There was a brief flurry inside the other sleeping bag. “So am I!” Edith’s voice was a whisper of fright. “That was no dream! I remember this. The lizard gave me something that I rubbed all over myself—and my hair came off. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t help myself.” Her hands went to her head and she sighed, “Well, that’sall there. For a moment I thought—”
“My skin is different,” Donald interrupted thoughtfully as he inspected himself. “It feels thicker. And I don’t feel cold, although I’ll bet it’s nearly freezing outside.”
“Don! Don’t you understand? That dream was real!” Edith said.
“Of course it was,—unless this is a dream. We could be having a nightmare about a nightmare….”
I looked at Ven.
“Just what did you do to them?” I asked.
She glowed guiltily. “I didn’t know it would take their hair off,” she said. “I was worried about their scratches, and the insects were biting them. So I made them rub on some of our skin conditioner.”
I raised my digits toward the sky. “There is an Authority that looks over fools and Thalassan females,” I said. “What made you so sure our conditioner would work on them? It might have been poisonous.”
“I tried it on the male first,” Ven said.
“Genius,” I breathed with icy sarcasm, “sheer genius!”
“Well,” she said, “it worked!” The eternal pragmatist had applied her sole criterion. “And what’s more they looked and smelled lots better after they used it.”
I shrugged, gave it up and turned my attention back to the mammals.
Edith had emerged from her sack and was standing before the male.
“Do I look like a nightmare?” she demanded.
“No. More like a skinned rabbit—ouch! What did you do that for?” He rubbed his face where she struck him with her digits.
“There!” Edith said. “Now do you think it’s a dream?”
“I never did,” he replied mildly. “I’ve never dreamed in my life. I was just breaking it to you easy. It was real enough—even the blank spaces. I wonder—”
“You wonder what?”
“What their reason was for capturing us and then letting us go. It doesn’t make sense. They wouldn’t grab us just for fun. They’re obviously intelligent, and probably thought we would be useful to them. But they turned us loose. So we couldn’t be useful except maybe for amusement—but that doesn’t jell. No. They’ve done something to us. They’ve let us go for a reason.”
“Stop analyzing!” Edith said. “Why don’t you just get scared, like I am!”
“I am,” he said, “but I like to figure things out. If I know what frightens me, it doesn’t bother me so much.”
“Do that while we’re on the way home. Get your clothes on and let’s get out of here! Right away!”
“We have to pack.”
“Oh, leave it! Let’s get out while we can!”
“I don’t think we’re in any danger,” he said.
“Well—I don’t want to stay here a minute longer!”
“All right. We’ll go. But we’ll pack first. Look at it logically. They had us cold. We didn’t escape. We were let go. So why, if they didn’t want us then, should they want us now?”
“Unless they can get us any time they want us.”
“You have a point there, but if that’s the case, they can get us anyway. So let’s pack.”
“You can pack if you want to. I’m leaving!” Edith pulled the opening to the tent and slipped out.
“Edith!” Donald cried. “Wait!”
I touched Ven. “Stop her,” I said.
Edith’s voice came from outside. “Don!” she called in a tight voice. “Don! Help me! I can’t move!“
“Try coming back here and see what happens,” Donald said slowly.
Edith’s head appeared in the entrance. “I’m back,” she said in a small voice.
“I thought you would be. Now let’s pack and perhaps they’ll let us go. It’s obvious that we can’t run away.”
“But why? What’s happened to us?“
“If I told you, you’d think I’m crazy.”
“Tell me anyway. It can’t be any worse than this.”
“I think,” Donald said slowly as he began to roll up his sleeping bag, “that we were kidnapped by extraterrestrials.”
“Not necessarily,” he said. “But if I remember my nightmare correctly, they aren’t human—and they are obviously smart. So they aren’t of this earth. We don’t have intelligent reptiles here. And with their ability to control our actions, I’d say that they were from a considerably higher culture than ours. They’ve done things to us—but I don’t think they did them just for fun. They want us to do something.”
“I don’t know. Right now I’d guess they want us to pack our things. Let’s do it and get out of here. This place smells like the reptile house in the zoo!”
I was amazed. The native’s analysis was as logical as my own would have been under similar circumstances. There was nothing wrong with his mind or with his courage. That big braincase held a smoothly functioning mind and a cold courage I could almost envy. In a similar fix I wasn’t sure that I could be so calm.
My respect for him mounted. If there were others like him on this world, his race could be a potential danger spot for the whole Galaxy. And, with the natural antipathy between our races, these creatures could be trouble if they ever reached space. I wondered for a moment if Authority had known this when It brought me here. There must be some design that I should land here when this race was still capable of being frustrated.
For the sake of civilization I would have to learn more about these mammals. Much more. But since the male had deduced so much, there was only one logical course of action. I adjusted the filters on my helmet to allow the passage of surface thoughts, twisted the dials on the controller until the meters balanced and projected gently.
“Donald—listen to me,” I said.
He stiffened. “I thought you would be somewhere around,” he said. “Who are you?”
“My name is Eu Kor, and I am a native of Thalassa.”
“A good many spatial units from here—a good many of your light years,” I amended. “I mean you no harm, but I need your cooperation. My spaceship is crippled. Our fuel has deteriorated. We need more and I want you to get it for us. We captured you because we need your help. Being a native you would not make a ripple in this society. And we would create whirlpools.”
“What is this material you want?”
“A metal. Atomic number 50, a white metal used as an alloy component of primitive metallic cultures,” I said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to get.” I didn’t realize how hard it was to describe what I wanted. I wasn’t getting through, and it bothered me. The culture barrier was almost as bad as though we couldn’t contact mind to mind.
“I think you mean tin,” he said. I grasped the concept and it seemed right.
“Bring me some and I will run tests,” I said.
“And what do I get in return?”
I thought quickly. If he wanted to bargain perhaps we could reach an agreement. It’s always better to have a cooperative proxy. They don’t cause nearly the trouble in management. And I had other things to do than monitor natives. There was a great deal of repair work to be done on the ship before she would fly again. The subspace radio power bank had to be rebuilt and the circuits should be checked.
“I can give you knowledge that you wouldn’t have for decades—maybe centuries,” I said. “And I can adjust your bodies for a longer and happier life.” I shot a glance at Ven still immersed in her helmet. “In fact, I have made a few adjustments already.”
“So I noticed,” Donald thought dryly. “Although whether they’re an improvement or not I couldn’t say. But did you have to go to all this trouble?”
“Think of us—and discount the fact that you carried us because our bodies are too weak for your heavy world.” I said. “Did you like us?”
“No,” he said. “You repelled me. I disliked you on sight, more than I can say.”
“The emotion is mutual,” I said. “Yet I can endure you. But with your glandular outlook you could only think of destroying us.”
“That is true. But you treated us like animals.”
“You are animals,” I said logically.
“We are masters of this world. We recognize no higher authority. We are free people—not slaves. And unless we are treated as free agents you will get no cooperation from us.”
“I can force you to do as I wish,” I said.
I took over. And while Donald watched with helpless horror his hand picked up a knife and drew it across his arm. The keen edge split the tissues neatly and the blood flowed.
“Don! What are you doing!” Edith screamed and then stiffened as Ven took control.
“Observe,” I said as I released control.
“Why, you—” Donald began—and then continued in a tone of wonder. “Why—the cut’s closing! There’s no more blood—It’s gone!”
“It’s just one of the improvements I mentioned,” I said smugly. “You also had a patch of scar tissue on your left lung and infected kidneys. You do not have them now. Had you not met us you would have been dead within five of your years.”
He was shaken. I could feel it. “I do have Bright’s disease,” he said thoughtfully.
“You had it,” I corrected.
“All right,” he said suddenly, “I’ll bargain with you. You’ve done me a good turn and it deserves a payment. I’ll help you get your metal.” He grinned ruefully. “I guess I couldn’t do anything else.”
“It makes it easier this way,” I said. I smiled to myself. I was telling him the truth, but not all of it. Nor did I trust him. There was fear and hatred in his lower centers, and a formless feeling in his upper levels that he could outsmart any damn lizard that ever lived. He didn’t realize that I could read his surface thoughts.
“Just remember,” I said, “I can control you completely, if necessary, and pick your brain for data whether you wish it or not. And forget those ideas of informing your authorities about us. Except with your mate you cannot communicate to anyone about us. There’s a basic block in your brain that will result in irreversible mental damage if you try.”
This last was not quite the truth. But I hoped that by establishing fear I would prevent talk. “Now find us samples of the metal I want.” I withdrew and went back to scanning.
“What was going on there?” Edith said. “You were talking to empty air. And why did you cut yourself?”
“It was one of our reptilian friends,” Don said. “Like I thought, they’re right with us—every way. He’s a weird sort. Wants to trade health and knowledge for tin.”
“Yeah. At least I think it’s tin. His description of the metal fits. They use it instead of rocket juice.”
“But that knife—your arm?”
“Look. No cut—no blood. That’s one of the things they did to us. We’ve got puncture-proof skin.”
“Is that good?”
“It isn’t bad. And I don’t think I’ll ever have to shave again. As I remember I put that stuff on my face. Anyway, we now have a couple of fairy godmothers who ride around in spaceships instead of pumpkin coaches.”
“You’re mixing your stories,” Edith said. “Cinderella travelled in the pumpkin coach, not her fairy godmother. And besides, it’s not funny. We’re more like those poor souls in the Middle Ages who were possessed by devils—incubuses, I think they called them.”
“It makes no difference what you call them,” Donald said indifferently. “Whatever they are, we’ve got them and they’re not going to leave until they’re damn good and ready. Incidentally, yours is a female, so she’s probably a succubus. Now don’t start screaming. You’ll probably be paralyzed if you do.”
“I won’t scream,” Edith said dully. “I’m too numb to scream.”
We had surprisingly little trouble with the two natives once they realized we could control them if we wished. Of the two, Edith was the worst. She refused to cooperate and had to be forced into the simplest actions.
“We’re going to have trouble with that one,” I observed as Ven looked at me with faint exasperation in her yellow eyes.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said. “Not really. This is a normal female reaction. It’s a phase. Like the way I felt when the Eugenics Council selected me to be your mate.”
“Did you feel like that?” I asked with surprise.
“Of course. I wanted to make my own choice.”
“But you never told me.”
“There was no need. I came around to the Council’s view before I met you. And Edith will come around to mine. Don’t worry. I know how to handle this.”
And she did.
I helped a little by altering a few reflex arcs and basic attitudes, but Ven wouldn’t allow me to modify the higher centers.
“There’s no need to make her a mindless idiot,” Ven said. “You didn’t do that to Donald.”
“Yes, but Donald controls his emotions. He doesn’t like me any better than Edith likes you, but he doesn’t work himself into an emotional homogenate every time I make a suggestion. We argue it out like rational intelligences. Often I can use his experience and viewpoint. And when I can’t agree, he will cooperate rather than operate under control. He’s not like that bundle of glands and emotions you are trying to make into a useful proxy.”
“She is a problem,” Ven admitted, “but if I had her here—”
“That can be arranged,” I said. “I’ll give you two weeks. And if that doesn’t work you let me perform a prefrontal block.”
“That isn’t very long.”
“That’s all we can afford, I told her.
“All right, I can try. In a month I know I could do it.”
Donald protested violently when I told him what we planned for Edith, but when I gave him the alternative, he reluctantly agreed.
He passed a story that Edith would be visiting friends, and brought her to the ship.
At once Ven went systematically to work to reduce the mammal to an acquiescent state that would permit control. Since sleep is unknown to our race but necessary for mammals, the task of breaking down the female’s resistance was simplified by physical exhaustion. Ven also found that the mammal’s sleeping time could be used to strengthen the new reflex channels built during her waking periods. The results were amazing, even to me, and I’m fairly well trained in neuromanipulation. Halfway through the second week the mammal’s surrender was complete.
“Another day and she can go back,” Ven said. “I can finish her training at long range. Now that I have the channels established, I don’t think she’ll be any further trouble.”
I took the helmet and scanned Edith. “Hmm,” I said. “Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve built yourself into an Authority image.”
“I know,” Ven said smugly. “She is essentially a dependent type. Her mate was her decision maker. That’s why I had to get her alone. It wasn’t too hard once I knew where to look. As a girl, her mother made the decisions for her. As a woman, Donald has done it. And when I faced her with situations where she had to decide and where the decisions were invariably wrong, she transferred the decision-making power to me.”
I looked at her sharply. “I had no idea that you intended to make a pet out of her,” I said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have permitted this.”
“Well, it’s too late now. And besides, it was the only way I could do it in the time you allotted. But don’t worry. She’ll be as good a tool as your precious Donald—maybe even a better one—because she’ll do things to please me and not merely because they’re expedient.”
Ven had a point there. But it isn’t a good policy to get emotionally involved with alien races. However, the deed was done, and as long as Ven was happy I didn’t care. I only hoped that she wouldn’t become too attached to the creature.
Donald was much more cooperative and much tougher. He had realized from the start that there was no profit in objecting to my demands. But, unlike Edith, he gave me no handle for leverage. He arranged his life to include the unpleasant fact of my existence, and that was that. Where Ven achieved a form of mastery, I never received anything more than acquiescence. There were levels in Donald I could not touch. At first it irked me, but then I realized that I was the greater gainer. For Donald was a constant challenge, a delight to the mind, an outward collaborator and an inward enemy. Our relationship had all the elements of an armed truce. And I often thought that if I did not have the crushing advantage of control, our contest might have been more even.
Although in time Donald’s hatred became modified to a grim sort of tolerance, and his repulsion into something that closely resembled admiration, he never lost the basic species antipathy which separated us. And in that regard our feelings were mutual. The ancient Thalassan proverb that familiarity breeds friendship simply didn’t apply. We held a mutual respect for each other, and in a fashion we cooperated, but I never could pierce the armor of resentment that shielded him. I tried, but finally I gave up. There would never be friendship between us. We, were too different—
And too alike.
In the days that followed the first contact, I proceeded according to approved methods of investigating alien civilizations. At my request, Donald went to the local book repository and we went through a number of works on law, government, social structure, and finance. I felt that I should have some knowledge of this mammalian culture before attempting to refuel the ship. There was no sense in calling attention to myself any more than necessary. If I could obtain what I wanted and leave quietly, I would be perfectly happy. This world was of interest—but it was too disturbing to contemplate for an extended period of time.
“You were right, Eu Kor,” Ven said to me as we scanned the pattern of the mammals’ culture. “If you had picked any place less isolated than this, we might have been engulfed in that maelstrom.”
I nodded. “It was more luck than design,” I said, “but I am happy that we are no closer. This world is not for us. It is too strange, too alien with its uncontrolled emotionalism and frightening energy.”
“It reminds me of a malignant neoplasm,” Ven said, “growing uncontrolled, destroying the body from which it draws sustenance. Have you ever seen such a seething flux of people—such growth—such appalling waste and carelessness?”
I shook my head. “The only parallel that comes to mind is Sennor.”
“But that’s a dead world—killed by a suicidal race that achieved technology before it had attained culture.”
“Which is precisely the situation we have here. Or have you observed their social inequities and history? Periodically these mammals erupt in merciless riots and slaughters over things that could be settled by reason. And oddly enough, these ‘wars’ as humans call them have the effect of stimulating technology. This is a race that apparently loves death and battle. A barbaric horde of cultural morons, with a civilized technology geared to mutual destruction.”
“Frankly, I’ve been scanning through Edith. I’ve seen only the technical excellence of their entertainment industry, and the enormous waste which goes into the making of one of their productions.”
“We must have a synthesis,” I said, “and pool our observations.”
“I’m not at all happy about this place,” I continued. “It makes me uncomfortable.”
“Could we modify it?” Ven asked.
I shook my head. “It would take an entire task force to do that. Reeducation of this culture would have to begin at birth after appropriate culling. We would have to start from the beginning. I fear that the council would never authorize such an action on behalf of mammals. We are altruistic … but not that altruistic.”
“Then they will destroy themselves?”
“I fear so. This culture has a poor prognosis. But it is perhaps better so. Or would you like to see them roaming through the Galaxy?”
Ven shuddered. “Not as they are now. Not these fierce, combative stupid brutes. Individuals perhaps, but not the race. They would have to learn the rules of civilization first.”
“Yet they show no sign of learning. If they can’t even cooperate with their own species, how in Authority’s name could they ever get along with the dissimilar races of this island universe?”
“They couldn’t. We would have to quarantine them.”
“So isn’t it better to save the expense and let them quarantine themselves?”
“I suppose so.” Ven’s aura was a dull gray and mine matched the gloom of hers. It is hard to stand aloof and watch a race condemn itself to death.
We fed our observations into the analyzer, together with all extraneous data we could lay our digits on via our proxies—not to prove our conclusions but to determine the means by which we could obtain the power metal with the least possible repercussions in this society. We both realized it would be fatal to expose ourselves. The mammalian technology was sufficiently advanced for them to duplicate the essential portions of our ship, and chaos could result if they secured a road to the stars. Generations of effort would be required to confine them again to their homeworld.
Thinking in this manner caused me to take certain precautions with the drive mechanism that would ensure no trace of our craft remaining if I projected a certain impulse at a given strength. Ven, of course, was appalled at my action, although she realized its grim necessity.
And in the meantime we worked with our proxies, I attempting to establish some means of quietly obtaining the metal we needed, and Ven doing nothing so far as I could determine that would further our mission. At that, Edith was in no position to obtain metal, and Ven was too young and inexperienced in contact work to attempt a mission of such delicacy. Since Edith amused her, I was content to leave them both to their own devices while I worked with Donald to speed our departure.
“In this society,” I said to Donald, “it seems that one can accomplish anything with this medium of exchange you call money.”
“That’s close to a fundamental truth,” Donald replied.
“And you are not too well supplied with it?” I asked.
“Those four ingots I brought you last week put a vicious dent in our savings account.”
“Isn’t your trade as an author profitable?”
“Only in spurts. It’s a feast-famine existence. But it’s the only one I care to lead.”
“But popular fiction makes money—and you can write.”
“I wish you’d tell that to my agent. He seems to have other ideas.”
“I have recently read some of your fiction,” I said, “and have noticed that it has certain basics that could easily be applied to an analyzer. There is no reason why we could not cooperate and produce a work that would yield a great deal of money.”
Donald laughed. “Now I’ve heard everything!” he said. “You mean to tell me you could write a book humans would buy?”
“No, you would write the book. I would merely furnish the idea, the research data, the plot, and the general story outline. In your popular fiction,” I continued, “there are four basic elements and a plot that can be varied about twenty-five ways. There is small need for philosophy and little need for abstract thought. In fact, there is no need at all for anything but glandular excitation. All that is really necessary is plenty of action, enough understanding of the locale and events to avoid anachronism—and the basics.”
“What are these basics?” Donald said. “As a writer I’d like to know them.”
“There are four,” I ticked them off on my digits. “First, violation of the ethical or moral code of your race; second, adequate amounts of cohabitation between the characters; third, brutality; and fourth—murderous assault.”
“Hmm. Sin, sex, sadism and slaughter,” Donald commented. “You know, you might have something there.”
“I have prepared an outline and a synopsis of such a book,” I said. “It is a historical novel. It should sell. Most historical novels do.”
“You’ve done what?” Donald gasped. Then he laughed. “Of all the insufferable egoists I’ve ever seen!”
“Listen,” I said, ordering him to silence while I outlined the opening chapter.
“I can’t stop you,” Donald said. “But why should this happen to me? Isn’t it bad enough to be bossed around by you lizards without having to be forced to ghost-write your amateur literary efforts?”
“It is laid in the period of your history called the Renaissance,” I continued, “and deals with a young man of a noble but impoverished house who rose to power by cleverness, amorality and skill with the sword.”
“I suppose the girl is the daughter of the local duke.”
“No,” I said, “she is the favorite wife of a Saracen corsair.”
“Well, that’s a switch,” Donald said. “Tell me more.”
So I did. I outlined the opening and told him the major points of the whole story … as the computer had synthesized it out of seven excellent novels of the period and a four-volume set of Renaissance history.
Donald was enthralled. “You’re right,” he said. “It will sell. It’s lousy literature, but it’s got appeal. With this story and my writing we can out-Spillane Mickey.” He was more enthusiastic than I had ever seen him appear before.
“Who is Spillane?” I asked.
Donald looked at me as though he thought I was crazy and shook his head. “I can get to work on it as soon as I get home,” Donald said. “And if I keep at it, it’ll be ready for mailing in a couple of weeks. I’ll get it off to my agent and we’ll see. I hate to admit it, but I think you’re right about the yarn. It should sell like hotcakes.”
“That is fine. It should provide us with the medium of exchange, which is necessary in this society.”
“It’s not necessary,” Donald grinned. “It’s essential.”
Donald’s prediction was a good one. The book sold—and sold well. Despite the outright plagiarism of ideas and source material it was hailed as a new novel—one that stimulated thought with its realistic approach to the life of the times. And we prospered amazingly.
With the advance money, I had Donald buy the land on which the ship was resting, together with the valley and rimrock. Having thus secured our landing site I felt a bit more comfortable. The comfort was even greater when, at Donald’s suggestion, a fence was placed around the property and electronic tell-tales were installed. The remainder of the royalties were used to purchase tin and supplies.
But despite our prosperity and the regular supply of tin that came to me as a result of my adventure in fiction, and the certainty that Ven and I would be leaving, Donald was not happy.
As a successful new author he had to travel to meetings in various cities. He had to speak at public gatherings. He had to meet with publishers eager to receive rights to his next book. And Edith did not go with him.
Ven was adamant on this point. “It’s bad enough that she is working on this motion picture,” she said, “but I’m not going to have her traveling all over the face of this planet. She’s the only amusement I have since we must stay cooped up in this place. I’m not going to let her go.”
Donald was upset about it. He was so angry that he came to visit me voluntarily, and the sight of Edith’s little car parked under the trees below the ship infuriated him even more. It took the controller to make him keep his distance as he stood in front of the airlock and hated me.
“Damn you!” he swore. “You can’t do this to me! Edith’s my wife and I don’t like this relationship between her and that—that dinosaur! It isn’t healthy.”
“It’s out of my hands,” I said. “Edith is Ven’s responsibility.”
“It’s not only that,” he raged. “Ever since you lizards butted into our lives Edith looks at me like I was a stranger.” His face twisted. “I’ll admit she has her reasons. But that gives her no call to ask Ven’s advice rather than mine. When I told her I wanted her to come with me, the first thing she said was that she’d ask Ven. She doesn’t do one damn thing without that cold-blooded little monster’s consent! She even asks advice on what clothes she should wear!” He laughed harshly. “The blind asking advice from the blind!”
I couldn’t help chuckling. Ven, like all Thalassans, had never worn anything in her life except a utility belt. Clothing has never been a feature of our culture. Since it isn’t necessary on Thalassa, it was never developed, and since our sex impulses are periodic it has never been useful to attract either males or females. “I can see your point,” I said. “Ven’s ideas along that line would be zero.”
“Not quite,” Donald said angrily. “She likes moccasins. Apparently they make feet look more like your pads.”
“But that’s it! Edith’s idea of what a well-dressed housewife should wear is—moccasins! She damn near caused a riot the other day when our TV repairman called to fix the set. We’ll be lucky if we’re not forced to move because of that little incident!”