"Right." Each looked as though the other were something unmentionable, left over from the last cleaning of the cesspool.
"So we just...." He leaned forward and outlined his plan.
Five days passed, peaceably. The natives gave the post a wide margin; not even Bila showed his face. Dillon began to think that maybe there was a chance things would go back to normal by themselves; and that Cassidy's plan would not be necessary.
The first four days were merely a continuation of the heat. The two Earthmen sat around the office, speaking only when it was absolutely unavoidable, and then only in snarls. Dillon sent out a rush request for air conditioning equipment, omitted, by some mistake, from the supplies.
The fifth day was as sunny as ever, but a stiff west wind sprang up, and the temperature was bearable. Cassidy smiled for the first time in days, and Dillon tried to be pleasant to him.
The sixth day broke with an unceasing torrent of rain, and the men returned to their surly grumbling.
"I hope the post isn't washed away," said Cassidy. "This storm begins to assume the aspects of the Biblical flood."
"We're safe enough," said Dillon. "Only...."
"Nothing. Just a hunch."
"Good or bad?"
"Bad. All bad. I've got a feeling we're due for a visit."
As if on cue, a knock came on the office door. Dillon opened it, and stood aside for the thoroughly bedraggled alien waiting outside. Bila was a sorry caricature of himself, with his down plastered to his body. Water dripped from him in a steady stream.
"Tarsa, starman," he said.
"Tarsa, Bila," replied Dillon. "I've been expecting you."
"Oh? Do you then have the powers of foreseeing the future, too?"
"No," he said, laughing. "It's just that it's been several days since you were last here. You were overdue for a visit."
Cassidy cleared his throat, and Dillon turned to him.
"This is Cassidy, Bila," he said. "He is my brother from the stars, and has come to visit me for a short while."
"Tarsa, Cassidy," the native said, gravely.
"Tarsa, Bila. I have been hoping to meet a member of your people."
"Oh? Has the fame of Kash spread far through the universe then?"
"Indeed, all of the civilized worlds talk of Kash and its gentle folk. It is a common ambition to be able to come here and see you in person. It is hoped that soon such travel will be most frequent, to the reward of both of our peoples."
"Indeed," said Bila. "I thank you in the name of my people. Will you yourself be here long?"
"Unfortunately, no. But when I go I will take fond memories as souvenirs."
"What is so important that it brought you out in this storm, Bila?" asked Dillon, breaking into the conversation. "Your troubles must be pressing."
"Indeed, they are. The Gods frown heavily on our village this day, and I have come once more to seek your intercession."
"What is the matter?" asked Cassidy.
"Alas, the trouble is in my own household. My wife lies at the door to death, and I fear she is fast slipping beyond."
"Haven't you had the priest in?" asked Dillon.
"Against your great and wondrous magic, Dillon, what is the priest? He is like a lost little boy, unable to tell North from East, and helpless in the face of death. Only you have the power to bring her back to the world of the living, as you did with Kylano and the others."
"I thank you for your trust," said Dillon. "I only hope it is not misplaced."
"You will come?"
"Of course. As soon as I dress for the storm, and get my bag." He turned to do so, then was struck by an afterthought. "By the way, do you mind if Cassidy comes with us? He would appreciate the chance to see your village."
"It will be an honor."
"Good. Get into your togs, Cass."
They were soon ready. Dillon grabbed up his bag, and he followed the native out into the storm. The rain blew straight toward them, and they bent forward, into the wind. The trip to the village was a fight all the way.
The village itself had become isolated; an island in the midst of a shallow lake. They waded across, to the hut that was Bila's. He held the hangings aside, and the Earthmen stepped into the stink of the alien crowd.
The omnipresent lamps were lit, and the smoke hung heavy. Both of the Earthmen were soon wishing they had protection for their smarting eyes.
The natives stopped their keening, and made room for the two men. They both moved forward, and bent over the woman. Dillon could see that she was as sick as the others, but whether or not it was the same disease, he could not say. For the eighth such time, he wished he had taken medical training as a youth, in deference to his family's wishes.
"It's hot in here," said Cassidy. Sweat beaded out on his forehead, and he wiped it away with a shaking hand.
"Small wonder," said Dillon, "with all these people here. They must up the temperature by twenty degrees." He opened his bag, and dug out a swab. After cleaning a spot on her arm, he dug out a needle, and filled it from an ampoule.
He whirled around. "Cass! What's the matter?"
"I ... don't know. Woozy. I feel woozy." He staggered, and fell forward, unconscious.
"Cass!" He bent over the man, and turned him over. Cassidy's face was white, and the sweat rolled off in rivulets. Dillon felt for a pulse, and then pulled out a stethoscope. Baring the other's chest, he listened for a beat.
"What is it, Dillon?" asked Bila. "What is wrong?"
"I don't know. He's sick." He looked worried.
"Sick?" The natives stared at each other, unbelieving.
"Yes, sick! Earthmen get sick too, you know!" He bared Cassidy's arm, and swabbed it clean. Then he pressed home the needle he had prepared for the woman.
"He will get well?" asked Bila.
"I don't know." Dillon felt for a pulse again. Disbelief washed over his face, and he sank back on his heels.
"What is it?"
"Dead?" Amazement took hold of them.
"Dead." The Earthman stood up, shaking his head. "But your wife, Bila. I must attend to her."
"No." The native stepped between the man and woman, and held out his arms.
"No? Why not?"
"The Gods have frowned on you, starman. It is obvious that they are dissatisfied with you, for they took your brother."
"But just because Cassidy died doesn't mean your wife will." He stared at the lesser being, dumfounded. "But she might, if not treated."
"We shall get the priest. We cannot run the risk of offending the Gods by permitting you to touch her."
The Earthman stared from face to face, but the same message was written on all. Hopelessness took the place of question, and he turned, and stumbled from the hut, and into the storm.
"Take the man to the post," said Bila. Several of the men hurried to do his bidding. They carried Cassidy out into the night, without looking back.
"Simple," said Cassidy. "Just like I said." He was hunched over his coffee, his ham-like hands soaking up the warmth from the cup.
"Simple," said Dillon. "I don't get it. Just why did they stop me from treating the woman?"
"We come from the stars, which the natives associate with the home of the Gods. We don't look quite like their legends say Gods should, but they figured we must be close to them, so they credited us with omnipotent powers. The priests claimed the cures they affected were done with the grace of the almighty, and the natives figured your cures came from the same source."
"I can't figure why they wouldn't even let me touch her," said Dillon. "It doesn't make sense."
"Actually, if you had given her the shot without me on the scene, and she had died, they probably would have accepted it as the will of the Gods. The priests fail once in awhile, and they just claim that the Gods have wanted that particular person to die. But when you were unable to save me, another man from the stars, and therefore presumably a close acquaintance of the Almighty, they could come to only one conclusion: The Gods withdrew their blessings from you. After that they wouldn't have let you touch a sick pig--if they have pigs here." He drained his cup.
A roar sounded down from the sky, building up into a wail that scraped the spines of the hearers. It rose to a crescendo, and then came a jarring shock that shuddered the whole building.
"My chauffeur," said Cassidy. "Hot-rodding, as usual." He rose, and picked up his baggage.
"You know, Dillon," he said, "You're a jerk. I'll tell my grandchildren about you. You're a perfect example of what not to do." He shook his head. "A horrible example."
By Raymond F. Jones
The scientists of Rykeman III were conceded by all the galactic members to be supreme in scientific achievement. Now the Rykes were going to share their vast knowledge with the scientists of Earth. To any question they would supply an answer--for a price. And Hockley, of all Earth's scientists, was the stubborn one who wanted to weigh the answers with the costs...
The Chief Officer of Scientific Services, Information and Coordination was a somewhat misleading and obscure title, and Dr. Sherman Hockley who held it was not the least of those whom the title misled and sometimes obscured.
He told himself he was not a mere library administrator, although he was proud of the information files built up under his direction. They contained the essence of accumulated knowledge found to date on Earth and the extraterrestrial planets so far contacted. He didn't feel justified in claiming to be strictly a research supervisor, either, in spite of duties as top level administrator for all divisions of the National Standardization and Research Laboratories and their subsidiaries in government, industry, and education. During his term of supervision the National Laboratories had made a tremendous growth, in contrast to a previous decline.
Most of all, however, he disclaimed being a figurehead, to which all the loose strings of a vast and rambling organization could be tied. But sometimes it was quite difficult to know whether or not that was his primary assignment after all. His unrelenting efforts to keep out of the category seemed to be encountering more and more determination to push him in that direction.
Of course, this was merely the way it looked in his more bitter moments--such as the present. Normally, he had a full awareness of the paramount importance of his position, and was determined to administer it on a scale in keeping with that importance. His decision could affect the research in the world's major laboratories. Not that he was a dictator by any means, although there were times when dictation was called for. As when a dozen projects needed money and the Congress allotted enough for one or two. Somebody had to make a choice-- His major difficulty was that active researchers knew it was the Congressional Science Committee which was ultimately responsible for their bread and butter. And the Senators regarded the scientists, who did the actual work in the laboratories, as the only ones who mattered. Both groups tended to look upon Hockley's office as a sort of fulcrum in their efforts to maintain balance with each other--or as referee in their sparring for adequate control over each other.
At that, however, things research-wise were better than ever before. More funds and facilities were available. Positions in pure research were more secure.
And then, once again, rumors about Rykeman III had begun to circulate wildly a few days ago.
Since Man's achievement of extra-galactic flight, stories of Rykeman III had tantalized the world and made research scientists sick with longing when they considered the possible truth of what they heard. The planet was rumored to be a world of super-science, whose people had an answer for every research problem a man could conceive. The very few Earthmen who had been to Rykeman III confirmed the rumors. It was a paradise, according to their stories. And among other peoples of the galaxies the inhabitants of Rykeman III were acknowledged supreme in scientific achievement. None challenged them. None even approached them in abilities.
What made the situation so frustrating to Earthmen was the additional report that the Rykes were quite altruistically sharing their science with a considerable number of other worlds on a fee basis. Earth scientists became intoxicated at the mere thought of studying at the feet of the exalted Rykes.
Except Dr. Sherman Hockley. From the first he had taken a dim view of the Ryke reports. Considering the accomplishments of the National Laboratories, he could see no reason for his colleagues' half-shameful disowning of all their own work in favor of a completely unknown culture several hundred million light years away. They were bound to contact more advanced cultures in their explorations--and could be thankful they were as altruistic as the Rykes!--but it was no reason to view themselves as idiot children hoping to be taught by the Rykes.
He had kept his opinions very much to himself in the past, since they were not popular with his associates, who generally regarded his attitudes as simply old-fashioned. But now, for the first time, a Ryke ship was honoring Earth with a visit. There was almost hysterical speculation over the possibility that Earth would be offered tutelage by the mighty Ryke scientists. Hockley wouldn't have said he was unalterably opposed to the idea. He would have described himself as extremely cautious. What he did oppose wholeheartedly was the enthusiasm that painted the Rykes with pure and shining light, without a shadowy hue in the whole picture.
Since his arrival, the Ryke envoy had been closeted with members of the Congressional Science Committee. Not a word had leaked as to his message. Shortly, however, the scientists were to be let in on the secret which might affect their careers for better or for worse during the rest of their lives, and for many generations to come. The meeting was going to be-- Hockley jumped to his feet as he glanced at the clock. He hurried through the door to the office of his secretary, Miss Cardston, who looked meaningfully at him as he passed.
"I'll bet there isn't a Senator on time," he said.
In the corridor he almost collided with Dr. Lester Showalter, who was his Administrative Assistant for Basic Research. "The Ryke character showed up fifteen minutes ago," said Showalter. "Everyone's waiting."
"We've got six minutes yet," said Hockley. He walked rapidly beside Showalter. "Is there any word on what the envoy's got that's so important?"
"No. I've got the feeling it's something pretty big. Wheeler and Johnson of Budget are there. Somebody said it might have something to do with the National Lab."
"I don't see the connection between that and a meeting with the Ryke," said Hockley.