“Did I? I didn’t mean to.”
The next week kept us busy following Edith’s instructions. I didn’t see how they would apply to Alice, but Edith knew her species better than I. Alice’s silence and the prying inquisitiveness of her parents and her boyfriend worked like magic. Alice finally became angry and after a stormy scene left the house, swearing never to return. Edith picked her up as she walked away; Ven turned on the control and turned the threat to fact. Later I took a leaf from Edith’s book and sent Alice to San Francisco, where I had her write a pair of bitter letters to her parents and her extralegal mate. After that I felt more secure.
The others worked out exactly as Edith predicted. No trouble at all. By the time Donald returned from the East with a ton of tin ingots in a small truck our training schedule was well set up. The robots and I had managed to build a multiplex controller similar to those we used on Thalassa on the state farms, but much smaller. It could handle the proxies en masse or as individuals. While far less sensitive than the one in the ship, it was effective enough for our rather elementary purposes.
Edith, who was running the group under Ven’s supervision, had them lined up in a row to greet Donald as he came up the hill toward the ship.
“The place looks like a nudist colony,” Donald grumbled. “You haven’t improved it any.” He eyed the file of mammals trooping down to the truck to unload the tin ingots. “I have another ton lined up for delivery as soon as you get this processed,” he said.
“Good,” I replied. “We’ll leave as soon as it’s aboard. I don’t like the looks of your recent actions.”
“Mine?” I shook my head. “Oh, you mean the world situation.” I nodded. “You shouldn’t worry about it. You should have seen it this time last year.”
I shrugged. I would never really understand these creatures. Their brains functioned differently. “You frighten me with your wild displays of emotion. Someday one of you is going to start something and your world is going to go up in fire.”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I have some ideas about that. With the money from your stories and with what you have taught me, I think there will be some changes.” There was a peculiar expression in his eyes that I couldn’t identify. It made me vaguely uneasy. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since you met up with Edie and me. What this world needs is someone who can run it.”
“That’s obvious,” I said. “Until your society catches up with your technology you will be in constant danger. You mammals will have to learn to discipline your emotions.”
His face twisted. “I’ve had a good practical course in that,” he said. “Now I’m getting post-graduate training.” He gestured at the women coming up the hill carrying the silver tin ingots. “Just how long do you think I can endure something like this?”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Do I have to draw you a diagram?” he asked. “Ever since you lizards came into my life I haven’t been able to touch a woman. Not even Edith—and she’s my wife. Just how much of this do you think I can take?”
“Oh!” I exclaimed with dawning comprehension. “I think I see.”
The situation would have been amusing if it wasn’t so stupid. I was surprised that I hadn’t realized it before. There was, I knew, a certain amount of feedback in a bipolar control circuit. Obviously enough of Ven’s conditioning, and mine, had seeped through to affect Donald and Edith’s normal relationships. Mammals were far more preoccupied with sex than we were. Their books, magazines, television and motion pictures reeked of it. It was present in almost every piece of advertising, and four of our six new proxies were living histories of it. Yet Donald and Edith, because of our feedback, had been kept as continent as novitiates for the priesthood of Authority!
“I’m a perfectly normal male,” Donald said. “Just what do you think you’ve been doing to me? I can’t drink. I can’t make love. I can’t do anything except collect tin for you lizards. Just why do you think I hate you? Now you surround me with a whole damned untouchable harem! Are you trying to drive me insane?”
I laughed, and Donald recognize the sound for what it was.
“Oh, damn you!” he said bitterly. “How would you like to be married for eight months and for six of them be unable to touch your wife? Just why do you think Edith tried to get drunk? I could kill you cheerfully for what you’ve done to us!”
“Oh!” I said. There was a world of understanding opening in front of me. Of course, it would do no good to tell him that Ven and I had remained in enforced continence for five years. It was just the Eugenics council working through us—entirely involuntarily. What was bothering Donald and Edith was so absurdly simple that neither Ven nor I would have thought to ask. And the mammals with their peculiar customs and habits would never have told us unless—as had happened—the pressure became too great.
What our mammals needed was a good dose of Va Krul’s basic therapy. If Edith were fertilized as a result of it, so much the better. It would keep her attention where it more properly belonged. The thought would never have occurred to me in my present state. Since I was content, I had erroneously assumed that everything was in harmony.
“You might as well go home,” I said. “Take Edith with you. We won’t need you for several days.”
“You’ll find things a little different. I’ll make a few adjustments on the controller.”
To my surprise Don didn’t appear happy at all. “Does that mean what I think it does?” he demanded. “Do you think I’ll get any satisfaction out of being controlled even there?”
“I don’t know about the pleasure,” I said coldly, “but I do know that it will improve your attitude.”
Donald raged at me, his brain white with anger. “So help me God, Eu Kor, someday I’m going to kill you for this! It’s the ultimate insult.”
“You’re not going to do anything,” I said calmly. His voice dissolved into obscenity. For a moment I felt sorry for him until I remembered the basic truth that none of us are free—and the most intelligent, naturally, are the least free of all. They are bound by their commitments, their duties, their responsibilities, and by their intelligence itself. If a superior intelligence occasionally exhibits petty lapses—which amuse him or relieve his boredom—it is not the place of the less endowed to construe it as a sign of equality.
Some—like Ven and me—have known their place from birth. Others, like Edith and Alice, learn easily with a minimum amount of pain. Some like Grace learn hard; and some—like Donald—do not learn at all.
Donald was the eternal rebel, complying because he must, yet seething with resentment because he did. He was the personification of drive without innate control, ambition without humility, intelligence without wisdom. As he had been, he was not quite enough. At best he would have been a minor author and a petty domestic tyrant. He would never have been a threat simply because he didn’t have the ability or training. But I had given him what he lacked. The knowledge I had impressed upon his mind would give him a tremendous advantage over his fellow mammals, and his tendencies toward domestic tyranny would expand to include others. His glandular attitude would pervert his knowledge to the detriment of humankind. He could become a thing so dangerous that it could destroy this precariously balanced world.
I went into the ship and set up a world matrix on the computer, using all the data I had accumulated, secured the answer, and then inserted Donald’s potential into the matrix. I then ordered a probability extrapolation for both matrices, equating the solutions with survival.
The answers confirmed my thoughts. With the matrix as it stood, the twenty year survival prediction was 65 per cent, which wasn’t too bad since few advanced-technology worlds have better than an 85 per cent survival probability. But with Donald in the matrix, the survival prediction was zero!
I knew what I must do. I could not leave him behind as I had planned. Nor could I inflict the senseless cruelty of brainblotting. He would have to be mercifully destroyed.
Although I was fond of Donald, and his death would leave me sick for weeks, it would not be right to let my creation live and condemn the mammal race to death. I could not exterminate a race Authority had created. The guilt syndrome would be shattering. Of course, if they killed each other that was not my concern.
But until we left I would give him all the freedom he could use. Outside of the minimum of control, he would be free to do and act as he pleased. I didn’t owe it to him, yet it was not his fault that he had come into my hands. And when I returned to Thalassa I would tell the Council what I had done and ask for justice. Perhaps we could save this world from itself even as we had saved others. The question of gratitude would be immaterial.
With a firm hand to set them on the track, the mammals might learn the values of intelligence and cooperation before it was too late. They might understand the realities of existence rather than fall victim to their glandular fancies. They might. But if they did, one thing would be certain—they would learn it the hard way. Donald was proof of that.
I went to our living quarters, and presently Ven joined me. “They’re all in for the night, Eu,” she said.
“That’s good. How are they coming along?”
“Splendidly. Another week should see the end of the training. Edith was a good experience for me in handling these. I’m not making the mistakes I did. I’m finding the blocks and removing them. One of them, the one called Grace, should be even better than Edith.”
“As a mount?” I asked with faint humor. “Or as a working proxy?”
“Both,” Ven said promptly. “She’s stronger and more intelligent. Yet even so I think I shall always like Edith best.”
“One’s first dependent is always one’s fondest memory,” I replied sententiously, “But you’ll forget them all when we’re back on Thalassa.”
“I won’t,” Ven said. “I’ll never forget Edith.”
“Never is a long time,” I said gently. “I shall even forget the pain of killing Donald some day.”
“Then you’ve decided to eliminate him?” Ven said.
I nodded. “It’s necessary,” I said. “This world wouldn’t be safe with him alive.”
“Poor Edith. She’s fond of the brute,” Ven said. She moved toward the doorway.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I want to talk to Edith. Perhaps I can prepare her.”
“No. Don’t,” I said. “Contact her if you wish, but tell her nothing.”
“Very well,” she said. I smiled as she disappeared. Ven was going to miss her pet once we had left. It was obvious.
“Eu! Quick!” Ven’s projection crackled in my brain. “They’re fighting! Edith’s being hurt, and I can’t touch them! They’ve set up a block!”
I ran for the control room, slapped the helmet on my head, reached for the controls—and stopped, laughing.
“Stop them!” Ven screamed. Her aura blazed a brilliant white and her projection nearly knocked me down. She reached for the control switch, but I slapped her hand away.
“Quiet!” I snapped. “They’re not fighting, you little fool! Turn on your audio and listen and stop acting silly!”
Ven did as I told her and her aura changed to a fiery pink. “Oh!” she said in a small voice, “but they never—”
I must have made some mistake in revising the controllers—or feedback was stronger than I suspected—for the Va Krul syndrome came back along our lines of contact with explosive force! Desperately I reached for the switch—but my hand froze in midair as an intolerable wave of emotion drove Ven and me together like two pieces of iron with opposite magnetic charge! The last thing I remember was being enveloped in the flaring golden glow of Ven’s aura.
I came to my senses in our living quarters. I was stunned—exhausted—limp and gasping.
“Thalassa!” I said weakly, “we’ve really done it now!”
Ven smiled a pale blue radiance at me. “You have become strong, living on this heavy world,” she said. “I like it.”
“But—but!” I sputtered. “It was so—it can’t—it couldn’t—”
“But it did,” Ven said softly. “And I’m glad it did.”
“I don’t mean that. What I mean to say was that it was so—”
“No! So utterly—”
“Satisfying?” she asked.
“Stop interrupting! It was all of that and more. But what I want to say is that we’ve violated the prime restriction for space travellers. How could we do it?”
“You’re forgetting that for some time we have been living upon this emotion-charged world,” Ven said. “The steady erosion was more than our conditioning could take. The feedback was merely the last in a whole series of disruptive stimuli. It was the trigger, but our defenses had been weakened long before. Not that I’m sorry,” she added quickly. “For weeks I’ve been wondering what sort of a mate you’d be when this trip was over. I’m not unhappy with the preview.” She smiled at me and the whole of our living quarters was filled with a bright tender blue.
“The natives,” I said worriedly. “We were in contact with them.”
Ven’s aura darkened. “I had forgotten them,” she said. “I hope that the feedback wasn’t intensified and returned to them. I’d better look.” She started for the control room and I followed more slowly.
“There’s no damage,” she said from beneath the helmet. “Edith feels just as I do.”
I took my helmet and coded Don’s pattern on the selector. Peculiar, I thought with vague wonder. Most peculiar. For the first time Donald and I were in true rapport. His mind was slow, lazy, sluggish—even his ambition was sated for the moment. Could it be, I wondered, that we could find agreement through our emotions? Was it frustration that drove him? Whatever the block had been it was gone now. This was a true empathic meeting—something far more satisfying than our previous conflict.
I relaxed in it, feeling the slow langorous questings of his mind even as he felt mine. There was a sense of brotherhood that transcended differences in race and culture. We were down to basics, on the oldest meeting ground of life.
He was wondering idly what the outcome of this might be—conscious of me, but careless. It jolted me. He might be uncertain, but I knew Ven was from good family stock, and “good” to a Thalassan meant something entirely different than it commonly did to the natives of this planet!
I disengaged hurriedly and shook Ven out of her rapport with Edith. “We’ve no time to lose,” I said. “We must leave at once! You know what’s going to happen!”
“I know,” Ven said. “I feel the changes already.”
“That’s just in your mind,” I snapped.
“We’re not going home,” she said. There was a note of prophecy in her voice. “We’ll never make it.”
“We can’t stay here!”
“Then what are we going to do?”
We couldn’t stay here. But we couldn’t go home either. The trip would take weeks, and hyperspace is fatal to a gravid Thalassan female. That was something we learned long ago, and the principal reason for continence-conditioning for couples in space. What was more, I knew that where Ven stayed, I would stay.
“Remember the fourth planet of this system?” Ven asked.
“Yes. Ideal gravity, adequate oxygen, but too cold.”
“And with no intelligent life,” Ven added. “That’s an advantage—and we can beat the cold. It wouldn’t be too hard to build domes. We have plenty of power metal, and a matricizer. We could hatch our clutch there. With the mammals to help us, we should be able to make a comfortable enough life for the forty years it’ll take to bring our offspring to maturity. We should be able to do this easily, and still get home before we’re strangers.”
“Hmm,” I said. “It’s possible. And we can use this world for a supply base. But would you care to live on that cold barren planet?”
“There are worse places,” she said matter-of-factly. “And we’d be close to everything we’d need.”
It did have possibilities. And the mammals could be adapted. They were a more advanced evolutionary form than we, but lower on the adaptive scale—nonspecialized—more so than any other intelligent race I had encountered.
Ven said, “We would actually be doing their race a favor, if the computation of this world’s future is correct. Some of them would still survive if this planet commits suicide. And if the prediction is wrong, we would have done no harm. If they reach space, they’ll merely find that they’ve already arrived when they reach the fourth planet.”
“Which might be something of a surprise to their explorers,” I said with a chuckle. “All right. We’ll play it your way.”
I was pretty sure how Donald would take this. He was going to be furious, but after all one doesn’t make a pet of a wolf and then turn it loose. It’s too hard on the livestock. But I didn’t think he’d be too unhappy. He’d be the principal human on Mars; and after we left he’d be ruler of a world. And in the meantime he could be a domestic tyrant.
It was fortunate, I thought with a smile, that mammals were essentially polygamous. Donald would make some nasty comments about being a herd sire—but I didn’t think his comments would be too sincere. After all, it’s not every man that has a chance to become a founding father.
I was still smiling as I turned the dials on the controller and flipped the switch. Founding father—the title was as much mine as his!