The Galaxy Primes

      by E. E. Smith / Fantasy

The Galaxy Primes
Produced by Greg Weeks, V. L. Simpson and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

[Transcriber's Note:

Typographic errors have been corrected.

This etext was produced from Amazing Stories March, April and May 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

* * * * *

THE GALAXY PRIMES

By E. E. SMITH

They were four of the greatest minds in the Universe: Two men, two women, lost in an experimental spaceship billions of parsecs from home. And as they mentally charted the Cosmos to find their way back to earth, their own loves and hates were as startling as the worlds they encountered. Here is E. E. Smith's great new novel....



The guardian struggled to immobilize the beast's gigantic talons as the frightened girl leaped to the safety of Garlock's arms.]

CHAPTER 1

Her hair was a brilliant green. So was her spectacularly filled halter.So were her tight short-shorts, her lipstick, and the lacquer on herfinger-and toe-nails. As she strolled into the Main of the starship,followed hesitantly by the other girl, she drove a mental probe at theblack-haired, powerfully-built man seated at the instrument-bankedconsole.

Blocked.

Then at the other, slenderer man who was rising to his feet from thepilot's bucket seat. His guard was partially down; he was telepathing apleasant, if somewhat reserved greeting to both newcomers.

She turned to her companion and spoke aloud. ”So _these_ are thesystem's best.” The emphasis was somewhere between condescension andsneer. ”Not much to choose between, I'd say ... 'port me a tenth-piece,Clee? Heads, I take the tow-head.”

She flipped the coin dexterously. ”Heads it is, Lola, so I getJim--James James James the Ninth himself. You have the honor of pairingwith Clee--or should I say His Learnedness Right the Honorable DirectorDoctor Cleander Simmsworth Garlock, Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor ofScience, Prime Operator, President and First Fellow of the GalaxianSociety, First Fellow of the Gunther Society, Fellow of the Institute ofParaphysics, of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, of the College ofMathematics, of the Congress of Psionicists, and of all the othertop-bracket brain-gangs you ever heard of? Also, for your information,his men have given him a couple of informal degrees--P.D.Q. and S.O.B.”

* * *

The big psionicist's expression of saturnine, almost contemptuousamusement had not changed; his voice came flat and cold. ”The less yousay, Doctor Bellamy, the better. Obstinate, swell-headed women give mean acute rectal pain. Pitching your curves over all the vizzies in spacegot you aboard, but it won't get you a thing from here on. And for yourinformation, Doctor Bellamy, one more crack like that and I take youover my knee and blister your fanny.”

”Try it, you big, clumsy, muscle-bound gorilla!” she jeered. ”_That_ Iwant to see! Any time you want to get both arms broken at the elbows,just try it!”

”Now's as good a time as any. I like your spirit, babe, but I can't saya thing for your judgment.” He got up and started purposefully towardher, but both non-combatants came between.

”Jet back, Clee!” James protested, both hands against the heavier man'schest. ”What the hell kind of show is _that_ to put on?” And,simultaneously:

”Belle! Shame on you! Picking a fight already, and with nobody knows howmany million people looking on! You know as well as I do that we mayhave to spend the rest of our lives together, so act like civilizedbeings--please--both of you! And don't....”

”Nobody's watching this but us,” Garlock interrupted. ”When pussy therestarted using her claws I cut the gun.”

”That's what _you_ think,” James said sharply, ”but Fatso and his numberone girl friend are coming in on the tight beam.”

”Oh?” Garlock whirled toward the hitherto dark and silentthree-dimensional communications instrument. The face of a bossy-lookingwoman was already bright.

”Garlock! How _dare_ you try to cut Chancellor Ferber off?” shedemanded. Her voice was deep-pitched, blatant with authority. ”Here youare, sir.”

The woman's face shifted to one side and a man's appeared--a face tojustify in full the nickname ”Fatso.”

”'Fatso', eh?” Chancellor Ferber snarled. Pale eyes glared from the fatface. ”That costs you exactly one thousand credits, James.”

”How much will this cost me, Fatso?” Garlock asked.

”Five thousand--and, since nobody can call me that deliberately,demotion three grades and probation for three years. Make a note, MissFoster.”

”Noted, sir.”

”Still sure we aren't going anywhere,” Garlock said. ”_What_ a brain!”

”Sure I'm sure!” Ferber gloated. ”In a couple of hours I'm going to buyyour precious starship in as junk. In the meantime, whether you like itor not, I'm going to watch your expression while you push all thosepretty buttons and nothing happens.”

”The trouble with you, Fatso,” Garlock said dispassionately, as heopened a drawer and took out a pair of cutting pliers, ”is that all yourstrength is in your glands and none in your alleged brain. There are alot of things--including a lot of tests--you know nothing about. Howmuch will you see after I've cut one wire?”

”You wouldn't dare!” the fat man shouted. ”I'd fire you--blacklist youall over the sys....”

Voice and images died away and Garlock turned to the two women in theMain. He began to smile, but his mental shield did not weaken.

”You've got a point there, Lola,” he said, going on as though Ferber'sinterruption had not occurred. ”Not that I blame either Belle or myself.If anything was ever calculated to drive a man nuts, this farce was. Asthe only female Prime in the system, Belle should have been inautomatically--she had no competition. And to anybody with three braincells working the other place lay between you, Lola, and the other threefemale Ops in the age group.

”But no. Ferber and the rest of the Board--stupidity _uberalles_!--think all us Ops and Primes are psycho and that the ship willnever even lift. So they made a Grand Circus of it. But they succeededin one thing--with such abysmal stupidity so rampant I'm getting moreand more reconciled to the idea of our not getting back--at least, for along, long time.”

”Why, they said we had a very good chance....” Lola began.

”Yeah, and they said a lot of even bigger damn lies than that one. Haveyou read any of my papers?”

”I'm sorry. I'm not a mathematician.”

”Our motion will be purely at random. If it isn't, I'll eat this wholeship. We won't get back until Jim and I work out something to steer uswith. But they must be wondering no end, outside, what the score is, soI'm willing to call it a draw--temporarily--and let 'em in again. Howabout it, Belle?”

”A draw it is--temporarily.” Neither, however, even offered to shakehands.

”Smile pretty, everybody,” Garlock said, and pressed a stud.

”... the matter? What's the matter? Oh....” the worried voice of theSystem's ace newscaster came in. ”Power failure _already_?”

”No,” Garlock replied. ”I figured we had a couple of minutes of privacycoming, if you can understand the meaning of the word. Now all four ofus tell everybody who is watching or listening _au revoir_ or good-bye,whichever it may turn out to be.” He reached for the switch.

”Wait a minute!” the newscaster demanded. ”Leave it on until the lastposs....” His voice broke off sharply.

”Turn it back on!” Belle ordered.

”Nix.”

”Scared?” she sneered.

”You chirped it, bird-brain. I'm scared purple. So would you be, if youhad three brain cells working in that glory-hound's head of yours. Getset, everybody, and we'll take off.”

”Stop it, both of you!” Lola exclaimed. ”Where do you want us to sit,and do we strap down?”

”You sit here; Belle at that plate beside Jim. Yes, strap down. Thereprobably won't be any shock, and we should land right side up, butthere's no sense in taking chances. Sure your stuff's all aboard?”

”Yes, it's in our rooms.”

The four secured themselves; the two men checked, for the dozenth time,their instruments. The pilot donned his scanner. The ship liftedeffortlessly, noiselessly. Through the atmosphere; through and farbeyond the stratosphere. It stopped.

”Ready, Clee?” James licked his lips.

”As ready as I ever will be, I guess. Shoot!”

The pilot's right hand, forefinger outstretched, movedunenthusiastically toward a red button on his panel ... slowed ...stopped. He stared into his scanner at the Earth so far below.

”Hit it, Jim!” Garlock snapped. ”_Hit_ it, for goodness sake, before we_all_ lose our nerve!”

James stabbed convulsively at the button, and in the very instant ofcontact--instantaneously; without a fractional microsecond oftime-lapse--their familiar surroundings disappeared. Or, rather, andwithout any sensation of motion, of displacement, or of the passage ofany time whatsoever, the planet beneath them was no longer theirfamiliar Earth. The plates showed no familiar stars nor patterns ofheavenly bodies. The brightly-shining sun was very evidently not theirfamiliar Sol.

”Well--we went _somewhere_ ... but not to Alpha Centauri, not much toour surprise.” James gulped twice; then went on, speaking almostjauntily now that the attempt had been made and had failed. ”So now it'sup to you, Clee, as Director of Project Gunther and captain of the goodship _Pleiades_, to boss the more-or-less simple--more, I hope--job ofgetting us back to Tellus.”

* * *

Science, both physical and paraphysical, had done its best. Gunther'sTheorems, which define the electromagnetic and electrograviticparameters pertaining to the annihilation of distance, had been studied,tested, and applied to the full. So had the Psionic Corollaries; which,while not having the status of paraphysical laws, do allow computationof the qualities and magnitudes of the stresses required for any givenapplication of the Gunther Effect.

The planning of the starship _Pleiades_ had been difficult in theextreme; its construction almost impossible. While it was practically aforegone conclusion that any man of the requisite caliber would alreadybe a member of the Galaxian Society, the three planets and eightsatellites were screened, psionicist by psionicist, to select the twostrongest and most versatile of their breed.

These two, Garlock and James, were heads of departments of, and underiron-clad contract to, vast Solar System Enterprises, Inc., the onlyconcern able and willing to attempt the building of the first starship.

Alonzo P. Ferber, Chancellor of SSE, however, would not risk atenth-piece of the company's money on such a bird-brained scheme.Himself a Gunther First, he believed implicitly that Firsts were in facttops in Gunther ability; that these few self-styled ”Operators” and”Prime Operators” were either charlatans or self-deluded crackpots.Since he could not feel that so-called ”Operator Field,” no such thingdid or could exist. No Gunther starship could ever, possibly, work.

He did loan Garlock and James to the Galaxians, but that was as far ashe would go. For salaries and for labor, for research and material, fortrials and for errors; the Society paid and paid and paid.

Thus the starship _Pleiades_ had cost the Galaxian Society almost athousand million credits.

Garlock and James had worked on the ship since its inception. They wereto be of the crew; for over a year it had been taken for granted thatwould be its only crew.

* * *

As the _Pleiades_ neared completion, however, it became clearer andclearer that the displacement-control presented an unsolved, and quitepossibly an insoluble, problem. It was mathematically certain that, whenthe Gunther field went on, the ship would be displaced instantaneouslyto some location in space having precisely the Gunther coordinatesrequired by that particular field. One impeccably rigorous analysisshowed that the ship would shift into the nearest solar systempossessing an Earth-type planet; which was believed to be Alpha Centauriand which was close enough to Sol so that orientation would be automaticand the return to Earth a simple matter.

Since the Gunther Effect did in fact annihilate distance, however,another group of mathematicians, led by Garlock and James, proved withequal rigor that the point of destination was no more likely to be anyone given Gunther point than any other one of the myriads of billions ofequiguntherial points undoubtedly existent throughout the length,breadth, and thickness of our entire normal space-time continuum.

The two men would go anyway, of course. Carefully-calculated pressureswould make them go. It was neither necessary nor desirable, however, forthem to go alone.

Wherefore the planets and satellites were combed again; this time toselect two women--the two most highly-gifted psionicists in theeighteen-to-twenty-five age group. Thus, if the _Pleiades_ returnedsuccessfully to Earth, well and good. If she did not, the four selecteeswould found, upon some far-off world, a race much abler than thehumanity of Earth; since eighty-three percent of Earth's dwellers hadpsionic grades lower than Four.

This search, with its attendant fanfare and studiedly blatant publicity,was so planned and engineered that two selected women did not arrive atthe spaceport until a bare fifteen minutes before the scheduled time oftake-off. Thus it made no difference whether the women liked the men ornot, or vice versa; or whether or not any of them really wanted to makethe trip. Pressures were such that each of them had to go, whether he orshe wanted to or not.

* * *

”Cut the rope, Jim, and let the old bucket drop,” Garlock said. ”Not tooclose. Before we make any kind of contact we'll have to do someorganizing. These instruments,” he waved at his console, ”show that oursis the only Operator Field in this whole region of space. Hence, thereare no Operators and no Primes. That means that from now until we getback to Tellus....”

”_If_ we get back to Tellus,” Belle corrected, sweetly.

”_Until_ we get back to Tellus there will be no Gunthering aboard thisship....”

”_What?_” Belle broke in again. ”Have you lost your mind?”

”There will be little if any lepping, and nothing else at all. At thetable, if we want sugar, we will reach for it or have it passed. We willpick up things, such as cigarettes, with our fingers. We will carrylighters and use them. When we go from place to place, we will walk. Isthat clear?”

”You seem to be talking English,” Belle sneered, ”but the words don'tmake sense.”

”I didn't think you were that stupid.” Eyes locked and held. ThenGarlock grinned savagely. ”Okay. You tell her, Lola, in words of as fewsyllables as possible.”

”Why, to get used to it, of course,” Lola explained, while Belle glaredat Garlock in frustrated anger. ”So as not to reveal anything we don'thave to.”

”Thank you, Miss Montandon, you may go to the head of the class. Allmonosyllables except two. That should make it clear, even to MissBellamy.”

”You ... you _beast_!” Belle drove a tight-beamed thought. ”I was neverso insulted in my life!”

”You asked for it. Keep on asking for it and you'll keep on getting it.”Then, aloud, to all three, ”In emergencies, of course, anything goes. Wewill now proceed with business.” He paused, then went on, bitingly, ”Ifpossible.”

”One minute, please!” Belle snapped. ”Just why, Captain Garlock, are youinsisting on oral communication, when lepping is so much faster andbetter? It's stupid--reactionary. Don't you ever lep?”

”With Jim, on business, yes; with women, no more than I have to. What Ithink is nobody's business but mine.”

”What a way to run a ship! Or a project!”

”Running this project is my business, not yours; and if there's any onething in the entire universe it does _not_ need, it's a femaleexhibitionist. Besides your obvious qualifications to be one of the Evesin case of Ultimate Contingency....” he broke off and stared at her, hiscontemptuous gaze traveling slowly, dissectingly, from her toes to thetopmost wave of her hair-do.

”Forty-two, twenty, forty?” he sneered.

”You flatter me.” Her glare was an almost tangible force; her voice wascontrolled fury.

”Thirty-nine, twenty-two, thirty-five. Five seven. One thirty-five. Ifany of it's any of your business, which it isn't. You should bediscussing brains and ability, not vital statistics.”

”Brains? You? No, I'll take that back. As a Prime, you _have_ got abrain--one that really works. What do _you_ think you're good for onthis project? What can you do?”

”I can do anything any man ever born can do, and do it better!”

”Okay. Compute a Gunther field that will put us two hundred thousandfeet directly above the peak of that mountain.”

”That isn't fair--not that I expected fairness from you--and you knowit. That doesn't take either brains or ability....”

”Oh, no?”

”No. Merely highly specialized training that you know I haven't had.Give me a five-tape course on it and I'll come closer than either you orJames; for a hundred credits a shot.”

”I'll do just that. Something you _are_ supposed to know, then. Howwould you go about making first contact?”

* * *

”Well, I wouldn't do it the way _you_ would--by knocking down the firstnative I saw, putting my foot on his face, and yelling 'Bow down, youstupid, ignorant beasts, and worship me, the Supreme God of theMacrocosmic Universe'!”

”Try again, Belle, that one missed me by....”

”Hold it, both of you!” James broke in. ”What the hell are you trying toprove? How about cutting out this cat-and-dog act and getting some workdone?”

”You've got a point there,” Garlock admitted, holding his temper by avisible effort. ”Sorry, Jim. Belle, what were you briefed for?”

”To understudy you.” She, too, fought her temper down. ”To learneverything about Project Gunther. I have a whole box of tapes in myroom, including advanced Gunther math and first-contact techniques. I'mto study them during all my on-watch time unless you assign otherduties.”

”No matter what your duties may be, you'll have to have time to study.If you don't find what you want in your own tapes--and you probablywon't, since Ferber and his Miss Foster ran the selections--use ourlibrary. It's good--designed to carry on our civilization. MissMontandon? No, that's silly, the way we're fixed. Lola?”

”I'm to learn how to be Doctor James'....”

”Jim, please, Lola,” James said. ”And call him Clee.”

”I'd like that.” She smiled winningly. ”And my friends call me'Brownie'.”

”I see why they would. It fits like a coat of lacquer.”

* * *

It did. Her hair was a dark, lustrous brown, as were her eyebrows. Hereyes were brown. Her skin, too--her dark red playsuit left little to theimagination--was a rich and even brown. Originally fairly dark, it hadbeen tanned to a more-than-fashionable depth of color by nakedsun-bathing and by practically-naked outdoor sports. A couple of inchesshorter than the green-haired girl, she too had a figure to make anysculptor drool.

”I'm to be Dr. Jim's assistant. I have a thousand tapes, more or less,to study, too. It'll be quite a while, I'm afraid, before I can be ofmuch use, but I'll do the best I can.”

”If we had hit Alpha Centauri that arrangement would have been good, butas we are, it isn't.” Garlock frowned in thought, his heavy blackeyebrows almost meeting above his finely-chiseled aquiline nose. ”Sinceneither Jim nor I need an assistant any more than we need tails, it wasdesigned to give you girls something to do. But out here, lost, there'swork for a dozen trained specialists and there are only four of us. Sowe shouldn't duplicate effort. Right? You first, Belle.”

”Are you asking me or telling me?” she asked. ”And that's a fairquestion. Don't read anything into it that isn't there. With yourattitude, I want information.”

”I am asking you,” he replied, carefully. ”For your information, when Iknow what should be done, I give orders. When I don't know, as now, Iask advice. If I like it, I follow it. Fair enough?”

”Fair enough. We're apt to need any number of specialists.”

”Lola?”

”Of course we shouldn't duplicate. What shall I study?”

”That's what we must figure out. We can't do it exactly, of course; allwe can do now is to set up a rough scheme. Jim's job is the only onethat's definite. He'll have to work full time on nebular configurations.If we hit inhabited planets he'll have to add their star-charts to hisown. That leaves three of us to do all the other work of a survey.Ideally, we would cover all the factors that would be of use in gettingus back to Tellus, but since we don't know what those factors are....Found out anything yet, Jim?”

”A little. Tellus-type planet, apparently strictly so. Oceans andcontinents. Lots of inhabitants--farms, villages, all sizes of cities.Not close enough to say definitely, but inhabitants seem to be humanoid,if not human.”

”Hold her here. Besides astronomy, which is all yours, what do we needmost?”

”We should have enough to classify planets and inhabitants, so as tochart a space-trend if there is any. I'd say the most important oneswould be geology, stratigraphy, paleontology, oceanography, xenology,anthropology, ethnology, vertebrate biology, botany, and at least someecology.”

”That's about the list I was afraid of. But there are only three of us.The fields you mention number much more.”

”Each of you will have to be a lot of specialists in one, then. I'd saythe best split would be planetology, xenology, and anthropology--each,of course, stretched all out of shape to cover dozens of related andnon-related specialties.”

”Good enough. Xenology, of course, is mine. Contacts, liaison, politics,correlation, and so on, as well as studying the non-human lifeforms--including as many lower animals and plants as possible. I'll makea stab at it. Now, Belle, since you're a Prime and Lola's an Operator,you get the next toughest job. Planetography.”

”Why not?” Belle smiled and began to act as one of the party. ”All Iknow about it is a hazy idea of what the word means, but I'll startstudying as soon as we get squared away.”

”Thanks. That leaves anthropology to you, Lola. Besides, that's yourline, isn't it?”

”Yes. Sociological Anthropology. I have my M.S. in it, and am--was, Imean--working for my Ph.D. But as Jim said, it isn't only the onespecialty. You want me, I take it, to cover humanoid races, too?”

”Check. You and Jim both, then, will know what you're doing, while Belleand I are trying to play ours by ear.”

”Where do we draw the line between humanoid and non-human?”

”In case of doubt we'll confer. That covers it as much as we can, Ithink. Take us down, Jim--and be on your toes to take evasive actionfast.”

* * *

The ship dropped rapidly toward an airport just outside a fairly largecity. Fifty thousand--forty thousand--thirty thousand feet.

”Calling strange spaceship--you must be a spaceship, in spite of yourtremendous, hitherto-considered-impossible mass--” a thought impinged onall four Tellurian minds, ”do you read me?”

”I read you clearly. This is the Tellurian spaceship _Pleiades_, CaptainGarlock commanding, asking permission to land and information as tolanding conventions.” He did not have to tell James to stop the ship;James had already done so.

”I was about to ask you to hold position; I thank you for having doneso. Hold for inspection and type-test, please. We will not blast unlessyou fire first. A few minutes, please.”

* * *

A group of twelve jet fighters took off practically vertically upwardand climbed with fantastic speed. They leveled off a thousand feet belowthe _Pleiades_ and made a flying circle. Up and into the ring thusformed there lumbered a large, clumsy-looking helicopter.

”We have no record of any planet named 'Tellus'; nor of any such ship asyours. Of such incredible mass and with no visible or detectable meansof support or of propulsion. Not from this part of the galaxy, certainly... could it be that intergalactic travel is actually possible? Butexcuse me, Captain Garlock, none of that is any of my business; which isto determine whether or not you four Tellurian human beings arecompatible with, and thus acceptable to, our humanity of Hodell ... butyou do not seem to have a standard televideo testing-box aboard.”

”No, sir; only our own tri-di and teevee.”

”You must be examined by means of a standard box. I will rise to yourlevel and teleport one across to you. It is self-powered and fullyautomatic.”

”You needn't rise, sir. Just toss the box out of your 'copter into theair. We'll take it from there.” Then, to James, ”Take it, Jim.”

”Oh? You can lift large masses against much gravity?” The alien was allattention. ”I have not known that such power existed. I will observewith keen interest.”

”I have it,” James said. ”Here it is.”

”Thank you, sir,” Garlock said to the alien. Then, to Lola: ”You've beenreading these--these Hodellians?”

”The officer in the helicopter and those in the fighters, yes. Most ofthem are Gunther Firsts.”

”Good girl. The set's coming to life--watch it.”

The likeness of the alien being became clear upon the alien screen;visible from the waist up. While humanoid, the creature was very farindeed from being human. He--at least, it had masculine rudimentarynipples--had double shoulders and four arms. His skin was a vividlyintense cobalt blue. His ears were black, long, and highly dirigible.His eyes, a flaming red in color, were large and vertically-slitted,like a cat's. He had no hair at all. His nose was large and Roman; hisjaw was square, almost jutting; his bright-yellow teeth were clean andsharp.

After a minute of study the alien said: ”Although your vessel is soentirely alien that nothing even remotely like it is on record, you fourare completely human and, if of compatible type, acceptable. Are thereany other living beings aboard with you?”

”Excepting micro-organisms, none.”

”Such life is of no importance. Approach, please, one of you, and graspwith a hand the projecting metal knob.”

With a little trepidation, Garlock did so. He felt no unusual sensationat the contact.

”All four of you are compatible and we accept you. This finding issurprising in the extreme, as you are the first human beings of recordwho grade higher than what you call Gunther Two ... or Gunther Second?”

”Either one; the terms are interchangeable.”

”You have minds of tremendous development and power; definitely superioreven to my own. However, there is no doubt that physically you areperfectly compatible with our humanity. Your blood will be of greatbenefit to it. You may land. Goodbye.”

”Wait, please. How about landing conventions? And visiting restrictionsand so on? And may we keep this box? We will be glad to trade yousomething for it, if we have anything you would like to have?”

”Ah, I should have realized that your customs would be widely differentfrom ours. Since you have been examined and accepted, there are norestrictions. You will not act against humanity's good. Land where youplease, go where you please, do what you please as long as you please.Take up permanent residence or leave as soon as you please. Marry if youlike, or simply breed--your unions with this planet's humanity will befertile. Keep the box without payment. As Guardians of Humanity weArpalones do whatever small favors we can. Have I made myself clear?”

”Abundantly so. Thank you, sir.”

”Now I really must go. Goodbye.”

Garlock glanced into his plate. The jets had disappeared, the helicopterwas falling rapidly away. He wiped his brow.

”Well, I'll be damned,” he said.

* * *

When his amazement subsided he turned to the business at hand. ”Lola, doyou check me that this planet is named Hodell, that it is populated bycreatures exactly like us? Arpalones?”

”Exactly, except they aren't 'creatures'. They are humanoids, and veryfine people.”

”You'd think so, of course ... correction accepted. Well, let's takeadvantage of their extraordinarily hospitable invitation and go down.Cut the rope, Jim.”

* * *

The airport was very large, and was divided into several sections, eachof which was equipped with runways and/or other landing facilities tosuit one class of craft--propellor jobs, jets, or helicopters. Therewere even a few structures that looked like rocket pits.

”Where are you going to sit down, Jim? With the 'copters or over by theblast-pits?”

”With the 'copters, I think. Since I can place her to within a couple ofinches. I'll put her squarely into that far corner, where she'll be outof everybody's way.”

”No concrete out there,” Garlock said. ”But the ground seems good andsolid.”

”We'd better not land on concrete,” James grinned. ”Unless it's terrificstuff we'd smash it. On bare ground, the worst we can do is sink in afoot or so, and that won't hurt anything.”

”Check. A few tons to the square foot, is all. Shall we strap down andhang onto our teeth?”

”Who do you think you're kidding, boss? Even though I've got to do thison manual, I won't tip over a half-piece standing on edge.”

James stopped talking, pulled out his scanner, stuck his face into it.The immense starship settled downward toward the selected corner. Therewas no noise, no blast, no flame, no slightest visible or detectablesign of whatever force it was that was braking the thousands of tons ofthe vessel's mass in its miles-long, almost-vertical plunge to ground.

When the _Pleiades_ struck ground the impact was scarcely to be felt.When she came to rest, after settling into the ground her allotted ”footor so,” there was no jar at all.

”Atmosphere, temperature, and so on, approximately Earth-normal,”Garlock said. ”Just as our friend said it would be.”

James scanned the city and the field. ”Our visit is kicking up a lot ofexcitement. Shall we go out?”

”Not yet!” Belle exclaimed. ”I want to see how the women are dressed,first.”

”So do I,” Lola added, ”and some other things besides.”

Both women--Lola through her Operator's scanner; Belle by manipulatingthe ship's tremendous Operator Field by the sheer power of her PrimeOperator's mind--stared eagerly at the crowd of people now beginning tostream across the field.

”As an anthropologist,” Lola announced, ”I'm not only surprised. I amshocked, annoyed, and disgruntled. Why, they're _exactly_ like whiteTellurian human beings!”

”But _look_ at their _clothes_!” Belle insisted. ”They're wearinganything and everything, from bikinis to coveralls!”

”Yes, but notice.” This was the anthropological scientist speaking now.”Breasts and loins, covered. Faces, uncovered. Heads and feet and hands,either bare or covered. Ditto for legs up to there, backs, arms, necksand shoulders down to here, and torsos clear down to there. We'll notviolate any conventions by going out as we are. Not even you, Belle. Youfirst, Chief. Yours the high honor of setting first foot--the biggestfoot we've got, too--on alien soil.”

”To hell with that. We'll go out together.”

”Wait a minute,” Lola went on. ”There's a funny-looking automobile justcoming through the gate. The Press. Three men and two women. Twocameras, one walkie-talkie, and two microphones. The photog in thepurple shirt is really a sharpie at lepping. Class Three, atleast--possibly a Two.”

”How about screens down enough to lep, boss?” Belle suggested. ”Faster.We may need it.”

”Check. I'm too busy to record, anyway--I'll log this stuff up tonight,”and thoughts flew.

”Check me, Jim,” Garlock flashed. ”Telepathy, very good. On Gunther, theguy was right--no signs at all of any First activity, and very fewSeconds.”

”Check,” James agreed.

”And Lola, those 'Guardians' out there. I thought they were the same asthe Arpalone we talked to. They aren't. Not even telepathic. Same colorscheme, is all.”

”Right. Much more brutish. Much flatter cranium. Long, tearing canineteeth. Carnivorous. I'll call them just 'guardians' until we find outwhat they really are.”

* * *

The press car arrived and the Tellurians disembarked--and, accidentallyor not, it was Belle's green slipper that first touched ground. Therewas a terrific babel of thought, worse, even, than voices in similarcase, in being so much faster. The reporters, all of them, wanted toknow everything at once. How, what, where, when, and why. Also who. Andall about Tellus and the Tellurian solar system. How did the visitorslike Hodell? And all about Belle's green hair. And the photographerswere prodigal of film, shooting everything from all possible angles.

”Hold it!” Garlock loosed a blast of thought that ”silenced” almost thewhole field. ”We will have order, please. Lola Montandon, ouranthropologist, will take charge. Keep it orderly, Lola, if you have tothrow half of them off the field. I'm going over to Administration andcheck in. One of you reporters can come with me, if you like.”

The man in the purple shirt got his bid in first. As the two men walkedaway together, Garlock noted that the man was in fact a Second--his flowof lucid, cogent thought did not interfere at all with the steady streamof speech going into his portable recorder. Garlock also noticed that inany group of more than a dozen people there was always at least oneguardian. They paid no attention whatever to the people, who in turnignored them completely. Garlock wondered briefly. Guardians? TheArpalones, out in space, yes. But these creatures, naked and unarmed onthe ground? The Arpalones were non-human people. These thingswere--what?

At the door of the Field Office the reporter, after turningGarlock over to a startlingly beautiful, leggy, breasty, blondereceptionist-usherette, hurried away.

* * *

He flecked a feeler at her mind and stiffened. How could a Two--a highTwo, at that--be working as an usher? And with her guard down clear tothe floor? He probed--and saw.

”Lola!” He flashed a tight-beamed thought. ”You aren't putting outanything about our sexual customs, family life, and so on.”

”Of course not. We must know their mores first.”

”Good girl. Keep your shield up.”

”Oh, we're so glad to see you, Captain Garlock, sir!” The blonde, whowas dressed little more heavily than the cigarette girls in Venusberg'sCartier Room, seized his left hand in both of hers and held itconsiderably longer than was necessary. Her dazzling smile, her laughingeyes, her flashing white teeth, the many exposed inches of her skin, andher completely unshielded mind; all waved banners of welcome.

”Captain Garlock, sir, Governor Atterlin has been most anxious to seeyou ever since you were first detected. This way, please, sir.” Sheturned, brushing her bare hip against his leg in the process, and ledhim by the hand along a hallway. Her thoughts flowed. ”I have been, too,sir, and I'm simply delighted to see you close up, and I hope to see alot more of you. You're a wonderfully pleasant surprise, sir; I've neverseen a man like you before. I don't think Hodell ever saw a man like youbefore, sir. With such a really terrific mind and yet so big and strongand well-built and handsome and clean-looking and blackish. You'rewonderful, Captain Garlock, sir. You'll be here a long time, I hope?Here we are, sir.”

She opened a door, walked across the room, sat down in an overstuffedchair, and crossed her legs meticulously. Then, still smiling happily,she followed with eager eyes and mind Garlock's every move.

Garlock had been reading Governor Atterlin; knew why it was the governorwho was in that office instead of the port manager. He knew thatAtterlin had been reading him--as much as he had allowed. They hadalready discussed many things, and were still discussing.

The room was much more like a library than an office. The governor, amiddle-aged, red-headed man a trifle inclined to portliness, had beenseated in a huge reclining chair facing a teevee screen, but got up toshake hands.

”Welcome, friend Captain Garlock. Now, to continue. As to exchange. Manyships visiting us have nothing we need or can use. For such, allservices are free--or rather, are paid by the city. Our currency isbased upon platinum, but gold, silver, and copper are valuable. Certainjewels, also....”

”That's far enough. We will pay our way--we have plenty of metal. Whatare your ratios of value for the four metals here on Hodell?”

”Today's quotations are....” He glanced at a screen, and his fingersflashed over the keys of a computer beside his chair. ”One weight ofplatinum is equal in value to seven point three four six....”

”Decimals are not necessary, sir.”

”Seven plus, then, weights of gold. One of gold to eleven of silver. Oneof silver to four of copper.”

”Thank you. We'll use platinum. I'll bring some bullion tomorrow morningand exchange it for your currency. Shall I bring it here, or to a bankin the city?”

”Either. Or we can have an armored truck visit your ship.”

”That would be better yet. Have them bring about five thousand tanes.Thank you very much, Governor Atterlin, and good afternoon to you, sir.”

”And good afternoon to you, sir. Until tomorrow, then.”

Garlock turned to leave.

”Oh, may I go with you to your ship, sir, to take just a little look atit?” the girl asked, winningly.

”Of course, Grand Lady Neldine, I'd like to have your company.”

She seized his elbow and hugged it quickly against her breast. Then,taking his hand, she walked--almost skipped--along beside him. ”And Iwant to see Pilot James close up, too, sir--he's not nearly as wonderfulas you are, sir--and I wonder why Planetographer Bellamy's hair isgreen? Very striking, of course, sir, but I don't think I'd care for itmuch on me--unless you'd think I should, sir?”

* * *

Belle knew, of course, that they were coming; and Garlock knew thatBelle's hackles were very much on the rise. She could not read him,except very superficially, but she was reading the strange girl like abook and was not liking anything she read. Wherefore, when Garlock andhis joyous companion reached the great spaceship--

”How come you picked up _that_ little man-eating shark?” she sent,venomously, on a tight band.

”It wasn't a case of picking her up.” Garlock grinned. ”I haven't beenable to find any urbane way of scraping her off. First Contact, youknow.”

”She wants altogether too much Contact for a First--I'll scrape her off,even if she is one of the nobler class on this world....” Belle changedher tactics even before Garlock began his reprimand. ”I shouldn't havesaid that, Clee, of course.” She laughed lightly. ”It was just theshock; there wasn't anything in any of my First Contact tapes coveringwhat to do about beautiful and enticing girls who try to seduce our men.She doesn't know, though, of course, that she's supposed to be abug-eyed monster and not human at all. Won't Xenology be in for a roughride when we check in? Wow!”

”You can play _that_ in spades, sister.” And for the rest of the dayBelle played flawlessly the role of perfect hostess.

It was full dark before the Hodellians could be persuaded to leave the_Pleiades_ and the locks were closed.

* * *

”I have refused one hundred seventy-eight invitations,” Lola reportedthen. ”All of us, individually and collectively, have been invited toeat everything, everywhere in town. To see shows in a dozen differenttheaters and eighteen night spots. To dance all night in twenty-onedifferent places, ranging from dives to strictly soup-and-fish. I wasnice about it, of course--just begged off because we were dead from ourbelts both ways from our long, hard trip. My thought, of course, is thatwe'd better eat our own food and take it slowly at first. Check, Clee?”

”On the beam, dead center. And you weren't lying much, either. I feel asthough I'd done a day's work. After supper there's a thing I've got todiscuss with all three of you.”

Supper was soon over. Then:

”We've got to make a mighty important decision,” Garlock began,abruptly. ”Grand Lady Neldine--that title isn't exact, butclose--wondered why I didn't respond at all, either way. However, shedidn't make a point of it, and I let her wonder; but we'll have todecide by tomorrow morning what to do, and it'll have to be airtight.These Hodellians expect Jim and me to impregnate as many as possible oftheir highest-rated women before we leave. By their Code it's mandatory,since we can't hide the fact that we rate much higher than theydo--their highest rating is only Grade Two by our standards--and all theplanets hereabouts up-grade themselves with the highest-grade new bloodthey can find. Ordinarily, they'd expect you two girls to becomepregnant by your choices of the top men of the planet; but they know youwouldn't breed down and don't expect you to. But how in all hell can Jimand I refuse to breed them up without dealing out the deadliest insultthey know?”

There was a minute of silence. ”We can't,” James said then. A grin beganto spread over his face. ”It might not be too bad an idea, at that, cometo think of it. That ball of fire they picked out for you would be ablue-ribbon dish in anybody's cook-book. And Grand Lady Lemphi--” Hekissed the tips of two fingers and waved them in the air. ”Strictly BigLeague Material; in capital letters.”

”Is that nice, you back-alley tomcat?” Belle asked, plaintively; thenpaused in thought and went on slowly, ”I won't pretend to like it, but Iwon't do any public screaming about it.”

”Any anthropologist would say you'll have to,” Lola declared withouthesitation. ”I don't like it, either. I think it's horrible; but it'sexcellent genetics and we cannot and must not violate systems-widemores.”

”You're all missing the point!” Garlock snapped. He got up, jammed hishands into his pockets, and began to pace the floor. ”I didn't think anyone of you was _that_ stupid! If _that_ was all there were to it we'd doit as a matter of course. But _think_, damn it! There's nothing higherthan Gunther Two in the humanity of this planet. Telepathy is the onlyESP they have. High Gunther uses hitherto unused portions of the brain.It's transmitted through genes, which are dominant, cumulative, andself-multiplying by interaction. Jim and I carry more, stronger, andhigher Gunther genes than any other two men known to live. Canwe--_dare_ we--plant such genes where none have ever been known before?”

Two full minutes of silence.

”That one has _really_ got a bone in it,” James said, unhelpfully.

* * *

Three minutes more of silence.

”It's up to you, Lola,” Garlock said then. ”It's your field.”

”I was afraid of that. There's a way. Personally, I like it less eventhan the other, but it's the only one I've been able to think up. First,are you absolutely sure that our refusal--Belle's and mine, I mean--tobreed down will be valid with them?”

”Positive.”

”Then the whole society from which we come will have to be strictlymonogamous, in the narrowest, most literal sense of the term. Noexceptions whatever. Adultery, anything illicit, has always been notonly unimaginable, but in fact impossible. We pair--or marry, orwhatever they do here--once only. For life. Desire and potency can existonly within the pair; never outside it. Like eagles. If a man's wifedies, even, he loses all desire and all potency. That would make itphysically impossible for you two to follow the Hodellian Code. You'dboth be completely impotent with any women whatever except yourmates--Belle and me.”

”That will work,” Belle said. ”_How_ it will work!” She paused. Then,suddenly, she whistled; the loud, full-bodied, ear-piercing,tongue-and-teeth whistle which so few women ever master. Her eyessparkled and she began to laugh with unrestrained glee. ”But do you knowwhat you've done, Lola?”

”Nothing, except to suggest a solution. What's so funny about that?”

”You're wonderful, Lola--simply priceless! You've created somethingbrand-new to science--an impotent tomcat! And the more I think aboutit....” Belle was rocking back and forth with laughter. She could notpossibly talk, but her thought flowed on, ”I just love you all topieces! An _impotent tomcat_, and he'll _have_ to stay true to me--Oh,this is simply _killing_ me--I'll _never_ live through it!”

”It _does_ put us on the spot--especially Jim,” came Garlock's thought.

* * *

He, too, began to laugh; and Lola, as soon as she stopped thinking aboutthe thing only as a problem in anthropology, joined in. James, however,did not think it was very funny.

”And that's less than half of it!” Belle went on, still unable to talk.”Think of Clee, Lola. Six two--over two hundred--hard as nails--aperfect hunk of hard red meat--telling this whole damn cockeyed regionof space that he's impotent, too! And with a perfectly straight face!And it ties in so _beautifully_ with his making no response, yes or no,when she propositioned him. The poor, innocent, impotent lamb justsimply didn't have even the faintest inkling of what she meant! Oh,my....”

”Listen--_listen_--_listen_!” James managed finally to break in. ”Notthat I want to be promiscuous, but....”

”There, there, my precious little impotent tomcat,” Belle soothed himaloud, between giggles and snorts. ”Us Earth-girls will take care of ourlover-boys, see if we don't. You won't need any nasty little....” Bellecould not hold the pose, but went off again into whoops of laughter.”_What_ a brain you've got, Lola! I thought I could imagine _anything_,but to make these two guys of ours--the two absolute tops of the wholeSolar System--it's a stroke of genius....”

”Shut up, will you, you human hyena, and _listen_!” James roared aloud.”There ought to be _some_ better way than that.”

”Better? Than sheer perfection?” Belle was still laughing but could nowtalk coherently.

”If you can think of another way, Jim, the meeting is still open.”Garlock was wiping his eyes. ”But it'll have to be a dilly. I'm notexactly enamored of Lola's idea, either, but as the answer it's onehundred percent to as many decimal places as you want to take time towrite zeroes.”

There was more talk, but no improvement could be made upon Lola's idea.

”Well, we've got until morning,” Garlock said, finally. ”If anybodycomes up with anything by then, let me know. If not, it goes into effectthe minute we open the locks. The meeting is adjourned.”

* * *

Belle and James left the room; and, a few minutes later, Garlock wentout. Lola followed him into his room and closed the door behind her. Shesat down on the edge of a chair, lighted a cigarette, and began to smokein short, nervous puffs. She opened her mouth to say something, but shutit without making a sound.

”You're afraid of me, Lola?” he asked, quietly.

”Oh, I don't.... Well, that is....” She wouldn't lie, and she wouldn'tadmit the truth. ”You see, I've never ... I mean, I haven't had verymuch experience.”

”You needn't be afraid of me at all. I'm not going to pair with you.”

”You're not?” Her mouth dropped open and the cigarette fell out of it.She took a few seconds to recover it. ”Why not? Don't you think I coulddo a good enough job?”

She stood up and stretched, to show her splendid figure to its bestadvantage.

Garlock laughed. ”Nothing like that, Lola; you have plenty of sexappeal. It's just that I don't like the conditions. I never have paired.I never have had much to do with women, and that little has been urbane,logical, and strictly _en passant_; on the level of mutual physicaldesire. Thus, I have never taken a virgin. Pairing with one is verydefinitely not my idea of urbanity and there's altogether too muchobligation to suit me. For all of which good reasons I am not going topair with you, now or ever.”

”How do you know whether I'm a virgin or not? You've never read me thatdeep. Nobody can. Not even you, unless I let you.”

”Reading isn't necessary--you flaunt it like a banner.”

”I don't know what you mean.... I certainly don't do it intentionally.But I ought to pair with you, Clee!” Lola had lost all of hernervousness, most of her fear. ”It's part of the job I was chosen for.If I'd known, I'd've gone out and got some experience. Really I wouldhave.”

”I believe that. I think you would have been silly enough to have donejust that. And you have a very high regard for your virginity, too,don't you?”

”Well, I ... I used to. But we'd better go ahead with it. I've _got_to.”

”No such thing. Permissible, but not obligatory.”

”But it was assumed. As a matter of course. Anyway ... well, when thatgirl started making passes at you, I thought you could have just as muchfun, or even more--she's charming; a real darling, isn't she?--withoutpairing with me, and then I had to open my big mouth and be the one tokeep you from playing games with _anyone except_ me, and I certainly amnot going to let you suffer....”

”Bunk!” Garlock snorted. ”Sheer flapdoodle! Pure psychologicalprop-wash, started and maintained by men who are either too weak todirect and control their drives or who haven't any real work to occupytheir minds. It applies to many men, of course, possibly to most. Itdoes not, however, apply to all, and, it lacks one whole hell of a lotof applying to me. Does that make you feel better?”

”Oh, it does ... it does. Thanks, Clee. You know, I like you, a lot.”

”Do you? Kiss me.”

She did so.

”See?”

”You _tricked_ me!”

* * *

”I did not. I want you to see the truth and face it. Your idealism isadmirable, permanent, and shatter-proof; but your starry-eyedschoolgirl's mawkishness is none of the three. You'll have to grow up,some day. In my opinion, forcing yourself to give up one of yourhardest-held ideals--virginity--merely because of the utter bilge thatthose idiot head-shrinkers stuffed you with, is sheer, plain idiocy. Isuppose that makes you like me even less, but I'm laying it right on theline.”

”No ... more. I'll argue with you, when we have time, about some of yourpoints, but the last one--if it's valid--has tremendous force. I didn'tknow men felt that way. But no matter what my feeling for you really is,I'm really grateful to you for the reprieve ... and you know, Clee, I'mpretty sure you're going to get us back home. If anyone can, you can.”

”I'm going to try to. Even if I can't, it will be Belle, not you, thatI'll take for the long pull. And not because you'd rather haveJim--which you would, of course....”

”To be honest, I think I would.”

”Certainly. He's your type. You're not mine; Belle is. Well, thatbuttons it up, Brownie, except for one thing. To Jim and Belle andeveryone else, we're paired.”

”Of course. Urbanity, as well as to present a united front to any andall worlds.”

”Check. So watch your shield.”

”I always do. That stuff is 'way, 'way down. I'm awfully glad you calledme 'Brownie,' Clee. I didn't think you ever would.”

”I didn't expect to--but I never talked to a woman this way before,either. Maybe it had a mellowing effect.”

”You don't _need_ mellowing--I do like you a lot, just exactly as youare.”

”If true, I'm very glad of it. But don't strain yourself; and I meanthat literally, not as sarcasm.”

”I know. I'm not straining a bit, and this'll prove it.”

She kissed him again, and this time it was a production.

”That was an eminently convincing demonstration, Brownie, but don't doit too often.”

”I won't.” She laughed, gayly and happily. ”If there's any next time,you'll have to kiss me first.”

She paused and sobered. ”But remember. If you should change your mind,any time you really want to ... to kiss me, come right in. I won't be assilly and nervous and afraid as I was just now. That's a promise. Goodnight, Clee.”

”Good night, Brownie.”


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