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Stat yanked hard on the control bar, and slammed the antigrav pedal all the way to the floor.

A roar like that of a giant rocket grew loud below, shook the little scout ship with a tooth-rattling vibration, then dwindled into the distance.

Stat thrust the control bar forward, let up on the antigrav pedal, and—

"Look out!" shouted Vann. "Here comes another one!"

A huge silver aircraft with narrow swept-back wings grew large on the screen. Stat heaved back the control bar, and slammed down the antigrav. He glanced around in time to see a squat dark shape with stubby wings climb up on a pillar of fire, tilt, and streak past so close that he glimpsed the alien block letters that he couldn't read:

U.S. Mail

"For the love of heaven," said Vann, "set us down!"

Stat glanced around. To the north was the huge building that was his landmark and eventual target. Around it, where he was supposed to land in "sparsely-settled farmland," a huge housing development was springing up.

On the screen, three needle-nosed aircraft with stubby wings and red-white-and-blue markings streaked in and out of view.

"Set down where?" said Stat. "Things have grown up since the maps were made."

"Set down anywhere!" said Vann. "Look out! Here comes—"

Stat took one glance, and thrust the control bar all the way forward. He yanked his foot from the antigrav pedal, and jammed the grav-assist almost through the floor. The ship plunged beneath him. The blood rushed to his head, and he saw through a reddish haze. There was a whoosh and a thunder overhead. A bell clanged. Stat jerked back the control bar, groped for the antigrav, pressed, and—


There was a dead silence. The ship sat still.

Vann got cautiously to his feet, and drew in a shaky breath. "Amen. We're down."

Stat looked around. "Yes, but where?"

"Never mind," said Vann, with feeling. "We're down!" He raised a hatch and leaned out.

Stat got up, and looked out over Vann's shoulder. They had landed in a thick evergreen forest, and the ship was strewn with small limbs, twigs, and bunches of green needles.

Stat ducked inside and glanced at several maps. He located a hilly, heavily-wooded portion, and decided it fitted in with his last hasty glance around before they came down.

Vann pulled back inside. "We're lucky those packs didn't blow up when we hit."

"Yeah, but we're not lucky about where we landed. We're too far from the target. If we start from here, we'll have an awful time getting there."

Vann bent over the map, and Stat put his finger on the wooded portion near the bottom. The target was well to the north, near the top.

Vann said, "If we could only bomb."

"It's been tried. This method is slow, but it ought to be sure."

Vann said nothing, and Stat, studying the map, thought back to the admiral's comments as he explained the mission to them.

"What I have to ask of you," the admiral had said, "is a hard and thankless job. A fighting man's duty requires him to kill others if his superiors give the order. But these others should, for his own peace of mind, be plainly ill-disposed persons, vicious savages, or loathsome aliens. Blasting the brains out of a blood-thirsty monster with teeth like bayonets isn't likely to bother anyone's conscience.

"But, unfortunately, there are times when the thing to be destroyed is not unattractive, is not vicious or ill-disposed, and is not even particularly alien. This is the kind of job I am now forced to give you."

The admiral turned to the map, and rapped the blue and green planet centered there.

"This planet first came to our attention some four hundred standard years ago, when our Controlled Expansion Program called for the settling of another planet. This planet had abundant natural resources, suitable gravity and atmosphere, and many other desirable characteristics.

"Scout Teams roughly mapped the planet by air, then our Initial Exploration Teams landed to make their raw materials surveys.

"As you know, whenever you land on a new planet, you have to be ready for trouble. If you follow all the carefully tested procedures in the Manual, you'll be safe nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand. But there is always that one chance out of a thousand that the standard procedures don't cover. The thing to remember about this planet is that that one exceptional case turns up here very often.

"To begin with, the dominant life form on this planet is no carnivore or insect, but an erect biped that looks just like us. The only way to tell the difference is to get its shirt off and see if there are any auxiliary joints in its arms. If there's nothing but shoulder, elbow, and wrist, and if it can't disjoint these at will, then it is not one of us. It is a human, as it would call itself. It is, in other words, just like one of us with a bad case of arthritis.

"And that's where the trouble starts.

"The humans are so much like us, in their appearance and their way of thinking, that our ancestors didn't follow the usual procedure. Instead of promptly exterminating this potentially dangerous life form, they called in the sociologists.

"The sociologists went down to the planet, came up goggle-eyed with their data, and ran up their projections. So far from being dangerous, they said, the humans were dead certain to wipe themselves out within the next three-and-a-half centuries. There were quite a number of reasons.

"First, their population-growth was uncontrolled. Snath's Law states that an uncontrolled population will increase much too fast for its food supply, and therefore starve.

"Second, the humans weren't rationing their raw materials, and it looked as if they didn't intend to. Krick's Rule of Exhaustion states that, unless strictly rationed, natural resources get used up at an ever-increasing rate, and finally give out entirely.

"Third, the humans were split up in groups with different customs and languages. They were already tied in knots by Gark's Principle of Mutual Interchange. Put in small words, Gark's Principle says that if you can't see what the other fellow is driving at, he will irritate you, and sooner or later you will have a big fight.

"Well, the humans had all this against them, and more, too. Our ancestors didn't have the heart to make it worse yet for them. They were so much like us, and anyway, in a little while they would wipe themselves out, and we could have the planet with a clear conscience.

"That was four hundred years ago.

"Since then, the humans have starved, run into scarcities, and fought each other tooth and nail all over the globe. For lack of applying Snath's Law, Krick's Rule, and Gark's Principle, the humans went through torture.

"But—for what reason we don't know—they failed to exterminate themselves.

"When the rockets first started coming up out of the atmosphere down there, the Watch Team got a little worried. The sociologists went down, took another look around, and said this was the crisis. Snath, Krick, and Gark really had the humans by the throats and were knocking them senseless.

"A little while later, the humans burst out into our universe and got moving at a ferocious pace. What happened to Snath, Gark, and the rest of them, I don't know. The sociologists have all gone into their holes and won't come out to talk about it."

The admiral blew out his cheeks and loosened his collar. "That's what happened. Now the humans are roaring off in all directions setting up colonies. This has happened very fast. The Main Fleet is halfway around the system from here. As anyone acquainted with Bak's Theorem knows, nothing material can exceed the speed of light. By the time the Fleet gets here, the humans—who do not seem so restricted as we are by Bak's Theorem—will have their colonies well set up. The Fleet could settle this in short order, but you don't win wars with a force you can't bring to bear. Our only chance is to improvise, and somehow hamstring the human colonization program till the Fleet gets here." He looked intently at Stat and Vann. "Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," said Stat and Vann.

"Good. Now, the humans are much like us. We don't want to hurt them. But at this rate, they are going to crowd us right out of the universe. "We've got to stop them. You see?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now, that planet is hard to scout. Mapping the important areas is like mapping erupting volcanoes. The features change too fast. And there are—difficulties." The admiral's gaze strayed toward a chart labeled "Accidental Deaths." He shook his head slightly, took a deep breath, and focused his eyes on Stat and Vann in turn.

"Nevertheless, I have excellent reason to believe the center of this web of colonization is"—he pulled down another map—"here in this huge building. It's just the size to house the mountains of files and armies of officials such a program would need. If we blow it up, it should disorganize the whole business."

The admiral went into minute details, and ended by saying, "We still, thank heaven, have the advantage of distorters, which the humans don't seem to have discovered yet. Your ship, and your packs containing the explosive, will be fitted with distorters of appropriate size and capacity. They will render you invisible to human eyes, but are synchronized so you will be able to see each other. This may seem to be an unbeatable advantage, but don't fool yourselves."

He glanced toward the chart labeled "Accidental Deaths," but looked quickly away. "Three times so far, I've sent men down to bomb that place. Each time, something's gone wrong. You never know exactly what is going to go wrong. Keep your eyes open. Be careful. On most planets, I could give you wise rules to guide your conduct. But on this place I will only say, good luck."

Stat heard again the admiral's warning to be careful as he and Vann looked at their present position on the scout ship's map. Stat said, "Much as I dislike to lift ship again, we need to get in closer. I'll try to stay low enough so we don't get knocked to pieces in the process."

Vann looked unhappy, but he closed the hatch.

Stat glanced at the screen, eased the control bar back, and pressed the antigrav.

Nothing happened.

Stat tried again. The ship didn't move.

Vann lifted up the cover of the floor well. Stat worked the controls with no result, frowned, and turned around. Vann was down on the floor, with one arm out of sight in the well. Stat got up and went over.

Vann looked up. "The control unit's sheared off."

Stat knelt down and reached in. He felt the loose control rods, groped around, and his hand came up against a thin sharp edge. He glanced at Vann. "The base plate's snapped off close to the converter housing. There isn't enough left to do anything with."

They digested this in silence. The ship had two antigrav units, one overhead, and one down below. Theoretically, either one could replace the other. But this would involve disconnecting a great number of wires, tubes, hoses, bolts, and mechanical linkages, as well as wrestling the heavy converters out of their wells. For a moment, Stat considered turning the upper unit completely over. Then he realized that even if it could be done, it would pass the narrow drive field right through the ship, and what would happen next was unpredictable.

As by common consent, Stat and Vann got up at the same time. Stat bent to close the cover of the floor well. Vann went for the packs.

As Stat straightened up, Vann dragged out the first pack. It bulged, its flaps stretched wide to hold even more than the usual load. The carrying harness was of woven cloth straps, fitted with a multitude of steel snaps, hooks and buckles.

Vann's face had a sober look. He crouched, grunted, and stood the pack up on end. He studied it a moment. "One of us better go outside, so we can pass these things out without jarring them again."

Stat climbed through the hatch and helped Vann get the packs outside.

Vann was climbing out after them when there came a thud of rapidly passing hoofs. A white tail flashed through the trees not far away.

Vann said in relief, "Just a wild animal. Help me on with this thing."

"Wait a minute," Stat went inside, and brought out the map. He pointed to their present location. "Now, it's a long way from here to that Colonization Center. But over here there's a highway that goes almost by it." Together, they crouched over the map, studying it. Carefully, they traced out the highway to make sure they made no mistake.

There was a crunching, snapping noise, and the sound of voices. Stat and Vann looked up sharply.

About fifty feet way, several pairs of boots came into view and stopped. Trousers of various shades of brown could be seen, and above that, through the trees, were flashes of bright red. The boots started to move and stopped again. Guns were now visible, thrust in various directions.

Stat jerked out his pistol. Vann did the same, then unclipped his holster, and slid it onto the pistol butt to form a rough stock that gave steadier aim.

From the direction of the boots and guns, there came angry voices, the words incomprehensible to Stat and Vann:

"We're going the wrong way, I tell you. The car's back down the hill, behind us."

"If it was, we'd have struck it just now. The road runs right along the ravine."

"There's more than one ravine in these woods. We hit the wrong one, that's all."

"I say we've got around on the wrong side of the mountain. At this rate, we'll waste all doe season trying to get home for lunch. The quickest thing from here is to go right up over the top and come down the other side. We're bound to strike the road."

"Man, are you out of your head? If we go to the top here, we land in the biggest windfall this side of Canada."

Arms shook and guns swung around. Stat and Vann eased back against the ship and separated. Soothing voices joined the angry ones. Eventually there was a silence, and gulping sounds. Something shiny landed at the base of a tree. The boots all turned around and tramped off downhill. Stat and Vann glanced at each other.

Stat said in a low voice, "I don't know what it was, but I'm glad it went away."

Vann nodded. "Me, too." He glanced around warily, and put his gun away.

Stat went off a little distance, studied map and compass, and came back.

Together, they pulled the packs away from the ship, and snapped on the distorters. The packs vanished. Stat helped Vann on with his pack. Vann vanished. Invisible hands helped Stat on with his pack, and then Stat could see Vann again.

"O.K." said Stat. "Let's go."

They started out.

The mountain rose gently but steadily before them.

* * *

The first few minutes, the ground was fairly level. The packs, however, strained at the cloth straps, which wrinkled up and pulled so tight they felt like wire cables. The buckles dug in. The chest straps made it hard to breathe. Then the steep uphill stretch started.

Several times, as they labored up the slope, there were shots, shouts, or the distant blasts of horns. They hardly heard them. Time was already stretching out in that process that lets a minute of pain seem to last forever.

Stat was discovering that no bending or pitching would shift the pack so it would dig in somewhere else than at a tender spot in the small of his back.

When the ground finally leveled out underfoot, they didn't know what had happened. Vann caught hold of a tree trunk to steady himself.

"Look. It's light ahead."

"Yeah. Might be a clearing."

They pushed through some small, close-growing saplings, parted the branches, and looked out.

A wilderness of jumbled wind-thrown trees stretched out into the distance before them. The trees lay crisscrossed with trunks, limbs, and branches interlocked. The spaces between them bristled with thorny brush. About a third of the way out, there rose what looked like a wisp of smoke. This resolved itself into a host of flying insects, which ranged all around, buzzing ill-temperedly.

Stat shut his eyes for a moment, and rested his weight against a nearby sapling. Vann grunted and swore.

The trees to either side made it impossible to tell for sure how far this spread out to right and left. But there was plainly only one thing to do.

Vann said, "We'll never get across that."

"I know. We'll have to go around."

* * *

For a long time, they picked their way around the edge of the windfall. In the distance, they could hear the high whine of ground-cars that came toward them, fell in pitch and faded away. Finally they had to stop for a rest. They struggled out of the packs, and shut off the distorters.

Vann lay down wearily and massaged his shoulders. After a long silence, he said, "We'll never make it at this rate."

Stat moved around carefully to try to ease his back. He glanced at some nearby saplings. "What if we cut down a couple of those and strap the packs between them?"

Vann eased himself to a sitting position and looked at the trees. "Anything's worth trying."

Stat went to his pack, absently brushed off some insects crawling over it in a long column, and got out his survival kit hatchet. He and Vann chopped down two saplings, trimmed off the branches and sharp stubs, and strapped the packs in place.

Vann slapped at his leg and swore feebly. Stat brushed some crawling bugs out of his way, put the hatchet back in the pack, and turned on the distorters. The packs and poles vanished. Beneath them was a kind of sizable crater in the dirt.

Vann groaned. "They have ants on this planet."

Stat said wearily, "Maybe they aren't so bad here."

They groped for the poles, picked them up, and started off.

The trip was not a cheerful one.

At intervals, there traveled down the invisible poles from the invisible packs, columns of invisible ants. These crawled off onto Stat and Vann, and went exploring.

Hot, tired, and miserable, the two invaders toiled their way through the forest, and down the hill through scrub trees and blackberry thickets, lurching and staggering under their invisible burden.

Twice, they had to take cover as shots tore through the brush around them. But there was so much shooting that they decided it must be a local affair having nothing to do with them. They were too tired to do anything, but merely got to their feet when the uproar died down.

About halfway to the highway, they passed within a hundred feet of a small group of humans in red coats, and never even saw them. The humans looked at Stat and Vann stumbling down the hill, and grinned knowingly. One of them gave a loud imitation hiccup as Stat and Vann staggered out of sight.

In due time, Stat and Vann came in view of the highway. They set down the poles, rubbed their shoulders and backs, and drew in deep breaths. Down below, long low shapes blurred past in a variety of bright colors.

"Pretty," said Stat.

"Yeah. But how do we stop them?"

Stat glanced around. There were a number of evergreens growing nearby. He selected two small pine trees. They cut them down.

"Now," said Stat, "we put the packs back on." He and Vann examined them carefully as they undid the poles. Vann said, "There shouldn't be too many left on them. I think about a hundred thousand came off my end of the poles."

They snapped the distorters back on, and helped each other on with the packs.

A few moments later, two small pine trees floated out over the moist soil at the base of the hill, leaving behind two intertangled tracks of footprints.

* * *

They struggled across a ditch up a bank to a wide dirt shoulder beside the highway.

Vann said, "Shall we throw the trees out on the road?"

"No. We might cause a wreck, and that's no good. What we want is a usable car, and a driver in the right frame of mind."

The two trees floated along beside the road.

Several ground cars of various sizes and shapes whizzed past in both directions. There came a high-pitched screech, and a long low car pulled off onto the shoulder in a great whirl of dust.

Stat held out his tree to Vann. "Can you carry this, too?"

"If I don't sink into the earth."

Stat glanced back to see that the road was clear, then stepped onto the hard surface and walked ahead fast.

The back of the car lit up brightly with red, then white, lights. It started to back, and Stat now saw that it was even more extreme than cars in recent photos the admiral had shown them. This one seemed to have barely room between it and the ground for a man to get his fist under it. Its top was around waist-high. A sort of periscope jutted up from the front of the top and was now swiveled directly back toward the two slowly-advancing trees.

A wing-shaped hatch in the left side of the car popped up and back. A hand appeared at the opening, and gripped the edge of the roof. A fierce grunting and puffing came from within.

Stat paused in alarm, and took another look at the car. What sort of creature, he asked himself, would fit into that kind of vehicle?

An elbow appeared above the edge of the roof. There was a repeated back-and-forth motion of wrist and elbow, coupled with hard grunting, then a red-faced figure of normal proportions levered itself up into view, and twisted around to stare at the two trees.

Stat stepped forward fast. The human turned his head sharply. Stat slowed so the human wouldn't hear his footsteps. The human frowned, and turned back to look at the trees. He blinked hard a number of times. With his gaze riveted on the trees, he shifted around to get a new perspective. He scowled, glanced down the road, and jumped off the car with a determined look. Stat hit him hard on the jaw.

Vann tossed the trees aside, glanced back at the road, and strode up as fast as his heavy pack would let him. Quickly, they carried the human out of sight at the base of the steep bank beside the road. They started eagerly back to the car, then involuntarily paused. They stared at the low rakish metal shape.

Vann said, "Do we lie down in there?"

Stat said, "Their cars seem to have developed some since the pictures we looked at."

Vann took a deep breath. "We'll have to try it."

"Lead the way."

"After you."

A severe struggle quickly showed that with all joints dislocated and moving freely, it was still not possible to get in through the hatch with the packs on.

They glanced around till there were few cars in sight, then Vann got out of his pack and crawled in head first. Stat handed in Vann's pack, glanced around, got out of his own, and handed it in.

He looked up to see the low bushes swaying at the edge of the embankment. Hastily, he climbed inside, reached up, and pulled down the hatch.

"Now," said Vann, "how do we run this thing?"

Stat listened to a muted throb from somewhere forward. "Evidently the engine's running." He leaned back in the seat till he was almost flat on his back, adjusted the periscope, whose screen hung directly in front of his face, then looked around. There seemed to be a great number of knobs and buttons to choose from. He reached for a likely-looking knob and pulled it.

A mighty hum of power told him he had hit the right knob. "There," he said triumphantly. Unfortunately, the scene in the periscope did not change.

Vann said exasperatedly, "It's getting awfully hot in here."

Stat hastily pushed the button back in, and tried another. Music swelled out from in front, in back, and from all sides. A quick succession of punches at various controls brought the loud blast of a horn, dancers jogging back and forth on a television screen, a wave of cold like the inside of an asteroid, and a blinking red oblong spelling out some word in the human alphabet that he couldn't read:


There now came a loud hammering at the hatch, and a muffled roaring noise. An oppressive, foreboding impression of almost physical rage reached through the closed metal hatch.

Stat jabbed, punched, and pulled at every control in reach.

There was a snap! And the car rolled forward. Hasty experiments revealed that the direction of motion could be controlled by moving the wheel that sat in Stat's lap.

* * *

The car now began to pick up speed. Stat braced his feet against the floor, and guided it out onto the highway. Immediately there was a loud screech, followed by powerful blasts on a horn, and from the side came a ferocious sensation of overpowering fury.

Their car, however, continued to pick up speed, and soon left this behind it.

Stat heaved a sigh of relief.

"Now we're moving."

Vann swallowed hard and said nothing.

The scenes in the periscope flashed by faster and faster. The traffic, most of which had been pulling away from them, now seemed to pause, then start flowing back toward them. A small needle on the dash in front of Stat crept steadily around its dial.

Stat braced both feet more firmly against the floor, and started to look around for some means of slowing the car down. He squinted at the knobs, switches, buttons, shiny rods and sliding levers. He had already tried most of them. But he couldn't remember which ones. Just in case he had missed something, he tried again.

Music played. Scenes flashed on and off the screen. Hot and cold air poured into the car. The seat gently massaged his back. A jet of water splashed on the front lens of the periscope, and a flexible blade wiped it off again. The seat grew soft, then extremely firm. The car continued to pick up speed.

A whining drone rose from the power plant, and the car began a trembling, pitching motion. Part of the scenery that now flashed past was a long low black-and-white-striped vehicle with a red light atop its roof near the periscope. As they streaked past this vehicle, Stat saw it give a sort of startled spurt of acceleration. There was the whining howl of a siren, which rapidly dwindled away to nothing.

Ahead, a barrier of little glass-and-concrete houses stretched across the road. It rushed closer, and Stat just had time to see some incomprehensible symbols spelling out "TOLL 1.50," which meant nothing to him. He barely had time to select an empty lane, aim for it, and streak through frozen to the wheel.

The small needle in front of Stat was now traveling up past "140." Various lights were flashing on and off, but Stat could see no more buttons to try. He glanced back and forth from the periscope to the controls. He spotted what looked like some kind of control in front of Vann.

He took one hand from the wheel for an instant and pointed. "Try that!"

Vann pushed it. It went in and stayed in. The car continued to roar ahead. There was a click. It popped out again. Vann leaned forward and squinted at it. He pushed it in. It popped back out. He pushed it. It popped back. He frowned, then his face cleared. He pulled it. It came off in his hand. Suddenly he let out a yell.

A sort of red-hot rivet with a handle on it flew through the air. It landed on Stat's lap.

Stat brushed desperately, got it off onto the floor, twisted in the seat and jerked his feet back out of the way.

Vann said, "It worked! We're slowing down!"

Vann's voice held a relief that Stat couldn't share. The road seemed increasingly crowded with cars. A series of important-looking signs that he couldn't read flashed past:







Stat was driven to hairbreadth maneuvers to avoid the crowding cars. He glanced ahead and winced. Up ahead was a stretch of rough road. He had a vivid mental picture of the narrow space beneath the bottom of the car.

The needle on its dial was now edging down past "60."

The rough stretch of road rushed toward them.

"Brace yourself," said Stat.

Vann said, "That whine we heard a while ago is back again."

Stat suddenly remembered the black-and-white-striped vehicle with its red light.

The last stretch of smooth road went past and they hit the stony dirt. There was a jolt and a crash like a crate of loose metal hurled down from a height. The car bucked and slammed forward and back.

A cloud of dust swirled up and blotted out the view. All that could be seen was, every now and then, towering orange-painted machines that momentarily loomed into view, then vanished again.

The needle fell down the scale to "0."

Vann said shakily, "We're stopped."

Stat sucked in his breath and let it out again. "Don't touch anything."

"Don't worry," said Vann. He twisted around in his seat. "Let's get out. We can go the rest of the way on foot."

Stat took another deep breath. "I agree." He started to reach back for his pack.

A low wailing noise slid past the car and cut off. There was a snap and a bang of metal. Then there was the sound of heels crunching dirt.

"Now what?" said Vann.

A blast of unprecedented rage came through the metal shell of the car, and left them feeling like dried leaves in a hurricane.

Carried along with this blast of fury, like wreckage afloat on a flood, came a jumble of mental pictures that lit up in Stat's mind like the glowing images on a television screen.

One of these mental images was of vertical bars set in solid concrete. The other was of some kind of heavy chair with metal clasps and electric cables running to a switch on the wall. Stat did not know what these were, but he got the impression they were things to be avoided.

There now came a bang on the hatch, and a number of sharp words, including, "Open up in there!"

Enough of the sense of this began to get through to Stat to give him the general picture.

There was a creak of metal, and the car tilted slightly, as if someone had forgotten his fingers under the edge of the hatch and was trying to pop it open.

Outside, other sirens whined past and came to a stop.

Vann's face set in a look of grim determination. He loosened his gun in his holster.

Stat's numbed mind began to function again. He whispered, "Don't use the gun. Pull that pack onto your chest and hang onto it tight."

Vann scowled, reached back, felt around with both hands, and tugged hard. Abruptly, he faded out of sight.

Stat heaved a sigh of relief, and hauled his own pack over him.

There was a hard bang on the roof, and other voices outside:

". . . Seventy miles over the speed limit anyway, when he passed me."


"Give me a look through that periscope."

"How do we get into these sardine cans, anyway?"


"Go get that thin bar out of the trunk. We'll settle this bird in a hurry."

". . . Can't see anything through this scope. He's got the whole roof opaqued, and on top of that, I think this job has an inside screen."


"O.K. Hand me that bar and shut your eyes for about two seconds."

There was a snap and a crash. Bright daylight shone in.

Stat, clinging to his pack with eyes shut felt a mental wave of astonishment wash over him.

Someone said, "Where's the transparency switch on these models? Edge of the hatch, isn't it?"

There was a click and a flood of light. Stat opened his eyes to see a crowd of men in uniforms squinting down through the now clear and transparent roof. The men outside glanced at each other blankly. One reached through, missed Stat by an inch, and extracted a set of keys. The faint throb of the engine cut off.

Stat heard the words, "This is one for the books."

"Couldn't be hiding somewhere in there, could he?"

"Where? Under the floor mat?"

"Let's open the trunk."

The crowd moved toward the rear.

Stat glanced at Vann. "Now or never."

Gingerly and with great pains, they worked themselves up through the hatch, clinging hard to the heavy packs. Only the energy of despair got them through, scraped and sprained.

One of the uniformed men looked up from the opened trunk lid.

"It doesn't seem to me we're causing all this jiggling around. Stand back a minute."

Vann jumped off onto the ground and hit with a puff of dirt. The car lifted slightly.

Someone said, "Now, what made that?"

Gingerly, Stat and Vann tiptoed away.

One of the uniformed men followed right along behind them, staring at the dirt.

Ahead, a line of cars was bouncing along over the rocky road. Two or three were raised up high on their wheels, and one was apparently supported on an air blast, as it tipped and bobbed and blew out clouds of dust.

Stat, glancing around desperately for some way to get away from his own footprints, headed for this last car and its clouds of dust. He went through the dust cloud behind it, hoping he and Vann could get across before anyone could follow. The next car, however, was fifty feet back, waiting for the dust to blow away. There was a blast on a whistle and it stopped.

Stat looked back and saw a small mob of uniformed figures coming rapidly along behind.

The packs had seemed heavy before, but never as heavy as this.

Vann said, "Look. Up ahead."

Stat glanced up, to see in the distance, beyond the place where the road work was being done, a valley dominated by a huge building set in a vast park of green grass and shrubs.

"That's it, all right," said Stat.

He looked back. The uniformed humans were spread out, examining the ground. One of them waved to the rest, and they all started directly toward Stat and Vann. Some of them spread out to the side and started to run. One turned around and headed back toward the parked cars.

Ahead, there was a steep bank, with a sparse woods of young second growth below it.

"Come on," said Stat. "If they catch us before we get off this dirt, we're finished."

He and Vann reached the bank about half a step ahead of a bunch of humans, and slid down. Two of the humans came right behind them. Stat put out a leg and tripped one of them. Vann hit the other over the head with his gun. Stat and Vann barely got into the woods as more humans came sliding down the bank.

Stat looked back, after he and Vann were well into the woods, and said, "For people who never saw a distorter in action before, they've got pretty fast reactions."

Vann took a deep breath. "Yeah." He set his pack against a tree. "Let's put these things on while we have time."

They stopped, and put on the packs, then peered through the trees to see if they could see the big building they'd seen from the road.

Stat said, "We can't see it from here, but if we go straight downhill, we're bound to come out somewhere near it."

They started out.

* * *

A long hike took them gradually away from the shouts of pursuing humans, and brought them in view of an enormous building set in a big green park, where large numbers of people walked or sat. Here and there, people took food out of containers, sat on benches, or spread cloths on the grass. Children tossed balls back and forth, and raced after each other in a variety of games.

Stat and Vann sank down wearily on the hillside above this.

Vann unfolded a diagram, and glanced back and forth from the paper to the building. He pointed at a blacktopped drive where occasional cars moved by.

"We plant the first charge under that culvert, on the other side of that road."

Stat followed Vann's gesture, and saw near the culvert a group of children toss a ball to a brown furry creature that caught it, and darted back and forth amongst them.

Vann squinted and glanced around. "The next charge, we set up around the other side, right next to the building. You see that narrow moving stairway?"

"Where all the people are riding up into the big doorway?"

"That's it. We'll have to put the second charge right against the building there. The detonator we can set up back on that hillside. It works on line-of-sight, and it can set off both charges from there."

A wave of childish laughter reached Stat, and he glanced down to see the furry creature wagging its tail. The children tossed the ball again, near the culvert.

Stat swallowed.

Vann said, "We can set the remote up somewhere beyond the brow of that hill. We'll have to keep our eyes open for an any ditch or gully we can jump into." He studied the building with professional interest and added, "The air will really be full of flying junk when that place goes up."

The children ran back across Stat's field of view. "Yeah," he said. He glanced at the miniature bomb-and-fuse emblem on Vann's collar. He and Vann both wore the rocket and wings of Space-and-Air, but Vann was qualified in Bombs and Demolition, while Stat wore the head-thrust-into-the-jaws emblem of the Outplanet Scouts.

Vann struggled to his feet. We'd better get started." He reached down to help Stat. Stat got up.

They started down the hill, and Stat now noticed the marked variation amongst humans. They appeared to be all shades of pink, brown, and copper. Their manner of dress varied from one group to another. The more he looked, the more variety he saw.

He glanced at the building, and saw across the face of it, in huge incomprehensible human letters:






They crossed the road between two cars, and located the big culvert, where a trickle of water flowed out into a winding stream bed. They wrestled in the big container of explosive from Vann's pack. Vann artfully ran a thin wire up a crack in the concrete and set a pale pink button at the base of the guard rail by the edge of the road near the culvert.

The happy shouts of children grew loud behind them. Stat glanced around.

The furry brown creature raced in and out with the ball amongst the darting children. Stat looked away.

Vann took out a tin of pinkish gum, and carefully stuck the button in place. He wrestled the explosive further into the culvert, got out a slender rod and snapped a small telescope on top of it. He sighted through the telescope, first one way, then another. "Just right. The humans couldn't have set it up better for us."

Stat said, "Will the water hurt the explosive?"

"Not a chance. The cover's waterproof."

The children now sank down on the ground, talking excitedly.

Vann glanced critically at his handiwork. "That stuff has some funny properties. You have to get the angle just right, or you waste half the effect. Well, let's set up the other one, and get out of here."

They climbed up the bank, and started toward the building.

Behind them, the furry animal climbed to its feet, and ran with its tongue hanging out toward the water.

* * *

Stat and Vann carefully threaded their way through groups of humans and their occasional furry friends. They had almost reached the place they were headed for when a small jet-black creature with green eyes and vertical slit pupils trotted in front of them.

A burly human was striding toward them from the opposite direction. He stopped abruptly, and stared at the small black animal. He got out a big handkerchief and mopped his brow. He reached in his pocket and pulled out something that looked like a small white paw on a chain. He stroked it nervously, gripped it in one hand, and detoured warily around in front of the black creature, which had sat down to clean its fur.

Stat and Vann stopped dead still and stared at the animal. They looked at the grass the big human had carefully avoided. It looked all right. All the same—

Vann said, "You never know." They backtracked warily.

The black creature got up, stiffened, whirled around and streaked back in the direction it had come from. In the process, it passed in back of Stat and Vann, and blocked them in that direction.

Stat shut his eyes, and said in disgust, "Out the airlock with it. Come on."

"Wait a minute," said Vann. "What's that?"

The brown furry creature that had been playing with the children was snuffling along with its nose to the ground. It appeared to be headed straight toward them.

They paused to stare at it.

It came closer.

In the distance, the children had gotten up and were idly tossing the ball in the air, watching the furry creature.

Unerringly, it snuffled along the ground toward them.

Vann said nervously, "We'd better plant the rest of that explosive in a hurry."

"There won't be time."

Stat glanced around. There were various groups of humans around. The nearest seemed to be a group of strongly-built copper-colored humans by a tree. He said to Vann, "Listen, that thing is evidently a scent-tracker. If we mingle with those humans over there, we'll throw it off the track."

"A good idea."

At this moment, the animal looked up and sniffed the air. It came warily forward, casting its nose around in different directions, and sniffed strongly. Its eyes lit as if there were a small flame behind each one.


It came closer. It bared a set of big teeth, and let out a spine-tingling growl.

Vann had turned to go off with Stat. The animal was now practically on his heels. There was a snap of teeth and a fierce barking.

Heads turned around. The children started running over.

Vann whipped out his gun. The animal lunged forward with a snap of teeth. Vann hit it over the head. It got up again. Vann hit it again. It got up with a low growl. Again Vann hit it. It lay still, but it had a certain stubborn look that suggested it would not be still long.

Stat glanced around and saw a number of humans staring in their direction. One or two started over. The children were running over fast. But Stat did not feel really alarmed till his glance took in the dark-haired copper-colored group near the tree. They were all standing up. Their faces were perfectly blank and expressionless, but they nevertheless had a look of extreme alertness. They looked athletic and fast on their feet.

A large, exceptionally well-built member of the group now raised one hand and pointed directly at Stat's feet.

Stat felt paralyzed. He raised one foot and saw, where his foot had been, that the grass was flattened out. It began to straighten up slowly. Of course, with his foot there, he couldn't see the grass. But to the humans he was invisible, and they could see the grass.

Vann had now noticed this group of humans. He glanced down at the grass and up at the humans.

Stat's thoughts were like water in a frozen stream. He struggled to clear his mind. He saw other groups of humans moving past on walks. Abruptly he came to life. "We've got to get onto a walk, where we won't leave any imprint."

At the same moment Stat and Vann started off, the whole bunch of humans started after them, their eyes intent on the grass.

Stat and Vann got onto a walk about two steps ahead of a tall sinewy human with a flinty look. They did their best to mingle with the humans moving along the walk, while not actually touching them. When they got close enough to the building, they stepped off the walk, placing their feet so as to take advantage of occasional rocks. Behind some evergreen shrubbery, they unloaded Stat's container of explosive, and put it close to the wall of the building. Vann ran his thin wire up the wall, and stuck the pink button below the molding of the window.

"That," said Vann, "should do it. Now, for the love of heaven, let's get out of this place."

They turned to go, and stopped in their tracks.

A crowd of men in uniform was coming across the park, their expressions watchful. In the lead was a big brown animal on a leash, its nose to the ground.

Stat said, "That one's bigger than the other one was."

"Yes, and it knows its business. Look at it travel."

The humans were having a hard time to keep up with it. It was headed straight for the spot where the other animal was now climbing to its feet.

Vann said, "We'll never outrun that thing." He reached for his gun. The animal vanished behind a group of humans.

"Listen," said Stat, "if we fire from here, they'll be able to tell the direction of the sound. Let's confuse the trail, then get in the building with that bunch of humans and out the back."

"We can't. In that crowd, they'll press against us, feel us and not see us."

"We'll snap off the distorters first. There are so many different kinds of dress here, they'll never see the difference."

"All right."

They stepped out, located the approximate spot where they'd stepped off the walk, and walked back and forth along it to make the scent stronger in the direction they now intended to go. They unclipped their holsters, dropped them in the packs, moved in back of a group of humans starting up the steps, and snapped off their distorters.

They glanced back and saw several of the uniformed humans conferring with the alert coppery humans. The boys were stroking their animal, which was looking around with an ugly expression on its face. The other animal was somewhere out of their line of vision. Then the moving steps swept them up into the building, along with the humans.

They found themselves in a long narrow hall packed with humans and filled with an air of crackling expectancy. The people seemed eager to go forward, and had none of that dull enduring look common to lines of people being sifted through a classification center. Stat looked around for the folders of forms, cards, and authorizations the people must have. He could see none anywhere.

Vann said in a low voice, "The first official that stops us, I'll punch in the nose. You snap on your distorter while I've got their attention. Then you can tip over some files, knock over desks, punch a few of them in the teeth and trip them up. In the uproar, I'll have a chance to snap on my distorter. Then we can get out the back way."

"O.K." To prepare himself, Stat visualized what would be waiting for them up ahead. His own experience assured him there would be long lines of people moving past innumerable desks, with placards bearing cryptic symbols stuck on poles beside each of the desks. At each desk would be an official glancing over forms and swiveling his chair around to pull out file drawers. The people who had reached this far were bound to have acquired the dreary look of those whose fate is in the hands of others, and who can do nothing about it but submit in silence.

They were almost at the end of the entrance hall, and Stat felt ready for anything.

Vann said, "Here we go."

"I'm right with you."

They were swept out of the narrow entrance hall and the humans dispersed in all directions.

Stat and Vann stopped in confusion. There were no desks or officials in sight. They were in a large, warm, dimly-lighted corridor. From this corridor, other corridors branched out. Some were on the same level, others led gently up and some sloped down. Each had, beside its entrance, lighted brass plaques in unreadable human languages. Directly before them stood a statue with more words they couldn't read at the base:



Stat and Vann looked at the statue, then at the various branching halls.

Vann said, "This isn't exactly what I expected."

"Me either."

"Still, if we're going to get out the back, obviously we should go straight ahead."

They started up a corridor, chose one of several branches, followed it a distance, then paused. They had seen no sign of an exit, and not a single window to the outside.

Vann took a deep breath. "Are you more tired, all of a sudden?"

"I didn't notice it before, but, yes, I am." Stat's feet felt heavy, and he paused to rest. Several groups of humans walked past. They all seemed to be rather short, stumpy types. They glanced at Stat and Vann curiously as they went by.

A glass door up the hall came open, and a tall human came out, passed a big handkerchief across his forehead, and staggered down the hall. As he passed Stat and Vann, he glanced at them ruefully, and said, "Not for me."

Stat couldn't understand the words, but some of the meaning came through in the human's tone of voice, and his rueful look.

Vann said, "The back of the building must be straight ahead. If we can get out there—" He started ahead, and Stat followed, wondering at his own weariness.

As Vann pulled open the door, Stat glanced up and saw more human lettering:


The door swung shut behind them.

Vann said, "I'm tired. I can scarcely lift my feet."

"I know it," said Stat. "So am I." He glanced around in puzzlement. His brain seemed to be full of fog. The atmosphere around him seemed to have thickened and grown dense. "Well," he heard himself say, in a dull voice, "we've been on the go since morning."

They moved slowly down the corridor. On either side, there were heavy doors, and beside the doors, miniature scenes behind glass. Stat looked at one of the scenes, and saw squat fur-clad humans making their way through a heavy snowstorm, guiding themselves by a rope stretched between two low buildings made of blocks of ice.

Vann said, "I don't see any windows ahead. Maybe in here—" He pulled open a door. There was a whistling roar and white snowflakes whirled out in a blast of cold. Snow lay a foot deep inside the room.

Vann let go the door in a hurry and it rammed shut with a solid crunch. The snow on the corridor floor melted in little droplets of water.

Vann and Stat stared at each other.

"What kind of place is this?"

"I don't know."

"We've got to get out of here!"

They headed up the corridor.

Their feet got heavier and heavier. They sagged, braced themselves, stumbled forward bent over. Their minds went gray. An unbearable numb weight dragged at them, as if their skin were made of lead. They gradually forgot what they were doing, stumbled, fell, and crawled on grimly. The pressure grew into agony, and all they could remember to do was to move.

There was a sound of feet and human voices. Someone said kindly, "You guys have got guts, all right, but you're not being very practical. You're not built for this stuff. Here, Phil, give me a hand with them. Don't lift. Just help me head them around the other way."

"You suppose they're doing this on a dare?"

"No, some guys just set their minds on some nice-looking planet, and they're going there, and that's that. But they wouldn't last two weeks once they got there. Now they see what it's like, they'll pick something they're suited for."

Stat felt big strong hands take hold under his arms. The world swung around him. He crawled grimly.

The pressure began to let up.

He and Vann staggered to their feet and looked at each other.

Without a word, they opened the glass door to the other section of the hall.

"Ye gods," said Vann, drawing a shaky breath.

The door swung shut behind them.

They looked around, and tried another corridor. As they neared its end, they found themselves under a steadily increasing blaze of light that hit them like a blow from a hammer. Several dark-skinned humans kindly led them out while they were still on their feet.

Stat could feel his skin prickling all over. Vann had turned a rather bright pink. They looked around dully. Other corridors opened in various directions. Some were lettered, "DESERT-TYPE," "HUMID," "LOW OXYGEN." There was in the distance one lettered "CAFETERIA," and another further away labeled, "OUT." But Stat and Vann could not tell one from another. Suddenly Stat's gaze settled on one he hadn't noticed. The indecipherable block letters there spelled: "KEEP OUT." But right beside was another notice.

Stat took Vann by the arm and pointed. "Look there!"

In their own language was one word:


They stared at this for a moment, then glanced around. The way they had come in was blocked with a steady stream of entering humanity. There were other corridors in all directions, but Stat and Vann looked at them with a total lack of enthusiasm. They glanced at each other, looked back at the corridor marked, "ENTER," and went in cautiously.

This corridor was somewhat narrower than the others, and was dominated by three big pieces of statuary, one behind the other down the center of the hall.

The first one was of a brawny cave man with a skin wrapped around his waist. At his feet lay a powerful animal with long fangs, its skull bashed in. The cave man had one foot on the animal, and was gazing fondly at the stone axe that he held in his hands. Under the statue were the words, in Stat and Vann's tongue:

* * *


The next statue was of glass, shaped like a large barrel. The barrel was packed tight with large opaque spheres of all colors of the rainbow. The barrel's top cover bulged slightly. Below the barrel was the legend:


No sooner had Stat and Vann glanced at the legend and mentally agreed, than green-tinted water rose in the barrel. Fish swam freely in the spaces between the brightly-colored spheres. Small doors popped open in the sides of the spheres. Water plants drifted out. Little sea horses swam majestically past. Sand spilled from the bottom spheres to form a floor, and small creatures crawled through the sand.

Stat and Vann glanced at each other. Stat said, "We've been taken. There was no room for any more of those spheres. But the barrel wasn't full."

Vann said, "Do you get the impression someone thinks we maybe aren't too bright?"

Stat scowled back at the doorway they'd come in. It was still wide open.

"I don't know," said Stat. "Maybe they're trying to show us how they see things, and this is the quickest way to do it."

They looked at the last statue. It represented a road that wound several times around a mountain that grew steadily steeper. There was a long line of small human figures that stretched from a swamp at the base of the mountain and partway to its top. Something about the position of these figures looked odd, and Stat and Vann bent to look at them. They both gave a little jump.

At the beginning of the line of figures, the second man in the row had his fingers around the first man's throat, and was plainly choking him to death. This second man was himself being clubbed over the head by another man. This man was stabbed by the next in line, who was in turn killed by a man with a stone axe. A sixth man thrust a spear into the axeman and was himself shot with an arrow. So it went in a long line up and around the mountain to a place where two horrified figures looked down on the rest and clasped hands. The faces of these two figures looked somehow familiar. Stat glanced from them to the others. The same two faces were repeated over and over again, back to the beginning.

Under the statue was the word:


Vann straightened up slowly and glanced at Stat. "Maybe they aren't making fun of us, after all."

A door at the inner end of the hall opened up, and a white-haired strongly-built human glanced out at them. For the first time, Stat and Vann noticed the gilt lettering above the door. It read, "Chief of Outplanet Immigration."

The human smiled at them. Speaking their own language, he said, "Won't you come in?"

Stat had, for an instant, the impression that his feet had grown roots into the floor. He could not move forward or back. Suddenly he remembered the admiral's words:

". . . The humans are much like us. We don't want to hurt them. But at this rate, they are going to crowd us right out of the universe. We've got to stop them."

Stat looked at the dignified human and felt no anger toward him. He felt respect, much as he felt for the admiral. But he reminded himself that he was a soldier with a job to do. He followed the human into the room with Vann right behind him. There was a window just across the room. He took one quick step forward as Vann shut the door. Then he stopped dead.

Half-a-dozen burly humans in khaki were standing against the wall. On their heads were helmets, and at their waists were wide belts holding big automatics in holsters. Every last one of these humans had a broad grin on his face.

Stat had an unpleasant tingling up and down his spine. Vann grunted, turned around again, and tried the door. It stayed shut.

Stat growled, "Distorters."

Simultaneously, he and Vann reached up over their shoulders and snapped them on.

At the same instant that they did this, the white-haired human banged his hand onto a button on the desk. There was a sliding noise. Stat had no idea where it came from, and didn't wait to find out. He sprang for the window.

Less than halfway there, he banged into an invisible wall. Dazed, he groped with his hands. A curved sheet of heavy glassy substance stretched from ceiling to floor.

Vann had his gun out and took a shot at it. A small nick appeared. Stat got out his own gun and took a shot at the door. A bit of paint flicked off to reveal what looked like a tool steel surface underneath.

Vann swore.

Stat whirled around. The line of human soldiers had vanished. As he watched, one of them shaded into view, his hand at his belt, turning a dial on a little box.

Shortly afterward, another one appeared. The white-haired human at the desk appeared, going through a similar process. In a moment, all the humans were back in their places, smiling cheerfully.

Vann growled, "Variable distorters!"

Stat said grimly, "Keep a hand on your side of that glass plate. We're in a box, but they have to get us out somehow."

Just then, a small nozzle in the ceiling overhead began to hiss.

* * *

Stat and Vann dizzily opened their eyes. They were seated in comfortable chairs before the desk of the white-haired human.

Stat sat up. The last thing he remembered was that hissing nozzle. He looked around and saw no soldiers. Of course, they could be standing unseen along that wall right behind him with their hands on their belts. If so, no doubt, they were all grinning cheerful invisible grins. He slowly sat back.

Beside him, Vann spoke up, "We're prisoners?"

"No. You're immigrants."


"Of course. You have to consider our customs in this matter." The white-haired man smiled in a friendly way. "As a hypothetical case, say that you came down here to blow up this building, thus murdering all the helpless women and children around it. Once word of that got around, public opinion might require that we boil you in hot lead for punishment. On the other hand, if you had merely decided to ditch your heavy explosive, in order to get into our new installations here and select a planet, then, obviously you are immigrants."

The white-haired human bridged his fingers and said with an air of regret, "Gentlemen, I am sorry to have to tell you that we unfortunately have no new openings available for you as yet on our colony planets. You will have to settle on Earth."

Stat blinked. "Here?"

The human nodded and pressed a switch on a box that sat in one corner of his desk, and leaned slightly forward. "Miss Dana, will you call the shop and ask Mr. Kakk to come up, please?"

A feminine voice came out of the box. "Yes, sir."

The human leaned back and looked at Stat and Vann in a friendly way. Stat analyzed the human's expression, and decided it was not exactly friendly. Or rather, it was friendly, plus another quality. He puzzled over this, and decided that the human looked like a man who has just completed a highly profitable business arrangement.

Stat said suddenly. "I don't understand this."

"Ask anything you want."

"You seem glad to see us."

"I am. We lose a great many potential immigrants through carelessness coming down through the airlanes, in traffic accidents, and so on. We're glad you made it."

"You knew we were coming down?"

"Not you personally. We knew someone would be coming down."

"Then you know our plans?"

"We know the situation your superior officers are in. We deduce what we would do in a like situation, making full allowance for your lower level of technical knowledge. This gives us a good idea which one of the limited choices your superiors will decide to choose."

Stat sat back with a feeling of deep depression. "In other words you see way ahead of us, because you're a superior race."

"No," said the human, sitting up straight. "Absolutely not."

Vann said, "You must be. In a short time you've surpassed us in practically everything."

The human frowned. "What you say may be true, but not in the way you mean it. We may be, compared to you at the present time, a superior race. But we've tested many of you who have come down here, and we consider your average intelligence to be about the same as ours. Moreover, the distribution of superior intelligence among your people follows about the same curve as it does among ours."

Stat said, "That can't be. It's nice to try to spare our feelings; but in that case, there's no explanation."

"There is. The cave man who develops a stone axe may think he has the last word on weapons. His admiring tribe may agree. If, later on, some unknown in the same tribe tries to suggest something better, he will be shut up in no uncertain terms. Who is he? This pattern repeats itself over and over again in history. Hosts of men with superior ideas have been ground to powder by this simple mechanism. New ideas are not given a fair trial. Progress comes about despite this."

Stat thought of the lives of great men he had read. Some of them had certainly experienced this very thing. "Yes," he said grudgingly, "I suppose that's true."

"All right. Now, we've talked to your people who came down before. Tell me, what was it that led your sociologists to decide we wouldn't last?"

Stat named the admiral's two first reasons, then said, "And besides, you were split up into groups with different customs and languages. This made for all kinds of confusion and disagreements."

"Whereas," said the human, "your race was pretty nearly alike in language and customs?"


"There's your answer," said the human. "Whoever is on top tends to get hidebound. Why change anything? The stone axe works. As likely as not, it will take the neighboring tribe to demonstrate the fact that spears are good for something. Now, humanity has been split up in quarreling groups for a long time. We have certainly suffered from this. But there were gains, too. As each group developed, a few great men fought their way to the top, built systems, and the systems hardened. Soon it came about that no one dared open his mouth against them. That group became hidebound. But note this:

"All humanity never got hidebound together.

"Your race did. If, for instance, some scientist in your race put forth a hypothesis and it got generally accepted as a natural law, there was the end of the matter for a long, long time. In our race, there was still the chance that someone in some other group might take an irreverent look at this so-called 'natural law', or even not know it was supposed to be a natural law, and break it. Thus proving it was only a hypothesis after all."

Stat frowned, and thought about this. Behind him the door came open. The human glanced up, smiled, looked back at Stat and said, "It isn't always the race that's superior. It's the method the race uses. He got up, and said, "Mr. Kakk, this is Mr. Stat, and Mr. Vann. Mr. Kakk will show you around and help you get acquainted with our ways of doing things, and hm-m-m—help place you in our scheme of things."

Vann said suddenly, "What's the point of that glass barrel outside?"

The human said courteously, "Although our planet is crowded with us, there is room and opportunity for you."

"Oh," said Vann.

* * *

Stat and Vann followed Mr. Kakk into the hall. Vann stopped suddenly. "Wait a minute. How can that be?"

Stat was noticing the way Mr. Kakk bent his arm as he shut the door. Stat said to him, "You're one of us? I mean, you're a . . . an immigrant, too?"

Kakk looked faintly offended. "I was," he said. "I'm a citizen, now."

"Un-m-m," said Stat. He began to wonder exactly how the admiral was going to stop these humans. They didn't kill their enemies; they converted them.

Kakk said, in a more friendly tone, "I hear you tried to blow the place up. I tried to bomb it." He shook his head. "There's some kind of shield up there, I suppose, to keep stray planes and missiles away. I hit the thing, slithered down it, and came to in a human hospital. Then the Air Police caught up with me." He opened a door leading into an empty shaft. "Step right in behind me. A wide-beamed gravitic field will catch you."

Stat and Vann stepped off queasily after Kakk, and floated to the floor below.

"What," said Stat uneasily, "did the Air Police do to you?"

"Oh, they got me for a restricted airspace violation, and the judge sentenced me to two weeks working on the police machines. After that, I got a steady job here." He stepped out the shaft and pointed into a big, brightly-lit room.

"Lots of machinery in this building. Gravitors, heaters, air conditioners, generators. Something wrong with all of them. Plenty of work to do. Then there's a garage over there where the humans keep their cars. Want to see?"

"Well," said Stat dubiously, "we've already had a little experience—"

Vann said, "We'll look at them. But we won't get in."

Kakk led the way into a big room with bright overhead lights, air hoses dangling down at intervals, and cars standing around all over, some with their front ends jacked up in the air, others with all four wheels off the ground on gravity lifts, and a vast number with hoods up and blue-overalled mechanics practically out of sight within them.

Stat stared. "These are all out of order?"

"Every last one of them. There are more outside ready to go out of order any minute."

A vast weight of inferiority lifted from Stat's shoulders. "These humans can't be so smart after all."

"Oh," said Kakk, "they're smart enough, all right. That's where the trouble comes from. Instead of settling down with something nice and reliable, what do they do but keep making improvements in the things. Naturally, the improvements aren't proven yet, so something goes wrong, and by the time they get that figured out, something else goes wrong, and then they're out with a brand-new improvement, and they have the whole thing to go through all over again."

Stat looked at all the raised hoods in undimmed amazement.

Vann said, "Not for me. There's trouble enough with that in space. When I set down on a planet, I want something reliable. Give me a nice coal-fired steamer any time."

Kakk said, "Well, these humans see it differently. There, isn't that a pitiful sight?"

A human in blue overalls raised his head and shoulders out of the engine compartment of a car. His face had a look of rage, and what he said, even in the unfamiliar tongue, was a fearful thing to hear. The human's hair hung down in his eyes, and he was smeared here and there with grease. His face set in a grim expression, he pulled a light on a long cord into a new position, and bent into the hood, banging his elbows and cursing steadily.

"You see they have only one joint in the middle of their arms," said Kakk, "and they can't dislocate it except by accident. That fellow is after the starting motor, I'd be willing to bet. Pretty soon, he'll probably give up and try from underneath. But on that model—" Kakk shook his head and made a clucking noise.

Stat said, "Why do they build them like that?"

"Well, you see, they're after mechanical perfection. They make them low so they can go fast without turning over. But that squashes the engine down into that flat space. And, of course, they aren't satisfied with just an engine. They've got radio, television, air conditioning, heaters, massaging seats, power windows, power steering, power brakes—you've got to fit all that stuff in there somewhere. And if you think these jobs are bad, you should see the ones with the new antigrav drive. Whew!"

Vann made a choking noise. "How do they fix them?"

"There you see it right before you," said Kakk.

The grease-covered man in blue overalls rose from the engine compartment and looked around. He opened his mouth and shut it again. Clearly, he was past the point where words would do any good. He rolled a big jack over and slid it under the front of the car. He cranked the handle up and down and crawled underneath.

"They have," said Kakk, "the same problem on their spaceships. At the beginning, you can imagine, they tried to keep free of that. But now they're up to their ears in superfluous complications. They have little robots that crawl in to do some of the work; but, of course, they are complicated, too."

Stat and Vann looked thoughtfully at the feet thrust out from under the car.

Kakk said, "It happens that a great number of them like this work. Some of them are unusually good at it. But things break down so often there aren't enough of them to go around. Let me tell you, there are plenty of jobs for people with the right qualifications."

A big, genial-looking man with "Manager" on his gray overalls came striding over. His eyes were focused hopefully on Stat and Vann. Kakk looked around, and the manager talked to him a few minutes, then glanced around, took out a cigar, stripped off its wrapper, and lit it with a judicious look.

Kakk said, "He wants a demonstration. Put your right hand up over your head and reach down your back into your left side trousers pocket.

Stat did so. Vann did, too.

The manager's eyes lit up. He made an obvious effort to keep a poker face, and spoke briefly to Kakk. Kakk said, "He offers you one-fifty an hour and you learn on the job. You'd be foolish to take it. Insist on four, and maybe you'll get three. Once you learn, you'll get more."

Stat hesitated. All this had happened very fast. He still felt a firm loyalty to the admiral. On the other hand, the humans could easily have shot him. Instead, they were friendly, and were even willing to welcome him as one of their own.

Kakk said, "He offers you two-and-a-quarter. Hang on. I think he's worried."

Stat was now thinking that since the humans knew about the explosive, they had no doubt removed it. What could he do at best but kill a few humans who had never hurt him, and what good would that do anyone? Next, could he get the ship back to the admiral and tell him what he knew?

"He offers two-seventy-five," said Kakk. "I think that's his limit till you learn."

Stat grunted and looked away indifferently. He was wrestling with the problem of repairing the ship. The floor unit was sufficient for ship maneuver near the planet. But they would need both out in space. Worse yet, the admiral by that time would have given them up for dead, and changed the phase of his distorters, as a safety measure in case their ship had been captured. There would then be the problem of finding him.

But, thought Stat, suppose Vann and I do get back. Suppose by some miracle we don't blunder into another ship and wreck us both in the process. Next, I give the admiral this fantastic information. And suppose he even believes it. What good will that do?

The manager's face was undergoing a severe struggle. "Three-and-a-quarter," he said, as if the words were torn out of him with hooks, "But not a cent more!"

Kakk translated.

"O.K.," said Stat. In his mind, everything fell into place. He would work for the humans, giving them good value for their money. He would learn all he could from them. He would try to find out the secrets of their progress, and apply them himself. And—who knew what might happen? Meanwhile, he and Vann could make themselves a small, safe, self-propelled coal buggy in their spare time.

He was just deciding this when the manager, turning from Vann with a satisfied expression, looked at something back of Stat and Vann, stared, and slowly took his cigar out of his mouth.

Stat, his future still rosy in his mind, glanced around.

About half-a-dozen men in uniform were coming across the room behind a large sad-eyed animal with its nose to the floor.

"Ah-hah," said one of them, using the human tongue, and glancing at Stat and Vann triumphantly. "Here we are at last. Let's see your driver's license, and after that we want a peek at your registration. And you went through a toll booth without paying toll, did at least seventy miles over the speed limit, and resisted an officer." He whipped out a large pad and pencil, and from his self-contented look as he took another breath, he had hardly scratched the surface as yet.

Kakk translated gloomily.

The manager shook his head in disgust, threw down his cigar, and carefully ground it out. He walked away, then turned back.

"Remember," he said, "there's a job waiting for you when you get out. I offer three twenty-five to start. Remember that. Don't let those crooks keep you for less."

The uniformed human paused in mid-sentence at the word "crooks." He glanced up with an offended air.

The manager turned away. The uniformed humans grilled Stat and Vann, using Kakk for an interpreter. Kakk's face took on a stupefied look as he translated the long list of offenses. At length, they came to an end.

Stat looked at Kakk.

Kakk shook his head gloomily. "Before you get loose after doing all that, you'll repair every car they've got. And, oh boy, wait till you see them. Moreover, as I remember, they pay you about twelve cents an hour. A cent is one one-hundredth of a dollar."

The uniformed men looked at each other cheerfully, and spread out in a protective circle as they moved off with their valuable prisoners.

Vann glanced sourly at Stat.

Stat looked sourly back.

Vann said, "This reminds me of another eternal truth. They ought to make a statue of it and put it upstairs."

"What's that?"

Vann glared at the cheerful officers. "In every worldly paradise, there's a snake."

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