“I’ll speak to Ven,” I said. “And if that doesn’t work, I’ll insert a block against such a thing happening again. I don’t want special attention called to you. That sort of thing will stop right now.”
“Thanks,” Donald said. “But I should be the one to stop it.”
“Face it,” I replied, “you aren’t. Not now. But you will be once we’re gone.”
“Which can’t be too soon to suit me,” he said. “I spend every spare moment collecting tin for you. Edie doesn’t. She wants Ven to stay.”
“They seem to be happy with each other. Edith comes up here regularly.”
“I know,” he said bitterly. “She’s here more often than she’s home. I can’t see what fun she gets out of running around these hills stripped to the skin carrying your mate on her shoulders.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “Certainly you never seem to enjoy performing that service for me.”
“I don’t even like the thought of it. I’m not an animal, after all.”
“But you are,” I said. “So am I. The only difference is that I am a superior animal and you, being inferior, conform to my wishes. It is a law of nature that the superior type will inevitably rule. The inferior either conforms or dies. And you have no desire to die.”
He shook his head. “But I can still object,” he said.
“At that?” I asked pointing across the meadow with a primary digit.
Edith was running, her long yellow hair floating free behind her. Ven, high on her shoulders in a seat the two of them had contrived, waved gaily at us as they came up. Edith was flushed and laughing. Her eyes sparkled and her smooth bronze body gleamed in the sunlight. She lowered Ven to the ground, slipped the harness off her smooth shoulders and stood behind my mate, breathing deeply but not at all distressed.
“Oh, Donald!” she said. “We had a wonderful climb—clear up to the top of the ridge! And coming down was almost like flying! I’ll tell you all about it in a minute, right after I take a dip in the pool. Ven doesn’t like it when I sweat.” She turned and ran down to the little pool in the meadow.
“See what I mean!” Donald gritted.
“She seems happy. She’s not hurt. And Ven’s little weight doesn’t seem to bother her. What are you complaining about?”
Donald growled something unintelligible, turned on his heel and walked away.
I let him go. There was no sense in making him angrier than he was. After a moment the snarl of his car’s engine rose to a crescendo then faded away into the distance.
A few minutes later Edith came back to the ship. “Why did Don leave?” she asked.
“Perhaps he had something to do,” Ven said.
She pouted. “He’s always so busy nowadays,” she said sulkily. “He isn’t nice like he used to be. Do you think he’s tired of me?”
“No, I don’t think so. He just doesn’t like you spending so much time up here,” I said.
“But it’s fun—and Ven likes it,” she said. “I like it too. And since he isn’t home much any more, it’s the only place where I can relax and be myself.” She brushed the drops of water from her body and shook out her damp hair. “It’s wonderful up here—so quiet and peaceful—and Ven’s so nice.”
My mate’s aura glowed a pleased pink as I turned an embarrassed lavender. It was almost criminal, I thought, what Ven had done to the girl. Donald might be my servant, but I had never attempted to condition him into liking it. As much as possible we operated as equals, rather than in this sickening relationship which Ven had imposed upon Edith. To avoid showing my displeasure I went up to the control room, donned my helmet and went into rapport with Donald.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I hadn’t realized the true situation. The best thing for both of us is for Ven and me to leave as quickly as possible.”
“How quick is that?” he shot back angrily.
“Four thousand pounds more,” I said.
“Whew! That can must drink tin.”
“It takes a great deal to leave a planet,” I said. “And hyperspace demands a great deal more. Once we develop an inertialess drive it will be easier. But we’ve only been working on it a thousand years. These things take time.”
“I imagine. Well, are you going to do anything about Edith?”
“No,” I said. “It would only make things worse. The relationship has gone too far. Ven has become an Authority-image.”
“You could break it.”
“But I won’t. I’m fond of Ven.”
“You’re a damned little tyrant,” Donald said. “You like to see a human squirm.”
“Be thankful that I’m the worst tyrant you’ll see,” I answered sharply. “You could really learn about them if the Slaads knew you existed. They’re more advanced than you. And, unlike us, they’re warlike and predatory. They breed mammals for food. However, I’ll put up a marker on your moon before I leave. They respect Thalassa and won’t preempt our claims.”
“You mean you’re going to lay claim to Earth?”
“Only technically. We’ll exercise it only if the Governing Council decides it will be to our advantage.”
“What would you do if you took over?” Don asked curiously.
“Clean things up,” I said. “Stop wars, stabilize the population, increase production and distribution, give you an effective central government and an understandable legal code, and eliminate the unfit. In three generations you’d be Class VI all over your planet.”
“It sounds good. What’s the catch.”
“The catch,” I said, “is that you wouldn’t like it. You mammals are erratic, emotional and uncontrolled. You do not reason well, and you have no race discipline.”
“The capability of sacrificing units for the benefit of the whole. Eugenics control, culling the unfit.”
“You’re talking about human beings!” Donald exploded.
“And what makes a human being different from any other animal?” I asked. “Would you hesitate to dispose of an animal that was unfit to breed?”
He sighed. “No,” he said. “But that’s not the same.”
“What’s the difference? And realize, it’s done for your betterment.”
“Just a bunch of murderous little altruists,” Donald sneered. “Out of the kindness of your cold-blooded hearts—”
“That’s the trouble with you lower orders,” I interrupted. “You get emotional. Your observations have no basis in logic. Actually, the Galaxy wouldn’t even quiver if the lot of you disappeared tomorrow. Yet you think the universe rotates about your heads.”
“Don’t interrupt,” I snapped. “You—your race—your whole pitiful little civilization is ready mentally and almost ready technologically to commit suicide. If we came and saved you, you would owe us eternal gratitude, but I doubt if we’d get it.”
“You wouldn’t,” Donald assured me. “There wouldn’t be a human alive who wouldn’t hate you.”
“I realize that—and that is one of the reasons I should report your world unfavorably to the council. We could hardly take on an altruism mission like this unless we felt that our work would be appreciated. It would be better to let you kill yourselves.”
“In a sense. At least your race would be the greater gainers. All we’d get would be your excess population.”
“And what would you want them for—slaves?”
“Authority, no!” I said, shocked in spite of myself. “We’d merely process them for food.”
He was silent after that.
Donald was away again, at a publisher’s meeting. Our new book laid in Restoration England was going to be an even greater success than the first if the advance notices were any criterion. Edith was at a studio party celebrating the completion of the picture in which she was working. And Ven was bored.
For awhile she sat in on Donald’s conference in a city called New York, but that proved to be uninteresting. I was busy with a faulty fuel feed in the drive chamber. The sun was hot, and the day was promising to be extremely warm even though it was not yet noon. It was one of those days when nothing happens, and I was grateful for it. I had had enough of emotional tangles to last me for some time. It was almost soothing to work with the robots on insensate machinery rather than supervise a pair of highly charged mammals and a hardly less unstable mate.
The association with these entities hadn’t done Ven a great deal of good. In fact, I could notice a deterioration of her character that bothered me. She no longer looked at me with respect. Indeed, her yellow eyes at times held a pitying amusement that I should be so weak as to argue with Donald. I didn’t bother to point out that the three tons of power metal had virtually all been brought aboard through Donald’s efforts, and that our conveniences, our defenses, our robots and our very lives were due to the working arrangements I had established.
The only useful thing Edith had done in the past month was to help me change the tube liners in the steering jets. Her size and strength had made the job easy—and it was normally a hard one, since the robots didn’t have the flexibility or balance that Edith, with her dancer’s body, possessed. The job had taken two days. It would have taken better than a week if I had to use robots.
The mammals, I thought, would be of distinct value as members of spaceport maintenance crews. Their combination of immense strength and high intelligence would be useful to our society. I made a note of it and added it to the data I was assembling for the Council. It was foolish, perhaps, but I couldn’t help feeling an interest in these creatures.
I looked across the little valley that was our domain. It was an idyllic life we were leading. Unhurried—peaceful—the sort of life I thoroughly enjoyed. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the insane and dangerous world on which it was being lived.
Of course it was too good to last. Idylls invariably are. The peace of ours was shattered abruptly when Ven came into the drive room and disturbed my work. Her aura blazed a rich violet.
“Eu,” she said. “Come up to the control room. Something’s wrong!”
“What,” I asked.
“It’s Edith. I can’t do a thing with her.”
“You’re not supposed to. She’s working now.”
“She is not! Her studio has finished the picture and they’re having a party.”
“That’s nice. I hope you’re letting her have a good time.”
“I told her to. But I never imagined what they’d be doing!” Ven’s voice was anguished.
“Well, what are they doing?”
“Ingesting ethanol to excess!”
“Ethanol!” I gasped. “Oh no!”
I hadn’t realized that normal mammals consumed excess amounts of the stuff, although there were references to it in the literature. I thought that was merely literary exaggeration. After all, we had been here scarcely half a year, and we hadn’t really learned too much about the details of mammalian society. Donald’s kidneys had forced him to lead a quiet life, and the passing of Edith from his control to Ven’s had caused no remarkable alterations in her doings.
I should have paid more attention to their customs. But I had been too busy. I swore as I reached for my control helmet. I’d have to stop this before it became serious. Donald would be of no help to me. He was several thousand vursts away, and even under the best circumstances couldn’t be expected back for a day.
I didn’t bother to call him, but instead adjusted the controls to Edith’s setting.
A horde of gaily dressed mammals surrounded me, their faces and bodies oddly fuzzy and distorted. Edith’s voice was equally fuzzy. There was something wrong with her centers. I tapped the helmet and checked the controller just in case it was on our end, but they were functioning perfectly. There was nothing wrong—merely the fact that ethanol was disturbing the biocircuits I had implanted in her brain. I swore a few choice expletives of Low Thalassan and tried to get through by increasing the power. It did no good.
“I c’n still feel that li’l lizard in m’ head,” Edith announced. “Gimme another drink. I wanna wash her out. Darn li’l lizard makes me do things I dowanna do. It wants me to quit, but I wanna get drunk.”
“Take it easy,” a fuzzy male face said. “You’re loaded. Why does a nice chick like you hafta be loaded? Whyncha get outa here? I gotta nice place over in Santa Monica where—”
The face disappeared.
“Hey! Alice! Golly, I almos’ din’t reckanize you. Howya doin?”
“Better than you, Edith. You’re drunk. And from the looks of you, you’re going to be sick if you don’t get some fresh air.”
“Gotta go spit in the eye of my li’l lizard,” Edith said. “Y’wanna come with me? I got Don’s car. We c’n get outa here an’ get some fresh air—an’ I c’n tell that li’l lizard what I think of her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You wanna see my li’l lizard. She’s got yella eyes, and a li’l tail, and she turns all kindsa colors, and she lives in a rock with a door in it, an she makes me do things I dowanna do. It ain’t so bad though. Mosta the time I like it. Not alla time though. That’s why I wanna spit in her eye. She c’n tell me all she wants—but she’s gotta leave me’n Don alone. I love that guy.” Edith started sobbing—why, I couldn’t understand.
“She’s maudlin,” I said to Ven. “No one’s going to believe a thing she is saying. But this should be a warning to us. We’ll have to put in a block against drinking ethanol. I didn’t realize how badly it can affect the biocircuits.” I handed the helmet back to Ven. “You can watch this mess if you want to. I’m going to our quarters.”
I slipped out of the control chair and walked across the room.
I was stronger now, more accustomed to the gravity, and it didn’t bother me unless I had to stand for long periods of time. I turned in the doorway to look at Ven. She had the helmet on again and her aura was a crackling red. I shook my head. Edith was due for a bad time when the effects of that hydrocarbon wore off.
I had hardly fallen into light estivation when Ven’s projection crashed through my antennae.
“Eu! Get up! Come here quickly!”
With a groan I came slowly back to full facility and ran to the control room. Ven’s face was filled with panic.
“They’re coming up here,” she said. “A whole carful of them!”
“Edith’s drunken friends! Somehow she’s collected six of them and they’re driving up here to spit in my eye!”
Despite myself, I laughed. Ven looked so outraged I couldn’t help it.
“We can close the airlock,” I said, “and they can’t tell us from a rock.”
“I won’t! I’m going to teach that girl a lesson she won’t forget in a hurry! I’ve listened to myself being insulted for two hours—and she’s still going strong. When she gets up here I’ll show her whose eye she’ll spit in!”
Ven was raging. I’d never seen her so emotional before. Her aura swelled and ebbed in ruddy shades as her breath came and went in short gasps.
“And how do you propose to do that?” I asked.
“I’ll stat her!” Ven raged. “I’ll stat every one of them!”
I blinked. “I wouldn’t do that,” I said mildly. “What can we do with them? The two we have are bad enough. And if you stat them, we’ll have to kill or condition them. We couldn’t let them go home with a story like the one they’d tell.”
“I don’t care,” Ven said. “You can do what you like about the rest of them, but that Edith is going to learn a lesson.” She was being emotional and quite unwilling to listen to reason—and she was larger and stronger than I. Despite my protests, she jerked a stat projector from the rack and strode toward the open airlock.
“Thalassa!” she exclaimed. “They’re coming through the gate! They’ll be here in a minute.”
I could hear the roar of a protesting engine groaning up the trail to the lower meadow as I hurried after Ven. As I reached the airlock, the gray body of Donald’s station wagon poked its nose around the trees below our ship.
Ven stood rigidly in the airlock, waiting, her lips tight and her eyes narrow. She took a firmer grip on the stat as the car stopped and the giggling, half-sober humans tumbled out. I was in a quandary. I didn’t want Ven to shoot, but I couldn’t close the airlock with her inside it. So I stood, hesitating while the group of gaily dressed mammals came toward us through the trees, their high voices loud in the stillness.
“Gotta find that li’l lizard an tell her to stop meddling with my life,” Edith’s voice came to my ears.
Ven stiffened beside me as the group broke out of the trees in front of the ship.
“Why, Edie, it’s beautiful!” a voice said. “It’s a fairy glen! No wonder you’d never tell us where you got that suntan! And that big rock—it’s just like you said—And—uh!” The voice never finished as Ven pressed the trigger.
I looked down at the six crumpled mammalian bodies and the lone standing figure that looked stupidly up at us.
“Well,” I said. “You’ve done it this time. Now are you satisfied?
“No,” Ven said. “Not half.” Her voice was tight with anger. She looked down at Edith. “Come here!” she said.
“Dowanna,” Edith replied uncertainly. “You’ve made Don leave me. I don’t like you.” But habit was stronger than alcohol and under the furious lash of Ven’s voice she came unsteadily forward.
“Do you understand me, you little sarf!” Ven snapped icily. “I said come here!” She took the control box from her waist and viciously twisted the intensity dial to maximum. At this range its force was irresistible, even with alcohol-deadened synapses. Edith shuddered and moved toward us, her hands clumsily tearing at the fabric that covered her.
“I’m comin’! You don’ hafta shout. I ain’t deaf. I ain’t done nothin’!” She sat down beside the airlock and struggled out of her clothing, ripping the thin fabric under the last of Ven’s anger until she was completely naked. Then she stood up and reached her hands toward Ven.
“You’re not going to try to ride her while she’s in that condition?” I said.
“This is my affair,” Ven replied grimly. “I’m going to get this settled.”
There was no sense reasoning with her while she was in that mood. And if she wanted to kill herself that was her concern. I watched her drop onto Edith’s shoulders, wind one hand viciously into the mammal’s long blonde hair and guide the gross body into a shambling walk toward the meadow. Edith swayed dangerously, but somehow she managed to stay on her feet as they disappeared into the trees.
I walked over to the six bodies, gave each of them a light stat to make sure they would remain quiet and sat down beside the nearest one to think.
Ven’s anger had left me a sizeable problem. What on earth could I do with six human females? I needed them like I needed a broken digit. Time passed and the sun rose toward the zenith, and finally I came to a decision. Since we had them on our hands, we might as well make use of them. Killing would be too dangerous.
And presently Edith came through the trees, a sick, tired, sober Edith whose face was dirty and tear streaked, carrying a grim Ven whose aura smoldered a reddish brown.
“What did you do to her?” I asked.
“None of your business,” Ven snapped. “She’s all right now. Aren’t you, Edith?”
“Yes, Ven—and I won’t do it again. Honest I won’t.”
“You’d better not,” Ven said grimly. “Now I suppose we have some work to do.”
“You certainly have,” I said. “If it wasn’t for your temper we wouldn’t have this mess on our hands. Now get moving! Have Edith carry these girls to the ship.” I gestured at the prone bodies. “And you, get inside and bring out the control equipment and connect the leads to the computer.” I was angry, too. Under the force of my superior will, the two females scurried to obey. “I’m disgusted with you, Ven,” I said angrily. “Just because your pet went to a party, you don’t have to act childish. Did you expect she’d behave like a Thalassan?”
“I trusted her,” Ven said.
“It just goes to show that you can’t trust an animal too far,” I said. “Now get moving. Bring the probes first. We have a lot of work to do before evening.”
It was finished sooner than I expected. The sun was still in the sky, but close to the edge of the hills. The row of mammalian bodies slumbered peacefully beside the airlock. Ven looked down at them speculatively.
“No,” I said. “You have one, and that’s enough.”
“But,” Ven said.
“I’ve humored you,” I said. “I’ve let you act like a lower order. Now I want to see you behave like a civilized being. For unless you do, I shall have to take steps. I’m tired of this childishness.”
“I’ll be all right now,” Ven replied. “We’ve come to an understanding.” She gestured at Edith with her primary digit and the big mammal shivered. I wondered what Ven had done to her. Edith was thoroughly cowed—actually afraid of little Ven, who was less than one fifth her size. In a way, I felt an odd sort of pride in my mate that she should achieve mastery over such an intelligent and potentially dangerous brute. I knew perfectly well that I’d never dare attempt such dominance over Donald unless I was prepared to rob him of the mentality that made him useful. But I consoled myself with the thought that this female was peculiarly susceptible to domination.
“We’d better get that car out of sight,” Ven said. She nodded to Edith. The human obediently trotted off in the direction of the car. A few moments later the sound of the motor rose and fell as she concealed it in the trees.
As soon as I could, I contacted Donald and told him what had happened. Fortunately he was alone, so his exclamation of surprise and consternation didn’t arouse any suspicion.
“Ethanol, eh?” he said speculatively.
It was easy to follow the trend of his thoughts. “Don’t get any ideas,” I warned in my best TV villain manner. “I have Edith up here with me. If you want to see her again, you’d better stay sober.”
“I wouldn’t think of crossing you,” he assured me insincerely. “I’m too close to being rid of you.”
“Well—what do we do?” I asked. “You’re the expert on this insane society of yours.”
“You’ve done it,” he said. “I don’t think it was smart of you, but under the circumstances, I can’t see how you could have done anything else. I warned you about Ven and Edith,” he added—rather gloatingly, I thought. “Now you’re in for it.” His voice was almost gay.
“Six women vanishing all at once is going to cause a stir even in Los Angeles,” he said.
“After an ethanol party?” I asked curiously. “Six dancers out of a production that used a hundred? Your city will never miss them.”
“But their families will.”
Families! I hadn’t thought of that. Mammals had strong family ties—probably due to their method of reproduction. We Thalassans, coming as we did from eggs, had none of this. The state incubators and the creches were our only contact with parenthood. We had no families. “Hmm,” I said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Well, you’d better start. I hope it gives you a headache.”
“You get nastier every time I talk with you,” I complained.
“I have my reasons,” he said bitterly. “Now, if you’re through with me, little master, I think I’d like to get some sleep. In the meantime you’d better get them back to their homes before they’re missed.”
“I can’t,” I confessed. “The controller isn’t big enough to handle eight of you—not as individuals.”
Donald chuckled grimly. “That’s your worry. Remember, unless you find out which of them will be missed and act accordingly, you’re going to be very much in the public eye.”
I didn’t feel too happy as I cut off, but Donald had given me an idea.
One by one I checked the new proxies. Of the six, two were living together. They had the casual emotional involvement with males so characteristic of this species, but they could remain here for several days without causing comment. Of the remaining four, one had a roommate and would be difficult to extract; another was living alone; still another was mated and had an offspring, but she was not living with her mate—a legal action having separated her much as it separates incompatible Thalassans. The offspring, however, was living with her when she wasn’t working, a not unusual situation on this world, but one which could have some complications unless she was returned to it very shortly.
The last was living with her parents and was seriously involved emotionally with a male. She was planning to be officially mated in the near future, although it would be legal fiction rather than fact since she was already nurturing a living embryo of some three weeks development. I debated whether to remove it, a simple enough manipulation, but decided against it. It would be interesting to observe a mammalian reproduction. But to remove her from her family and her unofficial mate was a task that might be difficult. I needed help.
I projected a call for Ven, phrasing it imperatively so she could have no doubt about its urgency. Her answer was quick and clear.
“I’m coming,” she said.
“Good. I need you. And bring Edith. We have a problem that will require her talents.”
“She’ll be happy to cooperate.” Ven’s projection was cheerfully confident.
“You did her no permanent damage, I hope.”
“Not a bit. In fact, you’d never know she’s been disciplined.”
“Well, get in here, both of you. We have work to do.”
Edith had trouble squeezing into the control room and, despite her skin conditioning, the place quickly filled with her scent. But Ven and I were old hands now and took it in stride. She grasped the problem instantly. “The only one who might be any trouble is Alice. Her family and her boy friend can be difficult. The others won’t need much effort, except for Grace. She’d better be returned to her baby as soon as possible.”
“How soon?” I asked.
“The baby isn’t living with her,” Edith added, “not while she’s working, but she sees it regularly. Every day or two, I believe.”
I sighed. That solved the biggest problem.
“We had better start at once,” Ven said.
I ignored her and looked inquiringly at Edith. “What would you do?” I asked, flashing a cold projection at Ven to stay out of this.
“Well—if I had to do it, I’d send Alice and Grace home. I wouldn’t do anything to Alice except block her from talking about this place and what happened. Grace I’d put under full control, have her pick up her baby, go home and pack to leave. As soon as she’s ready to go, bring her out here.”
“The infant, too?”
“Of course. A baby’s no bother.”
This, I thought, was something of an understatement.
“And what of the others?” I asked.
“Velma has a nosey roommate. Have her start a fight and leave angry. She hasn’t much baggage, and it won’t be any trouble for her to collect it. As for the other three, I think Joan’s being kept. She can’t afford a single apartment on her salary. Loleta and Marian are always out, sometimes for days. Their landlady won’t think a thing of it. If they never return, she’ll just pack their things and rent the room to someone else. I know that old witch. I’d just keep those three here and not worry about them. Nobody’s going to make any fuss about three chorines disappearing. Later on you can make them write letters enclosing money to send their clothes to another city. Then they can be picked up and stored. That should give us a year before anyone gets suspicious enough to look for them.”
“Edith,” I said, “you’re a genius.”
“I got you into this mess,” Edith said. “So, perhaps I’d better get you out.”
“But your fellow mammals—”
“You haven’t hurt me—not much, anyway,” Edith said. “So I don’t suppose you’ll hurt them. And, besides, I don’t want Ven mad at me like she was this afternoon. Anyway—you’ll be gone soon.”
“I think I shall regret leaving,” I said honestly. “There is a great deal about you mammals I am beginning to suspect I do not know.”
“You aren’t kidding,” she said with faint bitterness so similar to Donald’s that my antennae quivered. “But it’s been quite an experience. I’ll tell my kids when I have them—but they’re not going to believe me.”
“I hope you have those children—and raise them to maturity,” I said.
The tone of my voice caused her to look at me with sudden fear on her face. But at the sight of my impassive features it died away. “You scared me for a moment,” she said.