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The Second Solution

The little thin chap with the too-sharp voice was saying:

"My point is, we didn't need Edison, Paladine, Clissler, or any particular scientist. It is the mass mind that moves inevitably in certain directions. The inventions, the ideas of individuals grow out of that mass; they would occur regardless of the birth or early death of any individual genius, so-called. There's always a second solution."

Somebody disagreed: "Inventions change the course of history. A new weapon wins a war because it was introduced when it was. A year later would have been too late."

The big man cleared his throat, drawing our attention to him. I had noticed him idle over from the club bar a few minutes earlier, and listen with that bored contempt which deep-space men have for groundlings. He had the tan of space in his hawklike countenance; and it was obvious that this was between voyages for him; and he didn't know what to do with himself.

"I hate to enter an impractical discussion," he said, "but it just happens I can illustrate your argument. You all remember the experience some years ago of Professor Jamieson with a full-grown ezwal in the ocean jungle of Eristan II—how they captured a Rull lifeship intact, and eventually escaped with its secret of perfect antigravity, and prevented a revolution and a massacre on Carson's Planet?"

We all recalled it; the big man went on: "Actually, Professor Jamieson had captured two ezwals on that visit of his to Carson's Planet. One was a male, which he took with him on his own ship, and with which he was later wrecked on Eristan II. The other was a female, which he had dispatched to Earth on an earlier ship. "En route, this female give birth to a male about as big as a lion. The young one grew about a foot on the trip, but that wouldn't have mattered in itself. What precipitated the whole thing was the antigravity converters, the old, imperfect, pre-Rull type—in their fashion, they began to discharge torrents of free energy; and that's where the story begins."

"Does it prove my point or his?" asked the little chap with the sharp voice.

The big man grimaced at him; and silence settled over our little group.

* * *

The grim, iron-hard face of Commander McLennan twisted toward the two officers. "Absolutely out of control!" he said from clenched teeth. "The Sparling free energy effect! Ship'll strike Earth in fifteen minutes somewhere in the great Toganna Forest Reserve in northern Canada.

"Carling, get the men into the lifeboats, then make contact with the superintendent of the Reserve. Tell him we've got two ezwals of Carson's Planet aboard, who'll probably live through the crash. Tell him to prepare for any eventualities; and that I'll be down to take charge of the wreck in half an hour. Brenson!"

"Yessir!" The white-faced younger officer sprang to rigid attention as Carling whirled out of the room.

"Go down and kill those two ezwals, mother and son. We can't take a chance on those two beasts getting loose on Earth. They'll murder a thousand people before they can be killed—if they ever get free! You know what they're like. Anybody who's been to Carson's Planet—" He groaned in fury. "Damn Jamieson for having ezwals brought to Earth. I was against it from the—"

He caught himself: "And Brenson: be at the lifeboats in seven . . . no, make it six minutes for safety. Even if they're not dead! Now, run!"

The young man blanched whiter still. "Yessir!" he breathed again, and was gone, tugging at his gun.

For McLennan there were vital things to do, valuable papers to retrieve; and then the time was up. He plunged through the door of a lifeboat, gasped:

"Brenson here yet?"

"No, sir!"


They waited. One minute slipped by. Two. Then it was Carling who whispered:

"We've got to leave, sir. He can use that empty lifeboat, if he comes. We've got to leave."

McLennan looked strangely blank. "He's the son of old Rock Brenson. What'll I tell my old pal?"

Carling made no reply. And McLennan's lips twisted to the shaping of a curse, but no sound came, and no real thought of violent words was in his mind. As he slid the lifeboat smoothly into the safety of space, he heard the fierce whisper of one of the men:

"Mistake . . . send a fool like Brenson down. He's got the killer mind. That's what's holding him. He's got to kill—"

* * *

From above him came the terrible snarl of his mother; and then her thoughts, as hard and sharp as crystal:

"Under me for your life! The two-legged one comes to kill!"

Like a streak, he leaped from his end of the cage, five hundred solid pounds of dark, dark-blue monstrosity. Razor-clawed hands rattled metallically on the steel floor, and then he was into blackness under her vast form, pressing into the cave of soft, yielding flesh that she made for him—taking unbreakable holds with his six hands, so that, no matter what the violence of her movements or the fury of her attacks, he would be there safe and sound, snugly deep in the folds between her great belly muscles.

Her thought came again, curt and hard as so many blows: "Remember all the things I've told you. The hope of our race is that men continue to think us beasts. If they suspect our intelligence, we are lost. And someone does suspect it. If that knowledge lives, our people die!"

Faster came her thought: "Remember, your weaknesses in this crisis are those of youth. You love life too much. Fight the resulting fear, for fear it is. Take death if the opportunity comes to serve your race by so doing."

Her brain slowed, grew cold. He watched with her then, clinging to her mind with his mind as tightly as his body clung to her body.

He saw the pole-thick steel bars of the cage; and, half hidden by their four-inch width, the figure of a man; he saw—the thoughts of the man!

"Damn you!" those thoughts came. "If it wasn't for you being on this ship I'd be out of danger now. I—"

The man's hand moved. There was a hard, metallic glint as he pushed the weapon between the bars. It came alive with white fire.

For the briefest moment, the mental contact with his mother blackened. It was his own ears that heard the gasping roar; his own flat nostrils that smelled the odor of burning, cooking flesh; and there was no mistaking the tangible, physical reality of her wild charge straight at the merciless flame gun projecting between the bars.

The fire clicked off. The blackness vanished from his mother's mind; and he saw that the weapon and the man had retreated from the mad, reaching threat of those mighty claws.

"Damn you!" the man flared. "Well, take it from here then!"

* * *

There must have been blinding pain, but none of it came through to his brain. His mother's thoughts remained at a mind-shaking pitch of malignance; and not for a single instant did she remain still. She ducked this way, that way; she ran with mad speed, twisting, darting, rolling, sliding, fighting with an almost inconceivable violence for life in the hopelessly narrow confines of the cage.

Like a squirrel she ran twenty feet up the bars of the cage; and then, at the ceiling, she swung along with the agility of a monkey from bar to thick bar. But always, in spite of her vaunting passion, in spite of deadly desperation, a part of her mind remained untouched, unhurried, terrible in its icy ferocity. And always that tearing fire following her, missing her, then hitting her squarely—hitting her so often that finally she could no longer hold back the knowledge that her end was near. And with that thought came another—his first awareness that she had had a purpose in keeping the weapon beyond the bars, and forcing it to follow the swift, darting frenzy of her threshing about.

By following her desperate movements the beam of the flame gun had seared with molten effect across the hard resistance of those thick, steel bars!

"God!" came the man's thoughts. "Won't it ever die? And where is that damned young one? Another minute now, and I'll have to go. I—"

The thought stopped—stopped as sixty-five hundred pounds of the hardest organic body ever created smashed with pile-driver speed at the weakened bars of the cage. The cub strained with every ounce of tautened muscles against the thrusting compression of that wall of steel-hard tendons surrounding him—and lived because even in that moment of titanic attempt, he felt the distinct effort his mother made to prevent the smashing force of her muscles from squeezing him to jelly.

Beyond the vastness of her body, he heard the harsh grating of ripping metal as mighty bars bent and broke, where the flame had destroyed their tensile strength.

"Good Lord!" the man thought in high dismay.

Strangely, then, the preternatural sharpness of his thoughts weakened, retreated strangely into dimmer forms. The picture of him vanished; and where the mother ezwal's thoughts had been, there was no movement. The ezwal was aware of her lying above him, a great, flabby dead mass, completely covering him.

The reality of her death struck him instantly; and it explained why the man's mind and the picture of him had faded. It was his own weaker powers now that were catching the man's thoughts.

They were queerly distorted, senseless thoughts. The man mumbled: "Only got a minute, only minute . . . then I've got to go . . . get off the ship before—"

He was aware of the man crawling onto his mother's back, and tingled with dismay. It was he who was being searched for now; and if that white flame found him it would deal out equally merciless death. Frantically he pushed deeper into the yielding stomach above him.

And then—all hell broke loose. There was a piercing scream of air against the freighter's hull. The crash was world-shattering. His six hands were wrenched from their holds. He struck intolerable hardness; and the blackness that came was very real and very personal.

* * *

Slowly, the darkness grew alive. Somewhere there was movement, muffled noises, and a confusing sense of many men's thoughts: incredible danger!

Alarm leaped along his nerves, faster, faster; in a spasm of movement, he pressed upward into the saving folds of his mother's flesh; and, as he lay there quiveringly still, deep into her, the world beyond and around her enveloping body began to grow clearer. Thoughts came:

"Never saw such an awful mess!" somebody's mind whispered.

"What could have ailed Brenson?" another groaned. "That fighting instinct of his got him at last, in spite of his love of life. His body's plain jam . . . what did you say, Mr. McLennan?"

"I'm talking to Kelly," came the curt, savage answer. "Kelly, I said—"

"Just a minute, boss. I was getting an important message from the patrol science headquarters. Guess what? Caleb Carson, Professor Jamieson's second in command here on Earth, is coming by air express to take charge. Carson is the grandson of old Blake Carson, who discovered Carson's Planet. He'll arrive at noon . . . that's two hours and—"

"Oh, he is, is he?" McLennan's answering thought, as it penetrated to the ezwal, was truculent, immeasurably grim. "Well, I don't think he'll be here in time for the kill."

"Kill? What kill?"

"Don't be such a fool, man!" the commander snarled. "We've got a five-hundred-pound ezwal to locate. You don't think a smash-up like this will kill one of those things."


"It must be alive!" McLennan went on tersely. "And do you know what it means if an ezwal gets loose in this million square miles of wilderness? He'll murder every human being he gets hold of."

"This looks like a hunting party with a vengeance."

"You bet. That's where you come in. Phone down to the reservation superintendent's office, and tell him he's got to round up the biggest, toughest hunting dogs he can get, preferably those who've trailed grizzly bears. Make him realize that this is the most important thing that's ever happened in this forsaken land. Tell him that, on Carson's Planet, where these killers come from, settlers are being massacred in droves, and that men are not even safe in fortified cities. Tell him . . . I don't care what you tell him, but get action! Parker!"

"Shoot, boss!"

"Lower your ship and let down some tackle. I've started the ball rolling for a hunting trip that may be absolutely unnecessary. But never mind that. I believe in planning. And now—I think you've got enough power in that bus to hook into this old scoundrel and turn her over. One of the tricks of this tribe is that the young ones can tangle themselves in their mother's skin, and—"

The ezwal let himself sink slowly through the cave of flesh. His lower, combination-feet-and-hands touched something cold and wet, and he stood there for a moment, trembling. His nose caught a draft of air, and savored the scent of cooked flesh that stank at him from his mother's body; and the memory it brought of fire and agonizing death sent a sick thrill along his nerves.

He forced the fear aside. With a spasmodic effort of his brain, he analyzed his chances. Wilderness, their thoughts had said; and in their minds had been pictures of brush and trees. That meant hiding places. Winter? That was harder to picture because there was only a sense of white brightness, and somehow it connected with the unfamiliar cold wetness into which his feet were sinking. A sticky, clinging wetness that would slow him in the swift dash he must make through the deep, resisting softness of it.

Above him there was a sudden brrr of power; and the weight of his mother seemed to lift from him. Then the weight sagged again.

"Nope!" came a thought.

"Try again!" McLennan replied sharply. "You almost got it. Do a little more horizontal pulling this time—and the rest of you stand back. We may have to shoot fast."

Body taught as a drawn wire, the ezwal poked his square-shaped head out. In one swift flash his three glittering eyes verified the picture he had caught from their minds.

The spaceship had broken into three massive sections. And everywhere lay an appalling litter of twisted steel girders, battered metal and a confusion of smashed cargo. For half a mile in every direction the wreckage sprawled, spotting the snow with splintered wood and miraculously unharmed boxes as well as a vast scatter of dark, chunky things impossible to identify.

And each chunk, each piece of metal, each fragment of cargo offered obstacle to the guns that would be flaming at him in just about—

"Look!" Somebody's mind and voice spewed forth the single word.

* * *

It was the queerest, most shattering moment in all his world; for the age-long second after that explosive yell, he was aware of the first maddening pang of pain-expectation that he had ever known. Not even when the fire was burning away his mother's life had that stark, terrible realization touched him. But now, abruptly, he knew it was a matter of—given seconds!

He quivered in every shrinking nerve. His impulse was to jerk back into the folding safety, however brief, of his mother's great, comforting mass of body. Then, even as his eyes blazed at the stiffened men, even as he caught the sudden, tremendous strain in their minds, memory came: His mother had said, in effect: Fight fear or it will destroy you!

The thought caught him in a rhythmic, irresistible sweep. His muscles galvanized frantically in enormous effort. He heaved, squeezed prodigiously, and was free of the great, crushing body above him.

Straight ahead was a run-and-hide paradise. But in that part of his brain where fear was already vanquished, the straight-ahead course was instantly dismissed as unutterably the most dangerous. To his left was a clustered group of unarmed workmen, milling in stunned panic at the appearance of an animal as big as a grown lion, and terrifying in the alien, hideous power suggested by six claw-armed limbs. And to his right—

Like a charging demon, he plunged at the little line of men with guns who were drawn up at his right. Alert guns twisted toward him; and then were fumbled in horrible dismay as the desperate thought leaped through the minds of the wielders that their fire would shear a burning path through the workmen to the left.

"You fools!" came McLennan's wail of thought from behind him. "Scatter—for your lives!"

Too late! Hissing in astounded triumph at the completeness of this opportunity to kill these murderous beings, he crashed into the group. Blood sprayed before the raking ferocity of his claws, as if he had leaped into a pool of the warm, turgid red stuff. He had a wild, desperate impulse to pause and crunch bodies with his teeth, but there was no time.

He was clear of them. The rearing bulk of tattered ship, the harsh cacophony of screaming fell away behind him; and he was running with every ounce of speed that all his six limbs could muster.

A glare of flame from McLennan's gun sizzled in the snow beside him. He dodged, twisted skillfully behind a thick section of shining, bent metal. The beam fought at the metal—and was through, reaching with incandescent violence above him as he dived into a shallow arroyo.

A dark-bluish streak, he hurtled through a spread of bush, whipped along for four hundred yards behind a shielding ledge of rock and snow that extended roughly parallel to the ship. He halted on the rock lip of a valley that curved away below him. There were trees there, and brush and a jagged, rock-strewn land, bright with glaring snow, fading away into the brilliant white haze of distance.

Incredibly, he was safe, untouched, unsinged—and to his brain reached the outer fringe of the raging storm of thoughts from the men beyond the great hind section of ship that hid them from his view:

"—Parker, yours is the fastest plane; get these men to the reservation hospital; there's death here if we don't hurry. Kelly, what about those dogs?"

"The superintendent says he can get ten. They'll have to be flown in, and that'll take about an hour."

"Good! We'll all fly to the reservation, and get started the moment this Caleb Carson arrives. With those dogs to do our hunting, a couple of hours' start won't do that thing any good."

The ezwal slid under spreading bush as the planes soared into the sky. The picture of the dogs was not clear, yet the very blur of it brought a chill. A slave animal that murdered for its killer masters.

He spat with sudden, flaring hate that only partially overcame the sudden, enormous sense of aloneness in him. He must evade those dogs before he could hope to know even the remotest sense of comfort and security—and there was only one method by which he could do it properly.

* * *

Dogs followed trails; that meant they could scent things as easily as he could. That meant the reservation headquarters must be approached upwind, if he ever hoped to kill those dogs—if he could ever find the place.

The planes had certainly gone in this direction—

Planes! One diving leap and he was under cover as a great, silent plane swooped by over his head; there was the briefest blur of a man's thought—Caleb Carson's thought, the assistant of the mysterious Professor Jamieson; and then the long, shining machine settled behind some trees to his left. The village must be there.

He saw the buildings after a moment, considerably to the right of the plane. A dark machine—a car—was pushing along from the village toward the plane . . . and he was upwind . . . and if he could attack the dogs now, before that car brought the man, Carson, back to the village, before the men swarmed out to begin their hunt—

With glowing, coal-dark eyes, he stared down at the ten dogs from his vantage point on the little spread of hill. Ten . . . ten . . . ten . . . too many, many; and they were chained in a bunch, sleeping now in the snow, but they could all attack him at once.

There was a horrible, alien smell from them, but it was good, oh, so good that they were on his side of a large outhouse, that the men were inside other buildings beyond; and that it would take— minutes—before they could come out with their irresistible guns. He—

His thought scattered madly as he saw the car push over a hill a quarter of a mile away, and start along almost straight toward him. Caleb Carson would be able to see his whole attack, and even the snow that slowed the car wouldn't hold it more than two minutes— human time.

Two minutes! Time limit added to all the other things that were against him. Fury pierced him. These merciless human beings with their killer animals. At least they had had to fly the dogs in; and they'd be harder to replace. He'd have time to lose himself in these miles of forest and mountains, and—

The first dog saw him. He caught the startled thought as it lunged to its feet, heard its sharp warning yelp, and felt the blackness snap into its brain as he dealt it one crushing blow.

He whirled; and his jaws swung beautifully into the path of the dog that was charging at his neck. Teeth that could already dent metal clicked in one ferocious, stabbing bite.

Blood gushed into his mouth, stingingly, bitterly unpleasant to his taste. He spat it out with a thin snarl as eight shrieking dogs leaped at him. He met the first with a claw-armored forehand upraised.

The wolfish jaws slashed at the blue-dark, descending arm, ravenous to tear it to bits. But in an incredibly swift way, the hand avoided the reaching teeth and caught at the neck. And then, fingers like biting metal clamps gripped deep into the shoulders; and the dog was flung like a shot from a gun to the end of its chain.

The chain snapped from the frightful force, and the dog slid along in the snow and lay still, broken-necked.

* * *

The ezwal reared around for an irresistible plunge at the others— and stopped. The dogs were surging away from him, fear thoughts in their minds. He saw that they had caught his unnatural scent for the first time in that one wild rush, and now—

He stood there, quivering with uncertainty. Poised there, exploring the meaning of the madly racing thought forms in the brains of the dogs. Crouched there while the engine of the motor car became a soft, close throb, while a veritable fury of men's thoughts approached swiftly.

Seven dogs left—and all scared to death of him. Scornfully, swiftly, he turned; and with a wild dismay saw that the car had stopped less than fifty feet distant, that there was only one man in it. The other man must have stayed behind to watch the plane.

The human being, Caleb Carson, sat in the open door of the car; and he held a long, ugly, shining gun. It pointed at him, straight and unwavering; and then—incredible fact—a thought came from the cool brain behind the weapon; a thought directed at him!

"See," it said, "see! I can kill you before you can get to safety. This is an express-flame rifle; and it can blow a crater where you're standing. I can kill you—but I won't.

"Think that over with your best thought. And remember this, even though you escape now, in future you live or die as I will it. Without my help you cannot get away; and my price is high. Now, before the others come—get!"

He plunged over the hill, a startled, amazed, wondering, dismayed six-legged monstrosity. Minutes later, he remembered that those dogs would not dare to pursue him. He sprawled to a sliding stop in the snow.

His brain cooled; jangled emotions straightened; and what had happened began to fit into a coherent piece. Time and again on that trip through space, his mother had told him:

"Man will only accept defeat from one source: blind, natural forces. Because we wanted them to leave our land alone we pretended to be senseless, ferocious beasts. We knew that if they ever suspected our intelligence, they would declare what they call war on us, and waste all their wealth and millions of lives to destroy us—and now, someone does suspect it. If that knowledge lives, our race dies!"

Someone does suspect! Here in this man Carson was that someone, the most dangerous man in all the world.

The ezwal shivered involuntarily. It had not been his intention to remain near this dangerous camp an instant after the dogs were neutralized. But now—

It was terribly obvious that he must act, no matter what the risk. Caleb Carson must be killed—at once!

* * *

"I can't understand those dogs not following that trail!" McLennan's thought came dimly, complainingly, from inside the house. "On Carson's Planet, they use dogs all the time."

"Only dogs that were born there!" came the unemotional reply. And it was the calmness of the mind behind the thought that sent a quiver of hatred through the ezwal, where it crouched under the little berry bush beside the house of the forest-reserve superintendent.

The superlative confidence of this man brought strange fear, unnatural rage. Carson went on curtly:

"That much I gathered for certain from Professor Jamieson's documents. The rest is merely my own deduction, based on my special studies of my grandfather's explorations. When Blake Carson first landed on the planet, the ezwals made no attempt to harm him. It was not until after the colonists began to arrive that the creatures turned so immeasurably murderous.

"Mind you, I didn't see the truth on my own. It was only when I heard yesterday that Professor Jamieson was three. . . four now. . . days overdue at the Eristan I base—"

"Eh! Jamieson missing?"

"Sounds serious, too. Some Rull warships are in the vicinity, and of course no spaceship is big enough to carry the Lixon Communicators that make the interstellar telephone possible; so he couldn't send a warning, unless he was reasonably near some point of transmission. Apparently, he wasn't; so—"

Carson paused; then: "Anyway, I thought his documents might show that he had taken a side trip. And it was in going through them that I found, no suggestion for a side trip, but my first glimpse of the truth. Everything is as vague as possible, but by putting his notes beside my own knowledge, it adds up."

It was all there, the ezwal saw, in Carson's mind. Whether the man called it conjecture, or believed it fully, here was what his mother had feared. Basically, this man knew everything. And if what they were saying about the master mind, Professor Jamieson, being missing meant what it could mean, then in this house was the only remaining person in the world with the knowledge.

And he was telling it. Both men therefore must—

The ezwal's thought scattered as McLennan's mind projected a surprisingly cold, unfriendly thought:

"I hope I'm wrong in what I'm beginning to suspect. Let me tell you that I've been to Carson's Planet half a dozen times. The situation there is so bad that no stay-at-home studying documentary evidence could begin to comprehend the reality. Hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered—"

"I won't go into that," said Carson curtly. "The very number of the dead demands an intelligent and swift solution."

"You have not," said McLennan softly, "visited Carson's Planet yourself."


"You, the grandson of Blake Carson—" He broke off scathingly: "It's the old story, I see, of subsequent generations sponging off the fame of the great man."

"There's no point in calling names." The younger man was calm.

McLennan's thought was harsh: "Does this truth you say you deduced include keeping this cub ezwal alive?"

"Certainly; it is my duty and your duty to deliver the young one to Professor Jamieson when and if he returns."

"I suppose you realize that it may be some time before this beast is captured, and that meanwhile it will become a killer."

"Because of the danger from the encroaching Rull enemy of man," replied Carson with abrupt chillness that matched McLennan's steel hardness, "because of the importance of finding some answer to the ezwal problem, high government policy requires that all necessary risks be taken."

"Damn government policy!" snarled McLennan. "My opinion of a government that appoints fact-finding commissions at this late date couldn't be properly put into words. A war of systematic extermination must be declared at once—that's the solution—and we'll begin with this scoundrelly little cub."

"That goes double for me!" A harsh thought from a third mind burst forth.

* * *

"Carling!" McLennan exclaimed. "Man, get back into bed."

"I'm all right!" the young first officer of the smashed warship replied fiercely. "That freak accident that happened to me when we landed . . . but never mind that. I was lying on the couch in the next room and I overheard . . . I tell you, sir!" he blazed at Caleb Carson, "Commander McLennan is right. While you were talking, I was thinking of the dozens of men I've met on various trips to Carson's Planet who've simply vanished. We used to talk about it, we younger officers—"

"There's no use quibbling," said McLennan sharply. "It's an axiom of the service that the man in the field knows best. Unless he deliberately surrenders his power, or unless he receives a direct order from the commander in chief, he can retain his command regardless of the arrival meanwhile of superior officers."

"I shall have the order in an hour!" said Carson bleakly.

"In an hour," McLennan glowed triumphantly, "you won't be able to find me. By the time you do, the ezwal will be dead."

To the ezwal, the words brought an abrupt rebirth of murder purpose, the first realization of the immense opportunity that offered here. Here, under this one roof, were the three men who must be counted in both the immediate and remote sense as the most dangerous of humans to himself and his kind.

There was a door just around the corner. If he could solve its mechanism—to kill them all would be the swift, satisfying solution to his various problems.

Boldly, he glided from his hiding place.

* * *

In the hallway, the first stinging sense of personal danger came. He crouched tensely at the foot of the stairs, dismayingly conscious that to go up after the men would leave his way to escape horribly unguarded. And if he were trapped up there after killing them—

A clatter of dishes from the kitchen distracted him. He suppressed the swift and burning impulse to go in and smash the woman who was there. Slowly, he started up the stairs, his purpose cold and unyielding, but his mind clinging now with fascinated intensity to the thoughts that came from the men.

"—Those things read minds!" McLennan was scoffing. He seemed quite prepared to go on talking. There was certain equipment he was waiting for, and every word spoken would delay Carson so much longer from radioing for that vital order. "Professor Jamieson must be crazy."

"I thought," Carling cut in, loyally backing his commander, "that scientists worked by evidence."

"Sometimes," said McLennan, "they get an hypothesis, and regardless of whether half the world is dying as a result of their theory, they go on trying to prove it."

There was an acrid impatience in Carson's thoughts: "I don't say that is Professor Jamieson's opinion. I merely draw that conclusion from a number of notes he made, particularly one which was in the form of a question: 'Can civilization exist without cities, farms, science, and what form of communication would be the indispensable minimum?' "

"Besides"—his mind narrowed, the intention to be persuasive strong inside him—"while the existence of intelligence in the ezwal would be wonderful, its absence would not constitute a reason for any of us to nullify Professor Jamieson's plans for keeping this young ezwal alive."

He broke off: "In any event, there's no necessity for you to go after him. He'll starve to death in three weeks on Earth food. It's practically poison, utterly indigestible to him."

Outside the door, the creature quivered with shock. Swift memory came of how bitterly unpleasant the dog's blood had tasted. He cringed; then flaring rage struck through him. At least he could kill these men who had brought such dreadful fate upon him, and there was just a chance that—

With an effort he suppressed the leaping hope that surged, memory of at least one place where food was plentiful. McLennan was saying:

"Men have eaten ezwals."

"Ah, yes, but they have to treat the meat with chemicals to render it digestible."

"I'm sick of this," McLennan snapped abruptly. "I can see it's no use arguing. So I'm just going to tell you what I've done, and what I'm going to do. A couple of dozen flivver planes will be arriving in about fifteen minutes. We'll scout every inch of the country this afternoon; and you can't tell me five hundred pounds of dark-blue ezwal can remain hidden, especially as the thing won't know— What the devil are you pointing that gun at the door for?"

Caleb Carson's frigid, steel-hard thoughts came out to the ezwal: "Because just before you came in I saw the ezwal sneaking through the brush. I was sort of expecting him, but I never thought he'd come into the house till I heard the claws rattle a few seconds ago. I would-n't—advise—him—to—come—in. Hear that—you!"

One terrible instant, the ezwal froze; then, with a rasp of hatred, he launched himself at the stairs. Out the door, and then off through the brush, darting, twisting, to evade the flame that poured out the second-floor window from McLennan's pistol.

On and on he ran, harder, faster, until he was a great, leaping thing under the trees, over the snow, an incredible, galloping monster—on and on.

Of all his purposes, the only one that remained after his failure to kill, was: He must save his own life. He must have food. And there would be no food unless—

The wreck spread before him, a sprawling, skeleton structure, a vast waste of metal. No sounds, no thought-blurs of life reached out to where he lay vibrantly quiescent, probing with his mind, listening with his ears. One long, tense, straining moment; and then he was leaping forward, racing into the shelter of the deserted, shattered hulk.

Somewhere here was the food that had been brought along for his mother, enough to keep him, if he could hide it, until—

He dared not quite think of what must follow if he really hoped to save his life. There was a plane to steal, to operate, a million facts to learn about this alien civilization, and finally a spaceship—

He saw the shadow of the airplane sweep across the snow to his right—and froze to the ground in one instinctive jerk of interlocking muscles. His brain jangled so horribly it was like a discordant blare of noise. His thoughts disintegrated into one all-powerful half-thought, half-mind-wrecking emotion:

He must appear to be another piece of jetsam, one more shattered box, or chunk of metal. He—

"You needn't try to hide!" came the acrid, directed thought of Caleb Carson. "I knew you'd come up here. Even a full-grown ezwal might have taken the risk. A young one being simple and honest needed only the hint. Well, your hour of decision has come."

Snarling, he watched the plane circle, down, down, till it hovered less than a hundred feet above the ground. In abrupt despair of rage, he reared up toward it like a man on his hind legs, reached up horribly with his forearms, as if he would somehow stretch up to the plane and smash it down beside him. The cold thought came:

"That's right! Stand up and be as much of a man physically as you can. You're going to learn to be a man mentally, or die.

"Know that I have just told McLennan that you're here, and what I expect will happen. He thinks I'm a fool; and he and Carling will be here in five minutes.

"Think of that: five minutes! Five minutes to change your whole attitude toward life. I'm not going to try to pretend that this is a fair choice. Men are not angels, but I must know . . . men must know about ezwal intelligence. We are fighting a destroyer race called the Rulls; and we must have Carson's Planet in some form as an advance base against those damnable white worms.

"Remember this, too, it will do you no good to die a martyr. Now that the idea has come of ezwals possibly having intelligence, we'll start a propaganda campaign along those lines. Everywhere on Carson's Planet men, weary of fighting what they think is a natural force, will brace up with that curious military morale that human beings can muster in the face of intelligent enemies.

"If you yield, I'll teach you everything that man knows. You'll be the first ezwal scientist. If you can read minds, you'll know that I'm sincere in every word."

He was trapped. The knowledge beat at him, a tearing mixture of fear and—something else! It wasn't that he didn't trust this man's words; it was the sheer tremendousness of the decision.

"The proof of your choice," the cold thought penetrated to him, "will be simplicity itself. In one minute I shall land my plane. It is all-metal construction, divided into two compartments. You cannot possibly smash into my section and kill me.

"But the door of your section will be open. When you enter it will close tight and. . . good Lord, here comes McLennan!"

The big plane almost fell to the ground, so fast did Carson bring it down. It drew up in a spread of clearing a hundred feet away. A door yawned; and the scientist's urgent thought came:

"Make up your mind!"

* * *

And still he stood, taut in every nerve. He saw great cities, ships, space liners, with ezwals in command. Then he thought of what his mother had told him and that was abruptly like an immeasurable pain.

"Quick!" came Carson's thought.

Flame seared down where he had been; and there was no time to think, no time for anything but to take the initial chance. The flame missed him again, as he twisted in his swift run; this time it reached deliberately ahead across the tail of Carson's ship.

He caught the deliberateness of that act in McLennan's mind; and then he was inside the now unusable machine. The other plane landed. Two men with guns raced toward him.

He snarled hideously, as he caught their murder intention, and half turned to take his chances outside. The door clicked shut metallically in his teeth. Trapped.

Or was he? Another door opened. He roared as he leaped into the compartment where the man sat. His whole mind shook with this final, unexpected opportunity to kill this man, as his mother had charged him to do.

It was the steadiness of the other's thought that held him stiff, suppressed the deadly impulse to strike one mighty blow. Caleb Carson said huskily:

"I'm taking this terrible chance because everything you've done so far seems to show that you have intelligence, and that you've understood my thoughts. But we can't take off; McLennan's burned the tail struts. That means we've got to have finally clinching proof. I'm going to open this door that leads away from them. You can kill me and, with luck, escape—if you hurry.

"The alternative is to stretch yourself here between my legs, and face them when they come."

With a shuddering movement the ezwal edged forward and stiffly settled down on his long belly. He was only vaguely aware of the cursing wonder of McLennan.

He was suddenly feeling very young and very important and very humble. For there had come to him the first glimpse of the greatness that was to be his in the world of ezwals, in that world of titanic construction, the beginning of dynamic new civilization.

* * *

There was silence among us, as the big man finished. Finally, somebody said critically:

"This grandson of the discoverer of Carson's Planet seems a pretty cold-blooded sort of chap."

Somebody else said: "Caleb Carson didn't know that the number of dead on Carson's Planet was actually thirty million, the morale situation proportionately more dangerous. He would never have had a real sense of urgency. His solution would have been too late."

"The point is," said the small thin chap sharply but with satisfaction, "there's always somebody else who, for various reasons, has special insight into a problem. The accumulated thought on Carson's Planet by its discoverer's grandson is what made it possible for him to read between the rather sketchy lines of Professor Jamieson's notes."

Somebody said: "Why didn't we hear about this second solution at the time?"

The sharp voice snapped: "That's obvious. It was the very next day that Professor Jamieson's own experiences and fuller solution captured all the headlines. Incidentally, I read last week that a new coordinator has been appointed for Carson's Planet. His name is Caleb Carson."

We grew aware of the big man standing up, just as a boy came over to him. The boy said:

"Commander McLennan, your ship is calling you. You can take the message in the lounge, sir."

We all stared as the giant headed briskly for the lounge-room door. A minute later the argument was waxing as hotly as ever.

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