The answer was odd. "This is Acting President Kliu. What are your intentions?"
Tulan realized he was holding his breath. He let it out and looked around the silent command room, meeting the intent eyes of his staff. He had an unreal feeling; this couldn't be the climax, the consummation--this simple exchange over the radio. He lifted the microphone slowly. "This is Admiral Tulan, commanding the Fleets of Sennech. I demand your immediate and unconditional surrender."
There was something in the reply that might have been dry amusement: "Oh; by all means; but I hope you're not going to insist upon an elaborate ceremony. Right now we don't give a damn about the war; we're worried about the race."
There was more silence, and Tulan turned, uncertainly, looking at the bare spot where Jezef ought to be standing. He buzzed for Communications. "Connect me with Captain Rhu. Rhu; I'm advancing you in rank and leaving you in charge here. I'm going down to accept the surrender and find out what this man's talking about."
Kliu was gaunt and middle-aged, wearing, to Tulan's surprise, the gray of Coar's First Level of Science. He was neither abject nor hostile, agreeing impatiently to turn over the secret of Coar's weapon and to assist with a token occupation of the planet. Again Tulan had the unreal, let-down feeling, and judging by Kliu's amused expression, it showed.
Tulan sent couriers to get things started, then turned back to the scientist. "So you have had a change of government. What did you mean, about the race?"
Kliu watched him for a moment. "How much do you know about the weapon?"
"Very little. That it projects matter through hyperspace and materializes it where you want it."
"Not exactly; the materialization is spontaneous. Mass somehow distorts hyperspace, and when the projected matter has penetrated a certain distance into such distortion, it pops back into normal space. The penetration depends mainly upon a sort of internal energy in the missile; you might think of it more as a voltage than as velocity. You've made it very hard for us to get reports, but I understand we successfully placed stuff in Sennech's crust."
"Yes; causing volcanoes. Our scientists speculated that any kind of matter would do it."
"That's right. Actually, we were projecting weighed chunks of rock. When one bit of matter, even a single atom, finds itself materializing where another already is, unnatural elements may be formed, most of them unstable. That's what blew holes in your crust and let the magma out."
Tulan considered the military implications of the weapon for a few moments, then pulled his mind back. "I see; but what about the radiation? It wasn't more than a trace when I left."
Kliu looked away for a while before answering. "When we learned you'd defied your government, our own military got out of hand. They had a couple of days before the sun cut us off completely, and they began throwing stuff as soon as it could be dug and hauled to the projectors. They used high energies to get it past the sun. As we realize now, a lot of it hit the planet deeper than at first, below the crust. Under such pressure a different set of fissionables was formed. Some of them burst out and poisoned the atmosphere, but most of them are still there." He leaned forward and eyed Tulan hard. "We've got to get an expedition out there to study things. Will you help?"
There was another of the palpable silences, and when he spoke Tulan's voice sounded unnatural. "I--yes; we'll help. Whatever you want. Is ... Sennech finished?"
Kliu smiled tightly. "Sennech, for sure; and she may take the rest of us with her. Nobody conceived what this might come to. A lot of those deep materializations produced pockets of dense fissionables, and they're converging toward the center under their own weight. When they get to a certain point, we'll have a fine monument to Man's ingenuity. A planet-size nova." He stood up. "I'll start organizing."
Tulan existed someway through the preparations, and when they were in space again the solid familiarity of his ship helped. His staff was carrying on wonderfully; shielding him, he suspected, from considerable hostility. Discipline held up.
A technology that had spanned five orbits and probed beyond was at bay, and the expedition was tremendous. Hardly an art or science was unrepresented. If need be, whole ships could be built in space.
A beam from Teyr as they passed told of refugees by the hundreds of thousands, dumped in the wilderness with a few ships still trickling in. Tulan would have traded everything he could command to hear a word of Jezef or the family, but Teyr wasn't concerned with individuals and he didn't ask.
Sennech was dull gray in the telescopes, showing, as they neared, flecks of fire. They went in fast, using her gravity to help them curve into a forced orbit as they strained to decelerate. Thermocouples gave readings close to the boiling point of water; that, probably, was the temperature of the lower air.
Roboscouts went down first, then, as conditions were ascertained, manned ships. Tulan took the flagship down once. Her coolers labored and her searchlights were swallowed in murk within a few feet. Sounds carried through the hull; the howl of great winds and the thumps of explosions. Once a geyser of glowing lava spattered the ship.
Within hours the picture began to form. The surface was a boiling sea broken only by transient mountain peaks which tumbled down in quakes or were washed away by the incessant hot rain. It would have been hard to find a single trace of the civilization that had flourished scant hours before.
The slower job was learning, by countless readings and painful deduction, what was going on inside the planet. Tulan occupied himself with organizational tasks and clung to what dignity he could. After an eternity Kliu had time for him.
"She'll blow, all right," the scientist said, sinking tiredly into a seat. "Within half a year. Her year."
"Twenty thousand hours," Tulan said automatically. "How about the other planets?"
"Coar has one chance in a hundred, Teyr possibly one in ten."
Tulan had to keep talking. "The outer satellites. We can do a lot in that time."
Kliu shrugged. "A few thousand people, and who knows what will happen to them afterward? It's going to be a long time before the System's inhabitable again, if ever."
"Ships ... people can live a long time in ships."
"Not that long."
"There must be something! The power we've got, and this hyperspace thing."
Kliu shook his head. "I can guess what you're thinking; we've been all over it. There's no way to get to the stars, and no way to move a planet out of its orbit. Don't think we haven't been pounding our skulls, but the figures are hopeless."
Tulan stared at the ulcerous image on the screen, built up by infra-red probing through the opaque atmosphere. "She looks ready to fall apart right now. How much of her could you blast off?"
Kliu smiled wearily and without humor. "We've worked that idea to the bone, too. If you could build a big enough projector, and mount it on an infinitely solid base, you could push something deep enough and accurately enough to throw off stuff at escape velocity, but it's a matter of energy and we can't handle one percent of what we'd need. Even if you could generate it fast enough, your conduits would melt under the current." He got up and walked a few steps, then sat down again. "Ironic, isn't it? All we can do is destroy ourselves."
Tulan's mind couldn't accept it; he was used to thinking that any amount of energy could be handled some way. "There must be something," he repeated, feeling foolish as he said it.
He went over the figures he knew so well; the acceleration and the total energy necessary to drive a ship to the nearest stars. Even a ship's Pulsors, pouring energy out steadily, were pitiful compared to that job. Schoolboys knew the figures; mankind had dreamed for generations ...
He sat up abruptly. "This hyperspace; didn't you tell me there were such things as velocity and momentum in it?"
Kliu's eyes focussed. "Yes; why?"
"And that a projector could be built to put an entire ship into hyperspace?"
Kliu stared at him for a second. "Kinetic energy! Built up gradually!" He jumped to his feet. "Come on! Let's get to the computers!"
Several hundred hours later Tulan lay watching the pinpoint on his viewscreen that represented Sennech. He'd been building up speed for a long time; he ached from the steady double-gravity. The ship, vastly beefed up, was moving at a good fraction of the speed of light. It wouldn't be much longer.
The cargo of carefully chosen matter, shifting into hyperspace at the right instant, would be taken deep into Sennech by the momentum he'd accumulated in normal space. If the calculations were right, the resulting blast would knock a chunk completely out of the planet. Each of the thousands of other ships tied to him by robot controls would take its own bite at the right time and place. Providing the plan worked.
The Solar System would have a few hot moments, and would be full of junk for a long time, but the threatening fissionables inside Sennech would be hurled far apart, to dribble away their potence gradually. Kliu admitted no one could calculate for sure even how much, if any, of Sennech would remain as a planet, but Teyr, at least, with her thick atmosphere, should withstand the rain of debris.
He wondered about his family, and Jezef. Kliu had tried to get word, but the tragically few refugees were scattered.
He smiled, recalling how severely he'd had to order his staff to abandon him. He was proud to remember that much of the fleet would have come along, if he'd let them; but live men were going to be at more of a premium on Teyr than heroic atoms drifting in space. Machines could handle this assault. He himself had not had to touch a single control.
The indicators began to flash, and, sweating with the effort, he hauled himself erect to attention. It was good to be winding up here in his own command room, where he'd lived his moments of triumph. Still, as the red light winked on, he couldn't help thinking how very quiet and lonely it was without Jezef and the staff.
By Katherine MacLean
It is a tough assignment for a child to know where a daydream ends and impossibility begins!
Ronny was playing by himself, which meant he was two tribes of Indians having a war.
"Bang," he muttered, firing an imaginary rifle. He decided that it was a time in history before the white people had sold the Indians any guns, and changed the rifle into a bow. "Wizzthunk," he substituted, mimicking from an Indian film on TV the graphic sound of an arrow striking flesh.
"Oof." He folded down onto the grass, moaning, "Uhhhooh ..." and relaxing into defeat and death.
"Want some chocolate milk, Ronny?" asked his mother's voice from the kitchen.
"No, thanks," he called back, climbing to his feet to be another man. "Wizzthunk, wizzthunk," he added to the flights of arrows as the best archer in the tribe. "Last arrow. Wizzzz," he said, missing one enemy for realism. He addressed another battling brave. "Who has more arrows? They are coming too close. No time--I'll have to use my knife." He drew the imaginary knife, ducking an arrow as it shot close.
Then he was the tribal chief standing somewhere else, and he saw that the warriors left alive were outnumbered.
"We must retreat. We cannot leave our tribe without warriors to protect the women."
Ronny decided that the chief was heroically wounded, his voice wavering from weakness. He had been propping himself against a tree to appear unharmed, but now he moved so that his braves could see he was pinned to the trunk by an arrow and could not walk. They cried out.
He said, "Leave me and escape. But remember...." No words came, just the feeling of being what he was, a dying old eagle, a chief of warriors, speaking to young warriors who would need advice of seasoned humor and moderation to carry them through their young battles. He had to finish the sentence, tell them something wise.
Ronny tried harder, pulling the feeling around him like a cloak of resignation and pride, leaning indifferently against the tree where the arrow had pinned him, hearing dimly in anticipation the sound of his aged voice conquering weakness to speak wisely of what they needed to be told. They had many battles ahead of them, and the battles would be against odds, with so many dead already.
They must watch and wait, be flexible and tenacious, determined and persistent--but not too rash, subtle and indirect--not cowardly, and above all be patient with the triumph of the enemy and not maddened into suicidal direct attack.
His stomach hurt with the arrow wound, and his braves waited to hear his words. He had to sum a part of his life's experience in words. Ronny tried harder to build the scene realistically. Then suddenly it was real. He was the man.
He was an old man, guide and adviser in an oblique battle against great odds. He was dying of something and his stomach hurt with a knotted ache, like hunger, and he was thirsty. He had refused to let the young men make the sacrifice of trying to rescue him. He was hostage in the jail and dying, because he would not surrender to the enemy nor cease to fight them. He smiled and said, "Remember to live like other men, but--remember to remember."
And then he was saying things that could not be put into words, complex feelings that were ways of taking bad situations that made them easier to smile at, and then sentences that were not sentences, but single alphabet letters pushing each other with signs, with a feeling of being connected like two halves of a swing, one side moving up when the other moved down, or like swings or like cogs and pendulums inside a clock, only without the cogs, just with the push.
It wasn't adding or multiplication, and it used letters instead of numbers, but Ronny knew it was some kind of arithmetic.
And he wasn't Ronny.
He was an old man, teaching young men, and the old man did not know about Ronny. He thought sadly how little he would be able to convey to the young men, and he remembered more, trying to sum long memories and much living into a few direct thoughts. And Ronny was the old man and himself, both at once.
It was too intense. Part of Ronny wanted to escape and be alone, and that part withdrew and wanted to play something. Ronny sat in the grass and played with his toes like a much younger child.
Part of Ronny that was Doctor Revert Purcell sat on the edge of a prison cot, concentrating on secret unpublished equations of biogenic stability which he wanted to pass on to the responsible hands of young researchers in the concealed-research chain. He was using the way of thinking which they had told him was the telepathic sending of ideas to anyone ready to receive. It was odd that he himself could never tell when he was sending. Probably a matter of age. They had started trying to teach him when he was already too old for anything so different.
The water tap, four feet away, was dripping steadily, and it was hard for Purcell to concentrate, so intense was his thirst. He wondered if he could gather strength to walk that far. He was sitting up and that was good, but the struggle to raise himself that far had left him dizzy and trembling. If he tried to stand, the effort would surely interrupt his transmitting of equations and all the data he had not sent yet.
Would the man with the keys who looked in the door twice a day care whether Purcell died with dignity? He was the only audience, and his expression never changed when Purcell asked him to point out to the authorities that he was not being given anything to eat. It was funny to Purcell to find that he wanted the respect of any audience to his dying, even of a man without response who treated him as if he were already a corpse.
Perhaps the man would respond if Purcell said, "I have changed my mind. I will tell."
But if he said that, he would lose his own respect.
At the biochemists' and bio-physicists' convention, the reporter had asked him if any of his researches could be applied to warfare.
He had answered with no feeling of danger, knowing that what he did was common practice among research men, sure that it was an unchallengeable right.
"Some of them can, but those I keep to myself."
The reporter remained dead-pan. "For instance?"
"Well, I have to choose something that won't reveal how it's done now, but--ah--for example, a way of cheaply mass-producing specific antitoxins against any germ. It sounds harmless if you don't think about it, but actually it would make germ warfare the most deadly and inexpensive weapon yet developed, for it would make it possible to prevent the backspread of contagion into a country's own troops, without much expense. There would be hell to pay if anyone ever let that out." Then he had added, trying to get the reporter to understand enough to change his cynical unimpressed expression, "You understand, germs are cheap--there would be a new plague to spread every time some pipsqueak biologist mutated a new germ. It isn't even expensive or difficult, as atom bombs are."
The headline was: "Scientist Refuses to Give Secret of Weapon to Government."
Government men came and asked him if this was correct, and on having it confirmed pointed out that he had an obligation. The research foundations where he had worked were subsidized by government money. He had been deferred from military service during his early years of study and work so he could become a scientist, instead of having to fight or die on the battlefield.
"This might be so," he had said. "I am making an attempt to serve mankind by doing as much good and as little damage as possible. If you don't mind, I'd rather use my own judgment about what constitutes service."
The statement seemed too blunt the minute he had said it, and he recognized that it had implications that his judgment was superior to that of the government. It probably was the most antagonizing thing that could have been said, but he could see no other possible statement, for it represented precisely what he thought.
There were bigger headlines about that interview, and when he stepped outside his building for lunch the next day, several small gangs of patriots arrived with the proclaimed purpose of persuading him to tell. They fought each other for the privilege.
The police had rescued him after he had lost several front teeth and had one eye badly gouged. They then left him to the care of the prison doctor in protective custody. Two days later, after having been questioned several times on his attitude toward revealing the parts of his research he had kept secret, he was transferred to a place that looked like a military jail, and left alone. He was not told what his status was.
When someone came and asked him questions about his attitude, Purcell felt quite sure that what they were doing to him was illegal. He stated that he was going on a hunger strike until he was allowed to have visitors and see a lawyer.
The next time the dinner hour arrived, they gave him nothing to eat. There had been no food in the cell since, and that was probably two weeks ago. He was not sure just how long, for during part of the second week his memory had become garbled. He dimly remembered something that might have been delirium, which could have lasted more than one day.
Perhaps the military who wanted the antitoxins for germ warfare were waiting quietly for him either to talk or die.