattered. "Merely younger. With your system of genetics, so much more logical and efficient than our strict monogamy, your race will undoubtedly make more progress in a few centuries than we made in many millennia. And in a few centuries more you will pass us--will master this only partially-known Gunther Drive.
"Esthetically, Lady Neldine, I would like very much to father you a child." He allowed his coldly unmoved gaze to survey her charms. "I am sorry indeed that it cannot be. I trust that you, Governor Atterlin, will be kind enough to spread word of our physical shortcomings, and so spare us further embarrassment?"
"Not shortcomings, sir, and, I truly hope, no embarrassment," Atterlin protested. "We are immensely glad to have seen you, since your very existence gives us so much hope for the future. I will spread word, and every Hodellian will do whatever he can to help you in your quest."
"Thank you, sir and lady," and Garlock took his leave.
"What an act, my male-looking but impotent darling!" came Belle's clear, incisive thought, bubbling with unrestrained merriment. "For our Doctor Garlock, the Prime Exponent and First Disciple of Truth, what an act! Esthetically, he'd like to father her a child, it says here in fine print--Boy, if she only knew! One tiny grain of truth and she'd chase you from here to Andromeda! Clee, I swear this thing is going to kill me yet!"
"Anything that would do that I'm very much in favor of!" Garlock growled the thought and snapped up his shield.
This one was, quite definitely, Belle's round.
Garlock took the Hodellian equivalent of a bus to the center of the city, then set out aimlessly to walk. The buildings and their arrangement, he noted--not much to his surprise now--were not too different from those of the cities of Earth.
With his guard down to about the sixth level, highly receptive but not at all selective, he strolled up one street and down another. He was not attentive to detail yet; he was trying to get the broad aspects, the "feel" of this hitherto unknown civilization.
The ether was practically saturated with thought. Apparently this was the afternoon rush hour, as the sidewalks were crowded with people and the streets were full of cars. It did not seem as though anyone, whether in the buildings, on the sidewalks, or in the cars, was doing any blocking at all. If there were any such things as secrets on Hodell, they were scarce. Each person, man, woman, or child, went about his own business, radiating full blast. No one paid any attention to the thoughts of anyone else except in the case of couples or groups, the units of which were engaged in conversation. It reminded Garlock of a big Tellurian party when the punch-bowls were running low--everybody talking at the top of his voice and nobody listening.
This whole gale of thought was blowing over Garlock's receptors like a Great Plains wind over miles-wide fields of corn. He did not address anyone directly; no one addressed him. At first, quite a few young women, at sight of his unusual physique, had sent out tentative feelers of thought; and some men had wondered, in the same tentative and indirect fashion, who he was and where he came from. However, when the information he had given Atterlin spread throughout the city--and it did not take long--no one paid any more attention to him than they did to each other.
Probing into and through various buildings, he learned that groups of people were quitting work at intervals of about fifteen minutes. There were thoughts of tidying up desks; of letting the rest of this junk go until tomorrow; of putting away and/or covering up office machines of various sorts. There were thoughts of powdering noses and of repairing make-up.
He pulled in his receptors and scanned the crowded ways for guardians--he'd have to call them that until either he or Lola found out their real name. Same as at the airport--the more people, the more guardians. What were they? How? And why?
He probed; carefully but thoroughly. When he had talked to the Arpalone he had read him easily enough, but here there was nothing whatever to read. The creature simply was not thinking at all. But that didn't make sense! Garlock tuned, first down, then up; and finally, at the very top of his range, he found something, but he did not at first know what it was. It seemed to be a mass-detector ... no, two of them, paired and balanced. Oh, that was it! One tuned to humanity, one to the other guardians--balanced across a sort of bridge--that was how they kept the ratio so constant! But why? There seemed to be some wide-range receptors there, too, but nothing seemed to be coming in...
While he was still studying and still baffled, some kind of stimulus, which was so high and so faint and so alien that he could neither identify nor interpret it, touched the Arpalone's far-flung receptors. Instantly the creature jumped, his powerful, widely-bowed legs sending him high above the heads of the crowd and, it seemed to Garlock, directly toward him. Simultaneously there was an insistent, low-pitched, whistling scream, somewhat like the noise made by an airplane in a no-power dive; and Garlock saw, out of the corner of one eye, a yellowish something flashing downward through the air.
At the same moment the woman immediately in front of Garlock stifled a scream and jumped backward, bumping into him and almost knocking him down. He staggered, caught his balance, and automatically put his arm around his assailant, to keep her from falling to the sidewalk.
In the meantime the guardian, having landed very close to the spot the woman had occupied a moment before, leaped again; this time vertically upward. The thing, whatever it was, was now braking frantically with wings, tail, and body; trying madly to get away. Too late. There was a bone-crushing impact as the two bodies came together in mid-air; a jarring thud as the two creatures, inextricably intertwined, struck the pavement as one.
The thing varied in color, Garlock now saw, shading from bright orange at the head to pale yellow at the tail. It had a savagely-tearing curved beak; tremendously powerful wings; its short, thick legs ended in hawk-like talons.
The guardian's bowed legs had already immobilized the yellow wings by clamping them solidly against the yellow body. His two lower arms were holding the frightful talons out of action. His third hand gripped the orange throat, his fourth was exerting tremendous force against the jointure of neck and body. The neck, originally short, was beginning to stretch.
For several seconds Garlock had been half-conscious that his accidental companion was trying, with more and more energy, to disengage his encircling left arm from her waist. He wrenched his attention away from the spectacular fight--to which no one else, not even the near-victim, had paid the slightest attention--and now saw that he had his arm around the bare waist of a statuesque matron whose entire costume would have made perhaps half of a Tellurian sun-suit. He dropped his arm with a quick and abject apology.