The Galaxy Primes
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."
Belle whistled sharply to call Fao's attention, then tight-beamed a thought. "If you've got any part of a brain, slick chick, you'd better start using it. The boy friend not only plays rough, but he doesn't bluff."
"To hell with all that!" Fao rushed on. "We don't have anything to do with your organization--go on back home or anywhere else you want to. We'll finish our own ship and build our own organization and run it to suit ourselves. We'll..."
"That's enough of that." Garlock penetrated her shield as easily as he had the man's, and held her in lock. "You are not going to wreck this project. You will start behaving yourself right now or I'll spread your mind wide open for Belle and Deggi to look at and see exactly what kind of a half-baked jerk you are. If that doesn't work, I'll put you into a Gunther-blocked cell aboard the Pleiades and keep you there until the ship is finished and we leave Margonia. How do you want it?"
Fao was shocked as she had never been shocked before. At first she tried viciously to fight; but, finding that useless against the appalling power of the mind holding hers, she stopped struggling and began really to think.
"That's better. You've got what it takes to think with. Go ahead and do it."
And Fao Talaho did have it. Plenty of it. She learned.
"I'll be good," she said, finally. "Honestly. I'm ashamed, really, but after I got started I couldn't stop. But I can now, I'm sure."
"I'm sure you can, too. I know exactly how it is. All us Primes have to get hell knocked out of us before we amount to a whoop in Hades. Deggi got his one way, I got mine another, you got yours this way. No, neither of the others knows anything about this conversation and they won't. This is strictly between you and me."
"I'm awfully glad of that. And I think I ... yes, damn you, thanks!"
Garlock released her and, after a few sobs, a couple of gulps, and a dabbing at her eyes with an inadequate handkerchief, she said: "I'm sorry, Deggi, and you, too, Belle. I'll try not to act like such a fool any more."
Delcamp and Belle both stared at Garlock; Belle licked her lips.
"No comment," he thought at the man; and, to Belle, "She just took a beating. Will you sheathe your claws and take a lot of pains to be extra nice to her the rest of the day?"
"Why, surely. I'm always nice to anybody who is nice to me."
"Says you," Garlock replied, skeptically, and all four went to work as though nothing had happened.
They went through the shops and the almost-finished ship. They studied blueprints. They met all the Operators and discussed generators and fields of force and mathematics and paraphysics and Guntherics. They argued so hotly about mental control that Garlock had James bring the Pleiades over to new-christened Galaxian Field so that he could prove his point then and there.
Entlore and Holson came along this time, as well as the ComOff; and all three were nonplussed and surprised to see each member of the "crackpot" group hurl the huge starship from one solar system to any other one desired, apparently merely by thinking about it. And the "crackpots" were extremely surprised to find themselves hopelessly lost in uncharted galactic wildernesses every time they did not think, definitely and positively, of one specific destination. Then Garlock took a chance. He had to take it sometime; he might just as well do it now.
"See if you can hit Andromeda, Deggi," he suggested.
While Belle, James, and Lola held their breaths, Delcamp tried. The starship went toward the huge nebula, but stopped at the last suitable planet on the galaxy's rim.
"Can you hit Andromeda?" Delcamp asked, more than half jealously, and Belle tensed her muscles.
"Never tried it," Garlock said, easily. "I suppose, though, since you couldn't kick the old girl out of our good old home galaxy, she'll just sit right here for me, too."
He went through the motions and the Pleiades did sit right there--which was exactly what he had told her to do. And everybody--even the "crackpots"--breathed more easily.
And Belle was "nice" to Fao; she didn't use her claws, even once, all day. And, just before quitting time--
"Does he ... I mean, did he ever ... well, sort of knock you around?" Fao asked.
"I'll say he hasn't!" Belle's nostrils flared slightly at the mere thought. "I'd stick a knife into him, the big jerk."
"Oh, I didn't mean physically..."
"Through my blocks? A Prime's blocks? Don't be ridiculous, Fao!"
"What do you mean, 'ridiculous'?" Fao snapped. "You tried my blocks. What did they feel like to you--mosquito netting? What I thought was ... Oh, all he really said was that all Primes had to have hell knocked out of them before they could be any good. That he had had it one way, Deggi another, and me a third. I see--you haven't had yours yet."
"I certainly haven't. And if he ever tries it, I'll..."
"Oh, he won't. He couldn't, very well, because after you're married, it would..."
"Did the big lug tell you I was going to marry him?"
"Of course not. No fringes, even. But who else are you going to marry? If the whole universe was clear full of the finest men imaginable--pure dreamboats, no less--can you even conceive of you marrying any one of them except him?"
"I'm not going to marry anybody. Ever."
"No? You, with your Prime's mind and your Prime's body, not have any children? And you tell me not to be ridiculous?"
That stopped Belle cold, but she wouldn't admit it. Instead--"I don't get it. What did he do to you, anyway?"
Fao's block set itself so tight that it took her a full minute to soften it down enough for even the thinnest thought to get through. "That's something nobody will ever know. But anyway, unless ... unless you find another Prime as strong as Clee is--and I don't really think there are any, do you?"
"Of course there aren't. There's only one of his class, anywhere. He's it," Belle said, with profound conviction.
"That makes it tough for you. You'll have the toughest job imaginable. The very toughest. I know."
"Huh? What job?"
"Since Clee won't do it for you, and since nobody else can, you'll have to just simply knock hell out of yourself."
And in Garlock's room that night, getting ready for bed, Belle asked suddenly, "Clee, what in hell did you do to Fao Talaho?"
"Nothing much. She's a mighty good egg, really."
"Could you do it, whatever it was, to me?"
"I don't know; I never tried it."
"Would you, then, if I asked you to?"
"Answer that yourself."
"And it was 'nothing much, ' it says here in fine print. But I think I know just about what it was. Don't I?"
"I wouldn't be surprised."
"You knocked hell out of yourself, didn't you?"
"I lied to her about that. I'm still trying to."
"So I've got to do it to myself. And I haven't started yet?"
"Check. But you're several years younger than I am, you know."
Belle thought it over for a minute, then stubbed out her cigarette and shrugged her shoulders. "No sale. Put it back on the shelf. I like me better the way I am. That is, I think I do ... In a way, though, I'm sorry, Clee darling."
"Darling? Something new has been added. I wish you really meant that, ace."
"I'm still 'ace' after what I just said? I'm glad, Clee. 'Ace' is ever so much nicer than 'chum.'"
"Ace. The top of the deck. You are, and always will be."
"As for meaning it, I wish I didn't." Ready for bed, Belle was much more completely and much less revealingly dressed than during her working hours. She slid into bed beside him, pulled the covers up to her chin, and turned off the light by glancing at the switch. "If I thought anything could ever come of it, though, I'd do it if I had to pound myself unconscious with a club. But I wouldn't be here, then, either--I'd scoot into my own room so fast my head would spin."
"You wouldn't have to. You wouldn't be here."
"I wouldn't, at that. That's one of the things I like so much about you. But honestly, Clee--seriously, screens-down honestly--can you see any possible future in it?"
"No. Neither of us would give that much. Neither of us can. And there's nothing one-sided about it; I'm no more fit to be a husband than you are to be a wife. And God help our children--they'd certainly need it."
"We'd never have any. I can't picture us living in marriage for nine months without committing at least mayhem. Why, in just the little time we've been paired, how many times have you thrown me out of this very room, with the fervent hope that I'd drown in deep space before you ever saw me again?"
"At a guess, about the same number of times as you have stormed out under your own power, slamming the door so hard it sprung half the seams of the ship and swearing you'd slice me up into sandwich meat if I ever so much as looked at you again."
"That's what I mean. But how come we got off on this subject, I wonder? Because when we aren't fighting, like now, it's purely wonderful. So I'll say it again. Good night, Clee, darling."
"Good night, ace." In the dark his lips sought hers and found them.
The fervor of her kiss was not only much more intense than any he had ever felt before. It was much, very much more intense than Belle Bellamy had either wanted it or intended it to be.
Next morning, at the workman's hour of eight o'clock, the four Tellurians appeared in the office of Margonia's Galaxian Field.
"The first thing to do, Deggi, is to go over in detail your blueprints for the generators and the drive," Garlock said.
"I suppose so. The funny pictures, eh?" Delcamp had learned much, the previous day; his own performance with the Pleiades had humbled him markedly.
"By no means, my friend," Garlock said, cheerfully. "While your stuff isn't exactly like ours--it couldn't be, hardly; the field is so big and so new--that alone is no reason for it not to work. James can tell you. He's the Solar System's top engineer. What do you think, Jim?"
"What I saw in the ship yesterday will work. What few of the prints I saw yesterday will fabricate, and the fabrications will work. The main trouble with this project, it seems to me, is that nobody's building the ship."
"What do you mean by that crack?" Fao blazed.
"Just that. You're a bunch of prima donnas; each doing exactly as he pleases. So some of the stuff is getting done three or four times, in three or four different ways, while a lot of it isn't getting done at all."
"Such as?" Delcamp demanded, and--
"Well, if you don't like the way we are doing things you can..." Fao began.
"Just a minute, everybody." Lola came in, with a disarming grin. "How much of that is hindsight, Jim? You've built one, you know--and from all accounts, progress wasn't nearly as smooth as your story can be taken to indicate."
"You've got a point there, Lola," Garlock agreed. "We slid back two steps for every three we took forward."
"Well ... maybe," James admitted.
"So why don't you, Fao and Deggi, put Jim in charge of construction?"
Fao threw back her silvery head and glared, but Delcamp jumped at the chance. "Would you, Jim?"
"Sure--unless Miss Talaho objects."
"She won't." Delcamp's eyes locked with Fao's, and Fao kept still. "Thanks immensely, Jim. And I know what you mean." He went over to a cabinet of wide, flat drawers and brought back a sheaf of drawings. Not blueprints, but original drawings in pencil. "Such as this. I haven't even got it designed yet, to say nothing of building it."