The Galaxy Primes
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."