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In the moonlit fog, the gentle swell of the sea rolled past toward the beach. Straight ahead, there was a faint pale flash, as of a white robe peeled off and tossed on the sand. Then there was the flat splash of a swimmer hitting the water in a flying dive.

Vaughan Roberts, watching intently, was up to his chin in cold salt water. He gripped in his hands a flat smooth rock heavy enough to overcome his buoyancy, and breathed steadily and deeply. At the sound of the splash, still breathing deeply, he began to count, and when he reached ten, he ducked underwater, and let the rock take him down to the soft sand at the bottom. Methodically, he kept on counting. As he counted, mental pictures of what was taking place at the surface, where someone had just dived in for a moonlight swim, were suggested to him by the numbers of the count:

Fourteen. Not far from the swimmer, a small buoy-like object bobbed to the surface.

Fifteen. A puff of vapor escaped from the buoy into the fog.

Seventeen. The swimmer, breathing vapor, went slack in the water.

Eighteen. Flipper-like hands slipped a mask over the swimmer's nose and mouth.

Twenty. Other hands gripped the lower part of the slack body, and slid the swimmer under the surface.

Twenty-one. The buoy-like object dipped out of sight.

Twenty-five. The fog, drifting past, carried away some remaining traces of the rapidly decomposing vapor.

As Roberts counted, toward the moment when he could surface, his thoughts traveled back, and in his mind he snapped the spool from the viewer, to turn exasperatedly to the lean sector chief of operations, Colonel Valentine Sanders.

"Can't the Space Force put a bullet through this murderer's head?"

The colonel sat back.

"If they kill Lieutenant Gafonel, what happens to the 'exotic gases' last known to be in the lieutenant's possession?"

"Since he escaped from the courier ship to this resort planet, Idyll, it follows that the exotic gases aren't far from Idyll."

The colonel nodded, and clasped his hands behind his head.

"Remember, the courier ship itself has disappeared without a trace."

"Then the courier ship is somewhere on Idyll. If not, the Space Force should have located it."

"To know the rough general whereabouts of the ship doesn't solve the problem. The Space Force has got to recover the actual vials of gases. Even in their shock-proof cases, these are small and readily transportable. Contents unknown, each vial could be sold for a fortune. Used by someone who understood their properties from the beginning, the trouble they could cause is impossible to predict. And the only key to their whereabouts is Lieutenant Gafonel. The Space Force would doubtless like to put a bullet through the lieutenant's head. Unfortunately, he is the only link to that shipment. And they can't reach him, because he has them legally blocked. They can't even prove his story false without the courier ship for evidence, the ship has disappeared, and deduction suggests the ship is hidden where they can't go in and search. Where does that leave them?"

"He's still a deserter. They can get him on that."

"In the medical and legal situation the lieutenant has constructed, even that isn't any too clear." The colonel added, "Of course, what actually happened is obvious enough. But how do they prove it?"

"All right, then. Let them kidnap him and put the screws to him."

The colonel shook his head.

"The Space Force isn't set up to carry out illegal operations. And this resort planet, Idyll, is a fortress of legalities. It's a resort—a playground—mainly for the rich and influential. They, for their own purposes, have come to a mutually satisfactory understanding with the native inhabitants—the descendants of the original settlers—so that the planetary government—"

Roberts could feel the sticky spider-strands of legal logic start to descend on him, and spoke impatiently.

"Yes, sir. I know. But—"

"But," said the colonel, "this is the problem. The actual control of the planet's government has been left in the hands of the native inhabitants, who legally select a king to be titular head of the government. The king isn't necessarily one of their own number. Usually, they choose a rich and influential vacation-time resident. He, in turn, gives a lavish present to the natives. The wealthy resort-dwellers thus have a benevolent government which routinely provides law and order, but doesn't interfere otherwise. The natives have congenial work at good pay, plus bonuses from grateful tycoons who are tickled at the thought of being kings. The arrangement is mutually beneficial, and legal." 

Roberts massaged his chin.

The colonel, leaning back, hands clasped behind his close-cropped head, smiled faintly.

"Consider, Roberts, what will take place if the Space Force stages a raid on this planet, populated by vacationing influential people, including the heads of various governments, of giant business organizations, of huge universities—including retired officers and generals still on the active list. Suppose the Space Force says 'Legality be damned,' nails Gafonel in their midst, shoves the populace into a corner, and searches the planet for the missing ship? Where will the officers in charge of this operation ultimately end up?"

Roberts nodded slowly, "On an outdated destroyer, cataloguing asteroids by hand—if they're lucky."

"Exactly. And the search for the courier ship and gas capsules may be stopped before there are any results. You see, they cannot use force."

Roberts, exasperated, considered the lieutenant's record. Born on a frontier world, Gafonel had enlisted in the Space Force with a mental test score slightly above average. In service school he made an impressive record and tried to apply for admission to the Space Academy. His commanding officer arbitrarily refused. Soon, a black-market operation was traced to the commanding officer, who was sacked, and Gafonel went on to the Space Academy, where his scholastic record was dazzling. On graduation he married the daughter of the commandant and the commandant's estranged but wealthy wife. Then peculiar things began to happen.

The day following the wedding, the little sports flier carrying the lieutenant's rich new mother-in-law went up in a blinding flash, the cause of which proved hard to discover, since there wasn't much of anything left to examine.

The mother-in-law's fortune was willed, not to her estranged husband, but to her daughter.

The daughter promptly took a fatal overdose of sedative.

The mother-in-law's fortune passed on to the daughter's new husband—the lieutenant.

The lieutenant had a nervous breakdown and went into the hospital, to come out a tragic figure, brilliant but apparently unlucky, and incidentally rich.

In view of his brilliant scholastic record, he was put on the staff of the general in charge of chemical warfare research and development, who sent him as assistant to the major in charge of a shipment of exotic war gases, to be delivered to a distant base, aboard the ultrafast Space Force courier ship Whippet. The last thing heard about the Whippet was that a meteor shower had hit the ship at enormous velocity, and the lieutenant, inside but still wearing a tank suit in which he had been inspecting the hull, had been the only survivor to escape alive, in the ship's tender. The Whippet itself vanished without a trace.

Roberts shook his head.

"That s.o.b. is too tricky for subtleties. One good grenade dropped on him without warning—"

"That leaves the exotic gases unaccounted for."

"Yes, sir. But it would end him, and that might be more important in the long run. His record up to this business is tricky enough when you think it over. But this explanation about the courier ship—"

The colonel smiled. "A little hard to swallow, isn't it? It's almost superfluous to find that he had already, before the trip, transferred his wife's money to a bank on the resort planet."

"Yes, and on top of that, to have set it up for himself to be proclaimed 'king'—so that now he is King Oumourou, Head of State—"

Roberts ran out of words.

The colonel added drily, "Don't forget the 'retroactive amnesia,' Roberts. There would be no point questioning him anyway, because the dreadful experience destroyed his memory of everything connected with the event, soon after he gave his report. We have copies of the medical affidavits from Idyll certifying to that." 

"He being the king of the place."


"Sir, with a record like that, so far, what comes next? He's promoted himself from nobody on a remote planet to riches and kingship, with a shambles of betrayal and dead bodies behind him. Where does he go next?" 

"He seems to be enjoying himself. He has his private mansion, plus the local palace, and a little sixteen-room cottage at the beach, a bank account running to seven figures, his private harem, two seagoing yachts—what more would he want?"

"He might feel cramped on just one planet. Meanwhile, there's no telling what he may try with these gas capsules."

"That's the problem."

"Why not warp him into a cooperative viewpoint with the want-generator?"

"It's a densely populated planet, and most of the time he's out of sight. To keep an emotional-field generator focused on him is impossible in this situation."

Roberts thought it over. "Then, when he goes for this habitual nightly swim of his, seeing the Space Force is bashful, suppose we drop down there some dark night, grab him, put the screws to him, and find out about these gas capsules."

The colonel beamed.

"Fine, Roberts. Now, that's more sensible than blowing his head off, isn't it? But after we find out where he's got the gas capsules, then we have the problem of doing something about it. His disappearance, of course, will cause an alarm locally. Isn't it better, from our viewpoint, if he doesn't disappear? In order to avoid that, our man, thoroughly disguised by our—ah—make-up department, could be right there to take his place and so be in a position to get the capsules. Now, Roberts, there isn't much time to waste, so we'll follow your plan at once, and since it's your suggestion—"

* * *

Lungs straining, the cold water swirling around him, Roberts let go the rock and came to the surface. He sucked in a deep breath, exhaled, breathed again deeply, and swam for shore. He staggered out of the water, his feet sinking deeply in the wet sand, and strode up onto the beach.

Just ahead was that lighter patch where the "king" had tossed his robe.

Roberts crouched, to feel carefully around the robe. If Gafonel had been wearing a swimsuit when he was captured, it was to have been tossed here by the crew that captured him.

Finding nothing, Roberts shrugged into the robe and walked along the beach. His mental time-table told him these evening swims and strolls usually lasted about twenty minutes. This left plenty of time for the other members of Roberts' party to check and be sure this was Gafonel. If by some accident they had the wrong man, the precisely repeated call of a sea bird was to warn Roberts. Hearing no call, Roberts kept walking. He reminded himself that Gafonel's swim was usually followed by a hot, spiced drink and possibly a midnight frolic with the companion or companions of his choice. Considering Gafonel's position, this offered a wide selection. As Oumourou, the "native" king, there were the native girls to choose from. As the rich Gafonel, there were the non-native daughters of wealthy families on the resort world. As the proprietor of a cache of advanced gases of enormous price, there was still further bargaining power.

Roberts felt again the urge to plant a bullet in Gafonel's brain. But then he felt something else—uneasiness.

Considering the craft of his opponent, could his capture have been so easy?

Frowning, Roberts strolled back along the beach, belted the robe more tightly around him, and headed for the faint glimmer of light that his mental diagram told him was the beach mansion's so-called cabana. The light, mounted above the roof, offered little enough illumination outside and left the interior of the open building unlit.

Roberts paused just outside, and as the fog drifted past silently, there was a sense of distance and a not-quite-there sensation that vanished when he stepped forward, felt the cold flagstones under his feet, and then stubbed his toe on a flagstone set slightly higher than the rest.

He sucked in his breath, and somewhere to his left, there was a soft feminine laugh.

"Ooh—is Oumourou so impatient? Who is Oumourou impatient for?"

Roberts instantly recognized trouble.

In the fast preparation for this job, it had been found out that Gafonel's two favorites were a local girl named Dianai, and the vacationing daughter of a wealthy exporter, named Janine. Each was violently jealous of the other.

Since these were the two people most likely to spot the substitution, their appearance and known histories were all but imprinted on Roberts' brain. But he didn't know their voices. 

Somewhere, the girl giggled.

Roberts peered around in the gloom. Now—was this Dianai, Janine, or some other member of Gafonel's harem?

She called softly, playfully, "Are you now so bashful? Tell me, who is Oumourou impatient for?"

All Roberts had to do was to give the wrong name, and there would be a volcanic eruption. In a rough whisper, he called, "Come here, and I'll show you."

There was a giggle, followed by the soft patting of bare feet on flagstone.

Her voice spoke out close at hand, in a faintly mocking, teasing tone.

"Does Oumourou want his mintmig?"

Mintmig was the local hot, spiced drink. But they didn't serve it here. They drank it in front of the fireplace in the beach mansion.

Roberts realized he was now up against some kind of private joke. It was almost as good as running into a prearranged code word, since a wrong guess would give him away.

He murmured, "Come close." That, at least, seemed safe.

There was a soft brushing sound and a faint scent of perfume.

Roberts stretched out a hand, to touch cool petal-soft skin.

An explosion of sparks burst across the sky. Darkness opened up, and he fell into it headlong. The awareness came to him dimly that he had not been out of the water half an hour before Gafonel's defenses stopped him cold. And that meant—but then the thoughts trailed out in a long, long thread, and then he lost track of them entirely.

Somewhere, there was a sound of voices, and now and then a snatch of conversation began to come across:

" . . . sure? The net didn't show . . ."

" . . . remarkable, I know, but . . ."

" . . . not a trace . . . There's no chance he was rung in earlier?"

"No. It had to be the beach. And that fits the girl's story."

Roberts came awake with a painfully throbbing head, felt a light blanket over him, and a firm support under him. He tried carefully to move one limb after the other and discovered a gentle but increasingly firm restraint that drew his limbs solidly back where they had been to start with. Meanwhile, the conversation went on:

"Hard to see how it was done." The voice was slightly the deeper of the two. "The whole beach was wired. His approach should have showed on the board."

"Out of my field. But it suggests very sophisticated equipment."

"Well—I suppose we don't need to worry about it. As Supergaf says, 'Control the human element, and you control all.' When should we—"

"He's coming awake now. And I'd watch that 'Supergaf' routine."

"Listen, I—"

"It's not just that the walls have ears, you know."

"Every time I think of—"

"The thing to think is, we're well paid for our trouble."

"I suppose. Well—he's conscious. Let's deliver him."

Roberts heard footsteps approach, felt a sense of motion, and heard the hiss of tires. He opened his eyes, to see a bright-yellow tiled wall slide past, and shiny metal cabinets with glass fronts. Overhead, the ceiling was softly aglow. The air held a faint trace of antiseptic. The wheeled stretcher he was lying on approached a wall.

From behind Roberts, the deeper voice growled, "Next, the corridor."

A pair of metal doors slid past.

Roberts caught a glimpse, through a window, of a beach outside.

"Where are you taking me?"

"To see Mr. Gafonel—himself."

There was a mocking emphasis on the "himself" that brought a warning hiss from the other attendant.

The stretcher rolled into an elevator, and the door slid shut. The elevator plunged, slowed, accelerated horizontally, dropped again, accelerated sidewise, and finally slowed to a stop.

The stretcher rolled out on a platform.

Roberts, looking up, was treated to the sight of a ceiling pattern apparently made up of the muzzles of selected guns packed together vertically so that snouts of various types and sizes looked down on him in a regular pattern until the cot rolled past an open metal door into a small metal cubicle. Another door opened to one side, and the cot was rolled out, around corners and along inclined ramps whose changing directions suggested the approach to an ancient castle. Eventually, they emerged into a wide, high-ceilinged hall facing two oversize bronze doors topped by an enormous gold G. To either side stood an armed guard dressed in black with a gold G on his tunic.

The stretcher stopped before the door, and the two attendants stood tensely silent.

Slowly, the bronze doors swung open, and the stretcher wheeled forward through a high-ceilinged anteroom to a second set of doors that reflected in a dazzling golden glitter the brilliant light from a chandelier overhead. These doors, in turn, swung slowly open, the stretcher rolled forward, and Roberts found himself looking at a solitary crowned figure in silver and gold robes, seated on a purple throne atop a dais raised six steps above the floor.

A voice boomed out, "Kneel to the Presence!" 

Roberts took a hard look at the crowned figure. Obviously, this was Gafonel. But, if this was Gafonel, then who had been picked up at the beach? Since no warning signal had been given, it followed that that had been Gafonel.

Either Gafonel was twins, or the Gafonel picked up at the beach had been a double. That fit in with snatches of conversation Roberts had overheard earlier. But, in that case, the double must have been bait. 

The two attendants, meanwhile, had dropped to their knees. There was a brief silence as Gafonel looked at Roberts, and Roberts looked intently back.

Gafonel's lips moved slightly. "Unbind the prisoner!" 

As the command boomed and reverberated, Roberts glanced around. There were no visible guards in the room—only Gafonel and the two attendants. Roberts relaxed his muscles. All he asked was to be let loose for a few minutes.

The two attendants straightened, and one said hesitantly, "Sir, this is a strong and dangerous man—"

Gafonel's lips moved slightly, and there was a crash like thunder.

"Obey or die!"

The guards made haste to obey.

The cover was pulled off Roberts, and the webwork of bonds that held him to the stretcher was released. Roberts was swung to his feet.

"Remove the stretcher!" roared the voice. "Withdraw from the Presence!" 

Roberts let go the light grip he had taken on the nearer attendant's sleeve.

The attendants turned and rolled the cart out the huge doors. The doors swung shut behind them.

Roberts turned to face Gafonel, and suddenly the situation made no sense. After installing himself in massive underground defenses, with a double in view for the opposition, would Gafonel risk capture alone at close range? Somehow, this must fit in with Gafonel's plan.

Roberts glanced around for any hint of hidden devices, and saw nothing—which, of course, was exactly what he could expect to see.

Gafonel, on the throne, watched Roberts intently.

Roberts, trying to fit bits of information together, could not find a pattern. Somewhere, there was a piece he didn't have. Meanwhile, precious seconds ticked past.

Gafonel rose smoothly from the throne and began to descend the six steps to the marble floor.

Roberts wearied of trying to untangle it mentally.

As Gafonel descended, Roberts walked toward him, testing his muscles and estimating distances as he walked. Somewhere, there ought to be a weak joint in Gafonel's setup. All this business with the throne, the crown, and the amplified voice—on a planet where kingship was a legal formality for sale to the highest bidder—it all suggested a case of galloping megalomania. That was bound to produce weaknesses.

As Roberts thought this, Gafonel removed his jeweled crown and tossed it.

"Here—the amplifier control goes with it."

Roberts at that instant got a favorable response to his estimate of time, distance, and muscular readiness, and sprang for Gafonel.

Gafonel snapped a short-barreled weapon from his silver-and-gold robes, and there was a faint buzz. 

Roberts' left leg from the knee down went numb. As he broke the fall with his hands, his lower right leg also went numb.

Gafonel, smiling, put away the gun.

"Excellent reflexes. Impressive muscular conditioning. You have, of course, been consistently out-thought, but that is to be expected. What counts is that you are inherently loyal and tenaciously obedient to orders. Very good. Now, let's see . . . you are . . . yes, Vaughan Nathan Roberts, of the Interstellar Patrol. Rank of captain. Formerly captain of the fast transport Orion. Before that, in the Space Force, let go in the economy drive; earlier, special training in the Tactical Combat Command Advanced Training Center. All excellent. Now, how did you come to enter the Patrol? Let's see . . . h'm . . . Duke of Tresimere—what the devil! Earl of Aurizont? Prince-Contestant to the—" 

Just what Gafonel was doing, Roberts didn't know. But his tone of voice showed confusion, his expression was momentarily dazed, and he was standing not far from where Roberts had hit the floor.

Roberts could ask for nothing more.

With his lower legs numb, he couldn't run. But he could so brace his feet and legs as to lay the foundation for one attempted spring. While Gafonel had talked, Roberts had positioned himself almost unconsciously. And now Gafonel showed confusion.

For a brief instant, Space Force close combat clashed with Interstellar Patrol close combat.

Then Roberts had the gun. Gafonel was laid out senseless.

Roberts paralyzed Gafonel's hands and feet, then laboriously swapped clothes with him.

Now, so far as any uninitiated onlooker could tell, Roberts was the wealthy Gafonel, king of the planet, and Gafonel was the infiltrating impersonator, Roberts.

This was more like it. But it occurred to Roberts to wonder about the other double, picked up at the beach.

So far, counting himself, there were three Gafonel's. Could there be more? How could he be sure this was the real Gafonel?

There was a low moan, and the figure in the pajamas opened his eyes.

Roberts aimed the gun.

Gafonel's eyes glittered.

Roberts watched alertly.

Now, anger suggested a failure of plans. Perhaps, this was Gafonel.

"Excellent weaponry," said Roberts pleasantly. "Impressive fortifications. You have, of course, been consistently out-reflexed, but that is to be expected. Keep your voice low, or I'll give you a dose of this in the vocal cords."

Gafonel tried to grope at one of the wide blocks that formed the floor and discovered that his hands were numb. He looked at Roberts with a fairly sick expression.

Roberts, groping for the next move, ran into the fact he was still in an underground fortress. Before he could act with confidence, it would be necessary to get a little more information.

Before Roberts' eyes, Gafonel's sick expression evolved into a look of assurance.

Roberts glanced around. Save for the two of them, the room was still empty. What had caused this change of attitude? Considering that this was Gafonel's own place, paralyzing hands and feet might not be enough. It might be a good idea to—

Awkwardly, Gafonel sat up.

"It fires a cone, not a beam. You've already paralyzed my arms halfway to the elbow."

Roberts considered this reply to an unspoken thought.

Gafonel said, "What I can't understand, Roberts, is that you, with your want-generator, could, in all truth, have become the ruler of an empire. You were the ruler! And yet—you gave it up, stepped back—" He looked at Roberts intently. "Why, Roberts?"

Roberts stared at him.

Gafonel, his expression intent, hesitated a moment, then went on. "Yes, I see, you assumed the rank merely to do a job—to save the inhabitants from a serious difficulty. But you had the means, as you well knew, to expand the control you exercised—After all, with a device that controls desires, you could ultimately have gained control of the whole human system. Wherever you could put the device, there you could exercise control."

Without Roberts saying a word, Gafonel was following his thoughts.

Abruptly, Roberts had the missing piece, and everything else fit together.

In his mind's eye, Roberts could see Gafonel's record in a new light. The first ordinary mental test, the bright record among bright students in service school, the sacked commanding officer who had made the mistake of getting in Gafonel's way, the dazzling record among the elite at the Space Academy, the murdered mother-in-law, the murdered wife, the slaughtered crew of the courier ship—all steps in a staircase to power, built by an unscrupulous—

Gafonel interrupted. "You don't understand, Roberts. The jailing of that jackass commanding officer, the explosion of the sports flyer, that overdose of sleeping pills, and the premature departure of the crew of that courier ship—this was not murder and betrayal. When you kill a chicken, Roberts, that is not murder. When you select a watchdog, that is not friendship. Murder and friendship imply some equality of biological status. A man does not murder a weed, or a mosquito. He swats the mosquito, and uproots the weed. Similarly, the spanking of a child is not assault and battery. Again, there is no equality of biological status—only a potential equality. So you see, Roberts, you would not be justified in pulling that trigger. Quite the contrary. You—"

With a very faint tingle, the paralysis was gone from Roberts' legs, first the left one, then a moment later the right one.

It dawned on him that this flood of words was at least partly meant as a distraction.

"Right, Roberts," said Gafonel. A moment later, he added, "Yes, it was irrational for me to risk this situation. I did it because you are important to a plan I have in mind. And I suppose I overrated my special talent. But now you are underrating it. Remember, Roberts, there is not always so much difference between the man at the top and the man at the bottom. It takes only a very slight advantage, compounded again and again at every turn, to produce an ultimately very large difference in position. And this present position is a mere stepping stone, Roberts. What amazes me is that you have already had the opportunity that is now mine, and you set it aside. Why? This device your friend stumbled on—this want-generator—with that you could ultimately have ruled the universe. Even I, with my talent, would have become your loyal follower. Why not, Roberts?"

Roberts could feel an intense desire to end this conversation. Unfortunately, there was still the question of the chemical gases.

"Yes, Roberts," said Gafonel. "Well, I will gladly show you those gases—"

How many minutes had passed since Roberts paralyzed Gafonel's hands?

Roberts raised the gun.

Gafonel's hand, resting on an apparently blank block, suddenly moved.

The whole room seemed to explode in a dazzling flash.

Then, once again, Roberts was aware of the vague sound of a voice.

" . . . not necessary. Just . . . "

" . . . sir . . . "

Roberts lay still. He was flat on his back, apparently this time on a mat thrown on some hard flat surface. He opened his eyes, to see a row of vertical bars, extending from floor to ceiling.

"Right." Gafonel's now familiar voice spoke with satisfaction. "You are in a cell, Roberts. It will do you no good to lie there with your eyes half shut. I was aware of your thought the instant you came partly awake. It isn't necessary even for you to be fully conscious of the thought yourself. No, you cannot deceive me indefinitely by refusing to think. I repeat, I detect not only the thoughts you are actually thinking—consciously—but others that are somewhat below the surface. Ordinarily, I can follow certain mental paths, frequently used, with ease. In your case, there has been a very evident attempt to deceive me, by superimposing on your habitual thought patterns, another layer that is completely irrelevant. This is somewhat puzzling, but nevertheless, I can penetrate it."

Roberts started to speak, but changed his mind. The voice answered his unspoken thought.

"No, you are not aware of this special treatment. Of course not. If you had been aware of it, I would immediately have known the answer. As it is, I am somewhat slowed by the deception. There is no mental link in your mind to classify this other layer of latent thoughts as fantasy. It is a remarkable effect. But I accept the Interstellar Patrol as an opponent of merit. Think how much more effective the Patrol will be, Roberts, when I control it."

Roberts felt a wave of negation and disgust, that was impossible to conceal.

There was a brief silence, and then Gafonel spoke in a slower and more serious voice.

"My apologies, Roberts. I realize that it is inexcusable for me to toy with you. Let me restate what I have just said: The Patrol may operate more effectively under the guidance of my special talent, to our mutual advantage."

Roberts kept a careful grip on himself. It came to him that, among other things, he was now being used for a sounding board.

"Right, Roberts," said the voice.

Roberts sat up.

Gafonel said humorously, "Not a promising view, is it, Roberts?"

From ceiling to floor, a ring of vertical bars surrounded Roberts. He was on a folded white blanket on a pale-brown tile floor that stretched beyond the bars to another row of bright vertical bars. This second row reached straight across the room from one wall to the other. On the far side of the room, beyond the straight row of bars, stood Gafonel, wearing a close-fitting dark-purple garment, with a wide black belt and two holstered guns.

To get to the telepath, Roberts had to somehow get past two sets of bars, and when he got there, he would be unarmed, and Gafonel would have a gun in each hand—and would know in advance every move Roberts planned to make.

Gafonel chuckled.

Looking around at this setup and then back at the telepath, Roberts realized that everything in this place cost money. Enormous sums of money. Just how rich had the telepath's mother-in-law been? Or was he just one member—perhaps the tool—of a combine of extremely rich individuals seeking to infiltrate the Patrol for their own ends?

Gafonel said quietly, "No, not a member or a tool, Roberts. The leader. You see, you still don't appreciate the advantage conferred on me by my—special ability. What do you suppose it means, for instance, to be able to talk with an expert and to be able to follow, not only his words, but nearly his complete process of thought? The ultimate result of such experiences is a mental advantage, completely apart from telepathy as such. What does it mean to grapple with a close-combat expert and share his sense of balance and an awareness of the sequence of his moves? The result is a swift understanding of his purposes that would ordinarily take a long time to acquire. What does it mean to take a sum of money to a broker and to know his actual thoughts at the same time as his recommendations? What does it mean to go to a financier and follow his thought processes, his intuitions, his basic structure of general and specific observations about his own experiences and those of others. What does it mean to make a suggestion and know at once the true underlying reasons for the responses of others? Now, you see, these and other advantages, Roberts, result from the one basic talent. But the resulting mental and material advantages in time become so great that—even without the talent—these other advantages, taken by themselves, would still be formidable. After you learn enough from others, you have the knowledge yourself. No, the evidence of wealth you see around you is not derived from anyone else, though it is true that I need the cooperation of others—and pay well for their services. I am in a position to pay well. Consider that, Roberts."

Roberts, again wearing the cotton pajamas, came to his feet, aware of the cold tiles underfoot as he methodically tested the bars. Each one was solid.

Gafonel said thoughtfully, "There's no way out of there, Roberts. I am surprised to see a member of the Interstellar Patrol refuse to accept the self-evident."

Roberts didn't answer, and kept moving.

The tile floor also was solid.

Roberts swiftly climbed the bars and struck the ceiling with his fist. Flakes of paint fell off. Cracks shot out from the place he had struck. He struck it again. A chunk of plaster fell off, uncovering a flat metal box bearing short cylinders, one with a lens at the end. Roberts wrenched the box loose, saw a couple of dangling wires, and touched the ends.

There was a dazzling spark. The lights in the room went out.

Above Roberts was a square hole through which light shone dimly. Roberts shifted grips on the bars, reached up, caught an edge, and squeezed himself up through the hole.

Gafonel's voice reached Roberts from below.

"My guards are on the way, Roberts! Don't move!"

A quick glance showed Roberts that he was in an access space, completely unfinished, that provided room for cables, air ducts, pipes, and wires, which looped and crisscrossed around him. A heavy flanged metal plate the size of the hole Roberts had come through leaned against a brace nearby. The dim light in the access space came from an overhead luminous panel about five feet away. A walk, of rough boards, extended past the hole in the direction of another luminous panel some thirty feet away. Beyond that, other panels lit more distant spaces.

Roberts seized the heavy metal plate, pictured himself diving behind the plate toward the sound of Gafonel's voice, and heaved the plate. The heavy plate tore loose a chunk of ceiling, and narrow lines of light slashed up as Gafonel fired from below.

Roberts screamed, pictured himself clawing for support, and simultaneously jumped.

He plunged into darkness, and one arm brushed cloth. That was all he needed.

A few minutes later, the lights in the room came back on. The door to the corridor burst open.

Roberts glanced down at the battered figure in cotton pajamas, shook his head, and glanced around as two guards in black burst into the room, guns in hand.

Roberts raised one arm, clothed in dark-purple velvet, and pointed to the circle of bars across the room.

"He went up those bars, smashed through the ceiling, got into the access space, and dove through the ceiling here. Thanks to someone's carelessness, there might have been trouble."

One of the guards glanced at the heap on the floor, looked around at the hole in the ceiling, and swallowed.

"We don't—"

"I know. Go get medical help."

The guard stepped back, saluted, whirled, and ran out down the corridor. The other guard swallowed, stepped back, saluted, and shut the door, to stand on guard outside.

Roberts glanced around the room. He still had no idea where to find the exotic gases.

There was a sound of running feet, and the door opened again. The two—attendants?—who had taken care of him at first stood nervously on the threshold.

Roberts adopted Gafonel's arbitrary manner and gestured to the one who had expressed criticism of "Supergaf."

"You, come in." He glanced at the other. "Close the door and wait outside."

The attendant came in warily. Roberts glanced at the motionless form on the floor.

"Examine him."

Frowning, the attendant knelt. After a few moments silence, he looked up.

"He's in pretty bad shape. However, he'll live. He should regain consciousness soon and be available for further questioning."

There was a faint hint of reproach in the voice, and Roberts wondered how well he could imitate the telepath. Coldly, he said, "Spare me your mental criticism."

The attendant stood up. He said tightly, "Is that all you want, sir?"

"No," Roberts said, "Your thoughts are not your own."

"Damn it! Keep out of my—"

Roberts stepped forward and clapped a hand over the attendant's mouth, turning him at the same moment so that he was off balance and ready to be thrown to the floor.

"No argument! If you want mental privacy, do your job! You haven't examined this man carefully. Now, do a thorough examination!"

The attendant, looking dazed, knelt again at the crumpled figure. He felt carefully of the limbs, caught his breath, and felt very thoroughly of the skull. After a moment's silence, he looked wide-eyed at Roberts, glanced around, and motioned toward a spot further from the door. He spoke in a whisper.

"How did you do it?"

"Where are the surveillance devices?"

"None in this end of the room. There was a combination bug-and-execution-box over the cell. There's nothing here."

"How can you be sure?"

"I helped put in the system. Gafonel didn't want things that could be used to spy on him. How did you get him?"

"Who designed that cage?"

"Not me. Why?"

"There was an opening in the ceiling to service this combination box you spoke of. The plate above that opening was left loose. That gave a clear path into the access space and down on his head."

"Good. I tried to tell the fool you were tough."

"What's your job here?"

"Electrical installation to start with. Now I mostly help with first aid. I took medic's training in the Space Force but got out because I wanted to be on my own. I never thought I'd end up in an outfit where there was no privacy even in your own head."

"Any other dissatisfied followers?"

"Those that aren't scared are dissatisfied."


"There's no team sense. We're trained animals. The boss is the next stage in evolution beyond the human. All that holds this outfit together is fear and money."

"What about his girls?"

"That I don't know. He has a unique advantage there, I guess. On the other hand—" He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Who is his most trusted collaborator?"

"Supergaf has no trusted collaborators. You only collaborate accidentally, when he picks your brains—or else purely for hire."

"How about his rich associates?"

"That's above my level. But I don't think they're associates. More likely customers or subordinates."

"And the guards?"

"They'll obey, if they recognize him. I guess they're as loyal as any you can buy."

Roberts considered the situation in silence and glanced at the crumpled heap at his feet.

"Will the other medic notice what you've noticed? And, if so, what will he do?"

"He's more likely to notice than I was. As for what he'll do—if there's money in it, and no danger, he'll do whatever he's told, as far as I can see."

"Anything Gafonel tells him?"

"Or whoever else pays his wages. As for myself, I'm fed up. I won't kill him. But if you want to finish it and take over, I'll just step outside, and keep my mouth shut. Then the outfit will be all yours."

Roberts nodded thoughtfully. The picture was clearer, but he still had no idea where to find the missing gases. He glanced at the attendant.

"How did the girl in the cabana know there'd been a substitution?"

"She's one of his guards. He's the only one who can touch a finger to his girls—and since he's a telepath, there's no cheating. None of the girls know at the time, when he goes on this walk and swim of his, whether it's Supergaf or, more likely, his double. But when he comes back, they challenge him and think of the answer they want him to give. Supergaf, being a telepath, can give it. The double can't. You didn't give the answer, so you weren't Supergaf. You did call the girl over and put a hand on her—which the double would have been afraid to do, knowing the telepath would find out. She therefore knew you were an intruder."

Roberts considered the explanation. As Gafonel had pointed out, there were more advantages to his particular skill than appeared on the surface.

"Are you familiar with any of Gafonel's recent operations?"

"No. There's no gossip. No rumors. He'd trace any leak back to the source and eliminate it. There was plenty of talk about this Space Force ship he was supposed to have hijacked, but that was at the beginning. It wasn't actually so long ago, but it's decades away in attitudes. All speculation ended once he put out the red-hot tongs and made an example. We don't even think about any of his possible operations. Personally, I just take it for granted he wants to take over the universe, and let it go at that. Why, is there something you need—some evidence—some stolen device from that Space Force ship?"


"Sorry, but I don't know anything about it. I don't think there's anyone who would know. There's another thing. Information flows from us to him. All that flows back is orders. And pay, I'll grant him that."

"Is there any safe room, any strong point, anything like a citadel in this fortress of his?"

"Yes, his own quarters."

"How do I get to them?"

"We aren't far away right now. Go out this door and turn left. At the end, the corridor turns right, then left again, and goes on to an elevator that's never used. It may be a dummy. When you turn right at that first corner, place your hand flat against the wall, anywhere just around that first corner. I'm not clear how it works but if you're as close a double as you seem, it might open for you."

"Worth a try. All right, get your helper—"

"I'm his helper. He'll wonder why you singled me out to talk to."

Roberts gestured to the ripped ceiling.

"About improving the surveillance system. I'm boiling mad about this incident. This double here, on the floor, has a distinct trace of telepathic talent, and to an extent, he can seize control of your faculties if you're in physical contact with him. He's dangerous and belongs to an organization that I—Gafonel—am in a tough fight with. We need to tighten up internal security, and I'll want to see you again to go into further detail. How does that sound?" 

The attendant nodded approvingly.

"That should do it. Okay, we'll try to get this interloper tied down where he can't do any more damage."


The wall, when Roberts placed his right hand flat against it, at once opened up, the left-hand section rolling back to reveal a curving high-arched doorway.

Roberts looked at beveled foot-thick edges of exactly matching steel surfaces and thought of that access space above the bars. If he had seen what he thought he had seen, that access space extended above even this ultimate stronghold.

What was the point of a foot-thick wall, with a paper-thin ceiling above it?

Roberts, frowning, stepped into a small, luxuriously paneled foyer with Gafonel's initial, the letter G, in gold, inset in the center of each panel. Behind him, the corridor opening whispered shut. He pushed open the door leading into the apartment and found himself in a kind of living room paneled from waist height to ceiling with mirrors. Below the mirrors was a border of small interlinked G's. On the ceiling was a crowned golden G surrounded by shining rays of gold leaf. The door to the next room bore a full-length mirror under a crowned G. There were G's on the doorknobs, the cabinet handles, the rugs, bedspreads, sofa cushions, draperies, bathroom tiles, shower curtains, bath mats, and around the edge of the sunken oversize tub. There were G's in all styles, in silver and gold, in royal purple, jeweled, and bordered with pearls and diamonds. One often-repeated favorite was made of a black, glistening stone with a surface that shimmered and glinted so that from certain angles the G seemed to stand out from the wall and hang in space.

Where there were no G's, there were mirrors, and Roberts looked around, irritated at the multiplied reflections.

Where, in this palace of self-worship, was there any place where the canisters of exotic gases could be hidden?

He pulled open drawers, to find towels and blankets marked with G's. He opened closets, to find jackets with crowned G's, and robes bearing G's in wreaths. He knelt to glance under an oversize bed with G on the coverlet and found a pair of bedroom slippers ornamented with tiny gold G's running around the sides, to form a pattern of bouquets of flowers with a crowned G at the toe.

Roberts searched the whole place and found nothing resembling the Space Force's missing gases.

Then there came a sudden rending sound, and Gafonel's voice warned, "Don't move!" 

This time, when Roberts came awake, he was simultaneously aware of the headache and of tight bands that gripped him despite the fact that he seemed to be spiraling over and around at the same time, as if lashed to a turning spit on a merry-go-round.

He opened his eyes a slit, and the whirling dizziness faded to an illusion of sidewise rotation that was mild by comparison.

The light was dim. Wherever he was, it was cold. He could see a wall of small glass doors, rotating slowly but steadily, and then his own rotation somehow synchronized with the rotation of these glass doors, and both were uneasily still.

Roberts came fully awake and realized that he was lashed to pipes in a gray, dimly lit, refrigerated room.

"So, Roberts—" Gafonel's voice had a grim quality—"you are conscious again."

Roberts carefully began to test his bonds.

Instantly, there was the sound of footsteps, followed by a buzz-buzz. 

Roberts' right arm and leg went numb.

"This time, Roberts," said Gafonel, with a faint tone of regret, "the trip will be final. After this, I will have no further unbiased opinion from you. But it will all be for your own good."

Roberts continued testing his bonds with his left hand.

Gafonel stood studying him with a peculiar expression.

The paralysis time, Roberts was thinking, was about ten minutes. The glass in the little doors in that wall would break, to make cutting edges. If these pipes the rope was fastened to were thin enough, it might be possible to squeeze them together and get a little slack in the rope. Did the pipes run straight from ceiling to floor? If so, they would squeeze together more easily from a standing position. The pipe was wet with condensation. It was small diameter piping. That water would lubricate his wrists. What type of rope? This pipe had a rough spot. Would the rope chafe? Here was a pipe union with a projecting edge that felt sharp. What was the floor made out of? Suppose he stood up and heaved against the ropes? Would the pipes bend? It looked as if there were only two lights in the room. There was a switch box on the wall. Put the lights out, and then what? Was Gafonel's telepathy directional? Doubtful. What's behind those glass doors? Would Gafonel dare use anything but that paralysis weapon?

Aloud, Roberts was saying, "I suppose so. It looks like you've got me this time. How did you get away from the attendants?"

Gafonel, scowling, walked around to Roberts' left side, and raised the gun. Buzz. Buzz-buzz. 

"Pardon me, Roberts. If you are a fair sample of the Interstellar Patrol, I can see the futility of trying to persuade the Patrol to cooperate with me."

Roberts looked around, to see that he was near a bend in the rear wall of the room. To his left was a partly open door, looking into the paneled foyer he had entered on going into Gafonel's apartment. The "foyer" must actually be—

"Correct, Roberts," said Gafonel. "It is an elevator. And you are paralyzed hand and foot, arm and leg. Whatever plan your mind may create, you cannot carry it out in that situation. I have to admit, my experiences with you have given me a respect for the power of determination and fast action, even with a blind mind—"

"A what?" said Roberts.

"A blind mind, Roberts. A mind imprisoned in a cage of bone, unable to reach out and share the thought of other minds."

"That's an inaccurate comparison. A lone mind is what you mean. And this loneness can be overcome in quite a number of ways."

"Who are you to—"

"Inaccurate comparisons," said Roberts, who had ten minutes to use up, "lead to inaccurate thinking. Inaccurate thinking leads to blundering. Blunderers aren't equipped to rule the universe simply because they have a useful special ability, the lack of which was already fairly well compensated for even before the rise of technology."

Gafonel said grimly, "Nevertheless, I will rule. Bear in mind that I am younger than you. I have time to learn. You have missed your chance."

"What chance?"

"Your chance to truly be king and emperor. King and emperor of the universe, Roberts!"

"And have chains of my own gold R's running around the mirrors in my palace?"

Gafonel stiffened.

Roberts said, "The justification for rank is superior insight and ability. For a person with rank to dwell on the glory of his rank warps his insight and saps his ability. It undermines the justification for his possession of the rank. For me to be a duke, on a backward planet, was justifiable. Only by assuming that rank could I have the authority to get the planet out of the mess it was in. To seize the same authority over equals and superiors, when there was no need, would have been unjustifiable. It would have ended up as a case of self-glorification, which is poison. When you tell me I missed my chance, what you say is that I had the opportunity to get drunk on poison, and passed up the chance. Well—I can't say I miss it."

Gafonel frowned. "This may hold for you, but I—"

"We were talking about me, remember?"

"Nevertheless, I do have superiority. I see your point, Roberts. It was well for you not to claim the kingship. My situation is different."

"When you feel the power running through your veins and start spending time thinking how impressed other people are with you, look out. Your special ability is limited, and you can't use it properly while meditating on your own glory. The fact that you glorify yourself demonstrates a lack of insight, regardless of your special ability."

Gafonel turned away. After a considerable silence, he opened two doors in his wall of small glass doors and took out two squat metal containers, each one a little smaller than a man's clenched fist. One of these containers was dark purple. The other was diagonally striped, black and silver. Gafonel walked over towards Roberts and set the two containers on the floor, well out of Roberts' reach.

"The Patrol, Roberts, is a shrewd and somewhat baffling opponent. I will admit, if I possessed only my special ability, I would be at a loss how to approach the Patrol, although it offers an ideal instrument for a ruler. But, as I have explained, a special ability such as mine is not just a thing in itself, merely added to other abilities, like a new pistol added to an arsenal of guns. That is not it. Such an ability compounds at every turn my other abilities. Mentally, socially, financially, I am far stronger than you imagine. The contest between us has been physical, so you do not appreciate this point. The self-glorification you sneer at induces an 'aura of power' that has a highly effective reaction on many people. When it does not work, I need merely switch it off, because I instantly know the effect I am creating. Now, to seize control of the Patrol, or of any segment of it, would be nearly impossible by my special skill alone. It would even be difficult with this skill plus my other abilities. But—this skill gives access to yet other resources. Do you follow me?"

"I see the point. The trouble is, a king can't judge the worth of an approach solely by how it impresses other people. As for this 'access to other resources'—you mean the 'exotic gases'?"

Gafonel glanced at the two roughly fist-sized containers on the floor.

"Among other things. The Patrol obviously has some interesting devices. But so does the rest of civilization. You realize that the usual aim of the Space Force, for instance, is maximum effect with minimum loss of life. This purple container, Roberts, contains a minute proportion of the gas that was in a storage vial from the Whippet's shipment. When this container is sprayed at you, you will become totally attentive. You will hear, and believe, whatever I say to you. It is the command chemical. From that time forward, if I so direct, you will be my obedient subordinate. Unlike the Space Force, I will not later release you from this obedient state, nor will I release the other members of the Patrol as I extend my control over them." 

There was a lengthy pause, in which Roberts kept a tight hold on his mental responses.

Gafonel went on.

"No, Roberts, the fact that the Patrol has a kind of partial computer control will not nullify the effect of human loyalty to me. Not at all. Because the computer will be eliminated, subject to its realignment in accordance with my own aims."

He raised the diagonally striped black-and-silver container.

"You see, the Space Force, too, faces the difficulty of computer-directed defense systems. A surprisingly small concentration of this gas in the atmosphere will find its way through any crevice or opening into no matter how effective a computer, to start a reaction—and that is all that is needed, just the start of that reaction. This is another 'tailored chemical,' Roberts. The computer's essential internal elements will suffer a change which will render them inoperative. The computer will break down. Then only the human component remains to be considered. The command chemical will decide that battle."

There was a silence as Roberts considered it.

"You have the problem of getting it there."

"True. And here I have a considerable advantage. You see, Roberts, I can instantly detect the difference between the deceptive product of advanced robotics and an actual human, while there is some delay before the Patrol can detect the same difference. When you came ashore, my 'double,' so-called, was captured. This 'double' was a highly specialized robotic product which sensed the alteration in the atmosphere, lay still, and sensed the arrival of the Patrolmen who sought to capture it.

"Your patrol ship, I admit, skillfully neutralized my warning system, but that didn't matter. My robotic bait, an outwardly exact replica of myself, with my own voice, appeared to regain consciousness, surfaced, and in the resulting violent and unexpected struggle, released the command chemical and stated the basic requirements of obedience to me. The three members of the Interstellar Patrol became my loyal subjects, just as you will, Roberts, before I am through. They made a slight delay, to report to me on the beach shortly after you were captured. They returned to your patrol ship with their 'prisoner' and their own stocks of the obedience chemical. I was flattered to learn from them that an Interstellar Patrol dreadnought was close at hand, especially to take care of me. This short distance made the return of the patrol ship to the dreadnought a brief trip. So, you see, Roberts, the plan has already been put into action."

Gafonel straightened and watched Roberts intently.

Roberts, as he had intended, had now forgotten everything but this conversation. Frowning, he tried to estimate the chances of the plan for succeeding, and at once ran head-on into the fact that the Patrol was very sparing with information. No one, for instance, had ever explained to Roberts the functioning of the dreadnought's air system. No one had mentioned the location of what must be a master computer of some kind. That there was a type of monitor system that watched activity throughout the ship, he knew, as he had used it—but how did it work? No one had tried to prevent him from learning these details. But no one had volunteered the information. If he wished to spend his free time delving into mountains of facts, that was his business.

He hadn't done it.

He therefore had no way to know if Gafonel's plan would work.

Gafonel watched him, frowning.

Roberts shook his head.

Gafonel said, "The commands on the dreadnought were to be given in the guise of a joke, Roberts. One of my men would approach one of the as-yet-unconvinced members of the Patrol, motion to him, and say, smiling, 'Have you heard the one about the Space Force general?' My man would then show a small star made of very thin silvery paper impregnated with the command chemical and having a faint minty fragrance. He would whisper the command in the ear of his 'recruit,' who, meanwhile, aware of the mint aroma, would sniff curiously and absorb the chemical. My man would give the new recruit a small stock of the impregnated stars, with instruction to pass some on to each person he tells the joke to. One of the whispered commands, by the way, instructs the new recruit to laugh uproariously at the conclusion of the whispered 'joke.' Would your symbiotic computer interfere with a private joke, Roberts?"

"I don't know." Roberts glanced at the wall across the room. "Is that filled up with all the exotic chemicals?"

"Yes. We are in a place where no one can reach them but myself."

Roberts said drily, "I suppose these two chemicals are just a sample?"

"That's right. The entire shipment is right here under my thumb, immune to any outside attack and a source of fantastically varied power, or—if I choose to trade it—wealth."

Roberts was only dimly aware of numbness going out of his right arm and leg, then a few moments later, out of his left arm and leg. His mind was still grappling with the problem as all the numbness evaporated, and his reflexes, like an alarm clock set beforehand, suddenly triggered his body into action.

The ropes slid as Roberts thrust himself upright, sucked in an enormous breath, braced arm and shoulder muscles against the rope—

Gafonel jerked the gun up.

Roberts' legs swung up from the waist, his outstretched feet jarring the gun barrel upward. There was a sudden yielding of the rope that held him, and Roberts dropped, catching himself awkwardly as his feet fell, his back still against the pipes.

Gafonel sprang back, well out of reach.

Roberts threw the tangle of suddenly loose ropes over his head and dove for the squat purple can.

There was a buzzing sound, and Roberts' right arm went numb.

There was another buzz. And another, and another.

Roberts sucked in a deep breath as if to hurl himself across the floor by sheer strength of will.

Gafonel, shaken, grasped at the purple can, aimed it at Roberts, and pressed the plunger. He shouted, "You will obey my orders! I am the king! 

Roberts blanked his mind and lay motionless, unbreathing.

Gafonel, breathing hard, suddenly gasped.

Roberts raised his head, to see the triumph on Gafonel's face change to shock.

Roberts let out his hoarded breath:


Gafonel's face went blank. He dropped to one knee and, head bowed, waited like a statue.

Roberts sucked in a breath, aware of a faint scent and a sudden blank-minded eagerness to please. All that was necessary now was for someone, anyone, to state a command. Roberts would dutifully obey.

But no one else was there except Gafonel.

And Gafonel knelt, silent and motionless, as the air slowly cleared.

When the numbness passed, Roberts got to his feet.

A day and a half later, Roberts again faced the chief of O-Branch.

"Sir," said Roberts, "with all due respect, if I had some idea what was going on now and then, I think I could do a better job."

The colonel leaned back behind his desk, smiling. "Well, Roberts, we trust your power to improvise. Any plan you might have thought of could had been nullified by the telepath."

Roberts looked blank for a moment, then nodded.

"With his advantage, he should have had such a superiority that I'd have had no chance at all. But—there was that impregnable retreat with foot-thick walls and a tissue-paper ceiling. And that ring of bars with the loose plate at the top out of the way. At the end, when he tied me up, the knots didn't hold. And he was so sure of the effect of the obedience gas that he sprayed it at me—then breathed it himself. Phew! If that's telepathy, he can have it."

The colonel smiled. "Telepathy plus megalomania. You can't judge telepathy with that handicap. Great success without self-control is dangerous, and Gafonel had had enormous success. At some point, it dawned on this telepath that he had a 'seeing mind,' could look into all other minds, learn their processes of thought, their true reasons, their honest opinions, and hence outshine them all." The colonel shook his head. "There was a hole in his reasoning, but he never recognized it."

Roberts said, "He could look into other minds and learn their true reasons and honest opinions." 

The colonel nodded. "Their opinions. He thought he was omniscient. Instead, he was omniopinient. If one expert worked on one part of his arrangement, and another worked on another part, he thought he need only scan their minds, to learn whether each one had done his job. But that only told him the answer so far as they themselves knew. If he got well-meant bad advice at some point, he had no way to analyze it on his own. This weakness didn't bother him in his investments, because on balance the advice was usually right. But when a man tries to make himself Emperor of the Universe overnight, little flaws in his arrangements have a tendency to magnify themselves."

Roberts nodded thoughtfully. "And yet, he certainly had a special advantage."

"Yes, and as often happens to people with a special advantage, he let it become a substitute for his own thought. If you look back at the past experience of humanity, you'll see that this or that specialty—strictly formal logic, religion, government, science—some one thing or viewpoint, has been expected to solve all the problems. But reality is too varied to be handled completely by one method. As soon as the one method is nicely codified, then the whole crushing burden comes to bear on one solitary support. It doesn't work, but once there's an official solution around, people tend to quit thinking."

Roberts said, "There ought to be some saying about this, for a warning."

"There is."


"You tell me."

Roberts looked at the colonel with a familiar sense of exasperation. Then his thought processes jarred into action.

"No special skill," he said, "no standard attitude, no technology—no matter how valuable—can safely replace thought itself."

The colonel smiled. "You've omitted a common substitute."

Roberts frowned, then in surprise he saw one reason why the Interstellar Patrol provided so few ready-made answers to its members.

Roberts cleared his throat before he spoke.

"No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization—no matter how valuable—can safely replace thought itself."

The colonel nodded.

"Now you've got it."


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