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Sten and Ral looked the new planet over with the casual superiority of long experience.

"No roadblocks or checkpoints," said Ral, tilting his head toward the cloverleaf with cars streaming up and around it.

Sten tossed a curd of muggum into his mouth and smiled faintly. "Pushover," he said.

Ral cast around mentally. "And not a telepath among them."

"Nope," said Sten. "Nothing but static."

"Why look further?" said Ral in wonderment. "They aren't putting out on a single frequency. Their security is nonexistent. They're wide open from here to home and back."

Sten stirred uneasily. "Yeah. But maybe we better drift around a little. You know—pad the report."

"I suppose," said Ral. "If we send them back anything less than a first-class brain-splitter, they'll think we're asleep." He looked at the whizzing harmless cars. "But, if we sent them just one thought on this place, they should be happy. It only takes one thought to describe it."

"What's that?" said Sten.

"Pre-slave," said Ral.

They smiled and started for the highway.

The city was there almost before they realized it. As they watched from the speeding car, the houses thickened beside the road, the lots grew smaller, separate buildings gave way to buildings with a common front and the buildings grew taller. The car slowed, and their host turned halfway around in his seat to face them.

"You guym rana ledout here?" he said, his forehead faintly wrinkled.

Ral moved his lips and cast a strong questioning thought at the native: "What?"

The man in the front seat squinted, "Want to get out here?"

"Oh. Yeah."

"Whaddat? Spee glub, mizzer. I'm a liddel ef."

Ral frowned, squinted. "What?"

"You want out?"



The car pulled in toward the curb at a corner. Ral and Sten got out. The car pulled away.

Sten looked at Ral. "I wonder if they're all like that?"

"I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised. Their output is so low the static would practically hide it. And their sensitivity is practically nil. Yet that one seemed to get along with his fellows, and look what his sensitivity was."

"Poor characteristic for slaves," said Sten sourly. "A man doesn't like to wear an amplifier just so his slaves can hear him."

"That's true," said Ral. "but they might be good for household slaves. They couldn't eavesdrop and spread gossip, at least."

Sten nodded. "That's something."

As they talked, the two of them were looking around at the city.

"Don't see a single monitor station," said Ral finally.

"No," said Sten. "Nor a watchtower."

"There weren't any gates the way we came in."

"Nor a single checkpoint."

"Funny place," said Ral. "They must never have had any wars or difficulties. I feel a little sorry for them."

"Don't start that," said Sten. "A slave's a slave. You start feeling sorry for them, and there's no end to your troubles."

"True enough," said Ral, looking around. He smiled faintly. "Look over there."

All the cars in the street were halted, and right across the street was a store, its windows plastered with signs, and the display cases behind heaped with piles of harmless merchandise. "Typical," said Ral. He started out.

"Watch that overhead signal," growled Sten. "When it changes color, these cars rush forward. I saw a woman almost get hit."

"Visual signal control," said Ral, crossing the street. "Maybe that's how we can get around their lack of sensitivity."

"May be," said Sten.

With a roar, the cars started up behind them.

Sten and Ral looked in the store window.

"These devices are for measuring time," said Ral. "You see how that little pointer swings around. Apparently they only divide the day into twelve main units. That indicates they're easy-going."

"They don't look easy-going," said Sten. "See how they rush along."

"Hm-m-m," said Ral. "That's a point."

"Something screwy about this place," said Sten. "I don't know what it is, but something doesn't seem right."

Ral scowled and looked around. "Yes, I see what you mean. Something—"

A policeman wearing a gun and a belt of bullets, and swinging a club, strolled past.

Ral nudged Sten, who jumped.

"There's your missing piece," said Ral.

They watched the policeman vanish in the crowd, then looked at each other blankly.

"Screwier than ever," said Sten abruptly. "How come he mingled with them?"

"I was overhasty," said Ral, frowning. "That's another piece, all right, but it doesn't fit. It just makes things worse. I didn't get a single thought from him. Some of those people around him had faint fear thoughts, and some had assurance thoughts. I could swear one of them wanted to hit him. But at least two others liked him."

"Funny reactions," said Sten, his face all twisted up. "It just doesn't fit for master and slaves."

"Well, what else could it be?" said Ral. "That thing on his hip was a hand weapon, an explosive-powered slug-thrower if I ever saw one. And, for that matter, a man doesn't walk around with a bludgeon is his hand unless he thinks he's going to need it."

"Yeah," said Sten. "Well, it doesn't fit no matter how you twist and squeeze it. We'd better admit it and settle in for a full-length stay."

"I suppose so," said Ral gloomily.

Sten and Ral hunted around for a place to stay while they studied the city. They finally decided on a hotel as the most anonymous place to live, and as the place where they could best observe a large number of the natives at one time. Right at the beginning, they had a few uneasy moments.

The clerk shoved a register and a pen across the desk. Ral, thinking fast, deduced that the pen was designed to produce a wavy line such as the wavy lines above it on the paper. He tried first one end of the pen, then the other, then, scrawling rapidly from right to left, produced what looked to him to be a very satisfactory wavy line with a few decorative spatterings of ink around it.

The clerk looked blank, spun the book around, stared at it, looked at Ral—who stared back at him radiating thoughts of friendly assurance—blinked, and spun the book around for Sten.

Sten picked up the pen and drew it rapidly from right to left, giving a close imitation of Ral's performance.

The clerk pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead, upper lip, and neck.

Sten and Ral radiated friendliness and assurance at him.

"Hm-m-m," said the clerk. "Blew guyd Arabd dor zumthig?"

Ral made a mighty effort to increase his sensitivity. He leaned forward radiating curiosity.

"I said," said the clerk, "are you guys Arabs, or something?"

Ral caught the significance of the question. "Something like that," he radiated.

A tall man in a brown suit detached himself from a pillar in the shadows to one side and came forward quietly, his gaze intent on Ral's lips.

Ral detected suspicion and intense curiosity.

"Sten," he thought, "hold that other native off."

Sten turned toward the tall man and radiated confusion, forgetfulness, and sleepiness.

The clerk unhooked a set of keys.

The tall man yawned, blinked, scowled, came forward and stood uncertainly.

Ral took the keys and followed Sten to an elevator. They got off at the third floor, wandered out onto a fire escape and stared around in a sort of daze.

"Well," said Ral, "apparently we made it through the first checkpoint."

"Maybe, but now what do we do?"

"These things here are plainly keys."

"Keys to what? This is a big building."

"Let's go back in and look around."

After about five minutes, Ral said, "The faces of the doors here have some kind of symbols on them. This tag hooked to the keys has symbols on it. Apparently we have to find a door with symbols on it that match the symbols on the tag."

"Well," said Sten wearily, "let's start hunting."

Half-an-hour later, they were in their room. Another half hour passed while they lay exhausted and tried to clear up several points about the system of symbols on the tag.

"These people," Ral concluded, "have been handicapped by their lack of telepathic faculties. Obviously they have had to adopt substitutes. Where one of us would merely visualize the entrance of the room and the route to it, these people must first mark the room, then refer to it by the mark. It's easy to see how their handicap has thwarted them."

"Wait a minute now," said Sten, scowling. "Which is easier? Visualize the whole thing? Or just refer to a mark"

"Well—But they have to go there first, and mark it."

"All right. We have to go there first and see it."

"Well—" Ral blinked. "Wait a minute, now. We can get it from someone else who's seen it."

"If he's a good observer."

"Well, sure—"

"How many of them are there? You remember that escaped prisoner on Gulmatz? The officer on the spot relayed his appearance mentally through sixteen passengers on sixteen different ships that happened to make an extended circuit from Gulmatz to Srin, where the prisoner was supposed to be headed. Then the official set off for Srin. Five minutes after he stepped off the ship he was locked in irons. It took him a week to talk his way out of it."

"Well, yes. But sixteen—"

"The officer sent out a description of the prisoner. By the time it reached Srin, it was a good description of himself."

"Yes, all right, but sixteen—"

"They never did catch that prisoner!"

"A relay through sixteen people is too many!"

"I bet you could relay something like this symbol through sixteen people."

Ral glared at the little number on the tag. He shook his head fiercely. "All right. Considering they aren't telepathic, they've compensated pretty well."

"And now I think of it, those surface cars of theirs are quiet, smooth and fast."

"So are ours."

"We don't have that many. And I would like to know, just how do these nontelepaths get complex ideas across to each other, anyway? Making a surface car is no simple matter. Who controls the sub-groups of workers to see that they co-ordinate properly? We've seen development like this before, but not on a nontelepathic planet."

Ral scowled, "I don't know. Anyway, does it matter? The important thing to remember is: These people are soft, spoiled. How many people have we seen that could possibly stand up to a master?"

"That's true," said Sten, thoughtfully. "Yes, that's so. Just one. Or," he frowned, "possibly two. The man that came over while we were downstairs had something dangerous about him."

"True. Well—" Ral shook his head. "I admit I'm a little uncertain how we're finally going to decide this; but I still have to file my initial report."

Sten nodded gloomily. "There's no getting away from that."

Ral lay back and thought intently. After a long time, an answering flicker reached out to him. Slowly, forming each thought fully and carefully, he sent home his report. Time passed. Beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. His collar grew limp and flaccid. His breath came hard and heavy. He writhed like a man caught in the grip of a giant snake, then shivered and lay limp.

"Your turn," he said in a dull, hollow voice.

Sten began to sweat.

At the end, they stared at each other.

"Well, misbegotten thought!" snarled Sten. "They don't believe us!"

Ral sat up, bared his teeth, and made a gargling sound deep in his throat. For a moment, he sat red with anger, then ran his hand through his hair, groaned, and lay back on the bed. After a moment, he said, "I thought they'd believe me when you told them the same thing."

"They didn't believe a thought I sent them."

"Did they spring the same explanation on you they did on me?"

"I can only stand so much," said Sten. "I made myself as unreceptive as possible while you were sending. What they told me was that it was impossible. Quote: Civilization as we know it can't exist without telepathy. Co-ordination of large-scale enterprises would be impossible. End quote."

Ral sat up and looked out the window at tall buildings, and ranks of distant smokestacks belching clouds of gray and black.

"Yeah," he said. "We aren't seeing that."

"Mass-hypnosis," said Sten with a sour smile. "Obviously if it can't be so, and we see it, somebody has us under illusion."

"I don't think that idea improves the situation," said Ral angrily. "If it's a choice between having some one strong enough to beat you up, and having someone suggestive enough to convince you you're beat up—down to the point where you spit out pieces of clinking tooth—which is worse, anyway?"

"Don't blame me. I didn't say it."

"Well—" Ral glared around the room. He jumped up, banged the wall with his fist, whirled, snatched up a blanket on the bed and felt its texture. He strode into the bathroom, gripped the bar of soap, seized a glass, dropped it, heard the crash, bent over and felt the pieces. He gathered them together, looked around in disgust, and dropped the pieces in the sink. He went back into the bedroom. "It's the most real illusion I ever saw," he said. "When an illusion gets that real, what's the difference?"

Sten tossed a curd of muggum into his mouth and shrugged helplessly.

Ral sat down again. "This is going to ruin our standing."

"It sure is."

"Every time they think of our names from now one, there's going to be a fuzzy aura of unreliability around them." He got up and paced.

"Yep," said Sten.

"You going to just sit there?" said Ral.

"Can you think of anything better?"

Ral sucked in a deep breath, frowned angrily, blew out his cheeks, and shook his head. "No."

"Let's go to sleep. This is bad enough without thinking about it."

Ral went into the bathroom and threw the broken glass out the window. Then he washed up and got ready for bed.

The next day was beautiful, but neither Sten nor Ral could appreciate it. They sampled the native food, and found it strange but edible, got into a tangle with a waiter over "pay," which the native insisted on receiving in return for the food, ended up radiating charm and good will at the manager, and nevertheless soon found themselves in the kitchen up to their elbows in soapy water.

Sten made the situation worse by radiating images of giant fungoid monstrosities, and Ral enlarged on that by putting in mental pictures of loathsome creatures all teeth, claws, and stinging spines. Sten's funguses immediately snaked out strangling tentacles. Ral's monsters promptly writhed around and sank their teeth in them.

As Ral and Sten left the place, the manager leaned against the cashier's desk grinning. The cashier was blushing a bright pink.

Ral turned his receptivity to the highest point, then looked sourly at Sten.

"They think they heard us. At least we were able to get across to them somehow."

"That's nice," said Sten. "Now let's go somewhere where it's peaceful and figure out this 'money' business."

They radiated happy friendliness past the hotel clerk's desk, got up to their room, and lay down exhausted. They discussed the matter a while, then cast out mentally. It was a hard job, but gradually a few weak bare images came to them, from one part of the city, then another. They kept at it with dogged persistence, extracting all the pertinent information they could. Finally they looked at each other sourly.

"The stuff is changing hands all over the city."

They lay back and stared at the ceiling.

"Well," said Sten, "I hate to say this. But this 'money' system is better than having to remember every item you've ever bought from anybody, and then having to trade mental images till it balances out."

Weakly, Ral answered, "It's crude. Clumsy. It's—physical."

"It works," said Sten doggedly.

Ral let his breath out with a sigh. "Wait till we try to explain this."

"It isn't only that that worries me," said Sten. "I'm getting hungry again. I don't want to have to go through what we went through this morning every time we want a meal."

Ral rolled over on his face and didn't say anything for a long while. He cast around mentally for the needed information, then muttered, "We're going to have to get a job."

"Job," said Sten. "What's that?"

Ral explained.

Sten angrily created a fantasy so monstrous that Ral had to turn his sensitivity down to its lowest level. At last Sten lay back shaking.

"No," he said grimly, "there's a better way."

"You name it," said Ral.

"There's a lot of this 'money' around. Everybody seems to have it. All right. Let's take some. How will they know? They aren't telepathic."

"Hm-m-m," said Ral, turning the idea over in his mind. "Yes. That's right." He sat up. "Of course they won't know. How could they? At home, of course, somebody would be sure to know the minute we so much as thought of the idea, but here—" Ral let out a sigh of relief. "I'm glad you thought of that."

"The idea just came to me," said Sten modestly.

"It's very original," said Ral. "Well, let's not just lie here. Let's go out and do it."

They got up and went downstairs. On the way past the desk, they had to exert their powers to the limit.

"That clerk," said Sten angrily, "seems to get more untrusting all the time."

"It's these clothes," said Ral. "We should have made three or four sets of them before we left the ship. As it is, they're a little—Well, all those dishes and everything—"

"We'll settle that," Sten growled, "as soon as we get a store of this 'money.'"

They paused outside the hotel, and cast around in thought. The mental images from the people in the city were, as usual, relatively few and scanty. But where large amounts of "money" was concerned, the images seemed somewhat more numerous and clearer. In a few moments Sten and Ral were headed toward a place where a large stock of money was being transferred.

"It's in a ground-vehicle," said Sten. "They're putting it inside a building. I got that much perfectly. It stands to reason there's bound to be a few stacks of it sitting around forgotten for the moment."

"Sounds ideal," said Ral.

They reached the spot where the transfer was taking place.

A squat armor-plated truck sat at the curb. The long snout of a gun stuck out of a turret on top. A man with a gun at his side stood at the rear of the truck. Two men, wearing guns, carried bags into a nearby building. The building had heavy bars on the windows, massive metal doors, and walls so thick the place looked as if it were built to withstand a siege. At the door of the building stood another man with a gun.

Ral and Sten looked at each other, hesitated, then turned around and headed moodily back toward the hotel. On the way they stopped to look in store windows.

"Some of this stuff looks sort of nice," growled Sten, looking in the display window of a big department store.

"Yeah," said Ral. "But that doesn't help us any."

Sten scowled. "Let's go in and just see how they work it. I mean, how they transfer this 'money' for these goods. Maybe we could think of something."

"It's worth a try," said Ral. "We couldn't be much worse off than we are now."

They strolled around inside for a while, watched people being waited on, fought off several remarkably persuasive attempts to sell them refrigerators, dining-room suites, portable drills and sanders, and new, guaranteed puncture-proof, no-bump tires.

Ral finally found himself staring at Sten outside the store.

"I just barely got you out of there," said Sten. "Another couple of instants and you'd have had us loaded down with a set of no-bump, easy-cushion, self-sealing tubeless tires—whatever they are."

Ral blinked. "I remember I wanted them, Sten, but I don't know why."

"Me either. I was sort of interested in that big red drill you could switch around into a lathe."

Ral scratched his head. He seemed to have the beginnings of an idea, but he couldn't quite got hold of it. He scowled and shrugged. "Well, now we have a better idea how that money works. Let's look around some more."

They found themselves outside a jewelry store. Brilliant overhead lights shone down on flashing rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They moved around toward the doorway, and abruptly Ral felt as if he had come to for a moment. Sten, his expression somewhat vacant and staring, was just opening the door. Ral glanced up and saw a man, inside, look Sten's clothes over with pursed lips, study Sten's face, then come forward, beaming, his eyes riveted on Sten. He put an arm around Sten and led him off to a counter. With another hand he beckoned to a girl rearranging necklaces in a showcase. The girl came over. She smiled at Sten, all attention.

With a sort of horrified fascination, Ral watched the girl lead Sten off to another counter, where she modeled bracelets, dangling earrings, and necklaces that flashed like the milky way on a string.

Meanwhile the first man signaled to a second, who whipped out a large pad and came forward to watch Sten and the girl closely, then slide in behind the counter. The girl, still talking, slid out smiling as the man slid in smiling. The man put down the pad and drew out a pencil. Sten was holding a thing that sent out blinding flashes of light as he turned it.

Ral rushed inside, heard the man with the pad say ". . . And just how much did you plan to pay on this per week, sir? How much—May I ask? Just what is your salary?"

Ral grabbed Sten by the arm, wrenched the blazing stone from Sten's grip, and heaved him backwards toward the door. One of the men in the store started toward them staring. Ral sent a blast of friendliness at him, followed it up with an overwhelming jolt of sleepiness, and hastily backed Sten out the doorway. Then he turned him around and walked him fast back toward the hotel.

"What hit me?" said Sten.

"You almost bought a big jewel."

"What in space would I want that for?"

"I don't know. But I just got an idea."

They walked rapidly into the hotel past the desk, pouring friendliness and trust at the clerk, made it to their room and lay down.

"This place may not have telepathy," said Sten, "but it certainly has something."

"I know it," said Ral, "but the point we've got to hang onto is that these people are soft, vulnerable. Their stuff may be good, and they certainly seem to be able to make people want it, but nevertheless, they're weak. We've got to hang onto that fact. They're weak. Soft and weak."

"Yeah," said Sten.

"If we can remember that, we may be able to get our reputations back yet."

"How do we live meanwhile?" said Sten.

"When we were in that department store, I noticed there were people who sold things and people who bought things. Now we can't buy anything. No money. But why couldn't we sell things? Maybe that's their strong point, but did they ever try it with telepathy?"

"Hm-m-m," said Sten.

They lay back to comb the city for every available scrap of information on salesmanship. Then they washed, carefully combed their hair, cleaned their teeth, examined their fingernails, went over the spots on their clothes with a moist towel, polished their shoes as best they could, and set out to look for jobs.

Sten found a job selling washing machines in a department store, and Ral located a job in a used-car lot.

Sales of Jiffy-Swish washers and Double-A-Plus used cars boomed all week.

Unfortunately, Sten and Ral were not satisfied.

They sat on the front porch of the rooming house they'd moved into, and petted the landlady's cat.

"In the first place," said Sten, "the people back home simply don't believe a word of it. Maybe they thought it was funny at first, but now they're getting scared. They say the illusion is too consistent."

"I know," said Ral. "I'd give up if it weren't that these people are so soft. Soft as this animal, this what-do-you-call-it?"

"'Cat,'" said Sten.

"Yes, 'cat.' All fur and love for luxury. Well if it weren't for that I'd quit. But there's got to be some way—"

"Yes," Sten agreed, looking a little glassy-eyed, "that's the way I feel, too. If it weren't that I haven't quite got the down-payment for my lathe—and of course the natives are so weak—I'd quit, too."

Ral stopped stroking the cat, which continued to purr, and stared at Sten. "'Down payment,'" he said. "I thought we agreed not to buy any—"

"Well, we work so hard all the time. Radiating friendliness and fascinated interest all day long is hard on a man. I need a little relaxation."

"Well, sure, so do I, but—that stuff may be all right for the people who live here, but it's pretty powerful for us." Ral pulled out a handkerchief and wiped off his brow. "Just this afternoon," he said, "the boss almost sold me a three-tone late-model car."

Sten sat up straight. "What in space do we need a car for? The bus goes right past here. The ship is well hidden not over two hours away."

Ral shrugged helplessly. "What do we need a lathe for, either? I tell you, if they weren't such a natural pushover—"

From overhead came an uncanny reverberating crash and thunder. A track of white vapor was drawn across the sky, high up. A group of boys walking past with a bicycle stopped to look up.

"Boy," came their thought, "there goes one of them Sky Slashers. I heard where one of them can carry a city-buster under each wing."

The cat suddenly decided to get up. Ral didn't let go. The cat put forth eighteen claws and got up.

Sten and Ral glanced at the cat, looked up at the track in the sky, and stared at each other.

A chronological report on unidentified flying objects lists for that night a flash of extraordinary brilliance, which traveled from low on the horizon, zoomed skyward, and vanished quickly. The best expert opinion is, it was a lighted weather balloon.

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