The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 70
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He saw the frown forming on Kriijorl's face.
"Thrayx, and the Forest of Saarl," he bit from between teeth clenched against the creeping agony in him. "The Book of the Saints, Kriijorl. It is the key, don't you see. Key to all this, your feud."
For an instant the Ihelian said nothing, but groped in hidden pockets of his battered s.p.a.ce harness. His long fingers quickly produced a tablet, thrust it into Mason's hand. The Earthman swallowed it and almost at once energy coursed as though from some hidden well in his body through his flagging muscles and nerves.
Then Kriijorl spoke. "I do not understand, Lieutenant. I know only that it would be almost certain death. Intrusion near the vault would bring a flight of guard s.h.i.+ps within minutes."
"I know that," Mason said. "But perhaps not down upon us! And we must have that Book. I've been thinking about it, comparing it with similar writings in Earth's own past. Such books are not new, such motives, such methods. Your Book is priceless in a way that even you don't know, Kriijorl. I'm certain of it. For it must contain the reason that you fight."
"And that reason?"
"A reason, if I'm right, that would end your feud once and for all. A nasty bit of logic which the people of Ihelos and Thrayx were quite deliberately kept from knowing from the beginning. I'd make book on it that at one time both planets were very hungry places--"
"But if you are wrong, Lieutenant?"
Mason fastened his gaze straight before him on the diamond-studded scanner, and saw that some of the smaller diamonds were moving in a tiny echelon.
"Then I guess we die young," he answered the Ihelian. "Want to try?"
The Ihelian's face loosened into a wry smile. "Sometimes you ask rather foolish questions, Lieutenant! I've been bred to such business, and not given my life so much thought before this! But--"
And then they heard a woman's voice speaking behind them. "Thrayxite acceleration hammocks could stand improvement," it said. "And when we leave the Forest of Saarl, I think I'll just lie on the deck instead."
Kriijorl's knowledge of the spot's location in the great forest was far more accurate than he had given Mason reason to hope. And with a deftness that matched that with which he had eluded the screens of the Thrayxite fleet hurtling to protect its breeder planetoid, he brought the s.h.i.+p to rest at Mason's direction, little more than a quarter-mile from where the Book of the Saints lay entombed.
It was marked by two spires. One was of hewn stone, as Kriijorl had said, immobile, with ancient symbols carven from its base to its pinnacle.
And the other was smooth, and of metal; its gaping airlock testimony to the haste with which it had been landed, unhidden by the natural camouflage of the soaring trees with which the gra.s.s-carpeted clearing was surrounded.
"Muscles," Mason answered her. The three were crouched at the clearing's edge, waiting. "Thought he'd made it some way. Must've ducked in before their fleet got into s.p.a.ce. Gambling that our signal that he picked up wouldn't bring out a special reception committee ready and waiting to meet him."
"But he has preceded us by many minutes," Kriijorl said. "I do not see--"
"Not so many. He was in flight two full hours before you mentacommed Ihelos. And if I know him, it was straight out of this galaxy at full blast! So he had to back-track all that time and distance. He had to risk a trap down here, as well as the Thrayxite fleet which he knew would be rus.h.i.+ng to protect its breeders."
"You had counted on those factors, Lieutenant?"
"Two birds with one blast, like I told you before," Mason said. "Ask Judith, here. She'll tell you how well I know him." The girl was silent, but her eyes voiced her thoughts more eloquently than her tongue might have.
"Some will do anything to obtain the 'priceless'--" Kriijorl said softly.
"Cain, any time!"
"You have laid a clever trap, Lieutenant."
"If it springs, sure. But where are those guard s.h.i.+ps you were so worried about? I was counting on them, too. They should be all over the place by now."
And he was interrupted by the high-pitched scream of the flat, finned shapes that hurtled suddenly over the tree tops, circled, slid quickly downward.
"FLAT!" Mason yelled. And as they stretched p.r.o.ne, they saw Cain running toward the s.h.i.+p from a great open shaft in the ground, a round, s.h.i.+ny thing beneath one arm.
A probing needle of white hot flame stabbed out from one of the descending s.h.i.+ps, and there was a scream, and then Cain fell, a charred skeleton, to the ground. The s.h.i.+ny thing he had carried rolled lazily along the gra.s.s, teetered on edge, plopped silently over.
Mason was poised like a runner awaiting the starting gun. For a split second he hesitated as the guard s.h.i.+ps touched down, their weapons momentarily screened by the lush foliage at the clearing's edge.
And then Mason was running, Judith and Kriijorl only steps behind him.
There were perhaps seconds before the armed women of the Thrayxite guard detail would break from the forest's edge.
He stumbled, fell, and his outstretched hands touched the round, s.h.i.+ny thing, and he could smell the reek of Cain's smouldering skeleton.
Kriijorl and Judith hesitated.
"d.a.m.n it, run!" and he felt his scream tear at his dry throat, and then clutched the metal disk to him and regained his feet in a single whip-like motion, and bolted after them toward the gaping air lock of the s.h.i.+p that Cain had never reached.
There was a hissing sound and a wave of heat crackled behind him, seared his flesh beneath his tattered tunic. And there was another, inches before him, scorching smoking scars in the soft green turf, and shouted orders filled the air scant yards behind him.
Then somehow he was at the air lock, and strong hands were pulling him over its edge, and it swung to, glowed red as a bolt of raw energy spent itself harmlessly against it.
"Now Ihelos!" Mason said as he fought for new breath.
It was white, all white around him.
He tried to sit up but there was the touch of gentle hands that stayed him, lowered him back upon the bed.
There were two of them--tall, like Vikings, and memory returned slowly. There was a smaller one, too, standing straight and erect beside him, like a proud queen from the pages of Earth's colorful history.
Judith. And Kriijorl. And another. And in his hands there was the silver disk. The can.
The can of records. The Book of the Saints.
He tried again to straighten, and then heard the voice of the one whom he did not know.
"I am Yhevvak, Grand Liege of Ihelos," the voice said. "And I hold in my hands, Earthman, the Book of the Saints. I have read it, and I have broadcast to all of Thrayx what I have read. A truce delegation has already departed from that planet to meet us here in s.p.a.ce."
"But--" the word stuck in his throat, and it was hard to think.
"Commander Kriijorl said that you suspected it was the key to our great trouble. You were right.
"For it tells of a conference among the leaders of our two worlds many millenia ago; a conference held in secret, because of the nature of its subject--the very people of our worlds themselves. Secret, because of the decision concerning them and their staggering number. Too staggering for either planet any longer to feed. And the record itself was then committed to this single microtape, and itself, kept in secrecy since the day it was recorded.
"At first shrouded in deliberate mysticism, it was at length remembered only as the Last Word of the Saints in the sudden wars which so quickly followed its creation, the true cause of which was skillfully falsified to the people of the time, and truly known only to those who made the microtape I hold here.
"They were our greatest leaders; in them was invested the responsibility for the welfare and livelihood of our two planets, both materially and spiritually.
"When they lived, those records say, travel in s.p.a.ce beyond the speed of light had not been accomplished; they believed such a feat an impossibility imposed by a condescending Nature that could be challenged too far. And they therefore knew no way of reaching beyond the planets of Ihelos and Thrayx for the food and resources that became so sorely depleted as both planets became, at length, stripped nearly bare as their populations swelled beyond saturation point.
"Medical science had permitted the old to grow older; granted the new-born an almost certain purchase on life once first breath had been drawn. Yet its greatest offering was rejected by the people; there were indignant cries at the merest suggestion that they intelligently regulate their number, so that their posterity might live in greater plenty than had they.
"There was but one solution for our desperate leaders. For although warfare had long since vanished from our civilization as it had matured, it took with it Nature's own unpleasant balance for her overgenerous fecundity.
"The new balance, then, had to be of Man's making. And so it was made.
"Our leaders, our Saints, as we have come through the years to know them, were of course adept masters at the many subtle arts of propaganda, and they used those arts to the very limits of their skill. They deliberately fomented, as their ancient record shows, the wars, small at first and then ever larger, between Ihelos and Thrayx.
"They could not have foreseen that one day there would be conflict for existence between the s.e.xes; logically calculating intellect against intuitive, wily cunning in a battle to determine the most fit, who would then enjoy the right to survive.
"Nor could they have foreseen that one day, because of the very conflict they fomented, the science of controlled genetics would at last be recognized as a necessity of survival to both factions.
"Today we have our answer to the age old problem of keeping our consumption within the limits of our ability to produce for it; we have used it to survive. But to survive war, not peace.
"And that, as you apparently suspected, Earthman, is the key.
"We know now why we fought. And with the knowledge of the life forces with which we insured our continued existence during our years of battle, we may now become united worlds of peace again. For we shall use that knowledge to take more advisedly of Nature's fruits than we took before.
"Well done, Earthmen. And with our thanks, know that we shall be always in your debt."
Then Yhevvak bowed low, and left just the three of them together in the white hospital bay of his flags.h.i.+p.
Kriijorl was smiling, and there was a s.h.i.+niness in Judith's eyes.
Mason grinned. "I hope those Thrayxite babes get a wiggle on," he said. "Those Earth gals gotta get 'em home! Their mothers'll be frantic. Hey, girl, not in front of company!"
THE DAY OF THE DOG.
By Andersen Horne
Carol stared glumly at the s.h.i.+p-to-sh.o.r.e transmitter. "I hate being out here in the middle of the Caribbean with no radio communication. Can't you fix it?"
"This is a year for sun spots, and transmission usually gets impossible around dusk," Bill explained. "It will be all right in the morning. If you want to listen to the radio, you can use the portable radio directional finder. That always works."
"I want to catch the 5 o'clock news and hear the latest on our satellite," Carol replied. She went to the RDF and switched it on to the standard broadcast channel. "Anyhow, I'd feel better if we could put out a signal. The way we're limping along with water in our gas is no fun. It will take us twenty hours to get back to Na.s.sau the way we're losing RPM'S."
Bill Anderson looked at his young, pretty wife and smiled. "You're behaving like a tenderfoot. We've plenty of gas, a good boat and perfect weather. Tomorrow morning I'll clean out our carburetors and we'll pick up speed. Meantime, we're about to enter one of the prettiest harbors in the Bahamas, throw over anchor ..."
The RDF drowned him out.
"The world is anxiously awaiting return of the chamber from the world's first manned satellite launched by the United States ten days ago. The world also awaits the answers to two questions: Is there any chance that Robert Joy, the volunteer scientist who went up in the satellite, is still living? There seems to be little hope for his survival since radio communication from him stopped three days ago. Timing mechanism for the ejection of Joy are set for tonight. And that's the second question. Will the satellite, still in its...o...b..t, eject the chamber containing Joy? Will it eject the chamber as scheduled, and will the chamber arrive back at earth at the designated place?
"There are many 'ifs' to this project which is shrouded in secrecy. The President himself has a.s.sured us of a free flow of news once the chamber has been recovered, and this station will be standing by to bring you a full report."
Carol switched the radio off. "Do you think he's alive?" She suppressed a shudder. "G.o.d! Think of a human being up there in that thing."
"Well, the dog lived for several days. It was just a question of getting it back, which the Russians couldn't do. I don't know about Joy. He sounded real cheerful and healthy until his broadcasts stopped." Bill peered into the fading twilight. "Come on now, let's put our minds to getting the hook over!"
They concentrated on the tricky entrance to the lee side of Little Harbor Cay. It meant finding and pa.s.sing a treacherous coral head north of the adjoining Frozen Cay. Little Harbor Cay was midway in the chain of the Berry Islands which stretched to the north like beads in a necklace.
"There's the cove," called Carol. About a mile of coastline ahead was the small native settlement. Once the center of a thriving sponge industry, the island was now practically deserted. A handful of small cottages, a pile of conch sh.e.l.ls on the beach and two fis.h.i.+ng smacks gave evidence of a remaining, though spa.r.s.e, population.
Dusk was rapidly approaching and Carol strained her eyes against the failing light. Bill heard her call his name and saw her pointing--not ahead to their anchorage, but amids.h.i.+ps and toward the sky. He turned his eyes to where she was indicating and saw a dullish object in the sky, some thousand feet up. The object seemed to be falling leisurely towards earth.
"What in the world is that?" asked Bill. "It's not a bird, that's for sure."
The object seemed to be parachuting, not falling. The breezes were blowing it towards the island. Before they could study it further, it was lost in the lowering dusk and darkness of the sh.o.r.e line.
"Looks like a ball on a parachute," Bill finally said. However, the business at hand was to make secure the Seven Seas and together they spent the next quarter hour anchoring.
After "setting the hook" securely, Carol and Bill donned swim suits, dove overboard and swam lazily the 300 yards in to sh.o.r.e.
"Let's try to find that thing we saw. It shouldn't be too far from here," said Carol the moment they hit the beach.
They climbed inland on the rocky island. Little green lizards scooted underfoot and vines scratched at their ankles.
Bill was leading, when suddenly he called, "Carol, I see something up ahead! There's something lying on the ground!" He hurried toward what he had seen.
The dying sun reflected on a luminescent bolt of cloth, somewhat like a spun-aluminum fabric. Thin wire lines were entangling it, and about ten feet away lay three fragments of what appeared to have been a dull metal box.
Carol knelt at the closest piece, evidently a corner of the box. It was lined with wiring and tubes.
"It looks like electronic equipment," decided Carol, peering intently at the strange piece. Bill had approached the second and largest fragment.
He carefully turned it over. It was filled with black and yellow ... fur?
"Oh no!" he cried, knowing in a flash, yet denying it in his mind at the same time. Stunned, he stared at the perky ears, the dull staring and unseeing eyes, the leather thongs that held the head and body of a dog to the metal encas.e.m.e.nt. Carol saw it the next instant.
"It's some horrible joke!" she gasped. "It couldn't be the second Russian satellite, it couldn't be Muttnik! My G.o.d, no, it couldn't be!"
Bill kept staring, his thoughts racing. There were rumors of an ejection chamber for Muttnik. But they had been denied by the Russians. But suppose the Russians had planned an ejection chamber for the dog Laika when they launched the satellite and had only denied it after they thought it had failed?
But if it had worked, why had it taken so long to find its way to earth? The satellite itself was supposed to have disintegrated months ago.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 70
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