The Galaxy Primes
The Pleiades landed on Margonia's Galaxian Field, where the Tellurians found the project running smoothly, a little ahead of schedule. Delcamp and Fao were working at their fast and efficient pace, but the hairy pair from Thaker seemed to be, literally, everywhere at once.
"Hi, Belle." Fao 'ported up and shook hands warmly. "I thought I was going to have the first double-Prime baby, until she appeared on the scene."
"Didn't it make you mad? I'd've been furious."
"Maybe a little at first, but not after I'd talked with her for half a minute. She'd never even thought of that angle. Besides, she thinks the whole galaxy is fairly crawling with double-Primes."
"That's funny--so does Clee. But there are other things--strictly not angles--that she hasn't thought of, too. If those coveralls were half an inch tighter they'd choke her to death. You'd think she'd..."
"Huh?" Fao interrupted. "You should scream--oh, that ridiculous Tellurian prud..."
"It isn't ridiculous!" Belle snapped. "And it isn't prudishness, either--not with me, anyway. It's just that," she ran an indicative glance over Fao's lean, trim flanks and hard, flat abdomen, "it spoils your figure. It's only temporary, of course, but..."
"Spoils it! Why, how utterly idiotic! Why, it's magnificent! Just as soon as it starts to show on me, Belle, I'm going to start wearing only half as many clothes as I've got on now."
"You couldn't." Belle eyed the other girl's bathing-suit-like garment. Except for being blue instead of yellow, it was the same as the one she had worn before. "Not without the League for Public Decency sending the wagon out after you."
"Oh, Miss Experience? Well, three-quarters, maybe..."
"Hey, you two!" came Delcamp's hail. "How about cutting the gab and getting some work done?"
"Coming, boss! 'Scuse it, please!" and two fast and skillful women went efficiently to work.
With six Prime Operators on the job the work went on very rapidly, yet without error. The Celestial Queen was finished, tested, and found perfect, one full day ahead of James' most optimistic estimate for construction alone. The six Primes conferred.
"Do you want us to help you pick up the other Primes?" Delcamp asked. "Your Main, big as it is, will be crowded, and we have three ships here now instead of one."
"I don't think so ... no," Garlock decided. "We told 'em we'd do it, and in the Pleiades, so we'd better. Unless, Alsyne, you don't agree?"
"I agree. The point, while of course minor, is very well taken. We and our Operators--we brought six along; experts in their various fields--can serve best by working on Tellus with its Galaxian Society in getting ready for the meeting."
"Oh, of course," Fao said. "Probably Deg and I should do the same thing?"
"That would be our thought." The two Thakerns were thinking--and lepping--in fusion. "However," they went on carefully, "it must not be and is not our intent to sway you in any action or decision. While not all of you four, perhaps, are as yet fully mature, not one of you should be subjected to any additional exterior stresses."
"I hope you don't think that way about all Primes," Garlock said, grimly. "I'm going to smack some of those kids down so hard that their shirt-tails will roll up their backs like window shades."
"If you find such action either necessary or desirable, we will join you quite happily in it. We go."
The four remaining Primes looked at each other in puzzled surprise.
"What do you think about that?" Garlock asked finally, of no one in particular.
"I don't understand them," Fao said, "but they're mighty nice people."
"Do you suppose, Clee," Belle nibbled at her lower lip, "that we're getting off on the wrong foot with uniforms and admirals and things? That with really adult Primes running things the Galactic Service would run itself? No bosses or anything?"
"Umnngk." Garlock grunted as though Belle had slugged him. "I hope not. Or do I? Anyway, not enough data yet to make speculation profitable. But I wonder, Miss Bellamy, if it would be considered an unjustifiable attempt to sway you in any action or decision if I were to suggest--Oh, ever so diffidently!--that if we're going to saddle up our bronks and ride out on roundup tomorrow morning we ought to be logging some sack-time right now?"
"Considering the source, as well as and/or in connection with the admittedly extreme provocation," Belle straightened up into a regal pose, "You may say, Mister Garlock, without fear of successful contradiction, that in this instance no umbrage will be taken, at least for the moment." She broke the pose and giggled infectiously. "'Night, you two lovely people!"
Belle was still sunny and gay when the Pleiades reached Lizoria; Garlock was inwardly happy and outwardly content. Semolo, however, was his usual intransigent self. In fact, if it had not been for Mirea Mitala, and the fact that she--metaphorically--did pin Semolo's ears back, Garlock would not have taken him aboard at all.
Thus, after loading on only one pair of Primes, that auspiciously-beginning day had lost some of its luster; and as the day wore on it got no better fast. Baver of Falne had not learned anything, either--only Garlock's intervention saved the cocky and obstreperous Semolo from a mental blast that would have knocked him out cold.
Then there were Onthave and Lerthe of Crenna; Korl and Kirl of Gleer; Parleof and Ginseona of Pasquerone; Atnim and Sotara of Flandoon, and eighty others. Very few of them were as bad as Semolo; some of them, particularly the Pasqueronians and the Gleerans, were almost as good as Delcamp and Fao.
This was the first time that any pair of them had ever come physically close to any other Prime. Many of them had not really believed that any Primes abler than themselves existed. The Pleiades was crowded, and Garlock and Belle were not giving to any of them the deference and consideration and submissive respect which each considered his unique due.
Wherefore the undertaking was neither easy nor pleasant; and both Tellurians were tremendously relieved when, the last pair picked up, they flashed the starship back to Tellus and Delcamp, Fao, and the Thakerns 'ported themselves aboard.
"Give me your attention, please," Garlock said, crisply. Then, after a moment, "Any and all who are not tuned to me in five seconds will be returned immediately to their home planets and will lose all contact with this group...
"That's better. For some of you this has been a very long day. For all of you it has been a very trying day. You were all informed previously as to what we had in mind. However, since you are young and callow, and were thoroughly convinced of your own omniscience and omnipotence, it is natural enough that you derived little or no benefit from that information. You are now facing reality, not your own fantasies.
"Each pair of you has been assigned a suite of rooms in Galaxian Hall. Each suite is furnished appropriately; each is fully Gunthered for self-service.
"This meeting has not been announced to the public and, at least for the present, will not be. Therefore none of you will attempt to communicate with anyone outside Galaxian Hall. Anyone making any such attempt will be surprised.
"The meeting will open at eight o'clock tomorrow morning in the auditorium. The Thakerns and the Margonians will now inform you as to your quarters." There was a moment of flashing thought. "Dismissed."
At one second before eight o'clock the auditorium was empty. At eight o'clock, ninety-eight human beings appeared in it; six on the stage, the rest occupying the first few rows of seats.
"Good morning, everybody," Garlock said, pleasantly. "Everyone being rested, fed, and having had some time in which to consider the changed reality faced by us all, I hope and am inclined to believe that we can attain friendship and accord. We will spend the next hour in becoming acquainted with each other. We will walk around, not teleport. We will meet each other physically, as well as mentally. We will learn each other's forms of greeting and we will use them. This meeting is adjourned until nine o'clock--or, rather, the meeting will begin then."
For several minutes no one moved. All blocks were locked at maximum. Each Prime used only his eyes.
Physically, it was a scene of almost overpowering perfection. The men were, without exception, handsome, strong, and magnificently male. The women, from heroically-framed Fao Talaho up--or down?--to surprisingly slender Mirea Mitala, all were arrestingly beautiful; breathtakingly proportioned; spectacularly female.
Clothing varied from complete absence to almost complete coverage, with a bewildering variety of intermediate conditions. Color was rampant.
Hair--or lack of it--was also an individual and highly variant matter. Some of the women, like Belle and Fao, were content with one solid but unnatural shade. One shaven head--Mirea Mitala's--was deeply tanned, but unadorned, even though the rest of her body was almost covered by precious stones. Another was decorated with geometrical and esoteric designs in eye-searing colors. A third supported a structure--it could not possibly be called a hat--of spun metal and gems.
Among the medium-and long-hairs there were two-, three-, and multi-toned jobs galore. Some of the color-combinations were harmonious; some were sharply contrasting, such as black and white; some looked as though their wearers had used the most violently-clashing colors they could find.
The prize-winner, however, was Therea of Thaker's enormous, inexplicable mop; and it was that phenomenon that first broke the ice.
The girl with the decorated scalp had been glancing questioningly at neighbor after neighbor, only to be met by uncompromising stares. Finally, however, her gaze met another, as interested as her own. This second girl, whose coiffure was a high-piled confection of black, white, yellow, red, blue, and green, half-masted her screen and said:
"Oh, thanks, Jethay of Lodie-Yann. I'm glad everybody isn't going to stay locked up all day. I'm Ginseona of Pasquerone. They call me 'Jin' whenever they want to call me anything printable. And this," she dug a knuckle into her companion's short ribs, whereupon he jumped, whirled around, lowered his screen, and grinned, "is my ... the boy friend, Parleof. Also of Pasquerone, of course. Par, both Jethay and I..."
"Call me 'Jet'--everybody does," Jethay said: almost shyly, for a Prime.
"Both Jet and I have been wondering about that woman's hair--over there. How could you possibly give a head of hair a static charge of fifty or a hundred kilovolts and not have it leak off?"
"You couldn't, unless it was a perfectly-insulated wig ... but it looks as though she did, at that..." and Parleof paused in thought.
"Maybe Byuk would have an idea or two," and Jet uttered aloud a dozen or so crackling syllables that sounded as though they could have been ladylike profanity. Whatever they were, Byuk jumped, too, and tuned in with the other three.
"Oh, it's quite easy, really," Therea said then. "Look." Her mass of hair cascaded gracefully down around her neck and shoulders. "Look again." Each hair stood fiercely out all by itself, exactly as before. "All you young people will learn much more difficult and much more important things before this meeting is over. I cannot tell you how glad I am that so many of you are here."
And so it went, all over the auditorium. Once cracked, the ice broke up fast.
Fao and Delcamp worked hard; so did Belle and Garlock. Alsyne was a potent force indeed--his abounding vitality and his tremendous smile broke down barriers that logic could not affect. And Therea worked near-miracles; did more than the other five combined. Her sympathy, her empathy, her understanding and feeling, were as great as Lola's own; her operative ability was as much greater than Lola's as Lola's was greater than that of a bobby-soxed babysitter.
Thus, when half of the hour was gone, Garlock heaved a profound sigh of relief. He wouldn't have half the trouble he had expected--it was not going to be a riot. And when he called the meeting to order he was pleasanter and friendlier than Belle had ever before seen him.
"While I am calling this meeting to order, it is only in the widest possible sense that I am its presiding officer, for we have as yet no organization by the delegated authority of which any man or any woman has any right to preside. Yesterday I ruled by force; simply because I am stronger than any one of you or any pair of you. Today, in the light of the developments of the last hour, that rule is done; except, perhaps, for one or two isolated and non-representative cases which may develop today. By this time tomorrow, I hope that we will be forever done with the law of claw and fang. For, as a much abler man has said--'To the really mature mind, the concept of status is completely invalid.'"
"He's putting that as a direct quote, Alsyne, and it isn't." Belle lanced the thought.
"He thinks it is," Alsyne flashed back. "That is the way his mathematician's mind recorded it."
"This meeting is informal, preliminary and exploratory. A meeting of minds from which, we hope, a useful and workable organization can be developed. Since you all know what we think it basically should be, there is no need to repeat it.
"I must now say something that a few of you will construe as a threat. You are all Prime Operators. Each pair of you is the highest development of a planet, perhaps of a solar system. You can learn if you will. You can cooperate if you will. Any couple here who refuses to learn, and hence to cooperate, will be returned to its native planet and will have no further contact with this group.
"I now turn this meeting over to our first moderators, Alsyne and Therea of Thaker; the oldest and ablest Prime Operators of us all."
"Thank you, Garlock of Tellus. One correction, however, if you please. I who speak am neither this man nor this woman standing here, but both. I am the Prime Unit of Thaker. For brevity, and for the purposes of this meeting only, I could be called simply 'Thaker.' Before calling for general discussion I wish to call particular attention to two points, neither of which has been sufficiently emphasized.
"First, the purpose of a Prime Operator is to serve, not to rule. Thus, no Prime should be or will be 'boss' of anything, except possibly of his own starship.
"Second, since we have no data we do not know what form the proposed Galactic Service will assume. One thing, however, is sure. Whatever power of enforcement or of punishment it may have will derive, not from its Primes, but from the fact that it will be an arm of the Galactic Council, which will be composed of Operators only. No Prime will be eligible for membership."
Thaker went on to explain how each pair could obtain instruction and assistance in many projects, including starships. How each pair would, when they were mature enough, be coached in the use of certain abilities they did not as yet have. He suggested procedures and techniques to be employed in the opening up of each pair's volume of space. He then asked for questions and comments.
Semolo was the first. "If I'm a good little boy," he sneered, "and do exactly as I'm told, and take over the region you tell me to and not the one I want to, what assurance have I that some other Prime, just because he's a year older than I am, won't come along and take it away from me?"
"Your question is meaningless," Thaker replied. "Since you will not 'take over, ' or 'have, ' or 'own, ' any region, it cannot be 'taken away from you.'"
"Then I will..." Semolo began.
"You will keep still!" came a clear, incisive thought, just as Garlock was getting ready to intervene. Miss Mitala then switched from thought, which everyone there could understand, and launched a ten-second blast of furious speech. Semolo wilted and the girl went on in thought: "He'll be good--or else."
A girl demanded recognition and got it. "Semolo's right. What's the use of being Primes if we can't get any good out of it? We're the strongest people of our respective worlds. I say we're bosses and should keep on being bosses."
Garlock got ready to shut her up, then paused; holding his fire.
"Ah, yes, friend Garlock, you are maturing fast," came Thaker's thought and, in answer to Garlock's surprise, it went on, "This situation will, I think, be self-adjusting; just as will be those in the as yet unexplored regions of space."
The girl kept on. "I, at least, am going to keep on bossing my own planet, milking it just as I..."
Her companion had been trying to crack her shield. Failing in that, he stepped in close and tapped her--solidly, but with carefully-measured force--behind the ear. Before she could fall, he 'ported her back up into their quarters. "This happens all the time," he explained to the group at large. "Carry on."
Discussion went on, with less and less acrimony, all the rest of the day. And the next day, and the next. Then, argument having reached the point of diminishing returns, the three starships took the forty-six couples home.
The six Primes went into Evans' office, where the lawyer was deeply engaged with Gerald Banks, the Galaxians' Public Relations Chief. Banks was holding his head in both hands.
"Garlock, maybe you can tell me," Banks demanded. "How much of this stuff, if any, can I publish? And if so, how?"
"Nothing," Garlock said, flatly.
"What do you think, Thaker?" Belle asked. "You're smarter than we are."
"What Thaker thinks has no bearing," Garlock said.
Belle, Fao, and Delcamp all began to protest at once, but they were silenced by Thaker himself.
"Garlock is right. My people are not your people; I know not at all how your people think or what they will or will not believe. I go."
"That lets Deg and me out too; then, double-plus," Fao said with a grin, "so we'll leave that baby on your laps. We go, too."
"Well, little Miss Weisenheimer," Garlock smiled quizzically at Belle, "You grabbed the ball--what are you going to do with it?"
"Nothing, I guess..." Belle thought for a minute. "We couldn't stuff any part of that down the throat of a simple-minded six-year-old. We haven't really got anything, anyway. Time enough, I think, when we have six or seven hundred planets in each region, instead of only one planet. Maybe we'll know something by then. Does that make sense?"
"It does to me," Garlock said, and the others agreed.
"That Thakern 'we go' business sounds rough at first, but it's contagious. Fao and Deggi caught it, and I feel like I'm coming down with it myself. How about you, Clee?"
"We go," Belle and Garlock said in unison, and vanished.
Aboard the Pleiades, the next few days passed quietly enough. James set up, in the starship's memory banks, a sequence to mass-produce instruction tapes and blueprints. Garlock and Belle began systematically to explore the Tellurian Region. Now, however, their technique was different. If either Prime of any world was not enthusiastic about the project--
"Very well. Think it over," they would say. "We will get in touch with you again in about a year," and the starship would go on to the next planet.
On Earth, however, things became less and less tranquil with every day that passed. For, in deciding not to publish anything, Garlock had not considered at all the basic function and the tremendous ability, power, and scope of The Press. And Galaxian Hall had never before been closed to the public; not for any hour of any day of any year of its existence. A non-profit organization, dependent upon the public for its tremendous income, the Galaxian Society had always courted that public in every possible ethical way.
Thus, in the first hour of closure, a bored reporter came out, read the smoothly-phrased notice, and lepped it in to the desk. It might be worth, he thought, half an inch.
Later in the day, however, the world's most sensitive news-nose began to itch. Did, or did not, this quiet, unannounced closing smell ever-so-slightly of cheese? Wherefore, Benjamin Bundy, the newscaster who had covered the starship's maiden flight, went out himself to look the thing over. He found the whole field closed. Not only closed, but Gunther-blocked impenetrably tight. He studied the announcement, his sixth sense--the born newsman's sense for news--probing every word.
"Regret ... research ... of such extreme delicacy ... vibration ... temperature control ... one one-hundredth of one degree Centigrade..."
He sought out his long-time acquaintance Banks; finding him in a temporary office half a block away from the Hall. "What's the story, Jerry?" he asked. "The real story, I mean?"
"You know, as much about it as I do, Ben. Garlock and James don't waste time trying to detail me on that kind of business, you know."
This should have satisfied any newshawk, but Bundy's nose still itched. He mulled things over for a minute, then probed, finding that he could read nothing except Banks' outermost, most superficial thoughts.
"Well ... maybe ... but..." Then Bundy plunged. "All you have to do, Jerry, is tell me screens-half-down that your damn story is true."
"And that's the one thing I can't do," Banks admitted; and Bundy could not detect that any part of his sheepishness was feigned. "You're just too damned smart, Ben."
"Oh--one of those things? So that's it?"
"Yup. I told Evans it might not work."
That should have satisfied the reporter, but it didn't. "Now it doesn't smell just a trifle cheesy; it stinks like rotten fish. You won't go screens down on that one, either."
"Oh, joy!" Bundy exulted. "So big that Gerald Banks, the top press-agent of all time, actually doesn't want publicity! The starship works--this lack-of-control stuff is the bunk--from here to another star in nothing flat--Garlock's back, and he's brought--what have you got in there, Jerry?"
"The only way I can tell you is in confidence, for Evans' release. I'd like to, Ben, believe me, but I can't."
"Confidence, hell! Do you think we won't get it?"
"In that case, no comment." The interview ended and the siege began.
Newshounds and detectives questioned and peered and probed. They dug into morgues, tabulating and classifying. They recalled and taped and sifted all the gossip they had heard. They got a picture of sorts, but it was maddeningly confusing and incomplete. And, since it was certain that inter-systemic matters were involved, they could not extrapolate--any guess was far too apt to be wrong. Thus nothing went on the air or appeared in print; and, although the surface remained calm, all newsdom seethed to its depths.
Wherefore haggard Banks and harried Evans greeted Garlock with shouts of joy when the four wanderers came back to spend the week end on Earth.
"I'll talk to 'em," Garlock decided, after the long story had been told. "Have somebody get hold of Bundy and ask him to come out."
"Get hold of him!" Banks snorted. "He's here. Twenty-four hours a day. Eating sandwiches and cat-napping on chairs in the lobby. All you have to do is unseal that door."
Garlock flung the door wide. Bundy rushed in, followed by a more-or-less steady stream of some fifty other top-bracket newspeople, both men and women.
"Well, Garlock, perhaps you will give us some screens-down facts?" Bundy asked, angrily.
"I'll give you all the screens-down..."
"Clee!" "You're crazy!" "You can't!" "Don't!" Belle and all the Operators protested at once.
Ignoring the objections, Garlock cut his shield to half and gave the whole group a true account of everything that had happened in the galaxy. Then, while they were all too stunned to speak, a grin of saturnine amusement spread over his dark, five-o'clock-shadowed face.
"You pestiferous gnats insisted on grabbing the ball," he sneered. "Now let's see you run with it."
Bundy came out of his trance. "What a story!" he yelled. "We'll plaster it..."
"Yeah," Garlock said, dryly. "What a story. Exactly."
"Oh." Bundy deflated suddenly. "You'll have to prove it--demonstrate it--of course."
"Of course? You tickle me. Not only do I not have to prove it, I won't. I won't even confirm it."
Bundy glared at Garlock, then whirled on Banks. "If you don't give me this in shape to use, you'll never get another line or mention anywhere!"
"Oh, no?" For the first time in his professional life Banks gloated, openly and avidly. "From now on, my friend, who is in the saddle? Who is going to come to whom? Oh, brother!"
When the fuming newsmen had gone, Garlock said, "It'll leak, of course."
"Of course," Banks agreed. "'It is rumored... ' 'from a usually reliable source... ' and so on. Nothing definite, but each one of them will want to put out the first and biggest."
"That's what I figured. It'll have to break sometime and I thought easing it out would be best ... but wait a minute..." he thought for two solid minutes. "But we're going to need a lot of money, and we're just about broke, aren't we?" This thought was addressed to Frank Macey, the Galaxians' treasurer.
"Worse than broke--much worse."
"I could loan you a couple of credits, Frank," Belle said, brightly. "But go ahead, Clee."
"People like to be sidewalk superintendents. Suppose they could watch the construction of an outpost so far away that nobody ever dreamed of ever getting there. Could you do anything with that, Jerry?"
"Could I! Just!" and Banks, went into a rhapsody.
"That's the first good idea any one of you crackpots has had for five years," Macey said, suddenly. "But wouldn't transportation of material and so on present problems?"
"No; just buying it," Garlock said, soberly. "Oh, rather, paying for it."
"No trouble there..."
"What?" Belle exclaimed. "'No trouble, ' it says here in fine print? How the old skinflint has changed--instead of screaming his head off about spending money he's actually offering to. Frank, I'll loan you three credits!"
"Hush, honey-chile, the men-folks are talking man-business. Look, Clee. We'll use the Pleiades at first, while we're building a regular transport. A hundred passengers per trip, one thousand credits one way..."
"Wow!" Belle put in. "Our ex-skinflint is now a bare-faced, legally-protected robber."
"By no means, Belle," Evans said. "How much would that be per mile?"
"Say ten round trips per day. That would be twenty million a day gross for a small ship not intended for passenger service. When we get ships built ... and the extras..." The money-man went into a financial revel of his own.
"Lots of extras," Banks agreed. "And oh, brother, what a public-relations dream of heaven!"
"Maybe I'm dumb," Garlock broke in, "but just what are you going to use for money to get started?"
"The minute we confirm any part of the story, the credit of the Galaxian Society will jump from X-O to AA-A1."
"Oh. So Belle and I will have to lose our Pleiades for a while. I don't like that, but we do need the money ... but we can have her for this coming week?"
"So maybe we'd better break the story now, instead of letting it leak."
"Can you, after what you just told them?"
"Sure I can." He set his mind and searched. "Bundy, this is Garlock..."
"So what am I supposed to do--burst into tears of joy?"
"Save it. I changed my mind. You can break it as fast and as hard as you like. I'll play along."
"Yeah? Why the switch? What's the angle?"
"Strictly commercial. Get it from Banks."
"And you'll--personally--go on my hour with it?"
"Yes. Also, we'll demonstrate--take you to any star-system in the galaxy. You and all the rest of the newshawks who were here and any fifty VIP's you want to invite. Tomorrow morning all right with you?"
"You, personally, in the Pleiades?" Bundy insisted.
"Better than that. The other two starships, too. You've got them--particularly those four Primes--clearly in mind?"
"Not exactly, there was so much of it. Spread it on me now, huh?" Garlock did so. "Thanks, pal, for the scoop. I'll crash it right now, and follow up with Banks. 'Bye!"
"Think you can deliver on that, Clee?" Banks asked.
"Sure. Both Deggi and Alsyne will need a lot of extra money, fast. They'll play along."