Control group, p.1
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       Control Group, p.1

           Roger D. Aycock
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Control Group

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  _"Any problem posed by one group of human beings can be resolved by any other group." That's what the Handbook said. But did that include primitive humans? Or the Bees? Or a ..._



  The cool green disk of Alphard Six on the screen was infinitely welcomeafter the arid desolation and stinking swamplands of the inner planets,an airy jewel of a world that might have been designed specifically forthe hard-earned month of rest ahead. Navigator Farrell, youngest andcertainly most impulsive of the three-man Terran Reclamations crew,would have set the _Marco Four_ down at once but for the greater cautionof Stryker, nominally captain of the group, and of Gibson, engineer, andlinguist. Xavier, the ship's little mechanical, had--as was usual andproper--no voice in the matter.

  "Reconnaissance spiral first, Arthur," Stryker said firmly. He chuckledat Farrell's instant scowl, his little eyes twinkling and his nakedpaunch quaking over the belt of his shipboard shorts. "Chapter One,Subsection Five, Paragraph Twenty-seven: _No planetfall on anunreclaimed world shall be deemed safe without proper--_"

  Farrell, as Stryker had expected, interrupted with characteristicimpatience. "Do you _sleep_ with that damned Reclamations Handbook, Lee?Alphard Six isn't an unreclaimed world--it was never colonized beforethe Hymenop invasion back in 3025, so why should it be inhabited now?"

  Gibson, who for four hours had not looked up from his interminable chessgame with Xavier, paused with a beleaguered knight in one blunt brownhand.

  "No point in taking chances," Gibson said in his neutral baritone. Heshrugged thick bare shoulders, his humorless black-browed face unmoved,when Farrell included him in his scowl. "We're two hundred twenty-sixlight-years from Sol, at the old limits of Terran expansion, and there'sno knowing what we may turn up here. Alphard's was one of the firstsystems the Bees took over. It must have been one of the last to beabandoned when they pulled back to 70 Ophiuchi."

  "And I think _you_ live for the day," Farrell said acidly, "when we'llstumble across a functioning dome of live, buzzing Hymenops. Damn it,Gib, the Bees pulled out a hundred years ago, before you and I wereborn--neither of us ever saw a Hymenop, and never will!"

  "But I saw them," Stryker said. "I fought them for the better part ofthe century they were here, and I learned there's no predicting norunderstanding them. We never knew why they came nor why they gave up andleft. How can we know whether they'd leave a rear-guard or booby traphere?"

  He put a paternal hand on Farrell's shoulder, understanding the youngerman's eagerness and knowing that their close-knit team would have beenthe more poorly balanced without it.

  "Gib's right," he said. He nearly added _as usual_. "We're on rest leaveat the moment, yes, but our mission is still to find Terran coloniesenslaved and abandoned by the Bees, not to risk our necks and a valuableReorientations ship by landing blind on an unobserved planet. We're tooclose already. Cut in your shields and find a reconnaissance spiral,will you?"

  Grumbling, Farrell punched coordinates on the Ringwave board that liftedthe _Marco Four_ out of her descent and restored the bluish envelopinghaze of her repellors.

  Stryker's caution was justified on the instant. The speeding streamlinedshape that had flashed up unobserved from below swerved sharply andexploded in a cataclysmic blaze of atomic fire that rocked the shipwildly and flung the three men to the floor in a jangling roar ofalarms.

  * * * * *

  "So the Handbook tacticians knew what they were about," Stryker saidminutes later. Deliberately he adopted the smug tone best calculated tosting Farrell out of his first self-reproach, and grinned when thenavigator bristled defensively. "Some of their enjoinders seem a littlestuffy and obvious at times, but they're eminently sensible."

  When Farrell refused to be baited Stryker turned to Gibson, who wasbusily assessing the damage done to the ship's more fragile equipment,and to Xavier, who searched the planet's surface with the ship'smagnoscanner. The _Marco Four_, Ringwave generators humming gently, hungat the moment just inside the orbit of Alphard Six's single dun-coloredmoon.

  Gibson put down a test meter with an air of finality.

  "Nothing damaged but the Zero Interval Transfer computer. I can realignthat in a couple of hours, but it'll have to be done before we hitTransfer again."

  * * * * *

  Stryker looked dubious. "What if the issue is forced before the ZIT unitis repaired? Suppose they come up after us?"

  "I doubt that they can. Any installation crudely enough equipped totrust in guided missiles is hardly likely to have developed efficientspace craft."

  Stryker was not reassured.

  "That torpedo of theirs was deadly enough," he said. "And its naturereflects the nature of the people who made it. Any race vicious enoughto use atomic charges is too dangerous to trifle with." Worry madecomical creases in his fat, good-humored face. "We'll have to find outwho they are and why they're here, you know."

  "They can't be Hymenops," Gibson said promptly. "First, because the Beespinned their faith on Ringwave energy fields, as we did, rather than onmissiles. Second, because there's no dome on Six."

  "There were three empty domes on Five, which is a desert planet,"Farrell pointed out. "Why didn't they settle Six? It's a more habitableworld."

  Gibson shrugged. "I know the Bees always erected domes on every planetthey colonized, Arthur, but precedent is a fallible tool. And it's evenmore firmly established that there's no possibility of our rationalizingthe motivations of a culture as alien as the Hymenops'--we've been overthat argument a hundred times on other reclaimed worlds."

  "But this was never an unreclaimed world," Farrell said with the faintmalice of one too recently caught in the wrong. "Alphard Six wassurveyed and seeded with Terran bacteria around the year 3000, but theBees invaded before we could colonize. And that means we'll have to ruleout any resurgent colonial group down there, because Six never had acolony in the beginning."

  "The Bees have been gone for over a hundred years," Stryker said."Colonists might have migrated from another Terran-occupied planet."

  Gibson disagreed.

  "We've touched at every inhabited world in this sector, Lee, and not onesurviving colony has developed space travel on its own. The Hymenops hada hundred years to condition their human slaves to ignorance ofeverything beyond their immediate environment--the motives behind thatconditioning usually escape us, but that's beside the point--and theydid a thorough job of it. The colonists have had no more than a centuryof freedom since the Bees pulled out, and four generations simply isn'tenough time for any subjugated culture to climb from slavery tointerstellar flight."

  Stryker made a padding turn about the control room, tugging unhappily atthe scanty fringe of hair the years had left him.

  "If they're neither Hymenops nor resurgent colonists," he said, "thenthere's only one choice remaining--they're aliens from a system wehaven't reached yet, beyond the old sphere of Terran exploration. Wealways assumed that we'd find other races out here someday, and thatthey'd be as different from us in form and motivation as the Hymenops.Why not now?"

  Gibson said seriously, "Not probable, Lee. The same objection that rulesout the Bees applies to any trans-Alphardian culture--they'd have to bebeyond the atomic fission stage, else they'd never have attemptedinterstellar flight. The Ringwave with its Zero Interval Transferprinciple and instantaneous communications applications is the onlyanswer to long-range travel, and if they'd had that they wouldn't havebothered with atomics."

  Stryker turned on him almost angrily. "If they're not Hymenops or humansor aliens, then what in God's name _are_ they?"

sp; * * * * *

  "Aye, there's the rub," Farrell said, quoting a passage whose aptnesshad somehow seen it through a dozen reorganizations of insular tongueand a final translation to universal Terran. "If they're none of thosethree, we've only one conclusion left. There's no one down there atall--we're victims of the first joint hallucination in psychiatrichistory."

  Stryker threw up his hands in surrender. "We can't identify them bytheorizing, and that brings us down to the business of first-handinvestigation. Who's going to bell the cat
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