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The Monster

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  1. #  THE MONSTER
  2.  
  3. ## by A. E. van Vogt
  4.  
  5. The great ship was poised a quarter of a mile above one of the cities. Below
  6. was a cosmic desolation. As he floated down in his energy bubble, Enash saw
  7. that the buildings were crumbling with age.
  8.  
  9. "No sign of war damage!" The bodiless voice touched his ears momentarily.
  10. Enash tuned it out.
  11.  
  12. On the ground he collapsed his bubble. He found himself in a walled enclosure
  13. overgrown with weeds. Several skeletons lay in the tall grass beside the
  14. rakish building. They were of long, two-legged, two-armed beings with the
  15. skulls in each case mounted at the end of a thin spine. The skeletons, all of
  16. adults, seemed in excellent preservation, but when he bent down and touched
  17. one, a whole section of it crumpled into a fine powder. As he straightened, he
  18. saw that Yoal was floating down nearby. Enash waited till the historian had
  19. stepped out of his bubble, then he said:
  20.  
  21. "Do you think we ought to use our method of reviving the long dead?"
  22.  
  23. Yoal was thoughtful. "I have been asking questions of the various people who
  24. have landed, and there is something wrong here. This planet has no surviving
  25. life, not even insect life. We'll have to find out what happened before we
  26. risk any colonization."
  27.  
  28. Enash said nothing. A soft wind was blowing. It rustled through a clump of
  29. trees nearby. He motioned towards the trees. Yoal nodded and said:
  30.  
  31. "Yes, the plant life has not been harmed, but plants after all are not
  32. affected in the same way as the active life forms."
  33.  
  34. There was an interruption. A voice spoke from Yoal's receiver: "A museum has
  35. been found at approximately the center of the city. A red light has been fixed
  36. to the roof."
  37.  
  38. Enash said: "I'll go with you, Yoal. There might be skeletons of animals and
  39. of the intelligent being in various stages of his evolution. You didn't answer
  40. my question: Are you going to revive these beings?"
  41.  
  42. Yoal said slowly: "I intend to discuss the matter with the council, but I
  43. think there is no doubt. We must know the cause of this disaster." He waved
  44. one sucker vaguely to take in half the compass. He added as an afterthought,
  45. "We shall proceed cautiously, of course, beginning with an obviously early
  46. development. The absence of the skeletons of children indicates that the race
  47. had developed personal immortality."
  48.  
  49. The council came to look at the exhibits. It was, Enash knew, a formal
  50. preliminary only. The decision was made. There would be revivals. It was more
  51. than that. They were curious. Space was vast, the journeys through it long and
  52. lonely, landing always a stimulating experience, with its prospect of new life
  53. forms to be seen and studied.
  54.  
  55. The museum looked ordinary. High-domed ceilings, vast rooms. Plastic models of
  56. strange beasts, many artifacts — too many to see and comprehend in so short a
  57. time. The life span of a race was imprisoned here in a progressive array of
  58. relics. Enash looked with the others, and was glad when they came to the line-
  59. of skeletons and preserved bodies. He seated himself behind the energy screen,
  60. and watched the biological experts take a preserved body out of a stone
  61. sarcophagus. It was wrapped in windings of cloth, many of them. The experts
  62. did not bother to unravel the rotted material. Their forceps reached through,
  63. pinched a piece of the skull — that was the accepted procedure. Any part of
  64. the skeleton could be used, but the most perfect revivals, the most complete
  65. reconstructions resulted when a certain section of the skull was used.
  66.  
  67. Hamar, the chief biologist, explained the choice of body. "The chemicals used
  68. to preserve this mummy show a sketchy knowledge of chemistry; the carvings on
  69. the sarcophagus indicate a crude and unmechanical culture. In such a
  70. civilization there would not be much development of the potentialities of the
  71. nervous system. Our speech experts have been analyzing
  72. the recorded voice mechanism which is a part of each exhibit, and though many
  73. languages are involved — evidence that the ancient language spoken at the time
  74. the body was alive has been reproduced — they found no difficulty in
  75. translating the meanings. They have now adapted our universal speech machine,
  76. so that anyone who wishes to, need merely speak into his communicator, and so
  77. will have his words translated into the language of the revived person. The
  78. reverse, naturally, is also true. Ah, I see we are ready for the first body."
  79.  
  80. Enash watched intently with the others, as the lid was clamped down on the
  81. plastic reconstructor, and the growth processes were started. He could feel
  82. himself becoming tense. For there was nothing haphazard about what was
  83. happening. In a few minutes a full-grown ancient inhabitant of this planet
  84. would sit up and stare at them. The science involved was simple and always
  85. fully effective.
  86.  
  87. Out of the shadows of smallness life grows. The level of beginning and ending,
  88. of life and — not life; in that dim region matter oscillates easily between
  89. old and new habits. The habit of organic, or the habit of inorganic.
  90.  
  91. Electrons do not have life and un-life values. Atoms know nothing of
  92. inanimateness. But when atoms form into molecules, there is a step in the
  93. process, one tiny step, that is of life — if life begins at all. One step, and
  94. then darkness. Or aliveness.
  95.  
  96. A stone or a living cell. A grain of gold or a blade of grass, the sands of
  97. the sea or the equally numerous animalcules inhabiting the endless fishy
  98. waters — the difference is there in the twilight zone of matter. Each living
  99. cell has in it the whole form. The crab grows a new leg when the old one is
  100. torn from its flesh. Both ends of the planarian worm elongate, and soon there
  101. are two worms, two identities, two digestive systems, each as greedy as the
  102. original, each a whole, unwounded, unharmed by its experience.
  103.  
  104. Each cell can be the whole. Each cell remembers in a detail so intricate that
  105. no totality of words could ever describe the completeness achieved.
  106.  
  107. But — paradox — memory is not organic. An ordinary wax record remembers
  108. sounds. A wire recorder easily gives up a duplicate of the voice that spoke
  109. into it years before. Memory is a physiological impression, a mark on matter,
  110. a change in the shape of a molecule, so that when a reaction is desired the
  111. shape emits the same rhythm of response.
  112.  
  113. Out of the mummy's skull had come the multi-quadrillion memory shapes from
  114. which a response was now being evoked. As ever, the memory held true.
  115.  
  116. Aman blinked, and opened his eyes.
  117.  
  118. "It is true, then," he said aloud, and the words were translated into the
  119. Ganae tongue as he spoke them. "Death is merely an opening into another life —
  120. but where are my attendants?" At the end, his voice took on a complaining
  121. tone.
  122.  
  123. He sat up, and climbed out of the case, which had automatically opened as he
  124. came to life. He saw his captors. He froze — but only for a moment. He had a
  125. pride and a very special arrogant courage which served him now.
  126.  
  127. Reluctantly, he sank to his knees, and made obeisance, but doubt must have
  128. been strong in him. "Am I in the presence of the gods of Egyptus?"
  129.  
  130. He climbed to his feet. "What nonsense is this? I do not bow to nameless
  131. demons."
  132.  
  133. Captain Gorsid said: "Kill him!"
  134.  
  135. The two-legged monster dissolved, writhing, in the beam of a ray gun.
  136.  
  137. The second man stood up palely, and trembled with fear. "My God, I swear I
  138. won't touch the stuff again. Talk about pink elephants—"
  139.  
  140. Yoal was curious. "To what stuff do you refer, revived one?"
  141.  
  142. "The old hooch, the poison in the old hip pocket flask, the juice they gave me
  143. at that speak.. . my lordie!"
  144.  
  145. Captain Gorsid looked questioningly at Yoal. "Need we linger?"
  146.  
  147. Yoal hesitated: "I am curious." He addressed the man. "If I were to tell you
  148. that we were visitors from another star, what would be your reaction?"
  149.  
  150. The man stared at him. He was obviously puzzled, but the fear was stronger.
  151. "Now, look," he said, "I was driving along, minding my own business. I admit
  152. I'd had a shot or two too many, but it's the liquor they serve these days. I
  153. swear I didn't see the other car — and if this is some new idea of punishing
  154. people who drink and drive, well, you've won. I won't touch another drop as
  155. long as I live, so help me."
  156.  
  157. Yoal said: "He drives a 'car' and thinks nothing of it. Yet we saw no cars;
  158. they didn't even bother to preserve them in the museum."
  159.  
  160. Enash noticed that everyone waited for everyone else to comment. He stirred as
  161. he realized the circle of silence would be complete unless he spoke. He said:
  162.  
  163. "Ask him to describe the car. How does it work?"
  164.  
  165. "Now, you're talking," said the man. "Bring on your line of chalk, and I'll
  166. walk it, and ask any questions you please. I may be so tight that I can't see
  167. straight, but I can always drive. How does it work? You just put her in gear,
  168. and step on the gas."
  169.  
  170. "Gas," said engineering officer Veed. "The internal combustion engine. That
  171. places him."
  172.  
  173. Captain Gorsid motioned to the guard with the ray gun.
  174.  
  175. The third man sat up, and looked at them thoughtfully. "From the stars?" he
  176. said finally. "Have you a system, or was it blind chance?"
  177.  
  178. The Ganae councillors in that domed room stirred uneasily in their curved
  179. chairs. Enash caught Yoal's eye on him; the shock in the historian's eyes
  180. alarmed the meteorologist. He thought: "The two-legged one's adjustment to a
  181. new situation, his grasp of realities, was abnormally rapid. No Ganae could
  182. have equalled the swiftness of the reaction."
  183.  
  184. Hamar, the chief biologist, said: "Speed of thought is not necessarily a sign
  185. of superiority. The slow, careful thinker has his place in the hierarchy of
  186. intellect."
  187.  
  188. But, Enash found himself thinking, it was not the speed; it was the accuracy
  189. of the response. He tried to imagine himself being revived from the dead, and
  190. understanding instantly the meaning of the presence of aliens from the stars.
  191. He couldn't have done it.
  192.  
  193. He forgot his thought, for the man was out of the case. As Enash watched with
  194. the others, he walked briskly over to the window and looked out. One glance,
  195. and then he turned back.
  196.  
  197. "Is it all like this ?" he asked.
  198.  
  199. Once again, the speed of his understanding caused a sensation. It was Yoal who
  200. finally replied.
  201.  
  202. "Yes. Desolation. Death. Ruin. Have you any idea as to what happened?"
  203.  
  204. The man came back and stood in front of the energy screen that guarded the
  205. Ganae. "May I look over the museum? I have to estimate what age I am in. We
  206. had certain possibilities of destruction when I was last alive, but which one
  207. was realized depends on the time elapsed."
  208.  
  209. The councillors looked at Captain Gorsid, who hesitated; then "Watch him," he
  210. said to the guard with the ray gun. He faced the man. "We understand your
  211. aspirations fully. You would like to seize control of this situation, and
  212. insure you own safety. Let me reassure you. Make no false moves, and all will
  213. be well."
  214.  
  215. Whether or not the man believed the lie, he gave no sign. Nor did he show by a
  216. glance or a movement that he had seen the scarred floor where the ray gun had
  217. burned his two predecessors into nothingness. He walked curiously to the
  218. nearest doorway, studied the other guard who waited there for him, and then,
  219. gingerly, stepped through. The first guard followed him, then came the mobile
  220. energy screen, and finally, trailing one another, the councillors. Enash was
  221. the third to pass through the doorway. The room contained skeletons and
  222. plastic models of animals. The room beyond that was what, for want of a better
  223. term, Enash called a culture room. It contained the artifacts from a single
  224. period of civilization. It looked very advanced. He had examined some of the
  225. machines when they first passed through it, and had thought: Atomic energy. He
  226. was not alone in his recognition. From behind him Captain Gorsid said:
  227.  
  228. "You are forbidden to touch anything. A false move will be the signal for the
  229. guards to fire."
  230.  
  231. The man stood at ease in the center of the room. In spite of a curious
  232. anxiety, Enash had to admire his calmness. He must have known what his fate
  233. would be, but he stood there thoughtfully, and said finally, deliberately:
  234.  
  235. "I do not need to go any farther. Perhaps, you will be able better than I to
  236. judge of the time that has elapsed since I was born and these machines were
  237. built. I see over there an instrument which, according to the sign above it,
  238. counts atoms when they explode. As soon as the proper number have exploded it
  239. shuts off the power automatically, and for just the right length of time to
  240. prevent a chain explosion. In my time we had a thousand crude devices for
  241. limiting the size of an atomic reaction, but it required two thousand years to
  242. develop those devices from the early beginnings of atomic energy. Can you make
  243. a comparison?"
  244.  
  245. The councillors glanced at Veed. The engineering officer hesitated. At last,
  246. reluctantly: "Nine thousand years ago we had a thousand methods of limiting
  247. atomic explosions." He paused, then even more slowly, "I have never heard of
  248. an instrument that counts out atoms for such a purpose."
  249.  
  250. "And yet," murmured Shun, the astronomer breathlessly, "the race was
  251. destroyed."
  252.  
  253. There was silence -- that ended as Gorsid said to the nearest guard, "Kill the
  254. monster!"
  255.  
  256. But it was the guard who went down, bursting into flame. Not just one guard,
  257. but the guards! Simultaneously down, burning with a blue flame. The flame
  258. licked at the screen, recoiled, and licked more furiously, recoiled and burned
  259. brighter. Through a haze of fire, Enash saw that the man had retreated to the
  260. far door, and that the machine that counted atoms was glowing with a blue
  261. intensity.
  262.  
  263. Captain Gorsid shouted into his communicator: "Guard all exits with ray guns.
  264. Spaceships stand by to kill alien with heavy guns."
  265.  
  266. Somebody said: "Mental control, some kind of mental control. What have we run
  267. into?"
  268.  
  269. They were retreating. The blue fire was at the ceiling, struggling to break
  270. through the screen. Enash had a last glimpse of the machine. It must still be
  271. counting atoms, for it was a hellish blue. Enash raced with the others to the
  272. room where the man had been resurrected. There another energy screen crashed
  273. to their rescue. Safe now, they retreated into their separate bubbles and
  274. whisked through outer doors and up to the ship. As the great ship soared, an
  275. atomic bomb hurtled down from it. The mushroom of flame blotted out the museum
  276. and the city below.
  277.  
  278. "But we still don't know why the race died." Yoal whispered into Enash's ear,
  279. after the thunder had died from the heavens behind them.
  280.  
  281. The pale yellow sun crept over the horizon on the third morning after the bomb
  282. was dropped — the eighth day since the landing. Enash floated with the others
  283. down on a new city. He had come to argue against any further revival.
  284.  
  285. "As a meteorologist," he said, "I pronounce this planet safe for Ganae
  286. colonization. I cannot see the need for taking any risks. This race has
  287. discovered the secrets of its nervous system and we cannot afford—"
  288.  
  289. He was interrupted. Hamar, the biologist, said dryly: "If they knew so much
  290. why didn't they migrate to other star systems and save themselves?"
  291.  
  292. "I will concede," said Enash, "that very possibly they had not discovered our
  293. system of locating stars with planetary families." He looked earnestly around
  294. the circle of his friends. "We have agreed that was a unique accidental
  295. discovery. We were lucky, not clever."
  296.  
  297. He saw by the expressions on their faces that they were mentally refuting his
  298. arguments. He felt a helpless sense of imminent catastrophe. For he could see
  299. that picture of a great race facing death. It must have come swiftly, but not
  300. so swiftly that they didn't know about it. There were too many skeletons in
  301. the open, lying in the gardens of the magnificent homes, as if each man and
  302. his wife had come out to wait for the doom of his kind.
  303.  
  304. He tried to picture it for the council, that last day long, long ago, when a
  305. race had calmly met its ending. But his visualization failed somehow, for the
  306. others shifted impatiently in the seats that had been set up behind the series
  307. of energy screens, and Captain Gorsid said:
  308.  
  309. "Exactly what aroused this intense emotional reaction in you, Enash?"
  310.  
  311. The question gave Enash pause. He hadn't thought of it as emotional. He hadn't
  312. realized the nature of his obsession, so subtly had it stolen upon him.
  313. Abruptly, now, he realized.
  314.  
  315. "It was the third one," he said slowly. "I saw him through the haze of energy
  316. fire, and he was standing there in the distant doorway watching us curiously,
  317. just before we turned to run. His bravery, his calm, the skilful way he had
  318. duped us — it all added up."
  319.  
  320. "Added up to his death?" said Hamar. And everybody laughed.
  321.  
  322. "Come now, Enash," said Vice-Captain Mayad goodhumoredly, "you're not going to
  323. pretend that this race is braver than our own, or that, with all the
  324. precautions we have now taken, we need fear one man?"
  325.  
  326. Enash was silent, feeling foolish. The discovery that he had had an emotional
  327. obsession abashed him. He did not want to appear unreasonable. One final
  328. protest he made.
  329.  
  330. "I merely wish to point out," he said doggedly, "that this desire to discover
  331. what happened to a dead race does not seem absolutely essential to me."
  332.  
  333. Captain Gorsid waved at the biologist. "Proceed," he said, "with the revival."
  334.  
  335. To Enash, he said: "Do we dare return to Gana, and recommend mass migrations —
  336. and then admit that we did not actually complete our investigations here? It's
  337. impossible, my friend."
  338.  
  339. It was the old argument, but reluctantly now Enash admitted there was
  340. something to be said for that point of view.
  341.  
  342. He forgot that, for the fourth man was stirring.
  343.  
  344. The man sat up — and vanished.
  345.  
  346. There was a blank, startled, horrified silence. Then Captain Gorsid said
  347. harshly:
  348.  
  349. "He can't get out of there. We know that. He's in there somewhere."
  350.  
  351. All around Enash, the Ganae were out of their chairs, peering into the energy
  352. shell. The guards stood with ray guns held limply in their suckers. Out of the
  353. corner of his eye, he saw one of the protective screen technicians beckon to
  354. Veed, who went over — and came back grim.
  355.  
  356. "I'm told the needles jumped ten points when he first disappeared. That's on
  357. the nucleonic level."
  358.  
  359. "By ancient Ganae!" Shun whispered. "We've run into what we've always feared."
  360.  
  361. Gorsid was shouting into the communicator. "Destroy all the locators on the
  362. ship. Destroy them, do you hear!"
  363.  
  364. He turned with glary eyes. "Shun," he bellowed, "they don't seem to
  365. understand. Tell those subordinates of yours to act. All locators and
  366. reconstructors must be destroyed."
  367.  
  368. "Hurry, hurry!" said Shun weakly.
  369.  
  370. When that was done they breathed more easily. There were grim smiles and a
  371. tensed satisfaction. "At least," said Vice Captain Mayad, "he cannot now ever
  372. discover Gana. Our great system of locating suns with planets remains our
  373. seciet. There can be no retaliation for—" He stopped, said slowly, "What am I
  374. talking about? We haven't done anything. We're not responsible for the
  375. disaster that has befallen the inhabitants of this planet."
  376.  
  377. But Enash knew what he had meant. The guilt feelings came to the surface at
  378. such moments as this — the ghosts of all the races destroyed by the Ganae, the
  379. remorseless will that had been in them, when they first landed, to annihilate
  380. whatever was here. The dark abyss of voiceless hate and terror that lay behind
  381. them; the days on end when they had mercilessly poured poisonous radiation
  382. down upon the unsuspecting inhabitants of peaceful planets — all that had been
  383. in Mayad's words.
  384.  
  385. "I still refuse to believe he has escaped." That was Captain Gorsid. "He's in
  386. there. He's waiting for us to take down our screens, so he can escape. Well,
  387. we won't do it."
  388.  
  389. There was silence again, as they stared expectantly into the energy shell —
  390. into the emptiness of the energy shell. The reconstructor rested on its metal
  391. supports, a glittering affair. But there was nothing else. Not a flicker of
  392. unnatural light or shade. The yellow rays of the sun bathed the open spaces
  393. with a brilliance that left no room for concealment.
  394.  
  395. "Guards," said Gorsid, "destroy the reconstructor. I thought he might come
  396. back to examine it, but we can't take a chance on that."
  397.  
  398. It burned with a white fury; and Enash who had hoped somehow that the deadly
  399. energy would force the two-legged thing into the open, felt his hopes sag
  400. within him.
  401.  
  402. "But where can he have gone?" Yoal whispered.
  403.  
  404. Enash turned to discuss the matter. In the act of swinging around, he saw that
  405. the monster was standing under a tree a score of feet to one side, watching
  406. them. He must have arrived that moment, for there was a collective gasp from
  407. the councillors. Everybody drew back. One of the screen technicians, using
  408. great presence of mind, jerked up an energy screen between the Ganae and the
  409. monster. The creature came forward slowly. He was slim of build, he held his
  410. head well back. His eyes shone as from an inner fire.
  411.  
  412. He stopped as he came to the screen, reached out and touched it with his
  413. fingers. It flared, blurred with changing colors; the colors grew brighter,
  414. and extended in an intricate pattern all the way from his head to the ground.
  415. The blur cleared. The colors drew back into the pattern. The pattern faded
  416. into invisibility. The man was through the screen.
  417.  
  418. He laughed, a soft sound; then sobered. "When I first wakened," he said, "I
  419. was curious about the situation. The question was, what should I do with you?"
  420.  
  421. The words had a fateful ring to Enash on the still morning air of that planet
  422. of the dead. A voice broke the silence, a voice so strained and unnatural that
  423. a moment passed before he recognized it as belonging to Captain Gorsid. "Kill
  424. him I"
  425.  
  426. When the blasters ceased their effort, the unkillable thing remained standing.
  427. He walked slowly forward until he was only half a dozen feet from the nearest
  428. Ganae. Enash had a position well to the rear. The man said slowly:
  429.  
  430. "Two courses suggest themselves, one based on gratitude for reviving me, the
  431. other based on reality. I know you for what you are. Yes, know you — and that
  432. is unfortunate. It is hard to feel merciful.
  433.  
  434. "To begin with," he went on, "let us suppose you surrender the secret of the
  435. locator. Naturally, now that a system exists, we shall never again be caught
  436. as we were—"
  437.  
  438. Enash had been intent, his mind so alive with the potentialities of the
  439. disaster that was here that it seemed impossible he could think of anything
  440. else. And yet, now a part of his attention was stirred.
  441.  
  442. "What did happen?"
  443.  
  444. The man changed color. The emotions of that far day thickened his voice. "A
  445. nucleonic storm. It swept in from outer space. It brushed this edge of our
  446. galaxy. It was about ninety light-years in diameter, beyond the farthest
  447. limits of our power. There was no escape from it. We had dispensed with
  448. spaceships, and had no time to construct any. Castor, the only star with
  449. planets ever discovered by us, was also in the path of the storm."
  450.  
  451. He stopped. "The secret?" he said.
  452.  
  453. Around Enash, the councillors were breathing easier. The fear of race
  454. destruction that had come to them was lifting. Enash saw with pride that the
  455. first shock was over, and they were not even afraid for themselves.
  456.  
  457. "Ah," said Yoal softly, "you don't know the secret. In spite of all your
  458. development, we alone can conquer the galaxy."
  459.  
  460. He looked at the others smiling confidently. "Gentlemen," he said, "our pride
  461. in a great Ganae achievement is justified. I suggest we return to our ship. We
  462. have no further business on this planet."
  463.  
  464. There was a confused moment while their bubbles formed, when Enash wondered if
  465. the two-legged one would try to stop their departure. But the man, when he
  466. looked back, was walking in a leisurely fashion along a street.
  467.  
  468. That was the memory Enash carried with him, as the ship began to move. That
  469. and the fact that the three atomic bombs they dropped, one after the other,
  470. failed to explode.
  471.  
  472. "We will not," said Captain Gorsid, "give up a planet as easily as that. I
  473. propose another interview with the creature."
  474.  
  475. They were floating down again into the city, Enash and Yoal and Veed and the
  476. commander. Captain Gorsid's voice tuned in once more:
  477.  
  478. "... As I vizualize it" — through mist Enash could see the transparent glint
  479. of the other three bubbles around him — "we jumped to conclusions about this
  480. creature, not justified by the evidence. For instance, when he awakened, he
  481. vanished. Why? Because he was afraid, of course. He wanted to size up the
  482. situation. He didn't believe he was omnipotent."
  483.  
  484. It was sound logic. Enash found himself taking heart from it. Suddenly, he was
  485. astonished that he had become panicky so easily. He began to see the danger in
  486. a new light. One man, only one man, alive on a new planet. If they were
  487. determined enough, colonists could be moved in as if he did not exist. It had
  488. been done before, he recalled. On several planets, small groups of the
  489. original populations had survived the destroying radiation, and taken refuge
  490. in remote areas. In almost every case, the new colonists gradually hunted them
  491. down. In two instances, however, that Enash remembered native races were still
  492. holding small sections of their planets. In each case, it had been found
  493. impractical to destroy them because it would have endangered the Ganae on the
  494. planet. So the survivors were tolerated.
  495.  
  496. One man would not take up very much room.
  497.  
  498. When they found him, he was busily sweeping out the lower floor of a small
  499. bungalow. He put the broom aside, and stepped onto the terrace outside. He had
  500. put on sandals, and he wore a loose-fitting robe made of very shiny material.
  501. He eyed them indolently but he said nothing. It was Captain Gorsid who made
  502. the proposition. Enash had to admire the story he told into the language
  503. machine. The commander was very frank. That approach had been decided on. He
  504. pointed out that the Ganae could not be expected to revive the dead of this
  505. planet. Such altruism would be unnatural considering that the ever-growing
  506. Ganae hordes had a continual need for new worlds. Each vast new population
  507. increment was a problem that could be solved by one method only. In this
  508. instance, the colonists would gladly respect the rights of the sole survivor
  509. of the— It was at that point that the man interrupted. "But what is the
  510. purpose of this endless expansion?" He seemed genuinely curious. "What will
  511. happen when you finally occupy every planet in this galaxy?" Captain Gorsid's
  512. puzzled eyes met Yoal's, then flashed to Veed, then Enash. Enash shrugged his
  513. torso negatively, and felt pity for the creature. The man didn't understand,
  514. possibly never could understand. It was the old story of two different
  515. viewpoints, the virile and the decadent, the race that aspired to the stars
  516. and the race that declined the call of destiny.
  517.  
  518. "Why not," urged the man, "control the breeding chambers?"
  519.  
  520. "And have the government overthrown!" said Yoal.
  521.  
  522. He spoke tolerantly, and Enash saw that the others were smiling at the man's
  523. naivete. He felt the intellectual gulf between them widening. The man had no
  524. comprehension of the natural life forces that were at work. He said now:
  525.  
  526. "Well, if you don't control them, we will control them for you."
  527.  
  528. There was silence.
  529.  
  530. They began to stiffen, Enash felt it in himself, saw the signs of it in the
  531. others. His gaze flicked from face to face, then back to the creature in the
  532. doorway. Not for the first time Enash had the thought that their enemy seemed
  533. helpless.
  534.  
  535. "Why," he almost decided, "I could put my suckers around him and crush him."
  536.  
  537. He wondered if mental control of nucleonic nuclear and gravitonic energies
  538. included the ability to defend oneself from a macrocosmic attack. He had an
  539. idea it did. The exhibition of power two hours before might have had
  540. limitations, but, if so, it was not apparent.
  541.  
  542. Strength or weakness could make no difference. The threat of threats had been
  543. made: "If you don't control — we will."
  544.  
  545. The words echoed in Enash's brain, and, as the meaning penetrated deeper, his
  546. aloofness faded. He had always regarded himself as a spectator. Even when,
  547. earlier, he had argued against the revival, he had been aware of a detached
  548. part of himself watching the scene rather than being a part of it. He saw with
  549. a sharp clarity that that was why he had finally yielded to the conviction of
  550. the others.
  551.  
  552. Going back beyond that to remoter days, he saw that he had never quite
  553. considered himself a participant in the seizure of the planets of other races.
  554. He was the one who looked on, and thought of reality, and speculated on a life
  555. that seemed to have no meaning.
  556.  
  557. It was meaningless no longer. He was caught by a tide of irresistible emotion,
  558. and swept along. He felt himself sinking, merging with the Ganae mass being.
  559. All the strength and all the will of the race surged up in his veins.
  560.  
  561. He snarled: "Creature, if you have any hopes of reviving your dead race,
  562. abandon them now."
  563.  
  564. The man looked at him, but said nothing. Enash rushed on:
  565.  
  566. "If you could destroy us, you would have done so already. But the truth is
  567. that you operate within limitations. Our ship is so built that no conceivable
  568. chain reaction could be started in it. For every plate of potential unstable
  569. material in it there is a counteracting plate, which prevents the development
  570. of a critical pile. You might be able to set off explosions in our engines,
  571. but they, too, would be limited, and would merely start the process for which
  572. they are intended — confined in their proper space."
  573.  
  574. He was aware of Yoal touching his arm. "Careful," warned the historian. "Do
  575. not in your just anger give away vital information."
  576.  
  577. Enash shook off the restraining sucker. "Let us not be unrealistic," he said
  578. harshly. "This thing has divined most of our racial secrets, apparently merely
  579. by looking at our bodies. We would be acting childishly if we assumed that he
  580. has not already realized the possibility of the situation."
  581.  
  582. "Enash I" Captain Gorsid's voice was imperative.
  583.  
  584. As swiftly as it had come Enash's rage subsided. He stepped back.
  585.  
  586. "Yes, commander."
  587.  
  588. "I think I know what you intended to say," said Captain Gorsid. "I assure you
  589. I am in full accord, but I believe also that I, as the top Ganae official,
  590. should deliver the ultimatum."
  591.  
  592. He turned. His horny body towered above the man.
  593.  
  594. "You have made the unforgivable threat. You have told us, in effect, that you
  595. will attempt to restrict the vaulting Ganae spirit—"
  596.  
  597. "Not the spirit," said the man. He laughed softly. "No, not the spirit."
  598.  
  599. The commander ignored the interruption. "Accordingly, we have no alternative.
  600. We are assuming that, given time to locate the materials and develop the
  601. tools, you might be able to build a reconstructor.
  602.  
  603. "In our opinion it will be at least two years before you can complete it, even
  604. if you know how. It is an immensely intricate machine not easily assembled by
  605. the lone survivor of a race that gave up its machines millennia before
  606. disaster struck.
  607.  
  608. "You did not have time to build a spaceship.
  609.  
  610. "We won't give you time to build a reconstructor.
  611.  
  612. "Within a few minutes our ship will start dropping bombs. It is possible you
  613. will be able to prevent explosions in your vicinity. We will start,
  614. accordingly, on the other side of the planet. If you stop us there, then we
  615. will assume we need help.
  616.  
  617. "In six months of traveling at top acceleration, we can reach a point where
  618. the nearest Ganae planet would hear our messages. They will send a fleet so
  619. vast that all your powers of resistance will be overcome. By dropping a
  620. hundred or a thousand bombs every minute we will succeed in devastating every
  621. city, so that not a grain of dust will remain of the skeletons of your people.
  622.  
  623. "That is our plan."
  624.  
  625. "So it shall be."
  626.  
  627. "Now, do your worst to us who are at your mercy."
  628.  
  629. The man shook his head. "I shall do nothing — now!" he said. He paused, then
  630. thoughtfully, "Your reasoning is fairly accurate.- Fairly. Naturally, I am not
  631. all powerful, but it seems to me you have forgotten one little point.
  632.  
  633. "I won't tell you what it is.
  634.  
  635. "And now," he said, "good day to you. Get back to your ship, and be on your
  636. way. I have much to do."
  637.  
  638. Enash had been standing quietly, aware of the fury building up in him again.
  639. Now, with a hiss, he sprang forward, suckers outstretched. They were almost
  640. touching the smooth flesh — when something snatched at him.
  641.  
  642. He was back on the ship.
  643.  
  644. He had no memory of movement, no sense of being dazed or harmed. He was aware
  645. of Veed and Yoal and Captain Gorsid standing near him as astonished as he
  646. himself. Enash remained very still, thinking of what the man had said: "...
  647. Forgotten one little point." Forgotten? That meant they knew. What could it
  648. be? He was still pondering about it when Yoal said:
  649.  
  650. "We can be reasonably certain our bombs alone will not work."
  651.  
  652. They didn't.
  653.  
  654. Forty light-years out from Earth, Enash was summoned to the council chambers.
  655. Yoal greeted him wanly:
  656.  
  657. "The monster is aboard."
  658.  
  659. The thunder of that poured through Enash, and with it came a sudden
  660. comprehension. "That was what he meant we had forgotten," he said finally,
  661. aloud and wonderingly, "that he can travel through space at will within a
  662. limit — what was the figure he once used — of ninety light-years."
  663.  
  664. He sighed. He was not surprised that the Ganae, who had to use ships, would
  665. not have thought immediately of such a possibility. Slowly, he began to
  666. retreat from the reality. Now that the shock had come, he felt old and weary,
  667. a sense of his mind withdrawing again to its earlier state of aloofness.
  668.  
  669. It required a few minutes to get the story. A physicist's assistant, on his
  670. way to the storeroom, had caught a glimpse of a man in a lower corridor. In
  671. such a heavily manned ship, the wonder was that the intruder had escaped
  672. earlier observation. Enash had a thought.
  673.  
  674. "But after all we are not going all the way to one of our planets. How does he
  675. expect to make use of us to locate it if we only use video—" He stopped. That
  676. was it, of course. Directional video beams would have to be used, and the man
  677. would travel in the right direction the instant contact was made.
  678.  
  679. Enash saw the decision in the eyes of his companions, the only possible
  680. decision under the circumstances. And yet — it seemed to him they were missing
  681. some vital point.
  682.  
  683. He walked slowly to the great video plate at one end of the chamber. There was
  684. a picture on it, so vivid, so sharp, so majestic that the unaccustomed mind
  685. would have reeled as from a stunning blow. Even to him, who knew the scene,
  686. there came a constriction, a sense of unthinkable vastness. It was a video
  687. view of a section of the milky way. Four hundred million stars as seen through
  688. telescopes that could pick up the light of a red dwarf at thirty thousand
  689. light-years.
  690.  
  691. The video plate was twenty-five yards in diameter — a scene that had no
  692. parallel elsewhere in the plenum. Other galaxies simply did not have that many
  693. stars.
  694.  
  695. Only one in two hundred thousand of those glowing suns had planets.
  696.  
  697. That was the colossal fact that compelled them now to an irrevocable act.
  698. Wearily, Enash looked around him.
  699.  
  700. "The monster had been very clever," he said quietly. "If we go ahead, he goes
  701. with us — obtains a reconstructor and returns by his method to his planet. If
  702. we use the directional beam, he flashes along it, obtains a reconstructor and
  703. again reaches his planet first. In either event, by the time our fleets
  704. arrived back there, he would have revived enough of his kind to thwart any
  705. attack we could mount."
  706.  
  707. He shook his torso. The picture was accurate, he felt sure, but it still
  708. seemed incomplete. He said slowly:
  709.  
  710. "We have one advantage now. Whatever decision we make, there is no language
  711. machine to enable him to learn what it is. We can carry out our plans without
  712. his knowing what they will be. He knows that neither he nor we can blow up the
  713. ship. That leaves us one real alternative."
  714.  
  715. It was- Captain Gorsid who broke the silence that followed. "Well, gentlemen,
  716. I see we know our minds. We will set the engines, blow up the controls — and
  717. take him with us."
  718.  
  719. They looked at each other, race pride in their eyes. Enash touched suckers
  720. with each in turn.
  721.  
  722. An hour later, when the heat was already considerable, Enash had the thought
  723. that sent him staggering to the communicator, to call Shun, the astronomer.
  724.  
  725. "Shun," he yelled, "when the monster first awakened — remember Captain Gorsid
  726. had difficulty getting your subordinates to destroy the locators. We never
  727. thought to ask them what the delay was. Ask them. . . ask them—"
  728.  
  729. There was a pause, then Shun's voice came weakly over the roar of static:
  730.  
  731. "They. . . couldn't. . . get. . . into. . . the. . . room. The door was
  732. locked."
  733.  
  734. Enash sagged to the floor. They had missed more than one point, he realized.
  735. The man had awakened, realized the situation; and, when he vanished, he had
  736. gone to the ship, and there discovered the secret of the locator and possibly
  737. the secret of the reconstructor — if he didn't know it previously. By the time
  738. he reappeared, he already had from them what he wanted. All the rest must have
  739. been designed to lead them to this act of desperation.
  740.  
  741. In a few moments, now, he would be leaving the ship secure in the knowledge
  742. that shortly no alien mind would know his planet existed. Knowing, too, that
  743. his race would live again, and this time never die.
  744.  
  745. Enash staggered to his feet; clawed at the roaring communicator, and shouted
  746. his new understanding into it. There was no answer. It clattered with the
  747. static of uncontrollable and inconceivable energy.
  748.  
  749. The heat was peeling his armored hide, as he struggled to the matter
  750. transmitter. It flashed at him with purple flame. Back to the communicator he
  751. ran shouting and screaming.
  752.  
  753. He was still whimpering into it a few minutes later when the mighty ship
  754. plunged into the heart of a blue-white sun.
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