then the most appalling junk came flying into it, blowing things out of kilter, tipping the balance one way or another …so we invented protoplasm and started a ring of it out in space, gave it directives, fed it on rubbish, finally curved it around so it was a perfect shell. If we'd known the trouble it'd cause, really, we wouldn't have bothered. We thought it was an advantage that it reproduced automatically; that saved us making all the stuff ourselves. But apparently it shoots off spores, too, and they land on planets outside; and the most appalling things—like you— happen along a few million years later and want to change everything to suit yourselves. Was there anything else?'

'May we land on one of your planets and look about?'

'Why? It's so much simpler this way.'

'This' was almost too theatrical to be convincing. There appeared on the wall of the office a busy little motion-picture complete with sound of a planet which had two suns in its sky.

It was a city scene, sleek vehicles buzzing along the streets, well-dressed men and handsome women strolling past, greeting each other with a grave nod, smiling, dashing children, here and there an animal suggestive of the horse.

One of the buildings, apparently, was on fire. The scene wavered a little, then angled upward to catch flames shooting from a window, a woman leaning out and calling for help.

The streamlined equivalent of a fire-truck roared up, shot up a device that resembled the Indian Rope Trick; a valiant male swarmed up it and packed the female down. When they reached the ground the end of the Indian Rope Trick squirted water at the fire, the rescued woman kissed her fireman enthusiastically, and the wall was blank again.

Madame Tung was the first to laugh cynically.

Their visitor looked at her more in sorrow than anger, his eyes heavy beneath their brows. 'So? You would rather see the truth?'

'I think I would,' said the golden-skinned woman.

'You shall.'

Madame Tung prepared herself for more home movies, but they were not forthcoming. Instead there grew and spread in her brain an image of power, power inconceivable, roaring in noise, flaring in light, sparking in electric display, fusing in heat, running a mad gamut of the spectrum in every particle. She shut her eyes the better to contain it, for it was magnificent.

The display softened, shrank, seemed to cool. She had an image then of a sort of personified lightning, a tight etheric swirl packed with electrons and alpha particles in rigid order—a great thing twenty feet tall and five feet wide by five feet, with six radiating arms that burned what they grasped and blasted what they struck to powder. There were no feet; she saw the object travel somewhat as Sphere Nine traveled—

by aiming itself and discharging sub-atomically.

There were features of a sort, something that she would call a mouth at the very top of the body, a member which ingested occasionally bits of matter which would rebuild it indefinitely or until some trying task.

There were sensory organs—a delicate, branching, coraline thing that apprehended radiations of any order.

And in the very center of the electric vortex and a little above the midriff was one incalescent blaze of glory that carried to the dazzled inner eye of Mamie Tung the idea of BRAIN. It bore intelligence, appreciation, art, beauty—all the diffuse concepts packed about by man as surplus baggage.

She saw the thing bend its sensory organ at her, study her, saw the corresponding pulsations of the brain within it. She felt it reach out to establish contact with her mind, and welcomed it eagerly.

It must have been a glorious death, especially so for a mind like that of Madame Tung, new, brave and challenging. But death it was, and her friends caught her body in their arms. Silently and reproachfully they regarded their visitor.

'You too,' he asked softly, 'would you too rather see the truth?'

They let the golden-skinned woman to the floor.

'Before you go,' said the man who had come through the hull, 'is there anything I can do?'

'There is. It is what we came for. You may have noticed that we emit certain rays characteristic of protoplasm. As we are the fruit, so your protosphere is the core. It emits rays of great intensity which interfere with our genetic experiments. Could you mask those rays?'

'We shall. It will be several scores of years before they stop coming, so you will find in your desk a field- formula for a diffusion mask that will block them off.'

'Thank you. Is there anything we've overlooked?'

'Nothing. You have no further business with us, nor have your people—

no matter how far they may advance within your species' life. You are third-order at best; we are fifth-order and ascending. I trust that by the time your species has reached the point where it will be able to blow us to powder, we shall be well out of the three-dimensional range of experience.'

With the most natural gesture in the world he extended his hand. In turn Yancey and Will gripped it. He stepped through the hull with a farewell wave.

'Commons room—ready ship!'

'Yes, Officer!'

'One hundred eighty degrees!'

'Yes, Officer!'

'And full speed—cut!'


Close together they contemplated the golden-skinned Madame Tung.

'Everything has its cost,' said Will.

Yancey said nothing.

Unrelieved blackness alternated with dazzling star-clusters; from rim to rim of the universe stretched the thin line that marked the hero's way.

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату