The Galaxy Primes
Next morning, early, Belle tapped lightly on Garlock's door.
She did so. "Have you had your coffee?"
"So have I."
Neither Belle nor Garlock had recovered; both faces showed strain and drain.
"I think we'd better break this up," Belle said, quietly.
"Check. We'll have to, if we expect to get any work done."
Belle could not conceal her surprise.
"Oh, not for the reason you think," Garlock went on, quickly. "Your record as a man-killer is still one hundred point zero zero zero percent. I've been in love with you ever since we paired. Before that, even."
"Flapdoodle!" she snorted, inelegantly. "Why, I..."
"Keep still a minute. And I'm not going to fight with you again. Ever. I'm not going to touch you again until I can control myself a lot better than I could last night."
"Oh? That was mostly my fault, of course. But in love? Uh-uh, I've seen men in love. You aren't. I couldn't make you be, not with the best I could do. Not even in bed. You aren't, Clee--if you are, I'm an Australian bushman."
"Perhaps I'm an atypical case. I'm not raving about your perfect body--you know what that is like already. Nor about your mind, which is the only one I know of as good as my own. Maybe I'm in love with what I think you ought to be ... or what I hope you will be. Anyway, I'm in love with something connected with you--and with no other woman alive. Shall we go eat?"
They joined Lola and James at the table; and if Lola noticed anything out of the ordinary, she made no sign.
And after breakfast, in the Main--
"About three weeks, Jim, you think?" Garlock asked.
"Give or take a couple of days, yes."
"And Belle and I would just be in the way--at least until time to show Deggi about the activation ... and all those Primes to organize ... we'd better leave you here, don't you think, and get going?"
"I'll buy that. We'll finish as soon as possible."
Lola and James moved a few personal belongings planetside; Garlock and Belle shot the Pleiades across a vast gulf of space to one of the planets they had scanned so fleetingly on their preliminary survey. Its name was, both remembered, Lizoria; its two Primes were named Rezdo Semolo and Mirea Mitala--male and female, respectively.
After sending down a very brief and perfunctory request for audience--which was in effect a declaration of intent and nothing else--Garlock and Belle teleported themselves down into Semolo's office, where both Lizorian Primes were.
Both got up out of peculiar-looking chairs to face their visitors. Both were tall; both were peculiarly thin. Not the thinness of emaciation, but that of bodily structure.
"On them it looks good," Belle tight-beamed a thought to Garlock.
Both moved fast and with exquisite control; both were extraordinarily graceful. "Snaky" was Belle's thought of the woman; "sinuous" was Garlock's of the man. Both were completely hairless, of body and of head--not by nature, but via electric-shaver clipping. Both wore sandals. The man wore shorts and a shirt-like garment of nylon or its like; the woman wore just enough ribbons and bands to hold a hundred thousand credits' worth of jewels in place. She appeared to be about twenty years--Tellurian equivalent--old; he was probably twenty-three or twenty-four.
"We did not invite you in and we do not want you here," Semolo said, coldly. "So get out, both of you. If you don't, when I count three I'll throw you out, and I won't be too careful about how many of your bones I break. One ... Two..."
"Pipe down, Rezdo!" the girl exclaimed. "They have something we haven't, or they wouldn't be here. Whatever it is, we want it."
"Oh, let him try, Miss Mitala," Garlock said, through her hard-held block, in the depth of her mind. "He won't hurt us a bit and it may do him some good. While he's wasting effort I'll compare notes with my partner here, Galactic Vice-Admiral Belle Bellamy. I'm glad to see that one of you has at least a part of a brain."
" ... Three!" Semolo did his best, with everything he had, without even attracting Garlock's attention. He then tried to leap at the intruder physically, despite the latter's tremendous advantage in weight and muscle, but found that he could not move.
Then, through Belle's solidly-set blocks, "How are you doing, ace? Getting anywhere?"
"My God!" came Belle's mental shriek. "What--how can--but no, you didn't give that to Fao, surely!"
"I'll say I didn't--nor to Delcamp. But you're going to need it, I'm thinking."
"But can you? Even if you would--and I'm just beginning to realize how big a man you really are--can that kind of stuff be taught? I probably haven't got the brain-cells it takes to handle it."
"I'm not sure, but I've reworked our Prime Fields into one and made a couple of other changes. Theoretically, it ought to work. Shall I come in and try it?"
"Don't be an idiot, darling. Of course!"
As impersonally as a surgeon exploring an organ, Garlock went into Belle's mind. "Tune to the field ... that's it--fine! Then--I'll do it real slow, and watch me close--you do like so ... get it?"
"Uh-huh!" Belle breathed, excitedly. "Got it!"
"Then this ... and this ... and there you are. You can try it on me, if you like."
"Uh-uh. No sale. I don't need practice and I'd like to preserve the beautiful illusion that maybe I could crack your shield if I wanted to. I'll work on Miss Snake-Hips here, the serpentine charmer--but say, I'll bet there's a bone in it. You can block it, can't you?"
"Yes. It goes like this." He showed her. "It takes full mastery of the Prime Field, but you've got that."
"Oh, wonderful! Thanks, Clee darling. But do you mean to actually say I can now completely block you or any other Prime out?"
"You're going too far, ace. Me, yes--but don't forget that there very well may be people--or things--as far ahead of us as we are ahead of pointer pups."
"Huh! Balloon-juice and prop-wash! I just know, Clee, that you're the absolute tops of the whole, entire, macrocosmic universe."
"Well, we can dream, of course." Garlock withdrew his mind from Belle's and turned his attention to the now quiet Semolo. "Well, my over-confident and contumacious young squirt; are you done horsing around or do you want to keep it up until you addle completely what few brains you have?"
The Lizorian made no reply; but merely glared.
"The trouble with you half-baked, juvenile--I almost added 'delinquent' to that, and perhaps I should have--Primes is that you know too damned much that isn't true. As an old Tellurian saying hath it, 'you're altogether too big for your britches.'
"Thus, simply because you have lived a few years on one single planet and haven't encountered anyone able to stand up to you, you've sold yourself on the idea that there's nobody, anywhere, who can. You're wrong--you couldn't be more so if you had an army to help you.
"What, actually, have you done? What, actually, have you got? Practically nothing. You haven't even started a starship; you've scarcely started making plans. You realize dimly that the theory is not in any of the books, that you'll have to slug it out for yourself, but that is work. So you're still just posing and throwing your weight around.
"As a matter of fact, you're merely a drop in a lake. There are thousands of millions of planets, and thousands of millions of Prime Operators. Most of them are probably a lot stronger than you are; many of them may be stronger than my partner and I are. I am not at all certain that you will pass even the first screening; but since you are without question a Prime Operator, I will deliver the message we came to deliver. Miss Mitala, do you want to listen or shall we drive it into you, too?"
"I want to listen to anyone or anything who has a working starship and who can do what you have just done."
"Very well," and Garlock told the general-distribution version of the story of the Galactic Service.
"Quite interesting," Semolo said loftily, at its end. "Whether or not I would be interested depends, of course, on whether there's a position high enough for..."
"I doubt very much if there's one low enough," Garlock cut in sharply. "However, since it's part of my job, I'll get in touch with you later. Okay, Belle."
And in the Main--"What a jerk!" Belle exclaimed. "What a half-cooked, half-digested pill! I simply marvel at your forbearance, Clee. You should have turned him inside out and hung him up to dry--especially behind the ears!" Then, suddenly, she giggled. "But do you know what I did?"
"I can guess. A couple of shots in the arm?"
"Uh-huh. Next time he pitches into her she'll slap his ears right off. Oh, brother!"
"Check and double-check. But let's hop to Number Two ... Here it is."
"Oh, yes," came a smooth, clear, diamond-sharp thought in reply to Garlock's introductory call. "This world, as you have perceived, is Falne. I am indeed Baver 14WD27, my companion Prime is indeed Glarre 12WD91. You are, we perceive, Bearers of the Truth; of great skill and of high advancement. Your visit here will, I am sure, be of immense benefit to us and possibly, I hope, of some small benefit to you. We will both be delighted to have you both 'port yourselves to us at once."
The Tellurians did so--and in the very instant of appearance Garlock was met by a blast of force the like of which he had never even imagined. The two Falnian Primes, capable operators both, had built up their highest possible potentials and had launched both terrific bolts without any hint of warning.
Belle's mind, however, was already fused with Garlock's. Their combined blocks were instantaneous in action; their counter-thrust was nearly so. Both Falnians staggered backward until they were stopped by the room's wall.
"Ah, yes," Garlock said, then. "You are indeed, in a small and feeble way, Seekers after the Truth; of which we are indeed Bearers. Lesser Bearers, perhaps, but still Bearers. You will indeed profit greatly from our visit. You err, however, in thinking that we may in any respect profit from you. You have nothing whatever that we have not had for long. Now let us, if you please, take a few seconds of time to get acquainted, each with the other."
"That, indeed, is the logical and seemly thing to do." Both Falnians straightened up and stepped forward; neither arrogantly nor apologetically, but simply as though nothing at all out of the ordinary had taken place.
Each pair studied the other. Physically, the two pairs were surprisingly alike. Baver was almost as big as Garlock; almost as heavily muscled. Glarre could have been cast in Belle's own mold.
With that, however, all resemblance ceased.
Both Falnians were naked. The man wore only a belt and pouch in lieu of pockets; the woman only a leather carryall slung from one shoulder--big enough, Garlock thought, to hold a week's supplies for an Explorer Scout.
His hair was thick, bushy, unkempt; sun-bleached to a nondescript blend of pale colors. Hers--long, heavy, meticulously middle-parted and dressed--was a startling two-tone job. To the right of the part it was a searingly brilliant red; to the left, an equally brilliant royal blue.
His skin was deeply tanned. The color of hers was completely masked by a bizarrely spectacular overlay of designs done in semi-indelible, multi-colored dyes.
"Ah, you are worthy indeed of receiving an increment of Truth. Hear, then, the message we bring," and again Garlock told the story.
"We thank you, sir and madam, from our hearts. We will accept with joy your help in finishing our ship; we will do all that in us lies to further the cause of the Galactic Service. Until a day, then?"
"Until a day." Then, to Belle, "Okay, ace. Ready? Go!"
And up in the Main--"Sweet Sin!" Belle exclaimed. "What a pair they turned out to be! Clee, that simply scared me witless."
"You can play that in spades." Garlock jammed his hands into his pockets and prowled about the room, his face a black scowl of concentration.
Until, finally, he pulled himself out of the brown study and said: "I've been trying to think if there's any other thing, however slight, that I have and you haven't. There isn't. You've got it all. You're just as fast as I am, just as sharp and as accurate--and, since we now draw on the same field, just as strong."
"Why Clee! You're worrying about me? You've done altogether too much for me, already."
"Anything I can do, I've got to do ... well, shall we go?"
They visited four more planets that day. And after supper that night, standing in the corridor between their doors, Belle began to soften her shield, as though to send a thought. Almost instantly, however, she changed her mind and snapped it back to full on.
"Good night, Clee," she said.
"Good night, Belle," and each went into his own room.
The next day they worked nine planets, and the day after that they worked ten. They ate supper in friendly fashion; then strolled together across the Main, to a davenport.
"It's funny," Belle said thoughtfully, "having this tremendous ship all to ourselves. To have a private conference right out here in the Main ... or is it?"
He triggered the shields, she watched him do it. "It is now," he assured her.
"Prime-proof? Not ordinary Gunther blocks?"
"Uh-huh. Two hundred kilovolts and four hundred kilogunts. Backed by all the force of the Prime and Op fields and the full power of the engines. I told you I'd made some changes in the set-up."
"Private enough, I guess ... what a mess those Primes are! And we'll have to make the rounds twice more--when we alert 'em and when we pick 'em up."
"Not necessarily. This new set-up ought to give us a galaxy-wide reach. Let's try Semolo, on Lizoria, shall we?"
"Tune in, then ace."
"Darling. You said you weren't going to fight with me any more. Okay--I'm not going to try any more to lick you until after I've licked myself. I'm tuned--you may fire when ready, Gridley."
They fired--and hit the mark dead center. Top-lofty and arrogant and belligerent as ever, the Lizorian Prime took the call. "I thought all the time you wanted something. Well, I neither want nor need..."
"Cut it, you unlicked cub, until you can begin to use that half-liter of golop you call a brain," Garlock said, harshly. "We're just trying out a new ultra-communicator. Thanks for your help."
On the fourth day they worked eleven planets; the fifth day saw the forty-sixth planet done and the immediate job finished. All during supper, it was very evident that Belle had something on her mind.
After eating, she went out into the Main and slumped down on a davenport. Garlock followed her. A cigarette leaped out of a closed box and into place between her lips. It came alight. She smoked it slowly, without relish; almost as though she did not know that she was smoking.
"Might as well get it out of your system, Belle," Garlock said aloud. "What are you thinking about at the moment?"
Belle exhaled; the half-smoked butt vanished. "At the moment I was thinking about Gunther blocks. Specifically, their total inability to cope with that new Prime probe of yours." She stared at him, narrow-eyed. "It goes through them just like nothing at all." She paused; eyed him questioningly.
"And yet you gave it to me. Freely, of your own accord. Even before I needed it. Why?"
"Still no comment."
"You'd better comment, Buster, before I blow my top."
"There is such a thing as urbanity."
"I've heard of it, yes; even though you never did believe I ever had any. You talk a good game of urbanity, but your brand of it would never carry you that far..."
She paused. He remained silent. She went on.
"Of course, it does put a lot of pressure on me to develop myself."
"I'm glad you used the word 'develop' instead of 'treat.'"
"Oh, sometimes--at rare intervals--I'm not exactly dumb. But you knew--you must have known--what a horrible risk you took in making me as tremendously powerful as you are."
"Some, perhaps, but very definitely less risky than not doing it."
"Getting information out of you is harder than pulling teeth. Clee Garlock, I want you to tell me why!"
"Very well." Garlock's jaw set. "You've had it in mind all along that this is some kind of a lark; that you and I are Gunther Tops of the universe. Or did that belief weaken a bit when we met Baver 14WD27?"
"Well, perhaps--a little. However, the probability is becoming greater with every planet we visit. After all, some race has to be tops. Why shouldn't it be us?"
"What a logic--excuse me, skip it..."
"Oh, you really meant it when you said you weren't going to fight with me any more?"
"I'm going to try not to. Now, remembering that I don't consider your premise valid, just suppose that when we visit some planet some day, you get your mind burned out and I don't--solely because I had something I could have given you and wouldn't. What then?"
"Oh. I thought that was what you ... but suppose I can't..."
"We won't suppose anything of the kind. But that wasn't all that was on your mind. Nor most."
"How true. Those Primes. The women. Honestly, Clee, I never saw--never imagined--such a bunch of exhibitionistic, obstreperous, obnoxious, swell-headed, hussies in my whole life. And every day it was borne in on me more and more that I was--am--exactly like the rest of them."
Garlock was wise enough to say nothing, and Belle went on: "I've been talking a good game of licking myself, but this time I'm going to do it."
She jumped up and doubled her fists. "If you can do it, I can," she declared. "Like the ancient ballad--'Anything you can do I can do better.'" She tried to be jaunty, but the jauntiness did not ring quite true.
"That's an unfortunate quotation, I'm afraid. The trouble is, I haven't."
"Huh? Don't be an idiot, Clee. You certainly have--what else do you suppose put me so far down into the dumps?"
"In that case, you certainly will. So come on up out of the dumps."
"Wilco--and I certainly will. But for a woman who has been talking so big, I feel low in my mind. A good-night kiss, Clee, darling? Just one--and just a little one, at that?"
There were more than one, and none of them was little. Eventually, however, the two stood, arms still around each other, in the corridor between their doors.
"But kissing's as far as it goes, isn't it," Belle said. The remark was not a question; nor was it quite a statement.
"So good night, darling."
"Good night, ace."
And when they next saw each other, at the breakfast table, Belle was apparently her usual dauntless self.
"Hi, darling--sit down," she said, gaily. "Your breakfast is on the table. Bacon, eggs, toast, strawberry jam, and a liter of coffee."
"Nice! Thanks, ace."
They ate in silence for a few minutes; then her hand crept tentatively across the table. He pressed it warmly. "You look a million, Belle. Out of the dumps?"
"Pretty much--in most ways. One way, though, I'm in deeper than ever. You see, I know exactly what you did to Fao Talaho; and why neither you or anybody else could do it to me. Or if they could, what would happen if they did."
"I was hoping you would. I couldn't very well tell you, before, but..."
"Of course not. I see that."
" ... the fact is that Fao, and all the others we've met, are young enough, unformed enough--plastic enough--yes, damn it, weak enough--to bend. But you are tremendously strong, and twelve Rockwell numbers harder than a diamond. You wouldn't bend. If enough stress could be applied--and that's decidedly questionable--you wouldn't bend. You'd break, and I can't figure it. You're a little older, of course, but not enough to..."
"How about the fact that I've been banging myself for eight years against Cleander Garlock, the top Prime of the universe and the hardest? That might have something to do with it, don't you think?"
Garlock said, "Indefensible conclusions drawn from insufficient data. That's just what I've been talking about. No matter how we got the way we are, though, the fact is that you and I have got to fight our own battles and bury our own dead."
"Check. Like having a baby, but worse. There's nothing anybody else can do--even you--except maybe hold my hand, like now."
"That's about it. But speaking of holding hands, would it help if we paired again?"
Belle studied the question for two full minutes; her fine eyes clouded. "No," she said, finally. "I would enjoy it too much, and you'd ... well, you wouldn't..."
"Huh?" he demanded.
"Oh, physically, of course; but that isn't enough, or good enough, now. You see, I know what your personal code is. It's unbelievable, almost--I never heard of one like it, except maybe a priest or two--but I admire you tremendously for it. You would never, willingly, pair with a woman you really loved. That was why you were so glad to break ours off. You can't deny it."
"I won't try to deny it. But you can't bluff me, Belle, so please quit trying. Basically, your code is the same as mine. Why else did you initiate our break?"
Belle's block went solid, and Garlock said hastily, aloud, "Excuse it, please. Cancel. I've just said, and know as an empirical fact, that you've got to do the job alone--but I can't seem to help putting my big, flat foot in it by blundering in anyway. Let's get to work, shall we?"
"What at? Interview the Primes, I'd say--tell them to hold themselves in readiness to attend..."
"On very short notice..."
"Yes. To attend the big meeting on Tellus. We'll have to make a schedule. It shouldn't be held until after Fao and Deggi get their ship built--it can't be held, of course, until after you and Jim are out of SSE. Have you got that figured out yet?"
"Pretty much." He told her his plan.
Belle giggled, then burst into laughter. "So I'm in it, too? Wonderful!"
"You have to be. If we make him mad enough, he'll fire you, too."
"Without hiring me first? He couldn't."
"He could, very easily. He doesn't know one-tenth of one percent of his people. If we work it right he'll assume that you're one of us wage-slaves, too. Lola, too, for that matter."
"Careful, Clee. You and I think this is funny, but Lola wouldn't. She'd be shocked to her sweet little core, and she'd louse up the whole deal. So be very sure she doesn't get in on it."
"I guess you're right ... well, shall we go out and insult our touchy young friend Semolo? Ready ... Go!"
"Oh, it's you again. I tell you..." the Lizorian began.
"You will tell me nothing. You will listen. Link your mind to Mitala's," and the linked Tellurian minds enforced the order. "In about two weeks the Primes of many worlds will meet in person on Tellus. Arrange your affairs so that on ten minutes' notice you both can leave Lizoria for Tellus aboard our starship, the Pleiades. That is all."
"He'll come, too," Belle chortled. "He'll writhe and scream, but he'll come."
"You couldn't keep him away," Garlock agreed.
On the next planet, Falne, the procedure was a little different. The information was the same, but--"One word of warning," Garlock added. "It is to be a meeting of minds; not a contest to set up a pecking-order. If you try any such business you will be disciplined; sharply and in public."
"Suppose that, under such conditions, we refuse to attend the meeting?"
"That is your right. There is no coercion whatever. Whether or not you come will depend upon whether or not you two are in reality Seekers after Truth. Until a day."