He got off the moving strip as soon as the lights of the center of the city were clear below, and stepped into the self-operated lift that sped down to ground level. From the elevator, he moved on to one of the long, honeycombed concourses, filled with passing shoppers who stared at the colorful, enticing three-dimensional displays.
At one of the intersections ahead, he spotted a visiphone station, and dropped onto the little seat before the screen. There had been a number, if only he could recall it. But as he started to dial, the silvery screen shattered into a thousand sparkling glass chips, showering the floor with crystal and sparks.
Harry cursed, grabbed the hand instrument, and jangled frantically for the operator. Before she could answer, the instrument grew warm in his hand, then hot and soft, like wax. Slowly, it melted and ran down his arm.
He bolted out into the stream of people, trying desperately to draw some comfort from the crowd around him.
He felt utterly alone; he had to contact the not-men who were in the city, warn them, before they spotted him, of the attack he carried with him. If he were leading his pursuer, he could expect no mercy from the ones whose help he sought. He knew the lengths to which they would go to remain undetected in the society around them. Yet he had to find them.
In the distance, he saw a figure waiting, back against one of the show windows. Harry stopped short, ducked into a doorway, and peered out fearfully. Their eyes locked for an instant; then the figure moved on. Harry felt a jolt of horror surge through him. Dr. Webber hunting him in person!
He ducked out of the doorway, turned and ran madly in the opposite direction, searching for an up escalator he could catch. Behind him he heard shots, heard the angry whine of bullets past his ear.
He breathed in great, gasping sobs as he found an almost empty escalator, and bounded up it four steps at a time. Below, he could see Webber coming too, his broad shoulders forcing their way relentlessly through the mill of people.
Panting, Harry reached the top, checked his location against a wall map, and started down the long ramp which led toward the building he had tried to call.
Another shot broke out behind him. The wall alongside powdered away, leaving a gaping hole. On impulse, he leaped into the hole, running through to the rear of the building as the weakened wall swayed and crumbled into a heap of rubble just as Webber reached the place Harry had entered.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief and raced up the stairs of the building to reach a ramp on another level. He turned his eyes toward the tall building at the end of the concourse. There he could hide and relax and try, somehow, to make a contact.
Someone fell into step beside him and took his arm gently but firmly. Harry jerked away, turning terrified eyes to the one who had joined him.
"Quiet," said the man, steering him over toward the edge of the concourse. "Not a sound. You'll be all right."
Harry felt a tremor pass through his mind, the barest touching of mental fingertips, a recognition that sent a surge of eager blood through his heart.
He stopped short, facing the man. "I'm being followed," he gasped. "You can't take me anywhere you don't want Webber to follow, or you'll be in terrible danger."
The stranger shrugged and smiled briefly. "You're not here. You're in a psycho-integrator. It can hurt you, if you let it. But it can't hurt me." He stepped up his pace slightly, and in a moment they turned abruptly into a darkened cul-de-sac.
Suddenly, they were moving through the wall of the building into the brilliantly lit lobby of the tall building. Harry gasped, but the stranger led him without a sound toward the elevator, stepped aboard with him, and sped upward, the silence broken only by the whish-whish-whish of the passing floors. Finally they stepped out into a quiet corridor and down through a small office door.
A man sat behind the desk in the office, his face quiet, his eyes very wide and dark. He hardly glanced at Harry, but turned his eyes to the other man.
"Set?" he asked.
"Couldn't miss now."
The man nodded and looked at last at Harry. "You're upset," he murmured. "What's bothering you?"
"Webber," said Harry hoarsely. "He's following me here. He'll spot you. I tried to warn you before I came, but I couldn't."
The man at the desk smiled. "Webber again, eh? Our old friend Webber. That's all right. Webber's at the end of his tether. There's nothing he can do to stop us. He's trying to attack with force, and he fails to realize that time and thought are on our side. The time when force would have succeeded against us is long past. But now there are many of us, almost as many as not."
Harry stared shrewdly at the man behind the desk. "Then why are you so afraid of Webber?" he asked.
"You know you are. Long ago you threatened me, if I reported to him. You watched me, played with me. Why are you afraid of him?"
The man sighed. "Webber is premature. We are stalling for time, that's all. We wait. We have grown from so very few, back in the 1940s and 50s, but the time for quiet usurpation of power has not quite arrived. But men like Webber force our hand, discover us, try to expose us."
Harry Scott's face was white, his hands shaking. "And what do you do to them?"
"We--deal with them."
"And those like me?"
The man smiled lopsidedly. "Those like Paulus and Wineberg and the rest--they're happy, really, like little children. But one like you is so much more useful." He pointed almost apologetically to the small screen on his desk.
Harry looked at it, realization dawning. He watched the huge, broad-shouldered figure moving down the hallway toward the door.
"Webber was dangerous to you?"
"Unbelievably dangerous. So dangerous we would use any means to trap him."
Suddenly the door burst open and there stood Webber, a triumphant Webber, face flushed, eyes wide, as he stared at the man behind the desk.
The man smiled back and said, "Come on in, George. We've been waiting for you."
Webber stepped through the door. "Manelli, you fool!"
There was a blinding flash as he crossed the threshold. A faint crackle of sound reached Harry's ears; then the world blacked out....
It might have been minutes, or hours, or days. The man who had been behind the desk was leaning over Harry, smiling down at him, gently bandaging the trephine wounds at his temples.
"Gently," he said, as Harry tried to sit up. "Don't try to move. You've been through a rough time."
Harry peered up at him. "You're--not Dr. Webber."
"No. I'm Dr. Manelli. Dr. Webber's been called away--an accident. He'll be some time recovering. I'll be taking care of you."
Vaguely, Harry was aware that something was peculiar, something not quite as it should be. The answer slowly dawned on him.
"The statistical analysis!" he exclaimed. "I was supposed to get some data from Dr. Webber about an analysis, something about rising insanity rates."
Dr. Manelli looked blank. "Insanity rates? You must be mistaken. You were brought here for an immunity examination, nothing more. But you can check with Dr. Webber, when he gets back."
George Webber sat in the little room, trembling, listening, his eyes wide in the thick, misty darkness. He knew it would be a matter of time now. He couldn't run much farther. He hadn't seen them, true. Oh, they had been very clever, but they thought they were dealing with a fool, and they weren't. He knew they'd been following him; he'd known it for a long time now.
It was just as he had been telling the man downstairs the night before: they were everywhere--your neighbor upstairs, the butcher on the corner, your own son or daughter, maybe even the man you were talking to--everywhere!
And of course he had to warn as many people as he possibly could before they caught him, throttled him off, as they had threatened to if he talked to anyone.
If only the people would listen to him when he told them how cleverly it was all planned, how it would only be a matter of months, maybe only weeks or days before the change would happen, and the world would be quietly, silently taken over by the other people, the different people who could walk through walls and think in impossibly complex channels. And no one would know the difference, because business would go on as usual.
He shivered, sinking down lower on the bed. If only people would listen to him-- It wouldn't be long now. He had heard the stealthy footsteps on the landing below his room some time ago. This was the night they had chosen to make good their threats, to choke off his dangerous voice once and for all. There were footsteps on the stairs now, growing louder.
Wildly he glanced around the room as the steps moved down the hall toward his door. He rushed to the window, threw up the sash and screamed hoarsely to the silent street below: "Look out! They're here, all around us! They're planning to take over! Look out! Look out!"
The door burst open and there were two men moving toward him, grim-faced, dressed in white; tall, strong men with sad faces and strong arms.
One was saying, "Better come quietly, mister. No need to wake up the whole town."
By H. Beam Piper
Bishop Berkeley's famous question about the sound of a falling tree may have no standing in Science. But there is a highly interesting question about "sound" that Science needs to consider....
The sun warmed Mark Howell's back pleasantly. Underfoot, the mosslike stuff was soft and yielding, and there was a fragrance in the air unlike anything he had ever smelled. He was going to like this planet; he knew it. The question was, how would it, and its people, like him? He watched the little figures advancing across the fields from the mound, with the village out of sight on the other end of it and the combat-car circling lazily on contragravity above.
Major Luis Gofredo, the Marine officer, spoke without lowering his binoculars: "They have a tubular thing about twelve feet long; six of them are carrying it on poles, three to a side, and a couple more are walking behind it. Mark, do you think it could be a cannon?"
So far, he didn't know enough to have an opinion, and said so, adding: "What I saw of the village in the screen from the car, it looked pretty primitive. Of course, gunpowder's one of those things a primitive people could discover by accident, if the ingredients were available."
"We won't take any chances, then."
"You think they're hostile? I was hoping they were coming out to parley with us."
That was Paul Meillard. He had a right to be anxious; his whole future in the Colonial Office would be made or ruined by what was going to happen here.
The joint Space Navy-Colonial Office expedition was looking for new planets suitable for colonization; they had been out, now, for four years, which was close to maximum for an exploring expedition. They had entered eleven systems, and made landings on eight planets. Three had been reasonably close to Terra-type. There had been Fafnir; conditions there would correspond to Terra during the Cretaceous Period, but any Cretaceous dinosaur would have been cute and cuddly to the things on Fafnir. Then there had been Imhotep; in twenty or thirty thousand years, it would be a fine planet, but at present it was undergoing an extensive glaciation. And Irminsul, covered with forests of gigantic trees; it would have been fine except for the fauna, which was nasty, especially a race of subsapient near-humanoids who had just gotten as far as clubs and coup-de-poing axes. Contact with them had entailed heavy ammunition expenditure, with two men and a woman killed and a dozen injured. He'd had a limp, himself, for a while as a result.
As for the other five, one had been an all-out hell-planet, and the rest had been the sort that get colonized by irreconcilable minority-groups who want to get away from everybody else. The Colonial Office wouldn't even consider any of them.
Then they had found this one, third of a GO-star, eighty million miles from primary, less axial inclination than Terra, which would mean a more uniform year-round temperature, and about half land surface. On the evidence of a couple of sneak landings for specimens, the biochemistry was identical with Terra's and the organic matter was edible. It was the sort of planet every explorer dreams of finding, except for one thing.
It was inhabited by a sapient humanoid race, and some of them were civilized enough to put it in Class V, and Colonial Office doctrine on Class V planets was rigid. Friendly relations with the natives had to be established, and permission to settle had to be guaranteed in a treaty of some sort with somebody more or less authorized to make one.
If Paul Meillard could accomplish that, he had it made. He would stay on with forty or fifty of the ship's company to make preparations. In a year a couple of ships would come out from Terra, with a thousand colonists, and a battalion or so of Federation troops, to protect them from the natives and vice versa. Meillard would automatically be appointed governor-general.
But if he failed, he was through. Not out--just through. When he got back to Terra, he would be promoted to some home office position at slightly higher base pay but without the three hundred per cent extraterrestrial bonus, and he would vegetate there till he retired. Every time his name came up, somebody would say, "Oh, yes; he flubbed the contact on Whatzit."
It wouldn't do the rest of them any good, either. There would always be the suspicion that they had contributed to the failure.
The wavering sound hung for an instant in the air. A few seconds later, it was repeated, then repeated again.
"Our cannon's a horn," Gofredo said. "I can't see how they're blowing it, though."
There was a stir to right and left, among the Marines deployed in a crescent line on either side of the contact team; a metallic clatter as weapons were checked. A shadow fell in front of them as a combat-car moved into position above.
"What do you suppose it means?" Meillard wondered.
"Terrans, go home." He drew a frown from Meillard with the suggestion. "Maybe it's supposed to intimidate us."
"They're probably doing it to encourage themselves," Anna de Jong, the psychologist, said. "I'll bet they're really scared stiff."
"I see how they're blowing it," Gofredo said. "The man who's walking behind it has a hand-bellows." He raised his voice. "Fix bayonets! These people don't know anything about rifles, but they know what spears are. They have some of their own."
So they had. The six who walked in the lead were unarmed, unless the thing one of them carried was a spear. So, it seemed, were the horn-bearers. Behind them, however, in an open-order skirmish-line, came fifty-odd with weapons. Most of them had spears, the points glinting redly. Bronze, with a high copper content. A few had bows. They came slowly; details became more plainly visible.
The leader wore a long yellow robe; the thing in his hand was a bronze-headed staff. Three of his companions also wore robes; the other two were bare-legged in short tunics. The horn-bearers wore either robes or tunics; the spearmen and bowmen behind either wore tunics or were naked except for breechclouts. All wore sandals. They were red-brown in color, completely hairless; they had long necks, almost chinless lower jaws, and fleshy, beaklike noses that gave them an avian appearance which was heightened by red crests, like roosters' combs, on the tops of their heads.
"Well, aren't they something to see?" Lillian Ransby, the linguist asked.
"I wonder how we look to them," Paul Meillard said.
That was something to wonder about, too. The differences between one and another of the Terrans must puzzle them. Paul Meillard, as close to being a pure Negro as anybody in the Seventh Century of the Atomic Era was to being pure anything. Lillian Ransby, almost ash-blond. Major Gofredo, barely over the minimum Service height requirement; his name was Old Terran Spanish, but his ancestry must have been Polynesian, Amerind and Mongolian. Karl Dorver, the sociographer, six feet six, with red hair. Bennet Fayon, the biologist and physiologist, plump, pink-faced and balding. Willi Schallenmacher, with a bushy black beard....
They didn't have any ears, he noticed, and then he was taking stock of the things they wore and carried. Belts, with pouches, and knives with flat bronze blades and riveted handles. Three of the delegation had small flutes hung by cords around their necks, and a fourth had a reed Pan-pipe. No shields, and no swords; that was good. Swords and shields mean organized warfare, possibly a warrior-caste. This crowd weren't warriors. The spearmen and bowmen weren't arrayed for battle, but for a drive-hunt, with the bows behind the spears to stop anything that broke through the line.
"All right; let's go meet them." The querulous, uncertain note was gone from Meillard's voice; he knew what to do and how to do it.