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Iron-shod heels clanged in the streets of New York and Moscow.

In a one-hundred and twenty mile arc from Yinkow to Antung, along the base of the Kwantung Peninsula, the Chinese dead lay mouldering in windrows.

In the wreckage of the northern half of London, the fight dwindled away, amidst smoke and radioactive debris. South of the line of the Thames, no human moved from Portsmouth to Margate.

Earth was conquered.

At no place on the globe was there a well-equipped body of human combat troops larger than a platoon.


Dionnai Count Maivail studied the final reports of the Invasion Group commanders, and sent for his Executive Staff Chief.

Kram Baron Angstat came in, and halted with a click of the heels and a stiff bow from the waist.


Maivail inclined his head slightly toward the reports. "I am quite satisfied. Phase Military is complete. My compliments to you, the Staff and the Group Commanders."

"I am honored, sir. I shall relay your words. On behalf of the Executive Staff, I thank you."

"We now begin Phase Industrial. Just as our initial blows came as a complete surprise, following without warning two years after their attainment of the first real interplanetary capability, so our next blows must come with the greatest shock, at that moment when they begin to feel themselves recover from the first blow."

Angstat nodded his head. "Understood, Excellence."

"I need not remind the Chief of the Executive Staff that on such a planet as this, agriculture is to be considered an industry."

"It shall be so designated, Excellence."

"The centralized production of electrical power, and its transmission, is to be considered an industry."

"Understood, Excellence."

"Such miscellany as dams, bridges, ships, air and ground transportation centers, hospitals, schools, wire and wireless electromagnetic communications centers—such as these are to be considered industries."

"They shall be so treated, Excellence."

"Now that this first phase is over, I shall want a more thorough, personal report from our principal resident agent."

"He shall be sent in."

"Good. Withdraw the troops into the cleared zones and begin scanning at once."

Angstat clicked his heels and saluted.

Dionnai Count Maivail straightened in his seat and returned the salute sharply.

* * *

On the conquered Earth, from Britain to China, from the Soviet Union to the U. S., the victorious invaders began to withdraw into their strongholds.


Richard Holden, dizzily surveying the glistening, faintly-milky surface through a pair of binoculars, then lying back to look up at the silver forms that blurred out in endless streams, branching north and west, then branching again in the far distance, and finally returning from the south, shook his head.

"How can we ever beat that?"

His companion, Philip Swanbeck, was a strongly-built man in khaki, with a single silver star at his collar.

"Can't give up," he growled. "They'll never beat us."

"Save it for the troops," said Holden. "They've already whipped us."

Swanbeck murmured, "It pays to learn from the enemy. In the second world war, there was a German pilot who had a pretty good philosophy. I don't suppose he originated it. But he put it in one sentence. Want to hear it?"

Holden stared through the binoculars at the glistening, semi-transparent surface that had resisted a direct hit by a Naomi missile with fifty-megaton warhead. "Sure. Go ahead. What's the harm?"

"Listen carefully."

"I'm listening."

"'He alone is lost who gives himself up as lost.'"

Holden thought it over as he studied the barrier. Whatever that glistening surface was, it barred human entrance to the valley as absolutely as if it were made of armor steel a mile thick. And yet, the bright wingless aircraft passed through it as if through fog. Holden shook his head and lowered the glasses.

"He should have seen this. But I can give you the philosophy, more condensed yet."

Swanbeck was scowling as he studied the milky surface, sighted his compass, and made notes on a small pad. He glanced at Holden in surprise. "In fewer words than that?"

"Easy. Listen."

"I'm listening."

"'I still live.'"

Swanbeck blinked, then slowly smiled. "Yes, that's it. Exactly. Who said that?"

Holden grinned. He pulled the camera free of its case, and aimed it so that it focused directly on the place where the shining wingless aircraft passed through the barrier.

"Ever hear of John Carter?"

"The name's faintly familiar. Who's he?"

"An immortal Earthman who became Warlord of Mars."

Swanbeck looked at Holden sharply, then smiled, "—A fictional hero?"

"Who knows? We haven't explored Mars very thoroughly, you know. And this crew"—He nodded toward the glistening barrier—"obviously came from somewhere more distant, or we'd have seen some sign when they took off."

Swanbeck smiled. "'I still live.' That's pretty good." He closed his notebook. "Got the pictures?"

"Got them." Holden slid the camera carefully back into its case.

Swanbeck put his compass away, folded up a thing like a transit, set on short legs and with angled eyepiece, and twisted open a thick tube from his pack. He pulled out a brown oval-shaped object with a spike at the bottom, glanced around, pulled loose a pin near the base of the spike, and stabbed the spike into the ground.

"Okay. Our people will see that when it goes off, and recheck our position by it. Now let's get out of here."

Carefully, they wormed their way backwards, then stumbled to their feet and ran down the hill.


Dionnai Count Maivail nodded impersonally to resident agent Sumer Lassig.

"Yes. Your reports have been thoroughly scanned, Agent Lassig. You were quite right to recommend reduction of this folk. Your reports have been received with the highest approbation by the Supreme Determinative Council. I have, of course, myself perused them."

Lassig bowed. "I am honored, your Excellency."

"Now, however, I want to hear it first hand."

"Yes, sir." The transparent membranes slid down briefly over Lassig's eyes as he thought back, then they flicked away. "To begin with, sir, I arrived here only four months ago, local time, to find that my predecessor had grossly neglected his duty. He was evidently a scholarly individual, not suited to the task."

Maivail nodded with interest. "What had he done? In what condition did you find him?"

"As for what he had done, he had sent back rather confused reports, suggesting at first the possession of unusual skills by the local folk. Under hard questioning from home, he confessed error, excused himself on the basis of language difficulties, and sent back innocuous reports that were duly accepted as valid, until the locals sent up that first sizable interplanetary expedition, which was, of course, picked up on the monitor. This negated the picture he had created. When I found him, he was surrounded by translations of local documents. He was muttering to himself. 'It can't all be true. But which is which? I'm going insane.' He was hopeless, sir. I shot him."

"Excellent. What about his staff?"

"It soon became evident that they too were infected. Some had taken to solacing themselves with local narcotics. The rest were even more incoherent. They blabbered about 'multiple skills,' talked about a 'ladder of achievement,' said the locals had 'nearly all the rungs, not just the upper rungs,' and so on, and to cap the climax, they presented me with a list of things they claimed the natives had that we did not have."

Maivail looked interested. "Have you this list?"

There was a crackle of paper. "I thought you might want to see it, sir."

Maivail took it, and looked it over.

"H'm. Humor. Chemistry. Fiction. Sense of smell." Maivail looked up. "What are these things?"

"On the chance that there might be some validity to this after all, I questioned the staff most carefully. Their answers were heretical gibberish. To prevent the infection from spreading to my own staff, I flash-bombed the lot of them immediately."

"Good, good. But, now—Take this first word, 'Humor.' What's that?"

"This is a local word, sir. We have transliterated it, but cannot translate it. We have no corresponding word. According to the staff, it is a peculiar sense which causes the locals to laugh."



"Laugh. What does that mean?"

"A spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm, coupled with reddening of the face, and choking noises."

Maivail settled back. "I see. Now, look here, Lassig. Kindly don't use one local word to define another. This could become quite difficult to follow."

"I'm sorry, sir. I'll try to avoid that. Now, this peculiar sense, this humor, causes the natives to choke and gag in certain situations."

"It sounds to me as if 'humor' should translate as 'dust in the air-tubes.' Obviously, the spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm must be intended to eject the dust."

Lassig nodded. "Exactly, sir. But the staff had got off on some sidetrack, and claimed it was psychological."


"Yes, sir."

"M'm. Spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm. Choking. Gagging. —And this is psychological?"

Lassig spread his hands. "Their word for it, sir. They said that someone else's sudden fright, or hurried narrow escape from danger, would often cause the locals to choke and gag."

Maivail turned it over in his mind. "What's the causal connection?"

"According to the staff, this—this 'sense of humor,' sir."

Maivail squinted. "This explanation has a certain tinge of lunacy."

"Exactly, sir."

"What about this next item on the list, 'Chemistry'? What might that be?"

Lassig took on the look of a man confronted with the job of lifting a large heavy object having no handle.

"Well, sir—ah—it's supposed to be a—ah—Well, a form of Science—"

"There is only one true Science. That is the control of mer, or matter-energy."

Lassig looked uneasy. "Yes, sir. Of course, you're right, sir. The staff went into this business about the ladder, and claimed that mer-control originally came in two parts, the control of matter, and the control of energy. Chemistry was the control of matter."

Maivail stared. "Why, any fool knows that matter and energy are basically the same. Matter is condensed energy. Energy is, in effect, highly rarified matter."

"Yes, sir."

"How did the staff get around that?"

"They claimed, sir, that to attain scientific knowledge was a very slow, laborious, and gradual thing, whereas—"

Maivail snorted. "This is fantastic. It takes exactly three years to learn the whole business."

"Yes, sir. Precisely what I said to them. But the staff argued that there was a time, before the schools—"

"Before the schools?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who, then, would have taught the youth?"

"They claimed the—ah—the people of that day had to teach themselves."

"Teach themselves! But—Great merciful—See here, surely the members of the staff had seen a hydrofuser. How the devil could you build one, if you didn't already have one?"

Lassig shook his head, and said glumly, "They claimed the people on this planet were gradually working their way around to making one."


"That I couldn't possibly hope to explain, sir."

"The basic tool in mer-control is the hydrofuser. And you can't make a hydrofuser unless you've got a hydrofuser. You can't construct a hydrofuser from nothing, any more than you can breed slergs without a parent slerg to start with. But when you do have a hydrofuser or a parent slerg, then it's easy."

"Yes, sir. They were far gone, sir. You couldn't talk to them."

"What about this next thing? 'Fiction.' What might that be?"

"The staff were pretty confused about that, sir. It seems that the locals—Ah—Frankly, sir, I don't know what fiction is. That was what my predecessor was tying to figure out when I got there. He claimed that some of the local's reports were unreal. —No, not that, synthetic."

"Synthetic reports?" Maivail's eyes momentarily bulged. "You mean these locals falsify their own reports?"

Lassig blew out his breath. "That's the beauty of it. The fellow claimed it wasn't actually falsification."

"Not falsification? But—If it's synthetic"

"He claimed that the locals knew the reports were synthetic, so that they weren't fooled."

Maivail swallowed hard. He could feel his poise slipping away by the instant.

"Look here, Lassig. If the locals know the report is false, how does the falsifier profit?"

Lassig looked hopeless.

Maivail said exasperatedly, "Let's assume for the moment that I am a supply-inspector. You are, we also assume for the moment, a cheating contractor. You have delivered six and nine-tenths gluts of smollonium ore .006 fine. You contracted to deliver seven gluts .008 fine. You make out your affidavit and present it to me, labeled 'False.' Now. You know it's false. I know it's false. Where are we? What's the point?"

Lassig could find no answer.

Maivail said, "Either these locals are a very involved race of people, or the entire staff was falsifying its own data. And yet, who would believe them? What's the purpose? There's something peculiarly out-of-focus about this. Now, let's try just one more of these things. What might 'sense of smell' be?"

Lassig nervously rubbed his hand across his breathing-duct orifice.

"Well, sir—Ah—As to that—"

Maivail watched him flounder, and squinted at him coldly—This was a man selected for his ability to absorb, evaluate, and explain alien cultures.

Despite the perfection with which the military operations had thus far gone off, Maivail could not escape the impression of something unpleasant, looming just outside the range of his vision.


In the underground command center, it was dim and quiet. The papers were spread out under the cool glow of the fluorescent lights.

"Okay," said Swanbeck, "we've finally got it, then."

Holden glanced at the composite drawing. The precise place and angle at which the stream of exiting air-craft passed out through the barrier, and the corresponding place and angle at which the returning vehicles re-entered, were clearly shown.

Holden shook his head. "It's going to be quite a problem to get a Naomi to hit that barrier at precisely that angle. Moreover, it's got to get there at exactly the right moment, or it will catch up and collide with one of those vehicles. The Naomi's going to be moving at around eighteen thousand miles an hour, remember."

"Don't worry about that. Thanks to this lull, we're in touch with Denver again. There are half-a-dozen launchers on the way with the new-type Raquet. If Naomi can't do it—"

"Raquet has a chemical warhead."

"Not this bunch."

Holden thought it over. "You know, Phil, I just had a thought."

Swanbeck smiled. "Don't be modest. Let's hear it."

"Look, now, if this doesn't work—"

Swanbeck winced. "Then we're no worse off than we were. We'll try another approach." He turned away.

"Wait a minute," said Holden.

"There's no point worrying about failure, Dick. Drop it." Swanbeck started to walk away.

Holden raised his voice. "All right, but the point is, what if it does work?"

Swanbeck turned, frowning. "We're in."

"And they're warned."

Swanbeck blinked.

Holden said, "We're too busy thinking how to make it work, to think, what next, if it does work? How many chances like this are we going to get?"

"What are you thinking?"

"Half-a-dozen simultaneous failures wouldn't hurt us. That's just more of the same. But if we have half-a-dozen simultaneous successes—"

Swanbeck nodded slowly. "That's a point. We'll see if Denver can spread the word."


Dionnai Count Maivail put down the new staff reports.

"Very good, Angstat. These are most complete. What is your impression of the local reaction?"

"Fast and flexible, sir. I must say that their recovery, militarily speaking, is a good deal above what we might have expected. I notice particularly that they are very careful to remain dispersed. Another noteworthy factor is their avoidance of vain effort. Following their initial abortive strikes against the cleared zones, there's been nothing but very light reconnaissance. But their organization is obviously knitting together rapidly."

"They could have been a most dangerous adversary."

Angstat nodded. "Once they adapted sufficient of their hydrofuser power to interplanetary, then interstellar uses, they could have been extremely dangerous. As it is, of course, their base—just one planet—is too restricted, and hence vulnerable. Their delay at achieving a broad base has cost them dear. One wonders at their reasons."

Maivail nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose we'll never know for certain. Lassig's report shows an incredible mental confusion on their part. Possibly some religion, or some 'little-planet,' mind-our-business-and-turn-our-back-on-the-galaxy philosophy was the real cause of the trouble. You remember our own back-to-nature fanatics?"

Angstat snorted. "Who could forget them? Throw away their hydrofuser, smash their correctors, go off naked to some hole somewhere, and squat by a mess of smoldering mulch eating scorched meat, with the bugs around them in clouds, and tell themselves they're really living. There, they say, that's what Nature intended. By the Great—" He caught himself, and cleared his throat. "They can have it. When I get pains in the knees, or an attack of galloping scrombosis, I want to be where I can get in a corrector, and no delay."

Maivail nodded. "The only reasonable interpretation of Lassig's data seems to be that this planet is overrun with all kinds of these back-to-nature fanatics. And, of course, our scanners have brought back actual pictures of them in action.—Incredible."

"It doesn't speak well for their general level of intelligence."

"No. It doesn't. Yet, their military reaction—"

Again, there was that peculiar sense of something looming, something just outside his range of vision.

Angstat cleared his throat, and straightened.

"About the beginning of Phase Industrial, Excellency?"

Maivail dropped his informality and sat straight, considering it. "Their recovery seems well started. Their hopes should once again be reviving. All reports indicate a marked recovery in surface transport and wireless electromagnetic communication. Very good. At the next turning of the watch, order the scanners in. Secure the opened lanes. Phase Industrial will begin one watch later."

Kram Baron Angstat clicked his heels and saluted.

Dionnai Count Maivail sat straight, and returned the salute.


Swanbeck held the phone to his ear as he made rapid notes.

"Yes, all right . . . Okay, but we don't want any delay beyond that time. We have no way to know how long this opportunity will last . . . No, but there may be something similar to closing a gate. Otherwise, I don't see why they go in and out, all at the same places . . . Yes . . . Yes . . . Okay . . . Yes, sir. We'll do it. We'll delay again till 1630 . . . Yes, sir . . . Good-by."

Scowling, he set the phone back in its cradle, and snapped orders to a doubtful-looking colonel, who saluted and hurried out.

Holden said, "What is it this time?"

Swanbeck delivered himself of a string of profanity. "Now the Chicom aren't ready."

Holden shook his head. "This close reconnaissance isn't going to last forever. Sooner or later, they're going to pull the last of those aircraft inside and plug the holes."

"I know it. But Denver wants to hit as many as possible all at once. Damn it, the way they've got it set up, it's going to be all or nothing."

Holden smiled sourly. "Not necessarily. Somebody could jump the gun."

Swanbeck's face hardened.

Holden said, "Denver couldn't be so busy, could they, that they didn't think of this?"

"We'll find out." Swanbeck picked up the phone.


Dionnai Count Maivail selected a delicate-stemmed slender goblet, and contemplated the pale-violet liquid within.

"Excellent hue, Choisoiel."

Ferrard Choisoiel, Maivail's steward, dipped at the knee and bobbed his head in gratitude. "Thank you, sir."

Maivail flicked the edge of the goblet with his fingertip, and turned his head to listen.

Kram Baron Angstat smiled, as he held up his own goblet.

"Fine timbre and resonance, Your Excellency."

"It has indeed."

Choisoiel was all but overcome.

Angstat heard a silver bell chime.

"The turning of the watch, sir. The signal to return the scanners."

"Ah. Soon Phase Industrial will begin."

"Exactly, sir."

Maivail raised the slender goblet.

"The success of all our plans—"

Angstat replied "—and the obstruction of all our enemies!"

They sipped the liquid.


Swanbeck put the phone back in its cradle and smiled.

"Denver has already told the Chicom there are twenty-five Naomi missiles with their fuses burning, just in case they doublecross us on this."

"What's the Chicom reaction?"

"Very cooperative. They've apparently had enough from the outworlders to blunt their taste for seas of blood drowning seas of flame."

"Then we're spared that." Holden glanced at his watch. "If 1630 would only hurry up."

"Not too long, now."

A young lieutenant hurried in, saw Swanbeck and saluted.

"Sir, the Bugs have stopped sending out scouts. They're pulling the rest back in pretty fast."

Swanbeck glanced at his watch.

The lieutenant added, "What do we do? Wait for 1630?"

Swanbeck glanced at the phone, and back at the lieutenant.

Holden let his breath out in a sigh of weary disgust.

Swanbeck said roughly, "Hit them."


Dionnai Count Maivail put his neatly-booted feet on the footrest.

"Superb, Choisoiel."

He selected a pale-blue mint with little silver flecks, and settled back contentedly.

Angstat sighed, and munched delicately.

Choisoiel gratefully thanked Maivail for the compliment, and began to clear away the remains.

Maivail and Angstat beamed upon each other. Both had the same thought, and they spoke at once.

"The perfect end to a—"

The boom started loud and grew louder fast. Their chairs rose and tipped as the floor heaved, and the wall across the room bulged toward them.

Ferrard Choisoiel threw himself between Maivail and the wall.

Maivail and Angstat sprang to their feet, their hands at the hilts of their weapons.

The wall burned through, and a white glare looked in upon them.

As it burned away exposed flesh, Maivail stood facing it, a bright white lance of destruction leaping from his weapon into the chaos.


Swanbeck lowered the glasses.

"Whew! They won't survive that."

Before them, the gleaming wall remained unbroken, but from one side reached out a huge dazzling-white plume of gas, smoke and debris, that made a roar like a rocket at lift-off.

Holden nodded. "That's the end of that bunch. But what about the others?"

"Damn it. If we'd had time, we could have cleaned out the three-fourths of them in reach of modern weapons-teams."

"Maybe we did—If the others reacted in time—"

"Maybe. Well, that's that. We've gained, even if this is the only knockout."

"Yes," said Holden. "We know they're vulnerable. And that we aren't necessarily powerless."

He put the filter over the glasses to look briefly at the huge flaming jet. "As you expressed it. 'He alone is lost who gives himself up as lost.'"

Swanbeck nodded, and studied the enemy base.

"'I still live,'" he said.


Maivail saw flashing red and green lights. His body burned from end to end. Wrapped in flame, he spun like a whirl-wind amidst a dazzling drift of stars. Then he seemed to slip, slide, the cosmos around him began to waver as if seen through water—A voice spoke and while Maivail understood it at the time, what it said slipped away, and for the moment he retained only the sense of a single comment: "The present home of your soul is again ready for you."

Dizzily, Maivail opened his eyes.

He was lying in a corrector, the padded cushions softly supporting him. Framed in the opening above him, Angstat looked down.

Maivail swallowed.

"That was close."

"Close enough," said Angstat.

"What happened?"

"Evidently they got a hydrofuser in through an opened lane, and then destabilized it."

Maivail considered what this meant in terms of speed and control of trajectory.

Angstat said, "The thing over-powered the secondary screens, and the excess radiation burned right through the exposed sides of the ships. We'd have been finished if a technician hadn't thought, earlier, to install an excess-radiation switch. The switch kicked over the potential-control in the energy-bank circuit. The banks reversed polarity, and absorbed enough of the excess energy so the screens could recover. The heat and pressure slowly blew out through the exit lane. The ships themselves are in terrible shape."

"Whew," said Maivail. "Keep back. I'm coming out." He hauled himself out of the corrector, and briefly considered the shape he must have been in when he was put into it. "How long was I in there?"

"Four days."

Maivail reminded himself that half-a-day would cure any ordinary illness, and one day would correct a severe case of overall long-term cumulative fatigue and deterioration. Two days would take care of the average victim of an explosion, provided he was not actually blown to bits. Soldiers suffering from serious wounds were in and out in less time than that. And he had been in for four days. He flexed his arms, bent, and straightened. He felt fine.

Angstat handed him a fresh uniform.

Maivail dressed rapidly. "How many men were we able to salvage?"

"About a third, sir." As Maivail winced, Angstat added, "I'm happy to say, sir, that your steward, Ferrard Choisoiel, was among them. He acted heroically at the moment of disaster, throwing himself between you and the wall as it began to buckle inward."

Maivail nodded. "Award him the Order of the Copper Sun, with twelve rays." He glanced around. "Where are we right now?"

"Level B of the below-ground base that was under construction at the time of the attack, sir. The ships are under repair. All but three of them are holed, and every one of them has suffered severe external damage."

"Well, we can fix that." Maivail told himself that, whatever he felt, he must bear himself unflinchingly. But he had some of the emotional sensations of a person who has taken on a bear, and lost an arm and a leg in the first exchange of blows. "What damage to the—the locals, in the past few days?"

Angstat was leading the way down the corridor. He paused to open a door freshly blazoned with the emblems of the Commander and of the Executive Staff. "—Damage to the locals, Excellency?"

"My orders," said Maivail, "were to commence Phase Industrial one watch following the return of the scanners."

"Unfortunately, sir, out of a total of eighteen cleared zones, each protected by a heavy screen, six underwent exactly the same thing that happened to us."

Maivail felt the room spin. "How severe was the damage?"

"Two-thirds to almost total."

Maivail's voice seemed to come from far away. "When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed. Regardless of losses."

"Yes, sir."

"Why wasn't that order obeyed?"

"Because the mechanism of command was temporarily destroyed, above the level of the Invasion Group commanders. For a day-and-a-half, the entire Executive Staff was out of action. Even later on, there was delay, because the external portions of the communications equipment had been vaporized. The result was immediate cessation of the higher functions of control and coordination. The remaining group commanders found themselves unable to raise headquarters. Six of the eighteen Invasion Groups had apparently ceased to exist. At that point, no-one knew what had happened."

"Yes. Yes, I see." Maivail felt himself come back to reality. He found a door with his emblem blazoned on the outside, walked in and sat down wearily. He had a strong urge to crawl back in the corrector, but suppressed it. "What's the overall percentage of loss?"

Angstat pulled out a paper covered with figures. "Close to twenty-five percent, sir."

Maivail dizzily pictured what would happen when word of this got back to the Supreme Council. —Well, there was nothing to be done about that. He groped for something positive. "The scanner photos, maps, data, and classification lists. —Did any of them survive?"

"Happily, sir, the filed data was only slightly damaged. The heat and associated stresses did create drifting instability in some of the memory banks. But we've overcome most of that."

"Ah, good. —And with that data, we can reconstitute the models and classification lists?"

"Yes, sir. We've started work on it."

"Good. And we again have communication with the group commanders?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right. Have them fabricate new shielding generators, and set up an external screen around each screen already existing. Use a number of cleared lanes, in this new external screen, and block and unblock them, directing outgoing and incoming traffic to the various lanes at random. And I mean at random."

"Yes, sir."

"Moreover, each set of cleared lanes in the outer shell is to be changed at the end of the day, and a completely new set used the following day."

"Yes, Excellency. And shall we shift our forces to balance the strength of all the Groups?"

Maivail thought a moment, then shook his head.

"No. The full-strength groups, once they've protected themselves, will carry out Phase Industrial in their regions. The understrength groups will go back to Phase Military. When the full-strength groups finish the job in their regions, they will join the understrength groups in their regions, and carry out Phase Industrial, and absolutely obliterate the industrial resources of those regions."

Angstat clicked his heels and saluted. "It shall be done, Excellency."


Swanbeck put the phone gently back in its cradle, and looked at Holden curiously.

Holden was frowning as he studied several diagrams, each showing an object partly merged into a surrounding doughnut-shaped structure. From different points on the doughnut-shaped structure, short lines projected, with a set of angles written along the lines, and with times jotted down nearby.

Swanbeck cleared his throat. Holden looked up. Swanbeck said, "They just wiped out the dummy command-post west of Centerville. And Higgins and Delahaye have been captured."

Holden winced. "How did that happen?"

"They went up by way of the ravine, and got into the observation-post early this morning. Since the trees have leafed out, actual observation from there has been worthless. They crawled out in the dark, and dug themselves a hole in a sizable clump of brush further down the hill, dragging the dirt back into the forest on shelter-halves, to get it out of sight."

"Why didn't they just dig their hole at the edge of the forest?"

"The slope is gradual there, and there are so many small poplars out in the field that from ground-level you can't see a thing. From this clump of brush, though, they figured they'd be safe from observation from any direction, would have a good view of the barrier, and could pass the information back using a directional handset."

"What happened?"

"The Bugs have a habit of setting off flares at odd times in the night, and they have aircraft up to patrol within a mile or two of the barrier. Anything suspicious, they fire on. This clump of brush was fifty feet out from anything else you could call cover, and not wanting to be caught on their feet in the open when a flare went off, Higgins and Delahaye crawled back a number of times, with the dirt. When the sun came up this morning, they discovered that a lane of shiny straw was bent back where they'd crawled out dragging the dirt. It was like a fifty-foot path leading direct to where they were hidden."

Holden swore. "Then what?"

"They sent back reports till the sun reached the right angle, and some alert Bug happened to spot the bent straw. Then a troop-carrier and several floating forts came out, and heavily-armed Bugs dropped down on all sides of them. Higgins and Delahaye were loaded down with range and direction finders, cameras, and that contraption that's supposed to see through the Barrier—"

"Did it work?"

"No." Swanbeck shook his head in disgust. "But in consequence of lugging that stuff along, all they had between them was one .45. They got off a few shots, then the Bugs had them trussed up, and threw them into the troop carrier."

Holden blew out his breath. "Higgins and Delahaye were two of our more intelligent men."

"For what it's worth, Higgins grabbed the directional handset at the last minute, and shouted 'I still live' into it. They picked it up back at the observation post. But they didn't know what had happened till Schmidt, who'd been at the edge of the forest trying to see something through all that mess of poplar leaves, got back to tell them."

Holden frowned. "That's funny. We've been talking about that very expression. Why did he use it?"

Swanbeck drummed his fingers on the table. "Did Higgins read a lot?"

"He'd get streaks where he was a terrific reader. He'd go through shelves of books like a mining-machine through a coal vein. For a couple of fanatical health-enthusiasts, they both had a lot of brain-power to the ounce."

"Maybe Higgins had run across that saying, and it just occurred to him as a gesture of defiance."


"What makes you think it might be something more?"

"I don't know. But Higgins and Delahaye both had a fiendish sense of humor. This just seems—" Holden shook his head.

Swanbeck frowned, then finally shrugged and said dryly, "If they've got humor, they'll need it. Every bit. —Now, what do you think about the Bugs' improved Barriers?"

Holden scowled at the diagrams. "We've got a small chance of getting a missile in through one of these holes. But it isn't going to do much damage. They've obviously built a kind of antechamber. Their returning ships pass into this antechamber first, then the outer entrance is closed, and a passage is opened through the inner barrier. If we get a missile through the outer barrier, all it will hurt will be whatever happens to be in the antechamber."

"Not good enough. We almost put that outfit out of business the last time. This time we want to finish them."

"There's just a chance—It's slight, though."

Swanbeck's eyes came to a focus. "What are you thinking?"

"You're familiar with the idea of 'limpet mines'?"


Dionnai Count Maivail studied the latest reports with the grim satisfied look of a champion boxer who has been knocked flat by an upstart, and who has spent the following rounds lambasting the challenger all over the ring. The military reports were splendid. Maivail scowled, however, at some lengthy items at the end of an intelligence report, then turned back to the front to see if he had missed something.

The report was headed, "Interrogation of Prisoners—A Summary of Conclusions."

The first section described the methods used:

"Prisoners were detained in groups of medial size, as most conducive to free discussion amongst the prisoners. Each cell was equipped with concealed communication heads. The interrogation proper was usually carried out singly or in pairs, and the resulting discussions when the prisoners returned to their cells were carefully analyzed. This paper contains a summary of the conclusions derived from these discussions and interrogations, carried out in various locations over a large portion of the surface of this planet, amongst various ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups of the local populace."

Maivail nodded to himself. Save for the use of three long words where two short ones would do, that part seemed clear enough.

He glanced over the bulk of the report, and located a section that seemed to summarize the rest:

"These people are, therefore, divided into many religious, racial, and cultural groups. They are fad-ridden to an almost incredible degree, yet an underlying sameness and mutuality may be observed at times.3,4 It is particularly to be noted that the populace is evidently divided into two primary groups: 1) Those educated in Science; 2) Those not educated in Science. The warrior-caste is evidently made up of those not even slightly educated in Science, as no single individual prisoner manifested any knowledge of the hydrofuser—the basic scientific tool—and, in fact, such individuals did not recognize hydrofusers when confronted with them. Yet the existence of scientific knowledge is inescapably demonstrated by the technology manifest on nearly all sides. One wonders at the absence of effective shielding equipment, but can only suppose that the hydrofusers in use are somewhat crude, and suffer from some unknown defect, possibly a periodic fluctuation in output which creates lag and/or some kind of overlapping envelope effects . . . "

Maivail squinted at this for some time. He could not escape the impression that the person who had prepared this report was missing something, or distorting something to fit his own preconceptions. The trouble is, whatever the difficulty might be, Maivail did not seem to be able to get a grip on it, either.

This was bad enough, but worse yet was that set of facts presented modestly in the body of the report as: 3,4

Turning to the next to the last page, Maivail found:

3 Gavik, Major K. Baron: "Report Intel. S63. Anomalous Remarks . . . Conversation Between Prisoners. Hdq. Inter. Co-ord. Cmd." This report, itself a summary of many other reports, states that various prisoners from widely-separated localities, in expressing perplexity over the events surrounding the invasion and their interrogation, have referred to a formidable individual who remains, apparently aloof from the fight. This sentiment is usually expressed by some variant of the following statement:

"Well, it would take Shurlok Homes to figure this out."

This widespread belief that this entity, Shurlok Homes, would solve the problem, yet does not apparently choose to interest himself in it, when it amounts (from the local viewpoint) to nothing other than the conquest of the home planet, is in itself amazing. (Does the word Homes—plural of 'home'—have any significance in this respect? Does Homes have more than one home? —More than one home planet?) Even more amazing is the apparent lack of any feeling of resentment that the entity Shurlok Homes does not enter the field with his formidable powers, whatever these may be. (If Homes is elsewhere, situated on another home planet, possibly as yet unaware of events here, it would explain the lack of resentment over his failure to intervene in the present struggle.)

Maivail could feel the beginning of a headache, and resolved to go into the corrector at the first opportunity. However, having finished 3 he now had to go on to 4:

4 Sarokel, Lieutenant K. "Report Intel. 12438. The Higins-Delahi Conversations. Hdq. Inter. Unit 1." The report states, in detail, the conversations in their cell of Andru Higins and Stefin Delahi. These two captives are apparently not warriors, but seem to be members of a local technical organization acting in cooperation with the armed forces. It is necessary to emphasize the qualification "seem" because the in-cell conversations of these two prisoners, unlike the usual case, are totally at variance with their out-cell responses to direct questioning.

It is worth noting that these two men apparently are members of different races. Higins is of a light skin-coloration, Delahi is very dark. Outwardly (toward their interrogators) they firmly supported each others' statements to the effect that they were local technical personnel. Higins spoke to Delahi as "Steve," Delahi spoke to Higins as "Andi." Once alone, however, their manner changed drastically. Higins and Delahi, once the guard withdrew from the corridor, addressed each other by different names. Delahi became "Dottor Sojak." Higins was now "Odwor Jaf Kalas." Their behavior toward one another became noticeably more ceremonial, less informal. Their principal topics of conversation fell into two categories: 1) What they would do to the invaders (that is, to us) if they had the opportunity 2) By what practical means they might inform some being referred to as, among other things, "the Warlord."

It seems impracticable to meaningfully summarize the conversation of these two individuals. However, the following brief excerpt from the record seems representative:

Dottor Sojak: "If only we'd never let that scoundrel Tovas talk us into this. All it is to him is an experiment."

Odwor Jaf Kalas: "We'll get back. Don't worry. As soon as the time's up, he'll bring us back."

Sojak: "Meanwhile Barzum goes unwarned."

Kalas: "And how would we warn them, Dottor, if we had never been here? Let us think what we will do to these calotts, not waste our time worrying."

Sojak: "The first problem will be to get word to the Warlord. If he has gone off on another expedition, it may be no simple matter to locate him."

It would, perhaps, be premature to draw firm conclusions from these two reports, but a connection suggests itself: Might not the entity Shurlok Homes be the Warlord, who is difficult to locate but terrible in action? —Further study may clarify this problem.

* * *

Dionnai Count Maivail looked up dizzily. His headache was now well-developed. He got up, and was about to head for the nearest corrector when Angstat came in, looking concerned.

"Sir, two prisoners are missing."

Maivail looked blank. "How can that be?"

"No-one knows, sir. They've just vanished."

Maivail started to speak sharply, then suddenly picked up the report he'd just been reading, and thumbed through it hastily. There, staring up at him were the words:

Odwor Jaf Kalas: "We'll get back. Don't worry. As soon as the time's up, he'll bring us back."

Maivail looked tensely up at Angstat. "Do you have the names of these prisoners?"

Angstat pulled out a slip of paper.

"Andru Higins and Stefin Delahi."


Swanbeck, Holden, and half-a-dozen others were around the table, cigarette butts smouldering in an ash tray in the middle, pencils, erasers, and slide rules lying here and there, crumpled papers littering the table and the surrounding floor.

"Okay," said Swanbeck, looking up from a drawing, "Now, we've got the design, and, as you say, the thing ought to fit close up against the front of the tailwheel housing. Maybe they won't notice it."

"Use a bright aluminum shell," said a slender, sharp-eyed man with a pencil over one ear, "and it ought to be a perfect match. They've got at least three designs of these aircraft. That one with a slanted set of doors to let the tail-wheel out should look just about the same, if we fit this on the kind with fixed tail-wheel."

"In flight, maybe," said Swanbeck. "But when it lands, the tail-wheel is going to stick out at a different angle, and there'll be no doors."

"The chances are, they won't notice. We can rig up something that will look like doors."

Holden said exasperatedly, "Look, though, this thing is too far aft. The weight is going to pull the tail down."

Swanbeck said, "Where else can we put it? We can't move it forward. Two models of these aircraft have forward wheels that fold up to the sides of the ship. The other model has fixed forward wheels. But either way, this would stick out like a sore thumb anywhere except in front of that tailwheel."

"I can't help it, Phil, it's still going to weight the tail down. If we put it there, we've got to do something to give them some logical reason to explain the sag of the tail."

"That's a thought. But what?"

Holden frowned. "Maybe we could fit it in with that little problem of getting the thing attached in the first place."

Swanbeck nodded. "I'm sure we can think of something. What we need is something to attract their attention and get them to land. Or some way to force them down."

The man with the pencil over his ear said, "This may be beside the point, but has it occurred to anyone that these aircraft have a peculiarly simple design?"

Holden said, "What do you mean?"

"Why, look at them. Obviously, it took technical know-how to make them. The things are wingless, and made out of some metal so tough that what blows up our aircraft merely dents theirs. And yet, here's one with fixed landing gear. The thing gives me the impression of a hybrid cross between an advanced technology and a simple technology—as if a patched-up World War I Spad mated with the Marsship and here's the offspring. Or as if we were invited to the launching pad of some great technical race, and when their countdown reached 'ignition,' some guy in an asbestos suit tore out to the rocket, and threw a lighted match down a hole. Like you should open up the hood of a car, and inside where the power plant ought to be, there's half-a-dozen squirrels in a treadmill, if you see what I mean."

Holden, scowling, said, "Let's see those photographs again."

Someone slid them up the table, and Holden and Swanbeck bent over them.

Holden used a magnifier on the photo. "That is a damned crude landing gear."

Down the table, someone said, "Of course, a great many so-called improvements actually bring their own disadvantages. Maybe these people just like to keep things simple."

"Yes," said someone else. "But the trouble with simple things, is, they make your procedures slow and complicated. They're good to fall back on, but if you use them as a mainstay, you're like a man with hammer and handsaw trying to compete with power tools. It just doesn't stand to reason that a race so advanced would use such a simple landing-gear."

"Why not? It's got fewer parts. It's—"

The man with the pencil over his ear said impatiently, "Because the thing is crude, that's why. Can you think of any engineer who could see that and leave it as it is? Ye gods, man, can you yourself sit there and look at that big flat washer, with the monster cotter pin to keep it from falling off the end of the shaft, and honestly tell me things have got to be that simple?"

Swanbeck glanced at Holden and said hesitantly, "What do you think?"

Holden put the photographs back on the table. "The inescapable fact is, they do use them."

"Yes," said someone, "but why?"

Frowning, Holden picked up the photograph. "Why should a race so advanced that it can produce supertough metals, force-screens and, apparently, anti-gravity, be so crude when it comes to a landing-gear?"

Swanbeck said wonderingly, "When you get right down to it, that's not the only thing they're crude about. Their strategy and tactics are crude, when you stop to think about it."

"They flattened us."

"Who couldn't, with their superiority? Their procedure has been nothing other than to divide Earth into so many regions, put an expeditionary force down in each region, and methodically pound us flat. All this shows is superiority of force."

Holden exasperatedly tossed the photograph back on the table. "Yes, but how did they get this superiority of force? They've solved problems we'd have thought impossible. That presupposes a level of technical ability that couldn't be maintained by boobs." He looked at the photograph lying in front of him on the table and as if of its own accord, his hand reached out and picked it up.

The crude disc wheel, with its flat rubber tire, looked up at him blandly.


Maivail studied the guard intently.

"Let me be sure I understand this," said Maivail. "You were ordered to take the prisoners to Lieutenant Sarokel for questioning?"

The guard, pale and trembling, stood at attention.

"Yes, sir."

"You approached the cell door, drew your pistol, and ordered the prisoners to stand back from the door?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did they obey?"

"Sir, I don't know. Something seemed to explode in my breathing passages. There was a coldness, a sense of—like heavy fog—then a—I just don't know. When I could see again, I was on the floor. The prisoners were gone."

Maivail frowned.

"All right, then. You distinctly remember that, when you approached the cell, the prisoners were there?"

"Oh, yes, sir."

"Did they make any threatening move toward you?"

"None that I can remember, sir."

"Did you see anyone else around?"

"No, sir. No-one at all, sir."

"Did you hear any movement behind you?"

"No, sir."

"Does your head hurt?"

"No, sir."

Maivail scowled. "When you woke up, the prisoners were gone, but the cell door was closed and locked?"

"Yes, sir."

"The cell door, in other words, was just as it had been when you approached to let the prisoners out?"

"Yes, sir. Exactly."

Maivail glanced at Angstat, who was frowning at the guard. Angstat said, "What of your keys? Had they been removed?"

"They were in the clip at my belt, sir. —The same as before."

Maivail said, "How close were you to the cell door when you lost consciousness?"

"Very close, sir. I was almost ready to open it."

Maivail glanced inquiringly at Angstat, who shook his head. Maivail looked back at the guard.

"You may go."

The guard saluted stiffly and went out.

The Dispatcher of Aircraft marched in, halted, saluted, and stood straight as Maivail and Angstat focused their attention on him.

"Now then," said Maivail, "as I understand your report, no aircraft are missing?"

"No, sir," mumbled the dispatcher.

Maivail said angrily, "Speak plainly."

The Dispatcher stiffened up, increasing his height another quarter of an inch. "Sorry, sir. I mean: 'that is correct, sir. No aircraft are missing, sir.'"

"No single aircraft is unaccounted for?"

"That is correct, sir."

"What chance is there that any aircraft could have been boarded by the escaped prisoners?"

"Sir, it's possible. If they got to the loading docks unseen, and if they were careful, they could enter the aircraft without too much trouble. There are always at least a dozen aircraft being loaded. The loading crews aren't particularly vigilant—there's no need for it—and it would be a simple job to get into an aircraft that had just been towed in from Maintenance. Then too, the flying crews always wait till the last minute, and only board the aircraft after the Dockmaster signals that loading is complete. The crew naturally would have no reason to search the cargo section. When they reached the target area, they'd just crank the conveyer and send someone back to keep the 'fusers on the belt and trip the levers as they went by. Also, of course, if the conveyer got stuck, they'd all rush back to heave out the tripped hydrofusers, since a lot of them are set for air-burst, and that cuts the time-margin pretty thin."

"When would the prisoners be spotted?"

"Sir, if they crawled back over the tail wheel and kept their mouths shut, they wouldn't be spotted."

"All right. Put three men down there to search each and every aircraft as it comes back in."

"Sir—Since they hit us a while back, we've been shorthanded. The only way I can get three men is to take them from the Dockmasters' gang or from a flying crew."

"Take them from a flying crew, then. If you take them from the Dockmaster, it will slow down the whole procedure."

"Yes, sir."

"I want those prisoners."

"Yes, sir."

"All right. That's all."

The Dispatcher saluted and went out.

Maivail glanced at Angstat. "What do you think?"

Angstat shook his head. "It's beyond me, sir. What, actually did happen to the guard? If they'd gotten him in close and hit him over the head, I could understand it. But they didn't."

"Well, we've had the whole cleared zone searched, and they just aren't here, so far as it's possible to find out. That means they must be outside. No aircraft are missing; therefore they did not steal one, overpower the crew, or otherwise get control of one. That means they're either hiding on board, or—"

Maivail picked up the summarized report of one Lieutenant K. Sarokel, and read, ". . . As soon as the time's up, he'll bring us back." Maivail looked up exasperatedly.

"Get Sarokel up here."


Swanbeck listened dazedly to the weary voice coming over the phone. Finally, Swanbeck said, "Yes, sir . . . Yes, I understand, sir . . . Yes . . . Yes, sir . . . " Gently he put the phone down.

The room was silent as Swanbeck looked up.

Holden started to ask him what had happened, but, seeing Swanbeck's expression, said nothing.

Swanbeck looked emptily across the room for a long moment, then his eyes came to a focus.

"That was Denver. They've finally gotten enough reports in to piece together a picture."

Holden said hesitantly, "Pretty bad?"

Swanbeck nodded. "You remember, there were eighteen of their invasion forces. We hit six of them pretty hard. They all went into their shells, and nothing much happened for several days. Then they all built these huge doughnut-shaped chambers to protect against another attack like our first one."

"Then," said Holden, "here, at least, they took up where they left off, only with reduced force."

"Yeah. Well, at the six places where they were hit hard enough, they've done just as they've done here. But at the other twelve places, they've changed their tactics. Now, instead of attacking troops, missile-launching sites, and other military installations, they're attacking productive facilities of all kinds. One of their aircraft comes over a target, bobs around through a maze of fire from anti-aircraft guns and rockets, then lets go a carpet of bombs. Every last one is a hydrogen bomb. The target and defense facilities disappear. The plane turns around and goes back for another load. What can anyone do?"

Holden said in puzzlement, "Even that's crude."

Swanbeck looked blank.

"Sure," said Holden, "it's what we were talking about. Their methods are effective, but only because of their overpowering force."

Swanbeck had the expression of a man hit in the stomach.

"I know. It's my own argument. But what's the difference? Sure, they're using their force clumsily. They're laying down a dozen H-bombs when one would do the job nicely. But what of it? They've got H-bombs running out of their ears. What does it matter if your opponent is wasteful of his strength, if his strength is unlimited?"

There was an undertone of despair in Swanbeck's voice, and Holden said softly, "He alone is lost who—"

Swanbeck blinked. "Sorry. But this is like fighting a duel with someone who has impenetrable armor, a blade that cuts steel like cheese, and such perfect health that he never tires, and his wounds heal before your eyes. What do you do?"

Down the table, the thin man with pencil over his ear gave a dry laugh. "There's a standard answer to that problem. You can't win it his way. Instead, squirt tobacco juice in his eye."

Swanbeck started to make an angry retort, then blinked, as did Holden. For an instant, something seemed to quiver in the air, and both men tried to grasp it.

At length, Swanbeck said, "This limpet-mine idea. There's something missing."

"I know it," said Holden, puzzled by his sense of having been close to a solution. "But, aside from the fact that we have to attach the thing—"

"Yes, but look. It's not a general solution. Even if we knock out three or four of their bases, what's to prevent the rest from finishing up where they are, then moving over to polish us off? Meanwhile, if only one of these invasion forces spots the trick, it can notify the rest. What if, then, they just put an inspection team into action to check incoming planes?"

"It will stop us."

Swanbeck nodded. "Now look. We're in a terrible spot. We've got to beat them fast, because time is on their side. Yet they've got almost an absolute defense. The only place where you can get through that barrier is the spot where their own planes go through. But they're crafty. They've fixed it so there are a number of entrances, open just briefly. And even then, we don't hit their inner base."

Holden nodded. "That's why we thought of the limpet mine. If they don't see the mine, and pass the plane through to the interior, then it blows up—"

"Yes, but there are too many ifs. The first plan we used offered us the possibility of knocking out two-thirds of them. This plan only offers us a chance to hit two or three of them. After this they will increase their precautions to the point where we will never be able to get another thing through."

Holden drew a deep breath. "You've got a point."

There was an intense silence as they groped for another solution.

A startled-looking sergeant stepped in.

"Sir, Mr. Higgins and Mr. Delahaye are out here."

Swanbeck and Holden stared at the sergeant.

"Send them in."


Dionnai Count Maivail glared at Lieutenant K. Sarokel.

"Do you mean to tell me they interrogated you?"

Sarokel spread his hands. "Your Excellency, my purpose was to get information from them. A good intelligence officer can learn much from the questions the prisoner asks him."

"But meanwhile, you are giving him information."

"But what can he do with the information, sir? A prisoner, inside the shield, totally cut off from contact with the outside—"

"This pair seems to have gotten out."

"Sir, as soon as I heard them make that comment about being gotten out, I ceased to give them information. The possibility of their escaping had never occurred to me before."

"I suppose the information you gave them was true information?"

"Sir, to give them falsehoods would have complicated the matter hopelessly. These locals were not fools, sir. They were very sharp."

"Are all the prisoners intelligent?"

"Not as intelligent as this pair."

"So, naturally, you gave information to those who are most dangerous."

"The most intelligent are the most dangerous, your Excellency, but they are also the ones from whom the most can be learned, and who can help most if their cooperation is gained."

"Did you gain the cooperation of these two?"

"Not yet, sir. Though I believe I had succeeded in dulling the edge of their enmity."

Maivail straightened in his seat. "—In, that is, making friends with and comforting the enemy?"

"Prisoners under interrogation are in a special category, sir. The comfort which they receive is intended to react to our benefit. If they incidentally are made to feel better for the time, this does not harm us. They will speak more freely if they feel that they are speaking with a friend."

"You would as readily shoot one you were friends with, then, as one you had interrogated strictly according to standard procedure?"

"Not at all, sir. I would regret the necessity. But I would do it anyway. My superior would, however, be unlikely to order me to do it, as it would react on future interrogations. I would be less likely to make friends if I knew I might later have to execute the prisoner. My job, sir, is strictly and solely to get information. I may be removed any time, but so long as that remains my job, I do it to the best of my ability,"

Maivail nodded. "Nevertheless, Lieutenant, these prisoners escaped."

Sarokel looked regretful but firm. "Guarding the prisoners is not my job, sir."

Maivail sat back. "Very true. Now, you say you can learn from what questions the prisoners ask, as well as answer. And of course, you learn from what you overhear?"

Sarokel hesitated. "That depends on circumstances, sir."

"Such as what?"

"Well, sir, prisoners are not always truthful."

"I am speaking now of their conversations while alone in their cells."

"Yes, sir. Since there is a presumption that what is said alone, away from the interrogation room, is unforced and therefore true, it follows that it is exactly there that highly-intelligent prisoners would be most likely to try to deceive the listener."

"Do you mean," said Maivail angrily, "that you told them there were concealed receptor heads in their cell?"

"Certainly not, sir. I told them no such thing. And they never asked. I only mean that these were highly-intelligent individuals, and they may have guessed the presence of those listening devices."

Maivail drummed his fingers.

"Then you don't believe that conversation you reported?"

Sarokel looked acutely uncomfortable. "I neither believe nor disbelieve, sir."

"You reported it."

"For evaluation by higher authority."

Maivail finally nodded. "All right, Lieutenant. You have defended your actions very creditably. Moreover, I have the impression that you must have formed some sort of coherent picture of this folk, its customs and capabilities. I would like to ask you a few questions."

"Certainly, sir. I'll tell you whatever I can."


Swanbeck and Holden stared at the two ex-captives. Higgins had his left arm in a sling, and Delahaye was on crutches. Both were grinning.

Swanbeck said, "Do I understand correctly that you have been inside that barrier, and nevertheless are now out again?"

Higgins said, "We were inside both barriers. They've got one inside the other."

Delahaye added, "The cells we were in were inside a kind of underground building within the barrier."

Swanbeck said, "Did you get to look around in there very much?"

"Sure," said Higgins. "We not only got to look around, but we had things interpreted for us, and explained to us."

Delahaye said, "We interrogated our interrogator. It was a highly worthwhile experience, though a little boring toward the end."

"However," said Higgins, "it seemed worthwhile to stick around. It was educational. Moreover, it seemed a shame to hurt Sarokel's feelings."

Delahaye nodded. "It would have been interesting to bring him out with us. Only fair, too, after he'd shown us around."

"It would have confused the issue, however," said Higgins.

Swanbeck looked around helplessly at Holden. Holden leaned forward. The first problem, he told himself, was to somehow split them apart. He asked solicitously, "How's that leg, Steve?"

"Not bad," said Delahaye. "All considered."

Higgins said, "Those trees only look soft."

Holden glanced pointedly at a man down the table, and at the empty chair beside him. He looked back at Delahaye. "Hurt to stand on it?"


Toward the other end of the table, someone cleared his throat. "Come on down here, Steve. We've got an extra chair."

Higgins and Delahaye glanced at each other. Delahaye grinned and walked to the other end of the table, where he was immediately surrounded by eager questioners.

Holden centered his attention on Higgins. "They're pounding most of the civilized centers of this planet to bits."


"Why? What did we do to them?"

"Well," said Higgins dryly, "we sent up a pretty good-sized planetary exploration team. What else?"

"Why should that hurt them?"

"Obviously, it made us a potential rival. It proved we had—ah—'hydrofusers'—and so were dangerous."

"What's a hydrofuser?"

"The basic tool of Science."

"The what?"

"There is no Science without hydrofusers. Hydrofusers are the basic tool of Science. Science is the knowledge of what you can do with hydrofusers, and how to do it. You can only make hydrofusers when you already have hydrofusers. When you have hydrofusers, and know how to use them, then you have endless power, can control atomic and molecular structure, process metals, set up impenetrable barriers, create contragravity, build correctors, and make more hydrofusers. If you have an enemy, you make lots of hydrofusers, pull back a special switch on one side, and dump them on him. When they go off because of instability, that's that."

Holden was leaning forward, gripping the table. "Are you saying they've got some one master tool—Wait a minute. This is a controlled hydrogen-fusion reactor?"

"How should they know? And if they don't know—"

"Wait a minute. If they make such a thing, they must know!"

"Why? Can't I use a hammer without knowing the composition of steel?"

"Yes, but you sure can't make another hammer without knowing how to do it."

"Oh, sure, I've got to know how to do it. What you do is, you take four hydrofusers, and look up the settings in the Manual, under the Reprostruct Heading. Then you get or make the stated quantities of materials, and using one other hydrofuser as a model, you place it in alpha-focus of the other four hydrofusers. Now, you check the settings of the other four hydrofusers, and move the assemblage so the materials are in the beta focus. Then you set the four for cycling instability, and go away for a while. When you come back, most of the materials are gone, and you've got six hydrofusers instead of five. Now you run off an extra Manual to go with the new hydrofuser, and there you are. It's easy. That lesson comes in Science 6."

Holden and Swanbeck glanced at each other. Swanbeck looked at Higgins, and said dubiously, "How do you know—"

"That we were told the truth?" said Higgins innocently. "Of course, we don't. Possibly they planned to let us go after pumping us full of lies, and actually helped us to escape."

"Well," said Swanbeck, "it seems surprising that you did manage to escape."

Holden, knowing Higgins' distaste for authority, settled back and said nothing. There was a side of Higgins that Holden tried to avoid.

Higgins was now smiling pleasantly at Swanbeck, and let his gaze rest admiringly on the silver star of Swanbeck's rank.

Swanbeck's neck reddened. His hand tightened reflexively into a fist, then relaxed. Abruptly he said, "Go get it."

Higgins looked at him ironically. "Get what?"

Swanbeck made a gesture of disgust. "While you enjoy yourself, the Bugs go on with their plan."

Higgins looked off at a corner of the room, then stood up, and went out without a word.

Swanbeck glanced at Holden. "What started that?"

"He doesn't like authority. Moreover, you doubted his word."

"I had to."

"What does that matter? Just watch yourself, or you may wind up as Exhibit A in the damnedest farce you've ever experienced."

Swanbeck, his face perfectly blank, watched Higgins come back, carrying a dark brown box about the size of a desk dictionary. He set it down directly in front of Swanbeck, and turned it so that a slot in the brown surface was faced toward Swanbeck. This slot was about half-an-inch wide by two inches long. Beside it to the right was a long orange triangle pointed down, with what roughly looked like Greek letters at the base of the triangle. To the left of the slot was a similar green triangle, pointed up. One corner of the box was torn, crumpled, and stained.

"Now," said Higgins, eyeing Swanbeck alertly, "I'll tell you how we got out of the Bugs' prison." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small flat toy pistol, and pointed it at Swanbeck. Swanbeck eyed it without a flicker of expression.

"This," said Higgins, "is a squirt gun. Right now, there's a little piece of wax over the nozzle." He covered the end of the gun briefly with one hand, and then held out the hand.

Swanbeck's facial expression didn't change. "Ether," he said.

Higgins nodded. "We went to the base of the ravine, when we left, by Jeep. I'd had trouble starting the engine earlier, and brought this out to try squirting ether in the carburetor. But Andy had already found what was wrong, and so we didn't have any trouble. I stuck this toy gun in the top of my boot when the Bugs got us and they didn't find it. Now, the Bugs have bigger eyes, but look a lot like us. Only they have one peculiar feature. Where you'd expect a nose, they have something that looks for all the world like the intake of some kind of air duct, complete with grille. They not only breathe through this thing, but sounds come out of it. As nearly as we could discover, it isn't equipped with anything corresponding to our sense of smell. There's been terrific devastation in there, and the stench almost knocked us out. Now and then, the Bugs seemed to choke a little, but they were nowhere near as conscious of it as we were.

"Well, to find out if they could smell or not, I put some ether on my handkerchief one time, and whipped it out when the guard came in. He didn't comment, but he lost his balance and looked dazed. When it came time to escape, we gave him a good squirt in the air duct and he passed out. We let ourselves out, hid in a plane, and as we passed low over some pines, we threw this box here out and jumped for the trees. Now, I say this is a hydrofuser, which they use to make things, and which they convert to a bomb by a process that puts a little lever here under this slot in the box, where usually there's a blank space."

Higgins looked intently at Swanbeck.

"Now, maybe they fooled us. Maybe we're suckers. Pull the little lever and find out."


Maivail listened attentively but with a deep frown as Lieutenant Sarokel summed up.

"To put it as briefly as possible, sir, I can't escape the impression that these people have a fundamentally different approach from ours. To draw a comparison—Are you familiar with the Great Plateau of Sanar?"

"Where the vacation resort is located? Certainly. I've been there several times."

"Well, sir, you may remember what the approach to it is like. The bulk of that section of the planet is a swamp."

Maivail smiled reminiscently.

"Yes, and the back-to-Nature faddists ride self-powered wheels from the spaceport across the causeway over the swamp, then they climb up the side of the cliff to the Plateau." He laughed. "When I was a boy, I got drawn into a nature-faddist group, and went over the causeway on a wheel. The bugs all but ate us up on the way. Then we arrived at the bottom of a steep cliff, and I looked up, and up, and up. I was tired, hot, and miserable. Around me, the faddists were getting ready, without any delay, to start the climb. Way up the side was a little ledge where we'd spend the first night. The cliff wall in front of us was vertical, like the side of a building.

"Just as we were about to start, there was a shout, then a scream, and I looked up to see several climbers silhouetted against the sky, tied together with a long rope. They plummeted down behind a shoulder of rock, and then I couldn't see them, but I could still hear the scream. There were several of the climbers, but it sounded like just one scream. Then there was this crump sound.

"Our own party stood there, looking pale. Some of them were trembling. Then the leader, a burly fellow, said in a matter-of-fact tone, 'That approach never was any good. Okay, hook up. Best we start.'

"About that time," said Maivail, "an air-taxi hovered to one side, and the driver called out without much hope, 'Anyone for the top?' I got in that taxi so fast it went sidewise for a while. Well, all the way up, we passed cliff face, and more cliff face, and as that flat vertical wall dropped down past us, I was giving thanks for the one sane impulse that had put me inside the taxi, instead of on a rope with two or three people shaking and trembling in front of me, and that long drop gaping underneath. Then for some reason, I started to accuse myself of cowardice, and was almost fool enough to go back down again. But fortunately it occurred to me that I was going to the Plateau for a vacation, not as part of a combat-infantry training program. I went on up to the top, and had three days vacation more than I'd have had if I'd climbed up and down the side, and I'll tell you, I enjoyed that extra time. I like the Plateau. But not that business of climbing up the side."

Sarokel was listening intently. "Yes, sir. That is exactly the way it is. The land below is flat, but it is bug-infested, soggy, miserable. The land atop the Plateau is also mostly flat, but except for the lakes and pools, it is dry, firm, and smooth. But to get to the Plateau, if you don't have an air-taxi ride, is quite a steep climb, even if you pick the gentlest possible approach."

Maivail nodded. "Not worth it. Unless, of course, you had no other way up."

"And that's it, sir."

Maivail scowled. "What do you mean?"

"That's the comparison. We are on the Plateau. These people here are either on the ground below, or climbing up the cliff to the Plateau."

Maivail thought it over. "This sounds fanciful."

"I admit it, Your Excellency. It is fanciful."

"But you think it's true?"

"Yes, sir."

"Can you back this up? Can you connect your comparison to actual facts?"

"I believe so, sir."

"Go ahead." Maivail waited tensely.


Swanbeck and Holden stared at the smooth, olive-green device with its little knobs and dials, at the depleted pile of iron nails at one end of the device, and at the little shiny ingot at the other end.

Holden hesitantly reached out, and picked up the ingot. It felt warm, and very heavy for its size.

Swanbeck, frowning, said, "Is it—" He studied Holden's face, glanced at the device, then at the depleted pile of iron.

Holden took out his pocket knife.

"It's comparatively soft," he said. "Not iron. And it's heavy. Very heavy. If it isn't platinum, it's something just as good."

"Then," said Swanbeck, "are we to assume that this—device—turned iron into platinum?"

Holden looked at him quizzically. "Assume it?"

"Right. How do we know this isn't some kind of shell game? This is the kind of thing people are always falling for. Higgins, here, has been in the hands of these highly-advanced aliens for long enough to have been brain-washed, hypnotized, and programmed to believe anything they choose to tell him. Sure, we see the little barriers form on each end, and we wind up with less iron and this chunk of platinum. Very convincing. What if there's a stack of these platinum samples in there. If we fall for this, our best scientists go off after this red herring, and waste time that should have been spent figuring out how to smash the invaders."

Holden frowned. "Bill?"

A heavy-set man stepped forward. "More nails?"

Holden nodded and picked up the brown case the "hydrofuser" had been in. "Get enough to fill this."

"Sure thing."

Holden beckoned to another of his men. "Hunt up a Geiger counter, will you?" He turned to Swanbeck. "We'd hate to wind up with a home-made, alien-style atom-bomb here."

Swanbeck, who had been examining the little ingot, set it down in a hurry.

Higgins looked blank for a moment, then got up and pulled Delahaye out of a huddle of spell-bound questioners. Higgins' blank look now appeared on Delahaye's face. Both of them, looking serious, pulled over pads and pencils, sat down, and began to sketch the "hydrofuser." Their faces were intent.

Swanbeck glanced at Holden, and nodded, frowning, toward Higgins and Delahaye. Holden studied their faces, then glanced back at Swanbeck. "They've just thought of something. They think maybe they've overlooked something, and they're trying to find out. —That's my guess."

"They look worried to me."

Holden shrugged. "If so, it's their problem. They're conscientious, and we can trust them."

Swanbeck looked unconvinced, but said nothing.

One of Holden's men came in and set down the brown box, filled with nails. Another came in with a Geiger counter, tried it on the little ingot, and shook his head. "Nothing doing."

Holden tried it and nodded. "My wrist watch is a lot worse than this ingot."

Higgins and Delahaye traded drawings, studied them intently, closed their eyes briefly as if giving thanks, and got up simultaneously.

Swanbeck's face remained totally blank and expressionless.

Higgins said, "You had a point there, all right. We could have been brainwashed. But if we'd been hypnotized, and taught how to use this thing under hypnosis, it strikes me our memory of it ought to get better than if we'd only learned by seeing it demonstrated. —Well, it isn't so."

Higgins and Delahaye handed Swanbeck their sketches. Swanbeck compared them with the hydrofuser and with each other. In both, the general proportions of the device were good, and the relative positions of most of the dials and knobs were right. But some of the knobs were misplaced, the sizes of the knobs weren't clear, and while the relative positions of most were right, the actual positions weren't. The sketches were about what might have been expected from two careful observers who had watched to see how a strange piece of equipment was used, but had had no opportunity to study it repeatedly.

Swanbeck nodded, and handed the sketches to Holden. "But why," he said, glancing from Delahaye to Higgins, "did they show you how this was used?"

Higgins said, "We had a clever interrogator. Why not show us? He might guess from our reaction whether we had the thing ourselves."

"Beside," said Delahaye, "as far as he knew, we weren't going anywhere."

Swanbeck glanced at Holden, who said, "They think we have it?"

"What else could we have slung in through the—ah—'cleared lane' that would have done so much damage?"

Holden looked at the device, then glanced at Swanbeck. "This might explain the crude construction features of their planes. If they have the capacity to produce very tough metals, but not the skills to form and process them—after all, when possible, you finish the surface of stainless steel before you heat-treat it—"

"So they make their things in the easiest, simplest shape to form?"

"I'd think they'd have to." Holden glanced at Higgins. "Are these people scientists?"

Higgins said dryly, "Sure they are. Science is, 'How to use hydrofusers.'"

Delahaye added, "They have no word for 'research.'"

Swanbeck said, "What about medicine?"

"Correctors," said Delahaye.

"What's a corrector?"

"You get in, it puts you to sleep, and when you wake up, you're better."

Higgins said, "I got a pretty bad cut on my wrist when they captured me. They put me in a 'corrector.'" He held out his wrist. "It doesn't prove anything, because you didn't see the cut. But there's no scar."

Holden said, "Wait a minute. You remember that time you jabbed a length of glass tubing into your thumb? Let's see that hand again."

Higgins came around the table, and held his right hand out. The left arm was in a sling, but the hand was unbandaged. Holden studied both thumbs. "Which one was it?"

"The right, I think."

Swanbeck said, "This was a bad cut?"

"It was deep," said Higgins.

Holden said, "It wasn't dangerous actually, but it left a distinct scar." He turned Higgins thumb over, then shook his head. "No sign of it now."

Swanbeck scowled. "When did you hurt your arm?"

"Getting out of their plane. —Or rather, in reaching the ground afterward."

Swanbeck said, "I can accept the reality of this—'hydrofuser'—more readily than I can believe in a thing that automatically cures sicknesses."

Holden scratched his head. "I can't help it, Phil. There was a distinct scar there, and it's gone now." He glanced at Higgins. "How does it work? What's the principle?"

Higgins looked doubtful, and glanced at Delahaye. Delahaye in turn shook his head, and glanced off across the room. Higgins said, "Trying to get theory out of that crew was like trying to squeeze water out of a rock."

Delahaye said, "We tried." He looked at Higgins. "What was the explanation? There was something about an alpha-current, but I think that had to do with how you hooked it up. What was that other—"

Higgins frowned. "I think I remember the gist."

Holden and Swanbeck leaned forward alertly.

Higgins quoted slowly, "'The device detects by examination a state of affairs which is not healthful, and corrects it. —Naturally, because this is its function.'"

Holden swore.

Swanbeck smiled sourly, then said, "Wait a minute, now. Higgins, did you have any fillings?"

"Yes, of course."

"Any teeth pulled?"

Higgins frowned. "Sure." His face took on the peculiar expression of one using his tongue to feel around the inside of his mouth. Then he said, "This is silly."

Holden frowned. "The device could hardly take out fillings or grow new teeth."

"All right," said Swanbeck exasperatedly. "But let's put some limit to the thing. I'm up to my ears in wonders and mysteries. Find something they can't do."

Holden got up. "Okay, Andy, take my seat."

Higgins, scowling furiously, said, "What for?"

"So I can bend your head over the back of this chair. —Just imagine it's time for your dental check-up."

Glowering, Higgins sat down. Delahaye grinned. Holden bent over Higgins, and Swanbeck leaned out across the table with a flashlight. There was a considerable silence.

Holden straightened up, his face showing awe. Swanbeck looked totally blank. Higgins shut his mouth with a click, and looked around anxiously.

Holden said, "That doesn't limit them." He glanced at Swanbeck. "You don't think they did this with hypnosis?"

Swanbeck shook his head.

Delahaye, grinning, said, "The suspense is killing him. What's he got in there?"

"Thirty-two perfect teeth," said Holden.

Swanbeck sat down. "It isn't going to be enough to beat them. Somehow, we're going to have to capture their equipment."


Dionnai Count Maivail felt dazed. "No correctors, either. What do they do when long-term fatigue hits them?"

"They eventually cease to exist physically. As with us in a violent accident. As with savages, animals, and diehard Nature fanatics."

"All of them?"

"Apparently, sir."

"Whew. And for sickness and injuries?"

"Specific cures and treatments. Different ones for different troubles."

"How, considering all this, do you explain their managing to put up such resistance?"

Sarokel said cautiously, "They've been climbing for a long time. They haven't quite reached the plateau, but they aren't bog-dwellers, either. They have almost the know-how they need to build the things that we rely on as basic."

Maivail looked at Sarokel. "You don't choose to draw any conclusion from that?"

Sarokel stiffened. "No, Your Excellency."

Maivail said, "Then I will have to ask you. You say you think that they are almost ready to make, for instance, hydrofusers?"

"Yes, sir."

"And make them without already having them?"

"Yes, sir." Sarokel looked tense.

Maivail leaned forward. "Can we make hydrofusers, without first having them?"

Sarokel drew a slow breath. "No, sir."

"Then they can do what we cannot?"

"The conclusion, unpleasant as it is, seems inescapable, sir."

Maivail nodded, and settled back. "That's heresy. You remember your teachings:

"'1) In the Beginning was Man, and his hydrofusers, and the Manual, and above all the Ruling Spirit.

"'2) And by command of the Ruling Spirit, Man was taught to use his hydrofusers, and to read the Manual.

"'3) And the use of the hydrofusers according to the Manual is Science, and it is taught that Science sets Man above all other worldly creatures.

"'4) And the use of Science destroys hunger and sickness, and clothes and shelters Man, and defeats his enemies . . . '"

Maivail paused, then repeated, "'1) In the beginning was Man, and his hydrofusers . . . ' —How do you get around that?"

"That," said Sarokel uneasily, "may hold for us, sir. But these creatures have apparently not yet reached what we look upon as the beginning."

"But they are getting close to it?"

"Yes, sir. Speaking on the basis of what I have deduced from questioning a great many of these people, listening to their secret conversations, and studying the available translated literature, I see no other reasonable conclusion."

"All right. Now then, that brings up two points. First, if they should develop our devices, what then? Who will be more powerful then?"

"Well, sir—it's weighted in our favor now. Our base is much broader. But they are no push-over. With our devices added to theirs—It doesn't appeal to me, sir. It looks clear that they would have a considerable local edge. For instance, think what the ability to screen their defenses would mean to them. They would block our attack. Another question that occurs to me is, is our Plateau the highest possible peak of attainment? I hesitate to go on lest I fall into heresy. Yet, even without considering that, it seems clear that if they should somehow acquire our devices while retaining their own—which have already sufficed to damage us severely—"

"—They might win?" said Maivail.

"—In time. It certainly seems reasonable, sir."

Maivail nodded. "If A is only moderately bigger than B, then it follows that A plus B is much bigger than A alone. This is certainly logical."

"Yes, sir."

Maivail nodded, his expression that of a man who bites down on a succulent mouthful, and finds a pebble.

"Very well," he said. "That bring us to the second question." He glanced at a report, then pinned Sarokel with his gaze. "The Warlord."

"Sir," said the lieutenant plaintively, "I have admitted that I simply don't know about that."

"Then relieve your mind of the uncertainty," said Maivail, pulling out a thick wad of reports. "Here are the fellow's memoirs, translated. They came in a little while ago."

Sarokel stared at the top report, which was headed:

—A Translation—

WARLORD OF 12Q2(2P6)11-4

—Personal Reminiscence—

Sarokel looked up. "Why that's the next planet out from this one."

"Exactly. But the description doesn't match our survey report."

"I think I can explain that, sir. After all, if this Warlord is a reality, then it follows that the conversations of Higins and Delahi are probably true. —It's the work of a camouflage device made by two scientists of 12Q2(2P6)11-4. I don't remember their names, but it's all down in a report somewhere. The two prisoners were talking about it one day. I remember it very clearly. One of them commented about the heavy gravity on this planet. The other remarked that for that reason the Warlord might better not come direct to here with his forces, but entice us to attack the home planet. His words were 'It will be much handier to kill them there.' But the first said that, of course, this camouflage device Tovas—that was one of the names—had made, would keep us from invading, as it would cast the wrong image on our minds and instruments. Then the second said, in that case, exactly how were they to get their swords into us? The first said not to mention it, but the Warlord some time ago had commissioned one of these scientists that had been mentioned—I think it was the other one—to start his 'automatic factory'—I take it this is an assemblage of a great many hydrofusers, timed by clockwork—to start this huge assemblage turning out space-warships. With these, he said, it would be simple to cut our communications with home, and they could have a colossal space-battle with us when we tried to take off, and that would afford everyone ample opportunity for glory. All they would have to do to start this battle would be to locate the Warlord. About this time one of them spoke of the 'wizardry' of the scientist who'd sent them here, and asked the other if he'd noticed what tongue they'd been speaking. That was the end of the information, sir. The other gave an answer that started off something like 'Raj dia Dotor, sij haed . . . ' We weren't able to match it up with any of the local languages, and before we could get much more of it down on tape, they disappeared."

Maivail was wide-awake. "They didn't say any more about the timing of their attack, or their tactics or weapons?"

"Nothing, sir. I gathered that all the decisions would be made by this Warlord. We'd have to take into consideration his character."

Maivail had already spent considerable time doing exactly that. It was obvious that the fellow liked nothing better than a good battle. Anxiously, Maivail leaned forward. "Listen, Sarokel, how long do you suppose it will take them to locate him?"

"I have no idea, sir."

With an effort, Maivail suppressed his anxiety, and nodded. "Well, you've been very helpful, lieutenant."

"Thank you, Your Excellency."

Sarokel went out. Maivail sucked in a deep breath, and reminded himself that they didn't know, on the basis of actual physical observation that the Warlord was a reality. But, if he wasn't, what was the fellow writing his memoirs for?

Frustrated and angry, Maivail cursed under his breath. What was he, Marshal-General Dionnai Count Maivail, Supreme Commander Combined Invasion Force 12, wallowing around in this bog of pestilent half-facts for? Why should he have to evaluate these mysteries?

Then he remembered that the cause of the trouble was nothing else than that the original chief resident agent on the planet, who had run into the mess first, had been shot by that second resident agent, Lassig, and the original staff, that had more or less figured out the situation, had then been flashbombed out of existence by this same Lassig. And Lassig's own staff naturally had been careful not to arrive at the same solution.

Maivail for an instant saw dancing spots before his eyes. There passed through his mind, with grisly satisfaction, the realization that he would certainly be perfectly justified in taking Lassig, and—

But then it dawned on Maivail that he couldn't do that, considering that he had already awarded Lassig a silver nebula for those self-same actions that now caused all this mess.

Maivail's clenched fist struck the desk. With his attention no longer fixed on concrete problems, he became conscious of a rasping sensation in his throat. He seemed, now that he thought of it, to be swimming in some kind of a gaseous sea. The bobbing of this sea caused the distortion of objects in the room. As he watched dazedly, the thing got worse. The desk stretched out like a spaceport. The opposite wall shrank into a little thing no bigger than a piece of paper.

Maivail groped amongst the gigantic objects on his desk, and reached out with an arm the size of a spaceship toward the button that would summon his Executive Staff Chief, Kram Baron Angstat.

However, to hit the big button was no easy job. The motion of Maivail's huge arm had to be coordinated with precision, or it would miss the button. As he watched in frustration, the arm cruised past the button well to one side, and when he sent out his mental orders to correct the error, the arm was sluggish in coming back so he could make another try. Worse yet, as was only natural, an arm that size was heavy, and it was pulling him off-balance.

Maivail's next attempt, however, landed his gigantic thumb smack in the middle of the enormous button, and then it vaguely occurred to Maivail, as a little, barely-perceptible figure appeared in the tiny door across the room, that something was not right.

Angstat's voice reached him clearly enough. "Sir, there's a new report on this 'Shurlok Homes.' The—Sir—Your Excellency! What's wrong?"

Angstat's voice, toward the end, was like booming thunder in Maivail's ears.

"You damned little ant," he said, eyeing the miniature figure that wavered before him on the steeply slanting floor. "Get your voice down to normal or I'll drop a finger on you."

The tiny figure of Angstat registered alarm as Maivail menaced it with a space-fleet-sized hand. Then abruptly, Angstat rushed forward, enlarging enormously as he came.

The room went into fantastic vibrations, with everything in sight changing shape, proportions, and relative position. The enormous desk inverted itself, an incredible feat for an object nearly the size of a planet, and it carried with it the monster chair, still attached to the tiny, far-away floor.

Angstat was urgently saying something, in a voice like ten hydrofusers gone unstable at once, but it suddenly was all too much for Maivail. The whole miserable scene suddenly dwindled and faded—sight, sound, touch, balance—everything—and then he was free of the mess.


Swanbeck put the phone down carefully. "Denver thinks we've got damned little time. The Bugs are starting to switch their heavy forces into new territory. Denver can get the ether to us; but to get it inside of warheads, rigged so it will escape into the air, and not flash into flame—"

Holden said, "The only way to get it in there is to take it in there on one of those planes."

"How do we do that?"

There was a tense silence around the table. Holden glanced at Higgins. "You jumped out of their aircraft, and lived to tell about it. How low was it?"

"This one," said Higgins, "was maybe ten feet above the tops of the pines when it slowed and changed course."

Swanbeck said, "That's a rarity. But at night, when they protect the approaches to the Barrier, at times they drop to fifty or seventy-five feet above the ground."

Holden nodded, and turned back to Higgins. "You were in the aircraft. Were there any unusual features about the way it was built?"

"Sure. The walls were hard as steel, and about three inches thick."

"The planes have windows. What's the glass like?"

"Like thick armorplate."

Holden exasperatedly moved the stack of heavy shiny ingots to get at the photographs underneath. He studied the plane with fixed landing gear. The crudity of the thing now stared him in the face.

"All right," he said, "what about this undercarriage? Could we shoot an arrow with fishline between the axle and fuselage?"

"H'm," said Swanbeck.

Higgins said, "With fishline attached?"

He glanced at Delahaye, who nodded, then sorrowfully tapped Higgins' arm and his own crutches. Higgins looked momentarily crestfallen, then straightened up. "We can bring them down low. We can probably even get back in, ether and all."

Holden said, "How?"

"We watched them while we were in there. They've got so much power, the average Bug just doesn't need to think very much."

"Go on."

"Well, while we were in there, our interrogator casually asked us about Sherlock Holmes. Was our morale suffering because he hadn't gotten into the fight and helped us?"

Holden blinked, stared at Delahaye, then back at Higgins. "Why did he ask that?"

"There's only one conceivable reason. They believe he's a real person."

Swanbeck shook his head, and glanced at his watch. "Time's flying."

"Wait a minute," said Holden. He glanced at Higgins. "What's the connection?"

"We planted the idea that there is an actual Martian civilization. If they'll believe the one, why not the other."

"Why should they believe either?"

"Because by routine, they've got teams working through our literature—our so-called 'Planetary Records.' Their habit of thought is different from ours, and they haven't got things sorted out yet."

"What's the advantage of fooling them?"

"At best, they're going to think an army of Martians is all set to descend on their rear. At the least, they're going to waste time trying to figure out what's going on."

"And so," said Holden, "how does this help us bring them down?"

Higgins said, "We've got access to ground-effects machines, and the facilities to form medium and small pieces of metal quickly, right?"

"Yes, if we don't get blasted off the map before you get to the point."

"Okay," said Higgins. "That should do it." He pulled over a piece of paper, sketched rapidly, leaned forward, and began to talk in a low earnest voice.


Dionnai Count Maivail opened his eyes to see Angstat looking in the opening of the corrector.

Maivail, feeling like himself again, climbed out. "How long was I in, this time?"

"Nearly two days, sir."

They started down the corridor.

Maivail said, "That long?"

"Yes, sir. I've been in and out myself. There's some kind of sickness going around. We've had to triple the number of correctors to keep up with it."

"What's the cause?"

"The usual sir. It's something in the food, or the air, or something. The details don't matter."

They stepped around the mouldering odds and ends of a corpse lying in a cross-corridor, where the earlier blast had burned away a ramp leading to the surface.

Maivail said, "This ought to be cleaned up."

"I know it, sir. But there have been so many more important things to do—" Angstat spotted a technician idling along down the corridor. The fellow looked as if he had all the time in the universe. "You there!" bellowed Angstat.


"Come here a minute . . . You see that. Shovel it into the corner with the rest, and polish up this space on the floor here."

As the technician leaped to obey, Angstat rejoined Maivail. "You're right, sir. It's bad for morale to let our standards down. I'll see that the policing of the area is kept up to regulations from now on."

Maivail nodded approval. "Now," he said, "to more important matters."

"Yes, sir."

"Have we located those two missing prisoners?"

"No sign of them, sir. They've vanished into thin air."

"Any indications of—ah—hostilities—from the fourth planet?"

"Not a solitary thing, sir. They probably haven't managed to locate this Warlord."

"How's the conquest of the locals coming along?"

"Well, sir, there's this sickness, but, on the whole, it's coming along splendidly. We've got production facilities in two-thirds of the districts reduced practically to rubble." He hesitated. "However—in the rest of the districts, sir—I regret to say that there have been untoward incidents."

"Such as what?"

"Well, for one thing, every place where the locals' original counterattack hurt us, there's been some variation on this sickness. Everybody is, has been, or will be, a good deal below par. Up to two-thirds or even more of the personnel have been knocked out at a time, and we were already well below strength—"

"Get to the point," snapped Maivail, "what's happened?"

"Due to overfatigue and sickness, sir, the Traffic Controllers have evidently gotten a little careless at times, and have varied the order of opening the cleared lanes according to a pattern, instead of by pure chance. The locals have promptly figured out the pattern and shot things in."

"How much damage?"

"Base 4 got hit with what must have been half-a-dozen destabilized hydrofusers, and lost twenty aircraft and their crews. The lanes through the inner barrier were closed, however.

"Base 6 had some kind of big local aircraft flash in, and pile up against the inner barrier. Fortunately, nothing happened.

"Bases 8 and 11 were bombarded with drums that burst apart to let out swarms of flying insects. These insects sting, and they have proved extremely troublesome. We've switched Groups 14 and 17 into the cleared zones of Bases 8 and 11, and set them down under protection of the 8 and 11 shields. The men, however, refuse to debark, because of these flying insects."

"Are the insects inside the inner barrier?"

"Unfortunately, sir, they are. The inner lane was opened up according to rule, as soon as the outer lanes were all closed. The bugs came through. —It's chaos in there."

"Well—We should survive that, even if it does keep the correctors busy. Is that all?"

Angstat scowled. "Not quite, sir. There's still Base 9."

"What happened there?"

"Well—They were hard hit by the sickness." Angstat brushed away flies as they passed a cross-corridor. "And I suppose they got pretty careless. The Traffic Controller was found stiffened up with a horrible grin on his face, and it took six days in the corrector to bring him around."

"Six days!"

"Yes, sir. It's unprecedented, sir. Well, while they were in this state, with everyone either getting in or out of a corrector, they forgot the cleared lanes completely, and a party of locals came in on a rope. Things got pretty ugly in there, sir."

Maivail moodily turned this event over in his mind. "They threw the locals out, didn't they?"

"They didn't. We shifted Group 15, and Group 15 threw them out."

"Then that's taken care of."

"Yes, sir. Except that now Group 15 has apparently caught the sickness. They're fabricating extra correctors at top speed, and they can hardly keep up with the demand."

Maivail thought it over. The enemy productive and war-making capacity was now pulverized in two-thirds of the war zones. However, roughly a quarter of the overall invading force had been knocked out in the initial enemy counterattack and the result of the various sequels was to tie up an additional three full Invasion Groups, plus various odds and ends. The effect was to reduce him to about fifty percent of his strength.

"Oh," said Angstat. "There was one other thing. I was about to tell you, sir, when you got sick."

"What's that?" said Maivail, frowning as he stepped over a thick stream of ants crossing the floor.

"We've found out more about Shurlok Homes."

Maivail had forgotten that. He ducked a large greenish beetle winging down the corridor, then opened the door leading to his office.

Inside, several staff member were brushing away clouds of flies as they ate their lunch. There were flies in the air and on the table, flies landing on the regulation biscuit, flies swimming around in the regulation soup. The staff ate on stoically.

Maivail dismissed the triviality from his consciousness, reminding himself that warriors must be prepared to endure such irritations. He focused his thought on more important matters.

"Is this Homes the same as the Warlord?"

"No, sir. They are separate individuals. But we now have proof positive that the locals do have correctors, though evidently in limited numbers."

Maivail sat down at his desk. "How so?"

"Well, sir, we've calculated that this Homes is around a hundred years old, or possibly more. On this planet, seventy years is about the average life-span. Yet the comments of the locals show that they regard Homes as being possessed of full vigor and all his faculties. It follows that he must possess the use of a corrector, to overcome the long-range cumulative fatigue."

Maivail brushed away a gnat. "Aren't we being excessively clever, Angstat? Why not simply ask the locals about this fellow?"

Angstat shook his head gloomily. "We've tried it. That brings on these choking fits. Then, afterward, when we listen to their conversation, first they talk as if he didn't really exist, then they talk as if he does exist. The best the interrogators have made out of that is that he's away on a long trip. We haven't got anywhere with that approach, sir."

Maivail said exasperatedly, "Listen, we've never seen this Homes. We've never seen the Warlord, either, though at least there has been some proof of his existence. Now, we've got trouble enough without complicating the situation with these mysterious beings, who haven't declared themselves, anyway. Let's forget this Homes, entirely. As for the Warlord, what we need to do is just keep an eye on the fourth planet. Once we have these people here conquered, then we can handle him." Maivail, still feeling fresh from his stay in the corrector, added decisively, "The devil with all these unseen entities." He waved away circling flies. "If you can't even see a thing, how can it hurt you"

"Now, Angstat, we'll want to shift these remaining Invasion Groups to new cleared—"

The door burst open. "Sir! General Angstat!"

Maivail looked up in astonishment.

A staff member, spoon in hand and a haze of flies around him, pointed urgently into the other room. "Sir, an alien airship—"

Maivail snapped, "Exactly what is unusual about that?"

"This one, sir, matches the projections for the aircraft of that 'Warlord!'"

Maivail and Angstat catapulted into the next room and hurled staff members in all directions to get at the screen. Sure enough, there, gliding behind a nearby hill, was a fantastic airship, with short masts, rigging, weird guns fore and aft, a cabin amidships, and copper-colored warriors in steel and leather on the deck and at the guns.

"All right," snapped Maivail, glaring around at the apprehensive staff. "Now finally we'll get to the bottom of this. Order up Groups 2, 5, 16 and 18 to guard the planet against external attack. Groups 7 and 10 are to stand by in immediate reserve. Now, get every troop carrier and combat aircraft we can man out there, and bring me in as many of those soldiers as you can get your hands on!"

"Sir," quavered a staff member, "might it not be more prudent—"

Maivail lashed out and knocked him over a desk into the corner.

"Groups 3 and 13," said Maivail, "will act as reserve for Groups 4, 6, and 12, which will reconnoiter the planet for any further sign of these intruders. Headquarters Group will devote itself entirely to capturing these soldiers. Move!"

The staff sprang into action.

"Sir," said Angstat, as soon as they were alone in Maivail's office. "We may end up with two wars on our hands."

"That matter isn't exclusively up to me. And if it happens, I intend to find out about it before we get maneuvered into a nutcracker. Get the Planning Staff at work on the quickest route out of here."

"Yes, sir."

Maivail sat down and drummed his fingers on the desk. What if there were a Warlord, in control of the fourth planet. What if Shurlok Homes did exist, at the peak of his powers through possession of his own corrector? There across the room in a file case was a report that listed other formidable entities that seemed to live a charmed life. Some of these beings possessed their own armies. Some lived on distant planets but might roar in anytime with a space fleet. Some could change their form at will, others had peculiar powers that it stopped the thought-processes to merely think of. What would he, Maivail, do if his men ran into a being that whizzed through the air under his own power, could not be dented by explosives, and squashed steel in his bare hands?

"Well," he told himself, "this is the acid test. We'll just see what this Warlord can actually do."

Maivail settled back, noticed a new report in the "In" square on his desk, and picked it up. The title read: "Latest Conclusions on the Social Structure of the Local Inhabitants of 12Q2(2P6)11-3." Scowling, Maivail glanced through it, then straightened up hopefully. The report was written in fairly plain language, did not generally use four long words when one short one would do, and, on the surface, at least, gave no sign of that cold rebuff to the intruder upon the sacred mysteries. It appeared possible to read it, not decode it, and it even had an introduction at the beginning, and a summary at the end.

Eagerly, Maivail read: "From the facts given, namely: 1) The very high level of technical skill evidenced by the locals; and 2) The apparent existence of recognized 'Immortals' such as the famous Homes, and the self-admitted Immortal known as 'The Warlord,' it becomes evident that this planet logically must have hydrofusers and correctors.

"But it is equally clear, from the short lives of the average citizens, that these correctors are not generally distributed. Their existence is, in fact, not widely known, and the long lives of the Immortals are apparently explained away under one pretext or another.


"This report concludes, from a careful study of the available translated documents, that a small group of exceptionally competent citizens maintains these devices for their own use, elects new members to join the group, and withholds knowledge of the device from all unqualified outsiders.

"This conclusion harmonizes obvious local facts with a basic proven rule of Science: A hydrofuser cannot be made except by those already in possession of hydrofusers and skilled in their use. Also, correctors cannot be made save by the use of hydrofusers.

"The question immediately arises: 'Why are hydrofusers and the devices based upon them withheld from the bulk of the local inhabitants?'

"Two answers present themselves:

"1) The Immortals wish to gather the fruits of diversity which the lack of these ultimate tools forces the local inhabitants to develop.

"2) More basically, the nature of the bulk of these inhabitants is so chaotic, undisciplined, divided, violently ambitious, and short-sighted, that the possession of these ultimate basic tools would create chaos. To avoid disorganization, the Immortals restrict the ultimate tools to their own use, but permit the wide-spread use of secondary group-sources of similar but lesser potency.—Thus a degree of organization and harmony is maintained. If the ultimate tools were to be generally released by the Immortals, they would put into the hands of innumerable diverse, mutually jealous factions the means for each other's destruction and their own aggrandizement. Chaos could be expected to follow in a very brief time.

"We submit that this explanation is simple, logical, in accord with the known facts, and is therefore right."

Maivail felt a great wave of relief, which vanished with a shout from outside.

Angstat ran into the room.

Into the outer office burst copper-hued warriors in metal-and-leather, the cut ends of cords still fastened to their wrists, their holsters and scabbards empty, but small pistols in their hands. There was no noise, no flash, but the staff and a few desperate guards went down right and left.

Maivail got over his moment of paralysis. "Lock that door!"

Angstat slammed it shut and locked it.

Maivail smashed a glass plate over a red button inset into his desk. He jabbed the button twice, and the blare of a horn resounded in an intricate pattern that commanded: "Retreat, fighting, to the ships."

There was a heavy crash against the door.

Maivail yanked a desk drawer open, tossed an extra gun to Angstat, jammed one under his own belt, picked up a hydrofuser from a little stand, swiftly reset it, and cut a hole through the wall into the corridor.

There was another heavy crash against the door, but now Maivail and Angstat were in the corridor.

Throughout the underground command center, the call resounded, and around Maivail and Angstat, the men were retreating, clutching guns, captured swords, broken chair legs, anything. At every cross-corridor, they shouted, "Look Out! The Warlord!" Halfway to the ships, there was a panic as someone sighted a tall figure and screamed "There's Shurlok!"

Cursing savagely, Maivail and his officers finally got the disorganized horde into the usable ships. Before anything else went wrong, Maivail slammed down the switch that relayed the order to open a lane in the outer screen. The relay performed its task, and Maivail ordered, "Lift ships!"

Then they were up and out of the chaos.

Angstat said, "Now what, sir?"

"I won't fight two planets at once," said Maivail, "but we aren't beaten yet."

"Wouldn't it be better to get out of here before that space fleet turns up?"

"Not yet. We have to land one final blow."

* * *


Swanbeck stumbled out into the open air.

"Ye gods, what a stench! How did they live in that slaughterhouse?"

"With no sense of smell," said Holden, "and a universal cure on hand, I suppose it's about what you'd expect."

The two men walked a long distance off, and looked back at the huge glistening doughnut-shaped barrier. Swanbeck cleared his throat.

"Here, at least, is one impregnable defensive position that we own. Complete with power-source, controls, cylindrical flying warships, and dozens of 'hydrofusers,' 'correctors,' and other fantastic devices, plus enough prisoners so we can wring the information out of them, and find out how to use these things."

Holden nodded. "What a pesthole it is, though."

Back at the Barrier, a big bundle was being lowered down on the end of a rope. It was easy to imagine the grisly load within. Several men dropped out and staggered off several hundred yards to get a breath of air.

"Okay," said Swanbeck, "now let's get the news back to Denver." He faced up the long slope, beckoned, and pumped his arm up and down.

There was a roar, and a Jeep came down the slope. They got in, and heaved and crashed up the hill, down the other side, and along a long dusty road, with empty scabbards clattering, and metal ornaments digging into their flesh. On the way, Swanbeck said with relief, "Those boys are on the run. We're over the worst of this."

Holden struggled to pinpoint just what it was about the statement that bothered him. When they got out of the Jeep, Swanbeck was confident, and Holden had his fingers crossed. They walked away from the road along the rocks, careful to leave no trail that would give away their hiding place. The Jeep drove on.

They were no sooner inside than a worried corporal hurried up to Swanbeck.

"Sir, Denver's on the line. They got a hot coal down their neck."

Swanbeck, scowling, picked up the phone. "Hello . . . Yes, it came off beautifully . . . No . . . No, sir. Perfect . . . They've what? Lifted ships? . . . Yes! Yes, sir . . . What? . . . What's that, sir?" Swanbeck's buoyant tone faded into incredulity. "What do they expect to gain by that? . . . Yes, sir . . . Well, what can we . . . "

Holden waited for the worst. Swanbeck put down the phone.

Holden said, "Now what?"

"Let's go outside. Maybe it's started here now."

"Maybe what's started here now?"

"Their damned clincher."

Holden swallowed. He was afraid to ask anything more.

Once outside, Swanbeck gazed up at the sky. "There's one."

Holden squinted. Forty or fifty feet overhead, a little white piece of paper drifted down.

They watched it descend, then Swanbeck picked it up. "Yes. That's it."

He handed it to Holden, who read:

—Fellow Creatures—

For ages you have been victimized by your leaders, who have possessed, unknown to you, marvelous tools capable of making each of you healthy, rich, and powerful beyond your dreams.

They have suppressed these tools.

We have invaded, not to conquer you, but to smash the murderous grip of these leaders at your throat. We are determined that these marvelous tools shall be yours . . .

To prove what we say, we have left on your planet many of our own tools, and we are preparing simplified Manuals in your own languages to show you how to use them.

We are your friends.

We make no charge, we put no price on these precious gifts.

You can be forever healthy, you can make what you will, you can conquer gravity, go anywhere, have perfect privacy, amass riches in quantities you have never dreamed of.

Only, you must see that treacherous leaders do not again take away from you what is yours.

* * *

Holden looked up dizzily.

Another paper was drifting down a hundred feet away.

Swanbeck said sourly, "Look there."

An olive-colored case, apparently degravitized to make it light and buoyant, drifted to the earth near the road, and tumbled slowly along in the wind.

Swanbeck and Holden caught it, opened it up, and found the familiar device inside, complete with Simplified Manual.

Holden opened the Manual, and read aloud, "How to Create A Privacy Shield, How to Make Gold, How to Reproduce Food Without Work, How to Make a Corrector and Be Forever Healthy, How to Defend Yourself, How to Make More Hydrofusers, and How to Blow Up your Enemies . . . "

Dizzily, Swanbeck and Holden looked at each other.


Dionnai Count Maivail, moving slowly at high altitude as the stream of hydrofusers poured out of his ships, explained the situation to Kram Baron Angstat.

"Offer a man, long deprived, his fondest wish, and will he refuse it? First, there will be fighting because there aren't enough hydrofusers to go around. Then there will be all kinds of private sanctuaries where they can do whatever they want, because of the shield, and can escape the most obvious consequences, because of the correctors. Only after ages of working at cross-purposes, and after exhausting all manner of appetites and delusions, will they begin to see the flaws. Meanwhile, they will forget their other skills. The result, Angstat," he said enthusiastically, "will be utter stagnation."

A sudden thought occurred to Maivail. He didn't voice it. But a glance at Angstat's blank wondering look showed that it had occurred to him, too.

Dumfounded, Maivail thought, "Could something like this have happened long ago to us?"


Swanbeck, Holden, Delahaye, and Higgins, crouched over the instruction books. Off to one side, a bilingual captain with a gun in his ribs eagerly poured out a flood of information from the full-sized, unsimplified Manual.

Half-a-mile away, a few iridescent small-sized half-globes wondered off across the valley, momentarily flickering out from time to time as their owners paused to look around.

Swanbeck glanced up and swore. "Look at them! Over the hill in broad daylight! Unpunishable desertion!"

Holden pointed to the Manual. "How do we figure this out. Less talk and more thought."

Swanbeck subsided angrily, took a final cold look at the walking AWOL's under their privacy shields, and returned to the instructions with a will. What had to be done, he reminded himself, was to somehow figure out roughly just what was inside that case, and build the thing into the system of accumulated knowledge before it turned into a craze and replaced that knowledge.

And, he told himself, no matter how rough the road, never give up.


Dionnai Count Maivail squinted at the stacks of translated human documents. The fleet itself was well out now from the dangerous planets, but Maivail could see that the permanent superiority of his people would be assured only when they added the captured know-how of the earthmen to their own Science.

Somehow, when he got back home, Maivail was going to have to put this idea across without getting disassembled for heresy in the process.

For now, his problem was just to absorb the substance of a few dozen of these translated documents, so he could get a general picture of what passed for science on this planet. That would enable him to present his argument logically when the time came. Surely, he told himself, there should be nothing hard about that.

He massaged his throbbing brow, closed this latest report, shoved it aside, and selected a fresh one.

Time crept by.

Isolated fragments of information from various reports swam through Maivail's consciousness:

". . . elevated to 350° F, with agitation to maintain a uniform temperature throughout. This produces first-settle plaster. This is the half-hydrate CaSO4, 1/2H2O. The anhydrous second-settle plaster is produced by . . . "

". . . a low-pass filter for the noise, assuming, that is, that the signal can be satisfactorily approximated by the expansion K0+K1t+K2t2+ . . . Kntn, in which . . . "

". . . 4,000 to 5,000 psi. The 70-30 mix can be fired under-watered, or cake to . . . "

". . . the heavier type of these two kinds of mesons has a mass 273 times that of the electron; this is the pion. The lighter meson has a mass 207 times that of the electron; this is the muon. The pion and the muon may be both either positively or negatively charged. Spontaneously, a charged pion (if, that is, it is not previously captured by an atom) changes into a . . . "

Maivail looked up dizzily. He promised himself that if this headache got any worse, he would head for the nearest corrector. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to have one set up right here in his office, where it would be handy.

Doggedly, Maivail pulled out the next report, and opened it at random:

". . . if f(x) is finite and single-valued in the interval pi>x>-pi and has only a finite number of maxima, minima, and discontinuities in this interval, then . . . "

Maivail's head suddenly threatened to blow wide-open, and he lurched to his feet.

He knew the predicament he'd created for the humans was tough. Managing things on the Plateau was no easy job.

But something told Maivail that relearning how to climb was worse yet.

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