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´╗┐Title: The Mightiest Man
Author: Fahy, Patrick
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Mightiest Man" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



    This e-text was produced from "Worlds of If" November 1961.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


He had betrayed mankind, but he was not afraid of the
consequences--ever!


THE
MIGHTIEST
MAN


By PATRICK FAHY


They caught up with him in Belgrade.

The aliens had gone by then, only a few shining metal huts in the
Siberian tundra giving mute evidence that they had been anything other
than a nightmare.

It had seemed exactly like that. A nightmare in which all of Earth stood
helpless, unable to resist or flee, while the obscene shapes slithered
and flopped over all her green fields and fair cities. And the awakening
had not brought the reassurance that it had all been a bad dream. That
if it had happened in reality, the people of Earth would have been
capable of dealing with the terrible menace. It had been real. And they
had been no more capable of resisting the giant intelligences than a
child of killing the ogre in his favorite fairy story.

It was an ironic parallel, because that was what finally saved Earth for
its own people. A fairy story.

The old fable of the lion and the mouse. When the lion had exhausted his
atomic armor and proud science against the invincible and immortal
invaders of Earth--for they could not be killed by any means--the mouse
attacked and vanquished them.

The mouse, the lowest form of life: the fungoids, the air of Earth
swarming with millions of their spores, attacked the monstrous bodies,
grew and entwined within the gray convolutions that were their brain
centers. And as the tiny thread-roots probed and tightened, the aliens
screamed soundlessly. The intelligences toppled and fell, and at last
that few among them who retained sanity gathered their lunatic brethren
and fled as they had come.

If he had known the effect the fungoids would have on them, he would
have told them that too. He had told them everything else, when he had
been snatched from a busy city street, a random specimen of humanity to
be probed and investigated.

They had chosen well. For the payment they offered him he was willing to
barter the whole human race. As far as it lay in his power he did just
that.

He was not an educated man, though he was intelligent. It was child's
play to them to strip his mind bare; but they had to know the
intangibles too, the determined will of humanity to survive, the
probabilities of the pattern of human behavior in a situation which
humanity had never before faced. He told them all he could, gladly and
willingly. He would have descended to any treachery for the vast
glittering reward they tempted him with.

It wasn't easy for the Yugoslavs to guard him and, anyway, their hearts
weren't in the task. His treachery, the ultimate treason, the betrayal
of the whole human race, was commonly known.

Inevitably the mob got him and killed three policemen in the process.
When they had sated their anger a little and the traitor had lost most
of his clothes and the thumb of his right hand, they dragged him to the
junction where the Danube meets the Sava and held him under the gray
waters with long poles, as if he was some poisonous reptile.

He lay supinely on the bed of the river and smiled evilly while a
hundred thousand people writhed in neural agony.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty-four hours later the neural plague had spread to Zagreb and into
Albania as far as Tirana. When it crossed to Leghorn in Italy the
Balkans held twenty million lunatics and the Danube was an artificial
lake a hundred miles wide.

They had used a "clean" bomb. So they were able to bring a loudspeaker
van to its edge and boom at him to come out. He allowed them to do that
for some inscrutable reason; perhaps to demonstrate that his powers were
selective. Then it seemed he got tired of the farce, and cruel fingers
twined themselves into the nerve centers of the President of Italy and
the Prime Minister of the government of United Europe. He made them
dance a horribly twisted _pas de deux_ on the banks of the Danube for
his perverted amusement.

Then he released them, and released the millions of gibbering, twitching
idiots that inhabited Southern Europe, and he came out of the river bed
in which he had lain for forty-eight hours.

He walked alone through the deserted streets of Belgrade until he came
to the United Nations building. There he told a very brave lieutenant
that he was willing to stand trial any place in the world they wished.

For three days nobody came to arrest him. He sat alone with the
lieutenant in the peopleless city of Belgrade and waited for his
captors. They came then, timidly reassured by his non-violence. While he
talked to them pleasantly the citizens of London and Paris suddenly
began to dance jerky and grotesque jigs on the pavements of their
cities. In the same moment the Chief Justice of the Court of the
Nations, at a cocktail party in Washington, writhed in the exquisite
pain of total muscle cramp, his august features twisted into a mask of
abject fear.

The trial itself was a legal farce. The prisoner promptly pleaded guilty
to the charge of betraying mankind to an alien race, but he didn't allow
them to question him. When one lawyer persisted in face of his pleasant
refusals, he died suddenly in a cramped ball of screaming agony.

The gray-faced Chief Justice inquired whether he wished to be sentenced
and he answered yes, but not to death. They couldn't kill him, he
explained. That was part of the reward the aliens had given him. The
other part was that _he_ could kill or immobilize anybody in the
world--or everybody--from any distance. He sat back and smiled at the
stricken courtroom. Then he lost his composure and his mouth twitched.
He laughed uproariously and slapped his knees in ecstasy.

It was plain that he was fond of a joke.

An anonymous lawyer stood up and waited patiently for his merriment to
subside.

If this was true, he asked, why had not the aliens used this power? Why
had they not simply killed off the inhabitants and taken over the vacant
planet? The traitor gazed kindly at him; and a court stenographer who
had cautiously picked up a pencil returned agonizingly to her foetal
position and, that way, died.

The traitor looked at his fingers and shrugged. The thumb that had been
snapped off in the mob's frenzy was more than half grown again.

"They needed slaves," he said simply.

"And at the end, while some of them were still sane?"

The traitor raised his eyebrows, giving him his full courteous
attention. The lawyer sat down abruptly, his question unfinished. The
creature who had betrayed his own race smiled at him and permitted him
to live.

He even completed his question for him, and answered it. "Why did they
not kill then? They had something else on their minds--fungoids!" He
laughed uproariously at his macabre joke. "And in their minds too!"

The lawyer's blue eyes gazed at him steadily and he stopped laughing. In
the bated hush of the courtroom he said softly, "What a pity I'm not an
alien too. You could have the fungoids destroy me!"

He laughed again helplessly, the tears running down his cheeks.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Chief Justice adjourned the Court then and the prisoner sauntered to
his comfortable quarters in front of his frightened guards.

That night, in his own living room, the Chief Justice danced an agonized
fandango in front of his horror-stricken wife and the anonymous lawyer
sat in his apartment, staring at the blank wall. He was glad the aliens
had not made the traitor telepathic too.

He had found the chink in his armor.

The neural paralysis, the murders by remote control, were acts of a
conscious will. He had himself admitted that if his mind was destroyed
his powers would be destroyed with it. The aliens had not sought revenge
because their minds were totally occupied with saving themselves. The
stricken ones had simply lost the power.

The knowledge was useless to him. There was no way they could attack his
mind without his knowing it.

Possibly they could steal away his consciousness by drugging or
bludgeoning, but it would be racial suicide to attempt it. In the split
moment of realization he would kill every human being on Earth. There
would be nobody left to operate on his brain, to make him a mindless,
powerless idiot for the rest of time. For any period of time, he
corrected himself. His brain would heal again.

It was useless to think about it. There was nothing they could use
against his invincibility. The only hope was to attack him unawares ...
and if that hope was a fraction less than a certainty it could only mean
final and absolute catastrophe.

The lawyer looked at his watch. It was four in the morning.

He went into the kitchenette and then shrugged himself into his coat. He
walked through the silent streets, past the city hospital where the
Chief Justice lay in agony while the motor impulses from his nerve
centers wrenched and twisted his body. He entered the foyer of the
luxury hotel where the race betrayer was held prisoner and took the
elevator to the sixth floor.

Two sleepy guards jerked erect outside the unlocked door. He put his
finger to his lips, enjoining them to silence. Then he entered the room
and stood for a moment over the man who was invincible and immortal--and
human. Human, and subject to the involuntary unconsciousness which
nature demands from all men. He slept.

The eyelids fluttered. The lawyer took the steel meat skewer from his
pocket. He thrust it through a half-opened eye and rotated it,
methodically reducing the soft brain to formless mush.

After that the trial proceeded normally.

The prisoner stared vacantly in front of him and all his movements had
to be directed. But he was alive and his thumb was full grown again.

It was the lawyer that noticed this and pointed out the implications.
The thumb had grown to full size in less than six weeks. They must
regard that as their maximum period of immunity.

They ruminated over it for another four days. The question was a tricky
one, for malignant immortality was beyond human solution. It was not
just a matter of dealing out punishment. The problem now was the
protection of the race from sudden annihilation. An insolvable problem,
but one that must be solved. They could only do their best.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a special feature.

It was decided he should be guillotined once a month as long as he
lived.


END





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