The Galaxy Primes
Lola and Garlock went to town in the same taxi. As they were about to separate, Garlock said:
"I don't like those hell-divers, yellow, green, or any other color; and you, Brownie, are very definitely not expendable. Are you any good at mind-bombing?"
"Why, I never heard of such a thing."
"You isolate a little energy in the Op field, remembering of course, that you're handling a hundred thousand gunts. Transpose it into platinum or uranium--anything good and heavy. For one of these monsters you'd need two or three micrograms. For a battleship, up to maybe a gram or so. 'Port it to the exact place you want it to detonate. Reconvert and release instantaneously. One-hundred-percent-conversion atomic bomb, tailored exactly to fit the job. Very effective."
"It would be. My God, Clee, can you do that?"
"Sure--so can you. Any Operator can."
"Well, I won't. I never will. Besides, I'd probably kill too many people, besides the monster. No, I'll 'port back to the Main if anything attacks me. I'm chain lightning at that."
"Do that, then. And if anything very unusual happens give me a flash."
"I'll do that. 'Bye, Clee." She turned to the left. He walked straight on, toward the business center, to resume his study at the point where he had left off the evening before.
For over an hour he wandered aimlessly about the city; receiving, classifying, and filing away information. He saw several duels between guardians and yellow and green-bat monsters, to none of which he paid any more attention than did the people around him. Then a third kind of enemy appeared--two of them at once, flying wing-and-wing--and Garlock stopped and watched.
Vivid, clear-cut stripes of red and black, even on the tremendously long, strong wings. Distinctly feline as to heads, teeth, and claws. While they did not at all closely resemble flying saber-toothed tigers, that was the first impression that leaped into Garlock's mind.
Two bow-legged guardians came leaping as usual, but one of them was a fraction of a second too late. That fraction was enough. While the first guardian was still high in air, grappling with one tiger, the other swung on a dime--the blast of air from his right wing blowing people in the crowd below thither and yon and knocking four of them flat--and took the guardian's head off his body with one savage swipe of a frightfully-armed paw. Disregarding the carcass both attackers whirled sharply at the second guardian, meeting him in such fashion that he could not come to firm grips with either of them, and that battle was very brief indeed. More and more guardians were leaping in from all directions, however, and the two tigers were forced to the ground and slaughtered.
Since six guardians had been killed, eight guardians marched up the street, dragging grisly loads. Eight bodies, friend and foe alike, were dumped into a manhole; eight creatures squatted down and cleaned themselves meticulously before resuming their various patrols.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, Garlock felt Lola's half-excited, half-frightened thought. "Clee, do you read me?"
"Loud and clear."
"There's something coming that's certainly none of my business--maybe not even yours."
"Coming," and with the thought he was there. "Where?"
She pointed a thought, he followed it. Far away yet, but coming fast, was an immense flock of flying tigers!
Lola licked her lips. "I'm going home, if you don't mind."
"Jim!" Garlock thought. "Where are you?"
"Observatory. Need me?"
"Yes. Bombing. Two point four microgram loads. Focus spot on my right--teleport in."
"Coming in on your right."
"And I on your left!" Belle's thought drove in as he had never before felt it driven. Being a Prime, she did not need a focus spot and appeared the veriest instant later than did James.
"Can you bomb?" Garlock snapped.
"What do you think?" she snapped back.
A moment of flashing thought and the three Tellurians disappeared, materializing five hundred feet in air, two hundred feet ahead of the van of that horrible flight of monsters, drifting before it.
Belle got in the first shot. Not only did the victim disappear--a couple of dozen around it were torn to fragments and the force of the blast staggered all three Tellurians.
"Damn it, Belle, cut down or get to hell out!" Garlock yelped. "I said two point four micrograms, not milligrams. Just kill 'em, don't scatter 'em all over hell's half acre--less mess to clean up and I don't want you to kill people down below. Especially I don't want you to kill us--not even yourself."
"'Scuse, please, I guess I was a bit enthusiastic in my weighing."
There began a series of muffled explosions along the front; each followed by the plunge of a tiger-striped body to the ground. Faster and faster the explosions came as the Operator and the Primes learned the routine and the rhythm of the job.
Nor were they long alone. The roaring, screaming howl of jets came up from behind them; four Arpalones appeared at their left, strung out along the front. Each held an extraordinarily heavy-duty blaster in each of his four hands; sixteen terrific weapons were hurling death into the flying horde.
"Slide over, Terrestrials," came a calm thought. "You three take their left front, we'll take their right and center."
As they obeyed the instructions, "They don't give a damn where the pieces fly!" Belle protested. "Why should we be fussy about their street-cleaning department? I'm starting to use fives."
"Okay. We'll have to hit 'em harder, anyway, to keep up. Five or maybe six--just be damn sure not to knock us or the Arpalones out of the air."
Carnage went on. The battle-front, while inside the city limits, was now almost stationary.
"Ha! Help--I hear footsteps approaching on jet-back," Garlock announced. "Give 'em hell, boys--shovel on the coal!"
A flight of fighter-planes, eight abreast and wing-tips almost touching, howled close overhead and along the line of invasion. They could not fire, of course, until they reached the city limits. There they opened up as one, and the air below became literally filled with falling monsters. Some had only broken wings; some were dead, but more or less whole; many were blown to unrecognizable bits and scraps of flesh.
Another flight screamed into place immediately behind the first; then another and another and another until six flights had passed. Then came four helicopters, darting and hovering, whose gunners picked off individually whatever survivors had managed to escape all six waves of fighters.
"That's better," came a thought from the Arpalone nearest Garlock. "Situation under control, thanks to you Tellurians. Supposed to be two squads of us gunners, but the other squad was busy on another job. Without you, this could have developed into a fairly nasty little infection. I don't know what you're doing or how you're doing it--we were told that you weren't like any other humans, and how true that is--but I'm in favor of it. I thought there were four of you?"
"One of us is not a fighter."
"Oh. You can knock off now, if you like. We'll polish off. Thanks much."
"But don't the boys on the ground need some help?"
"The Arpales? Those idiots you have been thinking of as 'guardians'? Which they are, of course. Uh-uh. Besides, we're air-fighters. Ground work is none of our business. Also, these guns would raise altogether too much hell down there. Bound to hit some humans."
"Check. Those Arpales aren't very intelligent, you Arpalones are extremely so. Any connection?"
"'Way back, they say. Common ancestry, and doing two parts of the same job. Killing these fumapties and lemarts and sencors and what-have-you. I don't know what humanity's job is and don't give a damn. Probably fairly important, some way or other, though, since it's our job to see that the silly, gutless things keep on living. We have nothing to do with 'em, ever. The only reason I'm talking to you is you're not really human at all. You're a fighter, too, and a damn good one."
"I know what you mean," and the three Tellurians turned their attention downward to the scene on the ground.
The heaviest fighting had been over a large park at the city's edge, which was now literally a shambles. Very few people were to be seen, and those few more moving unconcernedly away from the center of violence. All over the park thousands of Arpales were fighting furiously and hundreds of them were dying. For hundreds of the sencors had suffered only wing injuries, the long fall to ground had not harmed them further, and their tremendous fighting ability had been lessened very little if at all.
"But I'd think, just for efficiency if nothing else," Garlock argued, "you'd support the Arpales some way. Lighter guns or something. Why, thousands of them must have been killed, just in this last hour or so."
"Yeah, but that's their business. They breed fast and die fast. Everything has to balance, you know."
"Perhaps so." Garlock was silenced, if not convinced. "Well, it's about over. What happens to the bodies they're dumping down manholes? They can't go down a sewer that way?"
"Oh, you didn't know? Food."
"Food? For what?"
"The Arpales and us, of course."
"What? You don't mean--you can't mean that they--and by your thought, you Arpalones, too--are cannibals!"
"Cannibals? Explain, please? Oh, eaters-of-our-own-species. Of course--certainly. Why not?"
"Why, self-respect ... common decency ... respect for one's fellow-man ... family ties..." Garlock was floundering; to be called upon to explain his ingrained antipathy to such a custom was new to his experience.
"You are silly. Worse, squeamish. Worst, supremely illogical." The Arpalone paused, then went on as though trying to educate a hopelessly illogical inferior, "While we do not kill Arpales purposely--except when they over-breed--why waste good meat as fertilizer? If a diet is wholesome, nutritious, well-balanced, and tasty, what shred of difference can it possibly make what its ingredients once were?"
"Well, I'll be damned." Garlock quit.
Belle agreed. "This whole deal makes me sick at the stomach and I think my face is turning green too. But I'm devilishly and gleefully glad, Clee, that I was here to hear somebody give you cards, spaces, and big casino and still beat the lights and liver out of you at your own game of cold-blooded logic!"
"We gunners must go now. Would you like to come along with us and see the end of this particular breeding-hole of sencors?"
At high speed the seven flew back along the line of advance of the flying-tiger horde; across a barren valley, toward and to the side of a mountain.
An area almost a mile square of that mountain's side was a burned, blasted, churned, pocked, cratered and flaming waste; and the four helicopters were still working on it. High-energy beams blasted, fairly volatilizing the ground as they struck in as deep as they could be driven. High-explosive shells bored deep and detonated, hurling shattered rock and soil and yellow smoke far and wide; establishing new craters by destroying the ones existing a moment before.
While it seemed incredible that any living thing larger than a microbe could emerge under its own power from such a hell of energy, many flying tigers did; apparently being blown aloft along with the hitherto undisturbed volume of soil in which the creatures had been. Most of them were not fully grown; some were so immature as to be unrecognizable to an untrained eye; but from all four helicopters hand-guns snapped and cracked. Nothing--but nothing--was leaving that field of carnage alive.
"What are you gunners supposed to be doing here?" Garlock asked.
"Oh, the 'copters will be leaving pretty soon--they've got other places to go. But they won't get them all--some of the hatches are too deep--so us four gunners will stick around for two-three days to kill the late-hatchers as they come out."
"I see," and Garlock probed. "There are four cells they won't reach. Shall I bomb 'em out?"
"I'll ask." The slitted red eyes widened and he sent a call. "Commander Knahr, can you hop over here a minute? I want you to meet these things we've been hearing about. They look human, but they really aren't. They're killers, with more stuff and more brains than any of us ever heard of."
Another Arpalone appeared, indistinguishable to Tellurian eyes from any one of the others.
"But why do you want to mix into something that's none of your business?" Knahr was neither officious nor condemnatory. He simply could not understand.
"Since you have no concept of our quality of curiosity, just call it education. The question is, do or do you not want those four deeply-buried cells blasted out of existence?"
"Of course I do."
"Okay. You've got all of 'em you're going to get. Tell your 'copters to give us about five miles clearance, and we'll all fall back, too."
They drew back, and there were four closely-spaced explosions of such violence that one raggedly mushroom-shaped cloud went into the stratosphere and one huge, ragged crater yawned where once churned ground had been.
"But that's atomic!" Knahr gasped the thought. "Fall-out!"
"No fall-out. Complete conversion. Have you got a counter?"
They had. They tested. There was nothing except the usual background count.
"There's no life left underground, so you needn't keep this squad of gunners tied up here," Garlock told the commander. "Before we go, I want to ask a question. You have visitors once in a while from other solar systems, so you must have a faster-than-light drive. Can you tell me anything about it?"
"No. Nothing like that would be any of my business." Knahr and the four gunners disappeared; the helicopters began to lumber away.
"Well, that helps--I don't think," Garlock thought, glumly. "What a world! Back to the Main?"
In the Main, after a long and fruitless discussion, Garlock called Governor Atterlin, who did not know anything about a faster-than-light drive, either. There was one, of course, since it took only a few days or a few weeks to go from one system to another; but Hodell didn't have any such ships. No ordinary planet did. They were owned and operated by people who called themselves "Engineers." He had no idea where the Engineers came from; they didn't say.
Garlock then tried to get in touch with the Arpalone Inspector who had checked the Pleiades in, and could not find out even who it had been. The Inspector then on duty neither knew or cared anything about either faster-than-light drives or Engineers. Such things were none of his business.
"What difference would it make, anyway?" James asked. "No drive that takes 'a few weeks' for an intra-galaxy hop is ever going to get us back to Tellus."
"True enough; but if there is such a thing I want to know how it works. How are you coming with your calculations?"
"I'll finish up tomorrow easily enough."
Tomorrow came, and James finished up, but he did not find any familiar pattern of Galactic arrangement. The other three watched James set up for another try for Earth.
"You don't think we'll ever get back, do you, Clee?" Belle asked.
"Right away, no. Some day, yes. I've got the germ of an idea. Maybe three or four more hops will give me something to work on."
"I hope so," James said, "because here goes nothing," and he snapped the red switch.
It was not nothing. Number Two was another guardian Inspector and another planet very much like Hodell. It proved to be so far from both Earth and Hodell, however, that no useful similarities were found in any two of the three sets of charts.
Number Three was equally unproductive of helpful results. James did, however, improve his technique of making galactic charts; and he and Garlock designed and built a high-speed comparator. Thus the time required per stop was reduced from days to hours.
Number Four produced a surprise. When Garlock touched the knob of the testing-box he yanked his hand away before it had really made contact. It was like touching a high-voltage wire.
"You are incompatible with our humanity and must not land," the Inspector ruled.
"Suppose we blast you and your jets out of the air and land anyway?" Garlock asked.
"That is perhaps possible," the Inspector agreed, equably enough. "We are not invincible. However, it would do you no good. If any one of you four leaves that so-heavily-insulated vessel in the atmosphere of this planet you will die. Not quickly, but slowly and with difficulty."
"But you haven't tested me!" Belle said. "Do you mean they'll attack us on sight?"
"There is no need to test more than one. Anyone who could live near any of you could not live on this planet. Nor will they attack you. Don't you know what the thought 'incompatible' means?"
"With us it does not mean death."
"Here it does, since it refers to life forces. The types are mutually, irreconcilably antagonistic. Your life forces are very strong. Thus, no matter how peaceable your intentions may be, many of our human beings would die before you would, but you will not live to get back to your ship if you land it and leave its protective insulation."
"Why? What is it? How does it work?" Belle demanded.
"It is not my business to know; only to tell. I have told. You will go away now."
Garlock's eyes narrowed in concentration. "Belle, can you blast? I mean, could you if you wanted to?"
"Certainly ... why, I don't want to, Clee!"
"I don't, either--and I'll file that one away to chew on when I'm hungry some night, too. Take her up, Jim, and try another shot."
Numbers Five to Nine, inclusive, were neither productive nor eventful. All were, like the others, Hodell all over again, in everything fundamental. One was so far advanced that almost all of its humanity were Seconds; one so backward--or so much younger--that its strongest telepaths were only Fours. The Tellurians became acquainted with, and upon occasion fought with, various types of man-sized monsters in addition to the three varieties they had seen on Hodell.
Every planet they visited had Arpalones and Arpales. Not by those names, of course. Local names for planets, guardians, nations, cities, and persons went into the starship's tapes, but that welter of names need not be given here; this is not a catalogue. Every planet they visited was peopled by Homo Sapiens; capable of inter-breeding with the Tellurians and eager to do so--especially with the Tellurian men. Their strict monogamy was really tested more than once; but it held. Each had been visited repeatedly by starships; but all Garlock could find out about them was that they probably came from a world somewhere that was inhabited by compatible human beings of Grade Two. He could learn nothing about the faster-than-light drive.
Number Ten was another queer--the Tellurians were found incompatible.
"Let's go down anyway." Belle suggested. "Overcome this unwillingness of ours and find out. What do you think they've got down there, Clee Garlock, that could possibly handle you and me both?"
"I don't think it's a case of 'handling' at all. I don't know what it is, but I believe it's fatal. We won't go down."
"But it doesn't make sense!" Belle protested.
"Not yet, no; but it's a datum. Enough data and we'll be able to formulate a theory."
"You and your theories! I wish we could get some facts!"
"You can call that a fact. But I want you and Jim to do some math. We know that we're making mighty long jumps. Assuming that they're at perfect random, and of approximately the same length, the probability is greater than one-half that we're getting farther and farther away from Tellus. Is there a jump number, N, at which the probability is one-half that we land nearer Tellus instead of farther away? My jump-at-conclusions guess is that there isn't. That the first jump set up a bias."
"Ouch. That isn't in any of the books," James said. "In other words, do we or do we not attain a maximum? You're making some bum assumptions; among others that space isn't curved and that the dimensions of the universe are very large compared to the length of our jumps. I'll see if I can put it into shape to feed to Compy. You've always held that these generators work at random--the rest of those assumptions are based on your theory?"
"Check. I'm not getting anywhere studying my alleged Xenology, so I'm going to work full time on designing a generator that will steer."
"You tried to before. So did everybody else."
"I know it, but I've got a lot more data now. And I'm not promising, just trying. Okay? Worth a try?"
"Sure--I'm in favor of anything that has any chance at all of working."
Jumping went on; and Garlock, instead of going abroad on the planets, stayed in the Pleiades and worked.
At Number Forty-three, their reception was of a new kind. They were compatible with the people of this world, but the Inspector advised them against landing.
"I do not forbid you," he explained, carefully. "Our humans are about to destroy themselves with fission and fusion bombs. They send missiles, without warning, against visitors. Thus, the last starship to visit us here disregarded my warning and sent down a sensing device as usual--Engineers do not land on non-telepathic worlds, you know--and it was destroyed."
"You're a Guardian of Humanity," Garlock said. "Can't you straighten people out?"
"Of course not!" The Arpalone was outraged. "We guard humanity against incompatibles and non-humans; but it is not our business to interfere with humanity if it wishes to destroy itself. That is its privilege and its own business!"
Garlock probed down. "No telepathy, even--not even a Seven. This planet is backward--back to Year One. And nothing but firecrackers--we're going down, aren't we?"
"I'll say we are!" Belle said. "This will break the monotony, at least," and the others agreed.
"You won't object, I take it," Garlock said to the Inspector, "if we try to straighten them out. We can postpone the blow-up a few years, at least."
"No objections, of course. In fact, I can say that we Guardians of Humanity would approve such action."
Down the Pleiades went, into the air of the nation known as the "Allied Republican Democracies of the World," and an atomic-warheaded rocket came flaming up.
"Hm ... m ... m. Ingenious little gadget, at that," James reported, after studying it thoroughly. "Filthy thing for fall-out, though, if it goes off. Where'll I flip it, Clee? One of their moons?"
"Check. Third one out--no chance of any contamination from there."
The missile vanished; and had any astronomer been looking at that world's third and outermost moon at the moment, he might have seen a tremendous flash of light, a cloud of dust, and the formation of a new and different crater among the hundreds already there.
"No use waiting for 'em, Jim. All three of you toss everything they've got out onto that same moon, being sure not to hurt anybody--yet. I'll start asking questions."
The captain who had fired the first missile appeared in the Main. He reached for his pistol, to find that he did not have one. He tensed his muscles to leap at Garlock, to find that he could not move.
Garlock drove his probe. "Who is your superior officer?" and before the man could formulate a denial, that superior stood helpless beside him.
Then three--and four. At the fifth:
"Oh, you are the man I want. Prime Minister--euphemism for Dictator--Sovig. Missile launching stations and missile storage? You don't know? Who does?"
Another man appeared, and for twenty minutes the Pleiades darted about the continent.
"Now submarines, atomic and otherwise, and all surface vessels capable of launching missiles." Another man appeared.
This job took a little longer, since the crew of each vessel had to be teleported back to their bases. An immense scrap-pile, probably visible with a telescope of even moderate power, built up rapidly on the third moon.