"I thought better of you than that, son." Sawtelle shook his head sadly. "That was the first thing I did."
"Ouch. Maybe you're 'way ahead of me too, then, on the one that we should move to Fuel Bin, lock, stock and barrel?"
"Never thought of it, no. Maybe you're worth saving, after all. After conversion, of course.... Yes, there'd be three big advantages."
Sawtelle raised his eyebrows.
"One, only one planet to defend. Two, it's self-defending against sneak landings. Nothing remotely human can land on it except in heavy lead armor, and even in that can stay healthy for only a few minutes."
"Except in the city. Omlu. That's the weak point and would be the point of attack."
"Uh-uh. Cut off the decontaminators and in five hours it'll be as hot as the rest of the planet. Three, there'd be no interstellar supply line for the Stretts to cut. Four, the environment matches our new physiques a lot better than any normal planet could."
"That's the one I didn't think about."
"I think I'll take a quick peek at the Stretts--oh-oh; they've screened their whole planet. Well, we can do that, too, of course."
"How are you going to select and reject personnel? It looks as though everybody wants to stay. Even the men whose main object in life is to go aground and get drunk. The Omans do altogether too good a job on them and there's no such thing as a hangover. I'm glad I'm not in your boots."
"You may be in it up to the eyeballs, Skipper, so don't chortle too soon."
Hilton had already devoted much time to the problems of selection; and he thought of little else all the way back to Ardry. And for several days afterward he held conferences with small groups and conducted certain investigations.
Bud Carroll of Sociology and his assistant Sylvia Banister had been married for weeks. Hilton called them, together with Sawtelle and Bryant of Navy, into conference with the Big Eight.
"The more I study this thing the less I like it," Hilton said. "With a civilization having no government, no police, no laws, no medium of exchange ..."
"No money?" Bryant exclaimed. "How's old Gordon going to pay for his uranexite, then?"
"He gets it free," Hilton replied, flatly. "When anyone can have anything he wants, merely by wanting it, what good is money? Now, remembering how long we're going to have to live, what we'll be up against, that the Masters failed, and so on, it is clear that the prime basic we have to select for is stability. We twelve have, by psychodynamic measurement, the highest stability ratings available."
"Are you sure I belong here?" Bryant asked.
"Yes. Here are three lists." Hilton passed papers around. "The list labeled 'OK' names those I'm sure of--the ones we're converting now and their wives and whatever on Terra. List 'NG' names the ones I know we don't want. List 'X'--over thirty percent--are in-betweeners. We have to make a decision on the 'X' list. So--what I want to know is, who's going to play God. I'm not. Sandy, are you?"
"Good Heavens, no!" Sandra shuddered. "But I'm afraid I know who will have to. I'm sorry, Alex, but it'll have to be you four--Psychology and Sociology."
Six heads nodded and there was a flashing interchange of thought among the four. Temple licked her lips and nodded, and Kincaid spoke.
"Yes, I'm afraid it's our baby. By leaning very heavily on Temple, we can do it. Remember, Jarve, what you said about the irresistible force? We'll need it."
"As I said once before, Mrs. Hilton, I'm very glad you're along," Hilton said. "But just how sure are you that even you can stand up under the load?"
"Alone, I couldn't. But don't underestimate Mrs. Carroll and the Messrs. Together, and with such a goal, I'm sure we can."
Thus, after four-fifths of his own group and forty-one Navy men had been converted, Hilton called an evening meeting of all the converts. Larry, Tuly and Javvy were the only Omans present.
"You all knew, of course, that we were going to move to Fuel Bin sometime," Hilton began. "I can tell you now that we who are here are all there are going to be of us. We are all leaving for Fuel Bin immediately after this meeting. Everything of any importance, including all of your personal effects, has already been moved. All Omans except these three, and all Oman ships except the Orion, have already gone."
He paused to let the news sink in.
Thoughts flew everywhere. The irrepressible Stella Wing--now Mrs. Osbert F. Harkins--was the first to give tongue. "What a wonderful job! Why, everybody's here that I really like at all!"
That sentiment was, of course, unanimous. It could not have been otherwise. Betty, the ex-Ames, called out: "How did you get their female Omans away from Cecil Calthorpe and the rest of that chasing, booze-fighting bunch without them blowing the whole show?"
"Some suasion was necessary," Hilton admitted, with a grin. "Everyone who isn't here is time-locked into the Perseus. Release time eight hours tomorrow."
"And they'll wake up tomorrow morning with no Omans?" Bernadine tossed back her silvery mane and laughed. "Nor anything else except the Perseus? In a way, I'm sorry, but ... maybe I've got too much stinker blood in me, but I'm very glad none of them are here. But I'd like to ask, Jarvis--or rather, I suppose you have already set up a new Advisory Board?"
"We have, yes." Hilton read off twelve names.
"Oh, nice. I don't know of any people I'd rather have on it. But what I want to gripe about is calling our new home world such a horrible name as 'Fuel Bin,' as though it were a wood-box or a coal-scuttle or something. And just think of the complexes it would set up in those super-children we're going to have so many of."
"What would you suggest?" Hilton asked.
"'Ardvor', of course," Hermione said, before her sister could answer. "We've had 'Arth' and 'Ardu' and 'Ardry' and you--or somebody--started calling us 'Ardans' to distinguish us converts from the Terrans. So let's keep up the same line."
There was general laughter at that, but the name was approved.
About midnight the meeting ended and the Orion set out for Ardvor. It reached it and slanted sharply downward. The whole BuSci staff was in the lounge, watching the big tri-di.
"Hey! That isn't Omlu!" Stella exclaimed. "It isn't a city at all and it isn't even in the same place!"
"No, ma'am," Larry said. "Most of you wanted the ocean, but many wanted a river or the mountains. Therefore we razed Omlu and built your new city, Ardane, at a place where the ocean, two rivers, and a range of mountains meet. Strictly speaking, it is not a city, but a place of pleasant and rewardful living."
The space-ship was coming in, low and fast, from the south. To the left, the west, there stretched the limitless expanse of ocean. To the right, mile after mile, were rough, rugged, jagged, partially-timbered mountains, mass piled upon mass. Immediately below the speeding vessel was a wide, white-sand beach all of ten miles long.
Slowing rapidly now, the Orion flew along due north.
"Look! Look! A natatorium!" Beverly shrieked. "I know I wanted a nice big place to swim in, besides my backyard pool and the ocean, but I didn't tell anybody to build that--I swear I didn't!"
"You didn't have to, pet." Poynter put his arm around her curvaceous waist and squeezed. "They knew. And I did a little thinking along that line myself. There's our house, on top of the cliff over the natatorium--you can almost dive into it off the patio."
Immediately north of the natatorium a tremendous river--named at first sight the "Whitewater"--rushed through its gorge into the ocean; a river and gorge strangely reminiscent of the Colorado and its Grand Canyon. On the south bank of that river, at its very mouth--looking straight up that tremendous canyon; on a rocky promontory commanding ocean and beach and mountains--there was a house. At the sight of it Temple hugged Hilton's arm in ecstasy.
"Yes, that's ours," he assured her. "Just about everything either of us has ever wanted." The clamor was now so great--everyone was recognizing his-and-her house and was exclaiming about it--that both Temple and Hilton fell silent and simply watched the scenery unroll.
Across the turbulent Whitewater and a mile farther north, the mountains ended as abruptly as though they had been cut off with a cleaver and an apparently limitless expanse of treeless, grassy prairie began. And through that prairie, meandering sluggishly to the ocean from the northeast, came the wide, deep River Placid.
The Orion halted. It began to descend vertically, and only then did Hilton see the spaceport. It was so vast, and there were so many spaceships on it, that from any great distance it was actually invisible! Each six-acre bit of the whole immense expanse of level prairie between the Placid and the mountains held an Oman superdreadnought!
The staff paired off and headed for the airlocks. Hilton said: "Temple, have you any reservations at all, however slight, as to having Dark Lady as a permanent fixture in your home?"
"Why, of course not--I like her as much as you do. And besides--" she giggled like a schoolgirl--"even if she is a lot more beautiful than I am--I've got a few things she never will have ... but there's something else. I got just a flash of it before you blocked. Spill it, please."
"You'll see in a minute." And she did.
Larry, Dark Lady and Temple's Oman maid Moty were standing beside the Hilton's car--and so was another Oman, like none ever before seen. Six feet four; shoulders that would just barely go through a door; muscled like Atlas and Hercules combined; skin a gleaming, satiny bronze; hair a rippling mass of lambent flame. Temple came to a full stop and caught her breath.
"The Prince," she breathed, in awe. "Da Lormi's Prince of Thebes. The ultimate bronze of all the ages. You did this, Jarve. How did you ever dig him up out of my schoolgirl crushes?"
All six got into the car, which was equally at home on land or water or in the air. In less than a minute they were at Hilton House.
The house itself was circular. Its living-room was an immense annulus of glass from which, by merely moving along its circular length, any desired view could be had. The pair walked around it once. Then she took him by the arm and steered him firmly toward one of the bedrooms in the center.
"This house is just too much to take in all at once," she declared. "Besides, let's put on our swimsuits and get over to the Nat."
In the room, she closed the door firmly in the faces of the Omans and grinned. "Maybe, sometime, I'll get used to having somebody besides you in my bedroom, but I haven't, yet.... Oh, do you itch, too?"
Hilton had peeled to the waist and was scratching vigorously all around his waistline, under his belt. "Like the very devil," he admitted, and stared at her. For she, three-quarters stripped, was scratching, too!
"It started the minute we left the Orion," he said, thoughtfully. "I see. These new skins of ours like hard radiation, but don't like to be smothered while they're enjoying it. By about tomorrow, we'll be a nudist colony, I think."
"I could stand it, I suppose. What makes you think so?"
"Just what I know about radiation. Frank would be the one to ask. My hunch is, though, that we're going to be nudists whether we want to or not. Let's go."
They went in a two-seater, leaving the Omans at home. Three-quarters of the staff were lolling on the sand or were seated on benches beside the immense pool. As they watched, Beverly ran out along the line of springboards; testing each one and selecting the stiffest. She then climbed up to the top platform--a good twelve feet above the board--and plummeted down upon the board's heavily padded take-off. Legs and back bending stubbornly to take the strain, she and the board reached low-point together, and, still in sync with it, she put every muscle she had into the effort to hurl herself upward.
She had intended to go up thirty feet. But she had no idea whatever as to her present strength, or of what that Oman board, in perfect synchronization with that tremendous strength, would do. Thus, instead of thirty feet, she went up very nearly two hundred; which of course spoiled completely her proposed graceful two-and-a-half.
In midair she struggled madly to get into some acceptable position. Failing, she curled up into a tight ball just before she struck water.
What a splash!
"It won't hurt her--you couldn't hurt her with a club!" Hilton snapped. He seized Temple's hand as everyone else rushed to the pool's edge. "Look--Bernadine--that's what I was thinking about."
Temple stopped and looked. The platinum-haired twins had been basking on the sand, and wherever sand had touched fabric, fabric had disappeared.
Their suits had of course approached the minimum to start with. Now Bernadine wore only a wisp of nylon perched precariously on one breast and part of a ribbon that had once been a belt. Discovering the catastrophe, she shrieked once and leaped into the pool any-which-way, covering her breasts with her hands and hiding in water up to her neck.
Meanwhile, the involuntarily high diver had come to the surface, laughing apologetically. Surprised by the hair dangling down over her eyes, she felt for her cap. It was gone. So was her suit. Naked as a fish. She swam a couple of easy strokes, then stopped.
"Frank! Oh, Frank!" she called.
"Over here, Bev." Her husband did not quite know whether to laugh or not.
"Is it the radiation or the water? Or both?"
"Radiation, I think. These new skins of ours don't want to be covered up. But it probably makes the water a pretty good imitation of a universal solvent."
"Good-by, clothes!" Beverly rolled over onto her back, fanned water carefully with her hands, and gazed approvingly at herself. "I don't itch any more, anyway, so I'm very much in favor of it."
Thus the Ardans came to their new home world and to a life that was to be more comfortable by far and happier by far than any of them had known on Earth. There were many other surprises that day, of course; of which only two will be mentioned here. When they finally left the pool, at about seventeen hours G.M.T., everybody was ravenously hungry.
 Greenwich Mean Time. Ardvor was, always and everywhere, full daylight. Terran time and calendar were adapted as a matter of course.
"But why should we be?" Stella demanded. "I've been eating everything in sight, just for fun. But now I'm actually hungry enough to eat a horse and wagon and chase the driver!"
"Swimming makes everybody hungry," Beverly said, "and I'm awfully glad that hasn't changed. Why, I wouldn't feel human if I didn't!"
Hilton and Temple went home, and had a long-drawn-out and very wonderful supper. Prince waited on Temple, Dark Lady on Hilton; Larry and Moty ran the synthesizers in the kitchen. All four Omans radiated happiness.
Another surprise came when they went to bed. For the bed was a raised platform of something that looked like concrete and, except for an uncanny property of molding itself somewhat to the contours of their bodies, was almost as hard as rock. Nevertheless, it was the most comfortable bed either of them had ever had. When they were ready to go to sleep, Temple said: "Drat it, those Omans still want to come in and sleep with us. In the room, I mean. And they suffer so. They're simply radiating silent suffering and oh-so-submissive reproach. Shall we let 'em come in?"
"That's strictly up to you, sweetheart. It always has been."
"I know. I thought they'd quit it sometime, but I guess they never will. I still want an illusion of privacy at times, even though they know all about everything that goes on. But we might let 'em in now, just while we sleep, and throw 'em out again as soon as we wake up in the morning?"
"You're the boss." Without additional invitation the four Omans came in and arranged themselves neatly on the floor, on all four sides of the bed. Temple had barely time to cuddle up against Hilton, and he to put his arm closely around her, before they both dropped into profound and dreamless sleep.
At eight hours next morning all the specialists met at the new Hall of Records.
This building, an exact duplicate of the old one, was located on a mesa in the foothills southwest of the natatorium, in a luxuriant grove at sight of which Karns stopped and began to laugh.
"I thought I'd seen everything," he remarked. "But yellow pine, spruce, tamarack, apples, oaks, palms, oranges, cedars, joshua trees and cactus--just to name a few--all growing on the same quarter-section of land?"
"Just everything anybody wants, is all," Hilton said. "But are they really growing? Or just straight synthetics? Lane--Kathy--this is your dish."
"Not so fast, Jarve; give us a chance, please!" Kathryn, now Mrs. Lane Saunders, pleaded. She shook her spectacular head. "We don't see how any stable indigenous life can have developed at all, unless ..."
"Unless what? Natural shielding?" Hilton asked, and Kathy eyed her husband.
"Right," Saunders said. "The earliest life-forms must have developed a shield before they could evolve and stabilize. Hence, whatever it is that is in our skins was not a triumph of Masters' science. They took it from Nature."
"Oh? Oh!" These were two of Sandra's most expressive monosyllables, followed by a third. "Oh. Could be, at that. But how could ... no, cancel that."
"You'd better cancel it, Sandy. Give us a couple of months, and maybe we can answer a few elementary questions."
Now inside the Hall, all the teams, from Astronomy to Zoology, went efficiently to work. Everyone now knew what to look for, how to find it, and how to study it.