Saturday, June 4, 2011

QuasarDragon Presents "Potential Zero"

"Potential Zero" by John Bloodstone, from Science Stories Vol. 1, No. 2. December 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.




"The Vanyans came from outer space bringing Earthmen invaluable gifts, and Earth received them—and their gifts —with open arms. But what was behind it all? What would the Vanyans ask in payment? With these questions came fear . . . and distrust . . . and hatred."

By John Bloodstone
POTENTIAL ZERO
Illustrated by Virgil Finlay

You rise up to accuse me of being traitor to my kind— I, who merely sought to save the life of one immortal creature. I, who lived in the Vanyan city and knew those golden, benevolent god people, knew the untranslatable intricacies and stimulating ideation patterns of their language and understood the inimitable design of their architecture, the purpose of their way of life and the vital magnitude and scope of their philosophy. It is I who stand before the world accused of treason, to be judged by you who used the gift of gods to turn upon your benefactors and destroy them without warning, like so many superstitious savages, like raving witch-burners and blood-thirsty assassins —murderers of Angels, destroyers of Utopia, desecrators of Justice, enemies of Mercy, traitors to Gratitude!

The court-martial that will decide my guilt or innocence in this matter is insignificant here in the light of eternal values—a dried leaf that must fall from the tree of Time and be lost in the dust under the feet of those myriad generations which must recover from the far greater crime which YOU have committed against them and the tarnished name of Man.

You ask me for my story. You condescend to give me the privilege of speaking my piece. And I say it is your guilt complex that bends you to this decision, an awareness of a basic meanness in the nature of Man with which you will have to live. Nor do I pity you for it. It is the law of retribution. . . .

"Ye gods!" ejaculated the President, looking up from the manuscript. "This fellow should have written my campaign speeches!" "You can see why it would be inadvisable to release his story to the Press," commented his secretary. "But what am I to do?

The people want his story before he is court-martialed. And there's the big problem. One man—the only man who really learned the Vanyan's language and understood them—could turn the tables on us and the United Nations. If we allow his story to come out before the trial—and if he managed to throw world sympathy toward himself and the Vanyans—we could not convict him of treason and carry out the execution without becoming guilty of the crime he's screaming about . . ."

"And yet on the other hand, sir, if you court-martial him without letting him tell his story publicly you know what that will mean. . . ."

The President supported his forehead in his hand, shook his head. "Sir, do you think you have committed an historical blunder?"

The Chief Executive looked up, startled, suddenly on the defensive. "You mean—in having destroyed the Vanyans? Not a bit of it!" He looked beyond the secretary to make sure the door was closed. Then he smiled a secret and confidential smile. "Come on, Henry—where's your political think-cap? They arrived in an election year. What they pretended to stand for would have ruined the whole Party platform. Why—if we had played along with them the people would have been ready for World Federation in another year!"

The secretary sighed. "I suppose you're right. But you're getting a terrific reaction to this Ray Sanders situation." He indicated a mountain of telegrams and urgent memos from congressmen and senators. "Something has to be done."

One of the President's phones rang and the secretary picked up the receiver. He said, "Yes, that's right." Then he listened, and suddenly his haggard face lighted with enthusiasm. "That's marvelous!" he exclaimed into the phone. "Keep this under a lid till it's okayed for release. . . ."

"What is it, Henry?" asked the President, hopefully curious.

"It's about Ray Sanders' lady love—you know who. . . ." "Oh, you mean the Vanyan woman. I wonder if Sanders is bitter about what we did to the Vanyans or what we did to her—what is that beauty's name?"

"Kria, sir."

"Kria—that's it. She's the only Vanyan left alive. What's the news? Is she finally going to die?"

"Not even the doctors are sure of that. Her blood looks like blood, but it isn't. Her pulse is not a pulse, merely a pressure. With all those bullets in her—"

"Well good God! Haven't they taken an X-ray yet! Ever since the Vanyans arrived it has been the major objective of our Secret Service to obtain an X-ray of a Vanyan. Now here we have this woman at our disposal—"

"That's just it, sir. They have taken a complete set of X-rays. . . ."

The President tensed, impaling his secretary with a glare. "And?"

"She is strictly not human!"

"Not human! A gorgeous woman like that? But—if she's not human, what is she?"

The secretary smiled, shaking his head. "You might not believe me if I told you. Don't take my word for it. Call Rear Admiral Herndon in Navy Medicine and Surgery. But here's the point, sir—" The secretary interrupted the President as he was about to reach for the phone. "I think I've found my political think-cap, after all. This is the break you've been looking for. Don't tell Ray Sanders the truth about his extra-terrestrial wife. Release his story. Then bring the real truth up at the court-martial. She's inhuman. Let the Press take up the monster angle from there—and then see where world sympathy goes. It's basic human nature to distrust and fear the Unknown. . . ."

The President compressed his lips in an expression of sudden decision. "Henry," he said, picking up the phone, "if what you say is true—"

The secretary shrugged, indicating the phone, and the President put in a personal call to the Navy hospital. His conversation with the rear admiral in charge of the Department of Medicine and Surgery consisted mostly of exclamations punctuating long periods of wide-eyed listening.

"But—" he almost spluttered, "that's more incredible than the Vanyan visitation, itself!" He stared, aghast, as he listened to the admiral. "If you told me she was a robot, it couldn't be more—What? Well of course that's a form of life, in a way. I danced with her at the first reception ball. I've shaken hands with many a Vanyan. I'd say they're vibrantly alive—or were—but I didn't think of that kind of being alive. . . . How could a species like that ever evolve? In fact, how does that Vanyan woman— She doesn't! But I mean, how would she— She wouldn't! Well then how the hell—"

When he finally put down the receiver, he looked up at his secretary in open-mouthed amazement. "Where in ten thousand hells did such a race come from?" he asked. "And they looked exactly like humans—even more so!"

"Is that important now, sir? They've been destroyed." "Do you suppose that Ray Sanders knows the truth—about his Vanyan wife—what she really is?"

Despite himself, the secretary colored slightly about his ears. "Well— I understand she was a flawless facsimile—or still is. And she's no robot. She's a form of sentient life, with more personality than human women. How could any man tell? I know Sanders doesn't realize what she is. Would he have married her if he knew the truth? This is going to be news for him. . . ."

"I wonder what purpose she had in deceiving him. After all, there could be no procreation—"

"Again, sir, what does that matter? This is an ace up your sleeve."

The Chief Executive's sleepless eyes and tired mouth crinkled into a brittle smile of triumph. He pointed at the thin manuscript be-fore him. "This is just Ray Sanders' preamble," he said. "You tell the Secretary of Defense I am authorizing a full release of Sanders' story—and confidentially, tell him why. We want Sanders to blab his heart out!"

The two men looked at each other and laughed. It was another political triumph for their side. . . .

RAY SANDERS heard the distant clamor in the streets outside his prison before he knew what had happened. He thought he heard newsboys shouting. Then he heard streetcars jangling their bells, and a persistent bedlam of automobile horns. He could not know at that moment that there were traffic jams all over the country caused by people stopping to buy extras and to read the papers right in the middle of the street. Or that business had come to a standstill to discuss him.

He merely sat on the edge of his bunk and looked through some of the letters that people had sent him. He had bundles of such letters beside him, unopened—and he
did not intend to open them. The warden had mailsacks full of correspondence for him that he would never see.

Most of the letters started out like the one he had just read:

Dear Mr. Sanders:
Our organization represents a world-wide affiliation of civic groups who are vitally interested in the Vanyan form of government. We must apologize for approaching you at this time, but we feel that now is the only time to hope to hear from you regarding your personal views and opinions on the subject. . . .

Then there were the letters and telegrams from publishers and news syndicates:

UNIVERSAL PRESS WILL PAY YOU TWENTY-FIVE THOU-SAND DOLLARS FOR EXCLUSIVE SYNDICATE RIGHTS

Or from the people who really considered him to be a traitor:

Sir:
The Patriotic League of Delbrook, Arkansas, wishes to go on record as being in full accord with the Government of the United States and the United Nations in relation to your indictment for treason against humanity—

And then there was that other kind he was reading now, which disgusted him the most:

Derest lover boy
Plese dont worry ul get out and wen you do I hope ul come and see me—

Sanders got up and began to pace the floor of his cell. He noticed that he had an unlighted cigarette in his mouth and he threw it violently into a corner. Then he paused, listening to a sudden commotion in the corridor.

"Hey Sanders!" yelled a scrub-by-bearded prisoner across from him. "Here comes your public!"

Sanders went to the bars, grasped the cold steel in his big hands, and glared at the crowd of people bearing down on him. There was Warden Baker, trying to keep ahead of them, his eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep. Next to him was some sort of government official, and on the other side two men in Army brass. Behind came eager men and women waving notebooks and cameras. This, ostensibly, was the Press.

He tensed, angered. Now they were all so friendly and interested. He was a shining new martyr, the only ghost to represent those thousands of benevolent Vanyans who lay dead and dismembered in the rubble of their wonder city. These were the gibbering idiots who had permitted the United Nations to destroy the benefactors of Mankind. These people were behind the cold-blooded shooting of Kria.

They could all go straight to Hell!

"Sanders!" cried one reporter. "You can tell your story now! —not just to the authorities. You can tell it to the world!"

"You people will have to be quiet," interrupted Warden Baker. "Sanders, this is Mister George Hackman. He represents the President of the United States. This gentleman is the Provost Marshal, and this is Colonel Bigsby, representing the Secretary of Defense—Public Relations. They want to talk to you."

"I guess I'll have to listen," retorted Sanders. "I haven't any other place to go."

The President's special agent looked the prisoner over. He saw a tall, gaunt man with reddish brown hair and bushy, forward-jutting brows, underneath which were a pair of dark brown eyes that had become shadowed, somehow, by the things they had seen far beyond the skies of Earth. He also discerned a curious admixture of opposing types—a compromise between the rugged adventurer and the sensitive dreamer and scholar. Beneath a not too aquiline nose was a wide mouth that had tightened into an expression of contempt, bitterness, disillusionment, torment and hate.

"Sanders," he said, "the President of the United States has authorized you to tell your story to the Press, as you see fit, before you are court-martialed. Do you. wish to take advantage of this privilege?"

Sanders sneered. "It's a great privilege, to be able to talk after the damage has been done! You can take your privilege and—"

"Just a minute!" interrupted another reporter. "If you tell your story they'll let you see Kria again.

"Warden Baker roared. "I said you folks would have to be quiet and wait your turn!"

They were quiet then, because they were watching their victim's face. They had him, emotionally, where they wanted him. Two flash-bulbs popped. And they all waited.

"This is quite officially authorized," said Colonel Bigsby.

Sanders glared at him and saw an elderly warhorse with Lord Cal-vert gray at the temples and a highball tan.

"We are here to corroborate the statement made by the President's agent."

Sanders clutched at the bars and glared out at all of them. He looked the colonel up and down, his lips tightening. The crowd could see the tension mounting in him like an earthquake.

"What would be the use!" he finally blurted out. More flash-bulbs went off. "Even if my story got me acquitted? What would be the use! Do you think I give a damn about living in a world inhabited by idiots? You had Utopia handed to you on a golden platter and you sliced the throats of your benefactors! Why? Did they threaten you with invasion?"

"Look!" said the colonel. "We can understand, in part, how you feel about what happened. But what you do not seem to be able to grasp is that we could take no chances. And living next door to a superman civilization like that was taking too big a chance. . . ."

"So you used the very technology they gave you and massacred them!" yelled Sanders. More flashbulbs.

"Another thing you seem to forget," put in the Provost Marshal, who looked more like a shore-bound admiral, "is that you were a citizen of the United States of America when you warned the Vanyans about our attack. You endangered your own world. That makes you a traitor, Sanders. I'd get down off that martyr's pedestal if I were you."

"May I speak a moment, Warden?"

A distinguished looking, elderly reporter from the New York Times stepped forward wearing a powder blue suit, a pink boutonniere and a pocketful of slim, expensive cigars. When the warden looked at the government men and received a triple nod of approval he passed the nod along and the Times representative continued, addressing Sanders. "Whether you become acquitted or not," he said, "your story will be important to the world, especially in times to come. We cannot say here whether you are really right or wrong. The court-martial will have to decide that for the present. But let future generations judge you—and let them judge us. That is what will really count.

"Sanders left the bars and paced his cell, brushing a hand through his hair. He thought of Kria, struggling against death in a hospital. And he thought of the times they had spent together on her own world. He had to see her again. . . .

"All right!" he said. suddenly. "I'll give you the story, but I'll write it myself. I'll give it all to you, in every detail. But don't come back and say I opened your eyes. Just remember one thing." He came back to the bars and glared at them. "When you realize the cataclysmic mistake you have made, you will have to live with the knowledge that now there is no remedy. You have obliterated the Vanyans. One golden chance in eternity, one ray of light out of space and time, never to return."

No flashbulbs now. Only silence, while they stared at him and he glared at them, his forehead beaded with cold perspiration. Prisoners along the cell block stood behind their bars and waited, watching and listening.

"It's too late for conscience," he continued. "You can't take back a barrage of atomic bombs and magnetic disintegration. I've seen the Vanyan city. I lived in it. I learned the language of the people you killed. I know what they stood for! There is only one conclusion you will be able to draw from my story. It is that you are the traitors, not against your country alone, but against humanity!"

Three days later, the world read Raymond Sanders' story.

YOU all know when they landed—August 17, 1956 — on the lawn of the Capitol Building, in Washington, D. C., shortly after eleven P.M., Eastern Standard Time. Three traditional flying saucers, complete with peripheral observation panels and the shallow dome on top.

They came smiling before the tanks and artillery and machine guns lined up to greet them, and they offered gifts. Their greatest gift was one of vital knowledge. Within one month, by means of sign language and mathematics, they proved that we were poisoning ourselves with mere practice blasts of atomic energy. Even the Russians agreed to universal control of atomic energy after that.

The Vanyan mission was one of peace. How could the world ever come to fear such a people when they offered Utopia and asked for nothing but good neighbors?

But you did come to fear and suspect, didn't you? And I know why now. It was instinctive egotism. Since we had all become accustomed to benevolence in the form of a false front behind which somebody was always paid off, it was perhaps a natural reaction in the beginning. Nobody could be that benevolent, you told yourselves. They wanted something. The whole thing was a trap.

But when time went on and the deception never revealed itself, you still could not accept pure benevolence at face value. You had to reduce the Vanyans to the level of your own understanding. The only way you could understand them was as a threat to your own existence. And so you destroyed them! But perhaps this was to be expected. Christ was crucified. . . .

By the end of that first day, many more discs had arrived, all over the world, and by the second day you all knew in general what the situation was. They had come from Mars but they were not Martians. Mars was the poor little oxygen-depleted world that astronomers always said it was. But the Vanyans had come to the solar system from interstellar space, searching for a new home, because their scientists had predicted that their own sun would soon become a nova. They had searched for centuries to find a suitable world, and at last they had found Earth—and Mars. Venus was still too hot and stormy. Earth was green and fair, but heavily populated. Mars possessed oxygen locked in a chemical state with its soil. Being benevolent and believing in fair play, the Vanyans did not come to Earth and tell us to make room for them, which they certainly could have done. Instead, they had set up machinery on Mars, developing a heavier gravitational field, building plants to release the oxygen again into the atmosphere and placing artificial sun satellites in orbits around the planet to give them the proper temperatures to support life as we and they knew it.

They had worked with Mars for fifteen years and established their own form of civilization there before they decided to establish contact with us. At first they investigated us without contact, in order to learn more about us, so the flying saucer reports of previous years turned out to have an actual basis in fact. When they became aware of our advances in the field of nuclear energy and finally saw us teetering on the brink of atomic war they knew they could wait no longer. So they landed and started negotiations.

After they had succeeded in freeing us from the fear of atomic warfare, tensions began to be relieved among the nations of the world regarding themselves—but a new tension was arising—a fear of the Vanyans. What was their real purpose and intent? What did they really want? You watched them and discussed them daily, and as time passed without their giving any basis for your fears this fact only served to heighten your suspicions more. The Vanyans were fiendishly clever!

They were small in number and great in science. They offered us technological knowledge in exchange for various useful materials and products we could give them. They readily instructed us how to overcome gravitation and build spaceships exactly equivalent to theirs. They even gave us their own weapons.

At first this latter move on their part was considered to be incredibly naive, but then the doubters came forth again and said that such naivete was wholly incompatible with such advanced mentalities. The Vanyans were accused of allowing us to build our own booby trap.

Yet they opened Mars to us and allowed us to come and go at will. They hid nothing from us and answered every question. Except one thing. They would not permit themselves to be X-rayed or carefully examined, physiologically. Since they were obviously flesh and blood humans, we wondered what they were hiding.

Just that one mystery fanned universal doubt and fear to overwhelming proportions. The Vanyans came to us offering a new era, but they reserved one little right to privacy—and for that they were sinister monsters masquerading in human form. Imagination ran riot. Superstitious dread mounted to the point of insanity. If a Vanyan smiled and held out a precious gift of knowledge to us, we would tremble inwardly, instinctively fearing to accept and thus contribute another choking strand to the imaginary web they were supposed to be weaving about us, inexorably, day by day and month by month.

In regard to my own reactions during those first weeks of wonder, I was more or less neutral, willing to give them the benefit of a doubt, searching through their deeds and their way of life for some wisdom lying beyond our comprehension which would in the final analysis explain the things they did that seemed irreconcilable with our own realities.

Then, in early September of that year just prior to the opening of the public schools, a group of Vanyans visited Los Angeles. . . .

THEY came in one of their saucers, as they had come to Washington and New York and Chicago, or to London, Paris and Moscow. They came happily, cheerfully, trustingly and without subterfuge—simply to learn what they could about us and enable us to get acquainted with them. At first it was impossible to get a close look at them except on television, because it was worse than the Rose Parade or the Rose Bowl by far. I wanted to see them in the flesh, but milling crowds were anathema to me. I waited—and finally my opportunity came.

It came because of one outstanding difficulty, which was, of course, the vital matter of communication. In that one respect their arrival on Earth differed from wishful thinking. They were not telepathic, nor did they have any of those convenient machines that you fit on your head in order to get your languages translated automatically. Their language was extremely difficult and involved. Up to this time they had been indulging in a very rapidly developed and publicized system of sign language, in addition to mathematical symbology for expressing scientific concepts. But communication was slow, and they were vitally interested in solving this problem, as were we.

So it was that by the natural process of groping their way and making their wants understood they gravitated toward the institutes of learning and especially toward the teachers. For some reason which we were to understand at a later date, they treated teachers with an unusual amount of respect — even deference. Second only in popularity with them were the linguists, the first being of course the teachers of the physical sciences. And in a way this still had a lot to do with language. They could understand the language of science most readily, although art and music were also highly favored media for expression. But they recognized the fact that if they were to expand their concepts and understanding of us they would have to get down to the business of actual word ideation. And so, at last, the Vanyans and the local linguists got together—and I was included, as a fairly well recognized comparative philologist.

It was at the banquet given by the Alpha Phi Gamma, a national teachers' honorary society for philologists, that I first met Kria. Not all the visiting Vanyans were present, but we had three of them, which was enough to put us in the television spotlights during the whole evening—or at least up to that point when the evening was violently interrupted.

There was a bright young male Vanyan named Drganu who turned out to be Kria's brother, and there was an apparently young man of much graver bearing, named Sanal. We were not quite sure at the time what the Vanyan lifespan was, but I later found out that Sanal was over fifty Earth years old. He was the father of Kria and Drganu.

I wish that I were telling this story to someone who had not experienced the visitation of the Vanyans, because a description of their well know peculiarities would be of particular interest. I mean such things as, of course, their clothing, or lack of it, those hundred and one little differences in the sense of value, or etiquette, or morality, which were the result of a much different social system, and which more often than not resulted in considerable embarrassment on our part before we could make an adjustment to their ways.

For example an uninformed reader might be shocked to know that our three guests sat almost in the nude at our banquet, nor did any amount of sign language appear to influence them. They were not stubborn about it. They merely laughed the whole thing off and continued brightly with the intellectual pursuits at hand.

Not that their semi-nudity was repulsive to any of us. On the contrary. Like all Vanyans, our three guests were almost breathtakingly beautiful. Indeed, if we learned academicians had possessed one-half the physical attributes of our guests we might have considered relieving the tension by at least removing our shirts. These were a golden people, both inside and out. It was a tonic to associate with them. On their faces and in their eyes one could detect a great intelligence coupled with the enviable insouciance of a child.

To me a most satisfactory arrangement was the fact that I was seated at the table within only two places of where Kria was sitting. Before I became involved directly in the sign language and other meager forms of communication, I was perfectly content to study her, wearing an expression of purely academic interest but not feeling it in the least.

I do not wish to appear facetious, but I must say that I stopped thinking like a bachelor the moment I laid eyes on her. To say she was beautiful would be as vacuous ant expression as to say that the sun shines. Her bluish hair was parted in back and done up in those thick braids that they slip under the double ringlets on their arms—a very practical method of getting it out of the way and yet very decorative. She wore a tiara of precious metal and sparkling jewels which had been fashioned into the likeness of living flowers. Her eyes were slightly more lavender than blue. Her brows were black and perfectly formed, and her lashes were thick and long, without mascara. I've seen women play with men with their eyes in an effort to express their sophistication and feminine prowess in general, but Kria played a breathtaking game with her eyes that was just exactly that. A happy, innocent game. But deep behind the game you could see what seemed to be mirrored vistas of interstellar space—something vast, terrifying and unutterably beauti-ful, like a fleeting sense of Nirvana, grasped only for a moment and leaving you dedicated thenceforth to the single purpose of finding out the meaning of it.

Her lips were full, above and below, like those of the Grecian gods, and there was a mystically pagan tilt to them and her smiles were as comprehensive as a Thesaurus. Those lips were enviable, too, to Earthwomen, because they possessed a natural hue of deep rose, and an apparently velvety texture that would have been spoiled by lipstick.

I could go on and on. You have seen her. You know of the golden texture of her skin, her supple grace, the single, veil-like garment all Vanyan women wear that is only half a sarong and much more transparent. To complete the picture, there were her perfect breasts, only partially covered by the veil. In fact, one was and one wasn't. Her bearing and her sparkling personality made you somehow accept her as she was, but you could never take those beautiful young breasts for granted.

You all know why I am dwelling upon the fact of her near nudity here. It has an important bearing on what I was to discover later in relation to their whole attitude on the subject of sex—which is one of the greatest differences between Vanyans and Earthmen. Then on the other hand their concept of love was another story. In that regard we could meet on a common ground. More or less. . . .

I HAVE mentioned that a wave of superstitious dread was developing throughout the world in regard to the Vanyans. Whether or not certain economic or political factions helped to augment that wave of fear and distrust and resentment is a subject which need not be elaborated on at present, but the fact remains that the adherents to this ideology of alienation were already taking matters into their own hands—a fact which actually brought Kria and myself together. In fact, our banquet that night at the Town House turned out to be one of the focal points of attack for the now historical anti-Vanyan uprising.

I believe we had just finished the shrimp cocktails and the bouillon was just being served when I made my first direct communication with Kria. By means of sign language I was indicating a curiosity in her reaction to our kind of food and trying to get her to describe to some extent what they ate on Mars. My two colleagues on my right were doing their best to help me out.

Kria beamed at me in a way that positively embarrassed me, Furthermore, she seemed to be oblivious of my would-be assistants. In a few moments, so was I. I was wallowing in her eyes and gamboling with her through pristine glades of thought engendered by her smile, her facial expressions, her manual gesticulations, and her whole personality. We did not seem to require a language of word symbology. Nothing crude enough to create sound waves and tickle our eardrums would have served to convey the consciously indefinable yet subconsciously delectable impressions she passed on to me. It was not telepathy, I insist, but rather a form of communication achieved through sheer personal magnetism.

I was thinking: My God but you're beautiful! Who cares what you eat?

And with her eyes and lips and her radiant personality she laughed soundlessly. Yet I heard that laughter echoing through the thought-glades of the extra-dimensional sort of little world that was a-building between us. I saw myself running with her, hand in hand, through dreams more vivid than reality.

I came to, with a start, to find Anderson, my colleague who sat next to me, pulling at my arm. He was on his feet. Others were on their feet, too, and there was shouting. On Kria's face I saw a look of alarm as she stared at the main entrance to the banquet room.

"What is the meaning of this?" I heard our master of ceremonies shout.

"There they are!" shouted someone else.

"Down with the Vanyans!"

A mob of men moved into the banquet room, brandishing guns. Drganu and Sanal rose slowly to face their attackers. They were unarmed. I heard them say something in their own tongue to Kria and she, too, got up.

It appeared immediately that there was going to be no opportunity of arguing with the intruders. They were after the Vanyans. The television camera next to the master of ceremonies turned just in time to give the outside world a glimpse of violence as one of the invaders struck the master of ceremonies over the head with the butt end of his pistol. This precipitated swift action on the part of the other members of Alpha Phi Gamma, but just as the free-for-all started someone conveniently turned out the lights.

In that exact instant I ran around the end of the table and grasped Kria's arm. It was the first time I had touched a female of the species, so I was unprepared for the delightful shock of vibrant warmth and personal electricity that shot to my brain. I knew a few words of the Vanyan tongue, so I was able to say, "Kria—friend —follow . . ."

She must have recognized my voice, because she followed me instantly.

I had officiated at several functions held previously at the Town House and happened to know where the doors were which led both to the kitchen and to the service sections of the building. We were knocking over chairs and banging into tables in the kitchen before anyone knew she had left the banquet room.

Fortunately, I made a mistake and opened a door which I thought would lead out the back way. Instead, I found myself groping about in a service closet. But the first thing I laid my hands on was someone's raincoat, which turned out to be equipped with a plastic hood. I immediately threw this around Kria and tucked her hair well in under the hood. Then I actually found the exit I sought and we went out. Behind us we could hear shouts, fighting, and the sound of furniture being thrown about.

Inasmuch as bold, swift action had accomplished this much so far, I reasoned that it was our only recourse until we reached ultimate safety. So I led her out onto the side street where I had parked my car.

We were just emerging from the narrow passage between buildings when three news reporters sprang out of a car and dashed toward us. They were about to pass us in an attempt to reach the scene of the turmoil through the rear entrance, but in the same moment one of them caught a good view of Kria's bare leg, then her Vanyan style sandals.

He gave a shout to his companions, and in the next instant the three of them blocked us as efficiently as an All American team.

"Here's a Vanyan dame!" yelled the first one.

"Luck!" responded one of his companions.

But they made the mistake of laying hands on her and myself to detain us. I took hold of two of them and shoved them off violently. I think I must have struck the third one in the chest, because he staggered back and came at me belligerently.

"All right, wise guy!" he shouted. "You're in the way. We want stories and pics and we're going to get 'em. Don't let's get rough!"

Already one of them had his camera ready and a flashbulb went off. People who had been running toward the entrance to the Town House now began to converge on us.

"See what you've done?" I argued. "This girl's life is in danger! Now we've got to make a run for it!"

As the reporter still blocked my way, I called upon an old reserve of strength and muscular coordination left over from my athletic days and threw my two hundred pounds at them. I made a path for Kria and took her hand. Silently, she followed me on the run.

But it was exactly like a fox hunt. The hounds had scouted out their prey and the howling and the chase began.

"Hey! There's a Vanyan trying to get away!" I heard someone shout.

"Who's the guy with her?"

"Probably a copper. Get her, quick!"

Flashbulbs popped behind us. The sound of many running feet grew loud in our ears. Some men tried to intercept us and I straight-armed them rather neatly. Hands reached out and tore at Kria's raincoat, which soon came off.

Suddenly, we were piling into my Ford convertible and I was starting the engine. Bodies crowded around us, hands reached in. There was a bedlam of shouting.

Get out of the way!" I yelled, as the engine started.

The Ford pulled away sluggishly as the crowd actually tried to hold it back. In the next instant, I was racing toward Sixth Street, intent upon reaching Virgil Avenue so that I could head for the Hollywoodland hills, Cahuenga Pass—and the San Fernando Valley. I crossed Sixth and went on up to Third. Just as I turned into Virgil I discerned three sets of headlights in my rear vision mirror. When you are traveling as fast as the road will allow, you know when you're being followed.

At Beverly the lights were against me. I couldn't wait, so I went through. As luck would have it, there were no police cars or motor cycles on hand to intercept me—as yet. But I knew I couldn't race across town at this pace and keep ahead of my pursuers without attracting the police, and then the whole thing would be at an end. I reasoned that even the police might not be able to do anything against the mob, and before order could be restored Kria might actually get hurt.

For the moment, the situation all seemed to boil down to one thing. Outracing my pursuers was a bad choice. Outsmarting them would be better. It all depended on who knew the city best. I needed a temporary hiding place.

I darted into a side street and began a laborious threading of residential mazes in the general direction of Vermont Avenue. The Los Angeles City College was not far away, and I had keys to some of the buildings. Several times I still discerned headlights in the rear vision mirror, but now there were only two sets.

All this time I was only vaguely aware of Kria sitting next to me. She had been fumbling in the glove compartment for something, and finally I knew she was looking at a city map.

Suddenly, just as we hit the bright lights of Vermont Avenue, I did a double take at her and almost wrecked the car. She was completely naked. Even the veil had been torn from her in the mad rush.

"Kria!" I shouted, inanely, as I barely missed colliding with a streetcar.

She looked up at me sweetly, just as though nothing were wrong. She murmured something at me in the Vanyan tongue, and I caught the word, "Where?"

She was indicating the map. I signaled to her to get down out of sight. As she failed to comprehend, I put my hand on her back and gently pressed her down beside me. Suddenly, she understood, and in the next moment she was curled up on the seat beside me like a contented kitten. It was all I could do to concentrate on my driving, and there was no time to remove my coat to cover her with it.

But why should she want to know where I was going? Furthermore, she did not seem to be overly concerned about her father and her brother, back there at the Town House. Then the thought struck me that the Vanyans, after all, might have taken certain precautions prior to coming to the city. Did they have an emergency plan of action in case of danger? Why should Kria be so interested in a city map?

Vague apprehensions assailed me. Were the witch-baiters right, then? Were these beings from the stars truly supermen who merely presented a gentle face to conceal their real proportions and abilities? Would this attack upon them cause them to reveal their true natures, their hidden weapons and powers, making us seem suddenly like so much captured livestock?

"That's for the comic books!" I muttered, angrily, and pressed the accelerator to the floorboards.

And now, at last, I discerned a red light in my rear vision mirror and heard the blood-chilling sound of a police siren. Sooner or later, it had to happen.

But Melrose was close, which meant that the City College was within reach. I took a chance, intending to explain later to the authorities. There were racing headlights following that police car, and I knew what that meant, Reporters, mobs, violence.

I swung around behind the college and skidded to a stop. In an instant, I was out of the car, leading Kria toward the darkened buildings. There was a trap door under the bushes nearby. It led into the tunnels that carried the steam and water pipes. I doubted that they'd think of looking there.

I found what I was looking for, and we climbed down into the dark passage. I lit a match and we duck-walked along next to the insulated steam pipes, putting a good distance between us and the trap door. When I came to three branch tunnels I relaxed, momentarily, and we caught our breaths. And I stopped lighting matches. Retinal fatigue came in handy to keep reminding me of Kria and how she looked, crouching there beside me like some idealized version of the primordial she.

Through it all she had remained as calm and unworried as a clam. I even began to wonder if her species were possessed of an instinct of self-preservation. It was at such times that I sensed the alienness of her, for all her obvious and natural attractions.

She put her hand on my arm, trustingly, waiting. I had a distinct feeling it was she who was waiting for certain foreseeable developments of her own imagining—not I. And I wondered who was leading whom. All I could do was wait for the dust to settle and then take her to a more suitable hiding place.

Suddenly, the small lights went on in the tunnel, and I knew what that meant. The police had found the watchman, and he had led them to the boiler room, which gave access to the tunnels. We could hear the pipes clanking. They were coming for us.

For one fleeting moment I considered what might happen to my reputation as a college professor, caught in a tunnel with a stark naked Vanyan woman—and just at the beginning of the school year. But then I thought of graver things. The primordial reasoning that was behind all of this confusion and turmoil. Apes chasing lost angels. A rotten egg splattered across an original Michelangelo. A bowling alley terminating at an altar.

It all made as much sense, this terrestrial reaction to the Vanyan visitation. There was an aspect to finality to my situation—like bridges burned behind one. Irretrievably.

Kria grasped my arm and spoke one of the few English words she had mastered. "Up!" she exclaimed, urgently.

I looked into her eyes, or tried to. In the illumination offered by the lights of the tunnel I observed her more plainly than I had before. There was something of finality in that, too. Possessiveness. The threads of our years had come together, somehow. From here on out I had the feeling that those two threads would be woven together.

"Up!" exclaimed Kria, tugging at me. "Out!" Something in her eyes told me that she had reasons for getting out of the tunnel which might surprise me.

I moved, leading her back toward the trap door we had entered. When we came out under the bushes we could see about fifty men running about the campus. Kria tugged at my arm, trying to lead me out into the open, right into the center of the campus, where everyone would see us.

"Follow!" she commanded, in her own tongue.

"Are you crazy!" I blurted out, in English, and I held back.

But suddenly she pointed to the sky.

Even before I saw it, I knew what to look for. I might have known it. The Vanyans were prepared for an emergency, and their powers were beyond us. Kria had been en rapport, somehow, with her people. They knew exactly where she was.

The disc settled slowly, almost majestically, toward the campus. It showed no lights. It was merely a lesser darkness in the night sky, dully reflecting the city lights. If Kria had not pointed it out to me, I'd not have seen it until it landed. The men running about the college buildings looking for us did not see it.

We began to run, then, out into the open. Even before we reached the general area in which the disc was going to land, our pursuers spotted us. Somehow, a white, naked body shows up well in the night when it is running across green grass, with or without a bewildered college professor in tow.

"There she is!" came an exultant shout.

"There they both are!"

"Get 'em, men!"

The mob began to close in. But suddenly they all came to a standstill as the disc lowered abruptly into view and then quietly landed. Its great port lights glared into sudden brilliance and a door opened. A Vanyan guard appeared with the familiar little bird-cage and glowing bulb which had been described as a paralysis weapon. I guess it was, because the crowd did not move or cry out.

Kria and I went up the ramp and into the Vanyan ship without molestation. The ramp folded inward, the door closed, and the floor almost buckled my knees as we rose into the sky.

MY FIRST impressions of the flying disc were necessarily blurred because of the rapid maneuverings which were forced upon the pilot in this tense situation. I had an impression that they were trying to rescue Drganu and Sanal, which they did, because I saw them later. Long afterward, I gathered the story that the two had simply surrendered to the crowd. The police had interfered and managed to place them in protective custody. Then the Vanyans had come with their paralysis weapons and rescued them.

But this was only the beginning of trouble. The anti-Vanyan revolt was world wide. I soon perceived that we were being followed as we raced outward into space. And the only thing that could follow a flying disc was another flying disc. Ergo, my own kind had either succeeded in building facsimiles of them by now, or they had captured a few Vanyan vessels.

Their one weak point, I gathered, was a human limitation in regard to acceleration. As I struggled to keep my consciousness, I caught a blurred view of Drganu and Sanal bending over me. Beyond them I saw a weird, three-dimensional miniature of space behind us. There was the vast globe of Earth, pale lavender in the moonlight, and silhouetted against it were half a dozen pursuing discs. I knew what the problem was. To outdistance the pursuers would be to kill me with the pressure of acceleration which only they seemed to be able to stand. The Vanyans were different, after all. They were superhuman.

I stared back at Drganu and Sanal, like an animal caught in a trap. The terrible pressure of acceleration was causing their facial contours to sag into grotesque caricatures of men, thus accentuating the impression in my wavering mind that they were monsters in human form. I think I screamed at them and told them to go away.

Then later I thought: They could destroy the others, but they *** don't wish to. They are benevolent. It was not they who started the trouble. They intelligently recognized this momentary uprising as something that would soon be quelled by established governmental agencies.

But delirium twisted my thoughts again, and I told myself that they were very, very clever —not wishing to spoil their camouflage of benevolence. It was not yet time for the blow they were preparing. With phlegmatic calm they were sidestepping the insult and fiendishly biding their time.

After that, I passed out. But I dreamed of Kria. I saw her smiling face. I saw her naked body, afar, running toward me across an infinite plain of black ebony, arms stretched out in yearning. She wanted me. I think the thought sustained my life's forces under the brutal pressure of acceleration that finally caused the pursuers to give up the chase. Or it might have been the injections they gave me. Or both.

But I was in love with Kria. It was a fact which I accepted without questioning why.

The Vanyans brought me to Mars at her request, because she thought I would be in danger back on Earth. As it developed, the danger to myself was not great. I might have been arrested for questioning and then released.

But that is how I came to Mars and took up residence there—until certain governmental forces from Earth caught up with me. . . .

THE rest of you came there later. I was the first to behold the new planet. And then I knew, with a certainty, that the Vanyans were truly benevolent. They were a god race which could have destroyed us as a mere whim, if it chose to do so. They were great enough in their science and intelligence to handle us without subterfuge. They was no necessity of laying groundwork for conquest. That could have been accomplished at any time.

They came to that starved out world and filled it with titanic stresses, awakening within its core the ancient fires and the sustaining forces of nature. Long before they landed, earthquakes were caused to rage through the ancient crust, raising whole new mountain chains which were designed to catch the moisture which they intended to provide for the Martian skies, to catch it and pour it through rejuvenated soil into fresh new rivers, which led into lakes, which poured into embryonic seas, thus establishing the cycle of evaporation and return.

They bored swiftly into the planet's depths and installed their gravitation equipment, capturing the globe in a restrengthened spherical vortex of sub-electronic fields of force which comprised mass attraction—and thus a stabilized atmosphere was assured. Their great engines of power operated electro-chemical plants designed to release oxygen from the soil. They established miniature suns in orbits between Deimos and Phobos, providing additional light and warmth.

All their stupendous technology was not dedicated to necessity alone, but to the aesthetic sense, as well. A harsh, soulless race might have been content to eke out an existence in barren deserts under skies that were unrelieved by the changing phenomena of nature, but not the Vanyans. Their eyes were not blind to the beauty of the rainbow and the splendor of cloud-framed sunsets. Their ears were not deaf to the patter of rain and the crash of thunder. They required the aesthetic setting of broken horizons, of verdure clad hills and the misted plumes of distant waterfalls, the cool presence of placid lakes, the crashing spray of an ocean's surf—and the song of birds. That was one of the first things they wanted of us. A shipment of live songbirds.

Those scare-mongers who were behind the anti-Vanyan uprising should have thought of that. Their bogeyman from space asks not for unconditional surrender. He requests a shipment of songbirds. And later, sheep, cattle— and honeybees. A very sinister race, indeed!

There are only about fifty thousand Vanyans, or rather, there were about that many; yet their city covered almost one hundred square miles. It was a city that offered the ultimate in technological efficiency and yet succeeded in not being a city at all. The only stationary buildings were the Palace of the Council, the Central Research Laboratory, a few specialized factories and the oxygen plants. There were no shopping centers, no restaurants or amusement centers—not even colleges in the architectural sense. Each Vanyan household was a self-contained unit which could fly, when desired. According to individual tastes, each household "sky island" could land where its owners pleased—beside a lake, at the ocean's shore, on a mountain top, or in some secluded valley. If it became necessary for one member of the household to travel to another location, he could do so by means of teleportation, which to the Vanyans was as simple a matter as dialing the desired call frequency of one's destination. A Vanyan citizen could visit a spot a hundred miles distant and return home all within one minute, if he chose to do so. To attend concerts or attend to business it was not necessary to come to "town." As we see events via television they indulged in the cultural life by means of tri-dimensional visi-sonic apparatus. By means of remote controlled robot extensions they could even sign papers at a distance.

Education was another matter. Every mature Vanyan was a third order teacher. A third order teacher conveyed knowledge. Leisure was such that every younger Vanyan could find a teacher of the third order and acquire knowledge at will. Motivation was such that the students learned on the basis of personal volition. There was no institute of third order learning, but knowledge was dispensed with an underlying pattern of prescribed order—on the unit system. Certain broad units of knowledge were delineated for mastery. When the student could demonstrate a satisfactory accumulation of knowledge, he sought out those second order teachers who actually made it a life's work to guide the minds of others. A second order teacher was on the social level of our most prominent medical specialists. He taught intelligence, or developed it. The application of knowledge, and the evaluation of it.

It was only the first order teacher who lived in a structure designed for mental instruction. There were many such "sky islands" dedicated to first order education. A first order Master dedicated his life to the awakening of wisdom in his advanced pupils. He could take them to a secluded spot on the planet and spend weeks there, if he chose, without interruption. Sometimes there were no lectures at all, nor any discussions. There was only an exemplary way of life—a grasping of concepts for which there was no word ideation possible. Wisdom could not be taught, actually. It was acquired through the method of exposure to higher wisdom.

Thus—new Mars, a Shangri La surpassing all others. . . .

MY FIRST instruction was in language. And my charming third order teacher was none other than Kria, herself. Thanks to an extensive academic background in philology and a highly sensitive "Sprachgefühl," or language feeling, I was able to find my way gradually through the intricacies of a language that had no limitation on the number of its grammatical cases or its types of declensions. Once one mastered the key to the underlying basic language of inflections, original composition of the whole morphology was possible, and in each case the listener would be able to under-stand and appreciate the method of expression. Here was a place where the true poet was envied, indeed! As a philologist I could digress at great length on this subject, but that would lie beyond the scope of my objectives here.

The most eloquent commentary I can make in regard to the Vanyan language is that its poetry could never be translated. An attempt at translation would be like the crash of a tree in a forest where there were no ears to hear. I have read poems or heard songs written in three different ways, all with the same words, the same rhyme and meter, but with subtle changes in inflections or declensions which brought about increasing intensities of meaning, or sometimes a different meaning entirely, often conveying a concept not attainable through words alone. Thus far can description go, but no farther.

Weeks passed, and months passed, while I lived and moved about in a world of dreams more poignantly vivid than any reality which my own world could have offered. News trickled through, from time to time, regarding events on Earth. I was even aware that Earthmen had come to Mars, that some of them were even residents there, on a temporary basis, for technical reasons. But I never saw them during the first few months of my sojourn. I succumbed to the overwhelming charm of this synthetic little world, to the point of irresponsibility. There was something there waiting for me to absorb—wordless, indescribable. I felt its slow development in me without being able to describe it other than to say that, perhaps, I was becoming, in fact, a Vanyan.

At the end of the fifth month, I was ready to really have a talk with Kria. My basic vocabulary and mastery of the inflection key enabled me to compose new meanings and thus get my point across. There were many things I wanted to know. There was much that I had to say—to her alone. By this time I was an established member of Sanal's household, and many mysteries had presented themselves to me which demanded an explanation. For example, so far I had not seen one Vanyan child . . . Nor a very old man or woman.

At my request, they had moved their "sky island" into a picturesque valley which was just over the hill from the plain of Tharsis, on which stood the permanent center of the Vanyan civilization. From the hilltops you could see the marble-hued towers of the Palace of the Council and the simpler lines of the Central Research Laboratory, in addition to dozens of the flying discs which were always on hand. Beyond lay the shimmering expanse of the new Sea of Tharsis, and along its shores were atmosphere plants, re-leasing oxygen from the soil and augmenting the processes of evaporation from the sea.

We had taken a walk to see the sunset, and naturally we turned our steps toward my favorite spot, at the foot of a waterfall, by a beautiful pool, from which point of vantage we could look out upon the plain and the sea. There were young trees about us, but the chief item of vegetation was a vine that grew everywhere, rapidly sheltering the soil and conserving it against erosion from the frequent and sudden showers. One other type of vine bore large, white blossoms at this time of the Martian year. It grew up the cliffside on either side of the waterfall, making of the whole place an area of pristine beauty, a place for meditation and, I knew, love-making.

Kria wore the traditional Vanyan veil sarong, which hardly concealed her beautiful form, and a gentle wind from the sea pressed it enhancingly against her. As for my own apparel, I had adopted the dress of Vanyan men, which consisted of little more than a short, split skirt and the equivalent of a G-string, plus sandals. Drganu had presented me with a jeweled medallion which I wore around my neck. It distinguished me as a guest of honor living under the protection of the house of Sanal. A simple series of exercises had helped me to put muscle tone back into my physique so that now I was not ashamed to match contours with any of the Vanyans. Even in outward appearance I was getting to be like them.

A description of this setting would not be complete without mention of the sleth, a three foot, silvery globe that accompanied us, floating through the air and guided by a small box of controls and electronic gear attached to my waist. The Vanyans were addicted to moods as many Earthmen are to a graceful indulgence in alcoholics. They could not be happy for very long without music. The sleth was a floating portable radio, of sorts, but which filled the surrounding area with three-dimensional music. The symphonic notes seemed to emanate from everywhere, until you felt you were a part of them. After due adjustment to the effects of a sleth, you ceased hearing the music, and there was only the mood—like a subtle addition to one's personality. It was like feeling "high," but infinitely refined in its subtleties.

I did not know, as yet, that the sleth had other functions. . . . At which time, I suppose, it might be called a sleeth, or a slith, depending on the shades of meaning which were applicable in relation to its activities. . . .

"Kria," I said, abruptly, after a considerable period of silence during which we had watched the distant natural sun sink out of sight and observed the rise of a synthetic, nearer sun, "why are there no children or old people here?"

She answered me with silence. I looked at her and found her eyes surveying me with an expression which could only be interpreted as sorrow—or perhaps wistfulness.

Finally, she said—and some-what hesitantly, I thought—"Perhaps it is time to tell you more about my race. Sooner or later, you would have to know. . . ."

Which remark left me waiting for her to continue, I waited.

"We are immortals." "You—what!" "There is no death unless it is willed. Of course—violent destruction—"

"But—to live forever—how is that possible! No, skip that. Tell me this. How old are you—really?"

"By Earth years, I am as young as you."

"Then—not long ago you were a child. . . ."

Again, the wistfulness. "I was—" She hesitated, groping for words. "Yes. Yes, I was a child."

"Then why don't I see any children of a newer generation?" "We are immortals. New—that is, an increase in the population is a serious thing. There is a very strict control on that."

"You mean birth control."

"Well, yes. . . . You see, when someone chooses to die, another Vanyan can come into being. During this important period of our transference to a new world, there is no time for such considerations. Later, when things have become quite well established, the oldest philosophers will go and make way for the youngsters again."

"Oh. But you know, the same relationship does not seem to exist here between man and woman as it does on Earth. You're all quite indifferent to each others' attractions, just like so many brothers and sisters. Don't any of you ever fall in love?"

The sleth, as though responding to our moods, rose to a crescendo with its music, then faded to a whispering lament that was barely audible above the roar of the waterfall.

Kria grasped my hand, tightly. "There is love," she said, quickly.

"So? In that case, what do lovers do?" I was being deliberately pointed in my remarks. I held on to her hand, not willing to let it go.

We were playing breathtaking games with our eyes. It was a sort of duel, and I must have broken through her guard.

"Oh Ray!" she suddenly cried out. And she was in my arms. I crushed her to me and kissed her, and she responded with all the feverish thirst for love that had been pent up within myself.

"Kria," I whispered to her, when I could catch my breath, "didn't you know this was happening?"

"Yes, yes! I did!" she exclaimed. And with that, she pushed away from me. There were no tears in her eyes, but there should have been, from the looks of her.

I have mentioned before that there was much to be seen in Kria's eyes that was a fascinating mystery —something vast, terrifying and unutterably beautiful, like an awareness of a pitiful cry that wants to reach you but can't, as though the gods were trapped in a bottle at the bottom of some lost ocean and were crying out, unheard. This is what I saw in her eyes now. It was a distant pleading that was forbidden expression.

"Kria, darling!" I blurted out, taking her into my arms again. "What is it?"

She only sought my lips and clung to me in unutterable desperation. Then at last she said, "There are things I should tell you—yet I can't. But I love you!"

Love was a sword that had cut many a Gordian knot cleanly through. The immortal opening lines of Oscar Wilde's Panthea came to me, accompanied by indescribable music from the sleth:

Nay, let us walk from fire unto fire,
From passionate pain to deadlier delight,-
I am too young to live without desire,
Too young art thou to waste this summer night
Asking those idle questions which of old
Man sought of seer and oracle, and no reply was told.

I picked her up in my arms and carried her over to a large, flat rock next to the pool. She lay there silently until I lay her down on the rock and kneeled there looking down at her.

Then she said, "Something I should tell you cannot be told, but someday—"

I kissed her. "Someday you mean everything will be straightened out?"

"Yes! Oh Ray, I swear it!" She reached out for me. . . .

For sweet, to feel is better than to know, And wisdom is a childless heritage, One pulse of passion-youth's first fiery glow,- Are worth the hoarded proverbs of the sage: Vex not thy soul with dead philosophy, Have we not lips to kiss with, hearts to love, and eyes to see!*

*Panthea, second verse—Ed.

These lines were but a mild reflection of what the ingenious sleth was singing to us on high, as pale Deimos rose to face the diminutive Vanyan sun across the Sea of Tharsis and I lay beside my love.

SUDDENLY, the sleth became silent, and Kria suddenly tensed, staring up at it. She sat up quickly, pushing herself away from me, straightening her hair.

"Kria!" came the voice of Sanal, her father.

When I looked up at the sleth I saw there his face looking down upon us. He was not angered, nor was he smiling his blessing upon us. He was sad.

"Come home, you two. . . ."

Before we could argue about it, his face disappeared. And the sleth was silent It hovered, waiting for us to leave.

I looked at Kria, embarrassed and a trifle piqued. "Do you mean to say that the sleth is also a visiscope?"

She nodded. "It's all right," she answered, taking my hand and getting up. "It was all coming to this. It will be interesting to hear what Sanal has to say."

When we came "home," just over the hill, both Sanal and Drganu were waiting for us. They had a way of studying us both that angered me. It was like prying into a private world that belonged to only the two of us.

"So you have seen us," I said, hotly. "It's just as well. I'm going to marry Kria. . . ."

An inane sort of puppy defense, but it was all I could think of at the moment.

"Come in," said Sanal. "I want to talk to you." Which was obvious.

We all went inside.

Sanal sat down and studied us a long time again before he spoke. "You realize, of course," he said, "that this is the first case of personal attraction between Earthman and Vanyan. Have you considered the possible consequences?"

Since the question was directed at me, I answered, "There are always consequences. We are in love. The consequence is—we want to get married."

"I know. I know. But you are not aware of the facts in regard to our race. . . ."

I stood up, impatient, fists suddenly clenched. "Then let me in on it!" I blurted out. "What's the big secret? Do you go into chrysalis at fifty and turn into bug-eyed monsters!"

"Raymond!" admonished Kria. She sounded like my wife already, but I liked it.

"On the contrary," replied Sanal, gravely, "you might say that our hidden secret contains the reverse of an unhappy ending. I only wish to warn you that we do possess a racial secret, and that you must never ask us whence we really came, for if we told you the truth it might spoil your marriage with Kria—yet if you waited long enough there would be no need for telling you anything, because the whole thing will right itself, in time."

This was the reverse of the Lohengrin theme. I looked into Kria's eyes, wondering if there were a swan song stored within her that I might have to listen to at a later date.

"Kria," I asked her, "for our sake I'd like to have you answer just one question. Would you call your marriage to me a deception?"

Drganu and Sanal exchanged serious glances, then looked at Kria.

"Sanal has warned you," she answered. "The end result of our marriage will be perhaps even more than you have wished for. Therefore, I see no deception."

"You know," I said to the three of them, "I think we're going around in circles. Kria and I want to be married."

Drganu and Sanal smiled and got to their feet. Kria gave a little cry and ran to me. My arm went around her, and Sanal placed his hand on my shoulder.

"Congratulations!" he said, forgetting for the moment the Earthly custom of shaking hands.

I grasped his hand and shook it, and Drganu offered me his. I gladly accepted them as my new "in-laws."

"Regarding a home for you," said Sanal, "we will have to apply to the Council for that. Or did you have in mind taking up residence hack on Earth again?"

"Well, I guess I can't stay on Mars too long without renouncing my citizenship, so perhaps Kiln and I had better plan on going to Earth—after we are married."

The three Vanyans stared at each other.

"But—" said Kria, "darling, we are married!"

I think I gaped at her. "You see," said Drganu, "in our civilization the graver the decision one makes, such as this one you two have made, the closer it is attached to honor. If the decision is sacred, so is the honor that seals the bargain. Ceremony would merely be a mockery of that which words should not attempt to express."

"Of course I will see to it that this is registered with the Council," said Sanal.

"Wait a minute!" I interrupted them. "If I ever want to take Kria back to my own world and present her as my wife, I'll have to satisfy the requirements of our own laws. There has to be a legal ceremony and a proper registration of this."

"That might be arranged," said Sanal. "Already certain government officials from various countries of Earth have set up what you call 'consular' offices here, for the purpose of legalizing Vanyan visits to Earth and keeping track of Earth citizens on Mars. You might—"

"Come to think of it, I really have been out of touch with my own world. If such procedures have been established here already, I'm staying here illegally. I'd better make contact with the United States consul, if there is one here, and reinstate myself as a citizen. Then at the same time I can look into the matter of a wedding."

DRGANU accompanied Kria and me to the U. S. Consul's office in the Palace of the Council. The three of us entered the office laughing over some little joke of Kria's, all of us conversing rapidly in the Vanyan tongue. The consul looked up at us and seemed to suppress a frown. He was a middle-aged man, somewhat overweight, of a reddish complexion that reminded me of high blood-pressure —and he was obviously not fond of this job which removed him to such a great distance from baseball, bars and Bromos. Seated next to him, however, was another type of Earthman. I saw plainclothesman or F.B.I. written all over him. Tall, gaunt, pale of complexion, with a prominent if aquiline jaw and with a legal file cached away behind each of his pale, penetrating blue eyes. Both men had been conversing but as we entered they fell silent and surveyed us as though we were Indians coming off the Reservation with a water rights complaint.

They sat there waiting for us to speak, so I began. "I am a United States citizen," I said. "My name is—"

"Since when?" interrupted the Consul.

That stopped me, but I saw a light began to glimmer in the narrowing eyes of his companion.

"We have no record of a Vanyan becoming a citizen—"

It was then I realized that I should have renovated my Earthman clothes. I was dressed as a Vanyan, or undressed like one, and I had come into the office speaking the Vanyan tongue with what to them must have been perfect fluency.

"Wait a minute," said the plainclothesman. "That English is too good. Who are you?"

"I am Raymond Sanders, of Los Angeles, California."

The Consul tore his eyes from Kria long enough to raise his brows at me. The plainclothesman snapped to attention.

"Ye gods!" he exclaimed. "I just got here and my job's done! I came here to trace you."

"Why?" I said.

"You're a U. S. citizen. You disappeared. The story was that the Vanyans kidnapped you."

I laughed. "On the contrary, they sort of rescued me during the anti-Vanyan uprising. I have been living in a Vanyan household ever since, and now I want to get married. This is Kria, my fiancee. And this is her brother, Drganu."

The Consul half rose to his feet. "You what!"

"I said we want to get married. I want to know how to legalize it according to Stateside laws—or Earthside laws, to coin a new term."

"But—!" The Consul was apparently at a loss for words.

"Hold it!" exclaimed the plainclothesman. He looked us over carefully, and I almost saw cogs whirling swiftly in his brain. "Could you excuse us for a few moments?"

Drganu and I and Kria stepped outside into the great halls of the Palace, proper.

"Your world is very complicated," remarked Kria, holding onto my arm.

"It seems to tie itself up and get strangled in its own complexities," put in Drganu.

I could have given them a lecture on the subject, but I was busy wondering what was going on in the Consul's office. Something bothered me, vaguely, like a dark premonition, but I soon threw the feeling off, embracing the simpler and cleaner philosophy of the Vanyan. Honor and idealism were impregnable fortresses. I had only to stick to my guns, without subterfuge, and the battle would be won.

Within three minutes, the Consul, himself, appeared at the door of his office. His attitude had changed remarkably. He seemed to be vitally interested in our case. With a pleasant smile, he ushered us back in. The plainclothesman merely sat where he had been before. There was a somewhat baleful expression on his face which I did not like.

"I think," said the Consul, "that everything can be straightened out. First we'll legalize your residence here and then we'll get down to the business of the marriage. . . ."

We were married by the Consul next day, after I had received a provisional passport, a Vanyan resident's visa and a Vanyan alien's carnet of identification. Drganu was best man, Sanal gave the bride away, and Mr. Motter, who turned out to be a special U. S. agent attached to the United Nations in some way, was a witness. The legalization of our marriage was almost overwhelming.

Then they told me about the string that was attached to the whole business. Or rather, Mr. Motter did. And it wasn't so much a string as a ship's hawser.

He asked to see me privately and the Consul gave us his office. When we were alone he came up to me and shook my hand gravely.

"Congratulations," he said.

"Thanks," I answered, "but you don't seem to be referring to the obvious."

"I'm not. I'm referring to your unique position to be of great service to your country and to your native world."

"Oh, oh."

"Sit down. I want to talk to you about that."

I needed to sit down, all right. And I was also trying to contain my temper. If what I was thinking was true—

"You have resided on Mars longer than any other Earthman," he began, with enviable smoothness. "You are also a trained linguist and have evidently mastered the Vanyan tongue as well as come to understand their way of life. By the medallion you were wearing yesterday I see that you have been accepted as a member of a Vanyan household. And now this marriage between you and a Vanyan woman completes the picture."

"What picture?"

He saw my belligerence but he was prepared to take that in stride, too. These special agents didn't acquire their posts for nothing. That was often the difference between them and the usual type of character we have representing us abroad. That's what special agents were for, I reasoned. They were fill-ins for places where the chips were down and the going was rough.

"Why did you voluntarily seek a U. S. Consul here on Mars and attempt to reestablish yourself as a citizen of the United States of America?" he asked me.

I shrugged. "Habit. Gregarious instinct. The need for a sense of identity, I guess. I have to be some kind of a citizen. I don't prefer to be a man without a country."

He impaled me with a stare. "Is that all your U. S. citizenship means to you?"

"Look! I don't duck draft boards. I'm just as good a citizen as anybody else."

"I know. And you've been a taxpayer, too. But, as a professor attached to the American educational system don't you think you should adhere to a more clearly delineated patriotic policy?"

"I'll put it this way. Patriotism is like religion. It's kind of personal. When Pearl Harbor happened—"

"I know. I know. You volunteered. Well that wasn't nearly as important as what you can do now. Then a people were in danger, as well as cherished ideologies. But now the entire Earth is in danger, and it hasn't much to do with ideologies, unless you could tack an &&-ism&& onto the word, Freedom."

"If I picked a label for your speech I'd call it 'razzamataz.'"

"Please don't be facetious, Sanders. If you don't believe what I tell you, take it on authority. While you've been dreaming around the hill country with your fiancee, things have been happening."

"Such as?"

"So damn much benevolence from the Vanyans that we can already see the pattern behind it all. It's a gigantic booby trap."

"I'm still listening." I really was. I had only gotten married. I hadn't gone deaf. If the Vanyans really were up to something, which I still doubted, well—again there was instinct. Preservation of my own kind. I wanted to know what the Government claimed to know, and here was my chance.

"Consider all the weapons and technological gadgets they've given us. Suppose I told you that they all have a common denominator in the form of a remote control unit? True, those controls are supposed to be for our own use—" He leaned forward to drive his point home. "But there's nothing we can see to prevent them from controlling everything we've got on Earth—from up here, on Mars."

I sat there and studied him, trying to be calm and collected in the middle of incipient apoplexy.

"You have no proof of that possibility," I stated, finally.

"Would you like to prove that we're all wrong?"

That was a clever way of putting it. I couldn't turn my country down—or the whole Earth, my own native planet. On the other hand, I liked the Vanyans tremendously. Here was a chance to prove them villains or friends, and I could hope to prove the latter.

"In other words, you'd like to deputize me as an agent."

"Exactly. You would be representing the Government of the United States—the O.S.S., to be exact—as well as the United Nations."

"What is it, specifically, that you want me to do?"

"Remain here in residence on the pretext of taking your honeymoon here. But get around and see if you can find us a clue to their real intentions. Actually, the ideal discovery would be the master switch for those remote controls."

"Ideal? It would mean interplanetary war."

"If that's in the cards, we naturally want to be in a position to strike the first blow."

"Uh huh. Well, I think you're wrong, but if you're right—I'll tell you."

Motter got to his feet with a wan smile on his face. Again he extended his hand. "I guess you're all right, Sanders," he said. "And that's why I say—congratulations."

"Yeah."

I did not feel too happy. I was a spy against my wife's people. Nice. . . .

SO IT was that Kria and I started taking our honeymoon on Mars. I had double reasons for traveling, so by the authority of the Council we were issued a small version of the interstellar type disc, and we managed to get around. Kria was still my third order teacher, and as I had expressed a sudden interest in Vanyan technology she personally escorted me to various strategic spots.

There were no security regulations covering atmospheric plants, or their atomic power stations. I even went through Research Center and Communications—interplanetary communications. I studied their methods of production, learned the intricacies of their weapons.

But there was no master switch—so far. I made weekly reports to Motter, and he was disappointed at my lack of concrete progress. I was not. But I kept my eyes open, as directed.

One day in Sanal's house I was introduced to an important Vanyan—a first order Master teacher by the name of Ralsyan. He was supposed to be centuries old but he looked about sixty—a healthy sixty.

He was very much impressed with my mastery of the Vanyan language and invited me to witness a tour of first order students under his guidance. Kria and I went along in his "sky island" school, in the company of about twenty Vanyans who were almost of Sanal's age. And one night in a lonely region of Mars I was permitted to stroll with Ralsyan alone in the desert and converse with him.

"Perhaps you can tell me something that I have long hesitated to ask anyone else—even Kria, my own wife," I said to him. "You are a wiseman and can consider certain vital questions in the absolute sense."

"I should be glad to help you if I can," he answered.

"All right. Then tell me this. Why are you Vanyans so willing to give us Earthmen all your technological secrets—your method of space flight, your weapons—everything? You don't even seem to be much concerned about defense against the possibility of attack. After all, your total number is infinitesimal compared with the population of my own planet. Our industrial capacity is tremendous in comparison with yours. In another couple of years—"

He laid his hand on my arm and smiled. "Now that you have acquired a knowledge of our tongue, perhaps I can explain it to you. I know exactly what you mean, of course, and as a Vanyan I appreciate your concern."

We walked on across the sands in the light of Phobos and one artificial sun satellite. Earth stood out in the sky like the biblical Star of the East.

"You see, as immortals we abhor the thought of death by killing more than anything else. To lose one Vanyan life would be cataclysmic to us. In cases where wisdom has been obtained—which lies beyond knowledge and mere intelligence—the loss would be very great, indeed. So we have only one form of protection against violence from our neighbors. It is the firm knowledge that they will not attack us."

He held up his hand as I was about to interrupt, and went on. "The cause of war is a difference in potentials, which causes discontentment and suspicion. We have attempted to reduce the difference in potential to zero, by making our neighbors as strong as us. We could not tolerate the idea of maintaining constant defenses against possible attack. We can only know that our neighbor has good intentions when he is able to attack and does not. Then we can be assured we are at peace."

"But—that's leaving yourselves wide open!"

"Perhaps—"

"It doesn't make sense. You tell me you abhor the idea of death by violence, yet you take a mad gamble by giving us all your weapons, and we can out-produce you a million to one!"

He shrugged. "There is the parting line between mere rationality and wisdom. You must wait until you acquire wisdom."

"I don't know about that. The way I see it, you people have no instinct of self-preservation at all.

"Ralsyan laughed. "If you only knew!" he exclaimed, cryptically.

There was the first dangerous remark I had heard. Here was the first hint of a hidden weapon. My ears felt like rabbit's ears. But how could I get him to let me know what he was hiding?

"I'd like to know," I said.

He patted my arm. "Some things cannot be told," he replied. "You will have to wait. Someday it may be revealed to you."

This harkened back to the cryptic remarks made by Sanal on the day I declared my intentions of marrying Kria. To say that I was assailed by a sense of frustration would be putting it mildly.

Now I was discontented and troubled. Could my Government be right, after all? Were the Vanyans wolves masquerading in sheep's clothing? —to use a cliche. But no. There was such a thing as sensing the intentions of another The Vanyans were intrinsically benevolent. I could judge them by my own, gentle Kria. I would have staked my life and gambled a world on the conviction that there was nothing deceitful or malignant in the Vanyan nature.

But how was I to prove this now?

"I have another question. You people are able to redesign any world to suit your own physiological needs—anywhere. If you value your lives so much, how come you haven't established yourselves on a more isolated planet? Why set up your civilization here so close to Earth and give us the means of reaching you through space?"

"That is related to the basic nature of our purpose in life," he answered. "Of what use is wisdom or knowledge if it cannot be applied? Happiness is derived from striving toward higher goals, and Man's goal is always knowledge and wisdom. But not wisdom in a vacuum. We have deliberately sought contact with a race that could use our help and guidance. It's the way we prefer to live, evaluating our accomplishments in relation to expanding achievement. Therefore you might say that Earth is a sort of catalytic agent to our endeavors. To live for ourselves alone would be anathema."

Here was almost an incomprehensible vista of benevolence, I gave up, for the time being. But I present this conversation as further evidence that the Vanyans were as close to being gods as it is possible to be in mortal life. Study it well, and remember—Earth stabbed them in the back. YOU destroyed them!

A FEW days later, Kria and I had the intention of going "over the hill" again to watch the sunset, by the waterfall. She was still in the sun-ray mist bath, or Vanyan version of "shower," when I called her, so I walked on ahead with her promise to meet me there soon. I did not bring along the sleth as on previous occasions because my mind was troubled. I was even wondering how I might question Kria about her people without arousing her suspicions, yet I was angered by the thought that this cloak and dagger intrigue had entered the picture in the first place.

I had no sooner arrived at my favorite spot near the pool below the waterfall than I discerned the lone figure of a man ascending the slope of the hills from the direction of the Palace of the Council Long before he arrived at the pool I knew it was Motter, Earth's special agent, who had actually been masquerading as the U. S Vice-Consul on Mars.

When he came within earshot he said, "I thought I'd come up here to take a look at the sunset and the sunrise. It's the only place I know of where you can watch both simultaneously."

"And you came to get another report," I told him.

"A double sun phenomenon and a strategic report affecting the fate of a world, all in one spot," he grinned. "Can you blame me?"

He offered me a cigarette, but I refused it just as though I were a native Vanyan. He smoked and we both watched the true sun sink and the first artificial sun rise. Deimos and Phobos were both near the zenith, and Earth was a gleaming diamond in the darkening sky. After the real sun sank, the combined light of the two moons and the synthetic sun produced a brilliance comparable to full moonlight on Earth.

"Well?" he said, finally. "Anything new? You went on a little trip, I hear, with a first order Master—name of Ralsyan. He's big timber among the Vanyans and second only in the Council."

"You really get around, don't you?" I retorted.

He shrugged, waiting. His pale blue eyes watched me.

"Okay," I said, "I did pick up one thing." I told him in detail my entire conversation with Ralsyan that night on the desert. When I came to the cryptic part of it where Ralsyan said, "If you only knew!"—Motter raised his brows.

"So that's the way it stands," he remarked. "Well, maybe we were right, after all, Sanders. When I first gave you your assignment, you might have been chagrined to know that we are well prepared to meet the Vanyans in combat. Now, however, perhaps that fact will be of some consolation to you."

I remained silent, and finally I did ask him for a cigarette. I puffed on it rather furiously, more troubled than before.

"Look!" he added. "I'm going back to Earth for a few days. I think the home office would be interested in Master Ralsyan's remarks. In the meantime, you'd better concentrate a little harder on getting vital information. Don't forget that the Vanyans might be able to snuff us out with a flick of the wrist, and our only protection may be to strike without open provocation—unless you can show us that we're wrong."

Just then, he staggered and put a hand to his forehead. "What's the matter?" I asked him, "Damn headache," he said. "It's the planet. Some of us get saroche, you know. Altitude sickness. The atmosphere isn't quite built up to normal yet."

As I made no comment, he finally added, "Guess I'll go back now. This is getting me down."

I watched him in troubled silence as he staggered away in pain down the hill. But I did not watch him for long. Suddenly, I, too, staggered. But I did not hold my head. I was merely astounded by the sight of the sleth as it appeared abruptly out of thin air within ten feet of me.

On its surface I saw the angry face of Sanal, and I knew that he had been listening to our conversation. I also knew that the sleth could be rendered invisible.

"I made him go away," said Sanal. "Will you please return here at once?"

There was something in his tone and facial expression that intimated that I really had no choice in the matter.

"I'm coming," I told him. "I'd like to explain something to you."

"I think that is in order," he answered, coldly. "Come quickly."

As I walked back over the hill, trailed by a very silent sleth, I wondered if I should regret having taught Kria English in exchange for lessons in her own tongue. And at the same time I realized that she must know about all this, because for Sanal to know she would have had to serve as interpreter!

She was there with Drganu and Sanal when I arrived at the semitransparent "sky island" that was Sanas home. Again I thought from the looks of her she should have been crying. But then the dark thought assailed me that Vanyans had no tears. And superstition asked the question: Is the race human that cannot cry?

She lowered her eyes, refusing to look at me, and it irritated me. "Well?" I said to Sanal. "I'm here." It did not look like this was going to be an old fashioned evening at home with the forks. It had more of an air of the Inquisition.

"You are a spy against your wife's people," accused Sanal, in even tones. "Why?"

I told him. And I added, "I'm glad it's come up, Sanal. Let's get down to brass tacks. You know I want to help establish permanent peace between our worlds as much as you do. That's why I agreed to play it their way. I wanted proof that you were friends, not enemies. Now what's all this secret business? What are you hiding? For example, many scientific institutions on Earth have politely requested an exchange of biological information relative to comparative physiology between our races. In short, they would like to study an X-ray of a Vanyan. This you flatly refuse. If your structure is slightly different, why should that matter?"

Drganu appeared to tense, as though with anger, but he said nothing. Kria looked at me then and I saw the old mystery in her eyes. It was lost gods crying in a bottle at the bottom of the sea. A message from afar—untranslatable.

Sanal got up from his chair and paced the floor. "That is our business," he retorted, bluntly. "But it has nothing to do with the safety of your world. Nothing!"

"Then why won't you tell me!"

I almost yelled.

All three of them stared at me. There was a prolonged silence.

"Listen to me," said Sanal, at last. "If your world destroys us, it will lose more than we. You had better do something to prevent them from attacking."

"There's another point," I argued. "You have no instinct of self-preservation. During the anti-Vanyan uprising on Earth you were calm as clams. Now you face the prospect of total annihilation with the bland statement that we will lose more than you. Why!"

"Don't ask me that, because I won't tell you. But I want to tell you this. I shall be forced to bring all this to the attention of the Council immediately. However, to bring this out into the open would definitely increase interplanetary tension. We will handle the situation secretly, from our side, if you'll do a little counter-espionage for our side."

"What?"

"You became a spy for Earth merely to prove to your own people that we were friends. Now I want you to be a spy for us for a reason that is equally constructive. Please realize that our weapons are not the kind that cause death. We cannot tolerate killing. We could not harm you. But if you tell us Earth is ready to attack us, we might be able to prevent such an event—without bloodshed."

"But—what about your magnetic disintegration? That could snuff out a world!"

"Its end use is related to physical obstacles. We dig great shafts with it and level mountains or clear our path of meteors and other debris during space flight. The disintegrater is not intended for killing."

"But it could be used as such."

"We could not use it for that purpose, but you could."

All this time I was doing private thinking of my own. I actually wanted to see what Earth was up to. I wanted to talk to the authorities and see how bad the situation was getting. If I could pretend to spy for the Vanyans, it would keep their knowledge of my activities under cover. I could play the game both ways and with my own deck of cards.

"Suppose I go to Earth," I said, "and look things over for you. I'd have to have a logical excuse—some vital secret to bring back. Can you think of something that would appear to be a vital secret yet which wouldn't harm you if you revealed it to me?"

"Yes," said Drganu.

Kria and Sanal looked at hint wonderingly,

"One thing you did not examine very closely in your tour of our world was the sleth. I believe it would be valuable for Earthmen to be able to duplicate it, and you could offer the secret information —of which you only became aware tonight—that they can be made invisible."

"That's it!" exclaimed Sanal "I think we can give you plans for the sleth, but I'll have to take it up with Council. The sleth, you know, emits various types of rays which could be considered as weapons. Your own people would look upon it as a rare acquisition, indeed, which, in fact, it is."

So it was decided, I knew I was playing both ends against the middle, and I didn't like it. To have denied my espionage against them in the face of concrete evidence which they had picked up by means of the sleth would have really created an obstacle for our side. Actually, playing their game was subterfuge on my part, but my objectives were sincere both ways. And that was what made it so difficult.

I tried to make up with Kria, but she resisted me.

"There are things here more important than individuals," she said. "I love you, Raymond, but I am bound to things beyond myself."

She walked toward our room. I began to follow, but both Sanal and Drganu laid a hand on my arm. I might have shaken them off, but there was a strange expression in their eyes which detained me. "Among ourselves," said Sanal, "we are telepathic—and more. We feel the other's suffering. Your only recourse now is to prove to her that your marriage—can continue."

That did it. I flared up. "Where I come from. a man's wife is his property! It's a mutual situation, actually, but even one's own relatives have no right to interfere. I have certain prerogatives as her husband. If I want her to come to Earth with me, I can take her when the times comes—or she can stay for good!"

"You wish—to take her to Earth with you?"

"Not now. But I'm just saying, she's my wife, which is a very personal business."

"That is understandable, but among our kind one's world, one's society, the entire welfare of the race, is a personal business, too."

I went to "town" that night, via the teletransportation system, and stayed with the U.S. Consul. Motter had already left for Earth. . . .

I availed myself of the Consul's private liquor stock and asked him if he could fix me up with an Earthside suit of clothes. . . .
IN THREE days I was on my way to Earth with a set of Vanyan plans for the sleth. Inasmuch as I had a chance to go in a ship piloted by Vanyans rather than Earthmen, I was supplied with a little case containing shots of the serum they had given me before for the purpose of enabling me to withstand more than ordinary maximums of acceleration and deceleration. Which was to come in handy later.

In Washington Motter traced me down immediately and I told him about the sleth. To make it look good I added that although the sleth was strategic stuff I had used it as an excuse to come home and get a better briefing as to what was going on. Again—both sides against the middle. But it worked. He took me in or the inside.

The situation was worse than I had thought. Public opinion was in favor of action against the Vanyans. Aside from the United Nations, the U. S. Congress was in a dither. U. N. decisions were slow in coming, and the President was faced with the necessity of thinking in terms of U. S. safety, regardless of U. N. decisions. Moreover, there was a sort of tacit agreement that Mars fell outside the scope of U. N. machinery as far as aggression or war was concerned. In other words, the Vanyan Government was not a U. N. member and therefore Mars was a sitting duck for anyone who wanted to take a pot shot at it. In fact it seemed the U. N. was hoping somebody would make a move so as to take the hot potato out of their hands.

I was present in Washington at a secret hearing on the Vanyan situation—strictly from the point of view of our own government. As an authority on Vanyan affairs and in the Vanyan way of thinking and the Vanyan language, I was questioned from time to time, but in all cases I perceived that I was regarded as a minor cog in the machinery. At the last minute it was decided to bring in a U. N. representative and go over the situation.

Before my eyes I suddenly saw the definite plans for an attack taking shape, and I demanded the floor. Grudgingly, they yielded it.

"I have it on authority," I said, "that the Vanyans are incapable of killing. I suggest an alternative. Call them in and explain the grounds for your fears and tell them the only way the situation can be relieved is for them to move somewhere else."

This proposal was met with a general ripple of laughter. The U. N. representative, an English-man named Spaulding, answered me.

"As a citizen of a nation possessing a long history in colonization," he said, "I can appreciate the possibility of a man's going native and wishing to speak for the aliens among whom he has long resided. But there is something in legend pertaining to the dangers of eating the lotus too long. Pearl Harbor was a pointed example. I am afraid we shall have to reject your opinions as being distorted by your personal attachment to the Vanyans through your marriage with one of the heathens."

"An uncalled for insult," I retorted. "Rather than reverting to stereotyped form, I'll overlook the insult in consideration of its source."

The chairman of the committee rapped his gavel smartly and glared at me.

"But don't destroy the Vanyans," I warned. "You will be the losers—not they.'

"Is he nuts?" queried one committee member.

To make a long story short, it looked like an attack was imminent, and I could do nothing about it. I walked out, stamping my heels. Motter came out after me and took hold of my shoulder.

"Sanders. Watch yourself!"

I jerked loose and walked away from him. Which was all the provocation he needed to put a spy on my trail from there on out. I expected that and acted accordingly.

The fellow who was tailing me must have been confused when I went to the Lincoln Memorial and stood around like a tourist reading the Gettysburg Address and gaping at the moonlit Potomac. I was really having a mental wrestling match with two sets of emotions. There was my country and my world, which I felt was not in danger, in spite of official opinions on the subject. Yet as an assigned agent employed by the Government it was not for me to question. but to do, I suppose. Then on the other hand, there was my wife and her people, whom I loved and trusted. Moreover, idealism came into the picture in regard to Earth's human society. I felt that the Vanyans could benefit us beyond measure and that we were on the verge of killing the golden goose.

Question: Should I warn the Vanyans? And if the Government was right, after all? Well, take it from there and you'll know what was going through my head.

I read the Gettysburg Address about a dozen times, but that didn't help. Far out in the sky beyond the Potomac was a little red light that was Mars. It was gradually losing some of its red as the mighty machines of the Vanyans gradually released the oxygen from the soil and veiled the planet over with a thickening atmosphere. Science, knowledge, wisdom—benevolence. About to be destroyed.

Question: If Earth destroyed Mars and was actually wrong in doing so—then what? A terrible loss to Mankind. I was convinced that historical blunder was being made. Moreover, fifty thousand wonderful people were involved.

I spoke their language. I thought in their language. I lived in their thoughts. This was an extra soul, which fought with my own.

Decision was mercifully taken out of my hands when a Vanyan disc suddenly swooped down in front of the memorial building. I caught the sound of scurrying footsteps as the agent tailing me ducked for cover. I think they paralyzed him.

Two Vanyans walked up the steps of the memorial building and addressed me in their own tongue. I was wanted back on Mars immediately. One of them carried a paralysis generator. Since it was more graceful to enter their disc on my own feet, I went with them.

How did they find me? Now that it looked like the chips were going down they were showing more of their cards. Personal direction finders. Mine had been set up shortly after my arrival on Mars. The Vanyans were benevolent and wise, but they were also smart. At least they weren't lotus eaters, themselves, even if I might have been accused of being one by the U. N. representative.

We were not long under way when the fireworks started. A communication was received by my "escorts" to the effect that I was to be returned to Earth at once. But inasmuch as the directive issued from the Government of the United States, they did not obey it. They were under orders from their own government to bring me in.

The ship's commander came to me and asked me if I had any acceleration serum for myself. When I asked him why, he turned on his three dimensional visiscope and I pretty nearly fainted.

Following us was not a ship, or a squadron, but every flying disc we had—an unsuspected fleet of them. They were far astern but coming fast. I felt very sick as I realized what had happened. My capture alerted the attack. They could wait no longer. This was it.

"It wouldn't make much difference if I didn't have any serum, would it?" I said to the Vanyan officer. "You wouldn't wait around here for my sake, would you?"

He smiled. "We feel that you are partially a Vanyan now. You deserved that much consideration." Without further comment, he turned and walked toward the control room.

I knew what was coming, so I brought out my little case and gave myself a shot of serum. And just in time. As I flung myself onto a couch, the lights went out.

Inside my head. . . .

I drifted between unconsciousness and fitful dreaming—awful delirium, in which I saw atom bombs crashing into Mars and making tall mushrooms over the wreckage of my wonder world.

"The fools!" I remember shouting once, referring to the Vanyans. "They wouldn't put up defenses! They'll be obliterated!"

And of course I know I must have called out Kria's name many times. Destruction or no destruction, she was my wife. I loved her and I didn't want her to die. Now the veneer of civilization was peeling off down to primordial instinct

"To hell with everything!" I shouted. "They won't kill her!"

We maintained a good lead all the way, and in fact got ahead of the Earth fleet. When we swept in alongside the Palace of the Council at Tharsis, I knew I only had about an hour in which to act if anything was to be salvaged.

I went with the guards directly into a Vanyan Council. I saw the U. S. Consul and other Earth dignitaries scuttling out of the building in haste, entirely unmolested. Evidently the warning had come through. They were on their way to the Earth-built ships—ships that had been built on Earth by Earthmen, thanks to a Vanyan supply of a peculiar element that went into the makeup of the relay units controlling them. The Vanyans' own gift was being turned against them.

When I came into the Council Chamber I looked around for Sanal and Drganu and Kria. None of them was present. I dashed to the speakers' podium and yelled at all of them in Vanyan.

"Tell me the truth! Will you defend yourselves?"

A grave body of Masters looked back at me. They shook their heads negatively. Ralsyan, my one acquaintance among them, spoke.

"And it is your loss," he said. "Not ours."

"But you're not just going to sit here!" I shouted.

"It is too late to do aught else. We know what we sought now. The answer is: Earth is not ready for the higher way of life."

I shook my head, trying to clear it of dizziness. "All right! Then why was I recalled to Mars?"

"That you will discover in due time." "The time is due right now. Listen, I can't understand your attitude and I'm not waiting. . . ."

I ran to the nearest guard and took his paralysis generator from him. Before they could recover from their surprise, I paralyzed the entire assemblage. I did not have to leave the room in order to escape. There was a first rate teletransporter there and I knew Sanal's call number.

So it was that in less than half a minute I stood in Sanal's private "sky island" once more, paralyzer in hand. Sanal and Drganu and Kria were there. They had been watching me in the three-dimensional viewer, and now they were on their feet, forewarned. Kria hung her head and ran to her room—our room.

"I want all three of you to come with me," I said. "This idea of sitting idly by and waiting for the destruction is insane. Now you'll do it my way or I'll force you to do it!"

"We appreciate your concern for us," said Sanal, "but it's too late. However, in regard to your own safety—"

"To hell with that!" I blurted out in English. "Kria!" I ran to her room and took hold of her. In fact, I took her into my arms and hugged her. "Kria!" I exclaimed. "You know I love you. Why do you run from me? Come on! There is still time to go. I can't leave you here to die!"

Again there was that lost, far away look in her eyes and the longing in her to be able to cry. She suddenly gave in and her arms went around me, desperately. "Oh my love, I don't matter! It is you who must save yourself!" she gasped.

"Are you all crazy!" I exclaimed. "Come on! You're my wife and you're going with me!" I pulled her and she came, as though struggling against her own will, wanting to and wanting not to.

Sanal and Drganu blocked my path with a neutralizer of the paralysis weapon, making it ineffective. However, my two hundred pounds were not neutralized. I plunged through them. They were resilient, but they couldn't stand against me. I found their teletransporter and fought them while I dialed another frequency—the one that would put me at the Research Laboratory. Kria and I stumbled through.

"Raymond! Raymond!" she complained. "This was not meant! You don't know what you are doing!"

"The hell I don't!" I yelled, and we raced for a Vanyan disc outside the lab.

Then I stopped, suddenly, to ask her, "Tell me once and for all, Kria—is there a master switch, a master control of some kind which could make Earth's copy of Vanyan gear ineffective? You people wanted me to find out if Earth was going to attack. Now you know they are. Are your people going to sit here and die?"

"Raymond, the attack strikes too swiftly, and the speed of light—" She shook her head, refusing even then to reveal secrets to me. "It is too late—but not for you. You were brought here to—"

"Come on!" I interrupted her. "I guess it's my way, after all."

Earth's representatives had left. There were only a few Vanyan discs available, totally unguarded. I pulled Kria into one and made her guide me at the controls. . . .

Racing Earthward into the teeth of the armada, I sent out a call to the attackers, identifying myself so as not to get blown out of space before I started. In our three-dimensional scope we could see the approaching ships. Ahead of them, and near to us, was a cloud of ponderous projectiles already launched and coming fast. We began to maneuver out of the way.

"We saw flashes were tracing a pattern across that area where the Vanyan "city" was located."

"Flagship to Sanders!" came an officer's voice. "If that's you, keep clear and hold course for Earth at half speed. We will pick you up. You are under arrest on suspicion of treason."

"Treason!" I yelped into the mike. "Somebody is—"

"You were a counter-spy for the Vanyans. You may blame yourself for triggering this attack."

"But I had nothing to do with it!"

"Ha! You made a brazen rendezvous with a Vanyan ship right in Washington—how stupid can you get! But there's no time now for argument Follow instructions!"

"Damn Motter and his spy!" I muttered, as I turned off the transmitter switch. That I had planned no rendezvous with the Vanyans I knew, but it would be hard to prove otherwise.

Kria came into my arms. She did not want to talk. She merely wanted to be held close to me. We remained that way for some time, watching the fleet approach Kria's adopted world. Watching the projectiles approach, carrying their atomic warheads.

"Kria!" I exclaimed. "Now is the best time to analyze you and your emotions. Under normal circumstances, this would be monstrous of me—but I've got to know about you! What are you thinking? What are you feeling?" I shook her gently. "Tell me—now!"

We both looked at the three-dimensional picture of Mars and saw filtered flashes of light trace a pattern across that area where the Vanyan "city" was located. There were flashes farther removed, also, where power plants were located Then the surface darkened slowly under the shadows of man made, mushrooming clouds. And all of a sudden we saw bright, jagged lines appear across the planet's surface as huge earthquakes were summoned into being and great gashes were cut into the staggering little world.

"The disintegrators!" I exclaimed. "For the love of God! The bombs were enough!"

Kria shuddered, tried to hide her face. "You are children, giant children," she said, "flailing about in darkness!"

I tried to lift up her chin, and when she looked into my eyes and saw me crying, it was too much. She ran from me and threw herself onto an acceleration couch. She actually suffered because she could not cry. I left her alone.

I was too overcome, myself, to give her comfort. I stood there looking at the destruction and I yelled at the three-dimensional color image of it I can't repeat what I said because most of it would seem like gibberish. But I am not ashamed to say that I bawled, openly and uncontrollably.

It was about a day later that the Flagship overtook us and I was commanded to draw alongside the other much larger disc. As the capturing crew secured our airlocks for boarding, Kria rushed to me, alarmed.

"What is the meaning of 'treason?'" she asked me, having heard the commanding officer use the word over the receiver.

When I explained it to her, she asked, "But how can they accuse you of that? You are not guilty!"

"Thanks, sweet. But can I prove it!"

Her eyes were wide with concern, and there again I saw her looking at me from afar off, as though out of other worlds of her own. The old mystery, which would never be solved. I had given it up.

"What—is the penalty—for treason?" she asked.

I shrugged, saying nothing.

"You mean—they will kill you?"

"If I can't prove myself innocent. But take it easy—"

She clenched her fists and stamped her foot in anger. "Kill! Kill! Kill!" she cried. "Is that all your barbaric race can think of!"

"Honey," I said, trying to calm her. "Now there's no need to—"

"They shan't kill you! You cannot die!"

"Why?" For reasons which I could not have explained to myself, I wanted a specific answer to that question. There was more than personal emotion behind her insistent statement.

"Because—because—there is reason! I can't tell you!"

Before I could argue about that, the inner door of our airlock opened, and armed M.P.s attached to the U. S. Navy Airforce stepped into the control room. They were armed with business-like, understandable, old-fashioned automatics.

"Stop!" cried Kria, holding up her hand. "This man is innocent! You will not take him prisoner!"

The M.P.s struggled to overcome their surprise at finding one Vanyan alive. Also, they must have been surprised at her English. But then their leader grinned.

"Okay, beautiful," he said. "Keep out of trouble. You're under arrest, too."

Kria did not budge. She stood there facing them, and all of a sudden I saw the M.P.s change their expressions. Their mouths dropped agape and in their eyes was both wonderment and fear. They became rigid and their guns dropped from their fingers.

I shouted at her, asking her what she was trying to do, knowing all the while that now she was really showing her cards. With sheer mental power she seemed to be capable of paralyzing them.

It was in that moment that a new detachment of guards entered the room and shot her down. I screamed, throwing myself at them, but they pumped bullets into her and she slumped to the floor. I punched hard, but something descended on my skull and I went out cold. . . .

I HAVE not seen Kria since I then, but I am told I may see her after writing this story. I am told she still lives, and I thank God.

You all know what happened from that point onward. The Vanyans not only allowed us to destroy them rather than lift a finger to harm us. They made sure that we would not harm ourselves, because they knew in that last terrible hour that we were not yet ready for interplanetary civilization.

Even in their posthumous revenge, however, they were benevolent. They had set up the hidden master switch on one of the Martian moons, it is presumed. Those robot controls were set to go off after the last Earthman had arrived safely home. Mind you, they could have destroyed us at any time. They could have taken revenge while the fleet was still out in space. But they did not.

After we were all on the ground, the propelling apparatus on the discs quietly dissolved, as did all our supplies of the Vanyan element that made such ships possible, and their weapons. Those were incapacitated also, never to be used again. The Vanyan answer, gentlemen. After you killed them, their voice spoke out of the tomb of space and said, in effect, "You are not ready."

And I agree. I shout to their noble spirits and proclaim them godlings — a golden, benevolent benefactor whom we have slain.

My fate matters little. It is yours with which we should be most concerned!

THEY told Ray Sanders he would not be able to see his wife until after the court-martial, but they assured him she was rallying slowly and had a good chance to live through her injuries. This pacified him to some extent, and it also motivated his desire to prove his innocence.

They let him testify, but as he continued referring the court to his story, which had been published all over the world, there was nothing new that he could offer in his defense. In regard to the Vanyan rendezvous in front of the Lincoln Memorial, it was only his word against theirs.

The Press was worried, but the Administration was not. Public opinion was largely on Sanders' side. Washington was being besieged with messages from all over the world. Some countries even threatened diplomatic reprisals if Ray Sanders received the death penalty.

But then the prosecution took over and X-rays of Kria's bullet-ridden body were presented as proof that the Vanyans were inhuman. They were a synthetic race. In a word—androids. . . .

Swiftly, the judgment followed.

"Therefore, Raymond Sanders, it is the decision of this court-martial that you have been found guilty of treasonable negotiation with an inhuman enemy who stood ready to conquer and perhaps destroy not only your own native country —but this entire world."

The Press was released with the news, and Congress and the President watched the reactions.

The headlines fulfilled their fondest expectations: SANDERS WIFE INHUMAN! — SANDERS CONVICTED! — FEDERAL EVIDENCE BREAKS SANDERS — VANYANS PROVED MONSTERS! — X-RAYS PROVE KRIA FAKE HUMAN — U. S. SWINGS AXE!

The sympathetic world turned antagonistic overnight. The Government gained new prestige. They had been right, after all! Congress convened briefly, and the President signed the death penalty.

Then he authorized Sanders to see Kria. . . .

The Press was excluded from that meeting. Sanders, a visibly broken man, went alone into her hospital room. He was with his Vanyan "wife" a full hour before he was called out by his custodians.

He came out a different man. He was straight and tall again, and there was a new light of defiance and triumph and even joy in his eyes.

"I want to talk to the Press!" he exclaimed.

"Too late for that now, Sanders," the police officers told him.

"But I've got to talk to the Press!"

"Come on!" They pulled him along with them.

"The President!" he yelled. "At least let me talk to the President!"

In his jail cell he raved and swore and even appealed to fellow prisoners for aid, but his totally incredible story branded him as an insane man. There was a sympathetic shaking of heads.

"The poor guy. He's off his rockers!"

"I guess I'd be, too. He gets shot tomorrow morning."

The next morning, Sanders even argued with the officer in charge of the firing squad. "You don't know what you're doing!" he pleaded. "Give me one more hour! This is vital. I demand to speak to the President!"

The officer tried to be patient, but finally he lost his temper and called the guards. They took Sanders and stood him against the wall.

"No! I don't want a blindfold!" he told them. "I want to watch the sky!"

He stood there looking up into the brightening sky, and several times he called his wife's name,

"Ready . . . !" barked the officer to the firing squad.

"Kria!" yelled Sanders.

"Aim . . . !"

That was as far as they got A few guards testified later that they observed a gold-emblazoned disc in the sky. It paralyzed the firing squad and the officer in charge. It lowered itself swiftly into the prison yard and Sanders ran to it. It took off with him, and he was never seen again. . . .

IT WAS then that the President of the United States decided he would have to have a talk with Kria. He, too, went into her room alone, while his bodyguards waited outside.

She lay there like any other rapidly convalescing patient, but she was far more beautiful than the normal run of women. Synthetic or not, she was an object of the Chief Executive's pity—belatedly.

"I want you to tell me what happened," he said to her. "Who rescued your husband? I thought we destroyed your race." "You did," she replied, sadly. "But my race did not matter."

"Then—to whom did that mystery saucer belong—the one that rescued Ray Sanders?"

Kria smiled wanly. She indicated a chair. "Sit down, won't you? I think I can tell the story now."

She talked for a long time. She described for the President a truly human race of immortals who faced the necessity of making contact with us, of finding a world within a solar system such as ours on which they could continue their existence in accordance with their basic philosophies, as explained by Ralsyan to Sanders when he was on Mars.

"But immortals come to treasure their lives, not so much for themselves as for the knowledge and wisdom they have acquired. They could not risk contacting you directly, so they created us—their android extensions--to contact you first."

"Do you mean to say--that all the while your race was renovating the planet, Mars, your human counterparts waited somewhere out in space to determine what our reaction would be?" asked the President.

Kria nodded. "That is well expressed," she answered. "They are our counterparts. For each of us there is a human duplicate, in form and mind and personality, with whom we were in mental contact at all times. Through us they could sense everything we sensed here."

"Wait a minute! You mean—somewhere, there is a human copy of you? One who knows as much about Sanders as you do—who perhaps loves him, actually—humanly?"

Again, Kria nodded. "Yes, she loves him, and she is with him now—for all time. It is she who rescued him. In fact, she ordered him brought to Mars just before the attack, in order to pick him up there, so as not to appear in her ship in Earthly skies and thus reveal her secret. But your attack was too sudden. Limited by the ****velocity of light, she could not get here in time from the mother ship. Ray Sanders, alone, of all Earthmen, will join the true Vanyan race in search of a new home and a new race of people who, perhaps, will deserve their guidance more than you."

The President shook his head. He fell silent. After all, he had made a historical blunder. The truth might even cause his im-peachment.

"You—ah—say the true Van-yans preferred to keep this a secret. Why have you told me?"

"I had to tell someone. It's all past now. They are gone."

"Well, we might as well keep this secret, just between you and me. The world would suffer greatly to know it was guilty of a great crime, after all."

"I don't care what you do."

"We'll say that some fanatic rescued him in a ship that looked like a disc; that we shot it down over the ocean. It will be simple enough to bury this whole story."

"Do what you wish."

The President, greatly relieved, looked at her kindly. "Why so sad?" he asked. "You are immortal, human or not. Think of the many years ahead of you—the things you'll see transpire here on Earth. Why, you might even land a movie contract, with your looks—"

Kria shook her head. "You don't understand," she replied.

"What don't I understand?" She looked into his eyes and said, "You see— I love him, too."

THE END.

4 comments:

Paul said...

The story and the cover art are both new to me. Thanks, Dave!

Dave Tackett said...

I kind of liked this story, so I'm glad I OCR/Transcribed it. To the best of my knowledge, the story is new to the regular internet - or else I wasted a lot of time on checking for a copyright renewal and posting it.

Probably another story (but shorter - this weekend).

Paul said...

I've been flipping through a huge cache of artwork by Virgil Finlay over the past couple of weeks. Interesting how he used those little sparkles and twinkles of light in his work.

Dave Tackett said...

Absolutely! He was such an amazing artist. His shading techniques always capture my attention.