Smith laughed at the two giants. "Well," he said.
Kard rushed. Smith dropped to hands and knees, pinched Kard's legs, held them perpendicular from the knees down. Kard's rushing weight carried his body on over. His knees popped. He screamed and fell moaning on the mat.
Sog-chafka was already rushing and he tried to duck as Smith lunged upward. The sound in the room was cracking and sharp. Sog-chafka, the instructor in Wortan fighting, stumbled back and his thick arms dug at the air and a laxness showed under the skin-tight black uniform. Blood ran on the mats as Sog-chafka refused to go down any further than his knees. His head hung loosely and he slowly raised his blood-shot eyes.
His massive face twisted. Kard of Shilon lay groaning a little, nursing dislocated knees.
Sog-chafka remained bent, powerful thighs driving as his toes dug into the mat in a pounding, hurtling running dive, head down, hands reaching. It was a ferocious thing to see. Smith could hear the gasps of anticipation as he waited.
Smith chopped down with cupped hands as he stepped aside. He brought his knee up into Sog-chafka's face and the instructor spun crazily across the mat, his body sinking lower and lower and finally sliding forward on his belly and lying there without moving at all. "Brute strength," Smith said, "is what you want on Wortan."
Smith glanced at Geria. "As you said earlier, Geria, there's something glorious about fighting tooth and nail. That's what you said."
Smith's foot was jerked from under him as Kard heaved. Smith's heavy body thudded on the mat. Before he could twist around, Kard's powerful arm was around his throat. Smith's wind was cut off. He felt his eyes bulge, and he knew that Kard would kill him. "I think, Earthsmith, it only right you should come down here with me!"
Smith put his right hand under Kard's right elbow. He clenched Kard's right wrist with the other hand. He pushed up with his right hand, heaved down with his left. Kard screamed a second time as his elbow popped.
He had to let go or his arm would break, so he let go. As Kard rolled free, Smith aimed for that vital point just to the left of the tip of Kard's chin. The back of Kard's head thudded on the mat, his eyes rolled up.
Smith got to his feet. He could hear Jorak of Gyra yelling. "He used psi! He used psi!"
Smith hated to acquire another headache, but he felt this had to be done. He concentrated on Jorak who started to sweat. Then Jorak came down to the mats and began to writhe and hop around in a weird and formless dance. Round and round the mats Jorak danced, his face working fitfully.
Sog-chafka was on one knee. His face was swelling and blood ran from his chin. He grinned and a broken tooth fell out. He looked up at the row of spectators. "He didn't use any psi on me. I guess you could say it wasn't necessary."
There was no applause from the spectators. There was a kind of bitter ferment working, a wonderment and a suspicion and a dull kind of shock that blanks out facing unpleasant truths.
Smith started past the first row, then stopped and looked down at the woman. He'd miss her, she had seen to that, and she had only been jesting. He'd think of how it might have been, at another time, in another way--but he'd forget in time. You forgot and you grew. Especially, when you had a job to do.
"There's one thing this school has," he said, "that Earth doesn't have ... and never did ... and probably never will. And that is Geria of Bortinot."
When he went out, she was staring after him with an odd expression he couldn't identify. And behind her, Jorak of Gyra danced round and round the mats.
The Registrar's lights blinked with what might almost have been nervousness.
"Smith of Earth. Item: Garnot of Jlob has withdrawn his recommendation that you leave the school. However, his transtellar history class will have a new instructor for a week. His name is Khrom of Khaldmar.
"Item: Sog-chafka of Wortan withdraws his accusation that you used psi-power in Wortan fighting. Wortan fighting classes have been dropped for two weeks.
"Item: Kard of Shilon does not wish to meet you again in Wortan.
"Item: Jorak of Gyra and Geria of Bortinot do not question your mentality and formally request that you release Jorak from psi-power suggestion which is causing Jorak to dance himself to death."
Smith listened rather absently and then went to the window and looked out over the strange landscape.
"Smith of Earth ... as yet you have not taken the battery of tests here, and the tests will determine your stay here. The choice is yours. We can request your withdrawal from the school, or we can keep you here. Your Dominant classification has been thoroughly validated. We are sure you would be happy here, and the tests will be presented in such a way that you will...."
Well, he hadn't let himself down. He'd defended his integrity as a human being. But he'd been told not to let Earth down.
Well, would he be letting Earth down by leaving? Would he be? If he returned and said that the galaxy had a school but we'd better not send students because the school is decadent--could Earth stand up in the face of its pricked bubble?
What is, and what is not, letting your planet down? Smith knew it for an almost meaningless phrase, standing here before the clicking Registrar. The important thing was to learn, for from learning are sowed the seeds of progress, and surely he had learned.
Yes, he had learned a great deal about the Galactic culture.
The Registrar's voice droned on, being very logical and again petulant in a feminine way. It was a compliant machine. It got along well, maintaining a nice balance, with everyone. With Dominants it became slightly recessive. With Receptives, it was just a little bit Dominant.
He watched the monstrous blotch of the red star, swelling and crimson, old and fading, yet filling a quarter of the sky, like a fat old man, getting fatter while his brain rotted away in his skull.
He turned as the door opened. His breath shortened as she came toward him. Smith rubbed his bald pate, and felt the heat rise to his face.
"You made a fool of me, Smith," she whispered. "Now you're blushing ... and that's just an act isn't it? You're still making a fool of me."
"No," he said. "The way I felt about you and the things I said, I meant them. I still do."
"But you let me use that psi-power on you ... and ... and if you'd wanted to ... you could have...." He stared. She was sobbing a little.
He had felt it before, but the feeling was strong enough now to motivate action. He put his arms about her, protectively. He looked out the window at the cragged horizon and the dying red star behind.
"The psi-power," he said. "I didn't realize I had it then. When you used it ... and later, the dream-empathy, it stirred up a lot of old capacities. I wasn't trying to fool anyone. I love you, Geria of Bortinot. And I'm not fooling...."
"Your decision, Smith of Earth...."
Well, he had learned a great deal about Galactic culture, so what should he do? A duty to Earth, to civilization. He had learned: ... That the superior cultures out here among the stars were a myth.
... That something had gone haywire in the startrails, that everyone you met was either psychotic or highly neurotic by Earth standards.
... That the exceptions might be the hope of the Galaxy. But they were very few.
... That Earth had better seek out the reasons for all this, try to eliminate them at their sources if possible, but certainly keep them from contaminating the home planet.
... That Earth had a big job, but if he came back and reported and worked at it, he might convince Earth she was up to it.
That was one way.
"Your decision, Smith of Earth, the battery of tests or...."
She was looking up at him. "Well?"
"What do you think, Geria?"
She put her face against his chest. "Whatever you decide," she whispered. "You're the Dominant...."
He smiled at the banks of lights. "When's the next ship for Deneb?" he asked. "We're going back to Earth."
WORLD BEYOND PLUTO.
A "Johnny Mayhem" Adventure By Stephen Marlowe
Johnny Mayhem, one of the most popular series characters ever to appear in AMAZING, has been absent too long. So here's good news for Mayhem fans; another great adventure of the Man of Many Bodies.
They loaded the over-age spaceship at night because Triton's one spaceport was too busy with the oreships from Neptune during the day to handle it.
"Symphonies!" Pitchblend Hardesty groaned. Pitchblend Hardesty was the stevedore foreman and he had supervised upwards of a thousand loadings on Triton's crowded blastways, everything from the standard mining equipment to the innards of a new tavern for Triton City's so-called Street of Sin to special anti-riot weapons for the Interstellar Penitentiary not 54 miles from Triton City, but never a symphony orchestra. And most assuredly never, never an all-girl symphony orchestra.
"Symphonies!" Pitchblend Hardesty groaned again as several stevedores came out on the blastway lugging a harp, a base fiddle and a kettle drum.
"Come off it, Pitchblend," one of the stevedores said with a grin. "I didn't see you staying away from the music hall."
That was true enough, Pitchblend Hardesty had to admit. He was a small, wiry man with amazing strength in his slim body and the lore of a solar system which had been bypassed by thirtieth century civilization for the lures of interstellar exploration in his brain. While the symphony--the all-girl symphony--had been playing its engagement at Triton's make-shift music hall, Hardesty had visited the place three times.
"Well, it wasn't the music, sure as heck," he told his critic now. "Who ever saw a hundred girls in one place at one time on Triton?"
The stevedore rolled his eyes and offered Pitchblend a suggestive whistle. Hardesty booted him in the rump, and the stevedore had all he could do to stop from falling into the kettle drum.
Just then a loud bell set up a lonely tolling and Pitchblend Hardesty exclaimed: "Prison break!"
The bell could be heard all over the two-hundred square miles of inhabitable Triton, under the glassite dome which enclosed the small city, the spaceport, the immigration station for nearby Neptune and the Interstellar Penitentiary. The bell hadn't tolled for ten years; the last time it had tolled, Pitchblend Hardesty had been a newcomer on Neptune's big moon. That wasn't surprising, for Interstellar Penitentiary was as close to escape-proof as a prison could be.
"All right, all right," Pitchblend snapped. "Hurry up and get her loaded."
"What's the rush?" one of the stevedores asked. "The gals ain't even arrived from the hotel yet."
"I'll tell you what the rush is," Pitchblend declared as the bell tolled again. "If you were an escaped prisoner on Triton, just where would you head?"
"Why, I don't know for sure, Pitchblend."
"Then I'll tell you where. You'd head for the spaceport, fast as your legs could carry you. You'd head for an out-going spaceship, because it would be your only hope. And how many out-going spaceships are there tonight?"
"Why, just two or three."
"Because all our business is in the daytime. So if the convict was smart enough to get out, he'll be smart enough to come here."
"We got no weapons," the stevedore said. "We ain't even got a pea-shooter."
"Weapons on Triton? You kidding? A frontier moon like this, the place would be blasted apart every night. Interstelpen couldn't hold all the disturbers of the peace if we had us some guns."
"But the convict--"
"Yeah," Pitchblend said grimly. "He'll be armed, all right."
Pitchblend rushed back to the manifest shed as the bell tolled a third time. He got on the phone and called the desk of the Hotel Triton.
"Hardesty over at the spaceport," he said. "Loading foreman."
"Loading foreman?" The mild, antiseptic voice at the other end of the connection said it as you would say talking dinosaur.
"Yeah, loading foreman. At night I'm in charge here. Listen, you the manager?"
"The manager--" haughtily--"is asleep. I am the night clerk."
"O.K., then. You tell those hundred girls of yours to hurry. Don't scare them, but have you heard about the prison break?"
"Heard about it? It's all I've been hearing. They--they want to stay and see what happens."
"Don't let 'em!" roared Pitchblend. "Use any excuse you have to. Tell 'em we got centrifigal-upigal and perihelion-peritonitus over here at the spaceport, or any darn thing. Tell 'em if they want to blast off tonight, they'll have to get down here quick. You got it?"
"Then do it." Pitchblend hung up.
The escape bell tolled a fourth time.
His name was House Bartock, he had killed two guards in his escape, and he was as desperate as a man could be. He had been sentenced to Interstelpen for killing a man on Mars in this enlightened age when capital punishment had been abolished. Recapture thus wouldn't mean death, but the prison authorities at Interstelpen could make their own interpretations of what life-in-prison meant. If House Bartock allowed himself to be retaken, he would probably spend the remaining years of his life in solitary confinement.
He walked quickly now, but he did not run. He had had an impulse to run when the first escape bell had tolled, but that would have been foolish. Already he was on the outskirts of Triton City because they had not discovered his escape for two precious hours. He could hole up in the city, lose himself somewhere. But that would only be temporary.
They would find him eventually.
Or, he could make his way to the spaceport. He had money in his pocket--the dead guard's. He had a guardsman's uniform on, but stripped of its insignia it looked like the jumper and top-boots of any spaceman. He had false identification papers, if needed, which he had worked on for two years in the prison printshop where the prison newspaper was published. He had....
Suddenly he flattened himself on the ground to one side of the road, hugging the gravel and hardly daring to breathe. He'd heard a vehicle coming from the direction of Interstelpen. It roared up, making the ground vibrate; its lights flashed; it streaked by trailing a jet of fire.
House Bartock didn't move until the afterglow had faded. Then he got up and walked steadily along the road which led from Interstelpen to Triton City.