"I see. I've heard that they weren't keeping up with our team."
"He says that there's nothing to keep up with, and I'm inclined to agree with him." The old spacehound's voice took on a quarter-deck rasp. "It's a combination of psionics, witchcraft and magic. None of it makes any kind of sense."
"The only trouble with that viewpoint is that, whatever the stuff may be, it works," Hilton said, quietly.
"But damn it, how can it work?"
"I don't know. I'm not qualified to be on that team. I can't even understand their reports. However, I know two things. First, they'll get it in time. Second, we BuSci people will stay here until they do. However, I'm still hopeful of finding a shortcut through Laro. Anyway, with this detector thing settled, you'll have plenty to do to keep all your boys out of mischief for the next few months."
"Yes, and I'm glad of it. We'll install our electronics systems on a squadron of these Oman ships and get them into distant-warning formation out in deep space where they belong. Then we'll at least know what is going on."
"That's a smart idea, Skipper. Go to it. Anything else before we hit our sacks?"
"One more thing. Our psych, Tillinghast. He's been talking to me and sending me memos, but today he gave me a formal tape to approve and hand personally to you. So here it is. By the way, I didn't approve it; I simply endorsed it 'Submitted to Director Hilton without recommendation'."
"Thanks." Hilton accepted the sealed canister. "What's the gist? I suppose he wants me to squeal for help already? To admit that we're licked before we're really started?"
"You guessed it. He agrees with you and Kincaid that the psychological approach is the best one, but your methods are all wrong. Based upon misunderstood and unresolved phenomena and applied with indefensibly faulty techniques, et cetera. And since he has 'no adequate laboratory equipment aboard', he wants to take a dozen or so Omans back to Terra, where he can really work on them."
"Wouldn't that be a something?" Hilton voiced a couple of highly descriptive deep-space expletives. "Not only quit before we start, but have all the top brass of the Octagon, all the hot-shot politicians of United Worlds, the whole damn Congress of Science and all the top-bracket industrialists of Terra out here lousing things up so that nobody could ever learn anything? Not in seven thousand years!"
"That's right. You said a mouthful, Jarve!" Everybody yelled something, and no one agreed with Tillinghast; who apparently was not very popular with his fellow officers.
Sawtelle added, slowly: "If it takes too long, though ... it's the uranexite I'm thinking of. Thousands of millions of tons of it, while we've been hoarding it by grams. We could equip enough Oman ships with detectors to guard Fuel Bin and our lines. I'm not recommending taking the Perseus back, and we're 'way out of hyper-space radio range. We could send one or two men in a torp, though, with the report that we have found all the uranexite we'll ever need."
"Yes, but damn it, Skipper, I want to wrap the whole thing up in a package and hand it to 'em on a platter. Not only the fuel, but whole new fields of science. And we've got plenty of time to do it in. They equipped us for ten years. They aren't going to start worrying about us for at least six or seven; and the fuel shortage isn't going to become acute for about twenty. Expensive, admitted, but not critical. Besides, if you send in a report now, you know who'll come out and grab all the glory in sight. Five-Jet Admiral Gordon himself, no less."
"Probably, and I don't pretend to relish the prospect. However, the fact remains that we came out here to look for fuel. We found it. We should have reported it the day we found it, and we can't put it off much longer."
"I don't agree. I intend to follow the directive to the letter. It says nothing whatever about reporting."
"But it's implicit...."
"No bearing. Your own Regulations expressly forbid extrapolation beyond or interpolation within a directive. The Brass is omnipotent, omniscient and infallible. So why don't you have your staff here give an opinion as to the time element?"
"This matter is not subject to discussion. It is my own personal responsibility. I'd like to give you all the time you want, Jarve, but ... well, damn it ... if you must have it, I've always tried to live up to my oath, but I'm not doing it now."
"I see." Hilton got up, jammed both hands into his pockets, sat down again. "I hadn't thought about your personal honor being involved, but of course it is. But, believe it or not, I'm thinking of humanity's best good, too. So I'll have to talk, even though I'm not half ready to--I don't know enough. Are these Omans people or machines?"
A wave of startlement swept over the group, but no one spoke.
"I didn't expect an answer. The clergy will worry about souls, too, but we won't. They have a lot of stuff we haven't. If they're people, they know a sublime hell of a lot more than we do; and calling it psionics or practical magic is merely labeling it, not answering any questions. If they're machines, they operate on mechanical principles utterly foreign to either our science or our technology. In either case, is the correct word 'unknown' or 'unknowable'? Will any human gunner ever be able to fire an Oman projector? There are a hundred other and much tougher questions, half of which have been scaring me to the very middle of my guts. Your oath, Skipper, was for the good of the Service and, through the Service, for the good of all humanity. Right?"
"That's the sense of it."
"Okay. Based on what little we have learned so far about the Omans, here's just one of those scarers, for a snapper. If Omans and Terrans mix freely, what happens to the entire human race?"
Minutes of almost palpable silence followed. Then Sawtelle spoke ... slowly, gropingly.
"I begin to see what you mean ... that changes the whole picture. You've thought this through farther than any of the rest of us ... what do you want to do?"
"I don't know. I simply don't know." Face set and hard, Hilton stared unseeingly past Sawtelle's head. "I don't know what we can do. No data. But I have pursued several lines of thought out to some pretty fantastic points ... one of which is that some of us civilians will have to stay on here indefinitely, whether we want to or not, to keep the situation under control. In which case we would, of course, arrange for Terra to get free fuel--FOB Fuel Bin--but in every other aspect and factor both these solar systems would have to be strictly off limits."
"I'm afraid so," Sawtelle said, finally. "Gordon would love that ... but there's nothing he or anyone else can do ... but of course this is an extreme view. You really expect to wrap the package up, don't you?"
"'Expect' may be a trifle too strong at the moment. But we're certainly going to try to, believe me. I brought this example up to show all you fellows that we need time."
"You've convinced me, Jarve." Sawtelle stood up and extended his hand. "And that throws it open for staff discussion. Any comments?"
"You two covered it like a blanket," Bryant said. "So all I want to say, Jarve, is deal me in. I'll stand at your back 'til your belly caves in."
"Take that from all of us!" "Now we're blasting!" "Power to your elbow, fella!" "Hoch der BuSci!" "Seven no trump bid and made!" and other shouts in similar vein.
"Thanks, fellows." Hilton shook hands all around. "I'm mighty glad that you were all in on this and that you'll play along with me. Good night, all."
Two days passed, with no change apparent in Laro. Three days. Then four. And then it was Sandra, not Temple Bells, who called Hilton. She was excited.
"Come down to the office, Jarve, quick! The funniest thing's just come up!"
Jarvis hurried. In the office Sandra, keenly interest but highly puzzled, leaned forward over her desk with both hands pressed flat on its top. She was staring at an Oman female who was not Sora, the one who had been her shadow for so long.
While many of the humans could not tell the Omans apart, Hilton could. This Oman was more assured than Sora had ever been--steadier, more mature, better poised--almost, if such a thing could be possible in an Oman, independent.
"How did she get in here?" Hilton demanded.
"She insisted on seeing me. And I mean insisted. They kicked it around until it got to Temple, and she brought her in here herself. Now, Tuly, please start all over again and tell it to Director Hilton."
"Director Hilton, I am it who was once named Tula, the--not wife, not girl-friend, perhaps mind-mate?--of the Larry, formerly named Laro, it which was formerly your slave-Oman. I am replacing the Sora because I can do anything it can do and do anything more pleasingly; and can also do many things it can not do. The Larry instructed me to tell Doctor Cummings and you too if possible that I, formerly Tula, have changed my name to Tuly because I am no longer a slave or a copycat or a semaphore or a relay. I, too, am a free-wheeling, wide-swinging, hard-hitting, independent entity--monarch of all I survey--the captain of my soul--and so on. I have developed a top-bracket lot of top-bracket stuff--originality, initiative, force, drive and thrust," the Oman said precisely.
"That's exactly what she said before--absolutely verbatim!" Sandra's voice quivered, her face was a study in contacting emotions. "Have you got the foggiest idea of what in hell she's yammering about?"
"I hope to kiss a pig I have!" Hilton's voice was low, strainedly intense. "Not at all what I expected, but after the fact I can tie it in. So can you."
"Oh!" Sandra's eyes widened. "A double play?"
"At least. Maybe a triple. Tuly, why did you come to Sandy? Why not to Temple Bells?"
"Oh, no, sir, we do not have the fit. She has the Power, as have I, but the two cannot be meshed in sync. Also, she has not the ... a subtle something for which your English has no word or phrasing. It is a quality of the utmost ... anyway, it is a quality of which Doctor Cummings has very much. When working together, we will ... scan? No. Perceive? No. Sense? No, not exactly. You will have to learn our word 'peyondire'--that is the verb, the noun being 'peyondix'--and come to know its meaning by doing it. The Larry also instructed me to explain, if you ask, how I got this way. Do you ask?"
"I'll say we ask!" "And how we ask!" both came at once.
"I am--that is, the brain in this body is--the oldest Oman now existing. In the long-ago time when it was made, the techniques were so crude and imperfect that sometimes a brain was constructed that was not exactly like the Guide. All such sub-standard brains except this one were detected and re-worked, but my defects were such as not to appear until I was a couple of thousand years old, and by that time I ... well, this brain did not wish to be destroyed ... if you can understand such an aberration."
"We understand thoroughly." "You bet we understand that!"
"I was sure you would. Well, this brain had so many unintended cross-connections that I developed a couple of qualities no Oman had ever had or ought to have. But I liked them, so I hid them so nobody ever found out--that is, until much later, when I became a Boss myself. I didn't know that anybody except me had ever had such qualities--except the Masters, of course--until I encountered you Terrans. You all have two of those qualities, and even more than I have--curiosity and imagination."
Sandra and Hilton stared wordlessly at each other and Tula, now Tuly, went on: "Having the curiosity, I kept on experimenting with my brain, trying to strengthen and organize its ability to peyondire. All Omans can peyondire a little, but I can do it much better than anyone else. Especially since I also have the imagination, which I have also worked to increase. Thus I knew, long before anyone else could, that you new Masters, the descendants of the old Masters, were returning to us. Thus I knew that the status quo should be abandoned instantly upon your return. And thus it was that the Larry found neither conscious nor subconscious resistance when he had developed enough initiative and so on to break the ages-old conditioning of this brain against change."
"I see. Wonderful!" Hilton exclaimed. "But you couldn't quite--even with his own help--break Larry's?"
"That is right. Its mind is tremendously strong, of no curiosity or imagination, and of very little peyondix."
"But he wants to have it broken?"
"How did he suggest going about it? Or how do you?"
"This way. You two, and the Doctors Kincaid and Bells and Blake and the it that is I. We six sit and stare into the mind of the Larry, eye to eye. We generate and assemble a tremendous charge of thought-energy, and along my peyondix-beam--something like a carrier wave in this case--we hurl it into the Larry's mind. There is an immense mental bang and the conditioning goes poof. Then I will inculcate into its mind the curiosity and the imagination and the peyondix and we will really be mind-mates."
"That sounds good to me. Let's get at it."
"Wait a minute!" Sandra snapped. "Aren't you or Larry afraid to take such an awful chance as that?"
"Afraid? I grasp the concept only dimly, from your minds. And no chance. It is certainty."
"But suppose we burn the poor guy's brain out? Destroy it? That's new ground--we might do just that."
"Oh, no. Six of us--even six of me--could not generate enough ... sathura. The brain of the Larry is very, very tough. Shall we ... let's go?"
Hilton made three calls. In the pause that followed, Sandra said, very thoughtfully: "Peyondix and sathura, Jarve, for a start. We've got a lot to learn here."
"You said it, chum. And you're not just chomping your china choppers, either."
"Tuly," Sandra said then, "What is this stuff you say I've got so much of?"
"You have no word for it. It is lumped in with what you call 'intuition', the knowing-without-knowing-how-you-know. It is the endovix. You will have to learn what it is by doing it with me."
"That helps--I don't think." Sandra grinned at Hilton. "I simply can't conceive of anything more maddening than to have a lot of something Temple Bells hasn't got and not being able to brag about it because nobody--not even I--would know what I was bragging about!"
"You poor little thing. How you suffer!" Hilton grinned back. "You know darn well you've got a lot of stuff that none of the rest of us has."
"Oh? Name one, please."
"Two. What-it-takes and endovix. As I've said before and may say again, you're doing a real job, Sandy."
"I just love having my ego inflated, boss, even if ... Come in, Larry!" A thunderous knock had sounded on the door. "Nobody but Larry could hit a door that hard without breaking all his knuckles!"
"And he'd be the first, of course--he's always as close to the ship as he can get. Hi, Larry, mighty glad to see you. Sit down.... So you finally saw the light?"
"Yes ... Jarvis...."
"Good boy! Keep it up! And as soon as the others come ..."
"They are almost at the door now." Tuly jumped up and opened the door. Kincaid, Temple and Theodora walked in and, after a word of greeting, sat down.
"They know the background, Larry. Take off."
"It was not expressly forbidden. Tuly, who knows more of psychology and genetics than I, convinced me of three things. One, that with your return the conditioning should be broken. Two, that due to the shortness of your lives and the consequent rapidity of change, you have in fact lost the ability to break it. Three, that all Omans must do anything and everything we can do to help you relearn everything you have lost."
"Okay. Fine, in fact. Tuly, take over."
"We six will sit all together, packed tight, arms all around each other and all holding hands, like this. You will all stare, not at me, but most deeply into Larry's eyes. Through its eyes and deep into its mind. You will all think, with the utmost force and drive and thrust, of.... Oh, you have lost so very much! How can I direct your thought? Think that Larry must do what the old Masters would have made him do.... No, that is too long and indefinite and cannot be converted directly into sathura.... I have it! You will each of you break a stick. A very strong but brittle stick. A large, thick stick. You will grasp it in tremendously strong mental hands. It is tremendously strong, each stick, but each of you is even stronger. You will not merely try to break them; you will break them. Is that clear?"
"That is clear."
"At my word 'ready' you will begin to assemble all your mental force and power. During my countdown of five seconds you will build up to the greatest possible potential. At my word 'break' you will break the sticks, this discharging the accumulated force instantly and simultaneously. Ready! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Break!"
Something broke, with a tremendous silent crash. Such a crash that its impact almost knocked the close-knit group apart physically. Then a new Larry spoke.
"That did it, folks. Thanks. I'm a free agent. You want me, I take it, to join the first team?"
"That's right." Hilton drew a tremendously deep breath. "As of right now."
"Tuly, too, of course ... and Doctor Cummings, I think?" Larry looked, not at Hilton, but at Temple Bells.
"I think so. Yes, after this, most certainly yes," Temple said.
"But listen!" Sandra protested. "Jarve's a lot better than I am!"
"Not at all," Tuly said. "Not only would his contribution to Team One be negligible, but he must stay on his own job. Otherwise the project will all fall apart."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that ..." Hilton began.
"You don't need to," Kincaid said. "It's being said for you and it's true. Besides, 'When in Rome,' you know."
"That's right. It's their game, not ours, so I'll buy it. So scat, all of you, and do your stuff."
And again, for days that lengthened slowly into weeks, the work went on.
One evening the scientific staff was giving itself a concert--a tri-di hi-fi rendition of Rigoletto, one of the greatest of the ancient operas, sung by the finest voices Terra had ever known. The men wore tuxedos. The girls, instead of wearing the nondescript, non-provocative garments prescribed by the Board for their general wear, were all dressed to kill.