"Their intention is to reduce our population so it can be easily handled. And I can assure you that these women are perfectly capable of slaughtering as many people as they think necessary. They have both the means and the contempt for human life that such an undertaking requires."
Ben hazarded a guess. "This project is part of their preparation?"
"The final part. Since the surface of Teris has a temperature of absolute zero it can only be reached from here through a series of locks. What they are building now are new locks big enough to handle their largest ships. As soon as that's done they plan to attack."
"Any idea when that will be?"
"About a week, Earth time." Murchison's shoulders sagged with despair. "We've been wracking our brains for a way to stop them, but it's no use. They're as clever as they are evil. They've even sent doubles of each of us men to Earth to pave the way for the attack. I suppose you've seen your double."
"Then they haven't made one. You have to be awake while it's being done. I suppose they didn't think it necessary now that there's so little time left."
"Less time than I thought," Ben grunted. "I'd better get moving." He tilted his head back and shouted to the woman above.
For a second time Ben stood before Arndis, queen of Teris. Her eyes probed at him, trying to divine his thoughts. There was anger in those eyes. If she detected a single flaw in his story it would mean Ben's death. More than that, it would mean disaster for Earth. He talked fast.
"When we found that plate in the firing tube of Murchison's ship we knew he was lying. We figured he'd discovered valuable deposits out here and was trying to keep them secret."
"That was all?"
"It's enough, isn't it? Enough for Interplanetary Intelligence to send me on this mission. Those false papers I carried are proof that we suspected something. And if I'm not back in the time we allowed they'll have our entire battle fleet out looking for me."
"Very clever," Arndis smiled. "But if you are trying to frighten us you are failing. The women of Teris had a high civilization before your Earth was born. We can do things you never dreamed of."
At her command Ben's arms were seized and bound behind him. He was carried swiftly into a room nearby, a room filled with a maze of scientific apparatus. On what appeared to be an operating table was a transparent shell, and beneath this Ben was strapped.
Through the shell he saw one of the men of Teris brought into the room and placed in a similar position on another table. Wires were strung between the two shells and somewhere a machine began to hum. The shells filled with a white vapor that lingered a moment and then was gone.
Although he had known what was to happen Ben could not control his amazement. For the man who came out of the other shell was an exact replica of himself! Within minutes he saw the other dressed in his own flying suit.
"You see how simply we solve the problem?" Arndis asked. "Ben Sessions will return to Earth and there will be no search. He will report that he found nothing and request that he be allowed to try again. By that time we shall be ready to attack."
Ben's arms had been untied, and now he put his hand to his face, as though to rub some tender spot. The move attracted no undue attention. An instant later he had two fingers inside his mouth and was working loose the cap over his tooth.
His next move took them completely by surprise. With a leap he was half way across the room and lunging for his double. Ben brought the man down with a flying tackle and for seconds they wrestled on the floor. Then a hairy hand tore Ben loose and he was hauled to his feet. He had done little harm to the other.
"Not quite fast enough," Arndis said. "Within minutes he will be aboard the Rapier and on his way." Her voice rose. "Take this one back to the locks."
"Doesn't it ever get dark here?" Ben asked.
He and Murchison and the others had been allowed to come out of the tube after what seemed hours of toil. They sat now in a tiny cell into which air came through slits in the wall.
"No," Murchison said. "But Bannon has a good watch and we're able to keep track of time. It's exactly six days and three hours since you were put to work."
Ben nodded thoughtfully. There was not much time left. Work on the locks went on endlessly, and sooner than he could have believed possible they were being completed. Given enough slaves, he thought, anything could be accomplished.
Gluing his eyes to one of the slits, he peered out. The last of the giant gates was being installed. Their own crew would have only one more shift before the job was finished.
Beyond the excavation Ben could see the tower from which the locks were controlled. Bannon, who had been in Teris longest and who had managed to garner some information, had explained their operation to Ben.
"I worked on the new controls when they were being installed," he said, ranging himself alongside Ben. "They're fully automatic. There are five locks in each tube between the interior and the surface of Teris."
"How many ships did you say were kept at the tower?" Ben asked.
"About ten. They make inspection flights each day, although nothing has ever gone wrong that I've heard of. But the tubes and the locks are the only outlets to the surface and they watch them carefully."
"What are our chances of getting to the tower?"
"Zero, I should say. Only the women are allowed to enter it, or a small crew under their supervision."
"Willing to make a try?" Ben asked. He swung around to face them all. Until now he had not taken them into his confidence, given them no inkling of what was in his mind.
"We've talked about it before," Murchison answered. "But there's so little chance we gave up the idea. Better to stay alive and hope for a rescue."
"I can't tell you how I know," Ben told them, "but there isn't going to be any rescue." He kept his eyes on the girl. "How about you, Sally? Willing to trust me?"
She nodded and Ben heaved a sigh of relief. Rather than leave her behind he would have stayed with her. Gathering them about him he outlined his plans. The men were more than skeptical but no one had any suggestions.
Ben and Davies were the last to finish their work, and as they fastened the last rivet to the last hinge Ben looked up and shook his head. To the giant woman who stood watching him it seemed only that he was tired. She failed to notice that Sally had drifted off to one side and was coming up behind her.
Sally's foot suddenly caught the overseer just behind one knee and knocked her off balance. At the same instant Ben stepped in close and wrenched the violet ray cylinder from the woman's hand. The others screened them from sight. Ben looked around and saw that the slight flurry of activity had gone unnoticed by others of the giant women who were nearby.
"We're going to walk to the control tower," he told the woman grimly. "If anyone asks you're to say we have to do some work there. I'm going to have this ray gun trained on you under my robe, so don't try any tricks. Understand?"
She understood all too well. A flicker of fear in her eyes told Ben that she knew he would blast her without mercy. They fell in behind her.
When they reached the doors of the tower a pair of women barred their way.
"We have received no notice of work to be done," one of them said. Ben saw her eyes narrow with sudden suspicion, and then her hand darted for the cylinder at her side.
Ben's ray gun spouted violet death and the charred bodies of three women lay in the doorway. Ben scooped up their guns and thrust them at Bannon and Murchison.
"We'll give you five minutes before we take off," he shouted as they ran past him for the control room.
Behind him and Davies and Sally there were shouts as the two men went into action. But they had their own job to do. The closest inspection ship was several hundred feet away and already women were running to cut them off. Ben cut loose with his cylinder before they had a chance to use theirs.
Then he and Davies were lifting Sally into the ship. While they covered the open door Ben ran for the controls. Somewhere an alarm was wailing and as he swung the ship about Ben saw other ships being boarded. But Bannon and Murchison had not failed. Just beyond the tower a lock swung open.
Ben skimmed along the ground, figuring to pick up the two men as they came out of the tower. Then he saw Murchison wave him on. He had planted himself in the doorway and was refusing to budge. Ben saw why as Murchison blasted away at a group of giant women who were trying to rush the tower.
There was no more time. Already other ships were taking off. Another wasted minute and they would beat him to the lock. Ben yelled to Davies to close the hatch as he turned on the power.
A moment later they were in the blackness of the tube. Davies ran forward to the controls. "There's a light on the ship," he said. He found the switch and threw it in time for them to see the next lock open for them.
"Three to go," Ben muttered. "Looks like we're going to make it."
"Maybe not." Davies tapped his shoulder and pointed to the rear of the ship. Looking back through a porthole, Ben could see other ships behind them.
"As long as we're in the tube they won't fire," Davies said. "But neither can we get very far ahead!"
While he spoke the ship had gone through another lock with the others still directly behind. It looked like Davies was right. But Ben was not yet ready to concede defeat. The fourth lock loomed ahead and he watched it swing open. Just a few minutes more and they would go through the last one. It was still hundreds of miles ahead but at the rate they were travelling they would be on it soon.
He waited until the last possible second and then cut his speed sharply. Behind them the other ships were forced to use their retarding rockets for fear of ramming them. It was just what Ben had expected. As the last lock opened he threw the accelerator all the way forward and felt the ship leap ahead.
That alone would not have been enough, but as the ship roared out of the tube above the surface of Teris he cut sharply to the right. Had their ship been faster it might have worked. But it was not fast enough. Through the blackness of space the exhausts of their pursuers flamed closer. Ben's teeth clamped down on his lips.
"I guess we're out of luck."
There was nothing more to say. It was only a matter of minutes before the guns of the ships behind them would blast them to pieces. They held their breath and waited, watching the exhausts come through the darkness.
And then suddenly there was no more darkness. A light as bright as the noon sun flared. Ben let out a shout, for beyond the light were lined the battle cruisers of Earth. His pursuers turned tail and ran.
"Where the devil did those ships come from?" Davies gasped.
"I sent for them," Ben told him. "We had it all arranged. When I tackled that double I managed to slip a microfilm capsule into his pocket. It had a complete picture of my radona chart. As soon as the double reached Earth, Intelligence grabbed him. All they had to do was follow my chart to Teris."
They were passing the flagship of the Earth fleet, and Ben dipped the nose of his ship in salute. Then he turned to see what was going on.
There was going to be no attempt to invade Teris. Instead, its surface was illuminated with more of the flares. A moment later Teris was gone, blasted by the guns of a thousand cruisers. And for the strange women who would have enslaved a universe, Ben felt no pity.
by Robert Donald Locke
He had borne the thousand and one injuries with humility and charity. But the insults! These were more than he could suffer....
Gr-r-r! There he goes again! Brother Ambrose could scarce restrain the hatred that seethed and churned in his breast, as his smallish eyes followed Brother Lorenzo headed once more for his beloved geraniums, the inevitable watering-pot gripped in both hands, the inevitable devotions rising in a whispered stream from his saintly lips. The very fact the man lived was a mockery to human justice: God's blood, but if thoughts could only kill.
The thousand and one injuries of Fray Lorenzo he had borne as a Christian monk should, with humility and charity. But the insults, aye, the insults to faith and reason! They were more than a generous Father could expect His most adoring servant to suffer, weren't they? To have to sit next to the man, for instance, at evening meal and hear his silly prattle of the weather. Next year's crop of cork: we can scarcely expect oak-galls, he says. Isn't petroselinum the name for parsley? (No, it's Greek, you swine. And what's the Greek name for Swine's Snout? I could hurl it at you, like the Pope hurling anathema.) Salve tibi! It sticks in one's craw to bless him with the rest. Would God our cloister numbered thirty-and-nine instead of forty.
For days now, for weeks, Brother Ambrose had witnessed and endured the false piety of the man. How he'd ever got admitted to the order in the first place beat all supposition. It must have been his sanctimonious apple-cheeks or (Heaven forbid such simony), some rich relative greased the palm of the Prior. Saint, forsooth!
Brother Ambrose recalled just a week previous; they had been outside the walls, a round dozen of the brothers, gathering the first few bushels of grapes to make the good Benedictine wine. And all men tended to their duty in the vineyard-save who? Save lecherous Lorenzo, whose job was to attend the press. Picked the assignment himself, most likely, so he could ogle the brown thighs and browner ankles of Dolores squatting on the Convent bank, gitana slut with her flashing eyes and hint of sweet delight in those cherry-red lips and coquettish tossing shoulders. A man could see she was child of the devil, flesh to tempt to eternal hellfire.
But how skillful Brother Lorenzo had been in keeping the glow in his dead eye from being seen by the others! Only Ambrose had known it was there. Invisible to even the world, perhaps; but lurking just the same in Lorenzo's feverishly disguised brain. Si, there and lusting beyond a doubt. By one's faith, the blue-black hair of Dolores would make any weak man itch; and the stories that had floated on the breeze that day, livelily exchanged between her and that roguish Sanchicha, the lavandera; Lorenzo must surely have lapped them all up like a hungry spaniel, though he cleverly turned his head away so you would not guess. After all, Ambrose, scarcely a step closer, could recall clearly every word of the bawdy tales!
Back to the table again; and Brother Ambrose once more noticed how Fray Lorenzo never let his fork and knife lie crosswise, an obvious tribute he, himself, always made in Our Senor's praise. Nor did Lorenzo honor the Trinity by drinking his orange-pulp in three quiet sips; rather (the Arian heretic) he drained it at a gulp. Now, he was out trimming his myrtle-bush. And touching up his roses.
Gr-r-r, again! Watching his enemy putter away in the deepening twilight that followed the decline of the Andalusian sun, Brother Ambrose recalled the other traps he had lain to trip the hypocrite. Traps set and failed; but, oh, so delicious anyhow, these attempts to send him flying off to Hell where he belonged: a Cathar or a Manichee. That last one, involving the pornographic French novel so scrofulous and wicked. How could it failed to have snared its prey? Especially, when Fray Ambrose had spent such sleepless nights, working out his plot in great detail?
Brother Ambrose allowed himself an inward chortle, as he paced along the portico, recollecting how close to success the scheme had come. The book had had to be read first (or re-read, rather) by Ambrose to determine just which chapter would be most apt to damn a soul with concupiscent suggestion. Gray paper with blunt type, the whole book had been easy enough to grasp for that matter-what with the words so badly spelled out. The cuckoldry tales of Boccaccio and that gay old archpriest, Juan Ruiz de Hita, what dry reading they seemed by comparison-almost like decretals.
As if by misadventure, Brother Ambrose had left the book in Lorenzo's cell, the pages doubled down at the woeful sixteenth print. Ah, there had been a passage! Simply glancing at it, you groveled hand and foot in Belial's grip.
But, that twice-cursed Lorenzo must have had the devil's luck that day. A breeze sprang up to flip the volume closed; and the monk, not knowing the book's owner and espying only its name, had handed it over to the Prior who had promptly turned the monastery upside down in search of further such adulterous contraband!
Worse fortune followed. The next day, Brother Lorenzo had come down with a temporary stroke of blindness-it lasted only a week; but even so, for seven days Ambrose had been forced to labor in his stead in the drafty library, copying boresome scrolls in a light scarcely less dim than moonlight. Worse still, the Prior had found mistakes: letters dropped, transposed (Latin was so bothersomely regular; compared to the vulgar tongue). For what he called such "inexcusable slovenliness," the Prior had imposed a penance of bread and water and extra toil.
Slovenliness! Why didn't the Prior-was he blind, too?-notice the deadly sins that were each day so neatly practised by Brother Lorenzo? They went unpunished. Probably, God's Angel would even be found to have been asleep when Judgment Day came around and Lorenzo would slip into Heaven by a wink, as one might say.
Obviously, there was no justice, except such as man would make himself, Brother Ambrose had at last decided.
Ave Maria, plena gratia.
Now at last, he was alone in his cell, free finally from the unendurable (sometimes it seemed everlasting) torment of Brother Lorenzo's presence. Twenty-nine distinct damnations listed in Galatians, if you cared to look up the text; and not one of them could the enemy be made to trip on, a-dying.
In fact, of late, so bad had the situation grown that Brother Ambrose had even once considered pledging his soul to Satan. Oh, not for keeps! No enmity was worth that dread sacrifice. But as a trick, sort of-with a flaw in the indenture that proud Lucifer would miss until it was too late to wriggle out of the bargain.
But that had been two days ago.
Now, a better scheme presented itself to Brother Ambrose, engendered by that forced labor within the dreary precincts of the convent library. For that was where (and when) he had made his delightful discovery, the one that would now redeem him from all his irritations and travail. The discovery that would rid him of Brother Lorenzo for always!
It had happened like this.
Inasmuch as the monastery was over eight hundred years old, many ancient books and moldy scrolls lay forgotten in the cobwebby corners of the great library, especially where the light was gloomy. One afternoon during his week of enforced toil, Brother Ambrose had sought the shelter of one of these ill-lighted and seldom-visited nooks of the building to recover certain lost hours of sleep, hours that had gone astray the night before as he sat up in his lonely cell and brooded over his wrongs. But before his drowsy head could nod off into dreams completely, his eye had chanced to notice a faded scroll that jutted forth from its fellows on the shelves. Starting to push the offender back in place, Ambrose's fingers had hesitated when he noticed the title: De Necromantiae.
Surely, thought the monk, such a book belonged on the Index. Then, it occurred to him that possibly the copy in front of him was the only one of its kind in the world, in which case not even the Holy Father could be expected to know it existed. Then, how could it be on the Index or be forbidden?
Taking advantage of this personal achievement in casuistry, Brother Ambrose promptly untied the scroll and began reading.