Cube Root of Conquest, p.1Rog Phillips
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CUBE ROOT OF CONQUEST
By Rog Phillips
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories October1948. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: What actual result is there in the act of conquest? What isits cube root?]
Jan ran tirelessly, his long clean limbs carrying him at express trainspeed across the uneven terrain. The small deer was beginning to showevidences of tiring. Its foam-flecked mouth was open, the swollen tongueprotruding over the teeth. The ten or more miles of the chase had provenJan's superior strength.
The deer rounded a dense patch of blackberry bushes and bounded out ofsight over the crest of the hill. To Jan's keen eye it seemed that thedeer stumbled at the instant of vanishing from view. Eagerly he put on aburst of speed to catch up and make the kill.
The scene that burst into view brought amazement into his clear blueeyes. The deer had stumbled, but caught itself, and was bounding downthe gentle slope. Jan thrust curiosity away and concentrated onregaining the ground lost. His naked feet touched the turf with piledriver force every ten feet. The muscles under the tanned skin of hislegs worked with smooth effort.
The deer was headed directly toward a glistening square spot just ahead.It was in mid stride when it reached it, its front legs doubled, readyto straighten and touch the ground at the right instant, its hind legsstretched out behind.
In that position it sailed over the glistening square that was set flushinto the ground, and--vanished.
It vanished about like it might vanish around a tree. Its head andantlers went first, followed by the rest of it. One hoof seemed tohesitate, hanging in the air by itself. Then it was gone.
Jan turned desperately to avoid the spot and brought himself to a halt afew feet beyond. The hair on the back of his neck felt prickly with fearof the unknown. He returned cautiously to inspect the mysterious,glistening square slab.
It was no more than four feet across each way. There was no way oftelling what its surface was like. About where its surface might be wasa soft carpet of glistening, cool force that seemed neither solid norfluid. It was something like the surface of a glowing ember in a dyingfire, smoothed out flat and spread with uniformity over an area ofsixteen square feet.
Jan's eyes pulled away from this fascinating thing and turned to surveywhat had first caused him to break his pace in surprise. A shortdistance away a skeleton of twisted and sheered off steel girders hintedat what had once been a bridge across a deep gash in the rollingterrain. On the other side was what had once been a huge city ofsky-scrapers, though Jan had never heard of such a thing and did notknow that that was what it had been.
Nothing was visible in the mysterious plate, yet a manhad gone into it!]
With a frown of uneasiness he dismissed the ruins of the city and thebridge and turned to the mysteriously glowing square once more. The deerhad vanished over it. Therefore it must have something to do with thevanishing of the deer. Since he had chased the deer so far, it would befoolish to turn away without investigating. The deer might still bethere somewhere.
Jan's face lit up with an idea. He looked around until he spied a rockabout as big as a fist. He came back with it and stood thoughtfully nearthe edge of the mysterious square. Then he tossed it with just enoughforce to carry it across. When it reached a point above the edge of thesquare it vanished. Jan waited, but it didn't land on the other side. Ithad simply ceased to exist!
Jan looked thoughtful for a moment. He turned and went back to the patchof blackberry bushes. Taking his long slim blade from its deerskinscabbard he cut a long, tough stick, trimming the younger shoots away.With this he returned to the calmly glistening, mysterious slab.
Ready to drop his hold on the stick at the first sign of the unusual, hethrust it part way into the area where things vanished. The end of thestick disappeared. There was no sign of any force creeping along thestick to his hand. He waited, reassuring himself. Then he stuck thestick in a little farther and it vanished a little farther along towardhis hand.
He held it that way, his nostrils flaring with tenseness. Then slowly hedrew the stick back. The vanished part of it returned to sight. It cameout and was not changed in the least.
He sniffed at it. It smelled no different than it should. He felt of itcarefully. It felt normal.
Reassured, he thrust it into the area of vanishment again. He pulled itout again. It delighted him to watch it vanish and reappear. He laughedgleefully. The deer was forgotten in the excitement of this strange gamein the shadow of the crumbling bridge.
Suddenly the vanished end of the stick jerked in his hand. Inspontaneous alarm he pulled toward him. The stick came unwillingly.Something held it.
* * * * *
Terrified, Jan dug his heels in the turf and pulled. Slowly inch byinch, the stick reappeared. But with it appeared a fat, pale hand,followed by a sleeved arm.
Jan slapped at the hand and pulled harder. The hand hung on grimly.Another hand appeared, gripping the slowly emerging arm. It fingered itsway up the sleeve until it too gripped the stick.
Jan let go and sprang back several feet. He hesitated, ready to flee.
When he let go of the stick the hands dropped to the ground. The fatfingers dug into the sod and hung on. A bloated face came into sight anddrew back into nothing once more.
The face appeared again and stayed, flushed with exertion. Little bylittle the face was followed by a neck, shoulders, and a thick torso.The last to appear was two short legs.
The figure stood up shakily. It was covered by a brown uniform. AlthoughJan did not know it, this was the uniform of a field marshal.
The pig like eyes in the fat face blinked at him stupidly, then turnedto survey the ruined city.
Jan recognized the newcomer for a man, though he had never seen one withsuch a shape. Vaguely he wondered how such a man could catch wildanimals,--and if he couldn't, how he could eat enough to have grown up.
The man was even more of an enigma to Jan than the glistening square.And he might be dangerous.
Jan had wandered far in his brief lifetime. Nowhere had he found morethan a handful of other wandering nomads, all like him in build; long oflimb, lithe and powerful of shoulder, able to run swiftly all daywithout tiring.
This man, if man it was, came no higher than Jan's heart. He obviouslywouldn't be able to run faster than the exceedingly rare, short-leggedpig that became so fat when it grew up.
The man turned his fat face back toward Jan. The look in the small eyesmade Jan's hand steal toward his sheathed knife. The eyes saw thatmovement. They narrowed cruelly. A sneer appeared on the bloated lips.
Suddenly a fat hand darted down to a lumpy object on the man's hip anddrew out a squat blue object. It came up. Jan could see a dark hole init. He stared curiously.
Unconsciously he had drawn his knife as the man drew the strange object.His keen nostrils brought him the smell of sweat that has the odor of atense body. His hunting instinct told him this creature was going tocharge.
* * * * *
Jan felt something hot touch his left shoulder. With it came the soundof a sharp report. The strange thing in the man's hand buckled queerly.
Jan looked at his shoulder. There was a gaping, angry wound in it. Insome way this man had hurt him. He didn't stop to analyze how or why.The fact was there. He could either turn to run or advance tofight,--and he had never yet turned to run.
He had learned the trick of weaving in and slashing, and wit
Jan's knife reached in unerringly and slashed the wrist of the handholding the spitting thing. The blood gushed out in a pulsating stream.
The man dropped the gun and tried to stem the flow. Jan took thisopportunity to dart in again and slide his blade across the fat neck.
A look of horrible realization appeared in the man's eyes. He turned,stumbled forward, and fell headlong into the space above themysteriously glistening square slab. The soles of his shoes seemed tohang in the air briefly before they followed the rest of him intonothingness.
Jan touched his hand gingerly to the raw wound in his shoulder. It was aday's journey to the healing spring where he could bathe the wound andplaster it with healing mud.
His eyes surveyed the scene for a last time, taking in the strange slabflush with the ground, the skeleton of girders that jutted out from eachside of the gorge, and the strange heaps of steel and masonry on theother side. Then he turned and started back the way he had
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