He grinned wearily. "Wait till next time."
"Lee, where are we?" she said abruptly. Their eyes were becoming adjusted to the darkness, and they could see rising around them a complexity of machine relays, connectives, and pieces which did not seem to make sense.
Rynason looked more closely at the complex. It was definitely Outsiders work, but what was it? Part of the Altar of Kor, obviously, but the Outsiders telecommunicators had never used such extensive machinery. Yet it did look familiar. He tried to remember the different types of Outsiders machinery which had been found and partially reconstructed by the advancing Earthmen in the centuries past. There weren't many....
Then, suddenly, he had it, and it was so simple that he was surprised he hadn't thought of it before.
"This is Kor," he said. "It's not a communicator-it's a computer. An Outsiders computer."
Mara's frown deepened; she looked around them in the dimness, her eyes taking in the complexity and extent of the circuitry. It faded into the darkness behind them; lines ran into the walls and floor.
"They built their computers in the grand manner, didn't they?" she said softly.
"I've seen fragments of them before," Rynason said. "This is a big one-no telling how much area the total complex takes up. One thing's certain, though: it's no ordinary computer of theirs. Not for plain math-work, nor even for specialized computations, like the one on Rigel II-that was apparently used for astrogation, but it wasn't half the size of this. And navigation between stars, even with the kind of drive they must have had, is no simple problem."
"The Hirlaji think it's a god," she said.
"That raised another problem," Rynason mused. "The Outsiders built it, and must have left it here when they pulled back to wherever they were going ... if they ever left the planet. But the Hirlaji use it, and they communicate with it verbally. The Hirlaji are apparently responsible for keeping it protected since then. But why should the Hirlaji be able to use it?"
"Unless they're the Outsiders after all?" said Mara.
Rynason frowned. "No, I'm still not convinced of that. The clue seems to be that they communicate verbally with it-they must have been using it since before they developed telepathy."
"Couldn't there have been direct contact between the Hirlaji and the Outsiders back when the Hirlaji were just evolving out of the beast stage?"
"There must have been," said Rynason. "The Temple rituals are conducted in an even older form of their language than most remembered-a proto-language that was kept alive only by the priest caste, because the machine had been set to respond to that language."
"But aren't primitive languages usually composed of simple, basic words and concepts? How well could they communicate in such a language?"
"Not very well," Rynason said. "Which would explain why the machine seemed to make mistakes-clumsiness of language. So the Outsiders, maybe, left the machine when they pulled out, but they set it to respond to the Hirlaji language because our horsefaced friends were beginning to build a civilization of their own and the Outsiders thought they'd leave them some guidance...." He stopped for a moment, remembering that first linkage with Horng, and Tebron's memories. "The Hirlaji called them the Old Ones," he said.
"And that order to Tebron ... about the other race that they would meet someday. That was based on Outsiders observations."
"I wonder when the Outsiders were on Earth," Rynason said. "Sometime after we'd started our own rise, certainly. Maybe in ancient Mesopotamia, or India. Or later, during the Renaissance?"
"The time doesn't matter, does it?" Mara said. "They touched down on Earth, took note of us, and left. Somehow they thought we were going to develop more rapidly than we did."
"Probably before the Dark Ages," Rynason said. "Maybe they didn't see that thousand-year setback coming...." He stopped, and stood up in the low passageway among the ancient circuitry. "So here we are, second-guessing the Outsiders. And outside, their proteges have disintegrators probably left by the Outsiders, and they're just waiting for us to try to get out."
"Our new-found knowledge isn't doing us much good, is it?" she said.
He shook his head slowly. "When I was still on the secondary senseteach units I met Rene Malhomme for the first time. My father worked the spacers, so I don't even remember what planet this was on. But I remember the night I first saw Rene-he was speaking from the top of a blue-lumber pile, shouting about the corporations that were moving in. He was getting all worked up about something, and several people in the crowd were shouting back at him; I stopped to watch. All of a sudden six or seven men moved in from somewhere and dragged him down from where he was standing. There was a fight-people were thrown all around. I hid till it was over.
"When the crowd finally cleared, there was Rene. His clothes were torn, but he wasn't hurt. Every one of the men who had attacked him had to be carried away; I think one of them was dead. Rene stood there laughing; then he saw me hidden in the darkness and he took me home. He told me that when he'd been younger he'd worked his way all the way in to Earth, and studied some of the cultures there. He'd learned karate, which was an ancient Japanese way of fighting."
Rynason took a deep breath. "He said everything a person learns will be useful someday. And I believed him."
"A nice parable," Mara said. "We could use him against the Hirlaji, though."
Rynason was silent, thinking. If they could only catch the aliens off guard ... but of course they couldn't, now. He let his eyes wander aimlessly along the circuitry surrounding them. Tell me, old Kor, what do we do now?
After a moment his eyes narrowed; he reached up and traced a connection with his fingers, back to the front, toward the altar. It led directly to ... the speaker!
The voice of Kor.
And if he could interrupt that connection, put his own voice through the speaker, out through the altar....
"Mara, we're going out. I've found my own brand of karate for our friends out there."
He helped her to her feet. She moved somewhat painfully, her broken left arm hanging stiffly at her side, but she made no protest.
"We've got to be fast," he said. "I don't know how well this will work-it depends on how much they trust their clay-footed god today." Quickly, he outlined his plan. Mara listened silently and nodded.
Then he set to work. It was largely guesswork, following those intricate alien connections, but Rynason had seen this part of such machines before. He found the penultimate point at which the impulses from the brain were translated into sound and broadcast through the speaker. He disconnected this, his torn fingers working awkwardly on the delicate linkages.
Mara was just inside the narrow passage behind the altar. She nodded quickly.
Rynason twisted himself so that he could speak directly into the input of the speaker. He raised his voice to approximate the thin, high sounds of the Hirlaji language.
Remain motionless. Remain motionless. Remain motionless.
The command burst out upon the altar room of the Temple, shattering the silence. The Hirlaji turned in surprise to the altar-and stood still.
Remain motionless. Remain motionless.
It was the phrase he had heard the machine use so often to Tebron, king priest leader of all Hirlaj. It had meant something else then, but the proto-language of the Hirlaji had no precise meanings; given by itself, it seemed to mean precisely what it said.
"All right, let's go out!" Rynason said, and the two of them broke from behind the altar. The Hirlaji stood completely still; several of those that Rynason had dropped with his stunner had recovered consciousness, but they made no move either. Rynason and the girl ran right through the quiet aliens; only a few of them turned shadowed eyes to look at them as they passed. They made the outside colonnade in safety, and paused there.
"They may see through this in a minute," Rynason said. "Don't wait for me-get out of the city!"
"You're not coming?"
"I won't be too far behind. Get going!"
She hesitated only a moment, then hurried down the broad levels of the Temple steps. Rynason watched her to the bottom, then turned and re-entered the altar room.
Rynason went quickly among them, taking their weapons. Most of them made no effort to stop him, but a few tightened their grips on the disintegrators and he had to pry those thick fingers from the weapons, cursing to himself. How long would they wait?
There were fourteen of the disintegrators. They were large and heavy; he couldn't hold them all at once. He dumped five of them outside the altar room and returned to disarm the rest of the aliens. Sweat formed beads on his forehead, but he moved without hesitation.
Another of the Hirlaji tightened his grip when Rynason began to take the weapon from him. He looked up, and saw the quiet eyes of Horng resting on him. The leathery grey wrinkles which surrounded those eyes quivered slightly, but otherwise he made no movement. Rynason dropped his gaze from that contact and wrested the weapon away.
As he started to move on to the next, Horng silently dipped his massive head to one side. Rynason felt a chill go down his back.
In a few more minutes he had disarmed them all. He set the last three disintegrators on the stone floor of the colonnade-and a movement in the distance caught his eye. It was on the south wall of the city; two men stood for a moment silhouetted against the Flat, then disappeared into the shadows. In a moment, another man appeared, and he too dropped inside the wall.
So Manning had already sent the men in. The mob was unleashed.
Rynason hesitated for a moment, then turned and went quickly back into the altar room. Mara's radio was there; he lifted it by its strap and took it with him out to the colonnade.
He could see the Earthmen moving through the streets now, darting from wall to wall in the gathering darkness of evening. In a short time it would be full night-and Rynason knew that these men would like nothing better than to attack in the dark.
He warmed the radio and opened the transmitter.
"Manning, call off your dogs. I've disarmed the Hirlaji."
The radio spat static at him, and for several seconds he thought his signal hadn't even been picked up. But at last there was a reply: "Then get out of the Temple. It's too late to stop this."
"I said get clear. You've done all you can there."
"Damn it, there's no need for any fighting!"
Manning's voice sounded cold even in the faint reception of the hand-radio. "That's for me to decide. I'm running this show, remember."
"You're running a massacre!" Rynason shouted.
"Call it what you like. Mara says they weren't so docile when you broke in."
Rynason's mind raced; he had to stall for time. If he could get Manning to stop those men until they cooled down....
"Manning, there's no need for this! Didn't she tell you that the altar is just a computer? These people haven't had anything to do with the Outsiders since before they can remember!"
The radio carried the faint sound of Manning's chuckle. "So now they're people to you, Lee? Or are you one of them now?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Lee, my boy, you're sounding like an old horsefaced nursemaid. You linked minds with them, and you say you were practically a Hirlaji yourself when you went into that linkage. Well, I'm not so sure you ever came out of it. You're still one of them!"
"Is that the only reason you can think of that I might have for wanting to prevent a massacre?" Rynason said icily.
"If they tried to revolt once, they'll try it again," Manning said. "Well crush them now."
"You think that will impress the Council? Slaughtering the only intelligent race we've found?"
"I'm not playing to the Council!" Manning snapped. "I've got these men following me, and I'll listen to what they want!"
Rynason stared at the microphone for a moment. "Are you sure you aren't afraid of your own mob?" he said.
"We're coming in, Lee. Get out of there or we'll cut you down too."
"I'm switching off."
"Not quite yet. There's one more thing, and you'd better hear this one!"
"Make it fast," Manning said. His voice sounded uninterested.
"If any of your boys try to come in, I'll stop them myself. I've got the disintegrators, and I'll use them."
There was silence from the radio, save for the static. It lasted for long seconds. Then: "It's your funeral." There was a faint click as Manning switched off.
Rynason stared angrily at the radioset for a moment, then left it lying at the top of the steps and went back inside. The Hirlaji stood motionlessly in dimness; it took awhile for Rynason's eyes to adjust to it. He found the interpreter that Mara had left and quickly hooked it up to Horng. The alien's eyes, moving heavily in their sockets, watched him as he connected the wires.
When everything was ready Rynason lifted the interpreter's mike. "The Earthmen are going to attack you," he said. "I want to help you fight them off."
There was no reaction from the alien; only those quiet eyes resting on him like the shadows of the entire past.
"Can you still believe that Kor is a god? That's only a machine-I spoke through it myself, minutes ago! Don't you realize that?"
After a moment Horng's eyes slowly closed and opened in acknowledgement. KOR WAS GOD KNOWLEDGE. THE OLD ONES DIED BEFORE TIME, AND PASSED INTO KOR. NOW KOR IS DEAD.
"And all of you will be dead too!" Rynason said.
The huge alien sat unmoving. His eyes turned away from Rynason.
"You've got to fight them!" Rynason said.
But he could see that it was useless. Horng had made no reply, but Rynason knew what was in his thoughts now.
THERE IS NO PURPOSE.
Wearily, Rynason switched off the interpreter, leaving the wires still connected to the alien. He walked through the faintly echoing, dust-filled temple and stepped out onto the colonnade around it. It was almost dark now; the deep blue of the Hirlaj sky had turned almost black and the pinpoint lights of the stars broke through. The wind was rising from the Flat; it caught his hair and whipped it roughly around his head. He looked up at the emerging stars, remembering the day when Horng had suddenly, inexplicably stood and walked to the base of a broken staircase. He had looked up those stairs, past where they had broken and fallen, past the shattered roof, to the sky. The Hirlaji had never reached the stars, but they might have. It had taken a god, or a jumbled legacy from an older, greater race, to forestall them. And now all they had was the dust and the wind.
Rynason could hear the rising moan of that wind gathering itself around him, building to a wailing planet-dirge among the columns of the Temple. And inside, the Hirlaji were dying. The knives and bludgeons of the Earth mob outside would only complete the job; the Hirlaji were too tired to live. They dreamed dimly under the shadowed foreheads ... dreamed of the past. And sometimes, perhaps, of the stars.
Behind the altar, the huge and intricate mass of alien circuits glowed and clicked and pulsated ... slowly; seemingly at random, but steadily. The brain must be self-perpetuating to have lasted this long ... feeding its energy cells from some power-source Rynason could only guess at, and repairing its time-worn linkages when necessary. In its memory banks was stored the science of the race which had preceded even the ancient Hirlaji. The Outsiders had sprung up when this planet was young, had fought their way to the stars and galaxies, and eventually, when aeons of time pressed down, had pulled in their outposts and fallen back to this world. And they had died here, on this world, falling to dust which was ground under by the grey race which had followed them to dominance. "Before time," Horng had said; that must have meant before the Hirlaji had developed telepathy, before the period covered by the race-memory.