Froth! Green, billowing froth that grew and boiled and spread unceasingly. In places it reached high into the air, and it moved with an eager, inner life that was somehow terrible and revolting. I moved the range hand back, and the view seemed to drop away from me swiftly.
I could see the whole city now. All one side of it was covered with the spreading green stain that moved and flowed so swiftly. Thousands of tiny black figures were running in the streets, crowding away from the awful danger that menaced them.
The green patch spread more swiftly always. When I had first seen it, the edges were advancing as rapidly as a man could run; now they were fairly racing, and the speed grew constantly.
A ship, two of them, three of them came darting from somewhere, towards the administration building, with its glass cupola. I held my breath as the deep, sudden humming from the Tamon told me that our rays were busy. Would they-- One of the enemy ships disappeared suddenly in a little cloud of dirty, heavy dust that settled swiftly. Another ... and the third. Three little streaks of dust, falling, falling....
A fourth ship, and a fifth came rushing up, their sides faintly glowing from the speed they had made. The green flood, thick and insistent, was racing up and over the administration building now. It reached the roof, ran swiftly....
The fourth ship shattered into dust. The fifth settled swiftly--and then that ship also disappeared, together with a corner of the building. Then the thick green stuff flowed over the whole building and there was nothing to be seen there but a mound of soft, flowing, gray-green stuff that rushed on now with the swiftness of the wind.
I looked up, into Barry's face.
"You're ill!" he said quickly. "Is there anything I can do, sir?"
"Yes," I said, forming the words with difficulty. "Give orders to ascend at emergency speed!"
For once my first officer hesitated. He glanced at the attraction meter and then turned to me again, wondering.
"At this height, sir, emergency speed will mean dangerous heating of the surface; perhaps--"
"I want it white hot, Mr. Barry. She is built to stand it. Emergency speed, please--immediately!"
"Right, sir!" he said briskly, and gave the order.
I felt my weight increase as the order was obeyed; gradually the familiar, uncomfortable feeling left me. Silently, Barry and I watched the big surface temperature gauge as it started to move. The heat inside became uncomfortable, grew intense. The sweat poured from us. In the operating room forward, I could see the men casting quick, wondering glances up at us through the heavy glass partition that lay between.
The thick, stubby red hand of the surface temperature gauge moved slowly but steadily towards the heavy red line that marked the temperature at which the outer shell of our hull would become incandescent. The hand was within three or four degrees of that mark when I gave Barry the order to arrest our motion.
When he had given the order, I turned to him and motioned towards the television disc.
"Look," I said.
He looked, and when at last he tore his face away from the hood, he seemed ten years older.
"What is it?" he asked in a choked whisper. "Why--they're being wiped out; the whole of that world--"
"True. And some of the seeds of that terrible death might have drifted upward, and found a lodging place upon the surface of our ship. That is why I ordered the emergency speed while we were still within the atmospheric envelope, Barry. To burn away that contamination, if it existed. Now we are safe, unless--"
I pressed the attention button to the station of the chief of the ray operators.
"Your report," I ordered.
"Nine ships disintegrated, sir," he replied instantly. "Five before the city was destroyed, four later."
"You are certain that none escaped?"
I turned to Barry, smiling.
"Point her nose for Zenia, Mr. Barry," I said. "As soon as it is feasible, resume emergency speed. There are some very anxious gentlemen there awaiting our report, and I dare not convey it except in person."
"Yes, sir!" said Barry crisply.
This, then, is the history of the Forgotten Planet. On the charts of the Universe it appears as an unnamed world. No ship is permitted to pass close enough to it so that its attraction is greater than that of the nearest other mass. A permanent outpost of fixed-station ships, with headquarters upon Jaron, the closest world, is maintained by the Council.
There are millions of people who might be greatly disturbed if they knew of this potential menace that lurks in the midst of our Universe, but they do not know. The wisdom of the Council made certain of that.
But, in order that in the ages to come there might be a record of this matter, I have been asked to prepare this document for the sealed archives of the Alliance. It has been a pleasant task; I have relived, for a little time, a part of my youth.
The work is done, now, and that is well. I am an old man, and weary. Sometimes I wish I might live to see the wonders that the next generation or so will witness, but my years are heavy upon me.
My work is done.
by Robert F. Young
Very trivial things can go into the weaving of a nest. The human race, for instance--
The condensation of the histories of ten thousand races into a text concise enough to fit into a single volume had been a task of unprecedented proportions. There had been times when the Galactic Historian had doubted whether even his renowned abilities were up to the assignment that the Galactic Board of Education had so lightly tossed his way, times when he had thrown up his hands--all five of them--in despair. But at last the completed manuscript lay before him on his desk with nothing but the final reading remaining between it and publication.
The Galactic Historian repeatedly wiped his brows as he turned the pages. It was a warm night, even for Mixxx Seven. Now and then, a tired breeze struggled down from the hills and limped across the lowlands to the Galactic University buildings. It crept into the Galactic Historian's study via the open door and out again via the open windows, fingering the manuscript each time it passed but doing nothing whatsoever about the temperature.
The manuscript was something more than a hammered-down history of galactic achievement. It was the ultimate document. The two and seventy thousand jarring texts that it summarized had been systematically destroyed, one by one, after the Galactic Historian had stripped them of their objective information. If an historical event was not included in the manuscript, it failed as an event. It ceased to have reality.
The responsibility was the Galactic Historian's alone and he did not take it lightly. But he had a lot on his minds and, of late, he hadn't been sleeping well. He was overworked and over-tired and over-anxious. He hadn't seen his wives for two Mixxx months and he was worried about them--all fifty of them.
He never should have let them take the Hub cruise in the first place. But they'd been so enthusiastic and so eager that he simply hadn't had the hearts to let them down. Now, despite his better judgments, he was beginning to wonder if they might not be on the make for another coordinator.
Wives trouble, on top of all his chronological trouble, was too much. The Galactic Historian could hardly be blamed for wanting to see the last of the manuscript, for wanting to transmit it to his publishers, potential hiatuses and all, and take the next warp for the Hub.
But he was an historian--the historian, in fact--and he persisted heroically in his task, rereading stale paragraphs and checking dreary dates, going over battles and conquests and invasions and interregnums. Despite his mood and despite the heat, the manuscript probably would have arrived at his publishers chronologically complete. So complete, in fact, that schoolteachers all over the galaxy would have gotten the textbook they had always wanted--a concise chronicle of everything that had ever happened since the explosion of the primeval atom, a history textbook that no other history textbook could contradict for the simple reason that there were no other history textbooks.
As it was, they got the textbook, but it did not contain everything that had ever happened. Not quite.
Two factors were responsible for the omission. The first was an oversight on the part of the Galactic Historian. With so much on his minds, he had forgotten to number the pages of the manuscript.
The second factor was the breeze.
The breeze was the ultimate archfiend and there can be no question as to its motivation. Nothing short of sheer malice could have caused it suddenly to remember its function after neglecting that function all evening.
All evening it had been tiptoeing down the hillsides and across the lowlands as though it was afraid of disturbing a single blade of grass or a single drooping leaf. And then, at the crucial moment, it huffed and puffed itself up into a little hurricane, charged down upon the Galactic University buildings and whooshed through the Galactic Historian's study like a band of interstellar dervishes.
Unfortunately, the Galactic Historian had begun to wipe his brows at the very moment of the breeze's entry. While the act was not a complicated one, it did consume time and monopolize attention. It is not surprising, therefore, that he failed to witness the theft. Neither is it surprising that he failed to notice afterwards that the page he had been checking was gone.
He was, as previously stated, overworked, over-tired, and over-anxious and, in such a state, even a Galactic Historian can skip a whole series of words and dates and never know the difference. A hiatus of twenty thousand years is hardly noticeable anyway. Galactically speaking, twenty thousand years is a mere wink in time.
The breeze didn't carry the page very far. It simply whisked it through a convenient window, deposited it beneath a xixxix tree and then returned to the hills to rest. But the choice of a xixxix tree is highly significant and substantiates the malicious nature of the breeze's act. If it had chosen a muu or a buxx tree instead, the Galactic Historian might have found the page in the morning when he took his constitutional through the university grounds.
However, since a xixxix tree was selected, no doubt whatever can remain as to the breeze's basic motivation. Articles of a valuable nature just aren't left beneath xixxix trees. Everybody knows that squixes live in xixxix trees and everybody knows that squixes are collectors. They collect all sorts of things, buttons and pins and twigs and pebbles--anything at all, in fact, that isn't too big for them to pick up and carry into their xixxix tree houses.
They have been called less kind things than collectors. Thieves, for example, and scavengers. But collectors are what they really are. Collecting fulfills a basic need in their mammalian makeup; the possession of articles gives them a feeling of security. They love to surround their little furry bodies with all sorts of odds and ends, and their little arboreal houses are stuffed with everything you can think of.
And they simply adore paper. They adore it because it has a practical as well as a cultural value.
Specifically, they adore it because it is wonderful to make hammocks out of.
When the two squixes in the xixxix tree saw the page drift to the ground, they could hardly believe their eyes. They chittered excitedly as they skittered down the trunk. The page had hardly stopped fluttering before it was whisked aloft again, clenched in tiny squix fingers.
The squixes wasted no time. It had been a long while since the most cherished of all collector's items had come their way and they needed a new hammock badly. First, they tore the page into strips, then they began to weave the strips together.
--1456, Gut. Bi. pr.; 1492, Am. dis.; 1945, at. b. ex. Almgdo.; 1971, mn. rchd., they wove.
--2004, Sir. rchd.; 2005-6, Sir.--E. wr.; 2042, Btlgs. rchd.; 2043-4, Btlgs.--E. wr.
They wove and wove and wove.
15,000, E. Emp. clpsd.; 15,038, E. dstryd.; Hist. E., end of.
It was a fine hammock, the best the two squixes had ever wove. But they didn't sleep well that night. They twisted and turned and tossed, and they dreamed the most fantastic dreams-- Which isn't particularly surprising, considering what they were sleeping on. Sleeping on the history of Earth would be enough to give anybody nightmares.
CHILDREN OF TOMORROW.
by Arthur Leo Zagat
: NIGHT WINGS.
"Dikar," Marilee said, low-voiced.
"Of all the day between sunrise and sunrise, I am most happy in this quiet hour just before bedtime." Lying on the grass beside him, the warmth of her love enfolded Dikar like the warmth of the fire behind them and the scent of her in his nostrils was sweet and clean as the breath of the woods that enclosed the wide, long clearing. "I am so happy that I'm afraid," Marilee went on. "Something out there in the night hates to see me so happy."
Dikar's great paw tightened on the slim, small hand of his mate, but he said nothing. "I'm afraid," Marilee's gray eyes widened, "that someday it will take you away from me, and leave me all empty."
Dikar's high forehead was deeply lined with thought, his lips pressed tightly together within his blond, silken beard. From the logs on the Fire Stone the crackling flames leaped high, reaching always for the leafy canopy a giant oak held above them, never quite touching it. The ruddy light of the flames filled the clearing, from the long Boys' House on one side to the Girls' House on the other, from the Fire Stone at this end to the table and benches under the pole-upheld roof of the eating place at the other. The light played on the brown, strong limbs of the Boys of the Bunch, on the slender bodies of the Girls, as they walked slowly or lay, like Dikar and Marilee, in pairs on the grass, murmuring.
Over the clearing the purple-black Mountain hung, and the forest enclosed the clearing with night. The forest was silent with its own queer silence that is made up of countless little noises; the piping of insects, the chirp of nesting birds, the scurry of small beasts in the brush, the babble of streamlets hurrying to leap over the edge of the Drop.
Dikar thought of the Drop, of how its high wall of riven rock completely circled the Mountain, so barren of foothold that no living thing could hope to scale it unaided. He thought of the tumbled stones below the Drop, stones big as the Boys' House and bigger, and of how the water of the streamlets foamed white and angry between the stones, and of how beneath stones and water slept the Old Ones who brought the Bunch to the Mountain in the Long-Ago Time of Fear that none of the Bunch remembered clearly, most not at all.
"Dikar!" As Marilee's head rolled to him, a gap formed in the rippling mantle of her soft, brown hair and a round, naked shoulder peeped through. "You won't let it take you away from me, will you? Will you, Dikar?"
Beyond the tumbled stones, as far as Dikar could see from the topmost bough of the tallest tree on top of the Mountain, stretched the far land where they lived from whom the Old Ones had hidden the Bunch on this Mountain.
"Why don't you answer me, Dikar?" There was sharpness in Marilee's voice. "Don't you hear me? Dikar! What are you thinking about?"
Dikar smiled slowly, his blue eyes finding Marilee. "I am boss of the Bunch, Marilee," he rumbled. "And I've a lot to think about. You know that."
"Yes," she whispered. "I know. But sometimes you could think about me."
"I do. Always." Dikar loosed his hand from Marilee's and, sliding it under her supple waist, drew her close to his great body. "Whatever else I think about, I am always thinking about you too." The trouble within him was a little eased as he looked into her bright and lovely face. "Do I have to tell you that?"
"No," she murmured, nesting warm against him. "You don't have to tell me." She sighed with contentment. Her eyelids drooped drowsily, but Dikar's remained open as his gaze returned to the Boys and the Girls in the clearing.
All the Boys had grown in the long years since the Old Ones brought them here, their cheeks and chins fuzzed, their flat muscles banding torsos naked save for small aprons of green twigs split and plaited. Slim the Girls had grown, slim as the white birches in the woods, and graceful as the fawns that bedded in the forest.
Their loose hair fell rippling and silken to their ankles but as they moved Dikar glimpsed lean flanks, firm thighs brushed by short skirts woven from reeds, ever-deepening breasts hidden by circlets woven of leaves for the unmated, of gay flowers for each who had taken a Boy as mate.
Near the middle of the clearing three or four of the younger Boys knelt, playing with small, round stones the game called aggies. They were beardless as yet, their faces rashed with small pimples, and as they argued about the game their voices were now deep as Dikar's own, now broke into thin squeals.
Abruptly their chatter hushed, and then one of them was on his feet, was running towards where Dikar lay. He was Jimlane, thin-faced, puny, but keenest-eared of all the Bunch.
Dikar put Marilee out of his arms and was rising when Jimlane got to him. "I hear one, Dikar!" the kid gasped. "It's far away, but I hear it."