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Title: Talents, Incorporated
Author: Leinster, Murray, 1896-1975
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 "Talents, Incorporated" ***

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[Cover Illustration]



Bors felt as if he'd been hit over the head. This was ridiculous! He'd
planned and carried out the destruction of that warship because the
information of its existence and location was _verified_ by a
magnetometer.

But, if he'd known _how_ the information had been obtained--if he'd
known it had been _guessed at_ by a discharged spaceport employee, and a
paranoid personality, and a man who used a hazel twig or something
similar--if he'd known _that_, he'd never have dreamed of accepting it.
He'd have dismissed it flatly!

       *       *       *       *       *

Aficionados of science fiction recognize and respect MURRAY LEINSTER as
a writer of rare talent. His ingenuity of plot, his technical know-how
and flight of imagination in TALENTS, INCORPORATED will go far to
increase his stature and popularity as an exciting and thought-provoking
storyteller.



 AVON BOOK DIVISION
 The Hearst Corporation
 572 Madison Avenue--New York 22, N.Y.



 _TALENTS,
 INCORPORATED_


 Murray
 Leinster



 Copyright, ©, 1962, by Murray Leinster.
 All rights reserved.
 Published by arrangement with the author.
 Printed in the U.S.A.


Transcriber's Note:

    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note. Subscript
    characters are shown within {braces}.



TALENTS, INCORPORATED



_Part One_



Chapter 1


Young Captain Bors--who impatiently refused to be called anything
else--was strangely occupied when the communicator buzzed. He'd ripped
away the cord about a thick parcel of documents and heaved them into the
fireplace of the office of the Minister for Diplomatic Affairs. A fire
burned there, and already there were many ashes. The carpet and the
chairs of the cabinet officer's sanctum were coated with fine white
dust. As the communicator buzzed again, Captain Bors took a fireplace
tool and stirred the close-packed papers to looseness. They caught and
burned instead of only smouldering.

The communicator buzzed yet again. He brushed off his hands and pressed
the answer-stud.

He said bleakly: "Diplomatic Affairs. Bors speaking."

The communicator relayed a voice from somewhere else with an astonishing
fidelity of tone.

"_Spaceport, sir. A ship just broke out of overdrive. We don't identify
its type. One ship only, sir._"

Bors said grimly;

"You'd recognize a liner. If it's a ship from the Mekinese fleet and
stays alone, it could be coming to receive our surrender. In that case
play for time and notify me."

"_Yes, sir.--One moment! It's calling, sir! Here it is--._"

There was a clicking, and then there came a voice which had the curious
quality of a loudspeaker sound picked up and relayed through another
loudspeaker.

"_Calling ground! Calling ground! Space-yacht_ Sylva _reports arrival
and asks coordinates for landing. Our mass is two hundred tons standard.
Purpose of visit, pleasure-travel._"

A pause. The voice from the spaceport:

"_Sir?_"

Captain Bors said impatiently, "Oh, let him down and see if he knows
anything about the Mekinese. Then advise him to go away at once. Tell
him why."

"_Yes, sir._"

A click. Young Captain Bors returned to his task of burning papers.
These were the confidential records of the Ministry for Diplomatic
Affairs. Captain Bors wore the full-dress uniform of the space navy of
the planet Kandar. It was still neatly pressed but was now smudged with
soot and smeared with ashes. He had burned a great many papers today.
Elsewhere in the Ministry other men were burning other documents. The
other papers were important enough; they were confidential reports from
volunteer- and paid-agents on twenty planets. In the hands of
ill-disposed persons, they could bring about disaster and confusion and
interplanetary tension. But the ones Captain Bors made sure of were
deadly.

He burned papers telling of conditions on Mekin itself. The authors of
such memoranda would be savagely punished if they were found out. Then
there were papers telling of events on Tralee. If it could be said that
he were more painstakingly destructive than average about anything,
Captain Bors was about them. He saw to it that they burned to ashes. He
crushed the ashes. He stirred them. It would be unthinkable that such
morsels could ever be pieced together and their contents even guessed
at.

He went on with the work. His jaunty uniform became more smeared and
smudged. He gave himself no rest. There were papers from other planets
now under the hegemony of Mekin. Some were memoranda from citizens of
this planet, who had traveled upon the worlds which Mekin dominated as
it was about to dominate Kandar. They, especially had to be pulverized.
Every confidential document in the Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs was
in the process of destruction, but Captain Bors in person destroyed
those which would cause most suffering if read by the wrong persons.

In other ministries and other places similar holocausts were under way.
There was practically nothing going on on Kandar which was not related
to the disaster for which the people of that world waited. The feel of
bitterness and despair was everywhere. Broadcasting stations stayed on
the air only to report monotonously that the tragic event had not yet
happened. The small space-navy of Kandar waited, aground, to take the
king and some other persons on board at the last moment. When the
Mekinese navy arrived--or as much of it as was needed to make resistance
hopeless--the end for Kandar would have come. That was the impending
disaster. If it came too soon, Bors's task of destruction couldn't be
completed as was wished. In such a case this Ministry and all the others
would hastily be doused with incendiary material and fired, and it would
desperately be hoped that all the planet's records went up in the
flames.

Captain Bors flung more and more papers on the blaze. He came to an end
of them.

The communicator buzzed, again. He answered once more.

"_Sir, the space-yacht_ Sylva _is landed. It comes from Norden and has
no direct information about the Mekinese. But there's a man named Morgan
with a very important letter for the Minister for Diplomatic Affairs.
It's from the Minister for Diplomatic Affairs on Norden._"

Bors said sardonically, "Maybe he should wait a few days or hours and
give it to the Mekinese! Send him over if he wants to take the chance,
but warn him not to let anybody from his yacht leave the spaceport!"

"_Yes, sir._"

Bors made a quick circuit of the Ministry building to make sure the rest
of the destruction was thoroughly carried out. He glanced out of a
window and saw the other ministries. From their chimneys thick smoke
poured out--the criminal records were being incinerated in the Ministry
of Police. Tax records were burning in the Ministry of Finance.
Educational information about Kandarian citizens flamed and smoked in
the Ministry of Education. Even voting and vehicle-registry lists were
being wiped out of existence by flames and the crushing of ashes at
appropriate agencies. The planet's banks were completing the
distribution of coin and currency, with promissory notes to those
depositors they could not pay in full, and the real-estate registers
were open so individuals could remove and hide or destroy their titles
to property. The stockholders' books of corporations were being burned.
Small ships parted with their wares and took promises of payment in
return. The planet Kandar, in fact, made ready to receive its
conquerors.

It was not conquered yet, but there could be no hope.

Bors was in the act of brushing off his hands again, in a sort of
symbolic gesture of completion, when a ground-car stopped before the
Ministry. A stout man got out. A rather startlingly pretty girl
followed. They advanced to the door of the Ministry.

Presently, Captain Bors received the two visitors. His once-jaunty
uniform looked like a dustman's. He was much more grim than anybody his
age should ever be.

"Your name is Morgan," he said formidably to the stout man. "You have a
letter for the Minister. He's not here. He's gathering up his family. If
anyone's in charge, I am."

The stout man cheerfully handed over a very official envelope.

Bors said caustically, "I don't ask you to sit down because everything's
covered with ash-dust. Excuse me."

He tore open the envelope and read its contents. His impatience
increased.

"In normal times," he said, "I'm sure this would be most interesting.
But these are not normal times. I'm afraid--"

"I know! I know!" said the stout man exuberantly. "If times were normal
I wouldn't be here! I'm president and executive director of Talents,
Incorporated. From that letter you'll see that we've done very
remarkable things for different governments and businesses. I'd like to
talk to someone with the authority to make a policy decision. I want to
show what we can do for you."

"It's too late to do anything for us," said Bors. "Much too late. We
expect the Mekinese fleet at any instant. You'd better go back to the
spaceport and take off in your yacht. They're going to take over this
planet after a slight tumult we expect to arrange. You won't want to be
here when they come."

Morgan waved a hand negligently.

"They won't arrive for four days," he said confidently. "That's Talents,
Incorporated information. You can depend on it! There's plenty of time
to prepare before they get here!" He smiled, as if at a joke.

Young Captain Bors was not impressed. He and all the other officers of
the Kandarian defense forces had searched desperately for something that
could be done to avert the catastrophe before them. They'd failed to
find even the promise of a hope. He couldn't be encouraged by the
confidence of a total stranger,--and a civilian to boot. He'd taken
refuge in anger.

The pretty girl said suddenly, "Captain, at least we can reassure you on
one thing. Your government chartered four big liners to remove
government officials and citizens who'll be on the Mekinese black list.
You're worried for fear they won't get here in time. But my father--"

The stout man looked at his watch.

"Ah, yes! You don't want the fleet cluttered up with civilians when it
takes to space! I'm happy to tell you it won't be. The first of your
four liners will break out of overdrive in--hm--three minutes, twenty
seconds. Two others will arrive tomorrow, one at ten minutes after noon,
the other three hours later. The last will arrive the day after, at
about sunrise here."

Bors went a trifle pale.

"I doubt it. It's supposed to be a military secret that such ships are
on the way. Since you know it, I assume that the Mekinese do, too. In
effect, you seem to be a Mekinese spy. But you can hardly do any more
harm! I advise you to go back to your yacht and leave Kandar
immediately. If our citizens find out you are spies, they will literally
tear you to pieces."

He looked at them icily. The stout man grinned.

"Listen, your h-- Captain, listen to me! The first liner will report
inside of five minutes. That'll be a test. Here's another. There's a
Mekinese heavy cruiser aground on Kandar right now! It's on the sea
bottom fifty fathoms down, five miles magnetic north-north-east from
Cape Farnell! You can check that! The cruiser's down there to lob a
fusion bomb into your space-fleet when it starts to take off for the
flight you're planning--to get all the important men on Kandar in one
smash! That's Talents, Incorporated information! It's a free sample. You
can verify it without it costing you anything, and when you want more
and better information--why--we'll be at the spaceport ready to give it
to you. And you will want to call on us! That's Talents, Incorporated
information, too!"

He turned and marched confidently--almost grandly--out of the room. The
girl smiled faintly at Bors.

"He left out something, Captain. That cruiser-- It could hardly act
without information on when to act. So there's a pair of spies in a
little shack on the cape. They've got an underwater cable going under
the sand beach and out and down to the space-cruiser. They're watching
the fleet on the ground with telescopes. When they see activity around
it, they'll tell the cruiser what to do." Then she smiled more broadly.
"Honestly, it's true! And don't forget about the liner!"

She followed her father out of the room. Outside, as they got into the
waiting ground-car, she said to her father, "If he smiled, I think I'd
like him."

But Bors did not know that at the time. He would probably not have paid
any attention if he had. Kandar was about to be taken over by the
Mekinese, as his own Tralee had been ten years before, and other planets
before that. Mekin was making an empire after an ancient tradition,
which scorned the idea of incorporating other worlds into its own
governmental system--which was appalling--but merely made them subjects
and satellites and tributaries.

Bors had been born on Tralee, which he remembered as a tranquil world of
glamor and happiness. But he was on Kandar now. He served in its
space-navy, and he foresaw Kandar becoming what Tralee had become. He
felt such hatred and rebellion toward Mekin, that he could not notice a
pretty girl. He was getting ready for the savage last battle of the
space-fleet of Kandar, which would fight in the great void until it was
annihilated. There was nothing else to do if one was not to submit to
the arrogant tyranny that already lorded it over twenty-two subject
planets and might extend itself indefinitely throughout the galaxy.

He moved to verify again the complete pulverizing of the ashes in the
fireplace.

The communicator buzzed. He pressed the answer button. A voice said,
"_Sir, the space-liner_ Vestis _reports breakout from overdrive. Now
driving for port. Message ends._"

Bors's eyes popped wide. He'd heard exactly that only minutes ago! It
could be coincidence, but it was a very remarkable one. The man Morgan
had come to him to tell him that. If he'd come for some other reason,
and merely made a guess, it could be coincidence. But he'd come only to
tell Bors that he could be useful! And it was impossible, at a
destination-port, to know when a ship would break out of overdrive!
Einstein's data on the anomalies of time at speeds near that of light
naturally did not apply to overdrive speeds above it. Nobody could
conceivably predict when a ship from many light-years away would arrive!
But Morgan had! It was impossible!

He'd said something else that was impossible, too. He'd said there was a
Mekinese cruiser on the sea-floor of Kandar, where it could blast all
the local fleet--which was ready to fight but vulnerable to a single
fusion-bomb. If such a thing happened, the impending disaster would be
worse than intolerable. To Bors it would mean dying without a chance to
strike even the most futile of blows at the enemy.

He hesitated a long minute. Morgan's errand had been to make a
prediction and give a warning, to gain credence for what he could do
later. The prediction was fulfilled. But the warning....

An enemy cruiser in ambush on Kandar was a possibility that simply
hadn't been considered--hadn't even occurred to anyone. But once it was
mentioned it seemed horribly likely. There was no time for a search at
random, but if Morgan had been right about one thing he might have some
way to know about another.

Bors gave curt orders to his subordinates in the work of
record-destruction. He went out of the building to the greensward mall
that lay between the ministries of the government, and headed for the
palace at its end. The government of Kandar was not one of great pomp
and display. There was a king, to be sure, but nobody could imagine the
perspiringly earnest King Humphrey the Eighth as a tyrant. There were
titles, it was true, but they were life appointments to the planet's
legislative Upper House. Kandar was a tranquil, quaint, and very happy
world. There were few industries, and those were small. Nobody was
unduly rich, and most of its people were contented. It was a world with
no history of bloodshed--until now.

Bors brushed absently at his uniform as he walked the two hundred yards
to the palace. He abstractedly acknowledged the sentries' salutes as he
entered. Much of the palace guard had been sent away, and most of the
palace's small staff would hide from the Mekinese. The aggressors had a
nasty habit of imposing special humiliations upon citizens who'd been
prominent before they were conquered.

He went unannounced into King Humphrey's study, where the monarch
conferred dispiritedly with Captain Bors's uncle, the exiled Pretender
of Tralee, who listened with interest. The king was talking doggedly to
his old friend.

"No. You're mistaken. You'll have my written order to distribute the
bullion in the Treasury to all the cities, to be shared as evenly as
possible by all the people. The Mekinese can't blame you for obeying an
order of your lawful king before they unlawfully seize the kingdom!"

Captain Bors said curtly, "Majesty, the first of the four liners is in.
Two more will arrive tomorrow and the last at sunrise the day after. The
Mekinese will be here two days later."

King Humphrey and Captain Bors's uncle stared at him.

"And," said Bors, "the same source of information says there's a
Mekinese cruiser waiting underwater off Cape Farnell to lob a fusion
bomb at the fleet as it's ready to lift."

King Humphrey said, "But nobody can possibly know that two liners will
come tomorrow! One hopes so, of course. But one can't know! As for a
cruiser, submerged, there's been no report of it."

"The information," said Captain Bors, "came from Talents, Incorporated.
It's sample information, given free. The first item has checked. He came
with a letter from a cabinet minister on Norden."

Bors handed it to the Pretender of Tralee.

"Mmmm," he said thoughtfully. "I've heard of this Talents, Incorporated.
And on Norden, too! Phillip of Norden mentioned it to me. A man named
Morgan had told him that Talents, Incorporated had secured information
that an atom bomb--a fission bomb as I remember, and quite small--had
been set to assassinate him as he laid a cornerstone. The information
turned out to be correct. Phillip of Norden and some thousands of his
subjects would have been killed. The assassins were really going to
extremes. As I remember, Morgan wouldn't accept money for the warning.
He _did_ accept a medal."

"I think," said Bors, "I think I shall investigate what he said about a
Mekinese ship in hiding. You've no objection, Majesty?"

King Humphrey the Eighth looked at the Pretender. One was remarkably
unlike the other. The King was short and stocky and resolute, as if to
overcome his own shortcomings. The pretender was lean and gray, with the
mild look of a man who has schooled himself to patience under
frustration. He nodded. King Humphrey shook his head.

"Very well," said Bors. "I'll borrow a flier and see about it."

He left the palace. There was already disorganization everywhere. The
planetary government was in process of destroying all the machinery by
which Kandar had been governed, as if to make the Mekinese improvise a
government anew. They would make many blunders, of course, which would
be resented by their new subjects. There would be much fumbling, which
would keep the victims of their conquest from regarding them with
respect. And there would be the small tumult Bors had said was in
preparation. The king and the Kandarian fleet would fight, quite
hopelessly and to their own annihilation, when the Mekinese fleet
appeared. It would be something Kandar would always remember. It was
likely that she would not be the most docile of the worlds conquered by
Mekin. The Mekinese would always and everywhere be resented. But on
Kandar they would also be despised.

Bors found the ground-cars which waited to carry the king and those who
would accompany him, to the fleet when the time came. He commandeered a
ground-car and a driver. He ordered himself driven to the
atmosphere-flier base of the fleet.

On the way the driver spoke apologetically. "Captain, sir, I'd like to
say something."

"Say it," said Bors.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I've got a wife and children. Even for their sakes,
sir. I mean, if it wasn't for them I'd--I'd be going with the fleet.
I--wanted to explain--"

"Why you're staying alive?" asked Bors. "You shouldn't feel apologetic.
Getting killed in the fleet ought to follow at least the killing of a
few Mekinese. There should be some satisfaction in that! But if you stay
here your troubles still won't be over, and there'll be very little
satisfaction in what you'll go through. What the fleet will do will be
dramatic. What you'll do won't. You'll have the less satisfying role. I
think the fleet is taking the easy way out."

The driver was silent for a long time as he drove along the strangely
unfrequented highways. Just before the ground-car reached the air base,
he said awkwardly, "Thank you, sir."

When he brought the car to a stop, he got out quickly to offer a very
stiff military salute.

Bors went inside. He found men with burning eyes conferring feverishly.
An air force colonel said urgently, "Sir, please advise us! We have our
orders, but there's nearly a mutiny. We don't want to turn anything over
to the Mekinese--after all, no matter what the king has commanded, once
the fleet had lifted off, there can be no punishment if we destroy our
planes and blast our equipment! Will you give us an unofficial--"

Bors broke in quickly.

"I may be able to give you a chance at a Mekinese cruiser. Can you lend
me a plane with civilian markings and a pilot who's a good photographer?
I'll need a magnetometer to trail, too. There's a rather urgent
situation coming up."

The men stared at him.

He explained the possibility of a Mekinese space-cruiser lying in fifty
fathoms off Cape Farnell. He did not say where the information came
from. Even to men as desperate as these, Talents, Incorporated
information would not seem credible without painstaking explanation.
Bors was by no means sure that he believed it himself, but he wanted to
so fiercely that he sounded as if some Mekinese spy or traitor had
confessed it.

The feeling of tenseness multiplied, but voices grew very quiet. No man
spoke an unnecessary word. In minutes they had made complete
arrangements.

When the atmosphere-flier took off down the runway, wholly deceptive
explanations were already being made. It was said that the
atmosphere-fliers were to load bombs for demolition because the king was
being asked for permission to bomb all mines and bridges and railways
and docks that would make Kandar a valuable addition to the Mekinese
empire. Everything was to be destroyed before the conquerors came to
ground. The destruction would bring hardship to the citizens--so the
story admitted--but the Mekinese would bring that anyhow. And they
shouldn't profit by what Kandar's people had built for themselves.

The point was, of course, to get bombloads aboard planes with no chance
of suspicion by spy or traitor of the actual use intended for them.
Meanwhile, Bors flew in an atmosphere-flier which looked like a private
ship and explained his intentions to the pilot, so that the small plane
did not go directly to the spot five miles offshore that the mysterious
visitors had mentioned, to make an examination of the sea bottom.
Instead, it flew southward. It did not swing out to sea for nearly fifty
miles. It went out until it was on a line between a certain small island
where many well-to-do people had homes, and the airport of the planet's
capital city. Then it headed for that airport.

It flew slowly, as civilian planes do. By the time the sandy beaches of
a cape appeared, it was quite convincingly a private plane bringing
someone from a residential island to the airport of Kandar City. If a
small object trailed below it, barely above the waves, suspended by the
thinnest of wires, it was invisible. If the plane happened to be on a
course that would pass above a spot north-northeast from the tip of the
cape, a spot calculated from information given by Talents, Incorporated,
it seemed entirely coincidental. Nobody could have suspected anything
unusual; certainly nothing likely to upset the plans of a murderous
totalitarian enemy. One small and insignificant civilian plane shouldn't
be able to prevent the murder of a space-fleet, a king and the most
resolute members of a planet's population!

Captain Bors flew the ship. The official pilot used an electron camera,
giving a complete and overlapping series of pictures of the shore five
miles away with incredible magnification and detail.

The magnetometer-needle flicked over. Its findings were recorded. As
the plane went on it returned to a normal reading for fifty fathoms of
seawater.

Half an hour later the seemingly private plane landed at the capital
airport. Another half-hour, and its record and pictures were back at the
air base, being examined and computed by hungry-eyed men.

Just as the pretty Morgan girl had said, there was a shack on the very
tip of the cape. It was occupied by two men. They loafed. And only an
electron camera could have used enough magnification to show one man
laughing, as if at something the other had said. The camera proved--from
five miles away--that there was no sadness afflicting them. One man
laughed uproariously. But the rest of the planet was in no mood for
laughter.

The magnetometer recording showed that a very large mass of magnetic
material lay on the ocean bottom, fifty fathoms down. Minute
modifications of the magnetic-intensity curve showed that there was
electronic machinery in operation down below.

Bors made no report to the palace. King Humphrey was a conscientious and
doggedly resolute monarch, but he was not an imaginative one. He would
want to hold a cabinet meeting before he issued orders for the
destruction of a space-ship that was only technically and not actually
an enemy. Kandar had received an ultimatum from Mekin. An answer was
required when a Mekinese fleet arrived off Kandar. Until that moment
there was, in theory, no war. But, in fact, Kandar was already conquered
in every respect except the landing of Mekinese on its surface. King
Humphrey, however, would want to observe all the rules. And there might
not be time.

The air force agreed with Bors. So squadron after squadron took off from
the airfield, on courses which had certain things in common. None of
them would pass over a fisherman's shack on Cape Farnell. None could
pass over a spot five miles north-north-east magnetic from that cape's
tip, where the bottom was fifty fathoms down and a suspicious magnetic
condition obtained. One more thing unified the flying squadrons: At a
given instant, all of them could turn and dive toward that fifty-fathom
depth at sea, and they would arrive in swift and orderly succession.
This last arrangement was a brilliant piece of staff-work. Men had
worked with impassioned dedication to bring it about.

But only these men knew. There was no sign anywhere of anything more
remarkable than winged squadrons sweeping in a seemingly routine
exercise about the heavens. Even so they were not visible from the cape.
The horizon hid them.

For a long time there was only blueness overhead, and the salt smell of
the sea, and now and again flights of small birds which had no memory of
the flight of their ancestors from ancient Earth. The planet Kandar
rolled grandly in space, awaiting its destiny. The sun shone, the sun
set; in another place it was midnight and at still another it was early
dawn.

But from the high blue sky near the planet's capital, there came a
stuttering as of a motor going bad. If anyone looked, a most minute
angular dot could be seen to be fighting to get back over the land from
where it had first appeared, far out at sea. There were moments when the
stuttering ceased, and the engine ran with a smooth hum. Then another
stutter.

The plane lost altitude. It was clear that its pilot fought to make
solid ground before it crashed. Twice it seemed definitely lost. But
each time, at the last instant, the motor purred--and popped--and the
plane rose valiantly.

Then there was a detonation. The plane staggered. Its pilot fought and
fought, but his craft had no power at all. It came down fluttering, with
the pilot gaining every imaginable inch toward the sandy shore. It
seemed certain that he would come down on the white beach unharmed, a
good half-mile from the fisherman's shack on the cape. But--perhaps it
was a gust of wind. It may have been something more premeditated. One
wing flew wildly up. The flier seemed to plunge crazily groundward. At
the last fraction of a second, the plane reeled again and crashed into
the fisherman's shack before which, from a distance of five miles, a man
had been photographed, laughing.

Timbers splintered. Glass broke musically. Then there were thuds as men
leaped swiftly from the plane and dived under the still-falling
roof-beams. There were three, four, half a dozen men in fleet uniforms,
with blasters in their hands. They used the weapons ruthlessly upon a
civilian who flung himself at an incongruously brand-new signalling
apparatus in a corner of the shattered house. A second man snarled and
savagely lunged at his attackers; he was also blasted as he tried to
reach the same device.

There was no pause. Over the low ground to the west a flight of bombers
appeared, bellowing. In mass formation they rushed out above the sea.
Far to the right and high up, a second formation of man-made birds
appeared suddenly. It dived steeply from invisibility toward the water.
Over the horizon to the left there came V's of bomber-planes, one after
another, by dozens and by hundreds. More planes roared above the
shattered shack. They came in columns. They came in masses. From the
heavens above and over the ground below and from the horizon that rimmed
the world, the planes came. Planes from one direction crossed a certain
patch of sea.

They were not wholly clear of it when planes from another part of the
horizon swept over the same area, barely wave-tip high. Planes from the
west raced over this one delimited space, and planes from the north
almost shouldered them aside, and then planes from the east covered that
same mile-square patch of sea, and then more planes from the south....

They followed each other in incredible procession, incredibly precise.
The water on that mile-square space developed white dots, which always
vanished but never ceased. Spume-spoutings leaped up three feet, or ten,
or twenty and disappeared, and then there were others which spouted up
one yard, or two, or ten. There were innumerable temporary whitecaps.
The surface became pale from the constant churning of new foam-patches
before the old foam died.

Then, with absolute abruptness, the planes flew away from the one square
mile of sea. The late-comers climbed steeply. Abruptly, behind them,
there were warning booms. Then monstrous masses of spray and bubbles
and blue water leaped up three hundred feet, four hundred feet, five....

A square mile of ocean erupted as the planes climbed up and away from
it. There were bombs in the ocean--some had sunk down deep. Others
followed in close succession. Many, many burdens of bombs had been
dropped into the sea as plane-fleet after plane-fleet went by.

The sea exploded in monstrous columns. Ton, half-ton and two-ton bombs
began to detonate, fifty fathoms down. The Mekinese duty-officer below
had just learned that the spies' signalling device was cut off, when a
detonation lifted the hull of the Mekinese cruiser and shook it
violently. Another twisted its tail and crushed it. A bomb hit sea
bottom a quarter-mile away. More bombs exploded still nearer, in close
contact with the giant hull. A two-ton bomb clanked into contact with
its metal plating and burst.

The cruiser's duty-officer, cowering, thrust over the emergency-lever
which would put the ship through pre-recorded commands faster than
orders could be spoken.

Rockets flared, deep under water. But the flames set off bombs and the
rocket-nozzles cracked and were useless. A midship compartment was
flooding. A forward compartment's wall caved in, and still bombs
burst.... The skipper of the assassin cruiser screamed an order to fire
all missiles. They were already set on target. They were pre-set for the
spot where the space-navy of Kandar waited to rise.

They did not. One missile was blasted as the cover of its launcher-tube
opened. Another was blown in half when partly out of its tube and a
third actually rammed a sinking bomb and vanished with it when it
exploded.

The huge thing under the sea heaved itself up blindly. It reached the
surface. But it was shattered and rent and dying, and planes dived
vengefully upon it and blasted apart whatever could be seen in the
roaring foam. So the blinded, suffering thing of metal only emptied
itself of air and went down to the bottom again, where more bombs ripped
and tore it.

The atmosphere-fliers of Kandar swung in a gigantic, ballooning circle
about the spot where they had dropped a good fraction of a ton of bombs
to the square yard. But nothing stirred there any more. Still, the
planes flew in a great, deadly band about it until a flitterboat came
out from shore and lowered a camera and a light by long, long cords.

There was no space-cruiser at the bottom of the sea. There was evidence
of one, yes. There were patches of plating, and there were naked,
twisted girders. The dangling underwater camera faithfully reported what
it saw by the light that was lowered with it. But there was no
space-cruiser. There were only the rather small fragments of what had
been one a little while before.

Captain Bors went back to the palace. He was savagely pleased. He and
the air-fleet men had done something. They'd had some satisfaction.
They'd killed some Mekinese and ruined a plan to assassinate the Kandar
fleet. But they'd only gotten an immediate satisfaction. Kandar was
still to be conquered. Nothing important had changed.

Bors made his way to the king's study. He entered. King Humphrey the
Eighth and the Pretender of Tralee were listening doubtfully to a stout
man. The man was Morgan.

He stopped talking and blinked at Captain Bors. The captain ignored
royal etiquette and spoke to him without first greeting the king.

"The ship was there, as you said. We smashed it. Thank you. Is there any
more information you can give us?"



Chapter 2


At the spaceport, carefully selected persons filed onto the space-liner
_Vestis_. It was not officially believed that the other three great
chartered ships would arrive before the Mekinese fleet. It was, in fact,
rather likely that none of the information given by Talents,
Incorporated was ever believed until the event confirmed the prediction.
In the case of the first liner, those who went on board had been chosen
by a strict principle of priority. Men who would merely be imprisoned
when Mekin took over had no privilege of escape. Not yet. Those who were
destined for execution as soon as a quisling government was formed, were
also not entitled to depart on the liner. But those who had
conspicuously supported King Humphrey in his resistance to intimidation;
those who had encouraged others to object to concessions which could
only be forerunners of other concessions; those who had spoken and
written and labored to spread information about the facts of life under
Mekin, would not merely be imprisoned or executed. They would be
tortured. So they were entitled to first chance at escape.

The space-liner blasted off some six hours after its arrival. It
vanished blessedly into overdrive where it could not be intercepted. It
headed for the far-away world of Trent, where its passengers would be
allowed to land as refugees and where, doubtless, they would speak
bitterly about Mekin for all the rest of their lives. But the government
of Mekin would not care.

Mekin was a phenomenon so improbable that only those who were students
of past civilizations could really believe it. There were innumerable
references to such régimes in the histories of ancient Earth. There was,
for example, Napoleon, said people informed about such matters. With a
fraction of a fraction of one per cent of the French people actively
cooperating, he overawed the rest and then took over a nation which was
not even his own. Then he took over other nations where less than a
fraction of a fraction of one per cent concurred. Then he took soldiers
from those second-order conquests to make third-order conquests, and
then soldiers from the third to make fourth.

There was Mussolini, said the learned men. He had organized a group of
rowdies and gangsters, and began by levying protection-money on
gambling-houses and even less reputable resorts, and with the money
increased his following. He had murdered those who opposed him and
presently he collected protection money from even the great business
corporations of his country, financing more political gangsterism until
he ruled his nation for himself and his confederates.

And there was Hitler, said the historically-minded. In the beginning his
followers never dared show themselves in the uniforms they adopted,
because their fellow-countrymen hated everything they stood for. But
before the end came they worshipped him. They murdered millions at his
command, but they died because of him, too.

There was Lenin, and there was Stalin. Specialists in history could talk
very learnedly about the developments on Mekin which paralleled the
cabals headed by Lenin, and later, Stalin. Theirs was a much more
durable organization than those of Napoleon and Mussolini and Hitler.

The ruling clique on Mekin had begun in this manner.

Mekin had once had a cause to which all its officials paid lip-service
and some possibly believed in. Because of this cause it was the
organization and not the individual who was apotheosized. Therefore,
there could be fierce battles among members of the ruling class. There
could be conspiracies. The last three dictators of Mekin had been
murdered in palace revolutions, and the current dictator was more
elaborately protected from his confreres than any mere hereditary tyrant
ever needed to be. But Mekin remained a strong and dynamic world,
engaged in the endless subjugation of other worlds for a purpose nobody
really remembered any more.

Against such a society, a planet like Kandar was helpless. Mekin could
not be placated nor satisfied with less than the subjugation and the
ruin of its neighbors. For a time, Kandar had tried to arm for its own
defense. It had a space-fleet which in quality was probably equal to
Mekin's, but in quantity was hopelessly less. Also it had a defensive
policy. It did not dream of any but a defensive war. And no war was ever
won by mere defense. There could be no defense against the building-up
of tensions, the contriving of incidents, the invention of insults. It
had been proved often enough. Eventually there was an ultimatum, and
there was surrender, and then the installation of a puppet government
and the ruthless bleeding of another captured planet for the benefit of
the rulers of Mekin.

The process was implacable. There was nothing to be done but submit,
flee or die. Various parts of Kandar's population chose one or another
course. Four great liners would carry away those who could be helped to
flee. The mass of the people must submit, the fighting forces savagely
made ready to die.

But in the cabinet meeting after the destruction of the hidden enemy
cruiser, the tone was set by highly practical men. Bors was present at
the meeting. He'd destroyed the cruiser. He was to be questioned about
it. He had Morgan standing by to explain the part of Talents,
Incorporated if required.

King Humphrey said heavily, "This is probably the last cabinet meeting
before the coming of the Mekinese. I do not think oratory is called for.
I put the situation as it stands. A fleet will come from Mekin for our
answer to their ultimatum. Our space-fleet will not surrender. Our air
force is openly mutinous at the idea of submission. It has been said
that if we fight, our planet will be bombed from space until all its air
is poison, so that every living creature here will die. If this is true,
I do not think that even we who plan to fight have the right to bring
such a bombing about. But I doubt if that is true. There has been one
incident. Whether one likes it or not, it has happened. Captain Bors has
reason to hope that the space-fleet, by fighting to the death, can
actually benefit the rest of our people."

Bors spoke, excitement coloring his words.

"It's perfectly simple. There are only two kinds of people, slaves and
free men. Slaves can be tortured and killed without concern. With free
men a bargain has always to be struck. If there is no resistance to the
Mekinese, they will despise us. We will be worse off than if we fight.
Because if we fight, at least our people will be respected. They may be
oppressed because they are conquered, but they won't be treated with
the contempt and doubled oppression given to slaves."

A bearded man said querulously, "That's theory. It's psychology. It even
smacks of idealism! Let us be realistic! As a practical man, I am
concerned with getting the best possible terms for our population. After
all, the dictator of Mekin must be a reasonable man! He must be a
practical man! I believe that we should negotiate until the very last
instant."

Bors said indignantly, "Negotiate? You haven't anything to negotiate
with! I am not a citizen of Kandar, though I serve in its fleet. I am
still a national of Tralee. But I have talked to the officers of the
fleet. They won't surrender. You can't negotiate for them to do so. You
can't negotiate for them to go quietly away and pretend that nothing has
happened and that there never was a fleet. When the Mekinese arrive, the
fleet will fight. It doesn't hope to win; it doesn't expect
anything--except getting killed honorably when its enemy would like to
have it grovel. But it's going to fight!"

King Humphrey said doggedly, "My influence does not extend to the
disgrace of our fighting forces. The fleet will fight. I believe it
unwise. But since it will fight I shall be in the flagship and it _will
not surrender_."

There was a pause. The bearded man said peevishly, "But it should fight
on its own! It should not compromise Kandar!"

There was a murmur. King Humphrey looked about him from under lowered
brows.

"That can be arranged," he said heavily. "I will constitute a caretaker
government by royal proclamation. I will appoint you," he looked
steadily at the bearded man, "to be head of it and make such terms as
you can. If you like, when the Mekinese come you can warn them that the
fleet has mutinied under me, its king, and may offer battle, but that
you are ready to lead the people of Kandar in--"

"In licking the boots of all Mekinese," said Bors in an icy tone.

There was a small rumble of protest. Bors stood up.

"I'd better leave," he said coldly. "I'm not entitled to speak. If you
want me, I can be reached."

He strode from the council-chamber. As the door closed behind him, he
ground his teeth. The stout man, Morgan, of the space-yacht _Sylva_,
paced up and down the room where he waited to be called. His daughter
sat tranquilly in a chair. She smiled pleasantly at Bors when he came
in. Morgan turned to face him.

"Here's some Talents, Incorporated information," he said zestfully. "The
cabinet is scared. A few are willing to fight, but most are already
trying to think how they can make terms with the Mekinese."

Bors opened his mouth to swear, then checked himself.

"Gwenlyn," said Morgan, "will pardon an expression of honest
indignation. It's a dirty shame, eh?"

"If I were a native of Kandar," said Bors bitterly, "I'd be even more
ashamed than I am as a native of Tralee. The people of Tralee
surrendered, but they didn't realize what they were getting into. These
men do!"

The girl Gwenlyn said quietly, "I'm sorry for King Humphrey."

"He's miscast," said Morgan briskly. "He should be king of a calm and
peaceful world in calm and peaceful times. You're going to have trouble
with him, Captain Bors!" Then he said; "Perhaps we can work out a plan
or two, eh? While you're waiting for the cabinet to call you back?"

"I've no authority," said Bors. "My uncle's the Pretender of Tralee, and
I was originally commissioned in the fleet as a sort of courtesy to him.
I can't speak for anybody but myself."

"You can speak for common sense," said Gwenlyn. "After all, you know
what the people really want. You could try to arrange things so that the
fleet can fight well."

"It'll fight well," said Bors curtly. "It'll give a good account of
itself! But that won't do any good!"

Morgan struck an attitude, beaming.

"Ah! But you've got Talents, Incorporated on your side! You don't
realize yet, Captain, what a difference that can make! While there's
life and Talents, Incorporated, there's hope!"

Bors shrugged. Suddenly he found that he, too, drearily accepted defeat.
There was no more hope of accomplishment. There was nothing to be
achieved. He would serve no purpose by straining against the impossible.

He said tiredly, "I'll agree that Talents, Incorporated cost the
Mekinese one cruiser."

"A trifle," said Morgan, waving his hand, "mere soupçon of
accomplishment. We're prepared to do vastly more."

It occurred to Bors to be curious.

"Why? You're risking your life and your daughter's by staying here. If
Mekin ever finds out about its cruiser on the sea bottom and your share
in that affair, you'll be in a fix! And certainly you can't expect to
make a profit here? We couldn't even pay you for what you've already
done!"

"I'm right now," said Morgan placidly, "quite as rich as I want to be.
I've another ambition--but let's not go into that. I want to show you
what Talents, Incorporated can do in the four days--" he looked at his
watch--"three hours and some odd minutes that remain before the Mekinese
fleet turns up. You've checked up on Talents, Incorporated?"

"My uncle says," Bors told him, "that you kept Phillip of Norden from
being assassinated by a fission-bomb at a cornerstone laying. He also
says you wouldn't accept a reward, only a medal."

"I collect them," said Morgan modestly. "You'd be surprised how many
orders and decorations a man can acquire by industry and
organization--and Talents, Incorporated."

Gwenlyn said, "Four days, three hours and some odd minutes--"

"True," said Morgan. "Let's get at it. Captain Bors, have you ever heard
of a lightning calculator--a person who can do complicated sums in his
head as fast as he can hear or read the numbers involved?"

"Yes," said Bors. "It's quite phenomenal, I believe."

"It's a form of genius," said Morgan. "Only I call it a talent because
it tends to make itself useless. Have you ever heard of a dowser?"

"If you mean a man who finds places for wells, and locates mines by
means of a hazel twig--"

"The hazel twig is immaterial," Morgan told him. "The point is that
you've heard of them, and you know that they can actually do such
things. Right?"

Bors frowned. "It's not proven," he said. "At least I think it isn't
considered proven because it isn't understood. But I believe it's
conceded that such things are done. I believe, in fact, that dowsing has
been done on photographs and maps, in an office, and not on the spot at
all. I admit that that seems impossible. But I'm told it happens."

Morgan nodded rapidly, very well pleased.

"One more. Have you heard of precognition?"

Bors nodded. Then he shrugged.

"I have a Talent," said Morgan. "I have a man in my employ with a talent
for precognizing when ships are going to arrive. His gift is strictly
limited. He used to work in a spaceport office. He always knew when a
ship was coming in. He didn't know how he knew. He doesn't know now. But
he always knows when a ship will arrive at the planet where he is."

"Interesting," said Bors, only half listening.

"He was discharged," Morgan went on, "because he allowed a maintenance
crew to disassemble, for repair, a vital relay in a landing-grid on the
very day when three space-ships were scheduled for arrival. There was
pandemonium, of course, because nothing could have landed there. So when
my Talent let the relay be dismantled, with three ships expected.... But
one ship was one day late, another two days, and the third, four. He
knew it. He didn't know how, but he knew! He was discharged anyway."

Bors did not answer. The cabinet meeting in the other room went on.

"He told me," said Morgan, matter-of-factly, "that four ships would
arrive on Kandar, and when. One of them has arrived. The others will
come as predicted. He knows that a fleet will get here two days after
the last of the four. One can guess it will be the Mekinese fleet."

Bors frowned. He was interested now.

"I've another Talent," pursued Morgan. "He ought to be a paranoiac. He
has all the tendencies to suspicion that a paranoid personality has. But
his suspicions happen to be true. He'll read an item in a newspaper or
walk past, oh, say a bank. Darkly and suspiciously, he guesses that the
newspaper item will suggest a crime to someone. Or that someone will
attempt to rob the bank in this fashion or that, at such-and-such a
time. And someone does!"

"He'd be an uncomfortable companion," Bors observed wryly.

"I found him in jail," said Morgan cheerfully. "He'd been warning the
police of crimes to come. They happened. So the police jailed him and
demanded that he name his accomplices so they could break up the
criminal gang whose feats he knew in advance. I got him out of jail and
hired him as a Talent in Talents, Incorporated."

Bors blinked.

"Before we landed here," said Morgan, "I'd told him about the political
situation, the events you expect. He immediately suspected that the
Mekinese would have a ship down somewhere, to blast the fleet of Kandar
if it should dare to resist. In fact, he said positively that such a
cruiser was waiting word to fire fusion-bombs."

Bors blinked again.

"And I spread out maps," said Morgan, "and my dowser went over them--not
with a hazel twig, but something equally unscientific--his instinct--and
he assured me that the cruiser was under water five miles
north-north-east magnetic from Cape Farnell. The map said the depth
there was fifty fathoms. Then my paranoid Talent observed that there'd
be spies on shore with means to signal to the submerged cruiser. My
dowser then found a small shack on the map where a communicator to the
ship would be. With the information about the arrival of the liners, and
the facts about the cruiser--and I had other information too--I went to
the Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs and told you. As you know, the
information I gave you was accurate."

Bors felt as if he'd been hit over the head. This was ridiculous! He'd
hunted for the space-cruiser under the sea because the prediction of the
liner's arrival was so uncannily correct. He'd helped plan and carry out
the destruction of that warship because its existence and location were
verified by a magnetometer. But if he'd known how the information was
obtained, if he'd known it was guessed at by a discharged spaceport
employee, and a paranoid personality, and a man who used a hazel twig or
something similar.... If he'd known that, he'd never have dreamed of
accepting it. He'd have flatly dismissed the ship-arrival prediction!

But, if he hadn't trusted the information enough to check on it, why,
the small space-fleet of Kandar would vanish in atomic flame when it
tried to take off to fight. With it would vanish Bors, and his uncle,
and the king and many resolute haters of Mekin.

Gwenlyn said, "You're perfectly right, Captain."

"What's that?" asked Bors, numbly.

"It is stark-raving lunacy," said Gwenlyn pleasantly. "Just like it
would have seemed stark-raving lunacy, once upon a time, to think of
people talking to each other when they were a thousand miles apart. Like
it seemed insane to talk about flying machines. And again when they said
there could be a space-drive in which the reaction would be at a right
angle to the action, and especially when somebody said that a way would
be found to drive ships faster than light. It's lunacy, just like those
things!"

"Y-yes," agreed Bors, his thoughts crowding one another. "It's all of
that!"

Morgan nodded his head rapidly.

"I felt that way about it," he observed, "when I first got the idea of
finding and organizing Talents for practical purposes. But I said to
myself, 'Lots of great fortunes have been made by people assuming that
other people are idiots.' In some ways they are, you know. And then I
said to myself, 'Possibly a fortune can be made by somebody assuming
that _he_ is an idiot.' So I assumed it was idiotic to doubt something
that visibly happened, merely because I couldn't understand it. And
Talents, Incorporated was born. It's done quite well."

Bors shook his head as if to clear it.

"It seems to have worked," he admitted. "But if I'd known--" He spread
out his hands. "I'll play along! What more can you do for us?"

"I've no idea," said Morgan placidly. "Such things have to work
themselves out, with a little prodding, of course. But one of my Talents
says the lightning-calculator Talent is the one who'll do you the most
good soonest. I'd suggest--"

There was a murmur of voices from the cabinet room. The door opened and
King Humphrey came out. He looked baffled, which was not unusual. But he
looked enraged, which was.

"Bors!" he said thickly. "I've always thought I was a practical man! But
if being practical means what some members of my cabinet think, I would
rather be a poet! Bors, do something before my cabinet dethrones me and
tricks the fleet into disbanding!"

He stumbled across the room, not noticing Morgan or Gwenlyn. Bors came
to attention.

"Majesty," he said, not knowing whether he spoke in irony or
bewilderment, "I take that as an order."

The king did not answer. When the door on the other side of the room
closed behind his unregal figure, Bors turned to Morgan.

"I think I've been given authority," he said in a sort of baffled calm.
"Suppose we go, Mr. Morgan, and find out what your lightning calculator
can do in the way of mental arithmetic, to change the situation of the
kingdom?"

"Fine!" said Morgan cheerfully. "D'you know, Captain Bors, he can solve
a three-body problem in his head? He hasn't the least idea how he does
it, but the answer always comes out right!" Then he said exuberantly,
"He'll tell you something useful, though! That's Talents, Incorporated
information!"



Chapter 3


There was a fleet on the way to Kandar. It could not be said to be
traveling in space, of course. If there had been an observer somewhere,
he could not conceivably have detected the ships. There would be no
occultations of stars; no blotting out of any of the hundreds and
thousands of millions of bright specks which filled all the firmament.
There would be no drive-radiation which even the most sensitive of
instruments could pick up. The fleet might be at one place to an
observer's right--where it was imperceptible--and then it might be at a
place to the observer's left--where it was undetectable--and nobody
could have told the difference.

Actually, each ship of the Mekinese fleet was in overdrive, which meant
that each had stressed the space immediately around it so that it was
like a cocoon of other-space; as if it were out of this cosmos
altogether and in another. In sober fact, of course, nothing of the sort
had happened. An overdrive field changed the physical constants of
space. The capacity of a condenser in an overdrive field was different
from that of a condenser out of it. The self-induction of a coil in an
overdrive field was not the same as in normal space. Magnetic and
gravitational fields also did not follow the same laws in stressed space
as in unstressed extension. The speed of light was different. Inertia
was different. In short, a ship could drive at many hundreds of times
the velocity of light and the laws of Einstein did not apply, because
his laws referred to space that men had not tampered with.

But though ships in overdrive had to be considered as in motion, and
though their speed had to be considered as beyond the astronomical,
there were such incredible distances to be covered that time piled up.
Aside from double stars, there were no suns yet discovered which were
less than light-years apart. The time required for travel between
inhabited planets was still comparable to the time needed for
surface-travel between continents on a world. So the fleet of Mekin,
journeying faster than the mind could imagine, nevertheless drove and
drove and drove in the blackness and darkness and isolation of each
ship's overdrive field. They had so driven for days. They would continue
to do so for days to come.

When Captain Bors burned the documents in the Ministry for Diplomatic
Affairs, the enemy fleet might have been said to be at one place. When a
submerged space-cruiser, planning assassination, was itself blown to
bits with no chance to strike back, the Mekinese fleet was approximately
somewhere else. When a cabinet meeting disheartened King Humphrey, the
fleet was much nearer to Kandar. But days of highly-tedious
eventlessness were still ahead of the war-fleet.

So Bors and Gwenlyn and Morgan got a ground-car and were driven to
Kandar's commercial spaceport. There they found the _Sylva_. It was far
larger than the usual space-yachts. There were commercial space-craft
which were no larger. But it was a workmanlike sort of ship, at that. It
had two lifeboat blisters, and there were emergency rockets for landings
where no landing-grids existed. The armored bands of overdrive-coil
shielding were massive. The _Sylva_, in fact, looked more like a service
ship than either a commercial vessel or a yacht. It was obviously
unarmed, but it had the look of a craft that could go very nearly
anywhere.

"You'll find the Talents a bit odd," said Gwenlyn, as they drove up
under the hull's wide bulge. "When they meet new people they like to
show off. Most of them were pretty well frustrated before Father found a
use for them. But they're quite pleasant people if you don't treat them
like freaks. They're not, you know."

Bors had nothing to say. Until he was fifteen he'd lived on Tralee,
which was then a quiet, pacific world, as Kandar had been. As the nephew
of a monarch at least as resolutely constitutional as King Humphrey,
he'd been raised in a very matter-of-fact fashion. The atmosphere had
been that of a comfortable, realistic adjustment to facts. He was taught
a great respect for certain facts without being made fanatically opposed
to anything else. He'd been trained to require reasonable evidence
without demanding that all proofs come out of test tubes and electronic
apparatus. He was specifically taught that arithmetic cannot be proved
by experimental evidence, but that sound experimental evidence agrees
with arithmetic. So he was probably better qualified than most to deal
with something like Talents, Incorporated. But it was not easy for him.

The ground-car stopped. An exit-port in the space yacht opened and an
extension-stair came down. The three of them mounted it. The inner
lock-door opened and they entered the _Sylva_.

An incredibly fat woman regarded Bors with warm and sentimental eyes. A
man no older than Bors, but with prematurely gray hair, nodded at him. A
man in a chair lifted a hand in highly dignified greeting. Everyone
seemed to know who he was. There was a blonde woman who might be in her
late thirties, a short, scowling man with several jewelled rings on his
fingers, and a gangling, skinny adolescent. There were still others.

Morgan addressed them with enthusiasm. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said.
"I present Captain Bors! He's come to arrange to use your talents in the
gravest of all possible situations for his world!"

There were nods. There were bows. The dignified man in the chair said
confidently, "The ship was where I specified."

"Exactly!" said Morgan, beaming. "Exactly! A magnificent piece of work!
Which is what I expected of you!"

He made individual introductions all around. Bors did not begin to catch
the names. This was so-and-so, said Morgan, "our Telepath." Still
another, "our ship-arrival Precognizer--he predicted the coming of the
liner, you remember." He came to the scowling man with rings. "Captain
Bors, this is our Talent for Predicting Dirty Tricks. You've reason to
thank him for disclosing that Mekinese cruiser underwater."

Bors followed the lead given him.

"There are many of us," he said, "with reason to thank you for a most
satisfying operation. We smashed that cruiser!"

The scowling man nodded portentously. The introductions went on. The
skinny adolescent was "our Talent for Locating Individuals." The
enormously fat woman: "our Talent for Propaganda."

Bors was confused. He had to steel himself not to decide flatly that all
this was nonsense. Morgan and Gwenlyn took him away from what appeared
like a sort of social hall for these externally commonplace persons.

They arrived at a smaller compartment. It was a much more personal sort
of place. Morgan waved his hand.

"Gwenlyn and I live here," he observed. "Our cabins are yonder and you
might call this our family room. Gwenlyn finds the undiluted society of
Talents a bit wearing. Of course, handling them is my profession, though
I have some plans for retirement. We'll see our Mathematics Talent in a
minute or two. He knows it's expected that he'll be the most useful of
all our Talents at the moment. He will make an entrance."

Gwenlyn sat down. She regarded Bors with amusement.

"I think the Captain's halfway unconvinced again, Father."

"I'm not unconvinced," said Bors grimly. "I'm desperate. It's not easy
either to ignore what's happened or to believe that it will continue.
And I--well--if the Mekinese fleet does arrive, I don't want to miss
going with our fleet to meet it."

"You won't miss anything, Captain," said Morgan happily. "Have a cigar.
Gwenlyn, do you think I should--"

"Let me," said Gwenlyn. "I know how the Captain feels. I'm an outsider,
too. I haven't any talent--fortunately! Sit down, Captain."

Bors seated himself. Morgan offered a cigar. He seemed too impatient and
much too pleased to be able to sit down himself. Bors lighted the
cigar; at the first puff he removed it and looked at it respectfully.
Such cigars were not easy to come by.

"I think," said Gwenlyn amiably, "that Father himself has a talent,
which makes him not too easy to get along with. But it has had some good
results. I hope it will have more here. The whole business is
unbelievable, though, unless you think of some very special facts."

Bors nodded. He puffed again and waited.

"He told you some of it," said Gwenlyn. "About the ship arrival Talent
and the dowser. There've always been such people with gifts that
nobody's ever understood, but that are real. Only they've always been
considered freaks. They feel that they're remarkable--and they are--and
they want people to recognize this. But they've never had a function in
society. They've been _denied_ all function. Take the Mathematical
Talent! He can do any sort of mathematics in his head. Any sort! He used
to hire out to work computers, and he always got discharged because he
did the computations in his head instead of using the machines. He was
always right, and he was proud of his ability. He wanted to use it! But
nobody'd let him. He was a miserable misfit until Father found him and
hired him."

Bors nodded again, but his forehead wrinkled.

"Talents, Incorporated is merely an organization, created by my father,
to make use of people who can do things ordinarily impossible, and
probably unexplainable, but which exist nevertheless. There are more
talents than Father has gathered, of course. But what good are their
gifts to them? No good at all! They're considered freaks. So Father
gathered them together as he found them. First, of course, he needed
capital. So he used them to make money. Then he began to do useful
things with them, since nobody else did. Now he's brought them here to
help."

Bors said painfully, "They don't all have the same gift."

"No," agreed Gwenlyn.

"And there are limits to their talents?"

"Naturally!"

Morgan broke in, amused. "Gwenlyn insists that I have the talent of
finding and using talents."

"A mild talent, Father," said Gwenlyn. "Not enough to make you
revolting. But--"

A door opened. A tweedy man with a small mustache stood in the doorway.

"I believe I'm wanted?" he said offhandedly.

Morgan introduced him. His name was Logan. He was the lightning
calculator, the mathematical talent of Talents, Incorporated. Bors shook
his hand. The tweedy man sat down. He drew out a pipe and began to fill
it with conscious exactitude. He looked remarkably like a professor of
mathematics who modestly pretended to be just another commuter. He
dressed the part: slightly untidy hair; bulldog pipe; casual, expensive
sports shoes.

"I understand," he said negligently, "that you want some calculations
made."

"I'm told I do," said Bors, harassedly. "But I don't know what they
are."

"Then how can I make them?" asked Logan with lifted eyebrows.

"Naturally," said Morgan, "you'll find out the kind of calculations he
needs, that he can't get anywhere else. That'll be the kind he needs
from you."

"Hm," said Logan. He blew a smoke-ring, thoughtfully. "Where do you use
calculations in space-travel?"

"Everywhere," said Bors. "But we've computers for it. And they're quite
adequate."

Logan shrugged. "Then what do you need me for?"

"You tell me!" said Bors, nettled. "Certainly we don't need calculations
for space-travel. We've no long journey in mind. We're simply going to
go out and do some fighting when the Mekinese fleet gets here."

Logan blew another smoke-ring.

"What calculations do you use in space-fighting?"

"Courses and distances," said Bors. He could see no sense in this, but
he went on. "Allowing for acceleration and deceleration in setting our
missiles on targets. Allowing for the motion of the targets. Again we
have computers for this. In practice they're too good! If we send a
missile at a Mekinese ship, they set a computer on it, and it computes a
course for a counter-missile which explodes and destroys our missile
when it's within a certain distance of it."

"Then your missile doesn't hit," said Logan.

"All too often, it doesn't," admitted Bors.

"Then their missiles don't hit either."

"If they send a hundred missiles at us, they're cancelled out if we send
a hundred to destroy them. Unfortunately, if they send more than we can
counter, we get wiped out."

Bors found his throat going dry. This, of course, was what he'd
desperately been denying to himself. It was the fundamental reason for a
total lack of hope. The history of warfare is the history of rivalry
between attack and defense. In the matter of missiles in space, there
was a stalemate. One missile fired in attack could always be destroyed
by another fired in defense. It was an arithmetic balance. But it meant
that three ships could always destroy two, and four ships three. In the
space-fight ahead, there would be at least ten Mekinese ships to every
one from Kandar. The sally of Kandar's fleet would not be a rush into
battle, but an advance into annihilation. "What we need," said Bors
desperately, "is a means to compute courses for our missiles so they'll
hit, and that the enemy can't counter-compute--so that his missiles
can't compute how to change course in order to cancel ours out."

He was astonished as the words left his mouth. This was what was needed,
of course. But then he realized that it couldn't be done.

Logan blew a smoke-ring.

"Mechanical computers," he said, "have limits. They're designed to
calculate a trajectory with constant acceleration or no acceleration.
But that's all."

Bors frowned. "What else could there be?"

"Changing acceleration," said Logan condescendingly. "A mechanical
computer can't compute that. But I can."

Bors continued to frown. One part of his mind assured him that the
statement that mechanical computers could not calculate trajectories of
missiles with changing acceleration was incorrect. But the rest of his
mind tried to imagine such a trajectory. He couldn't. In practice, men
do not have to handle the results of variable acceleration as cumulative
effects.

"I think," said Bors carefully, "that if you can do that--"

Logan blew a smoke-ring more perfect than any that had gone before.

"I'll calculate some tables," he said modestly. "You can use them on
your computer-results. Then if you arrange your missiles to change their
acceleration as they go, the Mekinese missiles can't intercept them."

He waved his hand with the grand air of someone assuring a grammar-grade
pupil that multiplication tables were quite reliable and could be used
with confidence. But his eyes fixed themselves on Bors's face. As the
Captain realized the implications of his statement, the eyes of the
Mathematical Talent of Talents, Incorporated shone with gratified
vanity.

"We'll go out in a couple of tin cans," said Bors fiercely, "and try
this out with dummy warheads!"

Gwenlyn said quickly, "Marvelous! Marvelous, Logan!"

"It's nothing," said Logan modestly.

But it was a very great deal. Bors, impatient to try it out,
nevertheless realized that Logan hadn't made the suggestion out of a
brilliant perception of a solution to a problem in ballistics, but
because he thought in terms of mathematical processes. He didn't think
of a new missile operation, but a new kind of computation. And he
reveled in the fact that he had showed off his brilliance.

In the ground-car on the way to the fleet, Bors said helplessly to
Gwenlyn, "I'm not the right man to be the liaison with you people. But
this might make us a pretty costly conquest for Mekin! With luck, we may
trade them ship for ship! They won't miss the ships they lose, but
it'll be a lot of satisfaction to us!"

"You expect to be killed," Gwenlyn said flatly.

"My uncle," explained Bors, "considers that he should have gotten killed
when Mekin took over Tralee. It would have set a good example. Since we
didn't do it for Tralee, we'll do it for Kandar. The king's going along
too. After all, that's one of the things kings are for."

"To get killed?"

"When necessary," Bors told her. "Kandar shouldn't surrender even though
there will be at least ten Mekinese to one Kandarian."

She smiled at him, very oddly.

"I suspect," she said, "that not everybody on the fleet will be killed.
I'm sure of it. In fact, as my father would say, that's Talents,
Incorporated information!"

Bors frowned worriedly.

The fleet of Mekin continued in overdrive, heading for Kandar. Each
second it traversed a distance equal to the span of a solar system, out
to its remotest planet. A heartbeat that would begin where a pulsing
Cepheid, had it been possible to see, would have seemed at its greatest
brilliance, and would end where the light from that same giant star
seemed dimmed almost to extinction. Of course no such observation could
be made from any ship in overdrive. Each one of the many, many ugly
war-machines was sealed in its own cocoon of overdrive-stressed space.
Even in the armed transports that carried officials and bureaucrats and
experienced police organizers to set up a puppet government on Kandar,
there was not the faintest hint of anything that happened outside the
individual ship. But, what might be termed the position of the fleet,
changed with remarkable swiftness. It traveled light-hours between
breaths. Light-days between sentences. Light-months and light-years....

But it would not arrive on Kandar for a long while yet. Not for three
whole days.



Chapter 4


The small fighting ship lifted swiftly from the surface of Kandar. As it
rose, the sky turned dark and the sun's brilliant disk, far too bright
to be looked at with unshielded eyes, became a blazing furnace that
could roast unshielded flesh. Stars appeared, shining myriads despite
the sun, with every one vivid against a background of black. The
planet's surface became a half-ball, of which a part lay in darkness.

"_Co-o-ntact!_" said a voice through many speakers placed throughout the
fighting ship's hull.

There was the rushing sound of compartment doors closing. Then a
cushioned silence everywhere, save for the faint, standby scratching
sounds that loudspeakers always emit.

Screens lighted. A speck moved among the stars.

"_Prepare counter-missiles_," said the voice. "_Proximity and track.
Fire only as missiles appear._"

The moving speck flamed and was again only a moving speck. It ejected
something which hurtled toward the ship just up from Kandar.

"_Intercept one away!_" said a confident voice.

The last-launched missile fled toward the first moving speck,
diminishing as it went. It swung suddenly, off course.

"_Fire two!_" snapped somebody somewhere.

Another object hurtled away toward the stars.

"_Fire three! Fire four!_"

Far away, something came plunging toward the ship. It did not travel in
a straight line. It curved. It was not reasonable for a missile to
travel in a curved line. The interceptor missiles had to detect it,
swing to intercept, to accelerate furiously. The first interceptor
missed. Worse, it had lost its target. It went wandering vaguely among
the stars and was gone.

The second missed. The voice in the speaker seemed to crack.

"_Fire all missiles! They're turning too late! Pull 'em up ahead of the
damned thing!_"

The deadly contrivances plunged away and further away into emptiness.
The third interceptor missed. The fourth. Tiny specks moved gracefully
on the radar screen. There was something coming toward the ship that had
risen from Kandar. The tracer-trails of missiles appeared against the
stars. They made very pretty parabolas. That was all. The thing that was
coming left a tracer-trail too. It curved preposterously. The just-risen
ship furiously flung missiles at it. It did not dodge. But none of the
tracer-trails intersected its own. All of them passed to its rear.

For the fraction of a second it was visible as an object instead of a
speck. That object swelled.

It went by. Bors's voice, relayed, said,

"_Coup! You're out of action. Right?_"

The skipper of the ship just up from Kandar said grudgingly, "Hell, yes!
We threw fifteen missiles at it, and missed with every one! This is
magic! Can we all have this before the Mekinese get here?"

"_I hope so_," said Bors's voice. "_We're trying hard, anyhow. Will you
report to ground?_"

"_Right_," said the speakers in the ship which had just fired fifteen
missiles without a hit or interception. "_Off._"

And then the compartment doors opened again and the normal sounds of a
small fighting ship in space began again.

An hour later, aground, Bors said impatiently, "Half a dozen ships have
checked out with me. I sent a single dummy-warhead missile at each one.
They knew I was trying something new. They tried interceptors. Not one
worked. Worse, my missiles drew the interceptors off-course so they lost
their original aim on the _Isis_. Missiles set for variable acceleration
not only can't be intercepted but they draw interceptors off-course and
are super-interceptors themselves. I fired one dummy warhead at each
target-ship. I got six hits with six missiles. They fired an average of
twelve missiles against each of mine. They got no intercepts or hits
with seventy-two tries! This appears to me a very gratifying development
for the situation we're in."

The bearded man who'd plumped for negotiation, earlier, now spoke
indignantly in the War Council.

"Why wasn't this revealed earlier? We could have made a demonstration
and Mekin would have been wary of issuing an ultimatum! Why was this
concealed until it was too late to use in negotiations with them?"

"It wasn't available until today," Bors answered. "It was tried, and it
worked."

An admiral said slowly, "As I understand it, this is a proposal of
the--hm--Talents, Incorporated people."

"No," said Bors. "We got the idea but couldn't do the math. Talents,
Incorporated did the computations to make the missiles hit."

"Why? Why let them do the math? There may be a counter to this device.
Perhaps Talents, Incorporated, was sent to us to get us to adopt this
freakish trick."

"Talents, Incorporated," said Bors, "enabled us to smash a submerged
Mekinese cruiser. In giving us the necessary information, Talents,
Incorporated kept the Mekinese from wiping out our space-fleet. Talents,
Incorporated-- Oh, the devil!"

The admiral gazed about him.

"This--device," he said precisely, "is not a tried and standard weapon.
On the other hand, the sally of our fleet is not war. Because of our
civilian population we cannot make war on Mekin! The defiance of our
fleet will be a gesture only--a splendid gesture, but no more. It should
be a dignified gesture. It would be most inappropriate for our fleet to
take to space, ostensibly to say that it prefers death to surrender, and
for it then to unveil a new and eccentric device which would say that
the fleet was foolish enough to hope that a gadget would save it from
dying and Kandar from conquest. The fleet action should be fought with
scorn of odds. It should end its existence in a manner worthy of its
traditions!"

Bors exploded, "Damnit--"

King Humphrey held up his hand and said fretfully, "As I remember it,
Admiral, you have been assigned to hold together the defense
forces--those who either did not insist on going with the fleet, or for
whom there was no room--who have to be surrendered. You talk of
gestures. But the young men who will go out in the fleet are not going
there to make gestures! They simply and furiously hate Mekin for what it
is about to do. They are going out to kill as many Mekinese as they can
before they, themselves, are killed. They would call your speech
nonsense. And I would agree with them."

Bors said respectfully, "Yes, Majesty. It may also be said that copies
of the first Talents, Incorporated launching-data tables have already
been distributed to the missile crews throughout the fleet. More are
being distributed as fast as Logan calculates them. I don't think you
can keep our ships from trying the new missiles when the fighting
starts!"

Indignantly, the bearded man said, "I protest! This is a War Council! If
the council is to be lectured by strangers and if its orders won't be
obeyed, why hold it?"

"Why, indeed?" King Humphrey looked sternly about the council-table.
Sternness did not become him, but dignity did. He said with dignity,
"You who are to stay here have to think of dealing with a victorious
Mekin. We who are to go have to think of making our defeat count. There
is no point in further discussion. The fleet will take off immediately."

He rose from his seat. The bearded man protested, "But the Mekinese
aren't here yet! They won't arrive until day after tomorrow!"

"You're using Talents, Incorporated information," objected Bors. "And it
is wise for the fleet to move off-planet at once! You are reasonable
men. Too reasonable! Nothing can destroy a nation so quickly as for it
to fall into the hands of practical, hard-headed, reasonable men who act
upon the best scientific data and the opinions of the best experts! That
happened on Tralee, and my uncle and myself are exiles and Tralee is
subjugated in consequence. But I am beginning to have hope for Kandar!"

He followed King Humphrey out of the council-room. Fleet admirals
brought up the rear. The stodgy, dumpy figure of the king tramped
onward. It became obvious that he was bound for the ground-cars that
waited to take him and those who would follow him to the launching area
of the fleet.

A lean, gray, vice-admiral fell into step beside Bors.

"You don't think things are hopeless, Captain?" he asked curiously. "I
don't see the shred of a chance for us. But my whole life's been in the
fleet. Under Mekin I'd be drafted to work in a factory or serve as an
under-officer on a guard-ship, one or the other! I'd rather end in a
good fight. How can you have hope?"

Bors said grimly, "I'm not sure that I have. But I can't believe that
nations can be saved by reasonable, practical men. They aren't made by
them! I've no hope except that acting foolishly may be wisdom. Sometimes
it is."

"Ha!" The vice-admiral grinned wryly. "But fortunes are made by
businessmen, and only history by heroes. No sensible man is ever a hero.
But, like you, I don't like practical men."

They went out-of-doors. The king climbed sturdily into a ground-car. It
hummed away. There was a sort of ordered confusion, and then other
ground-cars began to stream away from the palace.

Morgan appeared and waved to Bors. He hesitated, and Morgan pointed to
an unofficial vehicle. Inside, Gwenlyn was smiling cheerfully at Bors.
He found himself returning the smile, and allowed himself to be guided
to her. The ground-car rolled swiftly after the others.

"I've a little more Talents, Incorporated information," said Morgan.
"It's written down for you to read when you get to wherever you're
going. It's rather important. Please be sure to read it fairly soon, it
may affect the fight."

"I'm headed for the fleet," said Bors. "Take me there, will you? I
wanted to say something before I left, anyhow."

Morgan waved his hand.

"I can guess," he said blandly. "Deepest gratitude and all that, but the
rush of events blocked any way to arrange a suitable recompense for what
Talents, Incorporated has done."

Bors blinked. "That's the substance of what I meant to say," he
admitted.

"We'll take it up later," Morgan told him. "We'll get in touch with you
after the battle."

"I doubt it," said Bors. "I'm not likely to be around."

Gwenlyn laughed a little.

"What's so amusing?" asked Bors. "I don't mean to strike an attitude,
but I do hate everything Mekin stands for, and I've a chance to throw a
brick at it. The price may be high but throwing the brick is necessary!"

"We," said Gwenlyn, "have Talents, Incorporated information, some of
which is in that letter Father gave you. Our Department for Predicting
Dirty Tricks has been busy. You'll see. But we've other information,
too."

Bors frowned at her. He put the letter away.

"More information--and you'll see me after the fight. You're not telling
me you know the future?"

Morgan waved a cigar.

"Of course not! That's nonsense! If one knew the future, one could
change it, and then it wouldn't be what one knew! You haven't had any
prophecies from me! Prophecy's absurd! All we've told you is about
events whose probability approaches unity."

"But--"

"What Father means," Gwenlyn told him, "is that you can't be told
beforehand about anything you can prevent, because if you can prevent it
you can make your knowledge false. So it isn't knowledge. What we want
to say, though, is that we aren't through."

"Why not?"

"I'm going to retire," said Morgan blandly. "But I want to do something
first that I can gloat over later."

"He wants," added Gwenlyn, "to repose in the satisfaction of his
vanity." She laughed again at her father's expression.

"Seriously, Captain, we wanted to give you the letter and to ask you not
to be surprised if we turn up somewhere. There's a Talent," she added,
"a young boy who can find people. He doesn't know how he does it,
but.... We'll find you!"

The ground-car turned in at the fleet's take-off ground. The normal
interstellar traffic of a planet, of course, was handled by a spaceport,
with ships brought down to ground and lifted out to space again by the
force-fields generated in a giant landing-grid. But a war-fleet could
not depend solely on ground installations. The fighting ships of Kandar
were allowed to use the planet's spaceport only for special reasons.
Emergency rocket take-offs and landings were necessary training for war
conditions anyhow. So the take-off ground was pitted and scarred with
burnt-over circles, where no living thing grew and where very often the
clay beneath the humus top-layer was vitrified by rocket-flames.

A guard at the gate brought the ground-car to a halt.

"War alert," said Bors. "Only known officers and men admitted here. It's
not worth arguing about."

He got out of the car and shook hands.

"I still regret," he told Morgan, "that we've had no chance to do
something in return for the information you've given us." To Gwenlyn he
said obscurely, "I'm glad I didn't know you sooner."

He turned and walked briskly into the fenced-off area. Behind him,
Morgan looked inquisitively at his daughter.

"What was that he just said?"

"He's glad he didn't know me sooner," said Gwenlyn. She looked smugly
pleased. "Considering everything, it was a very nice thing to say. I
like him even if he doesn't smile."

Morgan did not seem enlightened. "It doesn't make sense to me."

"That's because you are my father," said Gwenlyn. She stirred
restlessly. She was no longer smiling. "I hope Talents, Incorporated
information isn't wrong this time! Remember, we heard on Norden that the
dictator of Mekin consults fortune-tellers!"

"Ah!" said her father. "But they're only fortune-tellers!"

"One could be a Talent," said Gwenlyn worriedly, "maybe without even
knowing it."

There came a far-distant, roaring sound. Something silvery and
glistening rose swiftly toward the sky. It dwindled to a speck. There
were more roarings. Three more silvery, glistening objects flung
themselves heavenward, leaving massive trails of seemingly solid smoke
behind them. Then there were bellowings. Larger ships rose up. As the
din of their rising began to diminish, there were louder, booming
uproars and other silvery objects seemed to fling themselves toward the
sky.

Then thunder rolled, and huge shapes plunged in their turn toward the
heavens. The space-fleet of Kandar left its native world. It departed in
the formation used for space maneuvering, much like the tactical
disposition of a column of marching soldiers in doubtful territory.
There was a "point" in advance of all the rest, to be the first to
detect or be fired on by an enemy. Then flankers reached straight out,
and to the right and left, and then an advance-guard, and then the main
force with a rear-guard behind it.

The take-off area became invisible under a monstrous, roiling mountain
of smoke, from which threads of vapor reached to emptiness. It became
impossible to hear oneself talk; it was unlikely that one could have
heard a shot, as the heavy ships took off. But presently there were only
lesser clamors and then mere roarings after them, and the last of the
rocket-boomings died away. The smoke remained, rolling very slowly
aside. Then there were unexpected detonations. As the rocket-fume mist
dissolved, the detonations were explained. Every building in the fleet's
home area, the sunken fuel-tanks, the giant rolling gantries--every bit
of ground equipment for the servicing of the fleet was methodically and
carefully being blown to bits. The fleet was not expected back.

The ships rose above the atmosphere, and rose still higher, and the
planet Kandar became a gigantic ball which filled an enormous part of
the firmament. Then there were cracklings of communicators, and orders
flittered through emptiness in scrambled and re-scrambled broadcasts of
gibberish which came out as lucid commands in the control-rooms of the
ships. Then, first, the point, then the advanced flankers, and then the
main fleet, line by line and rank by rank--every ship drove on outward
under top-speed solar-system drive.

The last of the four chartered space-liners, come to take refugees away
before the Mekinese arrived, saw the disappearance of the ships in the
rear of the fleet's formation. The liner was lowered to the ground by
the landing-grid. It reported what it had seen. Those who were entitled
to depart on it crowded aboard. With the fleet gone, panic began.

Morgan had to spend lavishly to get copies of the news reports that the
liner had brought along as a matter of course. He took them back to the
_Sylva_, where a frowning man with rings on his fingers read them with
dark suspicion. Presently, triumphantly, he dictated predictions of
dirty tricks from indications in the news.

Morgan returned to what he'd called the family room of the yacht. He
relaxed. Gwenlyn tried to read. She did not succeed. She was excessively
nervous.

Bors was not. The fleet re-formed itself well out from Kandar. It made
for a rendezvous over a pole of the gas-giant planet which was the
fourth planet from Kandar's sun. It was almost, but not quite in line
with that yellow star toward the base, from which the Mekinese flotilla
would come. The fleet went into a polar orbit around that gigantic
planet, which was useless to mankind because its atmosphere was partly
gaseous ammonia and partly methane.

The cosmos paid no attention. An unstable sol-type star in Cygnus
collapsed abruptly and a number of otherwise promising planets became
unfit for human exploitation. In Andromeda, a super-nova flared. The
light of its explosion would not reach Kandar for very many thousands of
years. The largest comet in the galaxy reached perihelion, and
practically outshone the sun it circled. Nobody saw it, because nobody
lived there. On a dreary, red-sky planet in Mousset, a thing squirmed
heavily out of a stagnant sea and blinked stupidly at the remarkable
above-water cosmos it had discovered. Suns flamed and spouted flares.
Small dark stars became an infinitesimal fraction of a degree colder.
There was a magnetic storm in the photosphere of a sun which was not
supposed to have such things.

The war-fleet of Kandar, in very fine formation, flowed in its polar
orbit around the fourth planet out from Kandar's sun. In carefully
scrambled and re-scrambled communications, certain ships were authorized
to modify the settings of Mark 13 missiles in this exact fashion, to
remove their warheads, and to diverge in pairs from the fleet proper.
They were to familiarize themselves with the results of making the
acceleration of such missiles variable during flight. They would use the
supplied data-tables to compute firing constants for given ranges and
relative speeds. They would, of course, return to formation to permit
other ships the same practice with the new method of missile handling.

Bors read the letter from Talents, Incorporated. It gave an exact time
for the breakout of the Mekinese fleet. The rest consisted mostly of
specific warnings from the Talents, Incorporated Department for
Predicting Dirty Tricks. It listed certain things to be looked for among
the ships of the fleet. The information was like the news of an enemy
ship aground on Kandar; it was self-evidently plausible once one thought
of it. Mekin was ruled and its military practices governed by men with
the instincts of conspirators, using other men with the
psychopathological impulses which make for spies. They thought of
devices neither statesmen nor fighting men would have invented. But a
paranoid Talent could think of them, and know that they were true.

As a result of the warnings, the flagship was found to have been somehow
equipped, by Mekin, with a tiny, special microwave transmitter which
used a frequency not usual on Kandar. It was, in effect, a radio beacon
on which enemy missiles could home. Also, the lead ship of a
cruiser-squadron had been mysteriously geared to reveal its exact
position, course and speed while in space. There were other concealed
devices. Some would make the controls of predetermined ships useless
when beams of specific frequency and form were trained upon them.

Once the basic idea was discovered, it was possible to make sure that
all such enemy-supplied equipment was out of operation. The fleet was
still in no promising situation, with a ten-to-one disadvantage. But it
could not have put up even the beginning of a fight, had these
spy-installed devices remained undiscovered.

Bors said carefully, by scrambled and re-scrambled communicator,
"Majesty, I'm beginning to be less than despairing. If they expect our
ships either to have been destroyed aground, or to be made helpless the
instant combat begins, we may give them a shock. We hoped to smash them
ship for ship. Finding out their tricks in advance may give us that! And
if our missiles work as they've promised, we may get two for one!"

King Humphrey's voice was dogged. "_I will settle for anything but
surrender! From an honorable enemy I would take severe terms rather than
see my spacemen die. But I would do nobody any good by yielding to
Mekin!_"

Bors clicked off. He looked at a clock. The prediction from Talents,
Incorporated was that the Mekinese fleet would break out of overdrive at
11.19 hours astronomical time.

He went over his ship. His crew was by no means depressed. There had
been a terrific lift in spirits when dummy-warheaded missiles made
theoretic hits, though fifteen interceptors tried to stop them. The
crewmen now tended elaborately to explain the process. A part of the
trick was the curved path along which the re-set missiles flashed. Such
courses alone could never be computed by an unwarned enemy under battle
conditions. But the all-important thing was that the missiles changed
their acceleration as they drove. That couldn't be solved and the
solution put into practice during one fleet-action. Once the enemy had
experienced it, they could later duplicate it without doubt, but it
would still be impossible to counter.

So Bors's men were cheerful to the point of gaiety. They would fight
magnificently because they were thinking of what they would do to the
enemy instead of what the enemy might do to them. If enemy crews had
been assured that the fleet was half defeated before the fight began, to
find the fleet not crippled by spy-set devices would be startling. To
find them fighting like fiends would be alarming. And if--Bors grimly
repeated to himself, _if_--the modified missiles worked as well in
battle as in target practice....

He turned in and, despite his tensions, fell asleep immediately and
slept soundly. When he awoke he felt curiously relaxed. It took him a
moment to realize he had dreamed about Gwenlyn. He couldn't remember
what he had dreamed, but he knew it was comfortable and good. He
wouldn't let himself dwell on it, however. There was work to be done.

It was singularly like morning on a planet. The ship was spotless,
immaculate. There was the fresh smell of growing things in the air. To
save tanked oxygen the air-room used vegetation to absorb CO{2} and
excess moisture from the breathing of the crew. There was room to spare
everywhere, because unlike aircraft and surface ships, the size of a
space-ship made no difference in its speed. There was no resistance due
to size. Only the mass counted. So there was spaciousness and freshness
and something close to elation on Bors's ship on the day it was to fight
for the high satisfaction of getting killed.

Bors saw to it that his men breakfasted heartily.

"We've got a party ahead," he told the watch at mess. "Eat plenty but
give the other watch a chance to fill up, too."

Somebody said cheerfully, "The condemned men ate a hearty breakfast,
sir?"

Bors grinned.

"The breakfast we can be sure of. The condemned part--we'll have
something to say about that. Some Mekinese wouldn't have good appetites
if they knew what's ahead of them. One word! Don't waste missiles! There
are a lot of Mekin ships. We've got to make each missile count!"

There was laughter. He went to the control room. He checked with the
clock. Shortly after the other watch was back at its stations he
calculated carefully. The enemy fleet would break out of overdrive
short of Kandar, of course. It would have broken out once before, to
correct its line and estimate the distance to its destination. It would
have assembled itself at that breakout point, but it would still arrive
in a disorderly mob. One's point of arrival could not be too closely
figured at the high speeds of overdrive. So when the Mekinese came, they
would not be in formation.

Bors called the flagship, when the gas-giant planet was in line and a
barrier against the radio waves. King Humphrey's voice came from the
speaker by Bors's side.

"_Bors? What?_"

"Majesty," said Bors. "Talents, Incorporated says the enemy fleet will
break out of overdrive in just about ten minutes. We're out here waiting
for it, instead of aground as they'll expect. They'll break out in
complete confusion. Even with great luck, they'll lose time assembling
into combat formation. Being out here, we may be able to hit them before
they're organized."

A pause.

"_I've been discussing tactics with the high command_," said the king's
voice. "_There's some dispute. The classic tactic is to try for
englobement._"

"I want to point out, Majesty," Bors interrupted urgently, "that when we
cross the north pole again, we're apt to detect the fleet signalling
frantically to itself, sorting itself out, trying to get into some sort
of order. It'll be stirred up as if with a spoon. But if we come around
the planet's pole--and they don't expect us to be out here waiting for
them--we'll be in combat-ready formation. We may be able to tear into
them as an organized unit before they can begin to co-operate with each
other."

A longer pause. Then King Humphrey said grimly;

"_There is one weak point in your proposal, Bors. Only one. It is that
Talents, Incorporated may be wrong about the time of breakout. The more
I think, the less I believe in what they have done, or even what I saw!
But we'll be prepared, however unlikely your idea. We'll be ready._"

He clicked off. Only minutes later, the combat-alert order came through.
In the next ten minutes, Bors's ship hummed for five, was quiet for
three, and then, two minutes early, all inner compartment doors closed
quietly and there was that muffled stillness which meant that everybody
was ready for anything that might happen.

In the control room, Bors watched out of a direct-vision port, giving
occasional glances to the screens. There were flecks of light from
innumerable stars. Then the shining cloud-bank of the gas-giant planet
went black. Screens showed all of the fleet--each blip with a nimbus
about it which identified it as a friend, not a foe. There was the blip
of the leading ship, the "point" of the formation. There were the
flanking ships and all the martial array of the fleet.

Then the screens sparkled with seemingly hundreds of blips which seemed
to swirl and spin and whirl again in total and disordered confusion.

Gongs clanged. A voice said, "_Co-o-ntact! Enemy fleet ahead. Wide
dispersion. They're milling about like gnats on a sunny day!_"

A curt and authoritative and well-recognized voice snapped, "_All ships
keep formation on flagship. Course coordinates...._" The voice gave
them. "_There's a clump of enemy ships beginning to organize! We hit
them!_"

The fleet of Kandar came around the gas-giant world and flung itself at
the fleet of Mekin. It seemed that everything was subject to intolerable
delay. For long, sweating, unbearable minutes nothing happened except
that the fleet of Kandar went hurtling through space with no sensation
or direct evidence of motion. The gas-giant planet dwindled, but not
very fast. The bright specks on the screens which were enemy ships
seemed to separate as they drew nearer. But all happened with infinite
and infuriating deliberation.

It was worth waiting for. There was truly a clumping of enemy ships
ahead. Some of them were less than ten miles apart. In a
two-hundred-mile sphere there were forty ships. They'd been moving to
consolidate themselves into a mutually assisting group. What they
accomplished was the provision of a fine accumulation of targets. Before
they could organize themselves, the Kandarian fleet swept through them.
It vastly outnumbered them in this area.

It smashed them. Bombs flashed in emptiness. There were gas-clouds and
smoke-clouds which stayed behind in space as the fleet went on.

"_New coordinates_," said the familiar authoritative voice. It gave
them. "_There's another enemy condensation. We hit it!_"

The fleet swung in space. It drove on and on and on. Interminable time
passed. Then there were flashes brighter than the stars. A Kandar
cruiser blew up soundlessly. But far, far away other things detonated,
and what had been proud structures of steel and beryllium, armed and
manned, became mere incandescent vapor.

A third clumping of Mekinese ships. The Kandarian fleet overwhelmed it;
overrode it; used exactly the tactics the Mekinese might have used. It
ruthlessly made use of its local, concentrated strength. It was
outnumbered in the whole battle area by not less than ten to one. But
the Mekinese fleet was scattered. Where it struck, the Kandarian fleet
was four and five, and sometimes twenty, ships to one.

It was a smaller fleet in every class of ships, but it was compact and
controlled and it made slashing plunges through the dispersed and
confused enemy. With ordinary missiles three ships could always destroy
two, and four could destroy three. But in the battle of the gas-giant
planet, where there was fighting the Kandarians were never less than two
to one. They were surrounded by enemies, but when those enemies tried to
gather together for strength, the mass of murderously-fighting ships of
Kandar swung upon the incipient group and blasted it.

Nearly half the Mekinese fleet was out of action before Bors's ship
fired a single missile. He'd sat in the skipper's chair, and from time
to time, the course of all the fleet was changed, and he saw that his
ship kept its place rigidly in formation. But he had given not one order
out of routine before the enemy strength was half gone. Then the
communicator said coldly:

"_All ships attention! With old-style missiles we could do everything
we've accomplished so far. But the Mekinese are refusing battle now.
They'll begin to slip away in overdrive if we keep chopping them down in
groups. We have to give them a chance or they'll run away. The new
missile system works perfectly. All ships break formation. Find your own
Mekinese. Blast them!_"

Bors said in a conversational voice, "There are three Mekin ships
yonder. They look like they're willing to start something. We'll take
them on."

He pointed carefully to a spot on the screen. His small ship swung away
from the rest of the fleet. It plunged toward a battleship and two heavy
cruisers who had joined forces and appeared to attempt to rally the
still-stronger-than-Kandar invaders.

They became objects rather than specks upon the screens. They were
visible things on the direct-vision ports. Something flashed, and rushed
toward the little Kandarian space-can.

"Fire one, two, three," Bors ordered.

Things hurtled on before him. A screen showed that the missiles first
fired by the enemy went off-course, chasing the later-fired missiles
from the _Isis_. The Mekinese shots had automatically become
interceptors when Kandarian missiles attacked their parent ships. But
they couldn't anticipate a curved course and their built-in computers
weren't designed to handle a rate of change of acceleration. The three
Mekinese ships ceased to exist.

"Let's head yonder," said Bors.

He pointed again, on the screen. Within the radar's range there were
hundreds of tiny blips. Some were marked with a nimbus apiece. They were
friends. Many, many more were not.

The Mekinese fleet, too, could determine its own numbers in comparison
to the defending fleet. Pride and rage swept through Mekinese
commanders, as they saw the Kandarians deliberately break up their
formation to get their ships down to the level of the enemy. It was
unthinkable for a Mekinese ship to refuse single combat! And when two
and three could combine against a single ship of Kandar....

The invaders had reason to fight, rather than slip into overdrive. They
still outnumbered the ships from Kandar. And for a Mekinese commander to
flee the battle area without having engaged or fired on an antagonist
would be treason. No man who fled without fighting would stay alive.
There had to be a recording of battle offered or accepted, or the
especially merciless court-martial system of Mekin would take over.

There was one problem, however, for the Mekinese skippers. When they
engaged a ship from Kandar, they died. Still, no ship left the scene of
the battle to report defeat.

It was absolute and complete. It was not only a defeat. It was
annihilation. The Mekinese fleet was destroyed to the last ship, even to
the armed transports carrying bureaucrats and police to set up a new
government on Kandar. Those ships which dared not run away without a
token fight, discovered the fleet of Kandar wasn't fighting a token
battle. It had started out to be just that, but somehow the plans had
changed when the fighting started. For the aggressors, it was disaster.

When his fleet reassembled, King Humphrey issued a general order to all
ships. He read it in person, his voice strained and dead and hopeless.

"_I have to express my admiration for the men of my fleet_," he said
drearily. "_An unexampled victory over unexampled odds is not only in
keeping with the best traditions of the armed forces of Kandar, but
raises those traditions to the highest possible level of valor and
devotion. If it were not that in winning this victory we have doomed our
home world to destruction, I would be as happy as I am, reluctantly,
proud...._"



_Part Two_



Chapter 5


Nobody had ever found any use for the Glamis solar system. There was a
sun of highly irregular variability. There were two planets, of which
the one farther out might have been useful for colonization except that
it was subject to extreme changes of climate as its undependable sun
burned brightly or dimly. The nearer planet was so close to its primary
that it had long ceased to rotate. One hemisphere, forever in sunshine,
remained in a low, red heat. Its night hemisphere, in perpetual
darkness, had radiated away its heat until there were mountains of
frozen atmosphere piled above what should have been a mineral surface.
It was a matter of record that a hundred standard years before, a ship
had landed there and mined oxygen-containing snow, which its air
apparatus was able to refine so the crew could breathe while they
finished some rather improbable repairs and could go on to more
hospitable worlds.

The farther-out planet was sometimes a place of green vegetation and
sprawling seas, and sometimes of humid jungles with most of its oceans
turned to a cloud-bank of impenetrable thickness. Also, sometimes, it
was frozen waste from pole to pole. The vegetation of that planet had
been studied with interest, but the world itself was simply of no use to
anybody. Even the sun of the Glamis system was regarded with suspicion.

The fleet of Kandar made rendezvous at the galactic-north pole of the
second planet. On arrival the massed cruisers and battleships went into
orbit. The smaller craft went on a scouting mission, verifying that
there was no new colony planted, that there was no man-made radiation
anywhere in the system, that there was no likelihood of the fleet's
presence--or for that matter its continued existence--becoming known to
anybody not of its ship-crews.

The scout-ships came back, reporting all clear. The great ships drew
close to one another and small space-boats shuttled back and forth,
taking commanders and captains and vice-admirals to the ship, which, by
convention, was commanded by King Humphrey VIII of Kandar.

Captain Bors got to the conference late. There were some grave faces
about the conference room, but there were also some whose expressions
were unregenerate and grimly satisfied. As he entered the room the king
was speaking.

"I don't deny that it was a splendid victory, but I'm saying that our
victory was a catastrophe! To begin with, we happened to hit the
Mekinese fleet when it was dispersed and disorganized. That was great
good fortune--_if_ we'd wanted a victory. The enemy was scattered over
light-minutes of space. His ships could not act as a massed,
maneuverable force. They were simply a mob of fighting ships who had to
fight as individuals against our combat formation."

"Yes, Majesty," said the gray vice-admiral, "but even when we broke
formation--"

"Again," said the king, more fretfully still, "I do not deny that the
fighting ability of our ships was multiplied by the new way of using
missiles. What I do say is that if we'd come upon the Mekinese fleet in
combat formation instead of dispersed; if we'd attacked them when they
were ready for us, it would be doubtful that we'd have been so
disastrously successful! Say that the new missile settings gave each of
our ships fire-power as effective as two or three or five of the enemy.
The enemy was ten to one! If we hadn't hit them when they were in
confusion, we'd have been wiped out. And if we'd hit their fleet anyhow,
we'd be dead. We did not hit the main fleet. We annihilated a division
of it, a small part. We are still hopelessly inferior to the vast
Mekinese fleet."

Bors took a seat at the rear of the room.

A stout rear-admiral said somberly, "We hope we annihilated it, Majesty.
There's no report of any ship fleeing in overdrive. But if any did
escape, its report would lead to an immediate discovery of the exact
improvement in our missiles. I am saying, Majesty, that if one enemy
ship escaped that battle, we can look for all the enemy ships to be
equipped with revised missiles like ours."

Bors raised his voice. "May I speak?"

"Ah," said the king. "Bors. By all means."

"I make two points," said Bors with reserve. "One is that the Mekinese
are as likely to think our missiles captured theirs as that they were
uncomputable. Missile designers have been trying for years to create
interceptors which capture enemy missiles. The Mekinese may decide we've
accomplished something they've failed at, but they're not likely to
think we've accomplished something they never even thought of!"

Voices babbled. A pompous voice said firmly that nobody would be so
absurd. Several others said urgently that it was very likely. All
defense departments had research in progress, working on the capture of
enemy missiles. If it were accomplished, ships could be destroyed as a
matter of routine.

Bors waited until the king thumped on the table for silence.

"The second thing I have to say, Majesty, is that there can be no plans
made until we know what we have to do. And that depends on what Mekin
thinks has happened. Maybe no enemy ship got home. Maybe some ships took
back inaccurate reports. It would be very uncomfortable for them to
report the truth. Maybe they said we had some new and marvellous weapon
which no fleet could resist. In that case, we are in a very fine
position."

The king said gloomily, "You think of abominably clever things, Captain.
But I am afraid we've been too clever. If Mekin masses its entire fleet
to destroy us, they can do it, new missile-system or no new
missile-system! We have somehow to keep them from resolving to do just
that!"

"Which," said Bors, "may mean negotiation. But there's no point in
negotiating unless you know what your enemy thinks you've got. We could
have Mekin scared!"

There was a murmur, which could not be said to be either agreement or
disagreement. The king looked about him.

"We cannot continue to fight!" he said sternly, "not unless we can
defend Kandar--which we can't as against the Mekinese main fleet. We
were prepared to sacrifice our lives to earn respect for our world, and
to leave a tradition behind us. We must still be prepared to sacrifice
even our vanity."

The vice-admiral said, "But one sacrifices, Majesty, to achieve. Do you
believe that Mekin will honor any treaty one second after it ceases to
be profitable to Mekin?"

"That," said the king, "has to be thought about. But Bors is right on
one point. We should come to no final conclusion without information--"

"Majesty," Bors interrupted. His words came slowly, as if an idea were
forming as he spoke. "The enemy may have no news at all. They may know
they've been defeated, but they'd _never_ expect _our_ freedom from
loss. Why couldn't a single Kandarian ship turn up at some port where
its appearance would surely be reported to Mekin? It could pose as the
sole survivor of our fleet, which would indicate that the rest of us
were wiped out in the battle. If we _had_ all been wiped out, there'd be
no point in their fusion-bombing Kandar. Certainly they expected us to
be destroyed. One surviving ship can prove that we _have_ been!"

The king's expression brightened.

"Ah! And we can go and intern ourselves--"

There was a growl. The pompous voice said, "We would gain time, Majesty.
Our fear is that Mekin may feel it must avenge a defeat. But if one ship
claims to be the sole survivor of our fleet, it announces a Mekinese
victory. That is a highly desirable thing!"

The king nodded.

"Yes-s-s.... We were unwise to survive the battle. We can hide our
unwisdom. Captain Bors, I will give you orders presently. As of now, I
will accept reports on battle-damage given and received." As Bors
saluted and turned to the door, the king added, "I will be with the
Pretender presently."

It was an order and Bors obeyed it. He went to find his uncle. He found
the former monarch in the king's cabin of this, the largest ship of the
fleet. The Pretender greeted Bors unhappily.

"A very bad business," he observed.

"Bad," agreed Bors. "But for the two of us, a defeat for Mekin is not
bad news."

"For us and Tralee," the old man said reprovingly, "there is some
pleasure. But it is still bad. Every ship we destroyed must be replaced.
Like every other subject planet, Tralee will be required to build--how
many ships? Ten? Twenty? We have increased the burden Mekin lays on
Tralee. And worse--much worse--"

"There's such a thing," protested Bors, "as using a microscope on
troubles! We did something we badly wanted to! If we can keep it up--"

The Pretender said, "How is the food-supply on your ship? How long can
you feed your crew without supplies from some base?"

Bors swore. The question had the impact of a blow. His _Isis_, like the
rest of the fleet, had taken off from Kandar to fight and be destroyed.
There were emergency rations on board, of course. But the food-storage
compartments hadn't been filled. The fleet did not expect to go on
living, so it did not prepare to go on eating. It would have been absurd
to carry stores for months when they expected to live only hours. It
simply hadn't occurred to anyone to load provisions for a long operation
away from base.

"That's what the king is worrying about," said the Pretender. "We've
some thousands of men who will be hungry presently. If we reveal that we
survived the battle, Mekin's tributaries will begin to think. They might
even hope--which Mekin would have to stop immediately. If we do not
reveal that we still exist, what can be done about starving ship-crews?
It is a bad business. It would have been much better if the fleet had
been destroyed, as we expected, in a gesture of pure fury over its own
helplessness."

Bors said sardonically, "We can all commit suicide, of course!"

The Pretender did not answer. His nephew sank into a chair and glowered
at the wall. The situation was contrary to all the illusions cherished
by the human race. To act decently and with honor is somehow fitting to
a man and consistent with the nature of the universe, so that decency
and honor may prosper. But recent events denied it. Men who were willing
to die for their countrymen only injured them by the attempt. And now
the conduct which honor would approve turned upon them to bring the
consequences of treason and villainy.

A long time passed. Bors sat with clenched hands. It was the barbaric
insistence of Mekin upon conquest that was at fault, of course. But this
happens everywhere, as it has throughout all history. There are, really,
three kinds of people in every community, as there have always been.
There are the barbarians, and there are the tribesmen, and there are the
civilized. This was true when men lived on only one planet, and
doubtless was true when the first village was built. There were
civilized men even then. If there was progress, they brought it about.
And in every village there were, and are, tribesmen, men who placidly
accept the circumstances into which they are born, and who wish no
change at all. And everywhere and at all times there are barbarians.
They seek personal triumphs. They thrive on high emotional victories.
And at no time will barbarians ever leave either civilized men or
tribesmen alone. They crave triumphs over them and each other, and they
create disaster everywhere, until they are crushed.

Bors said evenly, "If the king's planning to surrender the fleet to
Mekin as ransom for Kandar, it won't work."

"He's considering it," said his uncle. "It will be a way of giving them
the victory we cheated them of, though we didn't intend to win."

"It won't work," repeated Bors. "It won't do a bit of good. They'll want
to punish Kandar because it wasn't beaten. They feed on destruction and
brutality. They're barbarians. The economic interpretation of history
doesn't apply here! The Mekinese who run things _want_ to be evil. They
will be until they're crushed."

"Crushed?" asked the Pretender bitterly. "Is there a chance of that?"

Bors considered gravely. Then he said, "I think so."

The door opened and the king came in. Bors rose and the king nodded. He
spoke to the Pretender.

"Somebody raised the question of food," he said. "There isn't any to
speak of, of course. You'd think grown men would face facts! There's not
a man willing to accept what is, and work from that! Lunatics!"

He flung himself into a chair.

"Suggested," he continued, "that a part of the fleet go to Norden to buy
food and bring it back. Of course Mekin wouldn't hear about it, wouldn't
guess at the survival of the fleet because food was bought in such
quantities! Suggested, that a part of the fleet go to some uncolonized
planet and hunt meat. Try to imagine success in that venture! Suggested,
that we travel a long distance, pick out a relatively small world, land
and seize its spaceport and facilities and equip ourselves to bomb Mekin
to extinction. And do it in a surprise attack! Suggested--"

The king shook his head angrily. He did not look royal. He did not look
confident. He looked embittered and even helpless. But he still looked
like a very honest man trying to make up for his admitted deficiencies.

"Majesty," said Bors.

The king turned his eyes.

"You're going to send me off for news," said Bors. "I suggested earlier
that my ship pretend to be the sole survivor of the fleet. I suggest
now that the ship add the wild and desperate boast that since there's no
longer a world which will sponsor it, it's turned pirate. It will take
vengeance on its own. It defies the might of Mekin and it dares the
Mekinese fleet to do something about it."

"Why?" asked the king.

"Pirates," Bors answered, controlling his enthusiasm, "have to be hunted
down. It takes many ships to hunt down a pirate. I should be able to
keep a good-sized slice of the Mekinese navy busy simply lying in wait
for me here and there."

"And?"

"There are tribute-ships which carry food from the subject worlds to
Mekin. Hating Mekin as befits the sole survivor of this fleet, Majesty,
it would be natural for me to capture such ships, even if I could do
nothing better with them than send them out to space to be wasted. They
wouldn't be wasted, naturally. They'd come here."

The king said, "But you couldn't supply the fleet indefinitely!"

Bors nodded agreement. But he waited.

"You may try," said the king querulously. "Have you something else up
your sleeve?"

Bors nodded in his turn.

"Don't tell me what it is," said the king. "So long as the fleet gets
some food and its existence isn't known.... If I knew what you're up to,
I might feel I had to object."

"I think not, Majesty," Bors said, showing a rare smile. "I'll need some
extra men. If I do capture food-ships, they'll be useful."

"I can't imagine that anything would be useful," said the king bitterly.
"Tell the admiral to give them to you."

Bors saluted and left the room. He went directly to the admiral who in
theory was second in command only while the king was aboard. He
explained his mission and some of his intentions. The admiral listened
stonily.

"I'll give you fifty men," he said. "I think you'll be killed, of
course. But if you live long enough to convince them that the fleet's
been destroyed, you'll be of service."

"What," Bors asked, with a trace of humor, "can possibly be done about
the fact that we wiped out a Mekinese fleet instead of letting it
exterminate us?"

"The matter," the admiral answered seriously, "is under consideration."

Bors shrugged and went to his own ship, the _Isis_. He was excessively
uncomfortable. He'd said to his uncle, and implied to the king, that he
had some plan in mind. He did, but it angered him to know that he
counted on assistance; that, in theory, he could not possibly accomplish
it alone. It was irritating to realize that he expected Gwenlyn and her
father to turn up, with their Talents, when absolutely nobody outside of
the fleet could possibly imagine where the fleet had gone. On Kandar it
must be assumed, by now, that it was dead.

His ship's boat clanked into position in the lifeboat blister. The
valves closed on it. A moment later there was a whistling murmur, and
the boat's vision-ports clouded over outside and then cleared. He
stepped out into the ship's atmosphere. His second-in-command greeted
him in the control-room.

"I was trying to reach you at the flagship, sir," he said. "The yacht
_Sylva_ is lying a few miles off. Her owner has forwarded news reports
to the flagship. He asks that you receive him when you can, sir."

Bors's apparent lack of surprise was real. He wasn't surprised. But he
was annoyed with himself for expecting something so impossible as the
_Sylva_ tracing the fleet through an overdrive voyage of days to a most
unlikely destination like Glamis.

"Tell him to come aboard," he commanded.

He went to talk to the mess officer, reflecting that he would ask the
Morgans how the _Sylva_ had known where to come, and they'd tell him,
and it would be extremely unlikely, and he would accept the explanation.
The mess-officer looked harassed at the news of fifty additional crewmen
to be fed.

"Principles of prudence and common sense," said Bors, "don't apply any
more. We'll feed them somehow."

He went back to the control-room. When Morgan appeared, beaming
expansively, Bors was again unsurprised to see Gwenlyn with him. Logan,
the Mathematics Talent, followed in their wake, looking indifferently
about him.

"We wiped out the fleet headed for Kandar," Bors observed. "I don't
suppose that's news, to you?"

Morgan cheerfully shook his head.

"And we're in considerably more trouble than before. Is that news?"

"No," admitted Morgan. "It's reasonable for you to be."

"Then, damnit, I'm going off on a pirating-news-gathering-food-raiding
cruise alone," said Bors. "Is that news?"

"We brought Logan," said Morgan, "to go with you. He'll be useful.
That's Talents--"

"--Incorporated information and I can depend on it," said Bors dourly.
"In plain common sense the odds are rather high against my accomplishing
anything, such as coming back."

Morgan looked at his daughter. He grinned.

"We heard gloom from him the other day before a certain space-battle,
didn't we?" He turned back to Bors. "Look, Captain. Our Talents don't
prophesy. Precognition simply says that when there are so many thousand
ways an event in the future can happen, then, in one of those several
thousand ways, it will. Precognition doesn't say which way. It doesn't
say how. Especially, it doesn't say why. But we have a very firm
precognition by a very reliable Talent that you'll be alive and doing
something very specific a year from now. So we assume you won't be
permanently killed in the meantime."

"But anything else can happen?"

"More or less," admitted Morgan.

"What will happen?"

"We don't know!" said Morgan again. "Someday I may take you aside and
explain the facts of precognition and other talents as I understand
them. I'm probably quite wrong. But I do know better than to try to pry
certain kinds of information from my Talents. Right now--"

"I'm going to try to capture a, what you might call a tribute-ship,
loaded with food for Mekin."

"Tralee," said Morgan with finality. "You'll try there."

"Will I capture a food-ship there?" asked Bors.

"How the devil would I know?" Morgan snapped.

"You asked the wrong question," said Gwenlyn cheerfully. "If you asked
if there's a cargo-ship down on Tralee, loading foodstuffs for Mekin,
there can be an answer to that."

"Is there?"

"At the moment, yes," Morgan answered. "So the dowsing Talent says."

"Then I'll go there," said Bors.

"I thought you might," said Morgan. He looked at his daughter.

"May I come along?" asked Gwenlyn. "With an assortment of Talents? My
father's going to have long conferences with the king. He'll need some
Talents here to work out things. But I could go along on your ship with
a few of the others. We could help a lot."

"No!" said Bors grimly.

"I thought not," said Morgan. "Very well. Logan, you'll help Captain
Bors, I'm sure."

The math Talent said offhandedly;

"Any calculations he needs, of course."

He looked about him with a confident, modestly complacent air.

Bors walked with Morgan and his daughter to the airlock. He turned to
Gwenlyn. "I don't mean to be ungallant, refusing to let you run risks."

"I'm flattered but annoyed," Gwenlyn answered. "It means I'll have to
take drastic measures. Luck!"

She and her father went into the _Sylva's_ space-boat. The blister doors
closed. Bors went back to the control room. He began to set up the
computations for astrogation from the sun of Glamis to the sun of
Tralee. He shortly heard the sound of arrivals via the _Isis's_
airlock. Presently, his second-in-command reported fifty additional
hands aboard. They included astrogators, drive-engineers and assorted
specialists.

After clearance with the flagship, the little warship aimed with
painstaking exactitude at Tralee's sun, making due allowance for its
proper motion, Glamis's proper motion, the length of time the light he
aimed by had been on its way, the distance, and the _Isis's_ travel-rate
in overdrive.

Presently Bors said, "Overdrive coming!" and counted down. After "one"
he pressed a button. There was the singularly unpleasant sensation of
going into overdrive. Then the small fighting ship was alone in its
cocoon of warped and twisted space. Until it came out again, there was
no possible way by which any message could reach it or its existence be
detected or proved. Theory said, in fact, that the cosmos could explode
and a ship in overdrive would be unaware of the fact so long as it
stayed in overdrive.

But Bors's light cruiser came out where the sun of Tralee was a disk of
intolerable brilliance, and all the stars in every direction looked
exactly as usual.



Chapter 6


The _Isis_ approached Tralee from the night side, and at a time when the
planet's spaceport faced the sun. Tralee was not a base for Mekinese
war-craft. To the contrary, it was strictly a conquered world. It was
desirable for Mekinese ships to be able to appear as if magically and
without warning in its skies. There would be no far-ranging radars on
the planet except at its solitary spaceport. Mekinese ships could come
out of overdrive, time a solar-system-drive approach to arrive at
Tralee's atmosphere in darkness, and be hovering menacingly overhead
when dawn broke. Such an appearance had strong psychological effects
upon the population.

Bors used the same device with modifications.

His ship plunged out of the sunrise and across half a continent,
descending as it flew. When it reached the planet's capital city, there
had been less than a minute between the first notification by radar and
its naked-eye visibility. When it came into sight at the spaceport it
was less than four thousand feet high and it went sweeping for the
landing-grid at something over mach one. Its emergency-rockets roared.
It decelerated smoothly and crossed the upper rim of the great, lacy
metal structure with less than a hundred feet to spare. In fractions of
an additional minute it was precisely aground some fifty yards from the
spaceport office. Steam and smoke rose furiously from where its
rocket-flames had played.

Lock-doors opened. Briskly moving landing-parties trotted across the
ground toward the grid-control building. There were two ships already in
the spaceport. One was a Mekinese guard-ship of approximately the
armament of the _Isis_. Weapons trained swiftly upon it. Missiles roared
across the half-mile of distance. They detonated, chemical explosives
only. The Mekinese guard-ship flew apart. What remained was not truly
identifiable as a former ship. It was fragments.

Bors asked curtly, "Grid office?"

The landing-party was inside. A small tumult came out of a speaker. A
voice said:

"_All secure in the grid office, sir._"

"Hook in to planetary broadcast, declare a first-priority emergency, and
run your tape," commanded Bors.

He said over the ship's speakers, "Everything going well so far. Prize
crew, take the cargo-ship. Keep the crew aboard. Then report."

Ten men poured out of the grounded light cruiser's starboard port and
trotted on the double toward the other ship aground. The weapons on
Bors's ship did not bear upon it.

The sun shone. Clouds drifted tranquilly across the sky. Masses of smoke
from the demolition-missiles that had smashed the guard-ship rose,
curled and very slowly dissipated. Ten men entered the bulbous
cargo-ship.

Up to now the entire affair had consumed not more than five minutes,
from the appearance of a blip on a spaceport radar screen, to the
beginning of a full-volume broadcast. Bors turned on the receiver and
listened to the harsh voice--especially chosen from among the
crew--which now came out of every operating broadcast receiver on the
planet.

"_Notice to the people of Tralee! There is aground on Tralee a ship with
no home planet nor any loyalty except to its hatred of Mekin. We were
part of the fleet of Kandar until that fleet was destroyed. Now we fight
Mekin alone! We are pirates. We are outcasts. But we still have arms to
defend ourselves with! We demand...._"

A voice said curtly in Bors's ear, "Cargo-ship secured, sir."

"Take off on rockets and maneuver as ordered," said Bors. "Then
rendezvous as arranged."

He returned his attention to the broadcast. It was a deliberately
savage, painstakingly desperate, carefully terrifying message to the
people of Tralee. It demanded supplies and arms on threat of destroying
the city around it. A single one of its combat-missiles, as a matter of
fact, could have done a good job of destruction on this metropolis.

The broadcast would be a shattering experience to men who had reconciled
themselves to subjugation by the rulers of Mekin. The planet Tralee was
now governed for the benefit of Mekin by the kind of men who would do
such work. They knew that they could stay in office only so long as
Mekin upheld them. To hear their protectors denounced if only by a
single voice....

There was a monstrous roaring outside. The cargo-ship took off for the
skies. It was a thousand feet high before the weapons on the _Isis_
stirred. It seemed to those below that the pirate crew was taken
unawares by the cargo-ship's escape. That was part of Bors's plan.

A weapon of the grounded _Isis_ roared. A missile hurtled after the
fugitive, and missed. It went on past its apparent target and did not
even detonate at nearest proximity, as it should have done. It vanished,
and the cargo-ship continued to rise in seemingly panicky fashion. It
slanted from its headlong lift, and curved away and darted for emptiness
at its maximum acceleration. A second missile from the fighting-ship
missed. The cargo-ship dwindled, and dwindled, and now the _Isis_
appeared to take deliberate measurements of the distance and
acceleration of its target. It might be assumed that its radars needed
to be readjusted from the long-range-finding required in space, to the
shorter-range measurements called for now.

Something plunged after the fleeing cargo-boat, by now merely a
pin-point in the blue. The rising object moved so swiftly that it was
invisible. Then it detonated, and the fumes of the explosion blotted out
the fugitive. When they cleared, the sky was empty.

There had now been a lapse of less than ten minutes from the first
sighting of the _Isis_ screaming toward the spaceport. The guard-ship
had been destroyed and the cargo-ship which seemed to flee had
apparently been destroyed. When someone had leisure to think, it would
appear that the cargo-boat's crew had overcome the armed party which
entered it and then taken the foolish course of flight.

Bors waited, listening absently. A voice:

"_All clear on board the prize, sir. The cargo seems to be mostly
foodstuffs, sir. Proceeding to rendezvous as ordered. Off._"

Bors nodded automatically and resumed listening to the broadcast.
Matters were going well. Everything had gone through with the precision
of clockwork, which meant simply that Bors had planned in detail
something that had never been anticipated and so had not been
counter-planned. Before anyone on Tralee realized that anything had
happened, everything had happened--the _Isis_ aground, the guard-ship
demolished, the grid taken over, and a fleeing cargo-ship apparently
destroyed in the upper atmosphere. And a harsh voice now rasped out of
loudspeakers everywhere, uttering threats, cursing Mekin--few could
believe their ears--and rousing hopes which Bors knew regretfully were
bound to be disappointed.

The rasping broadcast cut off in the middle of a syllable. Somebody had
come to believe that he really heard what he thought he heard. Now there
would be reaction. At the sunrise-line on Tralee only a handful of
people were awake. They were dumbfounded. Where people breakfasted, the
intentionally savage voice made food seem unimportant. Where it was
midday, waves of violent emotion swept over the land.

"Call the defense forces," Bors commanded the grid office, by
transmitter. "They'll be Mekinese--Mekinese-officered, anyhow. We don't
want them to get ideas of attacking us, so identify us as the pirate
ship _Isis_ and order all police and garrison troops to stay exactly
where they are. Say we've got all our fusion-bombs armed to go off in
case of an artillery-fire hit."

This was the most valid of all possible threats against the most
probable form of attack. Fusion-bombs could be used against enemies in
space, or for the annihilation of a population, but they could not be
used in police operations against a subject people. To coerce people one
must avoid destroying them. So while a ship the size of the _Isis_
could--and did--carry enough confined hellfire in its missile warheads
to destroy an area hundreds of miles across, the occupation troops of
Mekin could not use such weapons. They needed blast-rifles for minor
threats and artillery for selective destruction. In any case no sane man
would try to destroy the _Isis_ aground after an announcement that its
bombs were armed, and that they were fused to explode.

"Now repeat the demand for stores," ordered Bors. "We might as well
stock up. Speed is essential. We can't use stores they've time to
booby-trap or poison. Give them twenty minutes to start the stuff
arriving. Demand fuel, extra rocket-fuel especially. Remind them about
our bombs."

He waited. Speakers beside him could inform him of any action anywhere
outside or inside the ship. The landing-party in the spaceport building
reported as it went through the spaceport records, picking up such
information concerning Mekinese commercial regulations,
identification-calls and anticipated ship-movements as might prove
useful elsewhere. The rasping voice began to broadcast again. It went on
for fifteen seconds and cut off.

"Tell the government broadcasting system that if they stop relaying our
broadcast," said Bors, "we'll heave a bomb into the police barracks and
the supply-depots."

He heard the threat issued and very soon thereafter an agitated voice
announced to the people of Tralee that a pirate ship was in possession
of the planet's spaceport and that it insisted upon broadcasting to the
planet's people. It was considered unwise to refuse. Therefore the
broadcast would continue, but of course citizens could turn off their
sets.

There came a roar of anger and the harsh-voiced broadcaster returned to
the air. His taped broadcast had run out. Now he bellowed such
subversive profanity directed at the officials of Tralee-under-Mekin
that Bors smiled sourly. It was not good for Mekinese prestige to have a
subject people know that one ship could defy the empire, even for
minutes. It was still less desirable to have the members of the puppet
government described as dogs of particularly described breeds, of
particularly described characteristics, and particular lack of
legitimacy. Bors had chosen for his broadcast a man of vivid imagination
and large vocabulary. He did not want the _Isis_ to appear under
discipline, lest it seem to act under orders. He wanted to create the
impression of men turned pirates because everything they lived for had
been destroyed, and who now were running amok among the planets Mekin
had subjugated.

The broadcast was not incitement to revolt, because Bors's ship was
posing as the only survivor of a planet's fleet. But it conveyed such
contempt and derision and hatred of all things Mekinese that for months
to come men would whisper jokes based on what an _Isis_ crewman had said
on Tralee's air. The respect the planet's officials craved would drop
below its former low level.

Time passed. Bors, of course, could not send a landing-party anywhere,
lest it be sniped. He had actually accomplished the purpose for which
he'd landed, the getting of a shipload of food out to space, the
announcement of the destruction of Kandar's fleet and the spreading of
contempt and derision for Mekin in Tralee. Now he had to keep anyone
from suspecting the importance of the cargo-ship. The demand for stores
was a cover-up for things already done. But that cover-up had to be
completed.

Vehicles appeared at the edge of the landing-grid. Figures advanced
individually, waving white flags. Bors sent men out with small arms to
get their messages. These were the supplies he'd demanded. Food.
Rocket-fuel. More food.

The vehicles trundled into the open and stopped. Men from the _Isis_
waved away the drivers and took over the trucks. They brought most of
them to the ship's side. A petty-officer came into the control room and
saluted.

"Sir," he said briskly. "One of the drivers told me his load of grub had
time-bombs in it. The secret police use time-bombs and booby-traps here,
sir, to keep the people terrified. He says the bombs will go off after
we're out in space, sir."

"What did you do?" asked Bors.

"I pretended the truck stalled and I couldn't start it. Two other
drivers tipped off our men. We left those trucks and some others out on
the field, so the drivers wouldn't be suspected of alerting us."

"Good work," said Bors. "Better put detectors on all parcels from all
trucks before bringing them aboard."

"Booby-traps can be made very tricky indeed, but when they are used by
secret police...." Bors allowed himself to rage for a moment only, at
the idea of that kind of terrorism practiced by a government on its
supposed citizens. It would be intended to enforce the totalitarian idea
that what is not commanded for the ordinary citizen to do is forbidden
to him. But secret-police booby-traps and time-bombs would be
standardized. He hadn't allowed time for complex, detection-proof
devices to be made. Detectors would pick out any ordinary trickery.

The harsh-voiced broadcaster continued to harangue the population of
Tralee, of which the least of his words was high treason. They enjoyed
the broadcast very much.

Presently Bors began to fidget. The _Isis_ had been aground for
thirty-five minutes. He had sat in the control room that whole time,
supervising a smoothly-running operation. He had had to supervise it.
Nobody else could have planned and carried it out. But it was not
heroic. He had the line officer's inherent scorn for administrative
officers, who are necessary but not glamorous or admired. He was stuck
with just that kind of duty now. But he fretted. The local officials
were given time to get over their panic. They ought to be planning some
counter-measure by this time.

He called the spaceport office.

"There should be a map of the city somewhere about," he said crisply.
"Send it along special. Bring a communicator call-book. If you find any
news-reports, new or old, we want them."

"_Yes, sir_," said a brisk voice. "_The broadcast's right, sir?_"

"It is," said Bors. "You're mining the grid set-up. We'll blow it before
we leave. There's no point in letting Mekin set down transports loaded
with troops to punish innocent people because they heard the Mekinese
accurately described. Make 'em land on rockets and there won't be so
many landing."

"_Yes, sir. Will do, sir._"

A click. Bors heard heavy materials being loaded aboard. Each object was
being examined by a detector. The loading process stopped. Bors pressed
a button.

"What happened?" he demanded.

"_Looks like a booby-trapped box, sir_," said a voice. "_Among the
supplies, sir._"

"Take it off a hundred yards and riddle it," ordered Bors. "This may
settle a problem for us."

"_Yes, sir._"

Bors fidgeted again. A messenger from the grid-control building arrived.
He had a map of the capital city of Tralee.

There was an explosion. A violent one. Bors looked out a port and saw
where the suspected parcel had been set up as a target a hundred yards
from the ship. It had been riddled with blast-rifle bolts, and had
exploded. It might not have destroyed the _Isis_ if it had exploded in
space, but it would not have done it any good.

Bors pushed the button for the loading-port compartment.

"Throw out all the stuff loaded so far," he commanded. "Some of it may
be booby-trapped like that last one. We won't take a chance. Heave it
all out again."

"_Yes, sir._"

Bors gave other orders. The harsh-voiced broadcast stopped. Bors's own
voice went out on the air, steely-hard.

"Captain Bors, pirate ship _Isis_ speaking," he said coldly. "We
demanded supplies. They were sent us--government-supplied. We have found
one booby-trap included. In retaliation for this attempted
assassination, we are going to lob chemical-explosive missiles into the
principal government buildings of this city. We give three minutes'
leeway for clerks and other persons to get clear of those buildings. The
three minutes start now!"

The sun shone tranquilly on the planet Tralee. White clouds floated with
infinite leisureliness across the blue sky. There was no motion of any
sort within the wide, open area of the landing-grid. Over a large part
of this world's surface all activity had stopped while men listened to a
broadcast.

"Fifteen seconds gone," said Bors icily.

He wrote out an order and passed it for execution.

"Thirty seconds gone."

From twenty giant buildings in the city, a black tide of running figures
began to pour. When they reached the street, they went on running. They
wanted to get as far as possible from the buildings Bors had said would
be destroyed.

"Forty-five seconds gone," said Bors implacably.

A voice spoke from the grid-control building, where men were now
placing explosives with precisely calculated effects. The voice came on
microwaves to the ship.

"_Sir_," said the voice, "_landing-grid reporting. Space-yacht_ Sylva
_reports breakout from overdrive and asks coordinates for landing.
Purpose of visit, pleasure-travel._"

Bors swore, then smiled to himself. Gwenlyn had threatened to do
something drastic!

"Say landing's forbidden," he commanded an instant later. "Advise
immediate departure."

He pressed a button and said evenly:

"One minute gone! In two minutes more we send our bombs and take off."

Streets outside the government buildings were filled from building-wall
to building-wall by clerks drafted to staff the incredible, arbitrary
government set up on its tributary worlds by Mekin. Bors scribbled a
list of buildings to be ranged on. The map from the spaceport office
would help. He marked the Ministry of Police, which would contain the
records essential to the operation of the planet-wide police system.
Anything that happened to those records would be so much good fortune
for Tralee, and so much bad for the master race and its quislings. He
marked the Ministry of the Interior, which would house the machinery for
requisitions of tribute to Mekin. The Ministry of Public Order would be
the headquarters of the secret and the political police. It ran the
forced-labor camps. It filed all anonymous accusations. It kept records
on all persons suspected of the crime of patriotism. If anything
happened to those records, it would be all to the good.

"Two minutes gone," said Bors.

The voice from the spaceport control building said briskly:

"_Demolition charges placed, sir. Ready to evacuate and fire. Sir, the
space-yacht_ Sylva _sends a message to the captain of the pirate ship.
It says they'll wait._"

Bors said, "Damn! All right." Then into the broadcast-microphone,
"Two-and-a-half minutes. There will be no further count-down. In thirty
seconds we fire missiles into government buildings, in retaliation for
an attempt to assassinate us with time-bombs. The next sound you hear
will be our missiles arriving." He cut back to the grid-control
building. "Fire all charges and report to the ship."

Almost instantly curt, crisp reports sounded nearby. The landing-party
came smartly back to the airlock, while explosions continued in the
building they'd left.

"Launcher-tubes train on targets," Bors commanded. He pressed another
button. "Rocket-room, make ready for lift." Back to the launcher-tube
communicator. "Fire missiles one, two, three, four, five, six."

There were boomings, which rose to bellowings as devastation tore away
from the _Isis's_ launching-tubes. Bors said irritably to the
rocket-room:

"Take her up!"

And then the ship lifted on her rockets--they were not solely for
emergency use, as on cargo-ships--and rushed toward the sky. As the ship
mounted on its column of writhing smoke, other smoky columns spouted up.
Six of them. But they were limited. They went up two thousand feet and
then tended to mushroom. Bits of debris went higher and spread more
widely, and for a time there were fragments of buildings and their
contents flying wildly about.

But the ship went straight upward. The city and the open country beyond
it shrank swiftly. The spouted smokes of explosions in the city were
left behind. Mountains appeared at one horizon and a sea at another.
Then the vast expanse of the planet suddenly acquired a curved edge, and
the ship again went up and up--while the sky turned dark and some stars
appeared in futile competition with the sun--and the surface of Tralee
became visibly the near side of an enormous globe.

Then the planet became plainly what it was, a great ball floating in
space, one-half of it brilliant in the sunshine and one part of it
bathed in night.

Bors put on the solar-system drive and changed course. A voice came
through:

"_Calling pirate ship ... calling pirate ship.... Space yacht_ Sylva
_calling pirate ship...._"

Bors growled into a microphone, "What the devil are you doing in this
place. What's happened?"

Gwenlyn's voice, bland and amused. "_Nothing happened. But we've got
some news for you. Make rendezvous at the fourth planet?_"

Bors swore again. That was where he was to meet the cargo-ship captured
and sent aloft, supposedly destroyed on Tralee. But he drove on out,
around and away from Tralee.

He was reasonably satisfied with his landing on Tralee. With some luck,
the news of the landing of a lone survivor of the Kandarian fleet might
reach Mekin before it was aware of what had happened to its occupation
force. With a little more luck, the attention of Mekin would be devoted
more to a ship which dared to turn pirate than to Kandar itself. With
unlimited favorable fortune, Mekin might actually send ships to hunt the
_Isis_ instead of asking questions on Kandar.

But Bors made a mental note. The more time that passed before Mekin knew
what had happened, the better. So a ship or two or three might be
detached from the fleet and sent back to hang off Kandar. If a single
ship came inquiringly, it might be sniped and the news of Kandar
suppressed for a while longer. And it was conceivable that Mekin might
come to worry more about other matters than the success or failure of a
routine expansion of its empire.

The fourth planet loomed up on schedule. Bors was irritated, as often
before, by the relatively slow solar-system drive. Overdrive was
sometimes not fast enough--but solar-system drive was infuriatingly
slow. Yet one couldn't use overdrive in a solar system. Approaching a
planet on overdrive would be like trying to garage a ground-car at sixty
miles an hour. One couldn't stop where one wanted to. He wondered
vaguely if Logan, the math Talent, could handle such a problem, and
dismissed the idea. One could break a circuit with an accuracy of
microseconds, but that wouldn't be close enough for overdrive. It
wouldn't be practical.

Then the ice-sheet of Tralee's nearest neighbor planet spread out in the
vision-port's range of view. Bors called for the cargo-ship. It answered
almost immediately. It was standard practice, of course, that the site
of a meeting planned at a given planet would be wherever its poles
pointed nearest to galactic north. The cargo-ship had just arrived. It
barely responded before the _Sylva_ began to call again.

The three ships, then, joined their orbits and went swinging about the
glacier-world beneath them while they conferred.

The report from the cargo-ship was unexpectedly satisfactory. It had
been almost completely loaded, and its cargo was largely foodstuffs
intended for Mekin. Kandar's fleet-in-hiding was already subsisting on
emergency rations. This cargo of assorted frozen foods would be welcome.
Bors gave orders for it to head for Glamis immediately, in overdrive.

Communication had been three-way, and Gwenlyn said quickly;

"_Just a moment! Did you pick up any news-reports on Tralee?_"

"Hm. Yes. I'd better send them--"

"_You'd better?_" echoed Gwenlyn, scolding. "_My father stayed with the
fleet to try to explain what Talents, Incorporated can do! He kept most
of the Talents with him, for demonstrations! The Department for
Predicting Dirty Tricks is there! Don't you remember what that
Department works on? Of course you've got to send those news-reports!_"

Bors ordered a space-boat to come from the cargo-ship for the reports.

"_Would you like to come to dinner on the yacht?_" asked Gwenlyn.
"_You're all living on emergency rations. Nobody asked us to divide our
supplies with the fleet. I can give you a nice meal._"

"Better not," said Bors curtly, and mumbled thanks.

He ordered the cargo-ship to send as much of its stores as the
space-boat could conveniently carry.

"_Then how about some cigars?_" asked Gwenlyn. She seemed at once amused
and approving, because Bors would not indulge himself in a really
satisfying meal while his crew lived on far from appetizing emergency
foodstuffs.

"No," said Bors. "No cigars either. You said you had some news for me.
What is it?"

"_I brought along our ship-arrival Talent_," said Gwenlyn blandly. "_He
can only tell when a ship will arrive at the solar system where he is,
so he had to come here to precognize._"

Bors felt again that stubborn incredulity which Talents, Incorporated
would always rouse in a mind like his.

"_There'll be a ship arriving here in two days, four hours, sixteen
minutes from now_," said Gwenlyn matter-of-factly. "_He thinks it's a
fighting ship, though he can't be sure. It could be a cruiser or
something like that doing mail duty, coming to deliver orders and
receive reports. You can't run an empire without a regular news system,
and Mekin wouldn't depend on commercial ships for government business._"

"Good!" said Bors. "Thanks!"

There was a pause.

"_What will you do now?_"

"Try to raise the devil somewhere else," said Bors. "Try to pick up
another food-ship, probably. Maybe I ought to let this ship alone, to
carry news of the pirate ship _Isis_ back to Mekin, but-- No. They use
booby-traps as police devices!"

It was not reasonable, but Bors could not think of missing a Mekinese
warship. The idea of a government using booby-traps to enforce its
orders somehow put it beyond forgiveness, and with the government all
those who served it willingly.

"_You'll go to Garen then?_" asked Gwenlyn.

Bors felt a sharp sting of annoyance. He had carefully kept secret the
choice of Garen Three as the next planet to be invaded by the
pseudo-pirate ship. It was upsetting to find that Gwenlyn knew about it.
Blast Talents, Incorporated!

"_The dowsing Talent_," said Gwenlyn, "_says there's a battleship
aground there. There've been some riots. The people of Garen don't like
Mekin, either. Strange? The battleship is to overawe them._"

"How do you know that?" demanded Bors.

"_The Department for Predicting Dirty Tricks was reading old
news-reports_," she told him. "_We're leaving now. 'Bye._"

"Goodbye," said Bors, and sighed, not knowing whether he felt regret or
relief.

The space-yacht _Sylva_ flicked out of sight. It had gone into
overdrive. Bors realized that he hadn't noticed which way it pointed. He
should have taken note. But he shook his head. He gave the cargo-ship
detailed orders, receiving its space-boat and what food it had been able
to bring. He sent it off to meet his fleet at Glamis.

He stayed in orbit around the fourth planet to wait for a Mekinese
fighting-ship. He began, too, to make long-range plans.



_Part Three_



Chapter 7


The Mekinese ship was a cruiser, and it broke out of overdrive within
the Tralee solar system just two days, four hours, and some odd minutes
after Gwenlyn predicted its coming. Presumably, it had made the
customary earlier breakout to correct its course and measure the
distance remaining to be run. In overdrive there was not as yet a way to
know accurately one's actual speed, and at astronomical distances small
errors piled up. Correction of line was important, too, because a course
that was even a second off arc could mount up to hundreds of thousands
of miles. But even with that usual previous breakout, the Mekinese
cruiser did not turn up conveniently close to its destination. It needed
a long solar-system drive to make its planetfall.

Bors's long-range radar picked it up before it was near enough to notify
its arrival to the planet--if it intended to notify at all. Most likely
its program was simply and frighteningly to appear overhead and
arrogantly demand the services of the landing-grid to lower it to the
ground.

Bors's radar detected the cruiser and instantly cut itself off. The cry
of "_Co-o-ntact!_" went through the ship and all inner doors closed,
sealing the ship into sections. Bors was already at the board in the
control room. He did not accept the predictions of Talents, Incorporated
as absolute truth. It bothered him that such irrational means of
securing information should be so accurate. So he compromised in his own
mind to the point where, when Talents, Incorporated gave specific
information, it was possible; no more. Then, having admitted so much, he
acted on the mere possibility, and pretended to be surprised when it
turned out to be a fact.

That was the case now. A ship had appeared in this solar system at the
time the ship-arrival Talent on the _Sylva_ predicted. Bors scowled, and
swung the _Isis_ in line between Tralee and the new arrival. He turned,
then, and drove steadily out toward it. The other ship's screens would
show a large blip which was the planet, and in direct line a very much
smaller blip which was the _Isis_. The small blip might not be noticed
because it was in line with the larger. If it were noticed, it would be
confusing, because such things should not happen. But the cruisers of
Mekin were not apt to be easily alarmed. They represented a great
empire, all of whose landing-grids were safely controlled, and though
there was disaffection everywhere there was no reason to suspect
rebellion at operations in space.

For a long time nothing happened. The _Isis_ drove to meet the cruiser.
The two vessels should be approaching each other at a rate which was the
total of their speeds. Bors punched computer-keys and got the
gravitational factor at this distance from Tralee's sun. He set the
_Isis's_ solar-system drive to that exact quantity. He waited.

His own radar was now non-operative. Its first discovery-pulse would
have been observed by the Mekinese duty-officer. The fact that it did
not repeat would be abnormal. The duty-officer would wonder why it
didn't come again.

The astrogation-radar cut off. Then a single strong pulse came. It would
be a ranging-pulse. Cargo-ship radars sacrificed high accuracy for wide
and deep coverage. But war-vessels carried pulse instruments which could
measure distances within feet up to thousands of miles, and by
phase-scrambling among the echoes even get some information about the
size and shape of the object examined. Not much, but some.

Bors relaxed. Things were going well. When four other ranging-pulses
arrived at second intervals, he nodded to himself. This was a warship's
reaction. It could be nothing else. That officer knew that something was
coming out from Tralee. It was on approximately a collision course. But
a ship traveling under power should gain velocity as long as its drive
was on. When traveling outward from the sun and not under power, it
should lose velocity by so many feet per second to the sun's
gravitational pull. Bors's ship did neither. It displayed the remarkably
unlikely characteristic of absolutely steady motion. It was not normal.
It was not possible. It could not have any reasonable explanation, in
the mind of a Mekinese.

Which was its purpose. It would arouse professional curiosity on the
cruiser, which would then waste some precious time attempting to
identify it. There wouldn't be suspicion because it didn't act
suspiciously. Still, it couldn't be dismissed, because it didn't behave
in any recognizable fashion. The cruiser would want to know more about
it; it shouldn't move at a steady velocity going outward from a sun.

In consequence, Bors got in the first shot.

He said, "Fire one!" when the Mekinese would be just about planning to
turn their electron-telescope upon it. A missile leaped away from the
_Isis_. It went off at an angle, and it curved madly, and the
instrumentation of the cruiser could spot it as now there, now here, now
nearer, and now nearer still. But the computers could not handle an
object which not only changed velocity but changed the rate at which its
velocity changed.

Missiles came pouring out of the Mekinese ship. They were infinitesimal,
bright specks on the radar-screen. They curved violently in flight
trying to intercept the _Isis's_ missile. They failed.

There was a flash of sun-bright flame very, very far away. There was a
little cloud of vapor which dissipated swiftly. Then there was nothing
but two or three specks moving at random, their target lost, their
purpose forgotten. The fact of victory was an anticlimax.

"All clear," said Bors grimly.

The inner-compartment doors opened. The normal sounds of the ship were
heard again. Bors began to calculate the data needed for the journey to
Garen. There was the angle and the distance and the proper motions and
the time elapsed.... He found it difficult to think in such terms. He
was discontented. He'd ambushed a Mekinese cruiser. True, he'd let his
own ship be seen, and the Mekinese had warning enough to launch missiles
in their own defense. It was not even faintly like the ambush of a
cruiser on the bottom of a Kandarian sea, waiting to assassinate a fleet
when its complement went on board. But Bors didn't like what he'd just
done.

The figures wouldn't come out right. Impatiently, he sent for Logan. The
mathematical Talent came into the control room.

"Will you calculate this for me?" Bors asked irritably.

Logan glanced casually at the figures and wrote down the answer.
Instantly. Without thought or reflection. Instantly!

Bors couldn't quite believe it. The distance between the two stars was a
rounded-off number, of course. The relative proper motion of the two
stars had a large plus-or-minus bugger factor. The time-lapse due to
distance had a presumed correction and there was a considerable probable
error in the speed of translation of the ship during overdrive. It was a
moderately complicated equation, and the computation of the probable
error was especially tricky. Bors stared at it, and then stared at
Logan.

"That's the answer to what you have written there," said Logan
condescendingly, "but your figures are off. I've been talking to your
computer men. They've given me the log figures on past overdrive jumps
and the observed errors on arrival. They're systematic. I noticed it at
once."

Bors said, "What?"

"There's a source of consistent error," Logan said patiently. "I found
the values to correct it, then I found the source. It's in your
overdrive speed."

Bors blinked. Speed in overdrive could not be computed exactly. The
approximation was very close--within a fraction of a tenth of one per
cent--but when the distance traveled was light-years the uncertainty
piled up.

"If you use these figures," said Logan complacently--and he scribbled
figures swiftly--"you'll get it really accurate."

Having finished writing the equation, he wrote the solution. Bors asked
suspicious questions. Logan answered absently. He knew nothing about
overdrive. He didn't understand anything but numbers and he didn't know
how he did what he did with them. But he'd worked backward from observed
errors in calculation and found a way to keep them out of the answer.
And he'd done it all in his head. It was unbelievable--yet Bors
believed.

"I'll try your figures," he said. "Thanks."

Logan went proudly away, past an orderly bringing cups of coffee to the
control room. Bors aimed the ship according to the calculation Logan had
given him, scrupulously setting the breakout timer to the exact figure
listed.

He was still uncomfortable about the destruction of the Mekinese cruiser
when he said curtly, "Overdrive coming!" He'd have preferred a more
sportsmanlike type of warfare. He faced the old, deplorable fact that
fighting men had had to adjust to throughout the ages; one can fight an
honorable enemy honorably, but against some men scruples count as
handicaps.

"Swine!" growled Bors. "They'll make us like them!" Then into the
microphone he said, "Five, four, three, two, one...."

He pressed the overdrive button. The sensation of going into overdrive
was acutely uncomfortable, as always. Bors swallowed squeamishly and
took his cup of coffee.

The _Isis_, then, lay wrapped in a cocoon of stressed space. Its
properties included the fact that its particular type of stress could
travel much more swiftly than the stresses involved in the propagation
of radiation, of magnetism, or gravity. And this state of stress--this
overdrive field--did not have a position. It _was_ a position. The ship
inside it could not be said to be in the real cosmos at all, but when
the field collapsed it would be somewhere, and the way it pointed, and
how long before collapse, determined in what particular somewhere it
would be when it came out. But travel in overdrive was tedious.

As civilization increases man's control of the cosmos, it takes the fun
out of it. In prehistoric days a man who had to hunt animals or go
hungry may often have gone hungry, but he was never bored by the
sameness of his meals. A man who traveled on horseback often got to his
destination late, but he was not troubled with ennui on the way. In
overdrive, Bors's ship traveled almost with the speed of thought, but
there was absolutely nothing to think about while journeying. Not about
the journey, anyhow.

While the ship drove on, however, the cargo-ship seized on Tralee made
its way toward Glamis and a meeting with the fleet, then gloomily
sweeping in orbit around Glamis Two. The food it carried would raise
men's spirits a little, but it would not solve the problem of what the
fleet was to do. Morgan, on the flagship, expounded the ability of his
Talents to perform the incredible, but nobody could find any application
of the incredible to the fix the fleet was in. On Kandar, the population
knew that there had been a battle off the gas-giant planet, but they did
not know the result. The Mekinese fleet had not come. The fleet of
Kandar had not returned. The caretaker government met in council and
desperately made guesses. It arrived at no hopeful conclusion whatever.
The most probable--because most hopeless--conviction seemed to be that
the fleet of Mekin had been met and fought, but that it was victorious,
and in retaliation for resistance it had gone away to send back swarms
of grisly bomb-carriers which would drop atomic bombs in such quantity
that for a thousand years to come there would be no life on Kandar.

The light cruiser, the _Isis_, was unaware of these frustrations. It
remained in overdrive, where absolutely nothing happened.

Bors reviewed his actions and could not but approve of them tepidly.
He'd sent food to the fleet, he'd destroyed two enemy fighting ships and
he'd done what he could to harm the Mekinese puppets on Tralee. He'd had
them publicly humiliated with well-chosen epithets. He'd destroyed the
records and archives of the secret political police.... Many people on
Tralee already blessed him, without knowing who he was. There might yet
be hope of better days.

But all things end, even journeys at excessively great multiples of the
speed of light. The overdrive timer rang warning bells. Taped breakout
notifications sounded from speakers throughout the ship. There was a
count-down of seconds, and the abominably unpleasant sensation of
breakout, and the ship was in normal space again.

There was the sun of Garen, burning peacefully in a vast void with
millions of minute, unwinking lights in the firmament all about it.
There was a gas-giant planet, a mere fifteen million miles away. Further
out there were the smaller, frozen worlds. Nearer the sun, on the far
side of its orbit, there was the planet Garen.

The _Isis_ drove for that planet, while Bors tried to decide whether the
remarkable accuracy of this breakout was due to accident or to Logan's
computations.

Logan appeared as Bors was gloomily contemplating the days needed to
reach Garen on solar system drive, because overdrive was too fast. Logan
looked offhand and elaborately casual, but he fairly glowed with
triumph.

"I found out the fact behind the bugger factor, Captain," he said
condescendingly. "The speed of a ship in overdrive varies as the change
in mass to the minus fourth. Your computers couldn't tell that! Here's a
table for calculating the speed of a ship in overdrive according to its
mass and the strength of the overdrive field."

"Fine," said Bors without enthusiasm.

"And to go with it," said Logan, his voice indifferent, but his eyes
shining proudly, "just for my own amusement, I computed a complete table
of overdrive speeds for this particular ship, with different strengths
of field. They run from one point five light-speeds up to the maximum
your equipment will give. You have to correct for changes of mass, of
course."

Bors was not quite capable of enthusiasm over the computation of tables
of complex figures. He simply could not share Logan's thrill of
achievement in the results of the neat rows of numerals. Nor had he
struggled unduly to grasp the implication of Logan's explanation.

Instead, he said politely, "Very nice. Thank you very much."

Logan's eyes ceased to shine. His wounded pride made him defiant.

"Nobody else anywhere could have worked out that table!" he said
stridently. "Nobody! Morgan said you'd appreciate my work! He said you
needed my talent! But what good do you see in it? You think I'm a
freak!"

Bors realized that he'd been tactless. Logan's experiences before
Talents, Incorporated had made him unduly sensitive. He'd done something
of which he was proud, but Bors didn't appreciate its magnitude. Logan
reacted to the frustration of his vanity.

"Hold it!" said Bors. "I'm not unappreciative. I'm stupid and worried
about something. You just figured an overdrive jump for me that's the
most accurate I ever heard of! But I'm desperate for time and we've got
to spend two days in solar-system drive because we can't make an
overdrive hop of less than light-days! So we're losing forty-eight hours
or more."

Logan said as stridently as before:

"But I just showed you you don't have to! Cut the field-strength
according to that table."

Bors was jolted. It was suddenly self-evident. Logan had said he'd
figured a table of overdrive fields for the _Isis_ which would work for
anything between one point five light-speeds to maximum. One point five
light-speeds!

It was one of those absurdities in technology that so often go so long
before they are noticed. During the development of overdrive, it had
been the effort of every technician to get the fastest possible drive.
It was known that with a given mass and a given field-strength, one
could get an effective speed of an unbelievable figure. Men had spent
their lives trying to increase that figure. But nobody'd ever tried to
find out how _slowly_ one could travel in overdrive, because
solar-system drive took care of _short_ distances!

"Wait a minute!" said Bors, staring. "Do you really mean I can drive
this ship under two light-speeds in overdrive?"

"Look at the table!" said Logan, trembling with anger. "Look at it!
You'll find the figures right there!"

Bors looked. Then he stood up quickly. He left the ship in the care of
his second-in-command and plunged into a highly technical discussion
with its engineers.

He ran into violent objections. The whole purpose of overdrive was high
speed between stars. The engineers insisted that one had to use the
strongest possible field. If the field were made feeble, it would become
unstable. Everybody knew that the field had to be of maximum strength.

"We'll try minimum," said Bors coldly. "Now let's get to work!"

He had to do much of the labor himself, because the engineers found it
necessary to stop at each stage of the effort to explain why it should
not be done. He had almost to battle to get an auxiliary circuit
paralleling the main overdrive unit, with a transformer to bring down
voltage, and a complete new power-supply unit to be cut into the
overdrive line while leaving the standard ready for use without delay.

He went back to the control room. He took a distance-reading on the huge
planet off to port. He threw on the new, low-power overdrive field. He
held it for seconds and broke out. It was still in sight.

The speed of the _Isis_, with the adjusted overdrive, was one point
seven lights.

Now, instead of spending days in solar-system drive for planetary
approach, Bors went into the new-speed drive and broke out in eleven
minutes twenty seconds, and was within a hundred thousand miles of
Garen. He'd saved two days and secured the promise of many more such
valuable feats.

As soon as the _Isis_ broke to normal space near Garen, there was a call
on the communicator. A familiar voice;

"_Calling_ Isis! _Calling_ Isis! Sylva _calling_ Isis!"

Bors said softly, "Damnation! For the second time, what are you doing in
this place?"

Gwenlyn's voice laughed.

"_Traveling for pleasure, Captain Bors! I've news for you. We were
allowed to land and then told to leave again. There's a warship down
below. I told you about it before. It's still there. There's a huge
cargo-ship, too, and there are riots because it's almost finished
loading with requisitioned foodstuffs for Mekin. Mekin is--would you
believe it?--unpopular on Garen!_"

"Very well," said Bors. "I'll see what can be done. Will you carry a
message for me?"

"_Happy to oblige, Captain!_"

"Tell them that--" Then Bors stopped short. It was not probable that the
fleet wave-form and frequency were known to Mekinese ships. But the
possibility of low-speed overdrive travel was much too important a
military secret to risk under any circumstances. He said, "I'll be along
very shortly with some highly encouraging news."

"_Who do I tell this to?_"

"I name no names on microwaves," he told her. "Get going, will you?"

"_To hear_," said Gwenlyn cheerfully, "_is to obey_."

Her communicator clicked off. The _Sylva_ showed on a radar-screen, but
had not been near enough to be sighted direct. The blip shot out from
the planet.

Bors growled to himself. The _Isis_ floated a hundred thousand miles off
Garen. There was no challenge. There was no query from the planet. But
Gwenlyn said that there were riots down below. They could be serious
enough to absorb the attention usually given to routine. But there was
another reason for this inattention. Garen was a part of the Mekinese
empire which was not encouraged to trade off-planet except through
Mekin. Very few non-Mekinese ships would ever land there, and therefore
wouldn't be watched for. It was unlikely that a long-range radar
habitually swept space off Garen. The battleship should be more alert,
but again there was no danger of space-borne rebellion, and the affair
of Kandar might not have been bruited so far away.

But the spaceport would respond to calls, certainly. Bors considered
these circumstances. A large cargo-ship loaded with foodstuffs
requisitioned to be sent to Mekin. A population which had been
rebellious before--witness the battleship aground to overawe
resistance--and now was rioting.

Bors called for the extra members of his crew. He uncomfortably outlined
the action he had in mind. There was one part that he disliked. He had
to stay on board ship. The important action, as he saw it, would take
place elsewhere. It was so obviously painful for him to outline a course
of action in which other men must take risks he couldn't share, that his
men regarded him with pleased affection which he did not guess at. In
the end he asked for twenty volunteers, and got fifty.

He swung the _Isis_ around to the night side of the planet. Its two port
blisters opened and two boats floated free in the orbit Bors had
established. The ship moved on ahead.

Just at sunup where the spaceport stood, a voice growled down from outer
space.

"_Calling ground!_" it said contemptuously. "_Calling ground! This is
the last ship left of the fleet of Kandar. We're pirates now and we're
looking for trouble! There's a battleship down there. Come up and fight
or we blast you in your spaceport! Just to prove we can do it--watch!_"

Bors said, "Fire one," and a missile went off toward the planet. It was
fused to detonate at the very tip of the fringes of the planet's
atmosphere.

It did. There was light more brilliant than a thousand suns. The long
low shadows of sunrise vanished. The new-rising sun turned dim by
comparison.

The voice from space spoke with intolerable levity. "_Come up with your
missiles ready! We'll give you ten thousand miles of height. And if you
try to duck out in overdrive...._"

The voice was explicit about what it would do to the Mekinese-occupied
areas of Garen if the battleship fled.

It came up to fight. It could do nothing else.



Chapter 8


The trick, of course, was in the timing, and the secret was that Bors
knew what he was doing, while those who opposed him did not. Bors had
declared himself a pirate on Tralee, and here off Garen he'd claimed the
same status. But no Mekinese, as yet, knew why he'd outlawed himself,
nor his purpose in challenging a line battleship to fight. It seemed
like the raving, hysterical hatred of men with no motive but hate. But
it wasn't. The _Isis_ could have sent down a missile with a
limited-yield warhead if its only purpose had been to kill or to
destroy. He could have blasted the warship without warning and it was
unlikely that it was alert enough to send up counter-missiles in its own
defense. But he'd have had to smash everything else in the spaceport at
the same time.

Therefore he'd left his two space-boats in low orbit on the night side
of the planet. In thirty minutes or so they'd arrive near the spaceport,
where there was a large cargo-ship loaded with foodstuffs, for Mekin.
Bors wanted that cargo.

So when the Mekinese battlewagon came lumbering up to space, with her
missile-tubes armed and bristling, Bors withdrew the _Isis_. It was not
flight. It was a move designed to make sure that when the fight began
there would be no stray missiles falling on the planet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unseen, the _Isis's_ space-boats floated in darkness. They carried ten
men each, equipped with small arms and light bombs. They listened to
such bits of broadcast information as came from the night beneath them.
Boat Number One picked up a news broadcast, and when it was finished,
the petty officer in command pulled free the tape that had recorded it
and tucked it in his pocket. There were items of interest on it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Isis_ came to a stop in space. The battleship rose and rose. It did
not drive toward the _Isis_. There was a maximum distance beyond which
space-combat was impractical; beyond which missiles became mere blind
projectiles moving almost at random and destroying each other without
regard to planetary loyalties. There was also a minimum distance, below
which missiles were again mere projectiles and could not greatly modify
the courses on which they were launched.

But there was a wide area in between, in which combat was practical. The
Mekinese battleship reached a height where it could maneuver on
solar-system drive without rockets. It might, of course, flick into
overdrive and be gone thousands of millions of miles within seconds. But
that would be flight. It would not return accurately to the scene of the
fight. So overdrive could not be used as a battle tactic. It could be
used only for escape.

       *       *       *       *       *

Near the planet, where the two space-boats floated, the dawnline
appeared at the world's edge. The space-boats swung about, facing
backward, and applied power for deceleration. They dropped into the
atmosphere and bounced out again, and in again--more deeply--and then
swung once more to face along their course. They began a long, shallow,
screaming descent from the farthest limits of the planet's atmosphere.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out where the sun of Garen was a disk of intolerable brilliance and
heat, the battleship bumbled on its way. It would seem that its
commander scornfully accepted the _Isis's_ terms of combat and moved
contemptuously to the position where his weapons would be most deadly.
His ship's launching-tubes were at the ready. It should be able to pour
out a cloud of missiles. In fact, a sardonic voice came from the
battleship.

"_Calling pirate_," said the voice.

"Yes," said Bors.

"_If you wish to surrender--_"

"We don't," said Bors.

"_I was about to say_," said the sardonic voice, "_that it is now too
late._"

The radar-screen showed tiny specks darting out from that larger speck
which was the battleship. They came hurtling toward the _Isis_. Bors
counted them. A ship of the _Isis's_ class mounted eighteen
launching-tubes. She should be able to fire eighteen missiles at a time.
The Mekinese ship had fired nineteen. If the _Isis_ opened fire, by all
the previous rules of space-combat, she would need to use one missile to
counter every one of the battleship's, there would still be one left
over to destroy the _Isis_--unless she fired a second spread of
missiles, which was virtually impossible before she would be hit.

It was mockery by the skipper of the battleship. He was doubtless much
amused at the idea of toying with this small, insolent vessel. But Bors
did not try to match him missile for missile. He said evenly,

"Fire one. Fire two. Fire three. Fire four."

He stopped at four. His four missiles went curving wildly, in the
general direction, only, of the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the planet Garen two shrieking objects came furiously to ground. Men
leaped swiftly out of them and trotted toward a small town, a
settlement, a group of houses hardly larger than a village. One man
delayed by each grounded space-boat, and then ran to overtake the
others. Local inhabitants appeared, to stare and to wonder. The two
landing-parties, ten men in each, did not pause. They swarmed into the
village's single street. There were ground-cars at the street-sides. The
men of the landing-parties established themselves briskly. One of them
seized a staring civilian by the arm.

"To hell with Mekin," he said conversationally. "Where's the
communicator office?"

"Wha--what--?"

"To hell with Mekin," repeated the man from the _Isis_, impatiently.
"Where's the communicator office?"

The civilian, trembling suddenly, pointed. Some of the landing-party
rushed to it. Four went in. There were the reports of blast-rifles.
Smoke and the smell of burnt insulation drifted out. Others of the
magically arrived men went methodically down the street, examining each
ground-car in turn. One of them cupped his hands and bellowed for the
information of alarmed citizens:

"Attention, please! We're from the pirate ship _Isis_. You have nothing
to fear from us. We're survivors of Mekin's invasion of Kandar. You will
please co-operate with us, and no harm will come to you. Your
ground-cars will be disabled so you can't report us. You will not be
punished for this! Repeat: you will not be punished!"

He repeated the announcement. Others of the swiftly-moving
landing-parties drove the chosen ground-cars away from the streets. The
remaining cars received a blaster-bolt apiece. In seven minutes and
thirty seconds from the landing of the small space-craft, a motley
assortment of cars roared out of the village, heading for the capital
city of Garen. As the last car cleared the houses, there was a monstrous
explosion. One of the space-boats flew to bits. Before the cars had
vanished, there was a second explosion. Another space-boat vanished in
flame and debris. The landing-party had no way to return to space. The
inhabitants of the village had no way to report their coming except in
person and by traveling some considerable distance on foot. They were
singularly slow in making that report. The men of the space-boats had
said they were pirates. The people of Garen felt no animosity toward
pirates. They only hated Mekinese.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out in space, missiles hurtled away from the small ship _Isis_. They did
not plunge directly at the battleship. They swung crazily in wide arcs.
The already-launched Mekinese missiles swerved to intercept them. They
failed. More missiles erupted from the battleship, aimed to intercept.
They also failed. The battleship began to fling out every missile it
possessed, in a frantic effort to knock out the _Isis's_ erratic
missiles, which neither instruments nor eyes were able to follow
accurately enough to establish a pattern of destination.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half a dozen ground-cars roared through the streets of the capital city
of Garen. They did not seem to be crowded. One man or at most, two,
could be seen in each car, but they drove as a unit, one close behind
another, at a furious pace. When they needed a clear way, the first
sounded its warning-note and the others joined in as a chorus. Half a
dozen sirens blaring together have an authoritative, emergency sound.
The way was cleared when that imperative clarion demanded it.

They swerved under the landing-grid. They raced and bounced across the
clear surface which was the spaceport. There stood a giant, rotund
cargo-ship, pointing skyward. There were ground-trucks still supplying
cargo for its nearly filled-up holds.

The six ground-cars braked, making clouds of dust. And suddenly there
was not one or two men in each, but an astonishing number. They knew
exactly what they were about. Five of them plunged into the ship. Others
drove off the ground-trucks. Uniformed men ran from the side of the
spaceport toward the ship, yelling. One ground-car started up again,
rushed to the control-building, swerved sharply as a crash into it
seemed inevitable, and dumped something out on the ground. It raced back
to the other cars about the cargo-ship. The hold-doors were closing.

The object dumped by the control-building went off. It was a
chemical-explosive bomb, but its power was adequate. The wall of the
building caved in. Flames leaped crazily out of the collapsed heap. The
landing-field would be out of operation.

The last car skidded to a stop. The two men in it ran for the
boarding-stair of the cargo-boat. There was nobody of their party
outside now. The landing-stair withdrew after them.

Then monstrous, incredible masses of flame and steam burst from the
bottom of the rotund space-ship. It lifted, slowly at first, but then
more and more swiftly. It climbed to the sky. It became a speck, and
then a mote at the crawling end of a trail of opaque white
emergency-rocket fumes. Then it vanished.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far out in space, there was an explosion brighter than the sun, and then
a second and a third. There was a cloud of incandescent metal vapor.
Presently a missile found its target-seeking microwaves reflected by the
ionized metal steam. It plunged into collision with that glowing stuff.
It exploded. Two or three more exploded, like the first. Others burned
harmlessly.

A voice said, "_Cargo-ship reporting. Clear of ground. Everything going
well. No casualties._"

"Report again when in clear space," said Bors.

He waited. Several long minutes later a second report came.

"_Cargo-ship reporting. In clear space._"

"Very good work!" said Bors. "You know where to go now. Go ahead!"

"_Yes, sir_," said the voice from space. Then it asked apologetically,
"_You got the battleship, sir?_"

The voice from space sounded as if the man who spoke were grinning.

"_We'll celebrate that, sir! Good to have served with you, sir._"

Bors swung the _Isis_ and drove on solar-system drive to get well away
from Garen. He watched the blip which was the captured ship as it seemed
to hesitate a very, very long time. It was aiming, of course, for
Glamis, that totally useless solar system around a planet where the
fleet of Kandar orbited in bitter frustration.

Bors got up from his seat to loosen his muscles. He had sat absolutely
tense and effectively motionless for a very long time. He ached. But he
felt a sour sort of satisfaction. For a ship of the _Isis's_ class to
have challenged a battleship to combat, to have deliberately and
insultingly waited for it to choose its own battle-distance, and then to
let it launch its missiles first.... It was no ambush! Bors did not
feel ashamed of this fight. He'd acted according to the instincts of a
fighting man who gives his enemy the chance to use what weapons the
enemy has chosen, and then defeats him.

His second-in-command said, "Sir, the cargo-boat blip is gone. It should
be in overdrive now, sir, heading for Glamis."

"Then we'll follow it," said Bors. Suddenly he realized how his
second-in-command must feel. The landing-party'd seen action--for which
Bors envied them--and he'd felt ashamed because he stayed in the ship in
what he considered safety while they risked their lives. But his
second-in-command had had no share in the achievement at all. Bors had
handled all controls and given all orders, even the routine ones, since
before Tralee.

"I think," said Bors, "I'll have a cup of coffee. Will you take over and
head for Glamis?"

He left the control-room, to let his subordinate handle things for a
time. He'd seated himself in the mess-room when the voice of his
second-in-command came through the speakers.

"_Going into overdrive_," said the voice. "_All steady. Five, four,
three, two--_"

Bors prepared to wince. He put down his coffee cup and held himself
ready for the sickening sensation.

Suddenly there was the rasping, snaring crackling of a high-voltage
spark. There were shouts. There were explosions and the reek of
overheated metal and smoldering insulation. Then the compartment-doors
closed.

When Bors had examined the damage, and the emergency-purifiers had taken
the smoke and smell out of the air, his second-in-command looked
suicidally gloomy.

"It's bad business," said Bors wryly. "Very bad business! But I should
have mentioned it to you. I didn't think of it. I wouldn't have thought
of it if I'd been doing the overdrive business myself."

The second-in-command said bitterly;

"But I knew you'd tried the new low-power overdrive! I knew it!"

"I left it switched in," said Bors, "because I thought we might use it
in the fight with the battleship. But we didn't."

"I should have checked that it was off!" protested his second. "It's my
fault!"

Bors shrugged. Deciding whose fault it was wouldn't repair the damage.
There'd been a human error. Bors had approached Garen on the low-power
overdrive that Logan had computed for him. There was a special switch to
cut it in, instead of the standard overdrive. It should have been cut
out when the standard overdrive was used. But somebody in the
engine-room had simply thrown the main-drive switch when preparations
for overdrive travel began. When the ship should have gone into
overdrive, it didn't. The two parallel circuits amounted to an effective
short-circuit. Generators, condensers--even the overdrive field coils in
their armored mounts outside the hull--everything blew.

So the _Isis_ was left with a solar-system drive and rockets and nothing
else. If the drive used only in solar systems were put on full, and the
_Isis_ headed for Glamis, and if the food and water held out, it would
arrive at that distant world in eighty-some years. It could reach Tralee
in fifty. But there were emergency rations for a few weeks only. It was
not conceivable that repairs could be made. This was no occasion calling
for remarkable ingenuity to make some sort of jury-rigged drive. This
was final.

"I've got to think," said Bors heavily.

He went to his own cabin.

Talents, Incorporated couldn't improvise or precognize or calculate an
answer to this! And all previous plans had to be cancelled. Absolutely.
He dismissed at once and for all time the idea that the _Isis_ could be
repaired short of months in a well-equipped space-yard on a friendly
planet. She should be blown up, after adequate pains were taken to
destroy any novelties in her make-up. There were the tables of Logan's
calculation. Bors found himself thinking sardonically that Logan should
be shot because he had no obligation of loyalty to Kandar, and could as
readily satisfy his hunger for recognition in the Mekinese service as
in Kandar's. The crew....

That was the heart of the situation. The _Isis_ could not be salvaged.
She should be destroyed. There was only one world within reach on which
human beings could live. That world was Garen. The _Isis_ could sit down
on Garen, disembark her crew, and be blown up before Mekinese
authorities could interfere. Perhaps--possibly--her crew could try to
function on Garen as marooned pirates, as outlaws, as rebels against the
puppet planetary government. But they knew too much. Every man aboard
knew how the interceptor-proof missiles worked. Logan might be the only
man who had ever calculated the tables for their use, but if any member
of the _Isis's_ crew were captured and made to talk, he could tell
enough for Mekinese mathematicians to start work with. If Logan were
captured he could tell more. He could re-compute not only the tables for
the missiles, but the data for low-power overdrive which would make any
fleet invincible.

And there was the Kandarian fleet. If its existence became known, it
would mean the destruction of Kandar. Every soul of all its millions
would die with every tree and blade of grass, every flower, beast and
singing bird, even the plankton in its seas.

Bors had arrived at the grimmest decision of his life when his cabin
speaker said curtly:

"_Captain Bors, sir. Space-yacht_ Sylva _calling. Asks for you._"

"I'm here," said Bors.

Gwenlyn's voice came out of the speaker.

"_Are you in trouble, Captain? One of our Talents insists that you
are._"

Bors swallowed.

"I thought you'd gone on as you were supposed to do. Yes. There is
trouble. It amounts to shipwreck. How many of my men can you take off?"

"_We've lots of room!_" said Gwenlyn. "_My father kept most of the
Talents with him. We're heading your way, Captain._"

"Very good," said Bors. "Thank you." He was grateful, but help from a
woman--from Gwenlyn!--galled him.

He heard her click off, and shivered.

Presently the _Sylva_ was alongside. The transfer of the _Isis's_ crew
began. Bors went over the ship for the last time. The ship's log went
aboard the _Sylva_, as did Logan's calculated tables for low-power
overdrive. Bors made quite sure that nothing else could be recovered
from the _Isis_. He looked strained and irritable when he finally went
into one of the lifeboat blisters on the _Isis_ left vacant by the
sacrifice of two space-boats in the Garen cutting-out expedition. A boat
from the _Sylva_ was there to receive him.

"Technically," said Bors, "I should go down with my ship, or fly apart
with it. But there's no point in being romantic!"

"I'm the one," said his second-in-command, "who will stand
court-martial!"

"I doubt it very much," said Bors. "They can't court-martial you for
partly accomplishing something they're in trouble for failing at. Into
the boat with you!"

He threw a switch and entered the boat. The blister opened. The small
space-boat floated free. Its drive hummed and it drove far and away from
the seemingly unharmed but completely helpless _Isis_. Bors looked
regretfully back at the abandoned light cruiser. Sunlight glinted on its
hull. Somehow a slow rotary motion had been imparted to it during the
process of abandoning ship. The little fighting ship pointed as though
wistfully at all the stars about her, to none of which she would ever
drive again.

The _Sylva_ loomed up. The last space-boat nestled into its blister and
the grapples clanked. The leaves closed. When the blister air-pressure
showed normal and green lights flashed and flashed, Bors got out of the
boat and went to the _Sylva's_ control-room. Gwenlyn was there, quite
casually controlling the operation of the yacht by giving suggestions to
its official skipper. She turned and beamed at Bors.

"We'll pull off a way," she observed, "and make sure your time-bomb
works. You wouldn't want her discovered and salvaged."

"No," said Bors.

He stood by a viewport as the _Sylva_ drove away. The _Isis_ ceased to
be a shape and became the most minute of motes. Bors looked at his
watch.

"Not far enough yet," he said depressedly. "Everything will go."

The yacht drove on. Fifteen--twenty minutes at steadily increasing
solar-system speed.

"It's about due," said Bors.

Gwenlyn came and stood beside him. They looked together out at the
stars. There were myriads upon myriads of them, of all the colors of the
spectrum, of all degrees of brightness, in every possible asymmetric
distribution.

There was a spark in remoteness. Instantly it was vastly more than a
spark. It was a globe of deadly, blue-white incandescence. It flamed
brilliantly as all the _Isis's_ fuel and the warheads on all its
unexpended missiles turned to pure energy in the hundred-millionth of a
second. It was many times brighter than a sun. Then it was not. And the
violence of the explosion was such that there was not even glowing
metal-vapor where it had been. Every atom of the ship's substance had
been volatilized and scattered through so many thousands of cubic miles
of emptiness that it did not show even as a mist.

"A good ship," said Bors grimly. Then he growled. "I wonder if they saw
that on Garen and what they thought about it!" He straightened himself.
"How did you know we were in trouble?"

"There's a Talent," said Gwenlyn matter-of-factly, "who can always tell
how people feel. She doesn't know what they think or why. But she can
tell when they're uneasy and so on. Father uses her to tell him when
people lie. When what they say doesn't match how they feel, they're
lying."

"I think," said Bors, "that I'll stay away from her. But that won't do
any good, will it?"

Gwenlyn smiled at him. It was a very nice smile.

"She could tell that things had gone wrong with the ship," she observed,
"because of the way you felt. But I've forbidden her ever to tell when
someone lies to me or anything like that. I don't want to know people's
feelings when they want to hide them."

"Fine!" said Bors. "I feel better." Standing so close to Gwenlyn, he
also felt light-headed.

She smiled at him again, as if she understood.

"We'll head for Glamis now," she said. "The situation there should have
changed a great deal because of what you've done."

"It would be my kind of luck," said Bors half joking, "for it to have
changed for the worse."

It had.



Chapter 9


"The decision," said King Humphrey the Eighth, stubbornly, "is exactly
what I have said. In full war council it has been agreed that the fleet,
through a new use of missiles, is a stronger fighting force than ever
before. This was evidenced in the late battle and no one questions it.
But it is also agreed that we remain hopelessly outnumbered. We are in a
position where we simply cannot fight! For us to have fought would
probably have been forgiven if we had been wiped out in the recent
battle--preferably with only slight loss to the Mekinese. We offered
battle expecting exactly that. Unfortunately, we annihilated the fleet
that was to have occupied Kandar. In consequence we have had to pretend
that we were destroyed along with them. And if we are discovered to be
alive, and certainly if we offer to fight, Kandar will be exterminated
as a living world, to punish us and as a warning to future victims of
the Mekinese."

"Yes, Majesty," Bors said through tight lips. "But may I point out--"

"I know what you want to point out," the king broke in irritably. "With
the help of these Talents, Incorporated people, you've worked out a new
battle tactic you want to put into practice. You've explained it to the
War Council. The War Council has decided that it is too risky. We cannot
gamble the lives of the people on Kandar. We have not the right to
expose them to Mekinese vengeance!"

"I agree, Majesty," said Bors, "but at the same time--"

The king leaned back in his chair.

"I don't like it any better than you do," he said peevishly. "I expected
to get killed in a space-battle--not very gloriously, but at least with
self-respect. Unfortunately we had bad luck. We won the fight. I do not
like what we have to do in consequence, but we have to do it!"

Bors bit his lips. He liked and respected King Humphrey, as he had
respect and affection for his uncle, the Pretender of Tralee. Both were
honest and able men who'd been forced to learn the disheartening lesson
that some things are impossible. But Bors believed that King Humphrey
had learned the lesson too well.

"You plan, Majesty," he said after a moment, "to send me out again to
capture food-ships if I can."

"Obviously," said the king.

"The idea being," Bors went on, "that if I can get enough food for the
fleet so it can make a journey of several hundreds of light-years--"

"It is necessary to go a long way," the king confirmed unhappily. "We
need to take the fleet to where Mekin is only a name and Kandar not even
that."

"Where you will disband the fleet--"

"Yes."

"And hope that Mekin will not take vengeance anyhow for the fight the
fleet has already put up."

The king said heavily, "It will be a very long time before word drifts
back that the fleet of Kandar did not die in battle. It may never come.
If it does, it will come as a vague rumor, as an idle tale, as absurd
gossip about a fleet whose home planet may not even be remembered when
the tales are told. There will be trivial stories about a fleet which
abandoned the world it should have defended, and fled so far that its
enemies did not bother to follow it. If the tale reaches Mekin, it may
not be believed. It may not ever be linked to Kandar. And if some day it
is believed, by then Kandar will be long occupied. Perhaps it will be
resigned to its status. It will be a valuable subject world. Mekin will
not destroy it merely to punish scattered, forgotten men who will never
know that they have been punished."

"And you want me," repeated Bors, "to find the stores of food that will
let the fleet travel to--oblivion."

"Yes," said the king again. He looked very weary. "In a sense, of
course, we will simply be doing what we set out to do--to throw away our
lives. We intended to do that. We are doing no more now."

Bors said grimly, "I'm not sure. But I will obey orders, Majesty. Do you
object if I pass out the details of the new device among some junior
officers? I speak of the way to compute overdrive speed exactly and how
to vary it. It could help the fleet to stay together, even in
overdrive."

The king shrugged. "That would be desirable. I do not object."

"I'll do it then, Majesty," said Bors. "I'll be assigned a new ship. I'd
like the same crew. I'll do my best, in a new part of the Mekinese
empire, this time."

"Yes," said the king drearily. "Don't make a pattern of raids that would
suggest that you have a base. You understand, it is impossible to use
more than one ship...."

"Naturally," agreed Bors. "One more suggestion, Majesty. A ship could be
sent back to Kandar--not to land but to watch. If a single Mekinese ship
went there to ask questions, it could be destroyed, perhaps. Which would
gain us time."

"I will think about it," said the king doubtfully. "Maybe it has
occurred to someone else. I will see. Meantime you will go to the
admiral for a new ship. And then do what you can to find provisions for
the fleet. It is not good for us to merely stay here waiting for
nothing. Even action toward our own disappearance is preferable."

Bors saluted. He went to the office of the admiral. The
commander-in-chief of the Kandarian fleet was making an inspection, to
maintain tight discipline in the absence of hope. A young vice-admiral
was on duty in the admiral's stead. He regarded Bors with approval. He
listened with attention, and agreed with most of what Bors had to say.

"I'll push the idea of a sentry over Kandar," he said confidentially.
"I'll make it two ships or three and take command. I want to send some
of my engineer officers to get the details of that low-power overdrive.
A very pretty tactical idea! It should be spread throughout the fleet."

"It will help," Bors said with irony, "when we go so far away that we'll
never be heard of any more."

"Eh?" The vice-admiral looked at him blankly. "Oh. Perhaps. You wouldn't
be likely to pick up a cargo-ship loaded with Mekinese missiles, would
you? We could adapt them to our use."

"If I did," Bors answered, "I suspect that somehow that ship would land
itself on Mekin and blow up as it touched ground."

The vice-admiral raised his eyebrows. Bors saluted quickly and left.

Presently he was back on the _Sylva_. His new command would be supplied
with extra missiles from other ships. Despite the fleet action against
the Mekinese, there was not yet a shortage of such ammunition. When a
missile could not be intercepted and itself did not try to intercept,
the economy of missiles was great. In the battle of the gas-giant
planet, the fleet had fired no more than three or four missiles for
every enemy ship destroyed.

Morgan took Bors aside.

"I'm going to keep Logan here this trip. I'm working on the commanders.
I need him. And our Talent for Detecting Lies,--she was the one who knew
you were in trouble, Gwenlyn tells me--is very necessary. I was hampered
by not having her while Gwenlyn was away. But she did a good job for
you!"

Bors shrugged. He did not like depending upon Talents. He still wasn't
inclined toward acceptance of what he considered the occult. Now he
said, "I'm duly grateful, but it's just as well. My mind doesn't work in
a way to understand these Talents of yours. I admit everything, but I'm
afraid I don't really accept anything."

"It's perfectly reasonable," protested Morgan. "The facts fit together!
I'm no hand at working out theories; I deal in facts. But the facts do
make sense!"

Bors found himself looking at the door of the family room, where Morgan
had taken him. He realized that he was waiting for Gwenlyn to enter. He
turned back to Morgan.

"They don't make sense to me," he said dourly. "You have a precognizer,
you say. He foresees the future. I admit that he has. But the future is
uncertain. It can't be foreseen unless it's pre-ordained, and in that
case we're only puppets imagining that we're free agents. But there
would be no reason in such a state of things!"

Morgan settled himself luxuriously in a self-adjusting chair. He thrust
a cigar on Bors and lighted up zestfully.

"I've been wanting to spout about that," he observed, "even if I'm no
theoretician. Look here! What is true? What is truth? What's the
difference between a false statement and a true one?"

Bors's eyes wandered to the door again. He drew them back.

"One's so and the other isn't," he said.

"No," said Morgan. "Truth is an accordance--an agreement--between an
idea and a fact. If I toss a coin, I can make two statements. I can say
it will come up heads, or I can say that it will come up tails. One
sentence is true and one is false. A precognizer simply knows which
statement is true. I don't, but he does."

"It's still prophecy," objected Bors.

"Oh, no!" protested Morgan. "A precognizer-talent doesn't prophesy! All
he can do is recognize that an idea he has now matches an event that
will happen presently. He can't extract ideas from the future! He can
only judge the truth or falsity of ideas that occur to him. He has to
think something before he can know it is true. He _does not get
information from the future!_ He can only know that the idea he has now
matches something that will happen later. He can detect a matching--an
agreement--perhaps it's a mental vibration of some sort. But that's
all!"

"I asked if I would capture a cargo-ship on Tralee--"

"And I said I didn't know! Of course I said so! How could anybody know
such a thing except by pure accident? A precognizer might think of nine
hundred and ninety-nine ways in which you might try to capture that
ship. They could all be wrong. He might say you wouldn't capture it. But
you might try a thousandth way that he hadn't thought of! All he can
know is that some idea he has concocted matches--some instinct stirs,
and he _knows_ it's true! That's why one man can precognize dirty
tricks. His mind works that way! We've got a woman who knows,
infallibly, who's going to marry whom! That's why the ship-arrival
precognizer can say a ship's coming in. His mind works on such things,
and he has a talent besides!"

"There are definite limits, then."

"What is there that's real and hasn't limits?" demanded Morgan.

The door opened and Gwenlyn came in. Bors rose, looking pleased.

"I'm telling him the facts of life about precognition," Morgan told her.
"I think he understands now."

"I don't agree," said Bors.

Gwenlyn said amusedly, "Two of our Talents want to talk to you, Captain.
You might say that they want to measure you for rumors."

"They what?" demanded Bors, startled.

"The Talent who predicts dirty tricks," said Gwenlyn, "is going to work
with the woman who broadcasts daydreams. They'll be our Department of
Propaganda."

Bors said uncertainly, "But there's no point in propaganda! It's
determined."

"I know!" said Morgan complacently. "The high brass has made a decision.
A perfectly logical decision, too, once you grant their premises. But
they assume that Talents, Incorporated, given some co-operation, of
course, lacks the ability to change the situation. In that they're
mistaken."

"Father hopes," said Gwenlyn amiably, "to modify the situation so their
assumptions will lead logically to a different conclusion. Apparently
they're going to change their minds!"

Bors objected. "But you can't know the future!"

"Our precognizer--our Precognizer for Special Events," said Gwenlyn,
"got the notion that a year from now King Humphrey should open
parliament on Kandar, if everything is straightened out. The notion
became a precognition. We don't know how it can come about, but it does
seem to imply a change of plans somewhere!"

Bors found himself indomitably skeptical. But he said, "Ah! That's the
precognition you mentioned on Kandar--that the fleet wouldn't be wiped
out and everybody killed."

"No-o-o," said Gwenlyn. "That was another one. I'd rather not tell you
about it. It might be--unpleasant. I'll tell you later."

Bors shrugged.

"All right. You said I'm to be measured for rumors? Bring on your
tape-measures!"

Morgan beamed at him. Gwenlyn went to the door and opened it. An
enormously fat woman came in, moving somehow sinuously in spite of her
bulk. She gave Bors a glance he could not fathom. It was sentimental,
languishing and wholly and utterly approving. He felt a momentary
appalled suspicion which he dismissed in something close to panic. It
couldn't be that he was fated--

Then the arrogant man with rings came in. He'd been identified as the
Talent for Predicting Dirty Tricks. Bors remembered that he had a
paranoid personality, inclined toward infinite suspiciousness, and that
he'd been in jail for predicting crimes that were later committed.

"Gwenlyn says propaganda," said Morgan, "but I prefer to think of these
two Talents as our Department for Disseminating Truthful Seditious
Rumors. You've met Harms." The man waved his hand, his rings glittering.
"But I didn't tell you about Madame Porvis. She has the extraordinary
talent of contagious fantasy. It is remarkably rare. She can daydream,
and others contract her dreamings as if they were spread by germs."

The fat woman bridled. She still regarded Bors with a melting gaze.
Again he felt startled unease.

"It's been a great trial to me," she said in a peculiarly childish
voice. "I had such trouble, before I knew what it was!"

"Er--trial?" asked Bors apprehensively.

"When I was just an overweight adolescent," she told him archly, "I
daydreamed about my school's best athlete. Presently I found that my
shocked fellow-students were gossiping to each other that he'd acted as
I daydreamed. Other girls wouldn't look at him because they said he was
madly in love with me."

The arrogant man with the rings made a scornful sound.

"He hated me," said Madame Porvis, ruefully, "because the gossip made
him ridiculous, and it was only people picking up my daydreams!"

She looked at Morgan. He nodded encouragement.

"Years later," she said to Bors, "I grew romantic about an actor. He was
not at all talented, but I daydreamed that he was, and also brilliant
and worshipped by millions. Soon everybody seemed to believe it was
true! Because I daydreamed it! He was given tremendous contracts,
and--then I dared to daydream that he met and was fascinated by me!
Immediately there was gossip that it had happened! When he denied that
he knew me,--and he didn't--and when he saw my picture and said he
didn't _want_ to, I was crushed. I wove beautifully tragic fantasies
about myself as pining away and dying because of his cruelty,--and soon
it was common gossip that I had!" She sighed. "He was considered a
villain, because I daydreamed of him that way. His career was ruined.
I've had to be very careful about my daydreams ever since."

"Madame Porvis's talent," Morgan said proudly, "is all the more
remarkable because she realized herself that she had it. She lets ideas
pop into her head and presently they pop into other people's heads and
you have first-class rumors running madly about. When her fantasies
contain elements of truth, so do the rumors. You see?"

"It's most interesting," admitted Bors. "But--"

"Now Harms," said Morgan, "reads news-reports. He's specialized on those
brought back by Gwenlyn and by you. He guesses at the news behind the
news--and he knows when he's hit it. He'll tell Madame Porvis the facts,
she'll weave them into a fantasy and they'll spread like wildfire. Of
course she can't plant new subjects in people's minds. But anybody who's
ever heard of Mekin will pick up her fantasies about graft and
inefficiency in its government. Riots against Mekin, and so on. However,
one wants not only to spread seditious rumors about villains, but also
about--say--pirates who go about fighting Mekin. Tell her stories about
your men, if you like. Anything that's material for heroic
defiance-fantasies against Mekin."

Bors found himself stubbornly resisting the idea. It might be that there
was such a thing as precognition in the form Morgan had described. There
might be such a thing as contagious fantasy. But on the other hand--

"I give up," he said. "I won't deny it and I can't believe it. I'll go
about my business of piracy. But you, sir," he turned to Morgan, "you've
got to keep Gwenlyn from taking risks!"

"True," said Morgan. "She could have some very unpleasant experiences.
I'll be more stern with her."

Gwenlyn did not seem alarmed.

"One more thing," Bors added. "They say the dictator of Mekin is
superstitious, that he patronizes fortune-tellers. Suppose one of _them_
is a Talent? Suppose _he_ gets precognized information?"

"I worry about that," admitted Morgan. "But I know that I have effective
Talents. There's no evidence that _he_ has."

"He might have a Talent whose talent is confusing our Talents," Bors
said with some sarcasm.

Morgan grinned tolerantly.

"Talk to these two. We've got some firm precognitions that make things
look bad for Mekin."

He left the room. Gwenlyn remained, listening with interest when the
conversation began, and now and then saying something of no great
importance. But her presence kept Bors from feeling altogether like a
fool. Madame Porvis looked at him with languishing, sentimental eyes.
Harms watched him accusingly.

Their questions were trivial. Bors told about the landings on Tralee and
on Garen. The woman asked for details that would help her picture feats
of derring-do. Bors hesitated, and did not quite tell her about the
truck drivers on Tralee who volunteered the information that their loads
were booby-trapped. But he did stress the fact that the populations of
dominated planets were on the thin edge of revolt. The suspicious Talent
asked very little. He listened, frowning.

When it was over and they'd gone--the fat woman again somehow managing a
gait which could only be called sinuous--Bors said abruptly, "What's
this event you know of, a year ahead?"

"King Humphrey opening parliament on Kandar," said Gwenlyn pleasantly.

"There's another," said Bors, "which implies specifically that I'll
still be alive."

"That?" said Gwenlyn. "That's another one. I won't talk about it. It
implies that my father's going to retire from Talents, Incorporated."

Bors fumed.

"I don't like this prediction business," he said. "It still seems to
hint that we're not free agents. Tell me," he said apprehensively. "That
precognition about me, it doesn't include Madame Porvis?"

Gwenlyn laughed. "No. Definitely no!"

Bors grunted. Then he managed to grin.

"In that case I'll go pilfer some provisions so the fleet will be
prepared to do what you tell me it won't, but which it has to be
prepared to do. I suppose I'll be back?"

"I hope so," said Gwenlyn, smiling.

She gave him her hand. He left. He shook his head as he made his way to
the _Sylva's_ space-boat blister. He had it immediately taken to his new
ship. It was a light cruiser of the same class as the _Isis_. It would,
of course, seem to be the same ship, and it had nearly the same crew
aboard. No one of Morgan's freakish Talents was included this time, and
Bors felt more than a little relieved. He inspected everything and made
sure his drive-engineers were more tractable than they'd been on the
_Isis_. He meant to build another low-power overdrive at once.

He cleared for departure with the flagship. He was swinging the ship
toward his first destination when a call came from the _Sylva_. He was
asked for. He went to a screen. He preferred to see Gwenlyn when he
talked to her. She was there.

"_I've a memo for you_," she said briskly. "_There are cargo-ships
aground on Cassis and Dover. There is a sort of patrol-squadron of
warships aground on Meriden. Nothing on Avino. Are you recording this?_"

"I won't forget it," he said.

"_Then here's the situation on each of the subject worlds so far as
cargo-ships and fighting ships are concerned. Our dowser can tell about
them. Remember, this doesn't apply to ships in overdrive! We can't
precognize anything about them unless we're at the destination they're
heading for, and then only the time of arrival. And the dowser's
information is strictly as of this moment._"

Bors nodded. Her tone was absolutely matter-of-fact. Bors was almost
convinced.

She read off a list of statements with painstaking clarity. She'd
evidently had the dowser go over the list of twenty-two dominated
planets. Bors told himself that the events she reported were
possibilities that might somehow be true.

"_Most of the Mekinese grand fleet_," she finished, "_is aground on
Mekin itself. It's probably there for inspection and review or some such
ceremony. There's no way to tell. But it's there. And that's the latest
Talents, Incorporated information. As my father says, you can depend on
it._"

"All right," said Bors. "Thanks." Then he added gruffly, "Take care of
yourself."

She smiled at him and clicked off. Bors was confused because he couldn't
quite believe that other matters could be predicted.

The new ship, the _Horus_, sped away in overdrive, leaving the fleet in
orbit around the useless planet Glamis. Glamis was in a favorable state
just now. It was a lush green almost from pole to pole, save where its
seas showed a darker, muddy, bottom-color. It would look inviting to
colonists. But at any time its sun could demonstrate its variability and
turn it into a cloud-covered world of steaming prospective jungle, or in
a slightly shorter time turn it to a glacier-world. The vegetation on
Glamis was remarkable. The planet, though, was of no use to humanity
because it was unpredictable.

The _Horus_ ran in overdrive for two days while a low-power unit was
built in its engine-room, to go in parallel to the normal overdrive. But
there was a double-throw switch in the line, now. Either the standard,
multiple light-speed overdrive could be used, or the newer and vastly
slower one, but not both together. The ship came out of overdrive in
absolute emptiness with no sun anywhere nearby. She was surrounded on
every hand by uncountable distant stars. The new circuit was brazed in.
It had a micro-timer included in its design. Within its certain, limited
timing-capacity, it could establish or break a contact within the
thousandth of a microsecond.

Bors made tests, target-practice of a sort. He let out a metal-foil
balloon which inflated itself, making a sphere some forty feet in
diameter. In the new low-speed overdrive he drew away from it for a
limited number of microseconds. He measured the distance run. He made
other runs, again measuring. From ten thousand miles away he made a
return-hop to the target-balloon and came out within a mile of it.

He cheered up. This was remarkably accurate. He sent the ship into
standard overdrive again. Twice more, however, he stopped between stars
and practiced the trick of breaking out of the new overdrive--in which
his ship was undetectable--at a predetermined point. The satisfaction of
successful operation almost made up for the extremely disagreeable
sensations involved.

But on the eighth ship-day out from Glamis, the _Horus_ came back to
unstressed space with a very, very bright star burning almost straight
ahead. The spectroscope confirmed that it was the sun of Meriden.

Bors sounded the action alert. Gongs clanged. Compartment-doors hissed
shut.

"You know," said Bors conversationally into the all-speaker microphone
and in the cushioned stillness which obtained, "you all know what we're
aiming at. A food-supply for the fleet. But we've got what looks like a
very useful gadget for fighting purposes. We need to test it. There's a
small squadron on Meriden, ahead, so we'll take them on. It is necessary
that we get _all of them_, so they can't report anything to Mekin that
Mekin doesn't already know. All hands ready for action!"

In twenty minutes by the ship's clocks the _Horus_ was a bare thirty
thousand miles off the planet Meriden. The new drive worked perfectly
for planetary approach, at any rate. It even worked more perfectly than
the twenty-minute interval implied. It had been off Meriden for five
minutes then.

Mekinese fighting ships were boiling up from the atmosphere of Meriden
and plunging out to space to offer battle. They were surprisingly ready,
reacting like hair-triggered weapons. Bors hadn't completed his
challenge before they were streaking toward Meriden's sky. They
couldn't have been more prompt if, say, Meriden seethed with rumors
about a pirate ship in space, which it was their obligation to fight.

According to the radar screens, there were not less than fifteen ships
streaking out to destroy the _Horus_. Fifteen to one--interesting odds.

Bors sent the _Horus_ roaring ahead to meet them.



Part Four



Chapter 10


The Mekinese did not display a sporting spirit. There were four heavy
cruisers and eleven lighter ships of the _Horus's_ size and armament.
According to current theories of space-battle tactics, two of the light
cruisers should have disposed of the _Horus_ with ease and dispatch. It
might have seemed sportsmanlike and certainly sufficient to give the
_Horus_ only two antagonists at a time, which would have been calculated
to provide odds of six hundred to one against it. Two light cruisers
would have fired eighteen missiles apiece per salvo, which would have
demanded thirty-six missiles from the _Horus_ to meet and destroy them.
She couldn't put thirty-six missiles into space at one firing. She would
have disappeared in atomic flame at the first exchange of fire. But the
Mekinese were not so generous. They came up in full force loaded for
bear. They obviously intended not a fight but an execution. Mekinese
tactics depended heavily on fire-power of such superiority that any
enemy was simply overwhelmed.

Their maneuvering proved that they intended to follow standard operation
procedure. Light ships reached space and delayed until all were aloft.
They formed themselves into a precise half-globe and plunged at top
solar-system drive toward the _Horus_. This was strictly according to
the book. If the _Horus_ chose, of course, she could refuse battle by
fleeing into overdrive--which would be expected to be the regulation
many-times-faster-than-light variety. If she dared fight, the fifteen
ships drove on. Mekinese ships never struck lightly. The fifteen of them
could launch four hundred missiles per salvo. No single ship could
counter such an attack. But even Mekinese would not use such stupendous
numbers of missiles against one ship unless that ship was famous; unless
rumors and reports said that it was invincible and dangerous and the
hope of oppressed peoples under Mekin.

The _Horus_ received very special attention.

Then she vanished. At one instant she was in full career toward the
fleet of enemies. The next instant she had wrapped an overdrive field
about herself and then no radar could detect her, nor could any missile
penetrate her protection.

When she vanished, the speck which indicated her position disappeared
from the Mekinese radar-screens. The hundredth of a second in overdrive
as known to the Mekinese should have put her hundreds of millions of
miles away. But something new had been added to the _Horus_. The
hundredth of a second did not mean millions of miles of journeying. It
meant something under three thousand, and a much more precise interval
of time could be measured and used by her micro-timer.

Therefore, at one instant the _Horus_ was some two thousand miles from
the lip of the half-globe of enemy ships. Then she was not anywhere.
Then, before the mind could grasp the fact of her vanishing, she was in
the very center, the exact focus of the formation of Mekinese
battle-craft. She was at the spot a Mekinese commander would most
devoutly wish, because it was equidistant from all his ships, and all
their missiles should arrive at the same instant when their overwhelming
number could not conceivably be parried.

But it was more than an ideal position from a Mekinese standpoint. It
was also a point which was ideal for the _Horus_, because all her
missiles would arrive at the encircling ships at the same instant. Each
Mekinese would separately learn--without information from any
other--that those projectiles could not be intercepted. No Mekinese
would have the advantage of watching the tactic practiced on a
companion-ship, to guide his own actions.

The _Horus_ appeared at that utterly vulnerable and wholly advantageous
position. She showed on the Mekinese screens. They launched missiles.
The _Horus_ launched missiles.

The _Horus_ disappeared.

She reappeared, beyond and behind the half-globe formation. Again she
showed on the Mekinese screens. The Mekinese could not believe their
instruments. A ship which fled in overdrive could not reappear like
this! Having vanished and reappeared once, it could not duplicate the
trick. Having duplicated it....

There was more, and worse. The _Horus_ missiles were not being
intercepted. Mekinese missiles were swerving crazily to try to
anticipate and destroy the curving, impossibly-moving objects that went
out from where the _Horus_ had ceased to be. They failed. Clouds of new
trajectiles appeared....

A flare like a temporary sun. Another. Another. Others....

Bors turned from the viewport and glanced at the radar-screens. There
were thirteen vaporous glowings where ships had been. There were two
distinct blips remaining. It could be guessed that some targets had been
fired on by more than one launching-tube, leaving two ships unattacked
by the _Horus's_ missiles.

Both of those ships--one a heavy cruiser--now desperately flung the
contents of their magazines at the _Horus_.

Bors heard his voice snapping coordinates.

"Launch all missiles at those two targets," he commanded. "Fire!
Overdrive coming! Five, four, three, two...."

The intolerable discomfort of entry and immediate breakout from
overdrive was ever present. But the _Horus_ had shifted position five
thousand miles. Bors saw one of his just-launched missiles--now a
continent away--as it went off. It accounted for one of the two Mekinese
survivors. The radar-blip which told of that ship's existence changed to
the vaguely vaporous glow of incandescent gas. The other blip went out.
No flare of a bomb. Nothing. It went out.

So the last Mekinese ship was gone in overdrive. It was safe! It could
not possibly be overtaken or attacked. It had seen the _Horus's_
missiles following an unpredictable course, which was duly recorded. It
had seen the _Horus_ go into overdrive and move only hundreds of miles
instead of hundreds of millions. It had seen the _Horus_ vanish from one
place and appear at another in the same combat area, launch missiles and
vanish again before it could even be ranged.

The last Mekinese ship certainly carried with it the _Horus's_ tactics
and actions recorded on tape. The technicians of Mekin would set to work
instantly to duplicate them. Once they were considered possible--once
they were recognized--they could be achieved. The combat efficiency of
the Mekinese fleet would be increased as greatly as that of the fleet of
Kandar had been,--and the overwhelming superiority of numbers would
again become decisive. The hopeless situation of the Kandarian fleet
would become a hundred times worse. And Mekinese counter-intelligence
would make a search for the origin of such improvements. Since Kandar
was to have been attacked and occupied, it would be a place of special
search.

The only unsuspected source, of course, would be Talents, Incorporated.

For a full minute after the enemy ship's disappearance, Bors sat rigid,
his hands clenched, facing the disaster the escape of the Mekinese
constituted. Sweat appeared on his forehead.

Then he pressed the engine-room button and said evenly, "Prepare for
standard overdrive, top speed possible."

He swung the ship. He lined it up with Mekin itself, which, of course,
was the one place where it would be most fatal for a ship from Kandar to
be discovered.

Very shortly thereafter, the _Horus_ was in overdrive.

Traveling in such unthinkable haste, it is paradoxic that there is much
time to spare. Bors had to occupy it. He prepared a careful and detailed
account of exactly how the low-speed overdrive had worked, and its
effectiveness as a combat tactic. He'd distributed instructions and
Logan's tables on the subject before leaving Glamis. He would be, of
course, most bitterly blamed for having taken on a whole squadron of
enemy ships, with the result that one had gotten away. It could be the
most decisive of catastrophes. But he made his report with precision.

For seven successive ship-days there was no event whatever on the
_Horus_, as she drove toward Mekin. Undoubtedly the one survivor of the
enemy squadron was fleeing for Mekin, too, to report to the highest
possible authority what it had seen and experienced. It would not be
much, if at all, slower than the _Horus_. It might be faster, and might
reach the solar system of Mekin before the _Horus_ broke out there. It
had every advantage but one. It had solar-system drive, for use within a
planetary group, and it had overdrive for use between the stars. But the
_Horus_ had an intermediate drive as well, which was faster than the
enemy's slow speed and slower than the fast.

Bors depended on it for the continued existence of Kandar and the fleet.
As the desperately tedious ship-days went by he began to have ideas--at
which he consciously scoffed--concerning Tralee. But if anything as
absurd as those ideas came to be, there were a score of other planets
which would have to be considered too.

He sketched out in his own mind a course of action that would be
possible to follow after breakout off Mekin. It did not follow the rules
for sound planning, which always assume that if things can go wrong they
will. Bors could only plan for what might be done if things went right.
But he could not hope. Not really. Still, he considered every
possibility, however far-fetched.

He came to first-breakout, a light-week short of Mekin. The yellow sun
flamed dead ahead. He determined his distance from it with very great
care. The _Horus_ went back into overdrive and out again, and it was
well within the system, though carefully not on the plane of its
ecliptic.

Then the _Horus_ waited. She was twenty millions of miles from the
planet Mekin. Bors ordered that for intervals of up to five minutes no
electronic apparatus on the ship should be in operation. In those
periods of electronic silence, his radars swept all of space except
Mekin. He had no desire to have Mekin pick up radar-pulses and wonder
what they came from. The rest of the system, though, he mapped. He found
two meteor-streams, and a clump of three planetoids in a nearly circular
orbit, and he spotted a ship just lifted from Mekin by its landing-grid.
It went out to five planetary diameters and flicked out of existence so
far as radar was concerned.

It had gone into overdrive and away. Another ship came around Mekin, in
orbit. It reached the spot from which the first ship had vanished. It
began to descend; the landing-grid had locked onto it with projected
force-fields and was drawing it down to ground.

Bors growled to himself. It was not likely that this ship was the one
he'd pursued, sight unseen, since the end of the fight off Meriden. But
it was a possibility. If it were true, then everything that mattered to
Bors was lost forever.

Then a blip appeared. It was at the most extreme limit of the radar's
range. A ship had come out of overdrive near the fourth planetary orbit
of this solar system.

Bors and the yeoman computer-operator figured its distance to six places
of decimals. Bors set the microsecond timer. The _Horus_ went into
low-speed overdrive and out again. Then the electron telescope revealed
a stubby, rotund cargo-ship, about to land on Mekin.

Bors swore. It would be days before this tub reached Mekin on
solar-system drive. But it must not report that an armed vessel had
inspected it in remoteness.

"We haul alongside," said Bors angrily. "Boarding-parties ready in the
space-boats."

Another wrenching flicker into overdrive and through breakout without
pause. The cargo-boat was within ten miles.

"Calling cargo-boat!" rasped Bors, in what would be the arrogant tones
of a Mekinese naval officer hailing a mere civilian ship. "Identify
yourself!"

A voice answered apologetically, "_Cargo-ship_ Empress, _sir, bound from
Loral to Mekin with frozen foods._"

"Cut your drive," snapped Bors. "Stand by for inspection! Muster your
crews. There's a criminal trying to get ashore on Mekin. We'll check
your hands. Acknowledge!"

"_Yes, sir_," said the apologetic voice. "_Obeying, sir._"

Bors fretted. The space-boats left the _Horus's_ side. One clamped onto
the airlock of the rounded, bulging tramp-ship. The second lifeboat
hovered nearby. The first boat broke contact and the second hooked on.
The second boat broke contact. Both came back to the _Horus_.

The screen before Bors lighted up. One of his own crewmen nodded out of
it.

"_All clear, sir_," said his voice briskly. "_They behaved like lambs,
sir. No arms. We've locked them in a cargo hold._"

"You know what to do now," said Bors.

"_Yes, sir. Off._"

Ten miles away the cargo-boat swung itself about. Suddenly it was gone.
It was on the way to Glamis and the fleet.

Another hour of watching. Another blip. It was another cargo-carrier
like the first. As the other had done, it meekly permitted itself to be
boarded by what it believed were mere naval ratings of the Mekinese
space-fleet, searching for a criminal who might be on board. Like the
first ship, it was soon undeceived. Again like the first, it vanished
from emptiness, and it would be heading for the fleet in its monotonous
circling of Glamis.

The third blip, though, was a light cruiser. The _Horus_ appeared from
nowhere close beside it and its communicator began to scream in
gibberish. It would be an official report, scrambled and taped, to be
transmitted to ground on the first instant there was hope of its
reception.

"Fire one," said Bors. "The skipper there is on his toes."

He watched bleakly as the _Horus's_ missile arched in its impossible
trajectory, as the light cruiser flung everything that could be gotten
out to try to stop it, while its transmitter shrieked gibberish to the
stars.

There was a blinding flash of light. Then nothing.

"He got out maybe fifteen seconds of transmission," said Bors somberly,
"which may or may not be picked up from this distance, and may or may
not tell anything. He got a tape ready while he was in overdrive, with
plenty of time for the job. My guess is that he'd take at least fifteen
seconds to identify his ship, give her code number, her skipper, and
such things. I hope so...."

But for minutes he was irresolute. He'd send his own minutely detailed
report back to Glamis on the second captured ship. He did not need to
return to report in person. He hadn't yet sent back provisions enough
for the intended voyage of the fleet. The solar system of Mekin was an
especially well-stocked hunting-ground for such marauders as Bors and
his crew declared themselves to be--so long as word did not get to
ground on Mekin.

But it did not get down. From time to time--at intervals of a few
hours--specks appeared in emptiness. Mekin monopolized the off-planet
trade of its satellite world. There would be many times the
space-traffic here that would be found off any other planet in the
Mekinese empire.

One ship got to ground unchallenged. By pure accident it came out of
overdrive within half a million miles of Mekin. To have attacked it
would have been noted. But he got two more cargo-ships. Then he found
the _Horus_ alongside a passenger-ship. But it couldn't be allowed to
ground, to report that it had been stopped by an armed ship. A
prize-crew took it off to Glamis.

Bors made a formal announcement to his crew. "I think," he told them
over the all-speaker circuit, "that we got the ship which could have
reported our action off Meriden. I'm sure we've sent four shiploads of
food back to the fleet, besides the passenger-ship we'd rather have
missed. But there's still something to be done. To confuse Mekin and
keep it busy, and therefore off Kandar's neck, we have to start trouble
elsewhere. From now on we are pirates pure and simple."

And he headed the _Horus_ for the planet Cassis, which was another
victim of the Mekinese. It was a rocky, mountainous world with many
mines. Mekin depended on it for metal in vast quantities. The _Horus_
hovered over it and sent down a sardonic challenge. One missile came up
in defiance. But it was badly aimed and Bors ignored it. Then voices
called to him, sharp with excitement. He heard shots and shouting and a
voice said feverishly that rebels on Cassis, who had been fighting in
the streets, had rushed a transmitter to welcome the enemies of Mekin.

Bors had one light cruiser and merely a minimum crew for it. He couldn't
be of much help to insurrectionists. Then he heard artillery-fire over
the communicator, and voices gasped that the Mekinese garrison was
charging out of its highly-fortified encampment. Bors sent down a
missile to break the back of the counter-attack. Then the communicator
gave off the sound of gunfire and men in battle, and presently yells of
triumph.

He took the _Horus_ away. Its arrival and involvement in the revolt was
pure accident. It was no part of any thought-out plan. But he was wryly
relieved when he had convinced himself that Mekin needed the products of
this world too much to exterminate its population with fusion-bombs.

More days of travel in overdrive tedium. Bors was astounded and
appalled. Interference here would only make matters worse. The _Horus_
went on.

There was a cargo-ship aground on Dover, and the _Horus_ threatened
bombs and a space-boat went down and brought it up. That ship also went
away to Glamis where the fleet was accumulating an inconvenient number
of prisoners. The fact that the capture of this ship only added to that
number made Bors realize that King Humphrey would be especially
disturbed about the passengers on the liner sent back from Mekin. Unless
they were murdered, sooner or later they would reveal the facts about
the Fleet. And King Humphrey was a highly conscientious man.

There was dissention even on Dover. The landing-party was cheered from
the edge of the spaceport. Bors could not understand. He tried to guess
what was going on in the Mekinese empire. He could not know whether or
not disaster had yet struck Kandar. He could only hope that there were
ships lurking near it, ready to use the recent technical combat
improvements against any single Mekinese ship that might appear, so no
report would be carried back. But it seemed to him that utter and
complete catastrophe was inevitable.

He reflected unhappily about Tralee, and wondered what the Pretender,
his uncle, really thought about his loosing of chemical-explosive
missiles against puppet government buildings there. He found himself
worrying again about the truck drivers who'd warned his men of
booby-traps in the supplies they delivered. He hoped they hadn't been
caught.

The _Horus_ arrived at Deccan, and called down the savage message of
challenge.

There came a tumultuous, roaring reply.

"_Captain Bors!_" cried a voice from the ground exultantly. "_Land and
welcome! We didn't hope you'd come here, but you're a thousand times
welcome! We've smashed the garrison here, Captain! We rose days ago and
we hold the planet! We'll join you! Come to ground, sir! We can supply
you!_"

Bors went tense all over. He'd been called by name! If he was known by
name on _this_ world--twenty light-years from Mekin and thirty-five from
Kandar--then everything was lost.

"Can you send up a space-boat?" he asked in a voice he did not
recognize. "I'd like to have your news."

It must be a trap. It was possible that there'd been revolt on Deccan;
he'd found proof of rebellion elsewhere. There'd been claims of revolt
on Cassis, but he hadn't been suspicious then. He'd sent down a missile
to help the self-proclaimed rebels there. Now he wondered desperately if
he'd been tricked there as, it was all too likely, he would be here.
There'd been reported fighting on Avino. There was cheering for his men
on Dover, and he might have landed there. But there were too many
coincidences, far too many.

He waited, fifty thousand miles high, with the ship at combat-alert. He
felt cold all over. Somehow, news had preceded him. It was garbled
truth, but there was enough to make his spine feel like ice.

He spoke over the all-speaker hook-up, in a voice he could not keep
steady by any effort of will.

"All hands attention," he said heavily. "I just called ground. We have
had a reply calling me by name. You will see the implication. It looks
like somehow the Mekinese have managed to send word ahead of us. They've
found out that no one can stand against us. They know we have new and
deadly weapons. Probably there have been orders given to lure us to
ground by the pretense of a successful revolt. It would be hoped that we
can be fooled to the point where we will land and our ship can be
captured _undestroyed_.--That's the way it looks."

He swallowed, with difficulty.

"If that's so," he said after an instant, "you can guess what's been
done about Kandar. The grand fleet was assembled on Mekin. It could have
gone to Kandar...."

He swallowed again. Then he said savagely, "Well make sure first. If the
worst has happened we'll take our fleet and head for Mekin and pour down
every ounce of atomic explosive we've got. We may not be able to turn
its air to poison, but if there are survivors, they won't celebrate what
they did to Kandar!"

He clicked off. His fists clenched. He paced back and forth in the
control room. He almost did not wait to make sure. Almost. But he had
never seen a Mekinese fighting man face to face. He'd gone into exile
with his uncle when that unhappily reasonable man let Tralee surrender
rather than be bombed to depopulation. He'd served in the Kandarian navy
without ever managing to be in any port when a Mekinese ship was in.
He'd fought in the battle off Kandar, he'd destroyed a Mekinese cruiser
off Tralee, another in the Mekinese system itself and a squadron off
Meriden. But he had never seen a Mekinese fighting-man face to face.
Filled with such hatred as he felt, he meant to do so now.

A space-boat came up from the ground. The _Horus_ trained weapons on it.
Bors painstakingly arranged for its occupants to board the _Horus_ in
space-suits, which could not conceal bombs.

There were six men in the space-boat. They came into the _Horus's_
control room and he saw that they were young, almost boys. When they
learned that he was Captain Bors, they looked at him with shining,
admiring, worshipping eyes. It could not be a trick. It could not be a
trap. He was incredulous.

The message from the ground was true.



Chapter 11


The news as Bors got it from the men of Deccan was remarkable for two
reasons: that so much of it was true, and that all of it was glamorized
and romanticized and garbled. It was astonishing to find any relation at
all between such fabulously romantic tales and the facts, because there
was no way for news to travel between solar systems except on ships, and
no ships had carried stories like these!

Here on Deccan, the shining-eyed young men _knew_ that Bors had landed
on Tralee and on Garen. They _knew_ that there was a fleet in being
which had fought and annihilated a Mekinese task-force many times its
size.

To the Captain, their knowledge was undiluted catastrophe!

They admired Bors because they believed he commanded that fleet, which
he now had in hiding while he flashed splendidly about the subjugated
worlds, performing prodigious feats of valor and destruction, half
pirate and half hero. The story had it that he'd been driven from his
native Tralee by the invaders, and that now he fought Mekin in
magnificent knight-errantry, and that it was _he_ who'd set alight the
flame of rebellion on so many worlds.

Bors listened, and was numbed. He heard references to the fight off
Meriden, and the temporary escape of one of his enemies, and that he'd
pursued it to the solar system of Mekin itself and there destroyed it
while Mekin watched, helpless to interfere.

The distortion of facts was astounding. But the mere existence of facts
at this distance was impossible! Then Bors found himself thinking that
these tales sounded like fantasies or daydreams, and he went white. He
knew what had happened.

Just before he'd left the fleet, he'd talked to a fat woman and a
scowling man who, together, made up the Talents, Incorporated brand new
Department for Disseminating Truthful Seditious Rumors, so that rumors
of a high degree of detail got started, nobody knew how. If such rumors
spread, and everybody heard them, nobody would doubt them. It was
appallingly probable that the fighting on Cassis and Avino and Deccan
had no greater justification in reason than that an enormously fat woman
romantically pictured such things as resulting from the derring-do of
one Captain Bors, of whom she thought sentimentally and glamorously and
without much discrimination.

But she'd daydreamed about the fleet, too! And that it had destroyed a
Mekinese squadron many times its size....

He heard the leader of the young men from Deccan speaking humorously.
"Your revolt, sir," he told Bors, "is spreading everywhere! On Cela,
sir, there are great space-ship yards, where they build craft for the
Mekinese navy. Not long ago they finished one and it went out to space
for a trial run. It didn't come back. Sabotage. Everybody knew it. The
Mekinese raged. A little while later they finished another ship. But the
Mekinese were smart! They sent it off for its trial run with only Celans
on board. If there were sabotage this time, it wouldn't be Mekinese who
died in space! But that ship didn't come back either! It touched down
here, sir, three weeks ago, and we supplied it with food and missiles
and some of us joined it. It went off to try to find you."

"I'd better--go after it," said Bors, dry-throated. "It could blunder
into trouble. At best--"

The youthful leader of Deccan's revolt grinned widely.

"It's got plenty of missiles," he told Bors. "It can take care of
itself! And it has plenty of food. We even gave them target-balloons to
practice launching missiles on. We've been storing up missiles to lay an
ambush for a Mekinese squadron if one comes by. A lot of us joined the
ship, though."

"In any case," said Bors, with the feel of ashes in his throat, "I'll
track it down so it can join the fleet."

He could not bring himself to tell these confident and admiring young
men that there was no hope and never had been; that the tales of his
achievements were only partly true and that they had popped into
people's minds because a very fat woman far away indulged in daydreams
and fantasies.

They wouldn't have understood. If they had, they wouldn't have believed.
He found that he savagely resisted the conviction himself. But there was
no other way for such garbled tales with such a substratum of fact to be
spread among the stars. And whoever spread them knew of events up to the
last news sent back by Bors, but nothing after that. Undoubtedly,
Talents, Incorporated's Department for Disseminating Truthful Seditious
Rumors had been at work on Mekin, but the damage done elsewhere was a
thousand times greater than any benefit done there.

It was too late to repair the damage, here or anywhere else. This planet
and all the rest were too far committed to rebellion ever to be forgiven
by Mekin. Mekin would take revenge. It was not pleasant to think about.

So the _Horus_ departed, and traveled in high-speed overdrive for
ship-days seemingly without end, toward Glamis. It knew nothing that
happened outside its own cocoon of overdrive field. It knew nothing of
any of the thousands of myriads of stars, whose planetary systems
offered unlimited room for humanity to live in freedom and without fear.

During the journey Bors only endured being alive. All this disaster was
ultimately his fault. The fleet's survival was due to his work with
Talents, Incorporated. The raids of a single ship--which now would have
such disastrous results--were the fruits of his suggestion, the
consequence of his actions.

Talents, Incorporated was involved, to be sure, but only because he'd
allowed it to be. He should have realized that Madame Porvis would work
havoc if her talent was as described. No mere romantic daydreamer would
fashion fantasies with military secrecy in mind and security as a
principle. Everything was betrayed. Everything was ruined. And if he,
Bors, had only been properly skeptical, the fleet would have been
destroyed and Kandar now occupied by the Mekinese--doomed to servitude
but not necessarily to annihilation--and other worlds would also be
safely servile. They'd still be resentful and they'd bitterly hate
Mekin, but they would not have before them the monstrous vengeance now
in store.

Bors, in fact, felt guilty because he was still alive.

There was only one small thing he could still try to set aright. He
could insist that Morgan take Gwenlyn far away from the dangerous
possibility that Mekin might somehow find her. He _had_ to make Morgan
see the need for it. If necessary, he would convince King Humphrey that
a royal order must be issued to send the _Sylva_ light-centuries away,
before the Mekinese empire began to restore itself to devastated
calm--if that process hadn't already begun.

Mekin had its grand fleet assembled and ready. If convincing and,
unfortunately, truthful rumors ran about Mekin, as elsewhere, concerning
the fleet and Bors's attempts to hide it, then their dictator need only
give a single order and the grand fleet would lift off. When it found
Kandar unoccupied it would leave Kandar dead. Then it would seek out the
fleet, and destroy it, and then it would move from one to another of
its rebellious tributaries and take revenge upon them....

And Bors could only hope to salvage the life of one girl from the
wreckage of everything that human beings prefer to believe in. He could
only hope to send Gwenlyn away--if he was not already too late.

The _Horus_ broke out into normal space twelve days after leaving
Deccan. The untrustworthy sun of Glamis still shone brightly. The inner
planet revolved about it with one side glowing low red heat and the
other side piled high with frozen atmosphere. The useless outer planet
remained a lush green, save for its seas. And the fleet still circled it
from pole to pole.

Bors had himself ferried to the flagship by space-boat, because what he
had to report was too disheartening to be spoken where all the fleet
might hear. Gwenlyn met him at the flagship's airlock. She looked very
glad, as if she'd been uneasy about him.

"Call for a boat," Bors commanded her curtly, "to take you to the
_Sylva_. Go on board with anybody else who belongs on it, your father,
anybody. I'm going to ask the king to insist that the _Sylva_ get away
from here--fast! Before the Mekinese turn up."

Gwenlyn shook her head, her eyes searching his face.

"The _Sylva's_ not here. It's gone to Kandar as a sort of
dispatch-boat."

Bors groaned.

"Then I'll try to get another ship assigned to take you away," he said
formidably. "Maybe one of the captured cargo-ships I sent back."

"No," said Gwenlyn. "They're going to be released. They'll go to Mekin,
and we _couldn't_ go there!"

Bors groaned again. Then he said savagely, "Wait here for me. I'll
arrange something as soon as I've seen the king."

He strode down the corridor to King Humphrey's cabin. A sentry came to
attention. Bors passed through a door. The king and half a dozen of the
top-ranking officers of the fleet were listening apathetically to
Morgan, at once vexed and positive and uncertain.

"But you can't ignore it!" protested Morgan. "I don't understand it
either, but you'll agree that since my precognizer said no ship but
Bors's is coming here--and he precognized every one of the prizes before
they arrived--you'll concede that the Mekinese aren't coming here. So
you're going out to meet them."

He saw Bors, and breathed an audible sigh of relief.

"Bors!" he said in a changed tone. "I'm glad you're back!"

Bors said grimly, "Majesty, I've very bad news."

King Humphrey shrugged. He spoke in a listless voice.

"I doubt it differs from ours. You captured a passenger-liner off Mekin,
you will remember. You sent it here. When it arrived we found that all
its passengers knew that Kandar was not occupied and that the fleet sent
to capture it had not reported back."

"My news is worse," said Bors. "The continued existence of our fleet,
and the fact that it defeated a Mekinese force, is common knowledge on
at least five planets--all of them now in revolt against Mekin."

The king's expression had reached the limit of reaction to disaster. It
did not change. He looked almost apathetic.

"Mekin," he said dully, "sent a second squadron to Kandar to investigate
the rumors of defeat. We have a very tiny force there--three ships. Of
course our ships won't attack the Mekinese, but they might as well.
Knowing that we destroyed their first fleet and that we still live,
Mekin will assuredly retaliate."

"And not only on Kandar," said Bors. "On Tralee and Garen and Cassis and
Meriden--"

Morgan interrupted.

"Majesty! All this is more reason to listen to me! I've been telling you
that all my Talents agree--"

King Humphrey interrupted tonelessly, "We've made our final
arrangements, Bors. We are going to release the cargo-ships and the
passenger-ship you sent us. We will use them as messengers. We are
going to send a message of surrender, to Mekin."

Bors swallowed. His most dismal forebodings had produced nothing more
hopeless than this moment.

"Majesty--"

"We have to sacrifice," said the king in a leaden voice, "not only our
lives but our self-respect, to try to gain something less than the total
annihilation of Kandar. We shall tell the Mekinese that we will return
to Kandar and form up in space. If they send a small force to accept our
surrender, they shall have it. If they prefer to destroy us, they can do
that also. But we submit ourselves to punishment for having resisted the
original fleet. We admit our guilt. And we beg Mekin not to avenge that
resistance upon our people, who are not guilty."

Bors tried to speak, and could not. There was a sodden, utterly
unresilient stillness in the room, as if all the high officers of the
fleet were corpses and the king himself, though he spoke, was not less
dead.

Then Morgan moved decisively. He moved away from the spot where he had
been engaged in impassioned argument. He took Bors by the arm, and
hustled him through the door.

"Come along!" he said urgently. "Something's got to be done! You have
the knack of thinking of things to do! The king's intentions--"

The door closed behind him and he broke off. He wiped sweat from his
forehead with one hand while he thrust Bors on with the other. They came
to a cabin evidently assigned to him. Gwenlyn waited there.

"Craziness!" said Morgan bitterly. "Craziness! I get the finest group of
Talents that ever existed! I teach them to think! I instruct them! And
they can't think of what is going to happen. And everything depends on
it! Everything!"

"When will the _Sylva_ be back?" demanded Bors.

Morgan automatically looked at his watch. Gwenlyn opened her mouth to
speak. Morgan shook his head impatiently. Gwenlyn was silent.

"My ship-arrival Talent's with the _Sylva_," said Morgan harassedly. "We
sent him to Kandar to find out if the Mekinese fleet's coming there, and
when. It isn't coming here. He said so."

"It'll go to Kandar," said Bors bitterly, "to destroy it. I imagine
we'll go there too, to be destroyed."

"But it's insane!" protested Morgan. "Look! You captured a
passenger-ship off Mekin. Right?"

"Yes."

"You sent it here with all its passengers. Right?"

"Yes."

"One of the passengers said he was a clairvoyant. Hah!" Morgan expressed
the ultimate of disgust. "He was a fortune-teller! He didn't know there
was anything better than that! A fortune-teller! But he's a Talent! He's
a born charlatan, but he's an authentic Talent, and he doesn't know what
that is! He thinks predictions as Madame Porvis thinks scandals! And
they're just as crazy! But he _is_ a Talent and they have to be right!"

Bors said, "You're going to take Gwenlyn away from here,--and fast!"

Morgan paid no attention. He was embittered, and agitated, and in
particular, he was frustrated.

"It's all madness!" he protested almost hysterically. "Here we've got a
firm precognition that King Humphrey's going to open parliament on
Kandar next year, and there's another one--"

Gwenlyn said quickly, "Which you won't tell!"

"Which I won't tell. But something's got to happen! Something's got to
be done! And this crazy Talent gives me a crazy precognition and looks
proud because I can't make sense of it! What the hell can you make out
of a precognition that Mekin will be defeated when an enemy fleet
submits to destruction, lying still in space? There's no sense to it!
_My_ Talents wouldn't think of anything idiotic like that! They've got
better sense! But when this lunatic said it, they could precognize it
too! It's so! They couldn't think of it themselves, but when this
Mekinese Talent does, they know it's true. But it can't be!"

Bors said coldly, "The fleet's going to be destroyed, certainly. If that
will defeat Mekin. But Gwenlyn is not to stay aboard to be destroyed
with it! How are you going to get her away?"

"The king's waiting for the _Sylva_ to come back," Morgan said
indignantly, "so he'll know--my ship-arrival Talent went to find out--if
the Mekin fleet's going to Kandar, and when. He insists that if they
know the fleet exists, they know where it is and will come here looking
for it. But Madame Porvis couldn't have told that in her daydreaming.
She didn't _know_ what planet we're circling! She couldn't have spread
that fact by contagion!"

"She spread plenty more!" said Bors. "Her daydreams were too damned
true!"

Gwenlyn said, "It's a contradiction in terms for a fleet to win a battle
by letting itself be destroyed. Perhaps the Captain--"

"It's also a contradiction in terms," said Bors bitterly, "for all our
troubles to come because we won a victory. Now we regret that we weren't
all killed. But it's madness for the king to propose to get us all
slaughtered in hope of rousing the Mekinese better nature!"

"Maybe you can resolve it, Captain," said Gwenlyn thoughtfully. "Could
it be that it isn't a contradiction but only a paradox?"

Bors spread his hands helplessly. Of all times and circumstances, this
particular moment and situation seemed the least occasion for quibbling
over words.

Then he said, "Yes.... It could be a paradox. If this prediction by that
wild Talent is true, there is a way it could win a fight. I don't
believe it, but I'm going to put something in motion. Nothing can make
matters worse!"

He turned and strode back to the council room where King Humphrey and
the high commanders of his fleet sat like dead men, waiting for the
moment to be killed, to no purpose.



Chapter 12


Bors got nowhere, of course. His proposal had all the ear-marks of
lunacy of purest ray serene. He proposed urgently to equip all the ships
of the fleet with the low-power overdrive fields. It could be done in
days. Instructions were already distributed and would have been studied
and understood. The fleet would then go to Kandar--if it appeared that
the Mekinese grand fleet would go there--and set up a dummy fleet of
target-globes in war array. This would be a fleet, but not of fighting
ships. It would be a fleet of metal-foil inflated balloons.

One actual fighting ship, he stipulated, would form part of this
illusory space-navy. He volunteered the _Horus_ for it. That ship would
signal to the Mekinese when they arrived. It would make the king's
proposal to surrender, on the Mekinese promise to spare the civilian
population of Kandar. If the enemy admiral agreed to these terms and the
king believed him, then the true Kandarian fleet could appear and yield
to its overwhelmingly-powerful enemy. If the admiral arrogantly refused
to pledge safety to Kandar's population, then the dummy formation might
be destroyed, but the fleet would fight. Hopelessly and
uselessly--though the new low-power drive worked well in action--but it
would fight.

The First Admiral said stonily, "If I were in the position of the
Mekinese admiral, and I agreed to terms of capitulation, and if it were
then shown to me that the basis of the terms was a deceit, I would not
feel bound by my promise. When the actual fleet appeared, I would blast
it for questioning my honor."

Bors looked at him with hot eyes. The king said drearily, "No, Bors. We
must act in good faith. We cannot question the Mekinese good faith as
you propose, and then expect them to believe in ours. The admiral is
right. We can fight and bring destruction on our people, or we can place
ourselves at the mercy of Mekin. There can be only one choice. We
sacrifice ourselves, but we keep our honor."

"I deny," said Bors savagely, "that any man keeps his honor who enslaves
his fellows, as you will do in surrendering. I resign my commission in
your service, Majesty."

King Humphrey nodded wearily.

"Very well. You have served us admirably, Bors. I wish I thought you
were right in this matter. I would rather follow your advice than my
convictions. Your resignation is accepted."

An hour later, fuming, Bors paced back and forth across the floor of a
cabin in the flagship. The Pretender of Tralee entered. The older man
looked wryly amused.

"It was a most improper thing to do. You resigned your commission and
then ordered the low-power fields built on all ships."

"To the contrary," said Bors, "I spread the news that I had resigned my
commission _because_ the low-power fields were _not_ to be installed to
give us a fighting chance!"

The Pretender sat down and regarded his nephew quizzically.

"But is it so important? To use tables of calculations instead of
computers?"

"Yes," said Bors. "It is important. I should know. I've used the
low-power fields in combat. Nobody else has."

The old man said without reproof, "The First Admiral is indignant. The
fields were not ordered on the ground that they're an untested device
and that at least once such a field blew out, leaving your ship, the
_Isis_, so helpless that it had to be abandoned."

"True," agreed Bors. He made no defense. The attitude of the First
Admiral would have been perfectly logical in ordinary times. Anything
like the new intermediate, low-power overdrive field should have been
proposed through channels, examined by a duly-appointed commission of
officers, reported on, the report evaluated, and then painstaking and
lengthy tests made and the report on the tests evaluated. Then it should
have been submitted to another commission of officers of higher rank,
who would estimate the kind and amount of modification of standard
equipment the new device required, its susceptibility to accident and/or
obsolescence, the ease of repair, the cost of installation and the
length of time in-port required to install it. Somewhere along the line
there should also have been a report on the ease with which it could be
integrated into other apparatus and standard operational procedures, and
there should have been reports on its possible tactical value, the
probable number of times it would be useful, the degree of its utility
and whether the excessive discomfort of going into and out of overdrive
at extremely short intervals would have an adverse effect on crew
morale. Under normal circumstances a ship might have been equipped, for
testing purposes, in six to ten years, and in ten years more all new
ships might be equipped. But it would be well over a generation before
its use was general.

The older man said, "Since your resignation's been accepted, you'll be
put on the _Sylva_ when it comes back. You won't be taken to Kandar with
the fleet."

Bors's hands clenched.

"They'll say I resigned to stay out of the fight!"

"No," said his uncle mildly. "They'll say you resigned to avoid
surrender. I'm being evicted with you. I'm to be dumped on the
hospitality of your friend, Morgan, too. Humphrey is a very kindly man.
Abominably so. But I am tired of being an exile. I'd really rather stay
with the fleet. But he stands on his dignity to preserve our lives. I'm
not sure what for, in a universe where such things as Mekin can happen."

"They happen," growled Bors, "because we value peace and quiet as much
as the Mekinese do power, and much less than freedom. We compromise."

He paced up and down.

"Up to now," he said harshly, "every effort made against Mekin has been
defensive. Twenty-two worlds, in turn, have fallen because they only
wanted to _stop_ Mekin. It's time for some world to resolve very solidly
to _smash_ Mekin, to act with honest anger against a thing that should
be hated. It's got to be done!"

"The time for such a resolution," said his uncle, gently, "went by long
ago."

There was sudden voice from the compartment speaker.

"_Co-o-o-ntact!_"

There was the hissing sound of doors closing. The peculiarly-muffled
silence of a closed compartment fell. The Pretender said quietly, "If
this is the Mekinese fleet, everything is solved. But your friends of
Talents, Incorporated will have to be wrong. They insist the grand fleet
will not come here."

Bors rasped, "I wish I were in that control room! But at least we've got
missiles they can't intercept!"

"Except that they won't be fired, they're a great improvement," the
Pretender said mildly.

He sat at ease. Time passed. Presently the tiny compartment
air-refresher hummed, bringing down the CO{2} content of the air. It cut
off. Bors paced up and down, up and down. He pictured what might be
happening outside. It could be that the grand fleet of Mekin had
appeared and now drove proudly toward Glamis. It could be that the fleet
was offering surrender. There would be near-mutiny on many of its ships.
There would be monumental frustration. Junior officers, in particular,
would have examined the low-power overdrive tables, and would have
studied longingly the reports of Bors's use of low-power overdrive
against an enemy squadron off Meriden. They would yearn passionately to
have their ships equipped with apparatus by which it could vanish from a
place where it was a target to reappear elsewhere, unharmed, and make
the enemy its target. Two fleets equipped with the new device might
checkmate each other. But one fleet....

The speaker said curtly:

"_Captain Bors, a single ship has broken out of overdrive. It
identifies itself as the ship_ Liberty, _of Cela. It declares that it
has come to place itself under your command._"

Bors stared. He had forgotten about the two Cela-built ships which the
Deccan rebels told him about--the first of which had gone on a trial run
with a Mekinese crew and failed to return, and the second of which, with
a Celan crew, had gone off to look for Bors and his marauders.

Somehow, it had found him. It seemed totally improbable. Bors instantly
thought of Talents, Incorporated. The Talents on the ship had spread
rebellion on worlds unthinkable distances apart. It was conceivable that
in some way they'd brought this ship to Glamis.

"Very well," said Bors coldly, in the cabin to which he was confined. "I
request to be put on board."

"I'll come with you," said his uncle. He smiled at Bors, who noted, but
was not surprised at, the genuineness of the smile. "This is the ship
you mentioned as hoping to emulate the _Horus_. I don't think you'll
surrender it. But I've surrendered once and I don't like it. I'd rather
not do it again."

Compartment-doors went back to normal, as combat-alert went off. Morgan
appeared, agitated and upset.

"What's this?" he demanded. "What's happened?"

Bors told him curtly as much as he knew, all that he'd been told on
Deccan. It was the only ship technically in actual rebellion against
Mekin. It had heard rumors of Bors, and it wanted his leadership.

"But you can't go now!" insisted Morgan. "You've got to wait until the
_Sylva_ gets back! You have to have Talents, Incorporated information to
act on! You need my Talents!"

"I'm going to get moving as fast as I can," said Bors. "I don't think we
can wait. If the _Liberty's_ what I think, and her crew what I believe,
they'll crave action."

There was a space-boat at the flagship's lock. Bors and his uncle
entered. Those already in the boat were young men in the nondescript
clothing of ship-workers. They grinned proudly at Bors when he took his
seat.

"I don't know whether you know, sir," said the young man at the
space-boat's controls, "but we heard about your revolt, sir, and we were
about at the limit so we--"

"I stopped at Deccan," Bors said briefly. "They told me about you. Do
you want action against Mekin?"

"Yes, sir!" It was a chorus.

"You'll get it," said Bors. "I'll try you out on a concentration of
Mekin ships that should be turning up at Kandar. How are you equipped
for repairs and changes?"

"We left Cela for a test trip, sir," said the young man at the controls.
There were grins behind him. He chuckled. "Naturally we had materials to
repair anything that went wrong on a trial run!"

"I've got some new settings for missiles," said Bors, "which make them
hard to dodge. And we'll want to set up a special overdrive control,
which makes it easy to dodge Mekinese ones. We can attend to it on the
way to Kandar. How many aboard?"

He asked other curt questions. They answered. What Bors asked was what a
commanding officer would need to know about a new ship, and his new
followers realized it. They had been exultant and triumphant when he
entered the space-boat. In the brief time needed to get to the _Liberty_
they became ardently confident.

His reception was undisciplined but enthusiastic. He made a hurried
inspection. The _Liberty_ had started out with a skeleton crew of
shipyard workers and no stores or arms. The ranks were now filled with
volunteers from Deccan and elsewhere, and its storage-rooms fairly
bulged with foodstuffs. Bors, however, really relaxed only once. That
was when he saw the filled racks of missiles. On Deccan they'd been
lavish in their gifts to the rebel space-ship.

Bors went into the control room, glanced about, and spoke crisply into
the all-speaker microphone.

"All hands attention! Bors speaking. A concentration of Mekinese ships
is expected at Kandar. We shall head for that planet immediately. On the
way I shall arrange for some changes in the settings of the missiles we
have on board. We will fix and distribute aiming-tables for their use.
We will stop twice on the way for target practice. Much more than your
lives or mine depends on how well you do your work. We'll also modify
the overdrive to make this ship able to do everything my other ships
did--and more. You will work much harder on the way to Kandar than you
ever worked before, but we have to accomplish more than usual. That's
all."

He stood by while the ship was aimed for Kandar. The young astrogator
said enthusiastically, "Prepare for overdrive. Five, four, three--"

A voice out of a speaker:

"_Calling_ Liberty! _Calling_ Liberty! _Morgan calling_ Liberty!"

"Hold it," said Bors.

He answered the call. Morgan's voice, in a high state of agitation,
"_Bors! The_ Sylva's _just back! Just broke out! The grand fleet will
get to Kandar in five days, four hours, twenty minutes! My Talent on
the_ Sylva _is sure of it. It's Talents, Incorporated information!_"

"We haven't any time to spare, then," said Bors.

"_Bors!_" panted Morgan's voice. "_There were three ships of our fleet
hanging about, on watch for Mekinese. They expected one. Twelve came.
The observation-ships attacked. They got eleven of the twelve. The last
one went into overdrive and got away! Bors! Do you see what that
means?_"

"It means," said Bors coldly, "that Mekin won't be accepting surrenders
this week. Destroying the first division was bad enough. I got one off
Meriden. Now that a third squadron's wiped out, Mekin will insist on
somebody getting punished--and plenty! All right! We're leaving for
Kandar now."

He nodded to the young man at the control board. He noted with approval
that he'd kept the _Liberty's_ aim exact while Bors talked to Morgan.

"Proceed," Bors ordered.

The young man said, "Five, four, three, two, one--"

There was the familiar dizzying sensation of going into overdrive. The
_Liberty_ wrapped stressed space about itself and went hurtling into
invisibility.

This was one voyage in overdrive which was not tedious. Bors had to
organize the ship for combat. He had to train launching-crews to work
like high-speed machinery. He had to teach the setting of missiles for
ranges he had to show how to measure. Once he stopped the ship between
stars and all the launching-crews took shots at an inflated metal-foil
target. The Pretender of Tralee displayed an unexpected gift for
organization. He divided all space outside the ship into sectors,
assigning one launcher to each sector. If an order to fire came, the
separate crews would cover targets in their own areas first. There would
be no waste of missiles on one target.

The Pretender would have made an excellent officer. He was patient with
those who did not understand immediately. He had dignity that was not
arrogance. In five days the _Liberty_ was a fighting ship and a
dedicated one. There were rough edges, of course. Man for man and weapon
for weapon the ship would not compare with a longer-trained and more
experienced fighting instrument. But the morale on board was superb and
the weapons were--to put it mildly--inspiring of hope.

The _Liberty_ broke out of overdrive and the sun of Kandar shone fiery
yellow in emptiness. The gas-giant planet had moved in its orbit. It was
more evenly in line than before with a direct arrival-path for a fleet
from Mekin. Bors was worn out from his unremitting efforts to turn the
ship into a smooth-running unit. He looked at a ship's clock.

"The Mekinese," he said over the all-speaker circuit, "will break out in
two hours, forty minutes. And we're going to set up a dummy fleet for
them to deal with."

His uncle said gently, "I suggest some rest, to be fresh for the
handling of the ship. I'll set up the dummy fleet."

Bors resisted the idea, but it was not sensible to humor his own vanity
by insisting on his indispensability. He flung himself down on a bunk.
He was much better satisfied with the ship and crew than he would have
admitted. And he was dead-tired.

Around him, young men of Cela and Deccan prepared target-globes for
launching. The Pretender gently pointed out that the formation was to
remain perfectly still and in ranks. Therefore, each globe had to be
launched with no velocity at all, so it would remain in fixed position
with relation to the others, to convincingly appear to be a fleet of
ships.

Far away the _Sylva_ hurtled through space with a much-agitated Morgan
on board. Gwenlyn, too, was frightened. For the first time, both of them
seemed doubtful of the value of Talents, Incorporated information.

Again, far away, the fleet of Kandar rushed through emptiness. On its
various ships, junior officers had come threateningly close to mutiny.
There was now a sullen, resigned submission to discipline and what
orders might be given, but the fleet was fighting angry. The _Sylva_ had
brought back news of a third defeat of Mekinese by Kandar ships and hot
blood longed to make a full-scale test of its own deadliness. There were
few ships of the fleet which did not have a low-power overdrive field
unit ready to be spliced into circuit if the occasion arose. If the king
could not make acceptable terms for surrender, the junior officers were
prepared to make a victory by Mekin a very costly matter.

Stretched out on his bunk, Bors thought of all these things. Finally he
slept--and--dreamed. It was odd that anyone so weary should dream. It
was more strange that he did not dream of the matters in the forefront
of his mind. He dreamed of Gwenlyn. She was crying, in the dream, and it
was because she thought he was killed. And Bors was astonished at her
grief, and then unbelievably elated. And he moved toward her and she
raised her head at some sound he made. The expression of incredulous joy
on her face made him put his arms around her with an enormous and
unbelieving satisfaction. And he kissed her and the sensation was
remarkable.

Half-awake, he blinked at the ceiling of the control room of the
_Liberty_. His uncle was saying amiably to the young man at the
control-board, "That's a very pretty fleet-formation, if we do say so
ourselves!"

Bors stood up, one-half of his mind still startled by his dream, but the
other half reverting instantly to business.

But all matters of business had been attended to. Out the viewports he
could see the dummy fleet in an apparently defensive formation. Its
ships were only miles apart, and if they had been fighting ships, every
one could have launched missiles at any point of attack from the pattern
they constituted. At a hundred miles they could be seen only as specks
of reflected sunlight. At greater distances a radar would identify them
only as dots which must be enemy ships because the radar-blips they made
lacked the nimbus of friendly craft.

"Hm," said Bors. He looked at the clock. "The Mekinese should have
broken out five minutes ago."

"They did," said his uncle. "They're yonder. They're heading straight
for this fleet."

He pointed, not out a port but at a screen where a boiling mass of
bright specks showed the Mekinese fleet just out of overdrive and
speeding toward the dummy formation, sorting itself into attack
formation as it moved.

"The king's not here on time," observed Bors grimly. "We have to play
his hand for him, Uncle. We haven't the right to commit Kandar by
beginning to fight ourselves. Offer surrender, as he'd wish it to be
done. If they accept, he can carry out his part when he arrives. He'll
be here!"

The former monarch spoke gently into a beam transmitter.

"Calling Mekinese fleet," he said. "Defending fleet calling Mekinese
fleet!"

In seconds a reply came back.

"_Mekinese Grand Admiral calling Kandar_," the voice answered
arrogantly. "_What do you want?_"

"We will discuss capitulation on behalf of Kandar," said the old man.
"Will you give us terms?"

He grimaced, and said, aside, to Bors, "I'm speaking for Humphrey as I
know he'd speak. But I am ashamed!"

There was a pause. It took time for the Pretender's voice to reach the
enemy and as long for the reply to come back. The reply was ironic and
arrogant and amused.

"_What terms can you hope for?_" it demanded. "_You attacked our ships.
You indulged in destruction! How can you hope for terms?_"

The Pretender scratched his ear thoughtfully. He regarded the radar
screen with regret.

"We ask life for the people of our planet," he said steadily. He was
annoyed that he had to speak for the tardy King of Kandar. "We ask that
they not be punished for our resistance."

The young men in the control room looked astonished. Then they saw
Bors's expression, and grinned.

A long pause. The boiling, shifting specks on the radar-screen began to
have a definite order. The Mekinese voice, when it came, was triumphant
and overbearing.

"_We will spare your planet_," it said contemptuously, "_but not you.
You have dared to fight us. Stand and be destroyed, and there will be no
punishment for your world. There are no other terms._"

The Pretender looked at Bors. He shrugged.

"_Now_ what would the king do?" He looked puzzled.

"What can our dummy fleet do?" asked Bors.

The Pretender nodded. "We will offer no resistance," he said into the
transmitter.

There was a long silence. Bors looked at the radar-screen. The mass of
bright specks at the edge of the screen seemed to have sent a shining
wave before it. It was actually a swarm of missiles. They were so far
away that they could not be picked up as individuals on the screen. They
were a glow, a shine, a wave of pale luminosity.

"We shift to low-power overdrive readiness," said Bors. "That is an
order."

A ship-voice murmured, "_Low-power overdrive in circuit, sir._"

He watched the screen. The Mekinese missiles accelerated at a terrific
rate. They left their parent ships far behind. They were a third of the
way to the drone-fleet and the _Liberty_ before Bors spoke again.

"Launch and inflate another target-globe," he ordered drily. "We could
speak for the king since he was late. But we won't stay here to be
killed as his proxy! Not without fighting first!"

A voice, crisp: "_Target globe launched, sir._"

"Low-power overdrive toward the gas-giant planet. One-twentieth second.
Five, four, three, two, one!"

There was the unbearable double sensation of going into, and breakout
from, overdrive simultaneously. The _Liberty_ vanished from its place in
the formation of the dummy fleet, but left a metal-foil dummy where it
had been. It reappeared a full five thousand miles away.

The rushing missiles now were brighter. They were individual,
microscopic specks like stars. They began visibly to converge upon the
space occupied by the dummy fleet.

"They'll be counting the ships," said the Pretender mildly, "to make
sure that all stay for their execution. This would be a tragic sight if
it were Humphrey's real fleet. He is just obstinate enough to let
himself be killed, on the word of a treacherous Mekinese!"

The cloud of radar-blips grew bright and came near. The dummy fleet also
appeared on the screens in the _Liberty's_ control room. Bors and the
others could see the rushing, shining flood of missiles as it poured
through space upon the motionless targets.

"There!" Bors pointed. "The king's ship's breaking out! Away over at the
edge. I wonder if the Mekinese will notice!"

There were very tiny sparkles off at the side of the radar-screen. They
increased in number.

There was a flash, like the sun brought near for the tenth of a second.
Another. Yet another. Then an overwhelming spout of brilliance as tens
and twenties and fifties of the trajectiles went off together. It was an
unbelievable sight against the stars. Missiles flamed and flashed and
there seemed to be an actual sun there, now flashing brighter and now
fainter, but intolerably hot and shining.

It went out, and left a vague and shining vapor behind. Then, belated
missiles entered it and detonated. Their flares ceased. Then there was
nothing where there had seemed to be a fleet.

"Which," said Bors, "is that!"

Then a voice spoke coldly from space.

"_Connect all speakers for a message in clear_," it commanded. "_Alert
all personnel for a general order._"

There was a pause. The voice spoke again.

"_Spacemen of Mekin_," it said icily. "_The fleet of Kandar is now
destroyed. Kandar itself will be destroyed also as an example of the
consequences of perfidy toward Mekin. But it should be a warning to
others who would conspire against our world. Therefore, in part as
penalty and in part as a reward to the men of the Grand Fleet, you will
be allowed to land during a period of two weeks. You will be armed. You
may confiscate, for yourself, anything of value you find. You are not
required to exercise restraint in your actions toward the people of
Kandar. They will be destroyed with their planet and no protests from
such criminals will be listened to. You will be landed in groups, each
on a fresh area of the planet. That is all._"

There was silence in the control room of the _Liberty_. After a long
time the Pretender said very quietly, "I will not live while such beasts
live. From this moment I will kill them until I am killed!"

"I suspect King Humphrey heard that," Bors said, and drew a deep breath.
"Combat alert!" he ordered crisply. "We're attacking the Mekinese fleet.
Handle your missiles smoothly and don't try to fire while we're in
overdrive! We'll be going in and out.... Choose your targets and fire as
we come out and while I count down. Overdrive point nine seconds. Five,
four, three, two, one!"

The cosmos reeled and stomachs retched when the _Liberty_ came out in
nine-tenths of a second. She was in the very midst of a concentration
of the Mekinese fleet. Missiles streaked away, furiously, as Bors
counted down. "Two-fifths second, five, four, three, two, one!"

More missiles shot away. Bors almost chanted, while with gestures toward
the radar-screen he picked out the objects near which breakout should
fall.

"Point oh five seconds." The ship went into overdrive and out. It seemed
as if the universe dissolved from one appearance to another outside the
viewports. "Five, four, three, two, one! Hold fire!"

The _Liberty_ came out a good ten thousand miles from its starting-point
and beyond the area occupied by the enemy fleet. Three thousand miles
away a flare burst among the distant stars. A second. A third. Six
thousand miles away there were flashings in emptiness.

"We're doing very well," said Bors calmly into the all-speaker
microphone. "A little more care with the aiming, though. And read your
ranges closer! They're not intercepting our missiles. We're not aiming
them right. We try it again now...."

The universe seemed to reel and one felt queasy, but there was work to
be done, while a voice chanted, "Five, four, three, two, one!" Then it
reeled again and the same voice continued to chant. Sometimes the crews
saw where missiles hit, but they could never be sure they were their
own. Then, suddenly, the number of hits increased. They doubled and
tripled and quadrupled.

"All hands!" barked Bors. "The fleet of Kandar is wading into this
fight. Be careful to pick your targets! No Kandar ships! Save your
missiles for the enemy!"

Someone, man-handling missiles for faster and more long-continued firing
than any ship-designer ever expected, gasped, "Come on boys! Missiles
for Mekin!"

It became a joke, which seemed excruciatingly funny at the time.

Nobody saw all the battle, or even a considerable part. There was a
period when the _Liberty_, alone, fought like the deadliest of
gadflies. It appeared in the middle of a Mekinese sub-formation, loosed
missiles and vanished before anything could be intercepted. There was no
target for Mekinese bombs to home on when they got to where the
_Liberty_ had been.

Then the fleet of Kandar appeared. It broke out in single ships and in
pairs, and then in groups of fives and tens. The general order for the
Mekinese fleet had been picked up, and the fleet of Kandar seemed to
have gone mad.

The flagship tried to fight in orthodox fashion, for a time. It depended
on the attraction its missiles had for Mekinese to keep it in space. But
presently it was alone, and the battle was raging confusion scattered
over light-minutes, and somebody went down in to the engine room and
brazed in a low-power overdrive unit--providentially made by a junior
officer--and the flagship of the Kandarian fleet waded in erratically,
never knowing where it would come out, but rarely failing to find a
Mekinese ship to launch at.

The third phase of the battle was much more of an open fight, ship
against ship, except that more and more Kandarian ships were using
low-power overdrive--clumsily and inefficiently, but to the very great
detriment of Mekin's grand fleet. The Mekinese officers could not quite
grasp that their antagonists were doing the impossible. They became
confused.

The fourth phase of the battle consisted of mopping-up operations in
which individual ships were hunted down and destroyed by the simple
process of a Kandarian ship seeming to materialize from nowhere a mile
or half a mile from an enemy, launching one missile and seeming to
dematerialize again and vanish.

Very few Mekinese ships went into overdrive. Probably most of them
didn't believe what was happening. Perhaps four ships, out of the entire
grand fleet, escaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, of course, there was embarrassment all around. King Humphrey the
Eighth landed on Kandar to assure his people that they were no longer in
danger. He was embarrassed because he was a victor in spite of himself.
The fleet officers were embarrassed because Bors had been forced out of
the fleet, and had literally tricked them into battle.

Bors, too, was embarrassed. There was the admiration displayed by junior
officers of the fleet. He had become, very unwillingly, a model for
young space-navy officers. They tried to pattern themselves after him in
all ways, even to the angle at which they wore their hats. He squirmed
when they looked at him with shining-eyed respect.

He was embarrassed, also, by the necessary revelation to the _Liberty's_
crew that he was neither the leader of a rebellion nor in command of a
fleet; nor that he had performed quite all the fabulous feats credited
to him. He had to explain that he'd only commanded two ships, the _Isis_
and the _Horus_, one of which had to be destroyed, and that when the
_Liberty_ placed itself under his command he'd just been forced to
resign his commission from King Humphrey. The young men who'd fought
under him were unimpressed.

The fleet was re-supplied with food and missiles, and in one day more
the major part of it would take off for Mekin. Other ships would
journey, of course, to the twenty-odd, once-subject worlds. There they
would--they were calmly confident about it--mop up any surviving
Mekinese ships and enforce the surrender of Mekinese garrisons. And they
would gather emissaries to be carried to the fleet as it rode in orbit
about Mekin. The fleet and the representatives of the twenty-two worlds,
together, would firmly rearrange the government and the policies and the
ambitions of Mekin.

There was still the matter of Gwenlyn. The _Sylva_ came down on Kandar,
of course, where Morgan swaggered happily, pointing out the
indispensable help given to Kandar by Talents, Incorporated. Bors
reminded King Humphrey that Morgan collected medals, and he was duly
invested with sundry glittering decorations, which would have staggered
a lesser man.

Gwenlyn found Bors secluded in the palace, waiting until it was time to
board ship and head for Mekin. Her father accompanied her.

"I've come to say goodbye," she said gently. "We've done what we came
for."

"I still don't understand why you came," said Bors, who would much
rather have said something else. "We can't possibly do anything adequate
in return. Why _did_ you come?"

He turned to Morgan, who answered blandly, "One of our Talents
precognized an event. We had to come here and help it to happen. Gwenlyn
was doubtful, but she's come around."

"What was it?"

"It hasn't happened yet," said Morgan. He produced a cigar and lighted
it. "Gwenlyn, shall I tell him?"

"Don't you dare!" said Gwenlyn hotly.

Bors said unhappily, "I'm sorry you're going away, Gwenlyn. If things
were--different, I--I--"

"You what?" asked Morgan. "By the way! One of our Talents has
precognized that your uncle's going back to Tralee as its king again.
Largely on your account. You're his heir, aren't you?"

Bors blinked.

"Hero," said Morgan, waving his hand. "Twenty-two planets adoring you,
believing you brought Mekin down single-handed. Aching to work with you,
follow you, admire you. Naturally, Tralee wants your uncle back. Then
they'll have you. Of course," he added complacently, "our Department for
Disseminating Truthful Seditious Rumors had something to do with it. But
that was necessary wartime propaganda. And you didn't let anybody down."
Then he said peevishly, "Not until now!"

Bors gaped. He looked at Gwenlyn. Her cheeks were crimson. Revelation
struck Bors like a blow.

"I don't believe it!" he said, staring at her. He said more loudly, "I
don't believe it!"

"Damnit," said Morgan indignantly. "She didn't believe it either! She
said she'd come here because she was curious, nothing more. But that
particular Talent's never missed yet! She just plain _knows_ every time
who--"

"Hush!" said Gwenlyn fiercely. "Goodbye."

Bors moved toward her, not to shake hands. She ran out of the door. She
ran fast, for a girl. He ran faster.

Morgan puffed contentedly. Presently the completely unreal figure of
King Humphrey the Eighth came to where Morgan had surrounded himself
with aromatic smoke.

"Where's Bors?" asked the king.

"Yonder," said Morgan. He waved his hand. "Kissing my daughter, I think.
D'you know, Majesty, I've known this would happen all along? One of our
Talents precognized you opening parliament next year. So I knew things
had to come out right."

"Y-yes," said the king, dubiously. "I suppose so. But there had to be
efforts, too, to bring it about. Otherwise it wouldn't seem right."

"Naturally!" said Morgan. "When one of my Talents precognized that
Gwenlyn was going to marry the heir of the Pretender of Tralee and be
Queen of Tralee some day, why, it didn't seem a bit likely. But once I
knew about that precognition, I put in a little effort...."

King Humphrey was thoughtful.

"Things look good," said Morgan expansively. "My Talents are
precognizing all over the place. They tell me that this planet's going
to be a fine place to live. Quiet and peaceful, and serene.... Gwenlyn
will be living on Tralee, most likely, and I don't want to be underfoot.
I'll probably settle down here. Retire, you know."

"Splendid," said the king, politely, his mind occupied with the prospect
of a warless future.

"And as for Gwenlyn and Bors," Morgan added, confidentially, "I'll tell
you something. My Talents've been working on her future. I wouldn't tell
her all of it. Some of it should be a surprise. But she and Bors are
going to be what you call happy ever after! And that's Talents,
Incorporated information! You can depend on it!"



TWO MORE AVON S-F HITS YOU'RE SURE TO ENJOY


LITTLE FUZZY

 _by H. Beam Piper                                         F-118  40¢_

Zarathustra belonged to the chartered Zarathustra Company as a Class-III
uninhabited planet. They owned it lock, stock and barrel; they exploited
it without interference from the Colonial Government.

The Company was sitting pretty until Jack Holloway turned up with a
family of Fuzzies and the claim that they were not just nice little
animals, but human. If he was right and the Fuzzies were declared the
9th extrasolar sapient race, there went the Company, charter and all!

LITTLE FUZZY is our candidate for the most delightful science-fiction
book of the year.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE STAR DWELLERS

 _by James Blish                                           F-122  40¢_

They were beautiful creatures, highly intelligent and playful. The
inhabitants of Terra nicknamed them "Angels," yet they were awesome--the
youngest were 4,000,000 years old and the oldest had been around since
the birth of the universe.

Space cadet Jack Loftus was almost overwhelmed when he had to assume the
responsibility of negotiating a treaty with them--a treaty which could
mean the life or death of earth and mankind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Available at your local newsdealer. If he cannot supply you, order
direct from Avon Book Division, The Hearst Corporation, 250 West 55th
Street, New York 19, New York. Enclose price listed plus 10¢ extra per
book to cover cost of wrapping and mailing.



TALENTS, INCORPORATED

Charlatans or Prophets?

At best, the tiny Kandarian Air Fleet would fight until its last ship
was blown into infinity. At worst, it would be annihilated without a
chance. To young Captain Bors, either course was unthinkable.

The ruthless Dictator of Mekin had already subjugated twenty-two
helpless planets. Now he wanted Kandar's unconditional surrender, or his
vastly superior forces would blast it out of existence.

It took a lot of guts, and the hope that is frequently born of despair,
for a military man like Bors to throw in his lot with TALENTS,
INCORPORATED, an untried, unscientific organization. Through peculiar
gifts of extra-sensory perception, its personnel could, their leader
insisted, out-think and out-guess even the most deadly dictator in the
history of mankind. Could it? It just might.

And it just might not.... But there was absolutely nothing to lose, and
a free world (and a beautiful girl) to win. Captain Bors made his
decision, and the loaded die was cast!

                                                 Printed in the U.S.A.





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