The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 31

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It took him a moment to recognize the face--then he recalled stereos he'd seen.

It was Scholar Jason Rawlings.

Turnbull tried to lift himself up and found he couldn't.

The scholar smiled. "Sorry we had to strap you down," he said, "but I'm not nearly as strong as you are, and I didn't have any desire to be jumped before I got a chance to talk to you."

Turnbull relaxed. There was no immediate danger here.



"Know where you are?" Rawlings asked.

"Centaurus City," Turnbull said calmly. "It's a three-day trip, so obviously you couldn't have made it in the five hours after I sent you the message. You had me kidnaped and brought here."

The old man frowned slightly. "I suppose, technically, it was kidnaping, but we had to get you out of circulation before you said anything that might ... ah ... give the whole show away."

Turnbull smiled slightly. "Aren't you afraid that the police will trace this to you?"

"Oh, I'm sure they would eventually," said Rawlings, "but you'll be free to make any explanations long before that time."

"I see," Turnbull said flatly. "Mind operation. Is that what you did to Scholar Duckworth?"

The expression on Scholar Rawling's face was so utterly different from what Turnbull had expected that he found himself suddenly correcting his thinking in a kaleidoscopic readjustment of his mind.

"What did you think you were on to, Dr. Turnbull?" the old man asked slowly.

Turnbull started to answer, but, at that moment the door opened.

The round, pleasant-faced gentleman who came in needed no introduction to Turnbull.

Scholar Duckworth said: "h.e.l.lo, Dave. Sorry I wasn't here when you woke up, but I got--" He stopped. "What's the matter?"

"I'm just cursing myself for being a fool," Turnbull said sheepishly. "I was using your disappearance as a datum in a problem that didn't require it."

Scholar Rawlings laughed abruptly. "Then you thought--"

Duckworth chuckled and raised a hand to interrupt Rawlings. "Just a moment, Jason; let him logic it out to us."

"First take these straps off," said Turnbull. "I'm stiff enough as it is, after being out cold for three days."

Rawlings touched a b.u.t.ton on the wall, and the restraining straps vanished. Turnbull sat up creakily, rubbing his arms.

"Well?" said Duckworth.

Turnbull looked up at the older man. "It was those first two letters of yours that started me off."

"I was afraid of that," Duckworth said wryly. "I ... ah ... tried to get them back before I left Earth, but, failing that, I sent you a letter to try to throw you off the track."

"Did you think it would?" Turnbull asked.

"I wasn't sure," Duckworth admitted. "I decided that if you had what it takes to see through it, you'd deserve to know the truth."

"I think I know it already."

"I dare say you do," Duckworth admitted. "But tell us first why you jumped to the wrong conclusion."

Turnbull nodded. "As I said, your letters got me worrying. I knew you must be on to something or you wouldn't have been so positive. So I started checking on all the data about the City--especially that which had come in just previous to the time you sent the letters.

"I found that several new artifacts had been discovered in Sector Nine of the City--in the part they call the Bank Buildings. That struck a chord in my memory, so I looked back over the previous records. That Sector was supposed to have been cleaned out nearly ninety years ago.

"The error I made was in thinking that you had been forcibly abducted somehow--that you had been forced to write that third letter. It certainly looked like it, since I couldn't see any reason for you to hide anything from me.

"I didn't think you'd be in on anything as underhanded as this looked, so I a.s.sumed that you were acting against your will."

Scholar Rawlings smiled. "But you thought I was capable of underhanded tactics? That's not very flattering, young man."

Turnbull grinned. "I thought you were capable of kidnaping a man. Was I wrong?"

Rawlings laughed heartily. "Touche. Go on."

"Since artifacts had been found in a part of the City from which they had previously been removed, I thought that Jim, here, had found a ... well, a cover-up. It looked as though some of the alien machines were being moved around in order to conceal the fact that someone was keeping something hidden. Like, for instance, a new weapon, or a device that would give a man more power than he should rightfully have."

"Such as?" Duckworth asked.

"Such as invisibility, or a cheap method of trans.m.u.tation, or even a new and faster s.p.a.ce drive. I wasn't sure, but it certainly looked like it might be something of that sort."

Rawlings nodded thoughtfully. "A very good intuition, considering the fact that you had a bit of erroneous data."

"Exactly. I thought that Rawlings Scientific Corporation--or else you, personally--were concealing something from the rest of us and from the Advisory Board. I thought that Scholar Duckworth had found out about it and that he'd been kidnaped to hush him up. It certainly looked that way."

"I must admit it did, at that," Duckworth said. "But tell me--how does it look now?"

Turnbull frowned. "The picture's all switched around now. You came here for a purpose--to check up on your own data. Tell me, is everything here on the level?"

Duckworth paused before he answered. "Everything human," he said slowly.

"That's what I thought," said Turnbull. "If the human factor is eliminated--at least partially--from the data, the intuition comes through quite clearly. We're being fed information."

Duckworth nodded silently.

Rawlings said: "That's it. Someone or something is adding new material to the City. It's like some sort of cosmic bird-feeding station that has to be refilled every so often."

Turnbull looked down at his big hands. "It never was a trade route focus," he said. "It isn't even a city, in our sense of the term, no more than a birdhouse is a nest." He looked up. "That city was built for only one purpose--to give human beings certain data. And it's evidently data that we need in a hurry, for our own good."

"How so?" Rawlings asked, a look of faint surprise on his face.

"Same a.n.a.logy. Why does anyone feed birds? Two reasons--either to study and watch them, or to be kind to them. You feed birds in the winter because they might die if they didn't get enough food."

"Maybe we're being studied and watched, then," said Duckworth, probingly.

"Possibly. But we won't know for a long time--if ever."

Duckworth grinned. "Right. I've seen this City. I've looked it over carefully in the past few months. Whatever ent.i.ties built it are so far ahead of us that we can't even imagine what it will take to find out anything about them. We are as incapable of understanding them as a bird is incapable of understanding us."

"Who knows about this?" Turnbull asked suddenly.

"The entire Advanced Study Board at least," said Rawlings. "We don't know how many others. But so far as we know everyone who has been able to recognize what is really going on at the City has also been able to realize that it is something that the human race en ma.s.se is not yet ready to accept."

"What about the technicians who are actually working there?" asked Turnbull.

Rawlings smiled. "The artifacts are very carefully replaced. The technicians--again, as far as we know--have accepted the evidence of their eyes."

Turnbull looked a little dissatisfied. "Look, there are plenty of people in the galaxy who would literally hate the idea that there is anything in the universe superior to Man. Can you imagine the storm of reaction that would hit if this got out? Whole groups would refuse to have anything to do with anything connected with the City. The Government would collapse, since the whole theory of our present government comes from City data. And the whole work of teaching intuitive reasoning would be dropped like a hot potato by just those very people who need to learn to use it.

"And it seems to me that some precautions--" He stopped, then grinned rather sheepishly. "Oh," he said, "I see."

Rawlings grinned back. "There's never any need to distort the truth. Anyone who is psychologically incapable of allowing the existence of beings more powerful than Man is also psychologically incapable of piecing together the clues which would indicate the existence of such beings."

Scholar Duckworth said: "It takes a great deal of humility--a real feeling of honest humility--to admit that one is actually inferior to someone--or something--else. Most people don't have it--they rebel because they can't admit their inferiority."

"Like the examples of the North American Amerindian tribes." Turnbull said. "They hadn't reached the state of civilization that the Aztecs or Incas had. They were incapable of allowing themselves to be beaten and enslaved--they refused to allow themselves to learn. They fought the white man to the last ditch--and look where they ended up."

"Precisely," said Duckworth. "While the Mexicans and Peruvians today are a functioning part of civilization--because they could and did learn."

"I'd just as soon the human race didn't go the way of the Amerindians," Turnbull said.

"I have a hunch it won't," Scholar Rawlings said. "The builders of the City, whoever they are, are edging us very carefully into the next level of civilization--whatever it may be. At that level, perhaps we'll be able to accept their teaching more directly."

Duckworth chuckled. "Before we can become gentlemen, we have to realize that we are not gentlemen."

Turnbull recognized the allusion. There is an old truism to the effect that a barbarian can never learn what a gentleman is because a barbarian cannot recognize that he isn't a gentleman. As soon as he recognizes that fact, he ceases to be a barbarian. He is not automatically a gentleman, but at least he has become capable of learning how to be one.

"The City itself," said Rawlings, "acts as a pretty efficient screening device for separating the humble from the merely servile. The servile man resents his position so much that he will fight anything which tries to force recognition of his position on him. The servile slave is convinced that he is equal to or superior to his masters, and that he is being held down by brute force. So he opposes them with brute force and is eventually destroyed."

Turnbull blinked. "A screening device?" Then, like a burst of sunlight, the full intuition came over him.

Duckworth's round face was positively beaming. "You're the first one ever to do it," he said. "In order to become a member of the Advanced Study Board, a scholar must solve that much of the City's secret by himself. I'm a much older man than you, and I just solved it in the past few months.

"You will be the first Ph.D. to be admitted to the Board while you're working on your scholar's degree. Congratulations."

Turnbull looked down at his big hands, a pleased look on his face. Then he looked up at Scholar Duckworth. "Got a cigarette, Jim? Thanks. You know, we've still got plenty of work ahead of us, trying to find out just what it is that the City builders want us to learn."

Duckworth smiled as he held a flame to the tip of Turnbull's cigarette.

"Who knows?" he said quietly. "h.e.l.l, maybe they want us to learn about them!"

Contents

DEAD RINGER.

by Lester del Rey

There was nothing, especially on Earth, which could set him free--the truth least of all!

Dane Phillips slouched in the window seat, watching the morning crowds on their way to work and carefully avoiding any attempt to read Jordan's old face as the editor skimmed through the notes. He had learned to make his tall, bony body seem all loose-jointed relaxation, no matter what he felt. But the oversized hands in his pockets were clenched so tightly that the nails were cutting into his palms.

Every tick of the old-fas.h.i.+oned clock sent a throb racing through his brain. Every rustle of the pages seemed to release a fresh shot of adrenalin into his blood stream. This time, his mind was pleading. It has to be right this time....

Jordan finished his reading and shoved the folder back. He reached for his pipe, sighed, and then nodded slowly. "A nice job of researching, Phillips. And it might make a good feature for the Sunday section, at that."

It took a second to realize that the words meant acceptance, for Phillips had prepared himself too thoroughly against another failure. Now he felt the tautened muscles release, so quickly that he would have fallen if he hadn't been braced against the seat.

He groped in his mind, hunting for words, and finding none. There was only the hot, sudden flame of unbelieving hope. And then an almost blinding exultation.

Jordan didn't seem to notice his silence. The editor made a neat pile of the notes, nodding again. "Sure. I like it. We've been short of shock stuff lately and the readers go for it when we can get a fresh angle. But naturally you'd have to leave out all that nonsense on Blanding. h.e.l.l, the man's just buried, and his relatives and friends--"

"But that's the proof!" Phillips stared at the editor, trying to penetrate through the haze of hope that had somehow grown chilled and unreal. His thoughts were abruptly disorganized and out of his control. Only the urgency remained. "It's the key evidence. And we've got to move fast! I don't know how long it takes, but even one more day may be too late!"

Jordan nearly dropped the pipe from his lips as he jerked upright to peer sharply at the younger man. "Are you crazy? Do you seriously expect me to get an order to exhume him now? What would it get us, other than lawsuits? Even if we could get the order without cause--which we can't!"

Then the pipe did fall as he gaped open-mouthed. "My G.o.d, you believe all that stuff. You expected us to publish it straight!"

"No," Dane said thickly. The hope was gone now, as if it had never existed, leaving a numb emptiness where nothing mattered. "No, I guess I didn't really expect anything. But I believe the facts. Why shouldn't I?"

He reached for the papers with hands he could hardly control and began stuffing them back into the folder. All the careful doc.u.mentation, the fingerprints--smudged, perhaps, in some cases, but still evidence enough for anyone but a fool-- "Phillips?" Jordan said questioningly to himself, and then his voice was taking on a new edge. "Phillips! Wait a minute, I've got it now! Dane Phillips, not Arthur! Two years on the Trib. Then you turned up on the Register in Seattle? Phillip Dean, or some such name there."

"Yeah," Dane agreed. There was no use in denying anything now. "Yeah, Dane Arthur Phillips. So I suppose I'm through here?"

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 31

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