The three men arrived and were instructed. Tuly said: "The great trouble is that each of you must use a portion of your mind that you do not know you have. You, this one. You, that one." Tuly probed mercilessly; so poignantly that each in turn flinched under brand-new and almost unbearable pain. "With you, Doctor Hilton, it will be by far the worst. For you must learn to use almost all the portions of both your minds, the conscious and the unconscious. This must be, because you are the actual peyondixer. The others merely supply energies in which you yourself are deficient. Are you ready for a terrible shock, sir?"
He thought for a second that he had been shot; that his brain had blown up.
He couldn't stand it--he knew he was going to die--he wished he could die--anything, anything whatever, to end this unbearable agony....
Writhing, white and sweating, Hilton opened his eyes. "Ouch," he remarked, conversationally. "What next?"
"You will seize hold of the energies your friends offer. You will bind them to yours and shape the whole into a dimensionless sphere of pure controlled, dirigible energy. And, as well as being the binding force, the cohesiveness, you must also be the captain and the pilot and the astrogator and the ultimately complex computer itself."
"But how can I.... Okay, damn it. I will!"
"Of course you will, sir. Remember also that once the joinings are made I can be of very little more assistance, for my peyondix is as nothing compared to that of your fusion of eight. Now, to assemble the energies and join them you will, all together, deny the existence of the sum total of reality as you know it. Distance does not exist--every point in the reachable universe coincides with every other point and that common point is the focus of your attention. You can be and actually are anywhere you please or everywhere at once. Time does not exist. Space does not exist. There is no such thing as opacity; everything is perfectly transparent, yet every molecule of substance is perceptible in its relationship to every other molecule in the cosmos. Senses do not exist. Sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, sathura, endovix--all are parts of the one great sense of peyondix. I am guiding each of you seven--closer! Tighter! There! Seize it, sir--and when you work the Stretts you must fix it clearly that time does not exist. You must work in millionths of microseconds instead of in minutes, for they have minds of tremendous power. Reality does not exist! Compress it more, sir. Tighter! Smaller! Rounder! There! Hold it! Reality does not exist--distance does not exist--all possible points are.... Wonderful!"
Tuly screamed the word and the thought: "Good-by! Good luck!"
Hilton did not have to drive the peyondix-beam to the planet Strett; it was already there. And there was the monstrous First Lord Thinker Zoyar.
Into that mind his multi-mind flashed, its every member as responsive to his will as his own fingers--almost infinitely more so, in fact, because of the tremendous lengths of time required to send messages along nerves.
That horrid mind was scanned cell by cell. Then, after what seemed like a few hours, when a shield began sluggishly to form, Hilton transferred his probe to the mind of the Second Thinker, one Lord Ynos, and absorbed everything she knew. Then, the minds of all the other Thinkers being screened, he studied the whole Strett planet, foot by foot, and everything that was on it.
Then, mission accomplished, Hilton snapped his attention back to his office and the multi-mind fell apart. As he opened his eyes he heard Tuly scream: "... Luck!"
"Oh--you still here, Tuly? How long have we been gone?"
"Approximately one and one-tenth seconds, sir."
Beverly Bell, in the haven of Franklin Poynter's arms, fainted quietly. Sandra shrieked piercingly. The four men stared, goggle-eyed. Temple and Teddy, as though by common thought, burrowed their faces into brawny shoulders.
Hilton recovered first. "So that's what peyondix is."
"Yes, sir--I mean no, sir. No, I mean yes, but ..." Tuly paused, licking her lips in that peculiarly human-female gesture of uncertainty.
"Well, what do you mean? It either is or isn't. Or is that necessarily so?"
"Not exactly, sir. That is, it started as peyondix. But it became something else. Not even the most powerful of the old Masters--nobody--ever did or ever could possibly generate such a force as that. Or handle it so fast."
"Well, with seven of the best minds of Terra and a ..."
"Chip-chop the chit-chat!" Karns said, harshly. "What I want to know is whether I was having a nightmare. Can there possibly be a race such as I thought I saw? So utterly savage--ruthless--merciless! So devoid of every human trace and so hell-bent determined on the extermination of every other race in the Galaxy? God damn it, it simply doesn't make sense!"
Eyes went from eyes to eyes to eyes.
All had seen the same indescribably horrible, abysmally atrocious, things. Qualities and quantities and urges and drives that no words in any language could even begin to portray.
"It doesn't seem to, but there it is." Teddy Blake shook her head hopelessly.
Big Bill Karns, hands still shaking, lit a cigarette before he spoke again. "Well, I've never been a proponent of genocide. But it's my considered opinion that the Stretts are one race the galaxy can get along without."
"A hell of a lot better without," Poynter said, and all agreed.
"The point is, what can we do about it?" Kincaid asked. "The first thing, I would say, is to see whether we can do this--whatever it is--without Tuly's help. Shall we try it? Although I, for one, don't feel like doing it right away."
"Not I, either." Beverly Bell held up her right hand, which was shaking uncontrollably. "I feel as though I'd been bucking waves, wind and tide for forty-eight straight hours without food, water or touch. Maybe in about a week I'll be ready for another try at it. But today--not a chance!"
"Okay. Scat, all of you," Hilton ordered. "Take the rest of the day off and rest up. Put on your thought-screens and don't take them off for a second from now on. Those Stretts are tough hombres."
Sandra was the last to leave. "And you, boss?" she asked pointedly.
"I've got some thinking to do."
"I'll stay and help you think?"
"Not yet." He shook his head, frowned and then grinned. "You see, chick, I don't even know yet what it is I'm going to have to think about."
"A bit unclear, but I know what you mean--I think. Luck, chief."
In their subterranean sanctum turn on distant Strett, two of the deepest thinkers of that horribly unhuman race were in coldly intent conference via thought.
"My mind has been plundered, Ynos," First Lord Thinker Zoyar radiated, harshly. "Despite the extremely high reactivity of my shield some information--I do not know how much--was taken. The operator was one of the humans of that ship."
"I, too, felt a plucking at my mind. But those humans could not peyondire, First Lord."
"Be logical, fool! At that contact, in the matter of which you erred in not following up continuously, they succeeded in concealing their real abilities from you."
"That could be the truth. Our ancestors erred, then, in recording that all those weak and timid humans had been slain. These offenders are probably their descendants, returning to reclaim their former world."
"The probability must be evaluated and considered. Was it or was it not through human aid that the Omans destroyed most of our task-force?"
"Highly probable, but impossible of evaluation with the data now available."
"Obtain more data at once. That point must be and shall be fully evaluated and fully considered. This entire situation is intolerable. It must be abated."
"True, First Lord. But every operator and operation is now tightly screened. Oh, if I could only go out there myself ..."
"Hold, fool! Your thought is completely disloyal and un-Strettly."
"True, oh First Lord Thinker Zoyar. I will forthwith remove my unworthy self from this plane of existence."
"You will not! I hereby abolish that custom. Our numbers are too few by far. Too many have failed to adapt. Also, as Second Thinker, your death at this time would be slightly detrimental to certain matters now in work. I will myself, however, slay the unfit. To that end repeat The Words under my peyondiring."
"I am a Strett. I will devote my every iota of mental and of physical strength to forwarding the Great Plan. I am, and will remain, a Strett."
"You do believe in The Words."
"Of course I believe in them! I know that in a few more hundreds of thousands of years we will be rid of material bodies and will become invincible and invulnerable. Then comes the Conquest of the Galaxy ... and then the Conquest of the Universe!"
"No more, then, on your life, of this weak and cowardly repining! Now, what of your constructive thinking?"
"Programming must be such as to obviate time-lag. We must evaluate the factors already mentioned and many others, such as the reactivation of the spacecraft which was thought to have been destroyed so long ago. After having considered all these evaluations, I will construct a Minor Plan to destroy these Omans, whom we have permitted to exist on sufferance, and with them that shipload of despicably interloping humans."
"That is well." Zoyar's mind seethed with a malevolent ferocity starkly impossible for any human mind to grasp. "And to that end?"
"To that end we must intensify still more our program of procuring data. We must revise our mechs in the light of our every technological advance during the many thousands of cycles since the last such revision was made. Our every instrument of power, of offense and of defense, must be brought up to the theoretical ultimate of capability."
"And as to the Great Brain?"
"I have been able to think of nothing, First Lord, to add to the undertakings you have already set forth."
"It was not expected that you would. Now: is it your final thought that these interlopers are in fact the descendants of those despised humans of so long ago?"
"It is also mine. I return, then, to my work upon the Brain. You will take whatever measures are necessary. Use every artifice of intellect and of ingenuity and our every resource. But abate this intolerable nuisance, and soon."
"It shall be done, First Lord."
The Second Thinker issued orders. Frenzied, round-the-clock activity ensued. Hundreds of mechs operated upon the brains of hundreds of others, who in turn operated upon the operators.
Then, all those brains charged with the technological advances of many thousands of years, the combined hundreds went unrestingly to work. Thousands of work-mechs were built and put to work at the construction of larger and more powerful space-craft.
As has been implied, those battle-skeletons of the Stretts were controlled by their own built-in mechanical brains, which were programmed for only the simplest of battle maneuvers. Anything at all out of the ordinary had to be handled by remote control, by the specialist-mechs at their two-miles-long control board.
This was now to be changed. Programming was to be made so complete that almost any situation could be handled by the warship or the missile itself--instantly.
The Stretts knew that they were the most powerful, the most highly advanced race in the universe. Their science was the highest in the universe. Hence, with every operating unit brought up to the full possibilities of that science, that would be more than enough. Period.
This work, while it required much time, was very much simpler than the task which the First Thinker had laid out for himself on the giant computer-plus which the Stretts called "The Great Brain." In stating his project, First Lord Zoyar had said: "Assignment: To construct a machine that will have the following abilities: One, to contain and retain all knowledge and information fed into it, however great the amount. Two, to feed itself additional information by peyondiring all planets, wherever situate, bearing intelligent life. Three, to call up instantly any and all items of information pertaining to any problem we may give it. Four, to combine and recombine any number of items required to form new concepts. Five, to formulate theories, test them and draw conclusions helpful to us in any matter in work."
It will have been noticed that these specifications vary in one important respect from those of the Eniacs and Univacs of Earth. Since we of Earth can not peyondire, we do not expect that ability from our computers.
The Stretts could, and did.
When Sandra came back into the office at five o'clock she found Hilton still sitting there, in almost exactly the same position.
"Come out of it, Jarve!" She snapped a finger. "That much of that is just simply too damned much."
"You're so right, child." He got up, stretched, and by main strength shrugged off his foul mood. "But we're up against something that is really a something, and I don't mean perchance."
"How well I know it." She put an arm around him, gave him a quick, hard hug. "But after all, you don't have to solve it this evening, you know."
"No, thank God."
"So why don't you and Temple have supper with me? Or better yet, why don't all eight of us have supper together in that bachelors' paradise of yours and Bill's?"
"That'd be fun."
And it was.
Nor did it take a week for Beverly Bell to recover from the Ordeal of Eight. On the following evening, she herself suggested that the team should take another shot at that utterly fantastic terra incognita of the multiple mind, jolting though it had been.
"But are you sure you can take it again so soon?" Hilton asked.
"Sure. I'm like that famous gangster's moll, you know, who bruised easy but healed quick. And I want to know about it as much as anyone else does."
They could do it this time without any help from Tuly. The linkage fairly snapped together and shrank instantaneously to a point. Hilton thought of Terra and there it was; full size, yet occupying only one infinitesimal section of a dimensionless point. The multi-mind visited relatives of all eight, but could not make intelligible contact. If asleep, it caused pleasant dreams; if awake, pleasant thoughts of the loved one so far away in space; but that was all. It visited mediums, in trance and otherwise--many of whom, not surprisingly now, were genuine--with whom it held lucid conversations. Even in linkage, however, the multi-mind knew that none of the mediums would be believed, even if they all told, simultaneously, exactly the same story. The multi-mind weakened suddenly and Hilton snapped it back to Ardry.
Beverly was almost in collapse. The other girls were white, shaken and trembling. Hilton himself, strong and rugged as he was, felt as though he had done two weeks of hard labor on a rock-pile. He glanced questioningly at Larry.
"Point six three eight seconds, sir," the Omans said, holding up a millisecond timer.
"How do you explain that?" Karns demanded.
"I'm afraid it means that without Oman backing we're out of luck."
Hilton had other ideas, but he did not voice any of them until the following day, when he was rested and had Larry alone.
"So carbon-based brains can't take it. One second of that stuff would have killed all eight of us. Why? The Masters had the same kind of brains we have."
"I don't know, sir. It's something completely new. No Master, or group of Masters, ever generated such a force as that. I can scarcely believe such power possible, even though I have felt it twice. It may be that over the generations your individual powers, never united or controlled, have developed so strength that no human can handle them in fusion."
"And none of us ever knew anything about any of them. I've been doing a lot of thinking. The Masters had qualities and abilities now unknown to any of us. How come? You Omans--and the Stretts, too--think we're descendants of the Masters. Maybe we are. You think they came originally from Arth--Earth or Terra--to Ardu. That'd account for our legends of Mu, Atlantis and so on. Since Ardu was within peyondix range of Strett, the Stretts attacked it. They killed all the Masters, they thought, and made the planet uninhabitable for any kind of life, even their own. But one shipload of Masters escaped and came here to Ardry--far beyond peyondix range. They stayed here for a long time. Then, for some reason or other--which may be someplace in their records--they left here, fully intending to come back. Do any of you Omans know why they left? Or where they went?"