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No Small Enemy

James Cardan saw the flash as he rounded the last horseshoe curve of his short cut on the way to the company plant near Milford.

Ahead of him, the gray morning sky lit up in a blue-white glare that outlined the bare trees of the forest, and reflected dazzlingly from the snowbanks melting by the roadside.

Cardan brought the car to a quick stop, set the parking brake, and glanced at his watch. He rapped the button that in this car rolled down the windows, then reached forward to snap on the radio. As the windows slid down, he could hear the diffuse roar of snow water rushing down a nearby ravine.

Ahead of him, the glow faded, to reveal a bright, slightly jagged line, like a stationary lightning bolt. Cardan located the bright center of the glow in the same direction as a large oak and a tall slender maple. Then the glow faded out, and abruptly the bright line was gone. Cardan glanced again at his watch, then turned down the radio, which had come on loudly and with a crackling of static. He twisted in his seat to see no other part of the sky lit by a glow like that he'd seen ahead.

There was a crash, as of heavy distant thunder, and Cardan looked at his watch. A little over thirty-one seconds had passed. Whatever had happened, it must have happened about six miles away.

The radio was now free of static, and playing dance music. Cardan switched from station to station, to find only music, local news, and road and weather reports. He frowned, shoved in the cigar lighter, and glanced out to study the oak and maple he'd lined up in the direction of the brightest part of the glow. What he wanted now was a compass, to find the direction of the bright glow.

The lighter popped out, and Cardan thoughtfully puffed his cigar alight. In his own car, he carried a compass and some other emergency supplies that he'd found useful on hunting trips. Unfortunately, this wasn't his own car, but an experimental car converted to steam propulsion by several enthusiasts among his men. Cardan had driven it home over the weekend to see how it worked, and had put in chains and a few tools, but nothing else. He glanced in the glove compartment, saw a collection of odd nuts, fittings, and lock washers, shut the compartment, and got out of the car.

Overhead, the sky was gray, but in one part of the sky, a relatively bright spot offered hope that the sun would come out. Cardan broke a thin straight stick off a fallen branch, lined up the oak and maple he'd used to fix the direction of the flash, and traced their direction on the muddy road. He glanced up the see the sun fade out, then start to rapidly grow brighter. He held the stick vertically, traced the direction of its momentary shadow, and held his watch so that the hour hand was lined up in the same direction, its point toward the place where the stick had stood to cast the shadow. Cardan considered his location within the time zone, decided he could neglect the difference between standard time and local sun time, and took half the angle between the hour hand and the numeral twelve on his watch as the direction of south. That meant the flash had taken place roughly to the northeast.

Cardan frowned and straightened up. If he was right, the flash had happened on or over a stretch of low-lying farmland about two miles to the right of the highway, on his way into town. He shifted his cigar as he mentally checked his calculations. Then he cleaned the worst of the mud off his shoes with the stick, and got back into the car. He released the parking brake, and changed stations on the radio as he guided the car around a slight curve. The radio switched from dance music to an announcer's voice:

". . . Widespread calls from rural families. No, folks, there has been no plane crash, to the best of our knowledge, and authorities contacted by this station assure us that the 'light in the sky' was just a momentary bright reflection of the sun on the snow. It's a dark day, and when the sun does come out, it can be unusually dazzling. Now, we have a popular ballad by . . ."

Cardan tried a variety of other stations, one after the other, found nothing about the flash, and switched back to the local station. He turned down the volume, and drove swiftly but carefully toward the highway.

He puffed his cigar alight once more as the car came down the last steep hill toward the highway. He judged the speed of the oncoming cars, swung out into the traffic, and settled down for the run to Milford, keeping to the right-hand lane so he could pull over to the side if he saw anything unusual near the site of the flash.

Soon the hum of the tires, and the soft whoosh of traffic passing to his left, formed a background to Cardan's thoughts, and for a moment the cars gliding smoothly by made him think of all the changes that had come about in the past fifty years. This in turn led him to wonder briefly about the coming fifty years. Then he puffed thoughtfully on his cigar, and he was thinking of that last meeting at the plant, and of what was waiting for him there today. As Donovan had remarked at the end of that last meeting, while squinting over Cardan's shoulder, "You know, Chief, if you rush too fast into untraveled country, you're likely to wind up all of a sudden at the bottom of a sinkhole, or inside a bear's den."

"Sure," said Cardan. "If your legs outrun your eyes and your mind, that may happen. But," he added, studying the layout of wires, resistors, condensers, and other circuit elements mounted on a board, "if you refuse to travel unfamiliar country, you aren't likely to find anything new."

"You won't be so likely to break a leg. Or to electrocute yourself, either."

Maclane, a sharp-featured, slender man sitting on the other side of the table, said, "Nobody is going to electrocute himself with this, Don. That's the whole business, right on that board."

"No power source?" said Donovan. He walked around the table, a tall, athletic, blond-haired man, and stood looking down at the circuit.

"Nothing but what you see," said Maclane.

Cardan said, "And you got the diagram for this by sending for a patent?"

Maclane shook his head. "I got the idea there. It struck me that if I made a change here and a change there, the circuit would look better. It would be . . . well, better balanced. So I made the changes. And there's the result."

"Let's see if I understand you," said Cardan. "You say that if you put your hands on these contacts, and adjust this variable condenser, you get a sensation?"

"Right. In the original, I understand it was a tactual sensation. With this adaptation, it's visual."

Donovan said roughly, "In my opinion, this sounds like a lot of bunk."

Maclane looked up sharply. "Why?"

"Because, with no power source, there's no current flow, and with no current flow, the circuit can't operate. Therefore, you can't feel anything, or have any other effect."

"There's no power source in a crystal radio set, either," said Maclane. "Are you going to say that there is, therefore, no current flow in the circuit, and therefore you can't hear anything, or have any other effect?"

"Well, that's different. The crystal set picks up man-made signals sent out to it on purpose."

"You think it won't pick up natural signals that aren't sent out to it on purpose? How about a flash of lightning? The crystal set has no optical components to pick up the flash. It has no megaphone device to magnify the sound of the thunder. Therefore, how could it possibly detect a flash of lightning? The idea is too ridiculous to consider, isn't it?"

Donovan frowned. "What you're saying is, we've got something new here, and we're in about the same position as the original experimenters with static electricity?"

"I touch those contacts, and I get a visual impression. That's all I say. But I do say that."

"How could you explain a thing like that?"

"Let's work the textbook out later," said Maclane. "Right now all I want anyone to do is to touch these contacts."

Cardan said, "Turn it over and let's see the other side."

Maclane picked up the board and held it up. There was nothing on the back but a faint smear of what looked like grease.

"All right," said Cardan, putting his cigar in a tray. "The worst we should get out of this is a jolt from a charged condenser."

"Let me do this first, Chief," said Donovan.

"Go ahead," said Cardan.

Donovan put his hands on the contacts. Maclane turned the variable condenser. Donovan said, "Heck, Mac, I don't get any effect at all. I might as well—" Abruptly he cut off, and frowned.

"Well?" said Maclane.

"Go back a little. Do that over again."

Maclane eased back on the variable condenser.

Donovan said sharply, "Hold it. Right around there. Stop. That's it."

"What is it?"

"I don't know." Donovan had his eyes shut tightly. "I don't know what it is. But I see something."

Maclane nodded. "In color?"

"No. There's no color. For that matter, there's no form." Donovan scowled. "I mean, the form doesn't—" His voice trailed off.

Maclane said, "It's not in focus?"

"I guess that's it. It's not in focus."

Cardan glanced at Maclane, then at Donovan. Donovan let go of the contacts, turned the condenser a trifle, took hold, and let go again. He shook his head, and glanced at Cardan. "It's a funny effect."

Cardan got up, slid the device over, and took hold. He had no more awareness of any unusual sensation from it than if he had just taken hold of a doorknob.

Maclane turned the knob of the variable condenser. Cardan, his eyes shut, suddenly seemed to be looking at a light through a gray blanket. He raised his hands as if to brush away an obstruction. The sensation was gone instantly. He took hold of the contacts again and now there was nothing unusual.

"Go back," said Cardan. "Try that once more."

Abruptly he had the sensation again. He seemed to be looking through a gray blanket, or through an unfocused microscope in a bad light.

Cardan let go of the contacts and opened his eyes. "You've got something."

Maclane smiled. "Thanks."

Donovan said, "What are you going to do now, Mac?"

Maclane said, "I'm going to get a record of the temperature, humidity, weather conditions, and everything else I can think of. This may not work tomorrow."

Cardan puffed his cigar alight. "Suppose you were to replace a few more constants in that circuit with variables? Now here, for instance, you've got a resistor. Suppose you put in a rheostat? Why not use this circuit as a model, and build another like it with more variable circuit elements? It might not work, but then again—"

Maclane nodded. "It's worth a try, all right. I can do that over the weekend."

"Good idea."

The three men looked at each other.

"Well," said Maclane with a grin. "I have to get home on time for dinner tonight, or my wife will have a fit. But I don't think I'll be there a heck of a long time."

Now, as Cardan sped along the highway on Monday morning, he was wondering what Maclane had done over the weekend. Ahead, he saw he was coming to a spot on the highway about opposite the site of the flash. A quick glance showed him nothing unusual. Then he was swinging around a wide, well-banked curve to the left, and abruptly he slammed on the brakes.

Straight ahead was a massive pile-up of traffic. One State police car was pulled off on the shoulder of the road, and two more were parked on the partly snow-covered grassy strip in the center. A patrolman was on the road ahead of Cardan, waving the oncoming traffic across the grass and back into the southbound lanes on the other side. The stopped cars in the traffic jam ahead of Cardan were unlike cars he'd seen in traffic jams before; a great number of these cars had their hoods up. At some of the cars, the owners were bent down looking into the engine compartment. Other cars were apparently deserted, the owners trying for rides in the cars now being sent back toward the south.

Directly in front of Cardan, the State policeman thrust his right arm out to his side, gesturing urgently for Cardan to cross the mall and head back. Cardan obediently crossed the grass, then swung over onto the shoulder of the southbound side of the road, stopped, backed out of the stream of traffic crossing the grass, and swung the car around so it was headed north.

A shout, followed by the blast of a whistle, reached him, and he glanced around to see a police officer striding toward him angrily from the right. Cardan glanced at the other cars, all apparently stalled, thrust his cigar at a belligerent angle, set the brake, slid under the wheel and was out of the car on the right-hand side, pointing angrily at the stalled cars, before the policeman had time to reach him.

The officer was shouting and pointing at the southbound lanes. At the fender of a parked police car, several other patrolmen turned around, and looked on alertly.

Cardan ignored the others, and concentrated on the patrolman before him. Some switch in Cardan's brain seemed to mute the function of hearing, so that he was aware only of a generalized noise. With his mind concentrated on the other man's eyes, Cardan hurled words at him like a warship slamming rockets and shells at its target. As the police officer angrily gestured to the south, Cardan remorselessly pointed to the stalled cars. There was an interval like a combined earthquake and hurricane, and at the end of it Cardan was still pointing at the cars. The policeman, looking dazed, glanced over his shoulder for support. The other officers had moved off to help direct traffic.

"Now," Cardan demanded, "what is this? Why are these cars stuck? How long has this been going on? And wasn't there a bright flash about two miles to the northeast, in that direction?"

The policeman said uncertainly, "Are you investigating that?"

"That's right. I want to know if there's any connection between that flash and this tie-up. How long have these cars been here?"

"It started about fifteen minutes ago. One of our cars was in the middle of it and radioed the news. We were already on the way, so we managed to straighten things out and get traffic turned around and moving south."

"These cars with the hoods up are stalled?"

"That's right, sir. They're all stalled."

"What happened?"

"Their engines just sputtered and quit."

"They can't be started again?"

"No, sir. The starting motors will turn the engines over, but the engines won't fire."

"How about that flash? Wasn't that right over there?"

"I've heard about that, but I don't know anything about it. Anyway, that was before this happened."

"But it was near here?"

"Yes, it was. It was out on the flats there, somewhere. But I don't know where."

"What's at the north end of this jam? Are there police there, turning the southbound traffic around heading it back north?"

"Yes, sir. Just the same as we're doing here."

Cardan nodded. He looked at the stalled cars, glanced out over the low flat land to the right of the road, then looked back at his car.

The police officer said, "If I were you, sir, I'd investigate this on foot. If you go in there, you're likely to get stranded."

"The engine would sputter and then quit?"

"That's right. If you were going slowly enough, you could probably back up and get out. But if you roll too far, you're stuck, and we'd have to use a tow cable to get you out."

Cardan thought a moment, then said, "I'll go slowly. This car has an experimental engine, and it may be important to know if it can get through."

The patrolman's eyes widened.

Cardan got back into the car, leaving the door open. "You want to ride down with me?"

"I'd better stay here. Thanks, anyway."

"Thanks for your help."

"That's all right, sir. I hope you get through." The policeman shut the door, and Cardan drove the car slowly ahead. When he'd gone about a hundred feet, Cardan stopped and called back, "Am I in it, yet?"

"You're right in it! Your engine should have stalled by now!"

"It's O.K., so far!" Cardan waved, and started ahead. Gliding steadily up the grass, Cardan rolled along between cars stalled on both sides, with people thronging back along the sides of the road and up the mall in the center. He tapped his horn gently, and they jumped out of the way, staring and shouting questions. The pile-up lasted for a good half mile. Somewhere in the middle of it, Cardan spotted a young woman in a little red sports car, a look of furious determination on her face, her hands gripping the wheel as she went nowhere. At this point, most of the cars were deserted. Cardan stopped, and rolled down a window.

"Are you planning to stay here?"

"I've just finished paying for this car, and if I leave it, I don't know what will happen to it." She stared at him. "Your car's moving!"

Cardan nodded. "I'd pull you if I had a chain."

"I've got a tow strap."

"Fine. Now, tell me what happened. I take it you've been in this from the beginning."

She nodded. "I was going about fifty when the engine coughed and quit. I put on the brake, then for just an instant I thought I must be mistaken about the engine, because I wasn't falling behind the rest of the traffic. We all rolled to a stop more or less at the same time. I tried to start the car, but I couldn't do it."

"Did you see a flash?"

"Not then. Earlier."

"About how much earlier?"

"Oh, I'd say five to ten minutes."

Cardan nodded. He got out of the car and looked thoughtfully in the direction from which he thought the flash had come. He could see nothing unusual but only flat land with brown strips where the ground showed through a layer of snow. To the other side of the road here, the ground rose in a long hill that grew steep and was cut away by the road ahead. But nowhere did he see anything unusual.

"O.K.," he said. "Let's have that tow strap."

He towed the girl out, and down a slight downgrade at the head of the traffic jam, then watched as the engine of her little sports car caught with a bang. She jumped out, ran back, threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug and a kiss. The police grinned as Cardan wiped off the lipstick, and the sports car buzzed off into the northbound traffic. A few minutes later, Cardan followed, having parried questions as to whether he was working for the Defense Department or the Atomic Energy Commission. When he pulled into the parking lot of the Milford plant, he noticed that it was less than half-full.

He parked, went up to his office, and found a small crowd packed around Donovan and Maclane, who were seated at the long table, wearing headsets with one wire at each earphone cut, bent back, and taped. Somebody glanced up, and murmured, "Morning, Chief," and Cardan grunted a greeting. The crowd momentarily broke into individuals, who looked around to say a brief "good morning," and then went back to watching Maclane and Donovan, both of whom were leaning forward, their elbows on the table, their hands at their temples and their eyes tightly shut.

Cardan looked at the crowd, and wondered exactly what Maclane and Donovan had found. No one seemed anxious to let him in on it, but Cardan, studying their tense expressions, felt an uneasy premonition.

"Gray," said Maclane in a low voice. "Taller and more strongly built then usual. Dressed in a kind of coverall, with what I guess are insignia pinned on the chest. They're apparently working some kind of launcher. There goes another one. Can't judge direction at all because the sun isn't visible, and I'm not familiar with the place."

Cardan scowled, took out a fresh cigar, and worked his way around behind his desk. He pulled open a drawer, got out a match, and puffed the cigar alight.

"Listen," said somebody in the crowd around Maclane. "I don't quite get that. Does it slide on rails, or what? Is there a rocket blast? Is it catapulted out by steam? How is the thing launched?"

Donovan said, "When the thing—missile—whatever you want to call it—is dropped into the launcher, it travels up a half-cylinder shaped like a . . . oh . . . a piece of half-round guttering about a foot across at the top."

"You mean, this launcher is like half of a cylinder that's a foot in diameter?"

"Yes. A cylinder split lengthwise, so as to form a sort of trough. The whole thing looks about six feet long, and it's mounted on a tripod. There are a couple of wheels on the side, I suppose to set azimuth and elevation, there's a set of graduated scales, and several locking levers. The missile is set in at the lower end, and slides up the cylinder with no means of propulsion I can see."

Maclane said, "You may think I'm nuts, Don, but I can influence this picture."

A plaintive voice said, "How about another look, Don?"

"It's Mike's turn," said Donovan.

Maclane said, "If you think I'm going to let go of it at this point after two days and a night wrestling with the circuit, you're crazy."

Cardan, his curiosity growing by the minute, stepped forward, said "Excuse me," and "Let me through, please," and got no result from the tier of intent backs between him and the table. He grunted, puffed his cigar to a red glow, and angled it so that it heated the back of first one neck and then another. In a few seconds he was at Maclane's shoulder. He studied what was visible of the circuit, and noted that the modified headphones had wires that ran to two contacts like those he'd touched when Maclane had demonstrated the device on Saturday. Cautiously Cardan touched the contacts.

His view of the room vanished, and he was looking at the back of what seemed to be a powerfully-built man in coveralls, who bent at a kind of half-round guide tube mounted on a heavy tripod. The man spun two small wheels on the mount, yanked a cylinder about a foot long out of an almost empty case, nearby, and put the cylinder down at the base of the guide tube. The cylinder slid up the tube, picked up speed like a falling stone, and streaked out into the distance. Cardan tried to follow its path over the snow-covered lowland, but without success. Then the man was again spinning the wheel on the side of the tripod, and someone else came over carrying a fresh case of cylinders. When this second individual set the case down, Cardan's gaze was riveted on his face.

Two eyes, a nose, and a mouth were present on this face, but the overall effect was that of a bobcat. The face seemed to be no shade of brown, tan, or pink, but a dull gray.

Cardan shifted his cigar in his mouth, and Maclane sucked in his breath.

"Chief," said Maclane, "look out with the torch, will you?"

"What have we got here?" growled Cardan.

"That's what I'm trying to figure out."

"Somebody get me a chair. Then I won't be dropping ashes down anybody's neck."

There was the sound of a chair being slid around, and Cardan, watching the two muscular figures drop another cylinder onto the guide tube, felt the edge of the chair press against his legs. He sat down, slid the chair closer to the table, and saw another cylinder streak out over the snow.

"Where is this place?"

"I don't know. I worked all day Sunday on the circuit, and part of last night. I thought I hadn't gotten anywhere, because I couldn't see a thing. When I touched the contacts, they just cut off my vision. This morning, I came in, tried it, shifted some of the settings, and got a flash that blinded me, as if I'd looked into a searchlight. I waited a few minutes, tried again, and got blinded again, though the light didn't seem quite so intense. I tried again, and this time all I saw was a thick dazzling line in the foreground. That faded out, and—"

"Where was this dazzling line?"

"It seemed to hang right in the air in front of me—like an incandescent rope or hose."

"It faded out?"

"No, it was just—it was gone all of a sudden."

"Was there any noise—a sound like an explosion?"

"Sorry, Chief, there's no sound with this thing."

"I mean, did you hear any explosion later—as you hear me talking now?"

"Oh, I see what you mean. Did I see it with the circuit, then hear it independently of the circuit? No, I—Now, wait a minute. I think I did hear a sort of low roar some time afterwards. But that could have been anything."

"Then what?"

"Nothing particular. At first I thought the flash was some fault in the circuit. Then I wrestled with the focus a little, got it clearer, and noticed that some of the snow in front of me had a glazed look, as if the top layers had melted and settled to form a shallow trough. But I didn't know what to make of it. Then something blurred across my field of vision from left to right. A little later it happened again. I changed the focus on this thing, and after backing and filling for quite a while I got this scene you see now."

"Is it hard to change the focus?"

"It's an awful job. It isn't enough to just . . . say . . . change the resistance in one branch of the circuit. You've got to change inductance and capacitance, too. And then if you don't change them just right you get some kind of fantastic picture like a surrealist's nightmare. The patterns are almost familiar and three-dimensional, but they just don't add up. Then when you've almost got the scene, everything's fuzzy, and it slops back and forth between the scene you're after, and this other scene I mention, and it's enough to drive you nuts. The actual scene is unstable unless everything is just right. That's why you don't see me trying to change the focus to find out where this scene is located. In the process, we'd miss whatever is going on here. I think what we've got here is the filming of some kind of monster picture, but I don't see how those things get slung out of that half-cylinder."

Cardan, his hands still on the contacts, watched the powerfully-built figure in coveralls shoot out another cylinder. Cardan grunted, let go of the contacts and looked up at his men crowded around the table.

Cardan puffed his cigar back to life, and said, "Smitty, go out and see if you can get any news. Try all the stations, and listen particularly for anything about highway trouble, big traffic jams, car engines quitting, lights in the sky, or unidentified flying objects being sighted."

Smitty, a wiry figure with black hair combed straight back, nodded and went out.

Cardan glanced at a pugnacious-looking towheaded six-footer, noted his habitual combative look, and grinned. The towhead hesitated, then grinned back. Cardan said, "Consider the mess you got into this morning. You were taking a trip south to finish up a business deal. You tried to drive out on Route 27 and the State police turned you back. You've been thinking it over, and you want to know how there could be a traffic jam on a weekday on both sides of a four-lane highway. You've got a right to know. You're a taxpayer. And if they tell you the cars all stalled, you tell them you know that's not so because you saw a late-model car drive up the mall towing a sports car. How come that car could run if the others couldn't. Give 'em hell. And then demand to know just how you can get out of this place before the middle of next week."

The towhead grinned and went out.

Cardan said, "Now, as long as we're dependent on just one of these circuits, we never dare vary the focus, because we'll miss what's going on while we fight with the various adjustments. Mac, why don't we make up a batch of these circuits?"

Maclane nodded. "Good idea."

"O.K." said Cardan. Half-a-dozen of the men around the table eagerly volunteered for this job, and Cardan was sending them out when the door opened and a shapely brunette stepped in. "Mr. Cardan, there's a General Whitely on the line. I told him you were in conference, but he insists he has to speak to you right away. And Dr. Crawford was due to get here early this afternoon. He called up and said all flights coming into Milford have been cancelled. I came in to tell you about Dr. Crawford a minute ago, but you were busy and I didn't want to interrupt."

Cardan nodded. "Put Whitely on the line. If Crawford calls back, tell him to keep out of here till things clear up. He'd particularly better not come by car unless he's got a Stanley Steamer or the equivalent."

Cardan's secretary looked perplexed. But she nodded. "Yes, sir, I'll tell him that. And I'll put General Whitely on right away."


Someone handed Cardan a phone, and he heard a voice say loudly, "Hello, Bugs?"

Cardan winced. He and Whitely had been boyhood friends, but Cardan didn't care for this nickname.

"Bugs?" The voice jumped out at him.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cardan could see several of his men glance at each other. Cardan blew out a cloud of smoke, set his cigar on the edge of the table, and growled, "Right here, Tarface. What do you want?"

"Listen," said the voice loudly, "what's going on up your way? Fill me in."

Cardan squinted at the phone. "I thought you had an Intelligence section."

"Never mind all that secondhand stuff, Bugs. I've got an idea you know what's going on. You're right in the middle of it."

"All right," said Cardan, "I'll trade you item-for-item. About an hour ago, Route 27 was blocked with half-a-mile of cars stalled on the curve about four-and-a-half miles toward Milford from the shortcut over the ridge. You remember how I drove you out last time?"

"I remember. Now I'll tell you something. About three quarters of an hour ago, a man in a late-model car drove smack through the middle of that jam. The police in charge think he was an official of the Atomic Energy Commission, driving a car with a nuclear engine. I notice, Bugs, their description is such that he was about your height and build, conservatively dressed, smoked a cigar, and had your manner. Also, he looked a little younger than you are, but you look a little young for your age, so I suppose that's natural. Now what is going on up there?"

Whitely's voice jumped out of the phone like a whiplash, and Cardan grinned. "What you just told me is something I already know, Tarface, so it doesn't count. Now I believe there were one or two trucks stuck in that traffic jam, but I have no way to be sure whether their engines stopped, or they just got trapped amongst all the stalled cars and couldn't get out. Now some trucks have gas engines and some trucks have Diesel engines. You see what I'm getting at?"

"It hits gas and Diesel engines both. But there's a kind of engine it doesn't hit, and I want to know about it."

"There are at least two other kinds of engines it doesn't hit. The starters in the cars worked, so low-voltage electrical motors aren't stopped."

"That's right. What's the other kind?"

"My turn, Tarface. Is Route 27 the only place this has happened?"

"Until about an hour ago, yes. But this thing, whatever it is, has also begun moving out along an arc, like a crayon on the end of a forty-mile string. Rail, truck, and highway travel are stopped dead, along a quarter-circle with this forty-mile radius, and the arc is still spreading out with mathematical accuracy. We've had three plane crashes so far, but some planes at high altitudes have gotten over all right."

"O.K. Where's this forty-mile string centered?"

"Wait a minute. How about that nuclear car?"

"Not nuclear. Steam."

"Steam-propelled, eh? What heats the boiler?"

"A main burner fired by kerosene, and pilot burner run on gasoline. Where's the center of this forty-mile arc?"

"Smack in the middle of the industrial district north of Milford."

Cardan stiffened.

Whitely said, "You hear me, Bugs?"

"Yes, and I think that's a blind. Take a look at the low land opposite that traffic jam I mentioned on Route 27."

Cardan could hear faint voices as if someone had covered the mouthpiece. "All right, Bugs," came Whitely's voice suddenly. "You got anything more? I'm in a rush here."

"Nothing more yet," said Cardan.

"O.K. You know how to reach me. Keep away from that traffic jam on 27."

Cardan heard a click, and he was holding a dead phone.

Smitty was standing on the other side of the desk, and the belligerent towhead was just coming in the door.

Cardan glanced at Smitty. "What did you find out?"

Smitty said, "Pretty straightforward coverage on radio and TV. Motorists are warned to keep off the out-of-town highways, because some unknown effect causes car engines to stall. Travel within town, and between specified points on a map shown on TV, is O.K. The airport is closed, but travel out-of-town by train is all right for now, and emergency travel on Route 34 is permitted, subject to cancellation any time if the trouble spreads. They call it the 'stalling effect.'"

"What explanation do they give?"

"They've got some professor from the local college at a blackboard showing how ionized air around the spark plugs can short a high-voltage spark from the plug to the cylinder head. The professor has a very cultured voice, and treats the whole thing as if it were a trivial matter."

"What causes the ionized air around the spark plugs?"

"He's a little vague about the exact connection, but bears down heavy on the fact that cosmic rays cause ionization in a cloud chamber. When I left he was saying something about sunspots."

"What's the conclusion?"

Smitty grinned, "It would be premature at this time to attempt a definitive characterization of the precise nature of this disturbance. There is, however, no cause for alarm. This is nothing more serious than the slightly irritating situation encountered when the porcelain insulating material of the automobile's spark plugs becomes moist due to fog or mist."

One of the men at the table snorted. "Some of those spark plugs are buried under valve covers bolted down on waterproof gaskets. You could run those engines under Niagara Falls if you had the air intakes clear."

"Well," said Smitty, "it's an explanation, anyway, and to see this authority sneer at the whole business certainly has a calming effect."

Donovan said, "I heard you ask about Diesel trucks, Chief. Any information on that?"

"They got stopped, too."

"Then there goes the spark-plug argument. A Diesel fires by compression, not by spark plugs."

Cardan glanced at the towhead, who shook his head, and said, "All I could get was the same stuff. The police say they aren't responsible for sunspots and to keep off the highways except in case of emergency. Apparently the trains are still running, and Route 34 is still clear. About the car that went through the traffic jam, they say they're sorry, but for security reasons, they can't give any information on it. The government is investigating the tie-up, and that was a new experimental kind of car. I'm not supposed to repeat that, and if anybody asks me about seeing the car, I'm supposed to say 'no comment,' or deny any knowledge of it."

Cardan laughed.

Somebody said, "What's this about a secret governmental car?"

Cardan said, "I had to give some explanation for that steam car. I didn't say it was a secret government car. But if they want to think so, that's their business."

Maclane said, "Excuse me, Chief. I'd better see how those circuits are coming along. You want to watch this?"

Cardan said, "Sure," and Maclane handed him the headset. Maclane went out, and Cardan sent everyone but Donovan out of the room to keep watch on the radio and TV news coverage, to go down to the local supermarkets and bring back some meat and fresh grocery orders, and to drop in at nearby sporting goods and Army-Navy stores to pick up weapons and ammunition.

Cardan put on the headset for a moment to study the tripod, then took the headset off, and, frowning, fired up his cigar.

Donovan said, "I wish we could change the focus on this thing. I'm sitting here watching nothing while there's no telling what may be going on just twenty feet away."

"When Mac gets the other sets ready," said Cardan, "we ought to be a lot better off."

"I keep hoping that when we can see more of this, we'll find out it's just a big flap over nothing. Maybe, say, the filming of a motion picture. But this trough on a tripod just isn't dramatic enough for that. And they acted too casual when they used it."

"It's no flap over nothing," said Cardan. He described his phone conversation with Whitely.

Donovan shook his head. "You'd think a race that could do this would have gotten past the point where it would do it."


"It seems to me to be a basic truth that when you set out to injure someone else, you may succeed. But, in due time, the thing will curve around in such a way that you get your own teeth rammed down your throat. I'd think an interstellar race would have had enough experience to have learned that."

Cardan blew out a cloud of smoke. "You're talking about how it ought to be. But what if this interstellar race isn't perfect? What if they have competition from another interstellar race? For that matter, by the time we can travel from star to star, will the whole human race have turned into saints?"

Donovan hesitated. "Maybe not the whole human race."

"There's another catch."

"Why?" Donovan asked abruptly.

"The bulk of our own people are law-abiding. But how does that help you if you run into a gang of murderers? How do we know your wise interstellar race won't have a band of fanatics, or frustrated adventurers, who will get a ship, go off to some planet out in the hinterlands, take the planet over and run things their way?"

Donovan frowned. "Kind of a rough situation. They'd have the advanced technology, but not the restraints that went with it."

"Which would be our tough luck."


A cold, hard expression passed over Donovan's face, then he said, "I don't know if you're watching this or not, Chief. If you aren't, you'd better take a look"

Cardan put on the headset. Directly before him sat the tripod, still deserted, and with its half-cylinder pointed at the horizon. For a moment there was nothing else nearby but tracks in the snow. Then a thing like a huge, pale gray oil drum rolled from the left into Cardan's field of view, wheeled, and swung back in the opposite direction, the long snout of a gun showing momentarily in outline against the sky.

Cardan looked at the snow, where there were two broad tracks, each of which appeared to be about four feet wide, with roughly a two-and-a-half foot space between them.

A moment later, another of the gray drums rolled into view, and Cardan glanced rapidly from point-to-point on this drum, noting the non-rotating central part, the wide treads turning on either end, the slit between these two treads, and the long gun that thrust out, canted slightly skyward, below the right end of the slit.

Then the vehicle wheeled, and Cardan had a brief glimpse of a tube like a short length of fifty caliber machine gun, thrust out the rear of the cylinder and aimed straight at him. Then the thing was out of his range of vision.

Cardan slipped off the headset, and snapped on the intercom. "Miss Bowen, see if you can get General Whitely for me."

"Yes, Mr. Cardan."

Donovan said, "Those guns could be for self-defense."

"Sure. Which is why they try to paralyze traffic along a circle eighty miles across."

"Yeah," said Donovan slowly.

"A circle eighty miles across takes in about five thousand square miles," said Cardan. "That's about the size of the state of Connecticut. What's going to happen to all the people inside the circle when neither trucks nor trains can get through with food?"

"They'll have to get out."

"How? On foot?"

"They'll drive to the place where their cars stall. Then they'll walk."

"What happens to the cars they leave behind when they get out to walk?"

"They—" Donovan stopped.

"Say the cars average sixteen feet in length," said Cardan. "If half a dozen drivers, with or without their families, just stop their cars one behind the other, there's a hundred feet of road blocked up. Five hundred and twenty of these cars will block a mile of a single-lane road. If you stand on a highway, with the cars going past fifty feet apart and at sixty miles an hour, it will only take about four minutes for that number of cars to go by."

"But can't the police—"

Cardan snorted. "The police can operate for two reasons. First, their own organization and discipline. Second, the fact that the great bulk of the people are on their side, actively or passively. Now, what's going to happen when everybody, including the police, realizes that the only way to get food for themselves and their families is to get on the other side of this eighty-mile circle?"

Donovan was silently thinking that over when the door opened up and Maclane stepped in. He grinned at Cardan, and said, "Anything new?"

Cardan described the cylindrical vehicles, with their guns fore and aft.

Maclane whistled and put on the headset. "Nothing in sight now but the tripod and a lot of packed snow. What do you mean, this vehicle is like a big thick axle with a wheel on each end?"

"More like an overgrown oil drum, with broad treads turning on each end."

"Does the drum itself rotate?"

"Not while I was looking at it. How about you, Don?"

"The drum rotates a little, but not much, just the way a car dips a little in the front when you stop suddenly."

Maclane said, "How much clearance between the underside of this drum and the ground?"

"Oh, I'd guess about a foot."

The door opened, and Cardan's secretary said, "I have General Whitely on the phone, sir. And Mr. Farrell—he's working on the circuits—said to tell Mr. Maclane they're having an 'h' of a time focusing the circuits."

Cardan grinned. "You'd better get back down there, Mac. When you get them focused, send one up here, and take another down to the subbasement and see if it works down there."

Maclane nodded and went out.

Cardan picked up the phone, and held it cautiously a little way from his ear. The general's voice jumped out at him. "What are we up against here, Bugs? Have you got any inside dope on this?"

Cardan said cautiously, "I've got a kind of long-range viewer with a very narrow fixed field of view, overlooking what I think is the spot where the trouble is. How about you?"

"I've got aerial TV and blown-up aerial photographs."

"What do you see?"

The general snorted. "There's a big cylinder piled into the snow, with one end open, and things like pale blue fuel drums dropping out and rolling away."

"Rolling away toward what?"

"The highway. Where that traffic jam is, on the curve south of Milford."

"What are you doing about it?"

"I managed to get a couple of helicopters around this arc of interference to take a close look. Their engines quit before they could get close. I've got some special jets high overhead."

"How about their engines?"

"They give out, too. Whether because of what hits the others, or because of a kind of drifting fluff or fuzz we've run into, I don't know."

"What does the fuzz do?"

"It gets sucked into the air intakes, and apparently knocks out the engines. I've told you something. How about something in return?"

"Well," said Cardan, "this thing I'm looking through has a narrow fixed field of view, but I'm trying to get that fixed. Meantime, those drums you saw are a pale blue, is that right?"

"Right. What about them?"

"I got a close view of them but without color, and it didn't last very long. The drums seem to be about twelve feet long, the center section fitted with a view slit and a gun in front, a gun behind, and broad treads mounted on either side of the center with about a foot ground clearance. The treads look about four feet wide. They may actually be several treads mounted side-by-side. The whole drum doesn't roll over, but just the treads. Directly in my field of view, there's a heavy tripod mounting a half-cylinder that looks about a foot through and six feet long. This half-cylinder is something like a big bazooka split lengthwise, and mounted on a tripod with two adjusting wheels, graduated circles—apparently for elevation and azimuth, and several locking levers. About an hour ago, a big brawny individual in coveralls was dropping cylinders a foot or so long in his end of this split bazooka, and the cylinders streaked up the trough and shot out for the horizon. I don't know what the means of propulsion is."

The general said tensely, "See the face of the individual, Bugs?"

Cardan hesitated.

Whitely's voice sprang out at him. "Did this individual look human, Bugs?"

Cardan said, "Depends on what you mean by human. All the features were there, and the body looked human, but the overall effect was that of a lynx or a bobcat. Why?"

"You know why. Either this is Orson Welles' shocker come to life, or it all started out on Earth. If so, I think we know the foreign power responsible."

Cardan thought of the vivid streak across the sky, the intense bluish glare of the explosion, the tripod with its half-cylindrical launcher, and the drum-shaped vehicles churning toward the highway jammed with stalled cars. Cardan tossed his dead cigar into the ashtray. "Nuts," he said irritatedly. "If the Russians had this stuff, they could put it into production and crowd us right off the map into the Pacific Ocean. They wouldn't tip their hand like this. You're going off the deep end, Tarface."

"Hell, it could be a test. To see if we've got the stuff ourselves. Then they spring the main attack."

"And what if we happen to be jumpy and the minute this 'test' of theirs starts, we hit them with everything we've got?"

Whitely was silent a moment, then he laughed. "I just wanted to see how it sounded to you."

"It sounds lousy. Suppose in the course of this test we should turn out to have the devices ourselves. Then we overpower the 'aliens,' tear off their Halloween masks, and they turn out to talk Russian. Next we put on a big propaganda exhibition featuring the 'alien spaceship,' plus vehicles, guns, and alien invaders complete with masks. The Russians would look foolish for the next five years."

"It doesn't sound too good, does it?"

"They just aren't stupid, that's all. They'd have their neck stuck out a mile, and no way to pull it in."

"You got any more information?"

"Not yet. Maybe later."

"O.K., Bugs. If you can get any more close views, it will be a big help. Keep me in touch. And keep away from the highway."

Cardan frowned at the dead phone. That was the second time Whitely had told him to stay away from the road. He put the phone on its cradle, and looked up to see Maclane holding another circuit, and looking serious. "Was that the general?"

Cardan nodded.

Maclane said, "You don't look too disturbed, Chief."

Cardan frowned. "Why? Have you got a better view on that set?"

"We've got a ringside seat."

"Let's see."

Cardan put the headset on, and got a view across the northern end of the traffic jam out over the lowland to the east, and to the southeast along the bend of the highway. Several of the big cylindrical vehicles were on the highway above the traffic jam, and others were spread out, approaching across the low snow-covered ground. About five hundred feet from the highway a helicopter was burning. Another plane was burning about a thousand yards away. Still further back, he could see a line of towers that carried power lines across the low-lying farmland. In the foreground, a parachute was caught in some brush, billowing in the wind near the foot of the embankment below the highway.

Cardan glanced at the stalled and deserted cars, then back at the big cylindrical drums, rolling northward on the road. They seemed to be moving only about fifteen or twenty miles an hour, but they were moving steadily. More of them were working along a slanting cable up the bank and onto the road. As Cardan watched, one of the cylinders wheeled toward the jammed cars. There was a blur at the forward gun of the vehicle, and a puff of rolling black smoke burst amongst the nearest cars which lifted up and smashed heavily back and sidewise. There was another blast. A figure in airman's uniform jumped up to dart back amongst the cars. There was a third puff of smoke and the figure disintegrated.

The cylinder rolled down the grass strip toward the south, followed by another cylinder, and then another. Far out across the lowland, a blast of smoke billowed at the base of a tower supporting the power lines. The tower tilted and leaned out. There was a dazzling display of arcing sparks, then the power line came down.

Nearby, several of the cylinders crossed the highway, spread out, and started up the hill on the other side, passing out of Cardan's field of vision.

Several powerfully-built figures, carrying crates, walked onto the shoulder of the northbound side of this highway, and began setting up a half-cylinder on a tripod.

Maclane's voice reached Cardan. "I'm watching this thing, Chief, with my hands on the contacts. I want you to notice something."

Donovan's voice cut in, "I don't know if you can see this. There's a big Marine Corps helicopter coming in fast, to the right of this view. There—boy, it hit like a rock! Wait a minute. Here come parachutists! They're drifting down all over the place. Can you see that, Chief?"

Cardan could now see in the sky well beyond the fallen power lines the parachutes blossoming out in what appeared to be different shades of gray and drifting to the south. Big planes were gliding down fast overhead.

Maclane said urgently, "This is important, Chief. You see that mess of burning trash blown out of the cars over there?"

Cardan tore his gaze from the parachutes, and looked at the overturned cars. "You mean the front seat cushion, and some upholstery ripped half-off a door? What of it, Mac?"

"Watch it."

Cardan briefly glanced up at a plane that was banking steeply, toward the road. The plane blew up in a blast of black smoke, and Cardan looked back at the burning car, and growled. "What's the point of this, Mac?"

"Just watch."

A small piece of blazing upholstery flapped sharply, then tore away, and blew along the road in the wind, twisting and tumbling. It stopped, and momentarily seemed to lean against the wind, then rolled away, and stopped again, on an empty stretch of road.

Cardan frowned as the strip of cloth flapped in the air, rising slowly above the roadway, but remained stationary and did not blow back with the wind.

Cardan watched intently.

The cloth flapped in the air, as if held on an invisible pin.

Maclane said, "I've been trying to tell Don, I can influence this picture."

Donovan suddenly groaned, then cursed in a low voice. Cardan snapped his attention back to the scene in the distance, beyond the power line, but could see only a confused whirl of motion. He handed the headset he was using to Maclane, and put on the second headset of the circuit Donovan was using.

The confused whirl Cardan had seen beyond the power lines now sprang into clear view. Men in battle dress were running forward, then dropping to the ground to take aim at a line of cylinders rolling toward them. Cardan could see mortars, machine guns, 3.5-inch rocket launchers, and some weapon or device that he didn't recognize. At first glance, he felt a grim sense of pleasure. Then he looked again.

The men were struggling with their weapons. There was no sign of rifle, mortar, or machine-gun fire, and the rockets were falling short and failing to explode. The men glanced up at each other, then looked out over the lowland.

The cylinders were closer now, and faint blurs flickered at the snouts of their guns.

Close by, directly in Cardan's field of view, chunks of dirt and snow flew up. Then the smoke blew away, and he could see endless puffs of black erupt across his field of view in a continuous churning that stopped thought, and left him looking on blankly as men, guns, and equipment blew into fragments.

Then the cylinders were rolling by.

Behind them walked coveralled individuals seven or eight feet in apparent height, carrying like tommy-guns large-breeched, long-muzzled weapons, with which they methodically shot the wounded.

Then they had passed by, too, and there was nothing left but fragments, motionless figures, torn uniform cloth lifting in the wind that swept across the lowland, and dirt falling down the sides of shellholes.

Cardan took off the headphones, snapped on the intercom, and said, "Miss Bowen, see if you can get General Whitely for me."

"Yes, Mr. Cardan."

Donovan got to his feet, and put his headphones on the table, "I can't watch that any more."

"Somebody has to keep an eye on it," said Cardan, "so we'll know if anything new develops."

"I'm going to watch it from a little closer range," said Donovan.

Cardan opened his mouth. Donovan went out, slamming the door.

Cardan got out a fresh cigar, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it. He blew out a cloud of smoke. "That's the trouble with having a bunch of individualists around. When the crisis comes, they all boil off in their own direction."

Maclane took off his headset. "The only one to boil off in his own direction so far is Donovan."

"Wait a while," said Cardan.

The intercom buzzed. Miss Bowen said, "Mr. Cardan, the men are back with the groceries."

"Have them put the stuff down in the subbasement. How about the men who went out to the sporting goods stores?"

"They aren't back yet, sir."

"O.K. Keep trying to get Whitely."

"Yes, sir."

Maclane, holding the headset in one hand, was squinting at the wall. "I wonder, Chief," he murmured, "what Donovan's planning to do?"

Cardan glanced at Maclane, and took a fresh grip on his cigar.

Maclane said thoughtfully, "No ordinary car will get him near the place by now, I suppose. But our steam car can do it. And they'll be sure nothing we have can move."

Cardan looked at Maclane sourly. "Mac, listen a—"

Maclane abruptly tossed the headset on the table and jumped up.

"Stay at that set!" Cardan ordered.

The door slammed as Maclane went out.

"Lousy individualists!" roared Cardan. He now had two circuits giving a close-range view of the action, and no one to do the watching but himself.

The intercom buzzed. Miss Bowen said, "The men with the sporting goods are back, Mr. Cardan."

"Good. Have them put them down in the subbasement, and leave a few men to keep an eye on things."

"They're on the way up here right now, sir."

"Oh," said Cardan coldly. "Well, when they get here, send them in."

"Yes, sir."

"And keep trying for Whitely."

"Yes, sir."

Cardan picked up the headset Maclane had dropped, and studied the remaining wisps of smoking upholstery from the wrecked car. He eyed them thoughtfully, and adjusted the cigar in his mouth. Watching one particular bit of upholstery intently, he willed it to move to the left. A puff of wind blew it to the right and backwards. Cardan's teeth tightened on the cigar. Drawing all his conscious awareness into a tight focus centered on the wisp of blackened cloth, he commanded it to move forward, toward him. A puff of wind carried it farther away. Cardan absently took out his cigar. Then he centered his entire consciousness on that little bit of cloth, till he was aware of nothing else. The view seemed to waver and enlarge as Cardan focused his mind on the cloth, seeing each separate fiber, taking hold of it as he became fully aware of its every visible characteristic, and lifted it up and forward, toward him, against the wind, and held it in the air. He turned it from side-to-side before him, over and over, winding it into a tight ball and spreading it out flat almost as if it were a finger on a hand that he controlled through the direct action of nerves on muscles.

Somewhere in the background, Cardan could hear voices. He drew a deep breath, and carefully took off the headset. He felt somewhat like a man awakening from anesthesia, or from a vivid dream. But his last glimpse with the headset on showed him the bit of cloth fluttering down from a position well upwind of the smoldering wreckage of the cars.

Miss Bowen was saying urgently, "Mr. Cardan, I have General Whitely on the line. And the men are back from the sporting goods stores, and they're quite insistent—"

Cardan picked up his cigar. "Put Whitely on, then let them in but tell them to be quiet."

Miss Bowen put the phone in Cardan's hand, then stepped outside to quiet angry voices.

"Hello?" said Cardan into the phone.

The door opened, and Cardan's men shoved in, rifles and shotguns thrust out in all directions.

"Bugs?" Whitely's voice jumped out of the phone.

"Right here," said Cardan, holding up his hand to quiet his men.

"Listen," said the general, "they've stepped up the power of that circle. We can't get anything through or over, and what we had inside is used up."

"What about missiles?"

"We attacked them hand-to-hand a little bit ago, Bugs. Not a gun would fire. As a last resort, we had a nuclear device in there, and if nothing else worked, we intended to set it off. We set it off. Nothing happened."

Cardan frowned. "How about missiles?"

"We've tried missiles. They seem to get through, but they don't explode—unless you want us to beat them to death with warheads."

Cardan set his cigar in the tray. "What are you going to do?"

"So far we've been fighting blind and off-balance. There are too many unknowns. We don't know who we're fighting, what they've got, or what they'll spring on us next. They've knocked us into a kind of punch-drunk stupor, and the only way out of it I can see is to get in there fast, smash their airhead while it's still little, and grab enough material and prisoners so we can start to figure out what's going on."

"What are you going to fight them with?"

"We're going to try to get at them close-range with gas and anything else that's not based on explosives. But, Bugs, how do we get close enough to do it in time? You drove through that barrier. How many of those steam cars do you have?"

"Just one, and I'm pretty sure someone just took off in it. The devil with that. Listen, Tarface."

"I'm listening."

"What you want is steam locomotives. Get after every roundhouse and railroad repair yard for one that isn't torn down yet. Get in touch with the Canadians. I think they're still using them, and theirs will be in good shape. There's a track that runs only a few miles to the east of that landing site, and—"

The general's voice cut in abruptly. "I've got the picture, Bugs. Thanks."

There was a click at Cardan's ear. He set the dead phone in its cradle and looked up at the men across the desk, bristling with guns. The powerfully-built, belligerent towhead stood directly in front of Cardan, and seemed to be the spokesman.

The door opened up, and Maclane came in, looking furious.

Cardan glanced at Maclane. "Don went off in the steam car, did he?"

"He whizzed right out of the parking lot as I was yelling to him to wait a minute."

"So you could run out with him, eh?"

"It's a free country," blazed Maclane. "You don't own me!"

There was a mutter of sympathy from the rest. Cardan was on his feet and had Maclane by the collar before he knew what had happened. "You fool, do you think I want to own you!" He gave him a shake, and let go. "Get out! Beat it, the lot of you!" He sat down, threw his dead cigar into the wastebasket, and pulled out a fresh one. When he looked up, they were all standing there, watching him pugnaciously.

He paused with the cigar in his hand and eyed them one-by-one. They looked back unflinchingly. "All right," he snarled. "Donovan has gone roaring off on his own, and you want to, too. Do you think I don't? But we've got something better here." He jerked a thumb at the circuits. "Mac was telling me he could influence the picture! When he left a minute ago, I discovered I could influence the picture. Do you know what that 'influencing the picture' means? What's the only way to move the image of an object on an ordinary TV screen without distorting the rest of the picture?"

Maclane, his eyes glinting, said, "Move the object itself in the studio."

"Right. And it seems to me exactly what happens here."

Smitty scowled. "So therefore, what?"

Cardan lit the cigar. "So therefore Mac can move a small light object down on that highway. So can I."

The big towhead said, "We'll never beat them by moving 'small light objects'! We've got to go down there and smash them!"

"What with?" said Cardan contemptuously.

"With what we've got. We can figure out what to do when we get there."

Cardan blew out a cloud of smoke. "If you think you're a one-man armored division, go ahead and try it. Maybe you can succeed where a paratroop battalion and nuclear missiles fail."

"All right, then, what do we do?"

"If you'll shut up for a minute, I'll tell you."

The towhead was watching him as if he had a bonfire lit behind each eye. Cardan blew a cloud of cigar smoke in his face, eyed the rest of the men, noted that all of them looked tense, and some appeared so keyed up as to be ready to spring at his throat any time. Cardan knocked the ash off his cigar and growled, "I don't know if you realize it or not, but one basic principle of either war or business competition is to hit your opponent's weak point. If you go charging out there with those guns, you're going to run against him where he's strong. Another basic principle is to do what your opponent doesn't expect, and isn't ready for, and get him off-balance. If you go after him head-on, you'll be doing exactly what he does expect, and he'll polish you off by simple routine. Now, if you want to go, go ahead."

The men glanced at each other uneasily. There was a brief silence. Smitty said, "What's your idea, Chief?"

Cardan glanced at their faces, saw they were all listening intently, and said, "It isn't just how much power a man has that counts. A lot depends on how he uses it, and where he brings it to bear. The armed forces have the power to flatten the opposition down at that highway, but they can't bring their power to bear. They're tied up. They've been hit by devices they can't strike back at. Now, what do you think that circuit there represents for our side?"

"Sure, but you said yourself, all you can do is move a little light object with it."

Cardan grinned. "That's all."

"But look, Chief—"

"Benjamin Franklin said, a couple of hundred years ago, 'There is no little enemy.'"

The men were squinting from Cardan to the circuit. Maclane scowled, and put his hands on the contacts.

Cardan said, "In the first world war, the British outnumbered the Turks in Palestine. But the Turks were dug into a system of trenches. The British couldn't bring their superiority to bear. Then Lawrence of Arabia went to work on the Turkish communications. Once he had these worn to a thread, the British threatened an attack in one direction, secretly switched their forces, and smashed through elsewhere. The British Army won the actual victory. But first Lawrence and the Arabs wore the opposition down and drove them to distraction."

The men all looked thoughtful. Smitty was massaging his chin with his hand. "We're like Lawrence, and the Armed Forces are like the British?"


The towhead said curiously, "But if we can only move small light stuff, how does that help?"

Cardan said, "A pin is a very small light object. Do you know any man who can do efficient work with a little light pin stuck in him? And yet—he'd better do efficient work, with the Armed Forces closing in on him."

"H-m-m," said the towhead.

Maclane, his hands on the contacts of one of the sets, said, "Whatever we're going to do, Chief, we'd better hurry up and do it. They're setting up some kind of framework of long shiny rods on the highway. They're working as if they want to get it set up in a hurry."

Cardan snapped on the intercom.

"Miss Bowen, we're going to move down into subbasement. There's a switchboard down there, so we can keep in touch with the outside. The telephone lines are underground, so if worst come to worst, we should be able to keep in touch with the outside for quite a while. Are you willing?"

"Yes, sir."

Cardan looked up. "Let's go."

They went out the door in a rush, and headed downstairs.

The "subbasement," Cardan was thinking, was the reason for one of the worst squabbles he'd ever had with the major stockholders of the company. Every feature of it had infuriated them, from the massive, heavily-reinforced ceiling, to the small production facilities and self-contained water, sewage, and power supply. Why, the big stockholders demanded, should the profits of the company be sunk into this slab of masonry instead of turned back into useful production, or distributed in dividends?

In reply, Cardan mobilized the small stockholders, played the national anthem, waved the flag, puffed the Cold War into an imminent threat of missile and bombing attack, and scattered smoke, dust, and confusion in all directions. He squeezed through a violent stockholders meeting with a narrow margin of control and well-heeled opponents breathing fire and brimstone down his neck.

Cardan knew the subbasement was still spoken of acidly.

About the kindest name for it was "Cardan's Folly."

And Cardan knew that there was still a few diehards who automatically voted against everything they thought he wanted, just in commemoration of that subbasement fight. But he also know that the majority of the big stockholders were again behind him, with one reservation "So long as he doesn't want another bomb shelter."

As the massive doors slid back, Cardan eyed the subbasement approvingly, then walked in with the rest of the men.

Smitty, carrying one of the sets, said curiously, "Chief, why did you build this?"

"I thought we might need it."

"But why?"

"With people waving H-bombs and missiles around, what's wrong with having a hole to crawl into?"

"I think you had some kind of hunch."

Cardan shifted the cigar in his mouth, and blew out a noncommittal cloud of smoke. Overhead, the lights faded out, then snapped on more dimly. Someone called, "Power's been knocked out!"

Underfoot, there was a faint vibration as the subbasement generators began to turn over.

Cardan glanced around. Canned goods were regularly kept stored away down here, and now he noted a large pile of fresh groceries. "Good," he said approvingly, and gave directions for putting the food away.

Maclane, he saw, was at a table with a group of men huddled around a number of sets.

The towhead said, "What about these guns, Chief? We got the whole assortment—shotguns, rifles, air guns, CO2 guns. You ask for it, and we've got it. We even picked up a few of these slingshots that shoot ball bearings."

Cardan nodded approvingly. "Sort 'em out, with the right ammunition by each weapon. I think the CO2 guns and those slingshots are going to be the handiest."

"You figure we've got a siege coming up?"

"Not if I can help it," said Cardan. "But you never know."

The lights had now come on brightly once more, and Cardan again glanced at Maclane huddled with a little group at the sets. Everything seemed under control, so Cardan spent several minutes seeing that everyone was inside, and that the subbasement was sealed off from the rest of the building, then he activated the TV pickups that enabled the men inside to see what was going on outside the building. He set some men to watch the screens, had others practicing with the weapons, and made arrangements for them to change off later on. Miss Bowen told him that most phone lines out of Milford had been knocked out, but a roundabout route was apparently still in operation for emergency use. Cardan nodded, and put her to work with the groceries and canned goods, in a corner fitted with a large, awkwardly-arranged collection of outdated cooking appliances that struck Cardan as the ideal kitchen.

"Hey, Barbara," shouted Smitty, with a grin, "Suppose we're marooned down here—the last woman on Earth, plus umpteen men."

Barbara Bowen grinned and picked up a can. "There won't be too many left after I serve my first meal. How do you open this, anyway?"

Smitty winced, and then Cardan saw Maclane gesturing to him frantically.

"Look at this," said Maclane, and Cardan put on one of the headsets. Around the table were other circuits and other men wearing the headsets, but they vanished as Cardan abruptly saw a view down the highway from the north, the traffic jam of cars in front of him in the background, a large lattice of bright metal bars growing up on the highway directly in front of him, between his point of view and the jammed traffic, and large gray-faced men pacing back and forth holding the ends of cables that looped skyward to where floating pieces of machinery edged long bright rods into the growing lattice.

Maclane said, "It's now or never, Chief. That Lawrence of Arabia stuff sounded good upstairs, but we're up against trouble now. I've got an awful hunch that if they once get that grid completed, we aren't going to stop them, ever."

Cardan looked over the grid. To him, it appeared to be just a big metal framework. That it was being fitted together with great precision seemed clear enough, but what could it do? Then he noted the cables running out to the framework, and paused to consider. The thing looked harmless. But so did a live wire, or a stick of dynamite with the fuse burning short. He studied the tense concentrated expressions of the workers operating the control cables that ran up to the overhead machines that handled the long rods. Some of these creatures had a look that appeared to Cardan like barely-suppressed jubilation.

Maclane's voice said tensely, "I can't even budge one of those rods. I've tried to swing it when it's being lowered into place. But I can't move it at all."

Cardan growled, "You can get a good grip on something light, can't you?"

"Sure, but how will that stop them?"

"You see that cat-faced clod just guiding a beam into place?"

"I see him."

"He's got a good thick head of hair. Take hold of a few strands, fasten your attention on them, and pull."

"Yes," said Maclane thoughtfully. "Yes, now I get it."

Cardan glanced around at the hill sloping up to one side of the highway, the ditch carrying run-off water at the base of the hillside, and on the other side of the road, the flat lowland with the wrecked planes and downed power lines. Not finding just what he wanted, he continued to look around, and his gaze passed across the traffic jam of deserted cars, some overturned and still smoking, and one with its transmission smashed, and gears and roller bearings strewn over the pavement beside it.

Cardan centered his attention on this smashed transmission, and his viewpoint seemed to slide forward as he studied the roller bearings, and then dwelt minutely and exclusively on each one in turn. After a while he had much the feeling of a man who has examined the operation of a complex machine, one element at a time, and now sees the thing as a whole, and has a good idea what he can do with it. Then as Cardan focused his attention on them, one-by-one, the bearings began to roll.

For an instant, he felt the same startled sensation he had had years ago, when he first pressed the accelerator of a car, and it abruptly moved forward with him. Then he was no longer thinking of the uneasy unfamiliar sensation, but was concentrating wholly on what he wanted to do.

The bearings rolled together in a small heap. Then, like wasps rising from an underground nest, they began to lift into the air. Cardan sent them, fast and low, down the highway toward the huge grid.

Beside the grid, one of the cat-faced machine-operators abruptly slapped at the back of his head. Beside Cardan, Maclane made a low noise in his throat. The operator jerked again, and twisted around angrily. Several of the other operators opened their mouths to shout as the rod overhead began to teeter dangerously.

Cardan's bearings were approaching rapidly.

The operator spread one hand over the top of his head, and with the other on the controls steadied the rod-shaped beam. A small fistful of hair visible between his spread fingers straightened out abruptly. This time the alien did not jump, but quickly moved his hand further over to ease the pain. Overhead, the beam paused, then started down again. Several more strands of hair straightened out painfully. The beam overhead stopped again. The operator, obviously fighting to keep himself under control, moved his hand again, then once more carefully began to lower the beam. Apparently to get a better view of it as it lowered, he took a step backward.

Cardan slid the bearings in under the raised foot as it came down.

The foot slipped, and shot back.

The alien took a lightning hop backwards with his other foot.

Cardan shot the roller bearings forward.

The other foot slipped.

The powerful figure of the alien landed on its knees, braced on one hand, with the other hand still gripping the controls at the end of the long cable that looped down from the machine.

Cardan looked up. Overhead, the machine had tilted and twisted sidewise, in such a way that the rod it held should have whipped forward and struck the grid. But another handling machine, controlled by one of the other operators, had taken hold of the end of the rod, and held it back. The rod was bent, but the grid itself wasn't damaged.

Maclane's voice said, "They've apparently got that thing finished except for one last beam."

Cardan was studying the controls that worked the handling machine. The operator had five fingers and a thumb, and each one of them disappeared into a hole in a thing like a partially flattened bowling ball on the end of the cable that dangled from the machine. Cardan brought up several of his bearings and rapped them sharply against the knuckle of the alien's index finger.

The handling machine jerked sharply upward.

The machine operator, in a display of vigor and resiliency, sprang back to his feet, glanced at his hand, and began to shout a warning to the others.

Cardan changed direction on the roller bearings, and shot about half of them into the open mouth.

A succession of spasms passed across the catlike face. The creature clapped a hand over its mouth, and suddenly dropped to the ground.

The control cable dangled free.

Cardan slammed a bearing in the index-finger hole of the control box.

The handling machine shot skyward.

Using his remaining roller-bearings like so many fingers, Cardan experimented with the control box. The various studs at the bottoms of the finger holes respectively raised the machine, moved it forward, moved it to the right, rotated the whole machine counterclockwise, or tilted it forward. The harder the pressure, the more rapid the motion. The thumbhole had two separate studs, one of which, Cardan found, reversed the action of the finger-controls. That was all he wanted to know.

Maclane gave a low exclamation. "They've finished it!"

Cardan, swinging the handling machine back and down, had the impression of a dull flash from below. When he had the machine well back and at about the height of the grid, he glanced forward.

Rolling out from under the raised grid, was a thing like a heavy tank blown up to several times its natural size, and fitted with an assortment of unconventional antennae atop its massive turret. Around the grid, them machine operators were grinning widely.

Cardan pressed one of the studs of the control box. The handling machine began to move forward. Cardan pressed harder.

Beneath the grid, a kind of fog sprang into existence as the monstrous tank rolled clear. A vague shape began to loom through the fog.

Cardan lifted the machine slightly as it gathered speed.

Below, someone was running, and waving his arms. Somewhere, someone raised a weapon. One of the antennae atop the tank began to swing around.

Cardan pressed harder on the control stud.

The machine slammed headlong into the grid. There was a sense of rending vibration, then a blinding flash.

For several seconds, Cardan couldn't see. Then he could make out the warped structure of the grid, tilted and bent. Around it, a number of figures were lying motionless. Several handling machines drifted nearby, their control cables untended. The foglike appearance that had been under the grid was gone now, and so was whatever had been looming through it. But the monster tank was swinging its turret around and slowly elevating what looked like an enormous gun. The turret stopped moving. At the mouth of the gun, there was a blur.

Miss Bowen's voice reached Cardan. "Sir, General Whitely is on the line and wants to talk to you right away."

"Take a message if he wants to leave one. I can't talk to him now."

Somewhere there was a thud, and a heavy, dull boom. Cardan felt the concrete floor beneath him move perceptibly.

The turret of the huge tank began to move again.

Cardan looked around, saw where the first machine operator had been violently ill, and recovered several of his roller bearings.

There was another blur at the gun mounted on the turret of the tank.

Maclane said, "Look. On the mall."

Behind the tank, creeping up the grassy strip between the double lanes of stalled traffic, came Cardan's steam-powered car, with Donovan crouched at the wheel. As Cardan stared, the steam car glided closer, steadily closing the distance between itself and the monster tank.

There was a heavy boom, and the earth jumped beneath Cardan.

The turret of the tank began to move again.

Cardan had the controls of one of the handling machines, and gently easing it to the side, and up.

One of the antennae atop the tank turret moved around. There was a faint shimmer in the air around it. The handling machine glowed near the spot where the control cable entered it, and suddenly blew apart.

Cardan immediately got control of another machine, and jerked it fast to the side.

The antennae turned slightly, and the machine blew up.

Cardan got another, and dropped it fast, to put it directly in line with a group of aliens running toward the grid. Keeping right in line with them, so the tank could not fire at him without having them in the line of fire, too, he sent it hurtling with increasing speed straight at the antennae.

The handling machine blew apart, as did a gun carried by one of the running figures. The remaining figures dove for cover.

Cardan was left with two handling machines, neither one of which, he was sure, could get anywhere near the tank. Nevertheless, he took control of one, and without moving it, looked around.

From somewhere around him, there was another dull boom, and the floor moved slightly underfoot.

The turret of the tank was swinging slowly around again.

At the rear of the tank, a figure dragged itself up.

Cardan blinked. Moving out on the slanting plate over the huge tread, Donovan hauled up on a rope a five-gallon can of gasoline.

Far down the grassy strip in the center of the highway, one of the big cylindrical vehicles came rolling around the bend.

"Mac," said Cardan, "see if you can do anything to that cylinder down at the bend."

Donovan, oblivious to the cylinder, pulled out a big wrench, and studied the tank. Nearby, a short pipe was thrust up, with a U-shaped piece at the top. Donovan methodically unscrewed the U-shaped piece, then started to empty the can of gasoline down the pipe.

The various antennae atop the tank swiveled around.

Cardan experimented briefly with the controls, then sent the handling machine straight back toward the grid, seized one of the rods, and wrenched and twisted at it like a dog tearing at a stick.

The motion of the tank's antennae wavered, and Cardan could guess the frame of mind of those inside. They had to protect the grid, but if they blew the machine up while it was at the grid, that would damage the grid. And while this new problem confronted them, Donovan was still pouring in gas.

Down the grassy strip, the cylindrical vehicle came to a sudden stop, then jockeyed around to bring its forward gun to bear on Donovan.

From a snowbank near the cylinder, a small chunk of dirty white flew out, and went in through the cylinder's view slit.

Atop the tank, Donovan threw a lighted match down the pipe after the gas, and jumped over the side.

A streamer of flame shot up out of the pipe, puffed out in a flash around the base of the turret, and was followed by black smoke.

Cardan jerked one of the rods loose from the grid, gripped the end like a flail, and went for a cluster of armed figures running up the highway. Spinning the machine, he whipped the long rod in a circle, and scattered powerfully-built, heavily-armed figures in all directions. After a few minutes of this, he had the highway completely to himself.

He glanced down at the far curve, where the front of the cylindrical vehicle suddenly dropped open, and a massive, feline-faced figure sprang out, and jumped down the bank at the end of the road.

"What happened to him?" said Cardan.

Maclane said, "He's tired of getting gritty snow ground in his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth."

"Good work. Where's Don?"

"He's disappeared amongst those cars, somewhere."

Cardan looked around. In front of him sat the large tank, with smoke rolling out of it. Nearby, the grid was bent badly out of shape, but still standing. Beside it hung one handling machine, its control-cable dangling. Cardan still had control of another one of the machines. Neither on the hill above the road, nor on the flat land below it, was there any sign of opposition. The sun was just setting, and long shadows were reaching across the road. Far to the south, a plume of black smoke was just coming into view on the horizon.

Maclane said wonderingly, "Just a little bit ago, they had us almost licked—and now they're finished?"

"Don't count on it," said Cardan. "This is like one of those fights where one side wins the first few rounds, and the other side wins the next few, and the whole thing is still in doubt." Cardan got out a fresh cigar, and stripped off the wrapper. He stuck the cigar in his mouth unlit, and growled, "There's something funny here. Where are the others?"

From down the table, one of the men spoke up. "Chief, these sets are focused on different places. Mac figured it was better to leave them that way than go nuts trying to focus them all over again. There's a lot of action going on here. You want us to fill you in?"

Cardan said, "Good idea. What places can you see?"

"Their ship, the road about two miles north of the traffic jam, the hill above the road, and a stretch of flat farmland below the road."

"What's going on at their ship?"

"A bunch of them have just come out wearing spacesuits, apparently to keep us from getting at them. They've got some crates and a long low machine—it looks like a metal-working machine of some kind—on a frame mounted between two of these cylinders they travel around in. The side bars of the frame attach to fittings on the sides of the cylinder, and at the front there's a movable plate that allows for a limited turn in either direction."

"Which way are they headed?"

"Toward the road."

"Are they armed?"

"Yes. And the spacesuits will make it harder to hit them with small stuff."

"How about on the hill, above the road?"

A different voice said, "They're busy here, Chief. It looks to me like they're getting set in case there's a counterattack. They've laid out two parallel cables, about six feet apart along the forward slope of the hill, for as far as I can get a view of it. Above the cables, and well spread out, they've got the cylinders partly dug in, covered with brush and moss, and so located that they can sweep the face of the hill with crossfire if anyone starts up. I don't know what the function of the cables is, but you can't get at the cylinders without crossing them. And if there's a pause at those cables—well, the cylinders have a nice clear field of fire."

"How about up the road?"

"Nothing doing right now, Chief. Some cars tried to get through here about half-an-hour ago, though. There are a couple of cylinders lying in wait here, and they blew the cars to bits."

"Is the road blocked?"

"The northbound side is. One lane of the southbound side, and about two-thirds of the grass strip, are unblocked."

"The cylinders haven't tried to completely block the road?"

"No, I think they may want to keep it partly open for their own purposes."

"How about the flat farmland below the road?"

The pugnacious towhead spoke up. "Chief, that crew from their ship are crossing it right now. What do you say I let the acid out of their batteries?"

Cardan blinked. "Do what?"

"I got a good look into one of these cylinders a little bit ago. The power to run them comes from some place. It looks to me as if the bottom third or fourth of the cylinder, at least in the center, is some kind of storage battery. If I let the fluid out, they'll be stranded."

"How are you going to do that?"

There was a silence, then the towhead said hesitantly, "I know how this sounds, but I can get through the metal."

Cardan removed his cigar.

The towhead said earnestly, "Sure, Chief, all you do is loosen a tiny bit at a time, then another and another, and when you get the rhythm of it, you can eat right through the metal. It's not a big hole, to start with, but you can enlarge it the same way."

Maclane muttered, as if the thought had just hit him, "Boy, we really let the genie out of the bottle this trip. Listen, Chief, how are we going to keep all this quiet afterward?"

Cardan shook his head, "One mess at a time." He took a fresh grip on his cigar.

The towhead said urgently, "What do you want me to do? They aren't going to wait while we argue over it."

"Let them through," said Cardan. "But if they try to go back, ruin them."

"Does that hold for just these, or for all of them?"

"If you see something really unusual, let me know. If you have to act fast, do what you think best. Otherwise, let them all go through without too much trouble toward the highway. But tie them in knots if they try to get back to their ship."


"So we can cut them off from the ship. The more of them out in the open, the better."

"I get it."

Maclane said, "Chief, that machine is just coming into view. I don't know if I like the looks of it."

From beside Cardan's shoulder, Miss Bowen said apologetically, "General Whitely left a message, Mr. Cardan. Would you like me to read it to you later?"

Cardan looked at the machine being hauled up on a frame carried between two of the cylindrical vehicles. It was still down on the flat land below the highway. Cardan couldn't recognize the machine, but supposed its purpose must be to straighten out the grid. As Cardan watched, the forward cylinder tried to start up the base of the embankment at the shoulder of the highway. After a short run, the cylinders ground to a stop. Both cylinders flung back dirt and rocks, then stopped, rolled backwards, and tried a longer run. This time they got about halfway up the bank, threw out an avalanche of stone and dirt, and then came to a stop, wheels spinning and apparently unable to go forward or back. Spacesuited figures milled around, then began to shove back at the forward cylinder.

Cardan studied the scene of confusion, and said, "Keep an eye on them, Mac. They must be getting desperate, and there's no telling what they'll do." He took off his headset, and turned to Miss Bowen. "What did Whitely have to say?"

Miss Bowen grinned at her notebook. "Do you want the exact words, or just the sense of it?"

"Just the sense."

"He said he'd run across a Civil War locomotive that had been repaired for some centennial, and he's rushing a trainload of troops north with it. He's found a few other steam locomotives here and there, and the tracks are being cleared while these locomotives come in to hook up with trains of specially-equipped troops. Several more locomotives are racing down from Canada, and he thinks the worst of the transportation problem is whipped. Now what he's afraid of is another landing before this one is crushed, and he's trying to get things set up in case it happens. Other countries have offered help, but the general thinks we can finish them off ourselves tomorrow, provided you can keep them tied up tonight."

"Provided what?" said Cardan, sitting up straight.

"He said that he knows you're doing something to them," said Miss Bowen, "and he can finish them off tomorrow provided you can keep them tied up tonight."

Cardan growled, "Did you—"

"Sir," Miss Bowen objected, "I didn't tell him a thing. He said something about ultra-high-altitude photographs, and then he said that no one could get into the mess these aliens are in without help."

Cardan lit up a cigar. "This poses quite a problem," he said. "If he knows that much, he's going to try to find out the rest of it. And we can't tell him the rest of it."

Miss Bowen said hesitantly, "Sir, if it's for national defense—"

Cardan puffed at the cigar and said nothing.

Down the table, someone said, "Chief, I hope you aren't going to sit on this."

Cardan said, "Maybe you'd rather have the government sit on it."

There was a rustle of faint movement, followed by silence, that told him that had a suddenly intent audience.

"I can see it now," said Cardan, eying the glowing tip of his cigar. "Bureaus, agencies, regulations, committees, boards, advisors, directives, appropriations, cutbacks, crash programs, reappraisals, closed hearings, progress reports, security clearance, secret files—"

Several of the men groaned, and Cardan said, "I couldn't squash this if I wanted to. The work would just go quietly on in cellars and attics, regardless what I said. With the government, it's a different matter. Consider the size and expense of the defense programs, for instance. This one device puts the whole business on the edge of being obsolete. What good, for instance, is a liquid-fueled ballistic missile when someone miles away and out of sight can get at the fuel lines before the missile takes off? What good is a naval vessel if the pressure to the turbines that drive the vessel can be leaked out by someone out of sight and reach in the distance? All calculations are thrown into doubt. The whole point and purpose of gigantic sections of industry employing millions of men, becomes questionable. Do you think the government won't be tempted to sit on this?"

There was a low angry murmur.

Cardan said, "And while that problem has everyone in a state of indecision, what are our cat-faced friends going to be doing? Let's just imagine for a little bit that we aren't us, here. Let's imagine for a minute we're the general staff of some interstellar feline race expanding into this region of space. Earth has been scouted, found suitable for colonization, and a force landed sufficient to throw the inhabitants in chaos. After a good start, the landing force gets smashed to bits. What is this feline general staff going to do when word of that comes in?" Cardan glanced around. "Just imagine we are that general staff. What do you say? Shall we forget the planet? Or shall we go back with twenty times the force?"

There was a tense silence.

Then from down the table, someone said with conviction, "Go back and finish the job. Otherwise there'll be trouble later on."

Cardan nodded slowly. "That's what I think, too."

There was a slow stirring in the room. Miss Bowen said, "But—if every man in our armed forces had one of these circuits—"

Maclane shook his head. "It's easy to see with this, once it's focused. But to hold your mind concentrated long enough and hard enough to move something—I don't know."

Cardan handed Miss Bowen his own headset. "Here, try it." He watched Miss Bowen sit down, slip on the headset, shut her eyes, frown, and ask for pointers. Maclane, wearing a headset that showed the same scene, gave her advice. Miss Bowen's attractive features gradually grew pale, and her face tense. At length, she blurted, "But what do you do?"

"Just keep your mind on one small object."

"I'm dizzy with watching one small object."

"Then you—watch each part of it in turn, see it all, and take hold of it, mentally."

She bit her lip. The minutes dragged by. Abruptly she slumped, her features twisted, and she reached up to take off the headset. Then with a plainly violent effort of will, she brought her hand down again, and sat up straight. The color seemed to drain from her face. All visible trace of emotion vanished, like ripples on a lake when the air becomes intensely calm. Gradually, the calm lengthened out. Still she sat, with a look of intense quiet.

Then she relaxed, and after a moment smiled, and reached up to take off the headset. Her eyes opened and gradually focused, and her face was that of pretty woman waking from anesthesia.

"Well," she said smiling. "I did it. It was little, and it was light. But I moved it." She drew in a careful breath. "And I'd rather learn shorthand all over from the beginning then to do that again."

Cardan laughed. "It gets easier with practice."

Miss Bowen shook her head, and stood up. "I had no idea it was like that."

Maclane said, "I keep thinking, Chief, this isn't going to be everybody's dish. If we try to handle it the way we would handle . . . say . . . a new kind of rifle, there's going to be a lot of confusion, and all at the wrong time. Maybe we'd better keep it quiet, develop it ourselves, and not to be too anxious to hand it over till we know what we're doing. So far as defense is concerned, we've tied this crew of aliens in knots, just on the spur of the moment. If sixteen times as many come down on us in half a year . . . well, by then we ought to be sixteen times as tough—provided we keep working on it."

Cardan nodded, and looked down the table. "How does that sound?"

There was a unanimous murmur of agreement.

"O.K." said Cardan. "It remains to be seen how we come out of this present mess, and then there's the problem of getting Whitely off our track. But at least we know what we're trying to do." He glanced at Miss Bowen. "When Whitely called up the last time, did he have anything else to say?"

"He wanted to know how the enemy device operates that keeps gas or Diesel engines from working, or guns from firing properly."

Cardan frowned. "Tell him he won't find that out till he captures them. How should I know?"

"He wanted a rule of thumb explanation he could give so people will know what to expect."

"Oh. Say that the enemy has a device that sets up what you might call a damping field. Any release of energy creates a reaction in the field, and this reaction tends to choke off the release of energy. The more sudden and violent the release of energy, the greater the reaction of the field. A slow smooth release of energy isn't affected too much, but a violent explosion is sharply choked back by the reaction it sets up."

Maclane said, "Chief, excuse me. This crew is slowly getting that machine up onto the road."

Cardan could hear the rapid movement of Miss Bowen's pen on her note pad as he put the headset back on, and saw that the spacesuited figures, using a winch, had the big machine almost up the bank. They had set up tall, apparently self-contained, lights on poles, and several of the aliens were studying the warped grid.

Cardan immediately tried the technique of cutting through the strands of the cable the winch was slowly turning around. At first, he had no luck at all, but then he got a tiny speck of metal loose, then another and another. A fine stream of powder began to sift down from the cable. He said, "Mac, we're going to want to keep these birds from getting back to their ship. If Whitely is going to capture whatever operates this field, we're going to have to keep the ship from escaping with a part of the puzzle."

"I'm willing," said Maclane. "What do you want me to do?"

"Make up some more of these sets, and focus them in a line from here back to that place where we were hunting last fall. You remember that hollow maple tree on the edge of the woods?"

"Chief, that must have been three or four miles from this place."

"What's to prevent us from taking that handling machine near the lattice, grabbing one of those lights on poles, jamming a couple of the finger-controls on the handling machine, and relaying it from one place to the next?"

"It will take time," Maclane said.

"This grid," said Cardan, "attracts them like garbage attracts rats. They don't like to give it up when they seem so close to winning. I think I can string them along here for a couple of hours."

"Then we switch what's in the maple tree into their ship?"

"That's the picture."

"We'd still have to get them out of those spacesuits."

"Don't worry about that," said Cardan. "We'll get them out."

"O.K., then," said Maclane, "if you think you can handle this end alone."

In the glare of the floodlights at the road, the cable suddenly parted. The end whipped back and snapped two of the spacesuited figures into the ditch. The machine rolled halfway back down the bank, to stick in the same holes it had just been dragged out of.

Maclane said, "I guess you can handle it all right." A moment later he got up. "I'll get these other sets focused as fast as I can."

The night passed slowly. Once again, the winch drew the machine up the bank, and this time chocks were driven under the wheels every foot or so as it went ahead.

Cardan located a vital pin in the winch, and cut it away so that it sheared off. The winch unwound and the wheels jammed back onto the blocks.

Cardan could see the intent feline faces behind the faceplates as they replaced the pin.

When the machine was again almost at the top of the bank, Cardan snapped the cable for the second time.

The spacesuited figures ran out a new cable, and again dragged the machine to the top of the bank.

Cardan cut through the fitting that supported the right rear corner of the framework stretching between the two big cylindrical vehicles. The frame tipped, and the machine slid halfway off onto the bank.

The spacesuited figures stared at it for a long moment, then slowly hooked cables to it, and began to winch it up the bank on its bottom.

Cardan looked the situation over intently. He wanted to keep the aliens from actually accomplishing anything, while letting them come close enough so they wouldn't turn to something new and harder to block. But he thought all the trouble at the embankment had about brought them to the end of their patience. One more delay there and they'd try something else.

Studying the stalled cars, it occurred to Cardan that there was a lot of gasoline in the tanks of all those cars.

He glanced around and saw that the machine was coming up the bank slowly and heavily. He had a certain amount of time to work.

Methodically, he cut through several of the car bodies into the gas tanks, and liberally doused the interiors with gasoline. He stripped the soaked upholstery into long strands, rectangular sheets, and wads of various sizes, which he built into a low mound in a shadowy place as close to the grid as he could find. Next, he stripped the insulation from a wire under the dash of another car, and touched the bare wire to the dash. A spark jumped.

Cardan looked around, and saw that the machine was now up the bank. Several of the spacesuited figures lifted off a panel to expose the controls, while others pulled out long thick cables, and began dragging them over to the grid.

Cardan brought a small square of gasoline-soaked cloth next to the bare wire as he again moved it against the dash. The cloth burst into flames. He whipped it forward to ignite the pile of soaked upholstery. From this he lifted blazing squares and strips of fire, which he wrapped around the alien's helmets and faceplates, and dropped onto the controls of the big machine, followed by sodden wads from which streamed fingers of fire as the blazing gas ran out.

In the midst of this chaos, there flashed out from some place on the far side of the traffic jam, a number of long hunting arrows.

Maclane's voice said, "I'm ready for that handling machine, Chief."

Cardan located the handling machine, knocked over all but one of the tall floodlights, seized that last one with the handling machine, and passed it to Maclane.

Off over the flat land to the east, as he did this, he saw a plume of fire and sparks racing steadily northward. That, he realized, must be the general's Civil War locomotive, bringing fresh troops to the scene.

Cardan glanced at the highway, and saw half-a-dozen motionless figures lying sprawled under the big grid, long feathered shafts jutting from their spacesuits. Others were behind the machine, firing into the jam of cars. Cardan stripped pieces of blazing upholstery from the pile, and wrapped them around the air hoses of the spacesuits. As the hoses burned through, he stuffed wads of gas-soaked padding into the hoses. As the aliens flung these out, he jammed and unjammed the valves of their suits, giving them just enough air to struggle out of the helmets.

One of their last shots into the traffic jam had blown a car apart. Cardan spotted the car's battery amidst the wreckage, and transferred the battery acid from the battery to the invaders, draining it down the backs of their necks.

Just then, one of the big cylindrical vehicles rolled down the hill, crossed the highway, and started down the bank and across the flat farmland. It was followed by another, and then another. Cardan glanced out into the dim distance to the south and southeast, saw gouts of flame leap out. Whitely, he realized, must have dropped troops off there as a diversion, and these troops were using flamethrowers on the enemy outguards.

Overhead, a bright light on a pole passed rapidly over the highway, illuminating a seething brown pile on the handling machine that carried it. The aliens below were struggling out of their suits. One of them jumped over to try to get at the wires that ran out from the machine. An arrow streaked out, and this time Cardan saw where it came from—a slit under a raised cover on the side of the disabled monster tank.

A few moments later, Maclane said, "The bees are in the ship, Chief. And, boy—the aliens are out of it!"

"Any trouble?"

"Not much. I just had to move the queen, and the rest came along. They weren't in a good mood, though, believe me." Maclane was silent a moment, then said, "What a shambles. And these are the people who almost had us whipped a few hours back."

"When it started out," said Cardan, "they could hit us without our striking back. Now the situation is reversed."

"I hope they don't get it reversed again."

"Their time's running out. Whitely's closing in on them. If he does it the way I think he'll do it, he'll draw them off first by hitting them from the south and southeast, then he'll come down on them like a ton of bricks from the north."

"What do we do?"

"Keep them miserable. And somehow we've got to get Donovan out of that giant tank and away from here. He's in there firing out arrows at anyone who tries to get near the grid, and that's fine, except that the gas may get him when Whitely attacks."

"I think I can get a message to him, Chief. He knows Morse, and I can bang and scrape a piece of metal on the tank for dots and dashes."

"Good. Go to it."

A file of cylinders started down the hill, and began to cross the road. Cardan went to work to sabotage them as they passed.

In the east, it was starting to get light.

Maclane had persuaded Donovan to get out, and Donovan had just disappeared around the bend in the steam car, when from the opposite direction Cardan noticed a kind of fog begin to drift across the scene.

Maclane said, "Here it comes, Chief."

The fog began to thicken, rolling across the road and flat land below. Far off in the distance, there was a sudden blaze of light.

Cardan shifted his cigar, and watched intently. The glare, whatever it was, reminded him of thermite. Then he remembered the two cylinders that had been on guard up the road.

Somewhere up the road, twin beams of light reached out through the fog, and rapidly approached, followed by two more sets of lights.

A cylinder rolled across the road, its gun swinging uncertainly around.

A burst of flame sprang out at the cylinder, and it rolled aside and smashed down the embankment.

Through the gray mist moved an old high-wheeled steam car, a man in a gas mask crouched at the wheel, and another in the seat behind him.

Behind this car came two more, and as they pulled to the side, men jumped off two long flat-bed wagons drawn behind the cars. In the mist, the gas-masked figures dropped over the bank and disappeared.

It wasn't much over an hour later when Miss Bowen said, "General Whitely's on the line, Mr. Cardan."

Cardan glanced around the room. All but one of the circuits had been disassembled, the parts put back in storage bins, and the boards burned up.

Whitely's voice jumped out of the phone. "Hello, Bugs. Where are you?"

"Inside the Milford plant."

"I've got aerial photos here, and the industrial section of Milford's knocked flat."

"Then I guess we got into the subbasement just in time. How are things where you are?"

"We're rounding them up, what's left of them. Say, Bugs, they had quite a run of bad luck, you know that?"

"So I gathered from your last message." Cardan studied his cigar and waited.

"We'll be in to dig you out as soon as we get this cleaned up. We're anxious to know what you did it with."

"Did what with?"

"You know what I mean."

"Don't rush too fast getting here," said Cardan. "This place is well-shielded and we've got a good food supply."

"Don't try to dismantle it, Bugs. We can use it, whatever it is. And we'll be there as fast as we can get there."

Cardan said irritatedly, "The viewer we had was upstairs, and upstairs has been blasted to bits. Talk sense, Tarface."

The general said in a low hard voice, "It's going to be like that, is it?"

"Like what?"

"You know what I mean."

"Maybe you'd better spell it out."

"I'll spell it out in private."

Cardan drew on his cigar. "Before you go running off half-cocked after some figment of your imagination, Tarface, you'd better get a good grip on that equipment the aliens were using. There ought to be enough stuff there to make you happy, provided you don't accidentally shut off the field and get blown up with your own nuclear device."

"I've thought of that long since," said the general coldly. "The fact that a man is in uniform doesn't mean that he's a fool."

"I'm sorry, Tarface," said Cardan.

After a brief silence, Whitely said, "It's all right, Bugs. But I don't understand your attitude." There was a pause. "And I don't think I like it."

Cardan's eyes narrowed. "We've known each other a long time, Tarface. But don't ever get the idea you're going to tell me what to do, or I'll tie you in knots and beat your brains into your boots." Cardan sat up, warming to the subject.

A small voice came out of the phone. "I'm sorry Bugs. I got carried away."

Cardan cut off his next sentence. "That's O.K. I know how it is."

"Listen, we'll be in to dig you out as soon as we can."

"Don't take any unnecessary risks. We're all right here."

"O.K. And thanks, for whatever it was."

"You're welcome, for whatever it was."

The general laughed. "So long, Bugs. We'll be seeing you."

"So long. Tarface."

Cardan put the phone back in its cradle.

Maclane handed him the headset of the one remaining circuit. "I thought you might want to take a last look, Chief, before we disassemble it."

Cardan looked at the miserable collection of feline-faced giants, chained together, and being loaded into trucks.

Cardan studied the scene for a moment, then handed back the headset.

Maclane said, as he started to disassemble the circuit. "It's an imperfect world, where you can have a thing like this and not be able to use it freely and openly."

"Imperfect," said Cardan, "but it's still ours. And as long as that's so, some day things may be different."

"I'm not so sure," said Maclane. "I've been thinking about it, and I'm afraid it would cause terrific dislocation."

Cardan nodded. "Sure," he said. "It will cause dislocation. But there's a precedent for that. Remember, they used to clap certain people in prison, excommunicate them for heresy, jeer and make jokes about them. What they were doing caused dislocation, too. Therefore it had to be stopped, or so it seemed."

Maclane scowled. "You mean, witches practicing witchcraft?"

"No," said Cardan. "I mean, scientists practicing science. Think what happened to Galileo."

Maclane said somberly, "New things throw people off balance. They don't like it."

Cardan nodded. "Taking a step forward throws the human body off balance, too. But it's a good sign when the first steps are taken, however hesitantly.

"When someone starts to walk, even with screams of fear and rage, he's growing up."


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